Sunday Commentary II: Listening to the Voters, Fifth Street, Budget

5th-Street-Corridor-Improvements

In the latest in a string of articles that examines letters to the editor, we get one today called, “Road diet?  No, city diet.”

The writer argues, “The structural tax base of the city of Davis is years in the making. Past plans to limit commercial growth and expanded retail options force Davisites to do most of their purchasing out of the city. While allowing Target to open after a decade of debate has brought some purchasing back to the city, it was relegated to a corner of town farther in travel time for most Davisites than going to Dixon or Woodland. And we wonder why we have a revenue problem.”

The writer continues, “How funny that the ‘If the tax fails …’ article wrapped to a column adjacent to a photo of the new traffic lights on Fifth and F streets where the caption celebrates the reduction in speed from 30 mph to 25 mph on what was once the Lincoln Highway.”

“Have our city leaders lost touch with the reality of family needs? How many of them have to shuttle kids across town between schools, sports and other activities?” he asks.

Ironically, this council is probably more attuned to family needs than any recent council.  The council from 2006 to 2010 had three members with no children at all and two with grown children.  However, the current council has three members with elementary school age children or younger, and a fourth whose kids only recently graduated from high school.

“I resent being asked for more money from a government that limits shopping opportunities and then spends funds on projects to physically constrict traffic, hoping that it will simply disappear,” he continues.  “While earlier articles pointed out that most funding is from grants from other governments (as if they don’t have revenue problems), the city soon will find that even more shopping dollars leave town, further cascading their need for increased rates.”

Several points here.  As the writer notes, the bulk of the funding for the 5th Street redesign was through grants and other allocations.  That really has no bearing on the city’s budget situation.

Second, the city is going to have to create a long-term revenue strategy.  It is clear at this point that does not involve peripheral retail.  Obviously not everyone agrees with that approach, but the city does have to get any peripheral project through a Measure R vote.

That leads us to a third point, the city has re-launched the Innovation Park Task Force process.  The idea will be to start engaging with the public.  It would have been nice to have launched the public engagement back in January or better yet last year in June when it was clear we needed tax revenue to bridge the budget gaps.

We believe that the sales tax measure will probably pass regardless of engagement, but it would be nice for the public to at least understand the strategy.

The interesting thing, and it will seem counter-intuitive, is that while the city manager last year correctly classified the current problem as a revenue problem rather than a spending problem, the constrained revenue over the last decade was probably a blessing in disguise.

Most communities with a higher sales tax base fared far worse than Davis.  Keep in mind that during the first decade of this century, the city passed a sales tax measure that went to public employee compensation increases, and experienced double-digit property tax growth.  All of those monies went to ramp up compensation, benefits, and retirement for employees.

Had the city also had a higher sales tax base, the city would have ramped up spending even more and, when the economy collapsed in 2008, it would have had to cut that much more.

On the back end of the economic downturn, the city is going to look into seriously developing its innovation and tech transfer from the university to produce additional property tax and point of sales taxes to help create a more sustainable base.

Back to the issue of the 5th Street road diet.  It is ironic that Davis is considered such a bike-friendly community.  Given all of the pushback and animosity I see toward innovative bicycling projects, it makes me wonder what a bicycle unfriendly community looks like.

So when I hear comments about prioritizing high traffic areas and prioritizing funds that were obtained through specific grant applications for higher need areas, I wonder how much the city has really done to educate its residents on the need for the 5th Street road diet.

Does the public not realize that 5th Street is one of the most dangerous stretches of street in the city?

There are 15,000 vehicles a day that go through that 3,500 feet of the project length.  That represents just 0.004 percent of the city’s street in distance.  Yet it accounts for between 12 to 15 percent of the city’s accident count most years.

The year the project was approved, 19% of all the ped and bike hits in the entire city happened on this short stretch of 5th Street.  How does someone claim to support safe routes for bicycles and pedestrians and yet ignore one-fifth of the traffic in one small spot?

What higher area of prioritization can there be?

This is a community that was recently voted No.1 cycling city in the country, where 22% of the residents commute by bike.  While 95% of the roads have bike paths in Davis, 5th Street, just two blocks up from the National Bicycling Hall of Fame, is not one of them.

You want a balanced approach?  How can you have a balanced approach on a street that does not accommodate bikes or pedestrians?

—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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22 Comments

  1. Mr. Toad

    “Second, the city is going to have to create a long term revenue strategy. It is clear at this point that does not involve peripheral retail. Obviously not everyone agrees with that approach, but the city does have to get any peripheral project through a Measure R vote.”

    Or so you say but I participated in an extensive and in depth telephone poll to get an actual sense of what the community wanted in preparation of a measure R vote. You can bet that whatever is eventually proposed was poll tested well in advance and is reflective of the poll results. Of course you could argue that my participation skews the results but that is why polls have a margin of error.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “You can bet that whatever is eventually proposed was poll tested well in advance and is reflective of the poll results. ”

      you mean like they did with measure o, oh wait…

  2. Tia Will

    I have three thoughts about the position taken by the author of the letter to the editor.

    1.As someone who was rear ended on this particular stretch of 5th street when the driver behind me did not appreciate that I was stopping to let a pedestrian cross, I see the changes to 5th street as a necessary safety measure, not as some ill thought through attempt to inconvenience drivers. I do not know whether these specific changes will achieve the desired effect while not inconveniencing drivers, however, the UCD study would suggest this is the case, and it is clear that some change is clearly indicated from the statistics that indicate that mine was not a fluke accident caused by a careless driver.

    2. This author clearly seems to be prioritizing personal convenience over health and safety issues. I do not share that prioritization. There are some in our community who will always place their personal interest and convenience above those of the community. This author illustrates this by wanting redundant ( 9 Targets within a 1/2 hour drive of most locations in Davis at time of the proposal) “shopping opportunities” to be “closer” presumably for two reasons, convenience and revenue, and yet criticizes the location of a Target on the periphery of Davis. Where would one choose to place a Target ? In the center of Downtown ? On the Cannery site…..already destined for housing since the property owner was only interested in housing ( oh….I forgot…..mixed use ).

    3. ““Have our city leaders lost touch with the reality of family needs? How many of them have to shuttle kids across town between schools, sports and other activities?” he asks.”

    What I would encourage the author to do is to consider that there are many different choices with regard to “family needs”. I suspect that the author is confusing “need” with “choice” and actually is failing to recognize that it is not necessary, not particularly healthy to take one’s children by car to many of these activities. Driving is by far less health promoting than is walking, riding one’s bike , scooter, in line skates or skateboard, all chosen by my son at some point as his means of getting around town. I would say that providing safe means of travel around our city for all, including those who prefer not to use automobiles, is the height of responsibility on the part of the CC and I strongly support their efforts in promoting a safer community for all.

    1. SODA

      Agree; in the early 2000’s I had an office at 5th and F and we saw/heard multiple accidents at that intersection. I contacted the city at that time and they did not seem to realize the dangers, said they had not studied. Am sure others contacted them also, and we got the new signals which to me were very inefficient. I had recommended staggered E/W to allow left turns NOT all or none E/W. I am ready to give the road diet a chance…it has been a long time in the planning. Also, crossing over 5th by foot after parking in old North was harrowing at times. And the Farmer’s market crossing is downright scary I think…..

  3. Mr. Toad

    Perhaps the problem is that the 22% underestimate the 78% that don’t commute by bike. We may be number 1 but it just shows how low the number of bike commuters is nation wide. Personally, I’m willing to wait and see if the 5th street project improves things. When I lived near D St. and crossed 5th at D regularly I felt it needed more traffic lights and recognized how dangerous it was.

    On the other hand, many years ago, 3rd street was designed for bikes and 5th street for cars. I guess things change and change is hard, especially when the numbers don’t add up or when the numbers provide unrelated coincidence. We see the same thing being exploited by PG&E to undermine the POU. Perhaps its hard for people to put budget numbers in different boxes and separate capital improvements from operating expenses as the author of this letter also fails to do.

    1. Davis Progressive

      but you’re missing that point that you’ve created a system that excludes or attempts to excluse a large percentage of commuters from the main east-west thoroughfare through town. and you are also ignoring the studies that show that 5th street isn’t optimized even for automobile traffic.

      1. Mr. Toad

        Its not my creation and its been long enough that its not unreasonable to rethink things as we have. Still it doesn’t mean we should not try to educate people about the history of how we got to this point. It doesn’t take living in Davis long to realize its not good to bike through downtown on 5th Street but we have constant turnover with our large ephemeral university linked population. Perhaps, since you can’t designate a street as off limits to bikes, we should have put up caution signs on 5th Street years ago. If we had done that maybe we would have more consensus on the issue today.

        1. Jim Frame

          Perhaps, since you can’t designate a street as off limits to bikes, we should have put up caution signs on 5th Street years ago. If we had done that maybe we would have more consensus on the issue today.

          I don’t think that would have made much difference. I’ve lived in town for over 40 years, and I’m still tempted to ride on 5th because of the inconvenience of having to go 2 blocks out of my way south to 3rd or 3 blocks out my way north to 8th. I’ve rarely done it out of concern for my safety — maybe 10 times in 40+ years? — but the temptation persists, as does the resentment that bikes have been given such short shrift in the matter.

          1. Jim Frame

            the question is really why you think you’re entitled to do that?

            California Vehicle Code §21200a provides that entitlement.

        2. Michelle Millet

          It doesn’t take living in Davis long to realize its not good to bike through downtown on 5th Street

          It doesn’t take living in Davis long to realize its not good to bike through downtown on any of the existing streets. Nor is there a good way to cut through this section of town on bikes, especially with kids. Again I’m looking forward to the 5th street redesign changing this situation, and again I’m grateful to the people in this community who advocated for this redesign and continue to work to promote bicycle safety and connectivity in all parts of the community.

    2. Michelle Millet

      3rd Street is designed for bikes? If this is true then I would say there are some major flaws in the plan. Like cars pulling in and out of parking spaces and 4 way stops where no one is quite sure whose turn it is to proceed. I don’t feel at all comfortable riding my bike on 3rd street, much less doing to it with my 7 and 10 year old.

  4. Tia Will

    Mr. Toad

    I think that one of the problems is that this has been erroneously characterized by many as a bikes vs cars issue, when the issue is actually much larger. The rear end accident that I was describing occurred when I stopped for a pedestrian and the driver behind me did not perceive ( for whatever reason) that I was stopping. 5th street has long been a danger along the entire stretch from B street through F for as long as I have been in town.

    This is a primary safety issue whether you are in a car, on a bike, or walking.

    I perceive the creation of a “bikes vs cars” mythology as primarily the responsibility of those focused on convenience and their own travel preferences rather than being focused on the safety of all members of the community. But then, what would you expect from a doc with a public health and safety bias ?

  5. Tia Will

    Mr. Toad

    “It was a long time ago.”

    I think that this comment inadvertently also applies to previous thread on which you expressed strong feelings. One of your comments on the green waste proposal made reference to historical use and culture. I think that what both of these issues represent is the tendency to perceive an established way of doing something as “the best way of doing it” as in “don’t fix it if it’s not broken” regardless of accumulating evidence that the historical approach may have downsides or may have become replaced by better options based on more recent changes and patterns of usage in our community.

    I think this highlights the importance of being willing to keep an open mind and being willing to accept change as new information becomes available and not accepting as our default “but we have always done it this way”.

  6. Michelle Millet

    Just spent 10 minutes trying to figure out the best way to ride bikes with the kids from our house in South Davis to a friends house on D street between 5th and 8th. There are really no good options. Looking forward to 5th street becoming one, and I’m grateful to live in a community that advocates and supports alternative transportation options.

  7. DavisBurns

    When the fifth street redesign was first announced the blowback was so bad, it was sent back to be studied again. That study concluded it was a good design that would meet the stated goals of making it safer for bikes without increasing commute time for cars.

    The comments I’ve heard are from people who don’t bother to:
    1. Find out why there was a redesign (safety)
    2. Read or hear that the route they drive regularly is going to have the lanes REDUCED.

    The conclusion is simply that the city has a stupid plan that is going to make a bad situation worse by providing fewer traffic lanes for cars and reducing the speed. That is the level of knowledge and involvement from the complainers. They aren’t interested enough to ask why it’s being done or look at the numerous studies and the time and attention that has been invested in the project. It’s easy to criticize with a angry letter to the editor. It takes more time than they are willing to invest to have a better understanding of the issues. We keep taking about how involved Davis citizens are but my observation is we have plenty of people who just want to complain and don’t really want to be involved. I think they should get polite and briefly informative response but we give them too much power when we take the 10 minutes they spend thinking about the problem too seriously. If we just do the damned project and it improves the traffic flow they will be satisfied. Think of them as kids who are saying ‘but Mommmm, I don’t want to….whine whine whine”

    I support a reduction in the speed limit. I have been told that the commute times for that stretch will actually be reduced by 30 seconds going one way and not increase when headed the other way. Sorry don’t remember which directions mostly because it doesn’t really matter. They think it will impact them negatively by taking some of their precious time. How about the cyclists who are injured? Isn’t that a more meaningful negative impact for them? If the cars having fender benders were the primary problem, they’d be screaming to have changes made to make it safer not faster.

    As for the new students who don’t know that fifth is dangerous and there are alternative routes, the bike clubs could do some campus outreach by showing the students a couple of simple ways to keep their bikes safe and operational (check air in tires, make sure your brakes work, this stuff is called chain lube and you should use it and fenders if/when we ever get rain again) and here is a map with bike routes on it. If you live on or near fifth street, it’s not the safest route to college. Try these alternative). The university has orientation. Bike transportation should be included.

  8. Davis Progressive

    i keep hearing how much of a bicycling town this is, but i read people like mr. toad and the davis downtown folks and i start to question whether that’s true.

  9. Tia Will

    DavisBurns

    “The comments I’ve heard are from people who don’t bother to 1. Find out why there was a redesign (safety) 2. Read or hear that the route they drive regularly is going to have the lanes REDUCED. The conclusion is simply that the city has a stupid plan that is going to make a bad situation worse by providing fewer traffic lanes for cars and reducing the speed. ”

    From a number of comments I have heard from folks while “tabling” at Farmer’s Market, I can vouch that this is a fairly commonly held belief by those who have not taken enough time to look at the details of the proposal or the study that supported it. The tone of the conversation tends to change, just a little, when the concept of safety is introduced as many have not considered this, focusing only on their perceived convenience. Some will of course remain skeptical ( as is appropriate until we see the actual results of this approach). Most do demonstrate a willingness to consider safety, or at least enough courtesy to not totally denigrate the idea once they become aware that safety, not bikes vs cars, is the central issue, not an attack on their preferred lifestyle.

  10. Mr. Toad

    I don’t see why people think I’m opposed. I said I have a wait and see approach to the redesign and concerns about safety with the current design. Perhaps because I pointed out a little history some of you are reading in things that aren’t there.

    As for bikes vs cars it seems that its the bike enthusiasts who are demanding change and accommodation everywhere like a second crossing at Cannery and a redesign of 5th Street. I’m all for public safety where improvements are needed and prudent. Its the demonization, hyperbole and unwillingness to make the case that public safety improvements are warranted that seems over the top. Combine this with the almost militant rhetoric of the kill the Cannery without two crossings of the bike advocates or the voting against the Cannery by Council members because the perfect is the enemy of the good that is generating some backlash in the community by the still large majority of non-bike commuters in town. Blame the messenger all you want if you prefer that to reassessing or taking responsibility for any push back the strategy of individuals in the bike scene has generated.

    1. Michelle Millet

      As for bikes vs cars it seems that its the bike enthusiasts who are demanding change and accommodation everywhere like a second crossing at Cannery and a redesign of 5th Street.

      There are not really enough people out there advocating for cars, we really need to think about ways to accommodate them more.

  11. Tia Will

    Mr. Toad

    “or taking responsibility for any push back the strategy of individuals in the bike scene has generated.”

    We are each responsible for our own actions. The fact that I favor a given solution does not mean that I am responsible for anyone else’s “push back” or reaction to my opinion. They are exclusively responsible for their reactions just as I am exclusively responsible for my own.

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