pedestrian collisions in Sacramento

I often wonder if governments really focus on the issues rather than responding to incidents. In the case of pedestrians and the City of Sacramento, is the city really placing its attention, and its dollars, where they need to be to enhance the safety of pedestrians? I’ve created some maps to show where the problems lie (see note at bottom about data sources and how these were created).

The collisions mapped are:

  • Date: 01-01-2004 to 12-31-2012
  • Location: City of Sacramento only (no, I can’t explain why some are outside the city)
  • Victim role: Pedestrian
  • Victim degree of injury: Killed or Severe Injury
  • 388 collisions

The first map, a point map of the entire city, shows:

  • the greatest density of collisions is in downtown/midtown, but there are certainly plenty in other areas
  • almost all collisions happen at intersections, not mid-block
  • almost all collisions are associated with major streets, called arterials and collectors, which are wide and high speed, intended to move motor vehicle traffic at speed rather than provide for multi-modal transportation
pedestrian collisions, killed or severe injury

pedestrian collisions, killed or severe injury, point map

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no-ped-crossing in the grid

no pedestrian crossing means three crossings

no pedestrian crossing means three crossings

As mentioned in my recommendations for improving walkability in midtown/downtown, in response to the Sacramento Grid 2.0 program, I’ve developed more information including a map (at bottom) about the locations in the grid that are signed against pedestrian crossing. The signs at these locations may be the modern MUTCD R9-3a sign, shown at right, or the older text sign, shown below, or variety of non-standard signs. Update 2015-07-27: 37 locations.

5th-St-I-St_no-ped-crossingThere are a large number of other locations where crossing is discouraged by the lack of sidewalks, curb ramps, and crosswalks, but is not specifically prohibited.

As can be seen from the map below, the majority of the no pedestrian crossing locations are along the Capitol Expressway (Business 80) and US 50 freeways. These freeways, designed and constructed by Caltrans, are barriers to pedestrian use. In fact, they are a barrier to all use and livability because many of the grid streets do no continue under the freeways, making access more difficult for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motor vehicle drivers. In many cases there are no sidewalks on the freeway side of the adjacent surface street, so whether or not there is a safe or marked crossing doesn’t mean much without a sidewalk to connect to.

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News summary July 26

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parking fees

The Sacramento News & Review published this week Parking Nightmare: Major changes in Sacramento could mean higher prices, stiffer restrictions, following up on a earlier blog post  (https://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/pageburner/blogs, scroll down to July 15). SacBee also had an article on Friday, Downtown Sacramento parking rates likely to rise. Apart from the SN&R click-bait headline, the article provides more depth than anything else available at the moment, and provides me a chance to review parking fees and consequences. First, I would not for a moment counter the claim that an increase in parking charges is due at least in part to the city’s need to increase revenue to pay off arena bonds. But beyond that, it is possible to evaluate how parking should be priced.

My views on parking are all based on two concepts:

  • TheHighCostOfFreeParking_coverThere is no such thing as free parking. If parking is free, it is being subsidized by someone. The seminal thinking on this issue is The High Cost of Free Parking, by Donald Shoup, as well as writings by others. The objective of managed parking pricing should be to ensure some free parking on every block so that people do not circle looking for parking, and that some of the parking fee income be returned to the neighborhood for improving the right-of-way, including sidewalks and pedestrian amenities.
  • On-street parking is not, as some people think, a bad thing. It slows traffic by generating “friction.” On street parking might be removed when there is clearly a higher use for road right-of-way, such as bike lanes or sidewalks, however, in almost all cases, removal of a travel lane is better for everyone than removal of on-street parking. I don’t support on-street parking because I want to see more space devoted to motor vehicles, but because of the traffic calming effect and because I think on-street parking creates a more livable environment than do parking garages, which I consider to be the lowest use (or mis-use) of urban land, only exceeded by off-street surface parking lots. Our streets would in fact be safer if there were more on-street parking on weekends and evenings, when most of the extremely dangerous  and egregious speeding occurs.

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transportation funding must be weight-based

The California legislature is meeting in special session to discuss sources of funding for transportation (they are on summer break, but will get back to it). The state uses the number $5.7B as the annual shortfall in funds available for maintenance, and these discussion are largely an effort to close that gap. Some of the solutions are: 1) indexing the gas tax so that it doesn’t fall behind (it was last raised in 1990); 2) increasing transportation related fees such as vehicle registration; 3) increasing the tax on specific fuels such as diesel; and 4) basing taxes on VMT (vehicle miles traveled) rather than fuel purchase. Of course there have been other ideas such as redirecting high-speed rail funds (which would be illegal unless legislation and the voter-passed bond are completely undone), and using cap-and-trade funds for highways (also illegal because maintenance and certainly construction would not reduce greenhouse gases), but those right-wing ideas won’t receive consideration by me.

TransportationFundingCA-2014_overview

I think it extremely important that all taxes and fees be at least partially based on the weight of the vehicle. The amount of damage caused to roadways and bridges is almost exactly proportional to the weight of the vehicle, and those that weigh more should pay more, at least for the maintenance portion of the transportation budget. If, for example, VMT were used instead of or in addition to fuel tax, one mile by a lightweight passenger vehicle is in no way proportional to one mile by a heavy truck. The tax should instead be a multiplier of VMT and weight, with a strong component of weight. And yes, all vehicles should be charged, including government-owned vehicles, which cause just as much damage to roadways as commercial vehicles. There has been a ballooning of vehicle sizes and weights with the government to match the commercial sector, and this is one way of bringing that under some control. Yes, I realize this means public buses would be paying weight fees, and I think this is appropriate since they do cause significant damage to the roadways. However, public transportation could be more than compensated as we save money on wasteful parts of our transportation system.

Vehicle registration fees are based on the type and price of a vehicle, which means that commercial vehicles are already paying relatively more than less expensive private vehicles, but they are not paying their fair share in relationship to damage caused to roads. It is not just an issue of commercial vehicles, however. Heavy passenger vehicles (you know what I’m talking about) also pay much less than their share of maintenance because the price differential is not as great as the weight differential.

Commercial vehicles do pay a weight fee, which is the sort of thing I’m requesting, but it is not assessed at a high enough level to pay for the damage caused, and at least for now these fees are being diverted to the general treasury rather than being used for maintenance.

Note that I am intentionally ignoring the finer points of sales tax, excise tax, and the arcane fuel tax swap. They are important, but not important to this issue of all users paying their way. It is important to remember that only a portion of transportation funds in the state flows through the federal and state government. Local governments are actually the larger and more significant players. As well, the idea that gas tax pays for roadways is myth, it pays less than half, and has never paid all.

A lot of information about funding, including the chart above, is in the Transportation Funding in California – 2014 document from Caltrans. If this document doesn’t make your head spin, I don’t know what will.

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Grid 2.0 pedestrian comments

The City of Sacramento Grid 2.0 project is requesting specific input on ways to improve the pedestrian experience in midtown/downtown. I encourage you to go there and add your pins.

Pedestrian beg button on a commonly used crosswalk, this location should have a pedestrian signal on every cycle, not just when someone presses the button.

Pedestrian beg button on a commonly used crosswalk (K & 9th), this location should have a pedestrian signal on every cycle, not just when someone presses the button.

Dropping pins on a map, however, doesn’t allow some more general comments that I think are very important, and perhaps just as important as any of the corridor improvements shown. For me, these points are:

  1. All signals and pedestrian signals in the grid should be set on automatic recall by default. That means that pedestrians get a walk signal on every cycle without having to find and press the beg button (many of which can’t be accessed by disabled people). If the city thinks that a particular crossing should require a button, they should have to do a traffic study to justify it, which includes both the requirements that 1) the level of pedestrian use if very low (unlikely in the grid, but possible), and 2) that there is a demonstrable delay in traffic due to automatic recall. This does not mean that pedestrian buttons will not be present, as there may be valid ADA benefits to having them, including the specific announcements now being included, but they should never be required.
  2. In heavy pedestrian use area, if pedestrian buttons are present, pressing the button should actually shorten the signal cycle to provide for pedestrian crossing on demand, rather than just changing the pedestrian signal head when the signal goes through its regular slow cycle. No regular cycle should be longer than 90 seconds because long cycles unnecessarily delay pedestrian (and bicyclist) travel in favor of motor vehicle traffic.
  3. All three-lane one-way roads should be reduced to two lanes. This will make street crossings safer (by about 1/3 – what other improvement could make such a difference!) and more comfortable. There is no excuse in a walkable urban environment for there to be three-lane one-way streets.
  4. All no-pedestrian-crossing locations should be removed and replaced with regular high visibility crosswalks. Though these prohibitions are often justified by safety concerns, they are really just for the convenience of motor vehicle drivers, so that they don’t have to slow down or wait as long at signals. If a crosswalk is not safe, it means the roadway design is unsafe, and the correct solution is to change the roadway design, not to prohibit crossing.
  5. The ability to safely and comfortably cross streets is just as important to people walking as the ability to walk along streets. I don’t know that this is the case here, but transportation agencies often get so focused on travel along corridors that they forget about the need to cross corridors. The grid pattern in midtown/downtown eases this problem, and is in fact one of the major benefits to a grid, but nevertheless, significant attention must be paid to crossing.
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bridge design was the problem

I normally don’t comment on events or issues outside of the Sacramento region, but I just can’t resist commenting on the closure of Interstate 10 in southern California due to a bridge washout and collapse. Many people have used this incident as justification for devoting more money to road maintenance and bridge repair, and many more will. But this was not a maintenance problem, it was a design problem.

Below is a photo, courtesy of AZCentral (The Arizona Republic). It shows the collapsed bridge, the damaged and still closed bridge, and the old highway bridge. Notice that the bridge portion of the old highway spans the entire wash, and is entirely undamaged (I’m not claiming that the old highway is perfect – it has been damaged in other locations, if not by this flood then by other floods). The two new freeway bridges span only a portion of the wash. Caltrans engineers apparently decided that they could funnel the wash into a narrow space by armoring the abutments with rock. They were wrong, and they should have known this was an irresponsible design. Were they trying to save money, or were they so arrogant as to think nature can be pushed around? I don’t know, but clearly there was a mistake, and the mistake was not a lack of maintenance.

 

635730825246939488-California-Bridge-Col-Kurt-8-

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