Slow streets

Oakland has closed 20 miles of residential streets to vehicles during the pandemic. Could Sacramento do the same? (Photo from city of Oakland)

Sacramento may close some residential roads to prioritize pedestrian safety during the COVID-19 pandemic

If you want Sacramento to join the “slow streets” movement and include a road in your neighborhood, you have until next week to be heard.

City Hall is considering the concept, which calls for closing stretches of residential streets to vehicles and prioritizing street space for pedestrians and bicyclists. The idea has zoomed in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic as more people walk to exercise while still trying to keep a safe distance from others.

An online survey that ends May 27 asks whether during the stay-at-home order you have seen more people walking or bicycling in the middle of the road due to crowded sidewalks, or more cars speeding through neighborhoods.

The survey also asks which transportation issues are important during the pandemic: slowing traffic speeds in your neighborhood; creating a more comfortable space to walk, jog or bike; and creating more space along routes for people walking and bicycling to essential locations such as schools, groceries, clinics and bus stops.

Finally, the survey asks for recommendations of streets, or portions of streets, to close. They must must be residential, have no more than two travel lanes and have a posted speed limit of 25 mph.

Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates and WALKSacramento are urging city officials to proceed with the “slow and active streets” program, already in place in about 30 cities worldwide, including Oakland and San Francisco.

“Sidewalks and bike lanes are more crowded than ever, often forcing residents to move into traffic lanes just to maintain a 6-foot distance. Additionally, while we are pleased to see that parks and green spaces have remained open to provide valuable physical and mental health benefits, it is clear that there is an overwhelming demand for safe spaces to exercise while obeying stay at home orders. The current capacities of our parks and trails are not enough to uphold public health and safety standards,” the groups say in a joint letter to Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

In an online petition signed by more than 850 residents, the two groups make clear, however, that “slow streets” are not designed to encourage street parties or large gatherings.

Instead, the priority should be on routes so people can get safely to essential businesses and services, including testing sites, and in neighborhoods where green space and healthy food is less accessible.

The advocates say the city should restrict traffic on neighborhood streets to residential and emergency vehicles only; implement “slow street” routes to parks and essential businesses; and identify low-traffic alternatives to major streets for walking and bicycling. They also urge the city to accelerate pedestrian safety projects in major corridors including Broadway, Freeport Boulevard and Stockton Boulevard. Nearly half of the city’s traffic deaths involve pedestrians.

Besides a safer city, more walking will help Sacramento reach its climate change and cleaner air goals, Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates and WALKSacramento say.

In a May 18 progress update, the groups say they are partnering with the city to identify two to three corridors of streets that could be slowed to through traffic.

A city spokeswoman said officials have met several times with the two groups and are evaluating issues such as inadequate sidewalk space, access to parks and to essential services and equity among neighborhoods, but also considering budget constraints.

“The City is working with community partners to identify a pilot program in a thoughtful and methodical way to ensure neighborhood support,” the spokeswoman said in an email.

The city hopes to have potential streets identified soon after the survey results are compiled, the spokeswoman said.

Any selected street closings would stay in place until the stay-at-home order is fully lifted. While Sacramento is moving toward reopening more businesses, gyms will be among the last ones.

But Debra Banks, executive director of Sac Bike, says that the city should continue with “slow streets” even after the stay-at-home order ends.

“Definitely, more people and families are out and about on streets, so we want to continue to encourage that,” she said in an email.

Banks also pointed out that summer camps and other activities for children will be limited, so they will need other options in their own neighborhoods. And she said that it appears that fewer workers will return to the office as tele-working becomes more common, “so more folks will need a regular exercise program, and slowed streets become the new gym.”

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