Improvements to Richards Underpass from Olive Drive to First Street

Richards Underpass – Photo Courtesy Davis Wiki

The Davis Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday sent out a press release for a public meeting on Saturday, March 15, from 1 to 3 pm.  The community meeting will discuss “The Davis Arch,” billed as “comprehensive project to improve the entrance to Davis from Olive Drive to Downtown Davis.”

The Davis Arch proponents envision a “welcoming, safe, and community-oriented entrance to Davis.”  The proposal looks to dovetail on proposed development at Nishi that would require a Measure R vote.

In was 1997 when a proposal to widen the Richards Underpass was put before the voters.  As John Lofland noted in his book Davis; Radical Changes, Deep Constants, “the specter of a freeway-wide boulevard dumping thousands of cars an hour into the Downtown horrified progressives such as Mayor Julie Partansky and fellow participants in SMART (Save Money and Reduce Traffic).”

Professor Lofland continued, “For opponents, widening would destroy the town’s ‘old-fashioned, pedestrian-friendly… small town character.’”

Subsequently, voters struck down the proposed widening by a vote of 56 percent.

The proposed changes this time around are more modest and cosmetic.  The proposal follows presentations of the Nishi proposal at a city council meeting a few weeks back and at Tuesday’s Chamber Luncheon.  To see the council presentation – click here.

According to the Chamber press release, “Members of the Davis community are invited to participate in an interactive community meeting to provide input on potential improvements to the Richards Underpass from Olive Drive to First Street.  The meeting will take place March 15th from 1 pm to 3 at John Natsoulas Gallery, 521 First Street.”

“This private/public partnership has been made possible by a unique partnership between the Davis Chamber of Commerce, Davis Downtown, Yolo County Visitors Bureau, City of Davis and through generous contributions from several companies including the Buzz Oates Group of Companies and Cunningham Engineering,” according to the release.

The meeting will also feature Roger Barry, who is a renowned Yolo County artist and designer, who along with project designers and engineers will present several proposals for the featured site.  Participants will then have the opportunity to tour the existing site and return for an interactive workshop.

The project designers envision improvements that “would meet many existing community plans and would be integral to the success of two economic development projects: a planned hotel/conference center and the UC Davis-Downtown Gateway District.”

The Davis Subway, more commonly known as the Richards Underpass, built in 1917, is recognized as a historic landmark.  The Chamber release notes, “Improving safety and appearance to the Richards underpass, while maintaining its historic value, has been at the forefront of designers and engineers minds while visualizing potential proposals for site improvements.”

Potential improvements include: bike tunnel on the east side of the Richards underpass, bridge with a modern Davis Arch for pedestrians and cyclists, additional landings at the top of Olive Drive and First Street, lighting for increased visibility, increased downtown parking opportunities, artwork, signage and modern design to showcase the historic Richards underpass and landscape design in partnership with UC Davis Arboretum.

This effort is part of a broader public engagement effort that will develop around the proposed Nishi Project.  At the Chamber meeting on Tuesday, city and university officials laid out a timeline that would include an environmental study and EIR that would take place over about a nine-month period later this year with the earliest that Nishi would come to a vote being late 2015.

In the meantime the city plans to embark on a public engagement effort that will examine the Gateway project as well as Nishi.

—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. Ryan Kelly

    This is a long time in coming. If a bike/pedestrian crossing can’t be built over the railroad tracks at L Street for Olive Drive residents, the least we can do is make travel by bike and pedestrian easier and safer at the Richards/Olive Drive intersection. A bike/ped tunnel on the East side would be a good addition, so people don’t have to cross Richards to access the tunnel and then cross Richards/1st street again to get into town. Not everyone is headed for UCD.

  2. Nancy Price

    Any discussion of “improvements” MUST take into account and be coordinated with the appropriate authorities/agency to ensure that the RR trestle can carry the weight of the crude oil trains, as long as 100 tanker cars, coming through daily to the Bay Area refineries. It is absolutely critical that this trestle can “safely” carry the load and stress day after day……any problem with rocking or other problems could spell disaster.

    And, speaking of disaster: the city needs a detailed disaster and crisis plan specific to these crude oil tanker trains and different scales of disaster from spill to derailment to explosion to fireball.

    1. Ryan Kelly

      I think that this would be a given, Nancy. I don’t believe for an instant that the City would intentionally install something that is not engineered to be safe. But it was a nice way to slide in concerns about another issue.

    2. Alan Miller

      What you say about the oil trains is completely nonsensical. Davis has no control over railroad bridge structure, the railroad does. The weight of a train is irrelevant to bridge strength. What is relevant is the axle load, i.e. how much of the weight of a car is distributed onto an individual axle. This is not related of the contents of the rail car. The railroad does not run cars that exceed the maximum axle load, and does not build bridges that will not withstand the axle load.

      The concern about shipping oil trains, which already run through Davis, is real, as evidenced by several recent derailments/explosions. I have also testified before the City Council about a particular track infrastructure concern that makes Davis particularly vulnerable to a derailment. I asked the City Council to request of Union Pacific to upgrade this feature to make it far less of a hazard. This is irregardless of whether additional oil cars run through Davis or not, as the threat already exists.

      My point is, throwing out nonsensical statements does nothing for the cause of making Davis safer in respect to hazardous or flammable rail car shipments. Such statements cloud the issue which impedes real progress.

      1. iPad Guy

        The last thing I read on the topic pointed to the old, inadequate railroad cars themselves as the villain. Pay for appropriate shipping cars and the many oil train mishaps drop to almost nothing.

        1. Alan Miller

          BNSF railroad is moving ahead and buying new, higher-standard cars. The Federal Railroad Administration is coming up with new guidelines. The problem is that there is a several year backlog on tank car orders, so it will take many years to completely replace the older cars for oil shipments.

      2. DavisBurns

        Tell that to the trellis in Alabama that collapsed under the weight of oil tank cars spilling 2.9 million gallons of crude oil

        “ALICEVILLE, Ala. — Environmental regulators promised an aggressive cleanup after a tanker train hauling 2.9 million gallons of crude oil derailed and burned in a west Alabama swamp in early November amid a string of North American oil train crashes.

        So why is dark, smelly crude oil still oozing into the water four months later?

        The isolated wetland smelled like a garage when a reporter from The Associated visited last week, and the charred skeletons of burned trees rose out of water covered with an iridescent sheen and swirling, weathered oil. A snake and a few minnows were some of the few signs of life.

  3. DavisBurns

    I had to turn left from Olive Drive to go over the freeway the other day. That intersection is a nightmare. There is a left turn signal but pedestrians and bikes crossing Richards Blvd from the west have the right of way so cars turning left have to wait for them. The results are one to three cars could turn left per light cycle. Cars were backed up all the way to the Lexington apartments. If any intersection needs improvement, it’s that one. That terrible fence has made Olive Drive an island. Before the fence it was quick and easy to get downtown on foot.

    1. Ryan Kelly

      This intersection should immediately have a pedestrian/bike only crossing time, similar to Russell and Sycamore, where all car traffic ceases and pedestrians and bikes can cross diagonally through the intersection. This would keep the bikes and pedestrians on one side of the intersection and not block right and left turning traffic from Olive. At all other times, the signal should be for car motion only.

      1. DavisBurns

        At the meeting on Saturday we learned there are ongoing problems with the timing of the traffic light at Olive and Richards. I agree an all traffic stops and pedestrians might work there but I don’t think they have the anywhere near volume of pedestrians as Russell and Sycamore. It’s more like 4 or 5 people crossing that prevents more than one or two cars making the left turn. So first they need to make the light they have worked properly.

    2. iPad Guy

      This tunnel is completely adequate as is for bikes, motorcycles and pedestrians. But, where could we put a freeway exit to handle all the automobiles that want to come into Davis?

  4. Davis Progressive

    i’m of three minds on this.

    one: we are nibbling around the edges with out attacking the traffic jam producing tunnel.
    two: even if we did attack the traffic jam producing tunnel, we would be dumping huge volumes of traffic into downtown davis without the road infrastructure to handle it
    three: may be the answer is to put a parking garage off olive – if we have all of this money and reduce the traffic flow going under richards

    finally, fix the light sequence, its a disaster.

    1. growth issue

      “finally, fix the light sequence, its a disaster.”

      The light sequences all over this town are a joke. Who did the get to set them anyway?

    2. Tia Will

      I used to share your consideration of a parking structure off Olive. I feel that we are not yet to the point where this would be a viable option for many people. I have arrived at this conclusion partially based on the under usage of the G street parking garage. Sadly, it would seem that we are going to have to become significantly less car and convenience oriented before a structure in this location would have a major impact.

  5. Robin W

    Is this really a priority when our streets, sidewalks and existing bike paths and greenbelts are crumbling? Maybe we should tackle the deferred maintenance problems all over town (including in non-commercial areas) before doing yet more to improve the downtown commercial district in order to improve profitability for the commercial interests there.

    1. Jim Frame

      Any discussion of “improvements” MUST take into account and be coordinated with the appropriate authorities/agency to ensure that the RR trestle can carry the weight of the crude oil trains

      In addition to what Alan Miller stated above, my understanding is that the proposed facade (with or without a bike/ped bridge) will be freestanding. I don’t think the railroad is interested in contributing land and structural support for something unrelated to its core business.

      Maybe we should tackle the deferred maintenance problems all over town (including in non-commercial areas) before doing yet more to improve the downtown commercial district

      As currently proposed, the improvement cost will be shared by the city and the commercial interests (Chamber + DD + others?). Depending upon the cost share formula, the city might be foolish not to leverage into something that’s essentially an economic development project.

      1. Jim Frame

        I didn’t attend Saturday’s public outreach meeting for the Davis Arch Project — I had good intentions, but a nap insisted that it be taken instead — so the only graphic I’ve seen of the proposed project is the one that ran in the Enterprise on Sunday. However, I was appalled at the what that graphic suggests. In place of the compact, relatively shady entrance that now exists, the rendering displays an expanse of pavement that appears little different from the 4-lane widening proposal that was defeated at the polls a couple of decades ago.

        Perhaps someone who attended Saturday’s workshop can tell us whether there were more people-friendly renderings of the proposed design.

        1. DavisBurns

          My husband attended the meeting. He got a one page two sided handout. I’ll bet they have more at the city offices. Contact Laura Tomasello 756-5160
          It had two aerial views of the proposed project. I think the symmetry of the tunnels looks good. It will require removing trees on the east side but an arborist was there and said the existing trees are very stressed and should be replaced anyway. I think the coffee kiosk, the fast food places and the gas station are a major part of the problem. CalTrans wants to redo the freeway entrance but who know when that will happen and WHY do we need another conference center hotel with associates traffic?

        2. Michelle Millet

          Jim-I went as well. They did mention that they were working with the Arboretum, and were planning on planting native tree/plants as part of the project.

          1. Michelle Millet

            Also iSee Davis was there, they filmed the entire thing, including the docent tour that was led by Kemble Pope.

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