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Back-Seat Driver

Commuter alert: The city is about to put J Street on a traffic-squeezing ‘road diet’


One of central Sacramento’s most popular - and crowded - streets is headed for a major makeover this summer.

City officials will eliminate one of the three lanes on J Street in midtown to make space for a separated bike lane and to slow traffic so pedestrians feel safer. The changes will take place between 19th and 30th streets.

The J Street “road diet” represents the most dramatic step yet in the city’s decade-long effort to make midtown more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly. That has already included narrowing a handful of one-way streets from three to two lanes.

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J Street has long served dual and sometimes conflicting roles in the central city. It is a major afternoon commuter exit route out of downtown. But it also serves as a village-like downtown for a handful of midtown residential neighborhoods, with stores, restaurants and pedestrian-oriented events such as art walks and farmer’s markets.

The plan includes the addition of what is called a “parking protected bike lane” on the south side of J Street. The one-way bike lane will be located next to the sidewalk. The parking lane will be moved out toward the street, and will act as a buffer between cyclists and moving traffic.

Jennifer Donlon Wyant, the city’s active transportation manager, said protected bike lanes will encourage more people to bike who otherwise might be afraid to. The lanes are low speed and cyclists are required to stop at intersections, as are cars, to allow pedestrians to walk by.

“We are not building these for folks in Lycra to go fast,” she said. “We are building these for everyday people, workers, families, moms, kids, grandparents.”

City Councilman Steve Hansen said a secondary goal is to get cyclists off the sidewalks, away from conflicts with pedestrians. “We want to really reshape that upper J Street corridor so it is better place for everybody.”

Hansen is among those who believe the changes will bring some economic benefit to J Street by slowing cars so that drivers get a better view of the businesses that line the street, and encouraging more people to walk and shop.

Some on the street complain it will create a traffic jam during the crowded afternoon commute hour that may cause cars to divert to other streets.

Rob Slusser, a manager at Lofings Lighting on J Street, said he likes the idea of calming traffic during non-peak hours. “All indicators are it’ll be great for business.” But, as a corridor commuter, he says he fears traffic will be a “nightmare” at 5 p.m.

“It already takes me 10 minutes to get to the freeway from here and we’re just blocks away,” he said.

The Sacramento Bee

The city’s traffic chief, Ryan Moore, says said congestion will increase during the commute hour, but the average amount of time lost may be measured in seconds rather than minutes.

Also, during non-peak hours, when some cars speed on J Street, the new two-lane configuration will make the street feel tighter, causing drivers to naturally slow down, even if the lane ahead of them is clear. That will help at the handful of unsignalized intersections, such as 20th and J next to the MARRS building, where pedestrians sometimes struggle to safely cross, he said.

The lane changes will be part of a larger $1 million street repavement project on J Street, funded in part from the state’s 2017 gas tax increase. The city plans to close lanes to grind off the existing asphalt and add a new road surface. City officials say they expect to be able to keep a lane open during construction. They however say they do not yet know when construction will happen or how long it will take.

That has business owners on the street worried about the effects on their businesses this summer, said Jameson Parker, an executive with the Midtown Association, a group of property and business owners. Overall, though, Jameson said most property and business owners believe the changes will be positive.

J Street in downtown - west of 19th Street - will remain a three-lane street. That section of J has heavier afternoon commute traffic, with drivers then peeling off to head north on 16th Street and south on 15th and 19th streets.

The city will hold a public forum to discuss the J Street changes at 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Hart Senior Center, 27th and J streets.

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