Going both ways
Sacramento considers converting its one-way streets. But funding is in doubt.
Sacramento’s central-city area has come a long way over the years. Midtown neighborhoods once considered home for only the brave have seen a rebirth, their restored Victorians and Mediterranean-style residences a beacon for young professionals and families alike. Economically depressed areas of downtown have given rise to new skyscrapers, restaurants and government buildings.
What hasn’t changed as much in 40 years is the central city’s network of one-way streets—built as commuter thoroughfares designed to get people in and out of the city quickly—before the area’s web of highways existed.
There have been plans since the 1970s to help revitalize downtown by converting these streets back to two-ways. And in recent years, some conversions have occurred, in a piecemeal fashion around the grid.
Now a bigger street-conversion project is in the works. Sacramento’s Department of Transportation will hold an open house on February 6 at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria to discuss the environmental-impact report (EIR), released two weeks ago, for the department’s Central City Two-Way Conversion Study.
The department is soliciting public feedback on the project, which calls for conversions to two-way operations on parts of Third, J, L, N, P and Q streets.
Also, the EIR states that 19th and 21st streets would remain one-way but be reduced from three lanes to two, with bike lanes being added on each side.
The project is the dream of various Midtown citizens, parents who want less traffic in their neighborhoods, a business owner who wants more walk-in customers, and preservationists who want Midtown to regain the quaint feel it had 60-plus years ago. They want mixed-use neighborhoods, not commuter corridors as barren as the Sahara in the evening.
“I should be able to get out of my house, walk to get a paper, get a cup of coffee, wherever I live,” Midtown Business Association President Shawn Eldredge said.
In the past, E, F, G, H, S and T streets have seen two-way conversions, at different times. This project is more comprehensive but avoids some of the more controversial elements of past “traffic calming” projects, like half-street closures.
Still, some feel these new street changes could slow business and cause congestion. They want the large streets to continue to ferry large amounts of cars off freeways.
“The way we approached the project was that we wanted to ensure that we had a project that could be supported by many folks, that was balanced and had a perfect mix between neighborhood livability and continuing to allow downtown, the central business district, to be revitalized,” Project Manager Hector Barron said. “So, it’s got to be a balanced project.”
Most of the project’s impacts are small. However, traffic is expected to worsen noticeably at Third and J streets, 29th and J streets, and 19th Street and Broadway. Additionally, roughly a third of a mile of central-city bike lanes would need to be removed.
The Downtown Sacramento Partnership, which represents downtown businesses and landowners, has expressed doubts about the project already.
“We have communicated that congestion is something we’re not looking for with this, and there are some streets, like J Street and L Street, which carry a significant amount of traffic to and from the freeway, and that would not be positively impacted by two-way traffic at this point,” partnership President Michael Ault said.
Parts of J Street were removed from the study after some entrepreneurs became convinced that eliminating one-ways could hurt business. Their fears were unfounded, Eldredge said. He thinks the current proposal doesn’t go far enough, and he’d like to see more of J Street and other streets converted.
“If you look at pictures from the ’30s, of J and K streets, you see pictures of people, hundreds of people, walking the streets,” Eldredge said, noting that the one-ways serve peak drive times but hurt the neighborhoods. “There’s no reason to have highways through Midtown,” he added.
Midtown resident and former city-council member John Roberts said he supports converting one-way streets but complained that the street grid would be fragmented—with one-way streets closer to downtown and two-way streets further east.
“It’s the most dumb plan I’ve ever seen,” Roberts said. “It’s like trying to work a jigsaw puzzle.”
Even in its pared-down form, the project is threatened by a lack of funds. Roughly $700,000 of the project’s initial $1.9 million budget has been spent already on the study and environmental report. And Barron said the cost to implement all the improvements is “significantly greater” than what remains.
Councilman Steve Cohn, who represents District 3, which includes part of Midtown, hasn’t taken a position on the project and is waiting for more public input. He likes that conversions from three lanes to two enable bike traffic, but he wonders where the money will come from to implement all the project calls for, particularly with L, N, P and Q streets.
“I can’t support doing something without the funding for it,” Cohn said.
Karen Jacques is trying to stay optimistic. The longtime Midtown resident has pushed for the project since the mid-1980s when only the most progressive of politicians supported traffic calming. It’s been a long battle for her and others.
“Some people would probably at this point say that they’re fine with what we have, with the two-lanes, one-way,” Jacques said. “I still want to see ’em two-way, and I still want to see, ultimately, the whole city go back to two-way. I think it has to for livability.”
The city Department of Transportation will hold a workshop on the central-city street-conversion study on February 6, starting at 5 p.m. at the Central Library, 828 I Street. The study can be viewed at www.cityofsacramento.org/transportation/engineering/fundingcentral.html.