In early December, 2020, the Sacramento City Council approved the Slow & Active Streets pilot project, opening up applications to close up to 6 miles of Sacramento streets to vehicle traffic. The streets would remain open to pedestrians, bicyclists, city services like garbage pickup and emergency response, and people who live in the neighborhood—but be closed to all other traffic. The goal of the closures would be to promote biking and walking as an alternative to driving, while also improving mental and physical health.
At the time the initiative was approved, city staff had identified a stretch of road between Freeport Boulevard and Land Park Drive in William Land Regional Park to close off. Since then, the project has made minor headway, with conversations for five additional locations across Sacramento ongoing. According to a City of Sacramento employee contacted for this story, these include Midtown/Newton Booth, East Sacramento, Cabrillo Park, Tahoe Park and Land Park.
In order to qualify under the initiative, streets have to be sponsored by a neighborhood association or other local nonprofit. They also must be small, residential in nature, and not contain any bus or light rail routes, among other criteria. Requests will be prioritized based on whether they are in defined “Environmental Justice” areas, areas with little access to parks, and areas with denser, multi-family housing. Under the current project guidelines, the sponsoring process takes 8-13 weeks to complete, which explains the slow start. This timeline doesn’t leave much time to determine whether to extend the project beyond its April, 2021 end date.
Similar projects are already underway in many California cities like Los Angeles, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Oakland. In those cities, streets have been closed for months, to mostly positive results. According to a preliminary study conducted in Oakland, their version of a slow streets initiative was met with broad public support. It did encounter some problems, however, with a lack of adequate communication to the public about the project. Additionally, it was found that the traffic cones and wood barriers used to block off access to the chosen streets weren’t a cost-effective method in the long-run.
These findings will be pertinent here in Sacramento if the pilot is to be extended beyond April. Other than a blog post on the city’s website, little seems to have been done in terms of public outreach on the initiative. That will be important to educate drivers so they don’t accidentally drive through these areas at dangerous speeds. Outreach will also be important if the initiative is to reach beyond more well-connected areas in Midtown and Land Park to the more economically impoverished areas of the city. Additionally, these findings indicate the city will need to invest in more permanent infrastructure if the streets are to remain closed indefinitely. For now, however, if you or an organization you belong to want to nominate a street to be considered for the program, you can do so here on the City of Sacramento’s website.