The biggest piece of news this week might have been an article that drew little attention, at least in terms of comments, but detailed a judge denying the Nishi lawsuit. A lot of people are probably thinking this is a non-issue – after all, Nishi was defeated last June at the polls.
But Michael Harrington understood the importance of pushing the lawsuit forward and, because there was no current project, the defendants in this case – the city of Davis – had the luxury of fighting this through rather than being forced by a developer to settle.
Judge Samuel McAdam issued forth a meticulous 30-page ruling in the matter. Basically the suit challenges the adequacy of the EIR in terms of the traffic analysis, mitigation of VMT (vehicle miles traveled), and trip generation assumptions – and got shot down on every count.
Why does this matter at this point in time? First of all, at some point, perhaps soon, there will be a new proposed Nishi project. But, more immediately, the Lincoln40 traffic study and the Richards-Olive Drive corridor study were both based on similar traffic analyses, which up until now were subject to skepticism.
The question turns to whether Mr. Harrington intends to challenge the ruling with an appeal that will drag this process out further. It doesn’t seem like he has much to stand on at this point. The ruling, at least for now, would seem to inoculate Lincoln40’s traffic analysis and the corridor study from legal challenge.
This week, in running our four-part series on Lincoln40, our efforts were based on the idea that we needed to have a factual basis for ongoing discussion. Part of the problem that many, including the Planning Commission, have with the traffic analysis is that it is not intuitive.
However, the traffic study took traffic and vehicular counts from the properties on Olive Drive which are similar to the proposed Lincoln40 – specifically, the Lexington Apartments and The Arbors. That means that the baseline data driving this traffic analysis for impacts on Richards Blvd. and Olive Drive are based on how people are actually traveling from those apartment complexes.
Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants found that the impact of the existing condition plus the project’s effect on peak hour intersections is “less than significant.” They write, “While the LOS grade does not change, additional delay occurs at Richards Boulevard/Olive Drive during the PM peak hour, which operates at LOS D, generally due to the increase in westbound vehicle and bicycle traffic.”
As explained in the report, the traffic analysis results from examining existing conditions only.
The city, as we explained, believes that even without improvements to the corridor they can mitigate the impact of new development, simply through signal modifications. With the proposed improvements, they actually expect circulation to improve along the corridor.
Critics have pointed to the figure “708 beds” as suggestive that there will be major impacts as those people move in and out of the corridor during the day – but, again, that suggests the entirety of the new population is entering the street during close proximity in time to each other, when the reality is that the data from existing apartment complexes suggests a much lower traffic volume at any given time – which peaks at 45 peak hour trips in the morning and 63 peak hour trips in the afternoon.
The biggest projected impact, based on analysis of existing conditions plus the project, is at the Richards/Olive intersection and, interestingly, only in the afternoon. In the morning, the delay only goes from 33 seconds for the existing conditions to 36 seconds with the project.
But in the afternoon the delay goes from 36 second to 54 seconds.
That is with the project and with no improvements to the corridor. However, the city is extremely confident that they will get the grant funding from SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) to improve both the highway interchange and the intersection. SACOG considers this “a regionally significant project” and is actively encouraging the city to go forward with the application.
Sources tell the Vanguard that the city fully expects this interchange improvement to be built within the next five years. The city fully believes that the future conditions will be vastly different, from a circulation standpoint.
There is also a second piece to this puzzle and that is getting the people on bike or on foot through the intersection.
There was a lot of discussion on this, but the city believes that the way to go is a pedestrian and bike overcrossing. In a follow up conversation, I was told that the undercrossing, in addition to being cost prohibitive, has space limitations and design limitations that make it less than desirable.
In November the pedestrian/bike overcrossing to the train depot was rated by consultants as feasible with an estimated cost of $6.3 to $6.7 million.
In conversations with the city, it was noted that the Olive Drive-train depot connection was rising to the top of the list of priorities. The city is planning to apply for funding for that connection in the next cycle that starts in January 2018.
However, getting funding through that program, a very competitive statewide program, is less certain than the city believes the funding is for the Richards Boulevard-I80 interchange project. “It’s speculative whether or not we’ll receive funding (for the overcrossing),” the Vanguard was told.
Some are suggesting that the city should wait for both the freeway corridor exchange and the funding for the overpass before proceeding with Lincoln40. In the end, that is going to be the call of the city council for sure.
In my view, if you look at the EIR’s traffic analysis, the impacts on the corridor are less than significant. It does move some of the intersections from LOS (Level of Service) C to LOS D. That’s of course less than ideal, but we are talking on average about an additional 18-second delay there if the conditions do not change.
Lincoln40 figures to supply another 700 beds for students in a market that has only a 0.2 percent vacancy rate. That means 700 additional students will have bed-security, they will have a place to stay, they will not have to commute and they will not have to couch surf.
To me, every land use decision represents a trade off. You are trading off existing conditions and producing impacts in order to solve another problem.
For me, providing students with good living conditions has to outweigh the inconvenience to those who travel through the corridor, especially if it represents only a small additional delay.
As someone who travels through that corridor to get to work each day, I am impacted by this – but there are both ways to avoid that corridor and, in the scheme of things, a recognition that additional delays are a minor inconvenience compared to the problems faced by students who struggle to find housing, are forced to live on couches or in cars, or are forced to commute for 10 to 20 additional minutes.
A final point is this – one thing EIRs do not analyze well is the impact of the opportunity costs for not having sufficient housing in town. Every person who cannot find housing in Davis is having to drive into town, and the most common access point is through Richards Blvd.
That means you are actually adding cars to the corridor by not building housing just as you are by building housing. Unfortunately, we do not have direct evidence of this, but we know that most people who live within a mile of campus either bike or walk, and most people who live outside of town drive.
That’s a huge and unmeasured impact on traffic right there. That is something that we need to take into account, even if the EIR and traffic study doesn’t.
—David M. Greenwald reporting