City proposes turning major central-city streets into two lanes, other not-car-friendly improvements
City pitches ambitious central-city transportation overhaul, including more room for bikes, less for cars
Part of the charm of Sacramento's central city is its simplicity. You don't need to use GPS, or even a map, to get around the streets, which run north-south, east-west. Laid out in the mid-1800s, Sacramento's “grid” is one of the few things in the capital city that has stood the test of time.
But leaders say the grid has long needed updates. Much of the traffic-flow plan was devised half a century ago to serve commuters. While three times as many people still commute into the central city than live in it, city officials are beginning to prioritize transportation improvements for downtown and Midtown bicyclists, pedestrians, bus riders and more.
Enter the Grid 2.0 project, perhaps the most ambitious city-sponsored effort in years to improve the central city’s streets. Plans distributed by the city call for a mix of improvements, including: reducing lanes from three to two on thoroughfares such as J Street in Midtown, adding bike lanes for a number of streets, such as 15th, 16th and J; enhancing bus stops; and implementing the streetcar system, which residents failed to vote for earlier this year.
During a very early morning press conference touting Grid 2.0 this past Friday, Councilman Steve Hansen stood in Fremont Park, flanked by maps and designs of the improved city streets, and touted the project. “I’m a huge proponent of making these improvements,” he told SN&R after the 7:30 a.m. event. “It makes the grid more efficient, first, so it takes better advantage of the resource we have. But it makes it better for the users right now, who kind of get the short end of the stick, bicycle users and pedestrians.”
But these dramatic changes won’t happen overnight. The project is currently in the planning phase. The city has been holding stakeholder meetings and held an open house on Monday at City Hall to offer the public a firsthand look at the plans. The city has also contracted with DKS Associates for $791,246, and AIM Consulting, to promote Grid 2.0, including a website, www.sacgrid.com.
“We’re trying to identify 20 years’ worth of projects here,” said city principal planner Fedolia “Sparky” Harris, who’s been on the project over a year.
He explained that a lot of the changes will be as simple as re-striping lanes and adding fresh paint to streets. “The harder ones are doing enhanced bus stations or bus stops, things like that, which really take a little more engineering and environmental analysis and money,” he told SN&R.
An older version of Grid 2.0, called the Central City Two-Way Conversion Project, was scaled back in 2006 partly due to a lack of funding. Money could be an issue again, as well.
Harris said the Sacramento Area Council of Governments’ long-range regional-transportation plan has $100 million earmarked for downtown improvements. He’s positive that won’t be enough.
“One-hundred-million dollars sounds like a lot, but when you consider the expanse of the downtown, that’s not going to go very far when you see the type of improvements that we’re talking about,” Harris said.
He explained that there haven’t been any discussions about raising sales tax to pay for the improvements. The city could consider redirecting tax funds.
Local author and Preservation Sacramento president William Burg said Sacramento allocates one-sixth of a cent from sales tax to transit funding, trailing San Francisco and San Diego, which allocate half a cent each, and Los Angeles, which allocates a full cent.
Burg doesn’t expect everything the project calls for to be implemented. “Essentially, it’s a package of ideas,” Burg said. “Some of them will happen, and some of them won’t.”
Harris sees grant money as the solution. “This is going to be a very expensive plan, but the reality is there’s a lot of different funding sources out there that I think we’ll be eligible to chase.”
He hopes that the $100 million in local money can be used to leverage additional state, federal and private funding.
Hansen agrees. The city often will apply for Active Transportation Program funds, which are at the state level, and also federal grants through SACOG, he explained. Projects that enhance biking and pedestrian safety, and that get people out of cars and curb emissions, qualify for many of these grants.
“We should be looking at ’cap and trade.’ We should be looking at using an enhanced infrastructure financing district. There’s all these different methods we can use,” Hansen said.
For instance, city leaders currently are exploring the formation of a special infrastructure financing district, which would tax commercial property owners to help fund construction of a streetcar route.
The city already has an approved ATP grant to improve 12th Street, the main thoroughfare heading south into downtown. Maps for the project call for reducing 12th from four lanes to three and adding protected bike lanes.
So far, stakeholders and others involved in the planning process, which will wrap up in the spring, have been supportive.
Downtown Sacramento Partnership Executive Director Michael Ault, who spoke out in 2006 against the two-way conversion project, told SN&R that the “it’s probably overdue for us to look at how people are navigating in the downtown.”
Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates Executive Director Jim Brown said his group submitted a 10-page white paper and has been noticing things from it in the plan. “We’re pleased with the direction that we’re seeing things go,” he said.
Brown also noted that a regional project has been underway for the past three years to implement a bike-share program in downtown Sacramento, Davis and West Sacramento.
And Kirin Kumar, a project manager for pedestrian-advocacy group Walk Sacramento, said he appreciated the city’s efforts to prioritize pedestrians and biking and bringing stakeholders into the planning process.
“My ultimate hope is that a lot of the great things we’re seeing are implemented,” Kumar said.