No horsing around on Del Paso Boulevard in Sacramento, CA

CA Sacramento Del Paso after credit Fehr and Peers
Del Paso Boulevard in Sacramento, CA. Photo courtsey of Fehr & Peers.

This post is the sixth in a series of case studies about Complete Streets people, places, and projects. Follow the full series over the next several weeks.

If you’ve walked along Del Paso Boulevard in Sacramento, CA in recent years, you may have noticed horses imprinted on the street’s brickwork. The bricks are a tribute to the area’s ranching history — and a sign of a modern commitment to safety for everyone using the street.

Between 1844 and the early 1900s, in what is today North Sacramento, sat over 40,000 acres of Del Paso Ranch. The ranch’s ownership passed through several hands before it purchased by James B. Haggins, a Kentucky native who earned his fortune in copper mines and railroads. Haggins raised more than 1,000 thoroughbred horses at Del Paso Ranch, including, according to one source, the first Californian horse to win the Kentucky Derby. In 1905, when Haggins announced that he was leaving horse breeding because he was operating at a loss, a New York Times headline proclaimed that that his stock farm was “the Greatest Nursery of Thoroughbreds in the World.”

Today in North Sacramento, Del Paso Boulevard — a main thoroughfare through the neighborhood — bears the old ranch’s name but did little to honor the area’s storied past. Up until recently, the Boulevard suffered from deteriorating or sometimes non-existent sidewalks that make walking tough, especially for people with assistive devices. In areas that did have sidewalks, trees that had long outgrown their wells buckled the concrete. At an intersection near the Globe Station on Sacramento’s Blue Line, a lack of traffic signals made crossing the street a dangerous proposition. And even though Del Paso Boulevard was one of the first streets in Sacramento to get street lights, lighting near the Globe Station was scarce, creating safety and visibility issues.

A proposed street reconstruction project offered new opportunities to correct these issues while also connecting Del Paso’s past to its future. And like any successful project, a diverse group of planners, engineers, public leaders, and Sacramento residents informed the Boulevard’s new design.

The first challenge was to fund the project, which the City estimated would cost $2.9 million. Matthew Johns, the City of Sacramento’s project manager, reported that the City’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator helped prepare a grant application to the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the region’s metropolitan planning agency. Additional dollars were sourced through Community Development Block Grants. Since the project crossed light rail lines and touched a state highway, Johns had lots of conversations with the regional transit provider and Caltrans, California’s Department of Transportation. The infrastructure in the area was so old that some of the utilities weren’t mapped, meaning that the City also needed to coordinate with local utility companies to modify some of the project designs. The project team also worked with the California Public Utilities Commission to install and modify traffic signals at the light rail crossings.

A very knowledgeable and engaged neighborhood association also played an active role in both the development and delivery of the project. The City held community meetings before the project started to get a feel for where residents stood on issues, and the project had early support from the area’s City Councilwoman. Johns credits both of these factors as key parts of the project’s success.

“Give residents a voice and engage them in the process,” Johns encourages. “It will help you identify potential challenges, generate new ideas, and understand your community’s needs.”

As the project progressed to the construction phase, a surprising person helped make the process more transparent: the construction contractor’s on-site project manager. He borrowed office space from one of the businesses on Del Paso Boulevard and created an open-door policy. Residents and business owners were able to stop by and ask questions about the construction’s progress. As a result, issues like creating alternative paths around construction could be figured out on the spot. The open-door policy was an unexpected bonus in a deliberately planned and carefully executed project.

CA Sacramento Del Paso Blvd collage credit Bennett Engineering Services
Details from the completed Del Paso Boulevard. Photos courtesy of Bennett Engineering Services.

When construction finished in November 2013, Del Paso Boulevard was transformed. Median refuges and bulb-outs shortened the crossing distances at major crosswalks, which were now ADA compliant. LED lighting was installed near the light rail station, and new benches provided seating near bus stops and businesses. New, wider, and level sidewalks were lined with shade trees and native shrubs and grasses. A new irrigation system fixed the drainage issues along the Boulevard, and new moisture and weather sensors improved water-efficiency and cut maintenance costs. Along a short stretch, a travel lane was converted to on-street parking, helping to manage traffic speeds. Transit access was vastly improved through new signal coordination for the light rail line, bus pull-outs, and a new traffic signal near the light-rail station.

CA Sacramento Del Paso Blvd before-after credit Bennett Engineering Services
Before and after the transformation. Photos courtesy of Bennett Engineering Services.

Design embellishments reinforce the street’s historic roots. The City incorporated bricks imprinted with horseshoes and racing horses in the tree wells along the Boulevard, and compliment the silver horse statues from an earlier project on another section of the Boulevard. Blue glass inlay and concrete swirls were also added in homage to the nearby Sacramento River. The safety and aesthetic improvements help to create a visitor-friendly environment for existing businesses while laying the groundwork for future infill and transit-oriented development. In 2013, the project won the American Public Works Association Sacramento Chapter’s Public Works Project of the Year Award.

Learn more:

This case study was written by Hanna Kite.

Complete Streets