For years, we debated, discussed — and some went as far as fearing the Fifth Street Redesign. After years of debate, the redesign became reality. For the most part, it has come off without major problems or major complaints.
There are small changes on the way, for instance, better signage as the road shifts from four lanes to two lanes at B Street. Many vehicles do not realize until it’s too late that the right lane in the eastbound direction will be forced to turn southbound onto B Street.
But, again, these are somewhat minor.
However, one letter from last week caught my eye as the letter writer, fed up with attempting to make a left turn out of Hibbert Lumber had to apparently sit through three light changes.
“Bicyclists are happy. Great! The Davis City Council has made my life easier, too,” the writer begins. “I’ve lived in Davis for more than 30 years and for years, with the lack of choices and horrendous parking, the city has made it abundantly clear that it doesn’t want me to spend my money downtown. It want bikes downtown, not cars.”
She continues, “I banked downtown. I went to Davis Ace, Woodstocks, Jack in the Box, etc. I’ve always tried to support my town, even though it was not easy.”
She adds, “Now, with the changes to Fifth Street, I’m done. I don’t need to be hit over the head to see that cars are not welcome. I went to Hibbert Lumber and sat through three light changes trying to get out of the parking lot. I will never do that again.”
“I can easily go to Woodland or Dixon as those cities have all of the above businesses and they want me to drive into those businesses to spend my money. My life is easier in that I no longer have to put up with the problems of parking in Davis or feel guilty about shopping out of town. The Davis City Council wants me (and my car) to go elsewhere and I am happy to oblige,” she continues.
I have a few thoughts here. First, from a time perspective that response does not add up – after all, if your complaint is that it took too long to get out of the parking lot, driving to Woodland or Dixon is likely to add far more time and vehicle miles than having to sit through several light cycles or, better yet, making a right turn and then course correcting.
Second, why not try to work with the city to improve the specific problem? With any change there are going to be unintended downsides and part of the early stages of such pilot projects are to try to figure out ways to work around the downsides.
The city may be able to, for instance, use a trigger to turn the lights all red so that a car can make a left turn. There might be other ways to do it, as well. Or perhaps a “keep clear” zone would enable a turning vehicle to have access to turn left out of Hibbert.
Or it may be that you just can’t make a left out of Hibbert at certain times – often in cities, left turns are prohibited during peak hours. The flow from what I have seen is not constant, but, certainly during commute times, the road is congested.
Third, as was pointed out in the response of another letter writer the problem could have been avoided altogether by some common courtesy shown by the automobiles driving on Fifth Street when she was exiting. The respondent wrote, “It’s a shame that Bridget Curry had to wait through three signal cycles on Fifth Street in order to exit the Hibbert Lumber parking lot. Motorists treat one another like dirt once they get behind the wheel, so it’s no wonder none of her fellow motorists would let her exit the lot and join the traffic lane. responding.”
Turning right out of Hibbert’s parking lot would definitely be helped by showing driver-to-driver courtesy. That has actually always been the case. Now, with the center turn lane as a potential “first landing spot” for a left turning car coming out of Hibberts, turning left is actually safer and easier now than it used to be when there was no restricted traffic lane. You always had to be alert to fast moving eastbound traffic in the lane you were merging into. Now, if eastbound traffic is coming, you can make your left turn out of the parking lot into the protected center lane, and then merge into the through traffic lane once there are no longer eastbound cars blocking your merge into the main traffic lane. Of course, turning left into the protected lane does require one of the drivers of the other cars to have the courtesy to let you make that left hand turn in front of their car.
Fourth, it is worth noting that the argument that the writer makes is interestingly car-centric. After all, for years, it was perfectly fine with the writer that bikes could not access Fifth Street, yet the first time she is inconvenienced, she was willing to take her money and run. Should bicyclists have taken the same approach?
She notes that, for 30 years, the city has made it clear that it doesn’t want her to spend her money downtown, it wants bikes, not cars, and yet it took 30 years to make this change to allow bikes to even travel on Fifth Street. There is a disconnect here.
Ironically, of course, the problem is not bicyclists, but either inconsiderate car drivers or too many cars, or both. Bicyclists aren’t preventing her from pulling out of the parking lot, cars are.
The bottom line is that we need to change our mindset that says that cars have priority. With some tweaks, I think we can make this work, but people have to be willing to work with the city to identify and then solve potential problems.
If the letter writer had done that, perhaps the city might have been able to figure out a way around.
What other problems have people noticed on Fifth Street and what ways can we look at resolving them without drastic measures?
—David M. Greenwald reporting