The Strong and Fearless Riders of Sacramento

This Monday evening Sacramento will preview improvements to the downtown and midtown transportation grid.  For at least a year, the City has conducted outreach, surveys, and workshops to identify ways to improvement how people get around by car, transit, walking, or bicycling. The focus of “Grid 2.0,” as the City has branded the project, has been on

  • Completing the bicycle network and enhancing the pedestrian network
  • Coordinating transit network expansion and operation
  • Managing travel and parking demand
  • Accommodating planned growth
  • Creating opportunities for economic development
  • Accommodating new and enhanced Downtown gateways

In Sacramento, “the grid” encompasses to central city area, from the Sacramento River on the west to Alhambra Blvd on the east and from Richards Blvd on the north to Broadway on the south. It is called “the grid,” because the streets are laid out in a grid. It dates back to 1849 and its design reflects the transportation modes of the time – walking, streetcars, and bicycles. Then horses pulled the streetcars. Electric streetcars finally came along in 1890. Like other roads, the roads were originally paved for bicycles. Today, the grid covers about 4 1/2 square miles. You can find a detailed history of Sacramento’s streetcars and how it influenced land development at the blog “Sacramento History.”

Sacramento’s street grid circa 1900 with the streetcar routes in bold.

Part of the City’s outreach included a survey of people who bicycle. The “Four Types of Transportation Cyclists” was a tool developed by a Portland traffic engineer to assist in planning. Other transportation professionals and research at Portland State University vetted and refined the model. In Portland, the “strong and fearless” represent about 0.5% of the population and will ride anywhere. The “enthused and Confident,” about 7 percent of the population, enjoy cycling and feel comfortable sharing the roadway with automotive traffic, but prefer operating on their own facilities. The “interested but concerned,” about 60 percent of the population, enjoy bicycling and would like to bicycle, but dislike sharing the road with fast cars. They prefer quiet streets with little traffic. Finally, the “no way no how” group, about a third of the population, will never ride no matter what, likely for reasons of topography, inability, or simply a complete and utter lack of interest.

Sacramento’s proportion of riders is very different, with 24 percent identifying as “strong and fearless.” Since the survey results only look at people who bicycle, Grid 2.’s percentages will differ from Portland. Still, based on proportion relative to the Portland research, one would expect a much larger proportion of “enthused and confident” and “interested but concerned” relative to the “strong and fearless.”


Grid 2.0’s survey of people who bicycle in Sacramento.

Are people who bicycle in Sacramento really that tough? Is this the population the City should design streets for? Definitely not. Sacramento has about a 2 percent bicycle mode share (and even fell a bit in recent years), while Portland has about 6 percent.  Portland has about the same density as Sacramento, but it also has a much more built-out bikeway network. For Sacramento, the large proportion of “strong and fearless” riders is because its current bikeway network caters to “stronger” cyclists, lacks the kind of infrastructure that the “interested but concerned” are willing to ride on, and too many streets the “interested but concerned” are unwilling to ride on. The positive is that Sacramento can significantly increase its bicycle mode share with a network “interested but concerned” people would ride on. This corresponds to “traffic stress level 2.”  It includes separated bike lanes on busy streets with a lot of high-speed traffic, traditional bike lanes on less busy streets, and sharing the road on quiet residential streets.

The City has teased a preview that, unfortunately, leaves a lot to be desired, like a bike lane (protected or otherwise) on L St, which is probably one of the most critical connections through Downtown. Still there are some major improvements, like a lane reduction and bike lane on J St, with a continuous connection under the freeway, and a 2-way protected bike lane on N St, and the preview likely leaves out some smaller projects. We’ll see more tomorrow night.

One response to “The Strong and Fearless Riders of Sacramento

  1. Pingback: Sac Grid 2.0 | Getting Around Sacramento·

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