Viewpoints

Daniel Weintraub: ‘Bicycle friendly’ an afterthought in Sacramento

Bicyclists wait for the light-rail train to pass at Seventh and K streets in 2013. Daniel Weintraub says the only direct route between downtown Sacramento and Township Nine is dangerous for cyclists.
Bicyclists wait for the light-rail train to pass at Seventh and K streets in 2013. Daniel Weintraub says the only direct route between downtown Sacramento and Township Nine is dangerous for cyclists. Sacramento Bee file

Township Nine, a fledgling development rising out of a former warehouse district north of downtown Sacramento, has won grants, awards and praise as a model of sustainable living.

In this new community, marketing brochures boast, “walking and biking will be a way of life” – so much so that “your car may get lonely.”

There’s just one problem. The only direct bike route from downtown to Township Nine is on a street that could not be more unfriendly to bicyclists if the city had tried to make it that way. North Seventh Street has no bike lane, and the northbound edge of the road is next to the light-rail tracks, squeezing cyclists between fast-moving cars and trains.

An underpass beneath the east-west Amtrak and freight train tracks further limits visibility, making it even more dangerous to share the road with cars.

This gap between downtown and Township Nine is unfortunately emblematic of Sacramento’s relationship with the bicycle. It’s mostly talk and hope, and precious little action.

As the region marks bike month – which celebrates cycling and encourages commuting by bicycle – it’s worth examining the link, or lack of one, between downtown and Township Nine, the first of many developments expected in the new River District emerging between the urban core and the American River.

When Township Nine was first proposed more than a decade ago, the entire area was isolated from downtown, with no surface streets directly connecting the two. To link the two, the city extended Seventh Street from downtown to Richards Boulevard. Originally, according to city officials, the street was supposed to be two separate corridors, one in each direction. Each side was to include an underpass below the Union Pacific tracks wide enough to accommodate cars, light-rail trains, bikes and pedestrians.

But short of money, the city decided to build the street in phases, and the first phase wasn’t wide enough for bikes. The second phase was never built. Instead, the city encourages cyclists to ride on the sidewalk, a practice that is frowned upon elsewhere in the city and that safety advocates want to make illegal.

Later this year, the city will open new roads through the old railyard that is also being transformed into a new urban development. City Traffic Engineer Hector Barron says Fifth and Sixth streets will have bike lanes and will become the preferred routes for cyclists.

But those streets will go only as far north as the new Railyards Boulevard, where bike commuters will have to turn east again, return to Seventh Street and resume their trek north. This is an inconvenient and only slightly less-dangerous solution.

Someday the new streets may go all the way to Richards Boulevard, but Barron says he doesn’t know when that will happen. The timeline will depend on the pace of development in the railyard.

The city has all of this backward. If Sacramento wanted people to commute downtown without cars from this new, nearby development, the city should have put a priority on making it safe and easy to walk and bike.

Instead, the city did what it has always done – it built a dangerous, cars-first corridor. Bike commuting was an afterthought. And despite all the grand plans and big talk, it still is.

Daniel Weintraub is editor of the California Health Report. He can be contacted at daniel.weintraub@gmail.com.

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