Davis City Council Candidates Discuss Bikes and Transportation Issues


It was a different setting on Monday night in Davis, as the City Council candidates gathered outside of Bike Forth to discuss bikes and transportation issues sponsored by Davis Bicycles and the Davis Bike Collective.

The format for this one was a bit different, each candidate gave a five minute prepared statement and were asked two questions from the the sponsors and then they opened it up to audience questions.  For the purposes of this story, I will discuss their opening statement, the answers to the two questions from the sponsors, and then the answers to a question on Fifth Street and Green waste containerization.

Generally I have not covered opening statements because they are the same or similar each time.  However, in this case, Joe Krovoza went off his normal script to lay out kind of a vision bicycling and others kind of followed suit after Sydney Vergis gave really her normal prepared statement.

Mr. Krovoza started out talking about his involvement in bicycles and at one point cited Ted Buehler, one of the originators of the Davis bicycle renaissance in recent years.  “Ted Buehler, who was a graduate student in transportation studies in December of 2006, gave his talk on the history of biking in Davis, and you just couldn’t hear that talk without realizing that we had so much more to do and there was so much more potential.  The 60s and 70s were the heyday of Davis biking culture and since then, it had really gone on a bit of decline.  Cars had taken over, safety had gone down.”

This led to the formation of Davis Bicycles.  Joe Krovoza would then lay out a ten point plan which included safe bike routs, making Fifth St a success, bike parking ordinance, double striping of bike lanes, off grade crossings for biking, organize better, planning and public works decisions much promote biking, focus city staff and commissions on the promotion of bicycling, engaging the business community, SPD Depot multimode hub, bike church on campus as well as other ideas.

Rochelle Swanson talked briefly about the effort to bring a large number of bike racks to the new Davis High Stadium and the efforts of many of the people involved in Davis biking to help bring that effort to fruition.  She also discussed how biking has become part of her life.

Ms. Swanson then talked about the need to get the budget in line as a barrier to doing the kind of projects we need.  She mentioned that what we need with regard to transportation is a good design review.  “Design review doesn’t just help transportation,” she said, “it helps our entire planning process.  But I would advocate that we are able to set fourth some guidelines at every application, how’s the transportation piece going to look?  Is it going to be friendly to bikes?  Is there going to be easy access and routes to the schools?”

She continued that she wants to make sure that any project that comes forth, keeps in mind having wide enough streets to accommodate cars and bicycles, and that we have funding place to make these designs.

Daniel Watts talked about moving into a mobile home park on Research Drive and suddenly discovering that he could ride directly from his front door step to the law school without ever going on the street as he took the bike path through the bike underpass and entered campus that way.  “I was amazed at how cool that was,” he said, “it was like an extra long drive way from the law school right up to my front door.  I didn’t have to deal with any cars or traffic or stop lights.”

Jon Li was late arriving due to having to teach his class at the experimental college.  He sent a prepared statement that was read.  He said in part, “I haven’t owned a car for 3 years.  I have a deal with my mechanic for when I need a car.  I drive about 1000 miles a year (compared to the national average of over 10 times that), and take one plane trip a year.  Compared to most people in Davis, I have a low transportation part of my carbon footprint.”

He called the bike his most trusted tool.  “For my lifestyle, my bike is as utilitarian as a fork or a cup.  Necessary for life” he wrote, “I have had 11 bikes stolen, 8 in Davis.  Each time it broke my heart, made my legs tremble, and forced me to drop whatever else I was planning on doing until I got wheels again.”

From a policy perspective, he said, “The city’s reputation as bike friendly is hampered by the need to meet the basic engineering requirements of keeping the roads going for cars.”

He pointed out, “53% of Davis’ carbon footprint is transportation based, so we need to do more to get people out of their cars.”

Finally, he suggested that creating a culture to encourage students to walk and ride bikes is a way to avoid major pollution, he also encouraged higher density housing, “Higher density housing would do a lot to encourage bicycle culture, in part because there isn’t the room for as many parked cars, but also because higher density would mean more successful local retail and food outlets within walking distance, and riding a bike doesn’t seem as far.”

Joe Krovoza said Davis’ bike culture gives it a unique opportunity to cope with things like peak oil, which means the cost of fuel will skyrocket in the coming years, and global climate change, which he called a “complete game changer” in terms of how we live our lives.  “I would like to add to that a greater thinking about transit, transportation, and multi-modal.” 

He talked about Unitrans and the fact that it stands for University Transit, but argued, “I think it should stand for unifying the modes of transit.”  He continued, “I would like to think about Unitrans truly moving not just into busing in town, but the multimodal system in town.”  This might mean they take a greater role in bikes and transit being coordinated.  Buses to train stations to improve that coordination.

He also suggested a system where if you know the Unitrans bus stop, and you can use your cell phone to find out when the next bus will arrive to save time and thus encourage ridership.

Rochelle Swanson answered, “The good think about the gas shortage of a couple of years ago is that we have a little taste of what’s coming.”  This led people to slow down their use of their automobiles in order to save gas.  She mentioned that people started realizing the Unitrans slows down their service in the summer.  “I think Unitrans is a good start ” she said, “to talk about where we go to the next step on that to make it more user friendly.”

Talked about a program to put bike racks at all stops to enable people to bike to the bus stop and safely leave their bike as a means to integrate the two forms of transportation.  Again talked about design review to make sure that transportation is right up front in the beginning of new projects.  Finally she talked about moving to alternative forms of energy to power cars and mentioned electric cars and convenient hook ups for those.  Mentioned solar panels over parking lots for electricity for parking lot but also to recharge electric cars.

She said that when they purchased an electric car, they thought it would be a snap to use it, but there are less than a handful of places to plug in electric cars in the city right now.

Sydney Vergis said, “It shouldn’t take someone dying to really think proactively about regional connectivity for transportational services, whether or not it’s city-to-city or areas within the region via bike or ped or transit.”  She continued, “We really need to start thinking about connectivity with those factors but also with EVs as well.”

She sees bolstering our neighborhood shopping centers as vital to this effort.  “I think those are going to become of increased importance in the future as we’re looking to get those basic amenities by walking or by biking from our homes or work just to be able to buy those things on a day-to-day basis.”

She said she’d like to see us stop planning for bike and pedestrian paths as an afterthought.  She said those things are traditionally tacked on at the end and she recommended we think about types of grant funding that might be available to pursue proactively.

Daniel Watts suggested that long term we need more density to place amenities closer to homes and where people live and work.  Subsequent developments need to be closer to the downtown so people do not need a car.  Mentioned bicycle rental programs and a free bike share plan as a means to encourage bike ridership.

The second question was for the candidates to name the boldest thing that they would propose to advocate for more and safer bicycling.

Jon Li who had rejoined the group stepped up with answer, “no car driving one day a week.”  He left his answer at that.

Joe Krovoza, “I’m going to keep beating the drum on safe routes to school.”   He continued, “I think this is an incredible partnership that is waiting to happen.  It need to be the city, the school district, the non-profits – they can all play a role.”  He concluded, “I think the boldest thing is to be as aggressive as we can about safe routes to schools.  Let’s shame as many parents as possible.”

Rochelle Swanson advocated that we have a grant program.  “Right now grants are written by different department heads and sometimes that falls to the bottom, I think especially in these tight times, because were are on the leading edge,” she said, “we have a unique opportunity to bring someone in to get grant money.” 

She mentioned that we have learned there are an amazing amount of grants and money available for biking because of clean air, transportation, climate change, etc.  She suggested rather than simply have to rely on a staff person to seek these out and write them that we outsource, relying on people who work on a commission basis to write grants.

Sydney Vergis said, “I want to look at the feasibility of implementing European Style roadway improvements.”  She said that she has thought about safety a lot since she had her own bike accident.   She mentioned success in Europe of moving the stop line for cars back, behind bicycles, and allowing the bikes to go first.  “This way when you have bikes moving forward, and cars making a right hand turn, you don’t have as high probability of collisions.”

Daniel Watts recommended banning leafblowers blowing debris onto the bike path.

The question was asked about the Fifth Street Redesign whether it should be viewed as a trial and whether the candidates were committed to not just support it but to advocate and ensure that it works.

Rochelle Swanson answered first.  “I think it’s a mistake to look at as a trial.  I think if we’re going to do it, it has be done successfully.  These funds are coming on line in the next couple of years.  It is imperative that if it happens, it happens right and it stays.”   She continued, “I think taking SACOG funds and adding very precious Davis dollars with us not being sure that it’s the right design is a mistake.”   

She continued by pointing out that any mistake is coming out of general funds to fix it.  “I think it’s wonderful,” she said, “to have this unique design to go through the town and change some of the character.  I think that we have to look to people who are experts and engineers on this and ask them what is the most livable way that we can do it with this current grant and how we put the pieces in the designs to make sure that it passes… we’re still having to go through CEQA review.”

She concluded that the worst thing that could happen would be for someone to get hurt at an intersection that wasn’t fully prepared.  She said, “If this was a hard thing to get approved before, I can’t imagine what’s going to be like next time.”

Sydney Vergis said that she came out in support of this project back in 2008.  “I’m still very excited about the opportunities that are available there to make this more complete street, to make it easier for folks who live on the other side of the road like myself to get to downtown, to be able to enjoy this downtown.” 

She continued, “with regards to the trial period, it seems like that was done to make it more palatable to those that don’t believe that it’s possible to not only condense the street but to have positive effects on vehicular traffic but also on bike and peds as well.”

Ms. Vergis also suggested that the decision will have been made by the time that they are on the council and that all they can do is try to enforce it when they look at it within a year’s time for the review period.

Jon Li said he felt better after listening to what Rochelle Swanson had said, but he is still concerned with the impact on cars and the side streets.  “So if we have more cars on this street [Fourth Street] as a result of the bike diet, then that’s a failure as far as I’m concerned.”  He thinks we need to make that evaluation before we make a permanent commitment.  He also brought up some of the experiments of the past that have gone awry.

Joe Krovoza: “I support it completely” and was proud to be out in front on it and advocate for it.  He suggested if you have doubts to read the studies by the city and the university, “You realize that traffic time from A-L is going to be reduced by 45 seconds on average.  We are going to go from three-phase lights at F and G to two-phase lights which is going to help people get in and out of downtown more.  It’s going to create a smoother flow of traffic.”

He pointed out that we are the bike capital of America and therefore we should have bike lanes on the main street going through town and certainly we should have one in front of city hall.

He argued that people need to show up and make sure this sticks.  He fears that the people opposed to this are louder than the complete streets community.  “We need to make sure Fifth Street works, because as goes Fifth Street, so goes many other bike and ped things in this town.”  Challenged the audience to stick this all the way through.

Daniel Watts said that he was basically in favor of it but had concerns about the costs and impacts on the budget.  “If the studies show that this will work and it will calm traffic and make things safer and make traffic flow faster then its good to see and we ought to implement this and see what happens.”  He said if it is not working however, it should be reversed.

There was a question (posed by myself) on green clippings in bike lanes and containerization.

Jon Li answered first,  and he mentioned the background on this history, the proposal to go to containerization of clippings and green waste.  The fact that Oak Street and other neighborhoods revolted and that the city’s compromise was to go to double-stripping of the bike lane where the waste would be outside of the double-line where the cars park rather than in the bike lane.

“My experience is that most people don’t know when they come by to pick up the waste.”  Thus, people don’t drop their waste the day before it gets picked up and the waste is in the street for only a few hours, but rather at times it can be out all week.  “It is a problem,” he said, “Hopefully the striping and they did enforcement it would help.”

Rochelle Swanson pointed out that the current waste requirements is five-by-five-by-five.  She suggested that is very cookie-cutter for streets that are unique in width and traffic flow.  She suggested one thing would be to identify narrower streets and enable people to have multiple but smaller piles.  The Davis Waste Removal website has days where piles are really supposed to be out there and she mentioned people are really not supposed to  have piles be out in the street for days at a time.  She suggested from a cost perspective, we’ve missed the window to do containerization for now given the cost of trucks and containers.

Sydney Vergis said she was predisposed to the idea of containerization.  For one thing, “I’ve hit way too many green waste piles on my way home from the university even with a bike light.”  She also mentioned implications in terms of runoff.  She mentioned the previous discussion and opposition expressed on citizen surveys, but she did point out that Woodland underwent an 18 month survey process and suggested we might look there for some guidance.

Daniel Watts suggested looking to the examples of other cities is a good approach.  He said he was favoring containerization until the cost of the equipment was mentioned by Rochelle Swanson.  But he is in favor of looking at it when the next round of truck replacement is set to occur.

Joe Krovoza sees double-striping as the low-cost solution and the easiest thing that we can do now.  Cited the lack of coordination between apartment owners who place clippings in the street and the schedule for pick up.  He also has hit the piles.  He sees it as a problem not only of safety but water quality.  He said while it is very unpopular, “I would like to shift the thinking of the city staff from we are not going to do it and what would happen if we were to do it.  To more of a, this is the direction we’re headed in and really challenge city staff to say that these are all of the things we could do short of containerization and see if we can make them work.  So there’s kind of this big stick out there and see what kind of creative thinking we can get.”

In addition to the forum that was held last night, Davis Bicycles asked for eight questions.  The candidates submitted written answers which are posted on the Davis Bicycles website.  Click here to view the answers.

Stay tuned this week as we have at the end of the week, two additional candidates forums from the DDBA on Thursday and on Friday from the League of Women Voters which will be held at Community Chambers at 7 pm.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. biddlin

    Thanks again for this reportage, David, I hope your grabbing some nap time. I have some experience with a containerized green waste collection program and will point out three issues that concern me. First, the program offers an opportunity for managers and vendors to make sweetheart deals.”Recommend my product and we’ll invite you and a guest to join us fishing in baja,”sort of stuff or “Make this deal and we’ve got a spot for you when you leave the city.” There’s also the old fashioned money under the table deal. Second, Containerization offers a greater opportunity to contaminate the contents with motor oil, paint and other common hazmats. Finally, people don’t like having so many darn carts to wheel back and forth and store in their garage or on the patio. These concerns need to be addressed well in advance of roll out, and public buy in is essential to success.

  2. David M. Greenwald

    That’s a weird statement Avatar.

    First, most communities do containerization, so how is it stupid to put your contents in a container rather than allow them to lie loose?

    Second, it’s not expensive at all, you simply have to get the right equipment, they periodically have to replace trucks, and when they do next time, as Rochelle pointed out, that is the window of opportunity to try it.

    Third, why if you are a bike friendly community would you intentionally throw potentially dangerous obstacles into bike paths. Every bike rider I know, has a story. Sometimes you don’t see the objects protruding. Sometimes you are trying to avoid cars and get caught up in the stuff, and at night it’s even more hazardous.

    I think your flippant response is ill-considered.

  3. Don Shor

    Woodland implemented a containerized yard waste program, and due to public complaints they modified it. Here is their current yard waste policy:
    They do weekly pickups during leaf drop season, and monthly pickups the rest of the year.
    Active gardeners and landscapers can tell you that containers are not sufficient for a garden of any size or for a landscape cleanup job. So a reasonable compromise between street pickup and containerization can be developed to meet the concerns of most interest groups.

  4. E Roberts Musser

    I have a pet peeve about containerization. It used to be that you could put yard clippings in a black plastic lawn bag and leave it on the curb. Then the debris was nice and tidy, easy to pick up, and not subject to being blown around by the wind.

    Then the city, in its infinite wisdom, decided homeowners could not put their yard debris all neat and tidy in a black plastic bag. So what happened? Try putting leaves or clipped grass out on a windy day – it makes a collosal mess. Add to that bicyclists or cars who spread the mess around even more.

    Just allowing folks to put their yard debris in a nice black lawn bag was an easy, cheap way to “containerize”, that didn’t make one’s garage stink like rotting grass (that has to be the worst smell). I honestly don’t think I could fit another big container in my garage – the two I have take up so much space as it is.

  5. Matt Williams

    [quote]Avatar said . . .

    Containerization is stupid and sounds expensive , just ride your bike safe and smart ! [/quote]
    Avatar, since moving to Davis in 1998 we have had our green recylable waste picked up by DWR each week from a wheeled container. It has been a very satisfactory solution for ensuring our green waste is successfully recycled. It has also masde our neighborhood one of the most desirable biking destinations in all of Davis, with its bike lanes both accessible and barrier free. The quarterly cost for this service is far from expensive . . . rather it is a bargain.

    [quote]E Roberts Musser said . . .

    I have a pet peeve about containerization. It used to be that you could put yard clippings in a black plastic lawn bag and leave it on the curb. Then the debris was nice and tidy, easy to pick up, and not subject to being blown around by the wind. [/quote]

    Elaine, while I understand your peeve, I think it is counterbalanced by all the non-decomposable black plastic that isn’t being added to our composting and/or land fill operations

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