Slow Down, Please
Pocket traffic forces us to speak up
By R.E. Graswich
Raising kids in Pocket means riding bicycles. When my two boys were little, we rode all the time. We rode to Martin Luther King Jr. School each morning, Mountain Mike’s Pizza on Friday nights, Garcia Bend Park on Sundays.
We were lucky. Our house was one block from the Pocket Canal bike trail, which made our trips safe and easy.
But even with the bike trail, there were concerns. To get to school, the kids had to cross Rush River Drive. To get to soccer, they had to bisect Pocket Road. Both crossings were dangerous, especially Pocket Road, which some motorists treat as an autobahn without speed limits.
I was reminded of these joys and worries recently while reading complaints about traffic realignments now underway or under consideration for Pocket and Greenhaven.
I’ve heard only a few complaints. They are measured and reasonable. Some come from my friends. But they made me think about the negative forces that swirl around disruption and change. They made me think about the challenges faced by Pocket City Councilmember Rick Jennings, whose job is to improve his community without upsetting too many neighbors.
A goal I consider brilliant—let’s find ways to slow traffic on Pocket Road, Florin Road and Rush River Drive—is a hassle for someone else. Dennis Rogers, chief of staff for Jennings and the guy who curates criticisms presented to his boss, tells me about a trip he took with a local resident.
They toured Florin Road in Pocket. Rogers wanted opinions on the recent traffic realignment that narrows the busy street. Basically, the realignment reverses bike lanes and curbside parking spots and makes traffic slower and safer.
This is a modern design found on several Downtown streets. The idea is to protect cyclists by placing them between parked cars and the curb, rather than between parked cars and speeding cars. Rogers says it’s a fairly cheap strategy that requires little more than paint. There’s no need to summon engineers, backhoes and bulldozers.
Still, the person who toured with Rogers wasn’t happy. He didn’t understand why Florin Road needed anything changed. It was fine the way it was. He was suspicious about bicyclists receiving special accommodation. He didn’t like cyclists.
“We’ve been hearing from some people who are legitimately upset, and we’re pleased to hear from them,” Rogers says. “We want input, and we want people to know we can always go back and change things that aren’t working.”
The city is working through a major traffic study on how people move around Pocket and Greenhaven. It’s a generational project that surveys everything: how people go to school, shop, play and commute. The infrastructure realignments that flow from the study will require more than paint. It’s a backhoe, bulldozer and engineer kind of study.
Jennings is determined to hear from as many people as possible before he rips up streets. His eagerness to listen isn’t to reduce political liabilities. He believes the community should guide city priorities. Are residents primarily interested in speedy access to Interstate 5? Do they prefer to walk and cycle around Pocket? Are they hungry for recreational opportunities?
“Hearing from the community is really a good thing,” Jennings says. This means people have to speak up—or else.
When I first heard about the traffic study, I thought the results would overwhelmingly favor slower traffic, getting people out of cars, and encouraging long walks and bicycle rides. That’s the kind of place I want to live—where I can walk to shops and restaurants, cycle, rarely need a car, and definitely don’t need two of them.
But I guess that’s not how everyone feels. When I think back to Pocket Road with my kids and our bikes, I remember those motorists racing past us. For some people, having no speed limit is the best plan of all.
R.E. Graswich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.