Streetwise: Building A Better Natomas

Over the next two weeks, “Streetwise: Walking & Biking In Natomas” will examine whether efforts to create a healthy, walkable and bikeable community in Natomas have been successful.
BY BRANDY TUZON BOYD
THE NATOMAS BUZZ | @natomasbuzz
Just across the American River from downtown Sacramento live thousands of the city’s residents.
They make their homes in Natomas which occupies merely one-fourth of the greater Natomas Basin – a massive 55,000 acres in all, surrounded by two rivers and a network of drainage canals.
“South Natomas was specifically built to be a bedroom community to downtown Sacramento,” said former city councilman Ray Tretheway, a Natomas resident for three decades. “There were to be no shops to buy clothes, no movie theater, no big restaurants.”
Area residents, he said, were expected to work, shop and play in downtown Sacramento.
A lot has changed since then.
The area is now comprised of several distinct neighborhoods – defined in part by two interstate freeways – and sprawls across 22 square miles from Garden Highway, where Tretheway lives, north to the city limits near the Sacramento International Airport.
In the past 10 years, the Natomas population has more than doubled.
Area amenities include a multiscreen movie theater, numerous restaurants and clothing stores, a sports and entertainment arena, miles of bike and walking trails, and the promise of more to come.
THE NEW I-80 BIKE AND PEDESTRIAN BRIDGES.

Today, Sacramento city officials will celebrate a new bike and pedestrian bridge which, for the first time, connects the Natomas community’s trails, located north of Interstate 80 to trails south of the freeway. The grand opening event scheduled for 9:30 a.m. at Peregrine Park is just short of historic in a community where connectivity has long been a focus.

The $6.1 million project includes a nearly two-block-long bridge over the freeway and a smaller bridge across the West Drainage Canal along with new connections to existing bike trails.

“People are so excited about the bridge opening,” said Becky Heieck, executive director of the North Natomas Transportation Management Association. “There will be a lot of pedestrians and cyclists who will use it – they will just go out of their way to use it.”
Over the years, between 1950 and 1980, south Natomas grew predominately as residential subdivisions.
The South Natomas Community Plan approved by city officials in 1978 envisioned the area as a high-density, transit-oriented, residential community.
But changes in the community and its expectations for the area paved the way for a revised South Natomas Community Plan in 1988 which included new parks, riverfront access, a proposed light rail line and connections to new and existing parkways frequented by cyclists.
When work on the 1994 North Natomas Community Plan rolled forward, significant efforts were made to accommodate bikes and pedestrians, said city traffic engineer Hector Barron.
“In north Natomas, there was an emphasis on walking,” Barron said. “For the first time the city of Sacramento introduced standard, separated sidewalks where there is a planter area.”
The community plan for north Natomas envisioned a mixture of residential, employment, commercial and civic uses in the new-growth area interdependent on transit service and a network of connections linked by streets, public transit routes, and linear parkways with bike and pedestrian trails. Homes were to be within walking distance of open space and employment centers pedestrian friendly.
“Citizens will use pedestrian trails or bikeways as part of their work commute pattern to move to and from commercial centers, civic uses, and recreational facilities, or solely for recreational activity,” reads the 1994 North Natomas Community Plan.
The city’s planners and traffic engineers tried not to repeat mistakes made in growing south Natomas, Tretheway said.
For example, he said, a bike and pedestrian bridge once planned from Truxel Road to downtown Sacramento was eventually erased from plans for south Natomas. Later, three bike and pedestrian bridges over Interstate 80 – including the one opening today – were planned.
“We started with a clean slate,” said Tretheway, “with strong concepts on how to link north Natomas to the south.”
“Streetwise: Walking & Biking In Natomas” was undertaken as part of a health journalism program offered through The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, administered by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

A CYCLIST ON DEL PASO ROAD IN NATOMAS.
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