Bridge closes for 5 months without detour for bikes

Bridge repair project closes only Natomas-Downtown bike route

On Tuesday, January 2, Sacramento County will close the Jibboom Street Bridge leading into Discovery Park for 5 months of repairs ending in late May, the first major upgrade to the 86-year-old bridge in nearly 50 years.

In addition to creating a more secure route for bike traffic, the project temporarily severs the only legal, direct route for people traveling by bike or on foot between downtown Sacramento and Natomas, home to 20% of the city’s population.

The project shows just how fragile our transportation network really is: there are no nearby alternate routes for pedestrians and bicyclists. (The few drivers who even notice the closure can drive a few hundred yards to reach I-5).

The inadequate number of bridges over the American River affects everyone. Drivers have to travel out of their way to reach one, adding to traffic and air pollution, and the added distance discourages travel by bike, which keeps people in their cars. When our transportation network can be so easily broken, we simply can’t reach air quality goals that envision more people being able to travel by bike.

Sacramento County is not providing a detour for bike traffic but recommends alternate routes that add at least 4 to 14 miles to a one-way trip. The nearest alternate route is the Sacramento Northern Bikeway bridge (AKA the Blue Diamond Bridge or the Pipe Bridge) about 2 miles upstream from Discovery Park. Beyond that, the next nearest crossings are at the H Street and Guy West bridges near Sac State, about 7 miles upstream.

Bike traffic is allowed on Highway 160, which lacks bike lanes and has 60+ MPH traffic. It’s highly dangerous for people on bikes, especially at night, and during rainy or foggy weather, and not recommended.

When flooding closes the American River Parkway, Caltrans authorizes bike traffic on the I-5 bridge over Discovery Park between the Garden Highway and Richards Blvd. exits, however, that detour is extremely hazardous and also not recommended. And it won’t be opened for the Jibboom Street Bridge project (that is, until the Parkway floods).

Northbound I-5 over the Sacramento River

The impacts of the closure don’t simply affect recreational and athletic cyclists who ride in the Parkway. It complicates the commute for those who ride between Natomas and Downtown Sacramento. During a bike traffic count we conducted at the bridge for two hours on a weekday evening in May 2012, we counted 297 cyclists crossing the bridge, nearly as many who cross the Guy West Bridge during the same period. It’s a busy bridge!

And for low-income people who live north of the river and bike or walk to reach essential services on the south side, the closure creates a barrier that’s nearly impossible to overcome.

Proposed bicycle-pedestrian route on I-5

In 2013 the City of Sacramento completed the American River Crossing Alternatives Study [PDF], which recommends three locations for “all-weather” bicycle and pedestrian crossings: a new Regional Transit bridge to carry Light Rail to Natomas from the Richards Blvd. area, new bridges to replace the existing Highway 160 bridges, which are reaching the end of their useful lives, and a new cantilevered bicycle-pedestrian crossing on the west side of the I-5 bridge.

We’re asking the City of Sacramento to take the study off the shelf and expedite planning for one or more of the proposed crossings. Given the complexity and expense of building this kind of infrastructure, this planning has to get started immediately.

In the interim, we’re working with Caltrans to determine whether the I-5 bridge can ever be made safe enough for detoured bike traffic. Current conditions are simply too unsafe for people on bikes.

The City of Sacramento is already working on two new bridges over the Sacramento River between downtown and West Sacramento. The replacement for the I Street Bridge will move bikes off the I Street railroad bridge and a new Broadway Bridge will provide an additional crossing. The American River presents the same kind of obstacle to travel and deserves the same kind of attention.

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