Opinion

Sacramento is dangerous for walking, biking. Here’s your plan to make both safer

Tracy Hodges has a special approach to dealing with drivers in Sacramento. The 55-year-old Carmichael resident said she bikes “as though they think I’m invisible and are planning on driving in my space because I don’t exist.”

Walking in Sacramento is similarly unnerving, said Jade Anna Hughes, 41, who lives downtown.

“I walk everywhere with my three small children (we don’t own a car), and not one day passes when a car cuts us off or nearly rams into us,” she said.

Opinion

These are some of the responses The Sacramento Bee received to an informal online survey about dangerous driving practices in Sacramento. Bee reporter Tony Bizjak examined eight years of data and found the city often leads the state’s largest cities for different types of car-related injuries and deaths, including killing or injuring pedestrian children under age 15.

About 150 people responded to our survey. They said they’ve seen people drive on the sidewalk, veer into bike lanes, whizz through red lights and ignore stop signs. More than 60 people said cars had almost hit them while they walked, biked or used a scooter. Nine said they’d been hit.

Here’s what you said about getting around without a car, and how solutions you proposed stack up against city plans.

Safer streets for bikes and pedestrians

Driving in Sacramento is “safer than any other mode of transportation, which is the real issue,” said Monika Jansen, 33, who lived in the area before moving to Washington DC.

Readers called for more protected bike lanes, lower speed limits and narrower roads. The city has lowered speed limits near schools.

Removing car lanes slows traffic and makes roads safer, according to Susan Handy, director of the Sustainable Transportation Center at UC Davis. Smaller design changes, like brightly colored poles along bike lanes, can help by catching drivers’ attention.

The city recently removed a lane on a portion of J Street to slow traffic, and added a protected bike lane. Similar redesigns are planned for locations including sections of Broadway, Franklin Boulevard, and Stockton Boulevard.

Projects like these rely on grants, said Jennifer Donlon Wyant, who oversees transportation projects in the city Department of Public Works.

“Quite frankly I would say that we are a very poor city when it comes to transportation funding,” she said.

The Broadway Complete Street Project, which will cut a portion of Broadway from four lanes to two and add new bike lanes, is slated for construction in 2021. Activists started pushing for it years ago, said Donlon Wyant.

“Normally this takes quite a long time for this to happen,” she said.

Bus-only lanes

Some readers suggested closing streets to cars and dedicating lanes to buses. While closing entire streets is not under consideration at this time according to Donlon Wyant, Sacramento Regional Transit District (SacRT) says it’s exploring bus-only lanes.

Buses are not technically a safety measure, but bikers may have an easier time sharing the road with buses because they tend to be slower than cars and operate more predictably, said Handy.

A portion of Watt Avenue has a bus-only lane, according to SacRT Director of Planning James Boyle. The agency is looking at what corridors might best accommodate bus-only lanes for at least part of the day, as part of a Caltrans-funded study.

“There’s probably more of a need in the downtown area, especially during the peak hours,” like 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., said Boyle. Such lanes are “nothing new” as a transit practice, but they would be new for Sacramento.

The agency recently redesigned its bus schedule and started offering free bus rides to kids. The youth program is being tested for one year, and is partly funded with Measure U money. SacRT reports a 40 percent increase in youth bus ridership since launching the program.

SacRT saw a 2.4 percent increase in general bus ridership from July 1 to Sept. 30 this year compared to the same period in 2018, while light rail ridership was up 6.5 percent, according to SacRT Communications Director Jessica Gonzalez.

What next?

Testing out programs for temporary periods can entice people to consider bigger changes, said Allison Arieff, editorial director of the nonprofit San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association. For example, Sunday Streets programs, like the one in San Francisco, shut down miles of road to cars on weekends.

“It’s a chance for people to experience what an urban street would be like if there were no cars on it,” she said.

Sacramento experimented with a Sunday Streets project on Broadway in 2017.

“The event received a positive response, however, it currently does not have ongoing funding,” said city spokesperson Tim Swanson.

Funding limitations aren’t a unique problem, and money isn’t the only thing in the way of change.

“I’m glad the city seems to be taking some action now as far as engineering roads for all users. However, it will be a long time before the driving culture of Sacramento changes,” wrote reader Christine Bowen, 35, a resident of Sacramento’s College Greens neighborhood.

We’re lucky transportation options are expanding in Sacramento, but city streets are still car-centric and frankly dangerous. Responses to The Bee’s survey shows Sacramentans bring knowledge and passion to the transportation discussion.

Sacramento City Council, SacRT, the city and county planning commissions and the Mayor’s Commission on Climate Change – which also looks at transit issues – all have public meetings listed online.

If you’re passionate about transportation, let your elected leaders know.

Tess Townsend is Assistant Opinion Editor at The Sacramento Bee. Reach her by email at ttownsend@sacbee.com, on Twitter at @Tess_Townsend and by phone at 916-321-1913.
Related stories from Sacramento Bee

Tess Townsend is assistant opinion editor at The Sacramento Bee, where she writes about local issues. She moved to Sacramento from the Bay Area in 2018 and has quickly grown fond of the city’s hometown feel. Prior to joining the Bee, Townsend lived the typical itinerant lifestyle of a local newspaper reporter, bouncing from paper to paper around the country. More recently, she reported on tech companies in San Francisco.
  Comments