When Old North Davis residents first suggested a Fifth Street redesign back in 2003, perhaps the biggest driving factor behind their proposal was to improve safety along the corridor.
Safety not only for bicyclists, who would be granted bike lanes down the corridor in both directions between A and L streets, but also for pedestrians who had to cross Fifth Street and its four lanes of traffic.
Almost a decade later, however, with the actual project close to final design and construction, residents of surrounding neighborhoods like Old North Davis are still concerned about those pedestrians who have to cross the street, even with only two lanes of traffic.
Those residents came out in full force at Tuesday’s City Council meeting to voice their concerns.
At the center of the discussion were the medians along Fifth Street where pedestrians likely will take refuge when crossing the road.
Neighbors are concerned about the non-signalized intersections along the corridor, primarily C, D, E and J streets.
Old East neighborhood resident Rhonda Reed explained that because there will only be two lanes of traffic in the new design rather than four, and likely a slower but more steady flow of cars, pedestrians will need that space in the middle of the road to get across.
“There are going to be fewer opportunities for pedestrians to cross safely across the street, so it really emphasizes the need to have those median islands,” Reed said.
Bob Clarke, the city’s interim public works director, had proposed mostly 2-foot medians along Fifth Street. State planning standards dictate that a 6-foot median is necessary to provide for adequate pedestrian refuge.
And with only a certain amount of space from curb to curb, about 50 feet along most blocks and 48 along others, squeezing either the traffic or bike lanes didn’t seem to be a viable option.
But the advocacy group Davis Bicycles!, which was well represented at the council meeting Tuesday night, met with city staff in the weeks before the meeting and said bicyclists would be willing to give up the buffer between the traffic and bike lanes, which would allow space for expanded medians.
After consulting with Davis Bicycles! and other community members over the past few weeks, Clarke and other city staffers said Tuesday they believe they have come close to a compromise.
In the new design, the city would widen the medians to 4 1/2 feet for non-signalized intersections where space allows and reduce the travel lanes in both directions from 11 feet to 10 feet, 9 inches.
The signalized intersections would be striped with 2 1/2-foot medians.
Meanwhile, Clarke originally had thought that narrower traffic lanes would reduce safety on Fifth Street, but after looking at the new design again, he believes actually the opposite would be true.
“Narrowing the travel lanes … would lead to some friction, which would hopefully lead to traffic slowing down a little bit, potentially making the corridor safer,” Clarke said.
The other related issue that the council wrestled with Tuesday night was the difference in implementing painted medians versus concrete medians.
Councilman Brett Lee said while he understands Phase 1 work of the Fifth Street project calls only for striped medians, he believes the council should continue to push for the eventual implementation of concrete medians.
“I think it’s essential that we as a council publicly state our support for raised medians, ultimately, as many people have spoken,” Lee said. “Painted medians are a start, but really, the raised medians offer much greater protection for the pedestrians waiting in the middle of the road.”
Ken Hiatt, community development and sustainability director, said city staff will bring the final proposal to the council for approval in two weeks.
Construction of Phase 1 of the project is set to begin next summer and is estimated to cost $1.1 million. The majority of the cost will be paid for by a Sacramento Area Council of Governments grant the city received in 2009.
— Reach Tom Sakash at email@example.com or (530) 747-8057. Follow him on Twitter @TomSakash