Jack Ohman

Sacramento’s downtown daily demolition derby

While downtown Sacramento seems sedate with its lovely tree canopy, strolling state workers and low-key retail shops, it is also host to a daily demolition derby.

Every single day when I’m driving downtown, I witness numerous moving violations ranging from rolling stops, no-signal turns, running red lights, and stoned, drunken, helmetless cyclists going the wrong way on one-way streets. The general traffic chaos is reminiscent of 1960s films of Rome or Saigon.

It’s gotten so bad at the intersection of W and 16th that I now wait 20 seconds until I’m sure all vehicles have stopped.

A colleague and I have talked about doing a video where we pose as sports announcers at any given downtown intersection commenting on continuous moving violations.

“Ed, that Camry actually accelerated at the stop sign and left the ground at 80 knots. Spectacular rotation as it gracefully lifted off and hit the third story of that mixed-use apartment.”

“Jack, those Accords are perfect for driving on sidewalks. Good handling, responsive steering, and the plastic bumpers work well for clearing out sidewalk cafe seating.”

I’m sure UC Davis Medical Center is making bank on this between patients with elevated blood pressure to emergency visits after re-enactments of “The Fast and the Furious 8: Sacramento Surface Streets.”

Why does this happen? Well, lots of reasons, but I suspect that a lot of it has to do with the fact that there are very few traffic cameras. These things actually work. I know. I was doing 43 in a 35-mph zone on a street in Oregon a few years ago, and the $160 fine did a lot to clarify my thinking about speeding.

Bike commuting? Forget it. I am almost more afraid of the free-radical cyclists than I am of the 2,000-pound hurtling metal autos. At least autos follow linear rules of physics and have to stay on the street, generally.

Even walking downtown is stressful. I find myself constantly scanning the cars as they careen through intersections. More than one colleague has witnessed accidents while on pleasant midday strolls. The odd crashing noises, bouncing metal and tire squealing punctuate my workday.

It’s almost like watching the GOP presidential campaign.

I think more people are less respectful of laws and rules in general. Driving in downtown Sac is like a giant libertarian political science experiment: What would happen if we just stopped observing common-sense regulation to see what happened?

I got a new car the other day. It’s a 2016 convertible, and I will fear for that first scratch/catastrophic collision every single second I’m downtown. I’m considering going after it with a ball peen hammer and a 36-ounce baseball bat myself just to get it out of the way.

Driving my new car home on Highway 99 was like a scene from “Blade Runner”: motorcyclists going 90 mph, threading in and out of traffic, other weaving, non-signaling sports cars blasting past me at warp speed while I crawled along at 59 mph, trying to save my paint job. And there were truckers that seemed to be running on bennies and adrenaline.

Driving on I-5 makes me feel that the “I” stands for Indianapolis.

I’ve driven in a lot of cities. San Francisco is a comparative island of traffic courtesy compared with our surface streets. Seattle is a predictable environment mostly, because the average speed on I-5 is 17 mph. Chicago? Pretty tame.

When complaining about traffic in Sacramento to a friend, he suggested that I take the bus and the train. After my new-car experience, I am now all in.

Just as soon as they promise me they won’t travel on the streets of Sacramento.