When walking down the new sidewalks of Freedom Park Drive, (off North Watt in North Highlands) you may notice the streets are lined with young trees or freshly painted bike lanes that make bicycling a breeze. What may be harder to see are the approximately 4,000 recycled tires used in the road’s asphalt, or the plants that naturally prevent water pollution from going into local creeks. You might even miss how the design of the street eliminates 964 lbs. of greenhouse gases annually. All these features, visible or not, are the result of collaborative planning by the Sacramento County Departments of Community Development, Water Resources and Transportation. Even if you missed many of these innovations, the American Planning Association - Sacramento Valley Chapter didn’t, and has recognized Sacramento County with the 2013 Planning Project Award.
“This street does so much good for the environment and all it took was a comprehensive plan,” said Judy Robinson, Principal Planner for the Department of Community Development.
Freedom Park Drive is categorized as a complete street—meaning it has a street, curb, gutter, landscaping and a sidewalk, but it is more than that. Driving by, you might not recognize the level of planning that went into its design. The lanes were constructed at an angle so water would run off into depressed landscaped planters. The planters are filled with shrubs and plants that naturally filter the rain water, capturing pollutants that could damage local creeks while taking little water for themselves. The plants were also chosen for their sustainability, requiring less trimming or maintenance thereby reducing pollution emitted from lawn mowers and leaf blowers.
Other environment-protecting features include the two round-abouts that allow traffic to slow without stopping completely reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. When cars come to a complete stop and accelerate again, it creates more CO2 emissions than when driving at a consistent speed. Even the lighting used along sidewalks was designed to save energy: instead of incandescent lighting, LED street lighting was installed, decreasing energy use by 50 percent.
“It’s more than a street to drive on, it’s about providing people with a well-designed space to use that creates a sense of place,” said Robinson. “Freedom Park Drive helps the environment, beautifies the area and provides residents opportunities to walk or bike.”
With clearly marked bike lanes and safe sidewalks set away from the street, people feel more welcomed to enjoy the outdoors and be active. Before the project began, there were no sidewalks for pedestrians or joggers to utilize; now people have the opportunity to walk to area shops, parks, schools, jobs and even a museum. These improvements promote inadvertent activity, which will help increase personal health from walking or biking for pleasure or those daily trips. Walkability is also good for business and the economy – research shows walkable communities have higher property values and are highly desirable. The 123 shade trees planted along the road will contribute to future shade once they reach full maturity, providing comfort to pedestrians while also improving the air quality and helping to reduce the urban heat by two to nine degrees.
All these features illustrate the County’s investment in sustainable and healthy communities in the area. Whether it is investment in safer walkways and bike lanes for pedestrians, in environmentally friendly construction or in local businesses, the County is making Freedom Park Drive a place where people want to be.
Writer: Kaitlin Bane, Communications and Media Intern