Sunday Commentary II: Davis’ Streets Are Treacherous


At Tuesday night’s council meeting, four members of the council unanimously approved the B Street parking changes. However, the conservation shifted from the safety issues driving the need to restrict parking toward the view that there is a lack of enforcement on bicyclists for violating the vehicle code.

Indeed, council seemed to agree with this view. Councilmember Rochelle Swanson quickly asked staff to look at enforcement of rules such as bike lights and reflectors. There is also the stop sign issue.

On the other hand, there are also plenty of problems with general traffic enforcement, as Councilmember Brett Lee brought up.

Whenever safety issues arise for bicyclists, we hear the push back in the community over the bicyclists who do not follow the rules of the road. I cannot defend bicyclists here. I see far too many bicyclists who blatantly and sometimes dangerously run lights and stop signs.

I see bicyclists who bike without using their hands to steer the bike and often with their arms crossed. (I have often thought it might be useful to test their reflexes and how quickly they could avoid oncoming danger). I see bicyclists with earbuds listening ostensibly to music while others are on their cell having a conversation.

At the same time, starting last November, I have had a slew of collisions and close calls with other cars.

  • On November 3, I was backing out from a parking space at Montgomery when a car, suddenly seeing an open spot, perhaps mine, backed up at a high rate of speed and collided with the rear of my car as I was about to pull forward. My car was totaled from about $4000 worth of damage.
  • A week later, same lot, a car saw an open spot and backed up. I was already there and did not back up to accommodate her. She did a 50 point turn in order to get into the parking spot despite the fact that there were several open spots ahead and she had clearly passed the parking spot.
  • A few weeks later my car was hit while parked in a private lot by a car that was illegally parked in that private lot.
  • Earlier this year, I was about turn into Montgomery at the stop sign at Lilliard and Danbury. One eastbound truck went and, as I was about to turn, a second car followed that truck and had to swerve to avoid me.
  • In February, there was the truck that hit the bicyclist (or rather the bicyclist ran into the truck), of which I posted the video.
  • A month ago at the Starbucks in north Davis I was hit by a car backing out of parking spot.
  • A few weeks ago, crossing Mace on Cowell, I had the green light, a car turning right onto Cowell from southbound Mace, not only cut in front but did a u-turn in front of my vehicle and then looked at me like I was crazy when I honked at him (several times).

Bottom line, in my view, while drivers in Davis often complain about bicyclists, in my view, motorists are just as culpable.

Some of that is due to the poorly constructed downtown streets with four-way stops attempting to regulate three different modes of transportation.

As I have said, it is chaotic and I’m frankly amazed that we do not have more collisions. At some point, though, a car and a bike are going to meet and it’s going to be a fatality and then we will be forced to look at the set up.

However, you’ll note that of all of my listed encounters, the ones I can really remember and have somewhere on video, only the bicyclist getting hit by a car occurred in the downtown.

So, if drivers of cars want the police to look more closely at enforcing bike laws, I am all for it ‒ but the real problem is that no one is really beyond reproach here. It’s not that all bicyclists are flaunting the law, but enough certainly are that it creates that perception.

While many of those are students, out of town and with limited stake in the overall perception of bicyclists in this town, enough are by older people who should know better and should care that their actions undermine not only their own personal safety but the perceptions of those in the community.

However, the driver issue is a problem as well. Here is an interesting fact: of the seven vehicle encounters I had, only one of the drivers could have been a student or was at least at student age.

Instead, it was a wide variety of people from all sorts of demographic backgrounds that were driving unsafely. The most recent one was an elderly gentleman. But before that it was a 40-year-old school district employee. Before that it was a 50-something woman. The two incidents at Montgomery were by mothers.

There is no rhyme or pattern, at least from my personal experiences, since November. I often will see parents dropping their kids off and talking on a cell phone, usually holding it in their hands, and engrossed in conservation.

So again, we want to have a discussion of bicyclists not following the rules, but we need to have it for everyone.

There are also structural factors involved, as well. I have often talked about the problems with the downtown. As I have argued many times before, while Davis is a bike-friendly town, it is not well set up for bicyclists. Downtown, in particular, is a gauntlet. And I feel that way, not just driving my car, but walking around downtown.

The problem is that we have set up every intersection as a four-way stop, which means that at busy times you will have a car stopped at each of the four corners, pedestrians crossing four ways, and maybe a bicyclist or two.

The other problematic zone is the school zone where you have children walking, bikes, and cars. I have already met with Barbara Archer, who is working with Dan Wolk on safe schools.

I have to drop my kids off at separate schools in the morning and each has their own set up and their own hazards. We need to evaluate each situation on the ground for their specifics.

But even taking the downtown and the schools outside of the equation, I still have had encounters with people just not driving safely. Given the limited resources of the police department and a rising crime rate, I don’t see us being able to divert resources to traffic enforcement.

We need to find an answer and the answer is not to pick on the bicyclists, because from my perspective cars are just as big a problem.

—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. sisterhood

    “Bottom line, in my view, while drivers in Davis often complain about bicyclists, in my view, motorists are just as culpable.”

    I agree. However, I think bicyclists should have to abide by the same laws as motorists. Are there laws that would fine a cyclist for ear buds or cell phone usage while driving? I’m against creating any new laws laws for victimless crimes, but in this case, if a cyclist who is chatting on a cell phone accidentally runs into me, or causes me to swerve and hit a pedestrian, or another driver, then it is not victimless. I believe the proper fine would be community service, not a monetary fine.

    “While many of those are students, out of town and with limited stake in the overall perception of bicyclists in this town…”

    Young adults intelligent enough to be accepted into UCD should also be smart and compassionate enough to figure out the community they live in. They don’t get a pass.

    1. zaqzaq

      It is illegal for cyclists to use ear buds in both ears while they can legally have an ear bud in one ear.  In fact UCDPD was giving out single ear bud lines to students last fall as part of their educational program along with free bike lights.

  2. sisterhood

    P.S. The latest schools that are being built are not being built in residential neighborhoods. This is a shame, because less kids will be able to safely ride their bikes to elementary school and middle school. We lived under two miles from my kids’ junior high but I didn’t allow them to ride their bikes. I saw too many close encounters with hurried parents dropping off their kids, and distracted middle schoolers. My kids behaved much more safely on their bikes in elementary school, than they were in middle school. That seemed to be the most unsafe period for my kids. By high school, (drivers’ permit age) unfortunately, it became “uncool” to ride a bike. Then, miraculously, by the time both my kids were seniors, it was cool again. (They figured out the price of gas, among other reasons.)
    If you want to make sure your kid is riding safely, I suggest you take a very long bike ride with her or him, and observe. It has many other benefits, too. We had some of our best discussions on the greenbelts of Davis.

    I’d be interested in how we can help the next generation ride their bikes and cars more safely. Any ideas, besides grounding your kid if they get a traffic ticket, or wreck their bike? Any positive ideas?

  3. 2cowherd

    I agree with your conclusions David. But my sense of the ongoing traffic problems is that there is little to no traffic enforcement in Davis. And as a result motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians know they don’t have to follow the rules/laws  and take advantage of the lax traffic enforcement-and endanger us all.

  4. sisterhood

    This subject is very thought provoking: I wonder if some readers will think the next generation doesn’t have to worry about bike & automobile safety because technology will take care of it? I hope not. I don’t want lights and beepers and other battery operated devices on my bike. I like quiet.  I like to hear nature when I’m out on a bicycle.

  5. SODA

    As a motorist and sometimes bicyclist, I like the four way stops and was glad when the last non-4 way was changed a few years ago. It makes it ‘easy to remember’. Not sure why you don’t David?

  6. Frankly

    Welcome to problem brought to us in part by the NIMBY, no-growth, change averse folks that have infested Davis’s politics for decades.  And ironically, many of them live in the core area where the main problems exist.

    Another contribution is the unique diversity of our demographic make-up.

    Foreigners with their foreign habits, you people lacking experience, and old people with declining capabilities… and put them all together in a cramped space and then why are we surprised?

    Driving, walking or biking downtown requires hand-eye coordination and concentration of a professional athlete… but then playing on the field with a high percentage of people that seemingly never played before.

    Frankly (because I am) I think there are very few places in the US that are close to the level of travel and movement chaos that exists in our downtown area (except for about 2 months during the summer when we return to a more sustainable pattern).

    We are over-saturated with our unique mix of humanity all needing and wanting to be in the same small area.

    Davis is about 10 square miles.  Including the off-campus residents, our total population is close to 75,000.  That 7500 per square mile population density (considering the number of people using the off-campus part of the city) makes us very unique for a small rural city.  In fact that level of population density puts us closer to an urban land and water-locked city like Berkeley (10,752 people per square mile), than is does a rural college town like Chico (2,700 people per square mile).  And on top of this, we have about 50% of the retail and business space of comparable cities.   For example, Berkeley has about 16,000 firms as reported in the 2007 census.  Chico (another college town that has a vibrant city center core next to a university campus) had about 7,500 firms as reported in the census.   Davis had 5,300 firms.

    And it is very likely that both Berkeley and Chico have increase the number of firms at a greater rate than has Davis since 2007.

    I don’t think we can fix this problem in the short to medium term.  It is likely to get much worse before it can get better.  UCD is growing and adding 600 walking, biking and driving students every year.  Nishi is primarily residential and this will concentrate even more people into the core area.   And the downtown is not magically expanding real estate capacity to accommodate any of these new people.

    In a future with new peripheral innovation parks that include some new retail space, there will be other parts of the city attracting people away from the core area.  The core area will remain a walking, biking and driving nightmare… but at least having some new alternative destinations will reduce the growth rate of the chaos.


  7. Tia Will

    Ahhhh Frankly….

    Your current post makes me nostalgic for the old Frankly. It was not so very long ago that you were complaining about the non vibrant nature of downtown and how renovation of downtown in general and G street in particular was needed to attract more people to the downtown area. There was an intermediate period in which you noted that there appeared to be increased vibrancy in the downtown, which according to your earlier posts, could only be good. Now you seem to blaming the “increased crowding” ( previously termed vibrancy) on those who prefer growth at a slower pace or prefer other innovations such as limiting car traffic in the limited area of downtown. I am at a loss to see how a preference for slow growth can be blamed for increased growth, but perhaps you would like to explain how adding to our population is going to lessen people visiting the downtown even with “alternative destinations”. Surely you are not making the case that none of these “new inhabitants” that you once found so beneficial for the downtown area are not going to frequent it once they have arrived ?

    I am interested in what appears to be the evolution of your thinking over time.

    1. Frankly

      I have never written that the downtown was non-vibrant or that it needed redevelopment to fix any lack of vibrancy.  My advocating redevelopment of G street was all financial.  The city needs more revenue.  We have thousands of captive customers downtown because we have not allowed any other development outside.  And so then we should improve the revenue-generating capability of that limited real estate.

      And yes, it would cause even more chaotic congestion.

      But then that would lead to eventual greater acceptance of the need to develop more on the periphery.

      There is nothing disconnected about this post and others.

      1. sisterhood

        Dear Frankly,

        I do understand your reasoning but are you wiling to have pedestrian or auto or bicycle fatalities, to eventually reach the point where a more crowded (“vibrant”, in your words) downtown Davis exists? I’m not sure you really want your future grandchildren in a very dangerous situation like the one David describes. In my new hometown, we have similar problems. But as I mentioned in an earlier post, the fluorescent green bike lanes seem to be helping. We are doing  a few other things here, too, to improve bicycle/motorist/pedestrian safety. Hope you have a good week. Happy Monday. 🙂

    2. sisterhood

      Dear Tia,

      Thank you for a smile to start my day. I went to bed really early & woke up early. Your post brought a chuckle. So glad you are out there. I was again thinking something similar to what you wrote, when I read Frankly’s post. 🙂

  8. DanH

    Driving and biking in Davis is no more treacherous than anywhere else I have traveled. I agree that parking at schools during rush times can be harrowing but a simple solution is to find parking a block or so away from the school and do some healthy walking to the destination. Four-way stops and even roundabouts are not a challenge for attentive drivers or bikers. I will concede that Davis bicyclists are notorious for ignoring stop signs and Davis drivers are famous for speeding and doing “California stops.” Beating up on the Davis PD will not improve traffic law enforcement. If better enforcement means more tickets then more unmarked patrol cars and plainclothes bicycle officers would be a good idea. If better driver and biker behavior is wanted then more marked patrol and bike officers are needed because like magic, everyone seems to be on their best behavior when they see a police presence. Bike traffic safety should be taught in elementary school classrooms, not in the multipurpose room.

    In my own driving experience last week: the worst offense happened while I was stopped at a red light northbound on F Street at West Covell. I was in the through-traffic lane. The car in front of me crossed Covell against the red light after seeing the left turn arrow go green. Be careful out there.

      1. DanH

        Your comment is way off-topic but I lived in many locations prior to 1970 where I witnessed serious racism. That was another time and the situation may have improved in those places. Those were situations evidenced by segregated water fountains, KKK highway signs outside of town, segregated schools, BIA school relocations, and the like. I have never considered Davis to be a particularly racist community. Davis has more than its fair share of the European and Asian demographics compared to surrounding Sacramento Valley communities but that is owed more to larger education and economic factors than an ongoing culture of local racism.

  9. Eric Gelber

    Let me add one contributor to the bicycle scofflaw problem: overly “courteous” drivers. I rarely bike through downtown Davis without encountering a driver, who clearly has the right of way, waving me through an intersection. These drivers then look perplexed or annoyed when I decline their invitation. This practice is hazardous to bikers and other drivers–for example, when the overly helpful driver stops at an intersection with no stop sign in their direction. There’s more than enough blame to go around for the treacherous conditions on Davis streets.

    1. DanH

      Good observation. I would add to this the hyper-considerate pedestrian or cyclist. They step out into the street to a crosswalk and stand there, waving a driver to pass by as they come to a stop. By law a driver must stop their vehicle for pedestrians or cyclists in a crosswalk. If you don’t want to stop traffic in a crosswalk then stay in back of the curb or on the sidewalk.

    2. sisterhood

      Lots of blame, even someone who thinks being overly polite is equally hazardous. Now where are your ideas re: solutions? My thought is that community service is a better fine than money. Because rich folks can afford to pay a fine but poorer folks suffer disproportionately with the same monetary fine. Community service is better.

  10. citywatch

    Personally I like the 4-way stops in downtown Davis.  Never had any problems; that being said, here are a couple of other points:

    No right turn on reds that are posted in Davis is a joke.  I see bikers and vehicles doing it regularly; I love the blinking no right turns that are used in Florida – Davis will probably claim “too expensive”;

    I won’t ride my bike or trike anywhere in Davis now except for greenbelts; just too dangerous!

    Backing out of our driveway is practically impossible with trucks being parked in the street – can’t see around them.  Really dangerous!
    And last but certainly not least are the speeders (many moms with kids in the car and cell phones). I’ve had them pass me on the right in the bike lanes!!!

  11. Dave Hart

    Permit me to quote myself from a discussion regarding bicycle etiquette at the Richards/Olive Drive intersection:

    The nice thing about being a courteous driver and cyclist is you really don’t have to know much about the CVC to be both legal and safe.

    Most of David’s traffic mishaps involved decidedly discourteous drivers.  Virtually all the behavior that people here are complaining about boils down to discourteous behavior on the road.  That is in line with discourteous behavior at work, online, in Congress, you name it.  We don’t have the resources to enforce our way to good behavior.  I am wondering if people don’t even know what courteous driving really means.

    Traffic laws, the California Vehicle Code, or any state CVC when you boil it down, is an attempt to codify courtesy on the road.  If one is courteous, you aren’t driving so fast that people feel unsafe.  You take turns at intersections (with your signals flashing) so everyone gets their turn and can get where they are going as quickly as conditions allow in a fair way.  As Eric Gelber mentioned, the “overly courteous” driver is in fact displaying a kind of discourtesy by willfully violating the rule of who should proceed at an intersection.

    When people feel pressed for time, are generally frustrated at work or home, they take that attitude on the road.  We can’t legislate and enforce a calm mind or patience.  That is something that our political leaders, police representatives, etc., should talk about more when addressing the traffic issues.   It is a conversation we should have with family, friends and neighbors.

    With all that said, we don’t help ourselves any by making poor engineering decisions.  There are places where we have failed miserably in this regard (sometimes in a vain attempt to be helpful) and places where we have done a very good job.  In those instances where a good engineering solution exists, it is easier to be courteous or it minimizes the effect of discourteous driving and biking.   Well thought out bicycle/pedestrian transportation infrastructure is where we should focus on our planning and engineering guidelines and I maintain it doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive.  We need to stop repeating mistakes from the past and look around for new and proven best practices.

    1. hpierce

      Actually, combination of “courtesy” and “common sense”.  The latter seems less “common” than it used to be. I do not rely on “laws” to keep myself alive and unhurt.  As a motorist, a bicyclist, or as a pedestrian.  If I had relied on the “laws”, I would long ago climbed out of the gene pool, and would not be writing this.

  12. Topcat

    I often will see parents dropping their kids off and talking on a cell phone, usually holding it in their hands, and engrossed in conservation.

    I see drivers with their cell phones up to their ears almost every day in Davis.  I would like to see a lot more enforcement of the no cellphones while driving law. Perhaps it would help Davis’ financial situation if we collected traffic fines from those lawbreakers.

  13. Nancy Price

    After dark, I encounter bikes all over town that do not have headlights or reflectors, nor do the riders have anything reflective on their clothes. This is especially a problem on the many very poorly lighted streets.

    1. Alan Miller

      There are several times the percentage of lit bicycles than there were 20 years ago.  Many dark ones.  This will never change.

      Lots of bicycles run stop signs, always will.  Never will be nearly enough cops to put a dent in this.  Never will change.

      Until the bulb-outs are jack-hammered out of existence, we will never get a grip on downtown intersection problems.

      3rd street should be a bicycle expressway through downtown.

      Over-courteous drivers suck.  The back up the works.  I sit until they take their right-of-way.

      Bad bicyclists are hated by good bicyclists as much as by auto drivers.

      1. Topcat

        Until the bulb-outs are jack-hammered out of existence, we will never get a grip on downtown intersection problems.

        Yes, the bulb outs were a terrible mistake.  They push the bike traffic out into the traffic lanes.  I dislike them as a bicyclist and I dislike them as a driver.

      2. David Greenwald

        The bulb outs a safety feature for the pedestrians. Even with them, it’s hard to see a pedestrian crossing from your left across the street, but before them it was impossible.

        1. Alan Miller

          The bulbouts are the root of the problem.  Now pedestrians stand further out in the intersection, then walk in front of cars already moving through the intersection, causing the car to slow or stop in the intersection.  They also pinch out bike space at intersections.

          Who is this Top Cat?  I like the cut of his jib.

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