Working with the Noralto Community for Change

Traffic at the intersection of Las Palmas and Forrest street conflicts with a school parking lot and challenges student pedestrian safety.
Traffic at the intersection of Las Palmas and Forrest avenues conflicts with a school parking lot and challenges student pedestrian safety.

Noralto is a diverse community in one of Sacramento’s oldest neighborhoods, adjacent to Del Paso Heights and North Sacramento.   WALKSacramento is working in partnership with Ubuntu Green, a fellow community-based non-profit organization, to engage the Noralto community to assess neighborhood concerns regarding transportation, safety and blight.  It has been an active effort.

On July 9, 2013, WALKSacramento and partners conducted a walk audit of the area near Harmon Johnson elementary school with community members to review some longstanding transportation and other issues, particularly access to Harmon Johnson Elementary School  on Las Palmas Avenue east of Norwood Avenue.  Community participants were parents at the school who have had to negotiate the tricky local roads and crossings to get their children to class during the school year.

A good walk audit includes more than community members.  On this walk, Daniel Savala, staff from Councilmember Alan Warren’s office, was present as well as Dino Riali, City of Sacramento traffic investigator.  Walking east from Harmon Johnson down Las Palmas to Altos Avenue, the walk noted the lack of wheelchair-accessible curb ramps at the corner of Fairfield, and the narrow four foot sidewalk down to Altos that made it difficult for walkers to comfortably travel side by side.  There are speed lumps present to reduce car speed on Los Palmas.

At Altos, the walk encountered the Sacramento Northern Bike Trail.  The path from the bike trail leads into the middle of a t-shaped intersection.  The Harmon Johnson school principal, David Nevarez, also on the walk, noted that students using the trail will spill onto the road as car traffic moves into the intersection.  Altos arrives at the intersection after a long stretch where cars do not have to stop, which means high speed approaches are common, endangering both bicyclists and pedestrians coming off the well-traveled bicycle path.

The walk continued down Altos to residential Eleanor Avenue.  Here, an interesting question is posed.  The community members noted the high speed and the challenge of students crossing several intersections without crosswalks..  They requested speed lumps as a remedy.  Mr. Riali informed us that lack of crosswalks may make the argument for speed lumps more effective as road speed would likely be higher.  Community members considered the options and chose to petition for speed lumps and a speed and volume study for the right solution.  The petition was accepted by the City but the subsequent traffic speed study found that Eleanor did not qualify for speed  lumps. WALKSacramento suggested that parent crossing escorts over the Fairfield and Forrest intersections with Eleanor during morning and afternoon school arrival and departure might provide a short term response while crosswalks are pursued.

Perhaps the biggest traffic challenge is at the school itself. The walk finished at the school parking lot entrance and exit right at opposite Forrest Street’s T intersection with Las Palmas.  This creates a confusing four way traffic snarl with cars turning at the intersection against cars entering and leaving the parking lot.  Several plans have been proposed by the City and Twin Rivers Unified School District to address. The community, with Ubuntu Green’s assistance, has drafted a letter to the new District superintendent to strongly review the matter and work with the City to find a solution.

There were other issues as well. Traffic signs were found hidden behind bushes, trash was dumped in public areas and roaming dogs were reported to be a problem.

So what’s next?  WALKSacramento and Ubuntu Green met with community members on Thursday, July 11 and Thursday, August 9 to discuss next steps.  WALKSacramento will work with the City to address the transportation issues.  Ubuntu Green will work on blight and trash issues. Well-attended community clean-ups have been conducted on July 13, August 17 and September 28.  Both WALKSacramento and Ubuntu Green are working with the Twin Rivers school district and the City Department of Public Works on the parking lot and intersection issue, to set a meeting to review the issues.  It has been an effective partnership of organizations, school and City, so far.  We will keep you posted.