Commentary: What Is Broken Can Be Fixed on Richards



There were a lot of moving parts in the discussion of the Hotel Conference Center – and, while a lot of the discussion here has focused on the issue of labor, for me at least, the response by the developer and their commitment to allowing their employees to decide whether or not to unionize puts that issue to rest.

The biggest issue for the community isn’t labor – it’s transportation and traffic. There were certainly some process questions, both with the legality of the Negative Declaration and whether the council allowed the proper commissions to vet the project, and to me this comes down to the traffic analysis.

Rather than quote the analysis as we have previously, I will summarize it to say that the traffic conditions are bad on Richards, the project really doesn’t make things worse and some of the changes on the margins will improve things.

I’m not a traffic engineer, but I am someone who drives that stretch pretty much every day. The roadway is really impacted during three times of the day – morning commute, lunch, and the end of the work day. The hotel traffic is really not going to coincide with peak uses – it should be spread out more evenly.

The valet situation was clarified on Tuesday night to mean that they will use a valet service to pack more cars into the garage. There will be ways for them to encourage people who stay at the hotel to park, and then either walk or use the bus to get around town during their stay. At some point I would like to see the city explore the parking potential across the street behind the Design House, but in the meantime, it seems to me that the few times that the hotel is at capacity they have a viable parking strategy.

The bigger issue is that Richards Boulevard is poorly designed. Back in 1996, there was a ballot measure concerning widening Richards Underpass to four lanes. It was defeated and the proposal has never seriously arisen again. Part of the problem, as some of our readers have pointed out, is you’d simply be moving the choke point from the underpass – which backs things up to the south – to First Street, which is not built for the kind of capacity that a four-lane Richards Underpass would dump into the downtown.

I have made this point previously, but it needs to be illustrated more fully. Yesterday was the first day of school, and so I dropped off my two little ones at Montgomery Elementary. It was a big day, being my daughter’s first day of kindergarten.

I then drove from Montgomery to my office in downtown Davis. I drove through the underpass at exactly 9 am. There was only a small amount of traffic and the ride was quick and painless.

That contrasts sharply from my experience once UC Davis starts. By 8:30 to 9 am, it is the peak traffic hour. Traffic will often back up to the top of the overpass over I-80 and sometimes it can take five to ten minutes to go from the top of the underpass to through the light at First Street.

There are days when I decide to bypass that by going by way of the Pole Line overpass to Fifth Street – it times out similarly and without the hassle.

The main point here, however, is very simple – the congestion at Richards Blvd. is not caused by people going to the downtown, it is caused by people driving to UC Davis. Last year on a few occasions I tracked the traffic flow. People drive through the Richards Underpass and most turn left onto First Street. Some of them head straight to the university, but far more turn right onto B Street, left onto Russell Blvd. and then enter the campus from the north on Howard Way.

As yesterday’s journey – by the way, not an isolated incident – shows, the traffic problems are generated by university traffic.

The biggest problems with Richards Blvd. are not structural or engineering, they are created by the choices of campus commuters.

Part of the problem is that, for the most part, the members of the city council over the last 10 to 20 years have not resided in south Davis. They don’t have to drive through the underpass at peak hour on a daily basis. While I’ve never been in favor of district elections, perhaps if we had a south Davis City Councilperson, they would have recognized the simplicity of the problem (even if the solution is more complex).

The solution is relatively simple and, more importantly, doesn’t require major structural changes to the roads. People who go to UC Davis should not attempt to access it via Richards – although one solution may involve a Nishi access to the university.

There are three major places to park. One is to exit at the UC Davis exit off I-80 and park in the Gateway Structure across from Mondavi. A second is to exit on 113 at Hutchison and park in the ARC Pavilion Structure. And a third is to exit either at Hutchison or Russell and head down Russell to enter the university from the north side at Howard Way, to the Quad Structure.

One way to encourage those routes would to make it so people could not make a left turn onto Howard from westbound Russell – but there seemed to be objections. Other solutions have been an educational campaign to retrain people to use the west highway exits rather than Richards Blvd. to access UC Davis.

What is very clear, however, is that we have a solution to the traffic problem on Richards that does not entail a huge amount of reconstruction or expenses. That solution has really been there for twenty years. It is rather baffling that no one on council or in the city could see the traffic scenario clearly enough to propose a solution until now.

Council has asked staff to return with some proposals to address traffic concerns – we should be very disappointed if city staff fails to look at the core problem of access to UC Davis.

—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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57 thoughts on “Commentary: What Is Broken Can Be Fixed on Richards”

  1. SODA

    I too live inSouth Davis (SODA) and can agree. However I seem to remember years ago hearing oppositon to UCD traffic entering off any arterial than Richards in that then the downtown would not benefit from potential revenue from shoppers and diners.

      1. hpierce

        After many years, many situations where you state the obvious and are ignored, you can get to a “whatever” mentality.  You start believing giving your professional opinion is truly Quixotic.  You still often ‘go thru the motions’, knowing the response, at best will be ‘thank you for your input’, with an implied, ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you…’  UCD and “downtown interests” did not want to hear the truth.

        1. Frankly

          hpierce – I think it takes repetition, persistence, simplicity and clarity in message, and repetition.

          And then at some point enough people understand enough to start talking about it.

          And then maybe a decade or two after you started the conversation, something gets done.

    1. hpierce

      Or, simply take responsibility for their circulation.  They haven’t done much on that in the last 30 years, citing that it’s ‘not part of our core mission’…

      1. hpierce

        Like what? Closing Old Davis Rd, @ First was recommened/rejected…

        Remember, you’re talking about behaviors of staff, students attending UCD.  What steps would you suggest the City take?

        1. Davis Progressive

          is there a way you can provide the information to the vanguard about what was tried and rejected – i think we start by revisiting that and seeing if the new world provides new life to rejected solutions.

        2. hpierce

          Nice try DP… you made the statement “the city could take its own steps to fix this.”  So, what would those be?  Fish or cut bait.

          Or, was your comment an attorney’s ploy, where you won’t venture a theory lest it be picked apart, and rather that the other give their theory, so you can pick it apart?

          BTW, the closure was ‘recommended’, but never “tried”. ice swemantic dodge.

  2. Anon

    the traffic conditions are bad on Richards, the project really doesn’t make things worse and some of the changes on the margins will improve things.”

    Well said.

    Richards Blvd is most definitely a traffic problem area in town.  However, let’s not blow this out of proportion.  San Francisco has major traffic problems – sometimes gridlock for hours, but Davis relatively speaking does not.  Gridlock for an extra five or ten minutes is not a huge difficulty from a statewide perspective.  Having said that, I certainly applaud any efforts to improve Richards.  It is my understanding that the city must work with CalTrans to make any changes.  Encouraging residents to take alternate routes with way finding signs has been proposed, and is hopefully in the works.  If any of you have other solutions, I would strongly encourage you to take them to the newly formed BTSSC (Bicycle, Transportation, Street Safety Commission).

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        Maybe the city council could prioritize basketball zoning over fixing the roads and pensions problems. Opps, they already beat us to the punch.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          That’s not an accurate comment about what happened with regards to basketball zoning. The council actually undid the basketball zoning, it was city staff that put forward the consent item.

  3. Anon

    hpierce: “David… professional PW staff “identified” the problem over 20 years ago.  They have been ignored.”

    That may have happened in the past, but I would argue PW is getting listened to now.  The City Council made sure to start putting money aside for road maintenance and repair.  The UUT being proposed should add more money for roads, bike paths and pedestrian byways.  And with the new hotel, there is already a clamor by the hotel and City Council and citizens to improve Richards around the hotel.

    1. hpierce

      “I would argue PW is getting listened to now.”  Actually, Frankly had a good insight… after ~25-30 years, PW is being listened to by CC on infrastructure.  The clarion call was out there all the while, but the electorate only wanted to hear about increased, cheap recreational opportunities, child care services, etc. The CC listened to the electorate, instead of being thoughtful leaders.

      With 20 + years of dismissing professional staff, many (but definitely not all) of the staff are more focussed on the ‘politics’ of their recommendations than their professionalism.  Really can’t blame them for that.

      PW is still not being listened to on other policy matters within their scope.  Maybe 10-15 years from now…

      BTW, that goes for many professional Parks and Finance people too.

  4. odd man out

    DV wrote: “One way to encourage those routes would [be] to make it so people could not make a left turn onto Howard from westbound Russell.”

    That would be a problem for Unitrans and Yolobus.

    I get it that UCD commuters should be encouraged not to use the Richards exit to get to campus, but don’t you think that if you were a regular driver to UCD who routinely encountered gridlock here at rush hour you would soon try the alternative routes? I can only assume that many regular commuters have tried the options and have decided that Richards, despite delays and frustration, works best for them.


    1. Topcat

      I can only assume that many regular commuters have tried the options and have decided that Richards, despite delays and frustration, works best for them.

      Yes, that is good insight.  People are pretty good at finding the best routes to get them to their destinations, even if it involves sitting in a long line of backed up traffic for a few minutes.

  5. Dave Hart

    Is there actual data on the commute routes?  Is such a thing possible?  I don’t doubt what can be casually observed, but I wonder how it can be quantified.  Also, what is known about the utilization rates of the various on-campus parking structures?  Are the alternatives to the Howard Way structure ever full?  Then, of course, there are issues I have no idea about such as the campus destinations of out of town drivers.   If the density of jobs is on the northeast corner of campus why would anyone want to park on the other side of campus?  Are parking rate prices absolutely the same all over campus or are there subsidies?  Do campus employees get preferential parking in structures?  This article raised many more questions than it answered.

    I love having the University here in Davis, but on a topic like this, it seems that the UC administration could at least cooperate in questioning the people parking in the Howard Way structure to find out why it is the preferred location, what route they take to get there and what would make another parking location or alternative route more attractive.

    1. hpierce

      Back when the widening of Richard, First, and other improvements were last seriously considered, part of the traffic engineering investigation used ‘license plate data’ collection.  That gave a fairly decent estimate of vehicles using the corridor and their origins and destinations.

      Don’t think it has been done since then, so the data has probably little or no value currently.

  6. Alan Miller

    One of the main subjects surrounding traffic was the current effect of the line that backs up from Dutch Bros. Was a traffic study done on that business before it was permitted? Seems it has more effect daily than the conference center ever will. No great solutions were presented, except to add a “Do not Block” zone where people back up.

    I am disheartened that much of the traffic heading through the tunnel is headed for the parking structure on the north side of campus. That traffic headed to the south side will be helped by Nishi’s bypass of the tunnel, not so much those headed to the north side.

    1. Miwok

      At some point even Slow Growth means Growth. And capacity means at some point it will be overloaded.

      Downtown and Growth are at odds because they address business needs without trying to make it easier or even possible in some cases to even patronize them. Ask people (what a concept) where they park or try to park? Ask the University Employees where they go for lunch and IF they would try to eat Downtown if they could park?

      Capacity. This City has finally reached its breaking point? They might have to let the Outside In? They screwed up the Underpass by denying the widening , then built walls on either side so it is now impossible to widen it, but then I have always maintained that alternate routes are better than widening what you have.

      I like your ideas about the Left turn on Howard, you can let buses take that turn and reap the benefits of fines for people who cannot alter their habits. Many probably don’t know how to get there any other way… 🙂

  7. Frankly

    Here is an old article link I saved at one point to provide my employees complaining about their commute into and out of Davis, or across town.  It helps with perspective.

    Just thinking a bit on that perspective thing.

    David says he lives in South Davis, yet where his kids attend school and where he works are on the opposite side of the freeway.   This then causes him to be one more car on the congested Richards underpass.

    Why does he live in South Davis and not on the other side where he would not have to traverse this busy intersection?

    Rhetorical, but it seems important.

    1. Don Shor

      My South Davis employees have always used the overpass that comes in at 5th and Poleline, not just to get to the nursery but also to go downtown or anywhere else.

    2. David Greenwald Post author

      If it seems important… When I moved to South Davis it was what I could afford. I didn’t have kids going to school at Montgomery at the time. I frequently do as Don has his employees do – use Pole Line rather than Richards when school is in session. I often will cut across Second Street when going directly from home. In short, I am rarely contributing to the problem during peak use times when the road is impacted.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        Out of curiosity I routed it on Google Maps. Going by way of Richards is 1.7 miles from Montgomery and it says 7 minutes, which is probably an estimate at the current time. It is 2.3 miles – so more than half a mile further – via Pole Line but that only adds 2 minutes for a total of 9 minutes. So I’m fairly certain it is faster during peak hours to go by way of Pole Line.

      2. Frankly

        When I moved to South Davis it was what I could afford.

        This is what I thought, but I wanted to understand if from your perspective.

        There is currently a 2 bedroom 1 bath home… 1,396 sq ft with a 750 sq ft finished basement for sale at 601 D Street listed for $810,000.   $377.45 per sq. ft.  And again, 2 bedroom and one bath.  Absurd.  That is a different, but somewhat related, topic to discuss.

        The main point I want to make, and it connects to the article, is that people value different things and there are trade-offs for everything we do.

        You probably could have afforded a home in old east Davis.  But it would have been the old Stanley Davis types… older and not as nice as many in South Davis.  You selected a home that had the amenities you wanted at a price you could afford and was willing to pay.  And the trade-off was having having a commute and a bit of traffic.

        I have four employees that commute from Sacramento to Davis for their job.  When I hear them complain about their commute, I ask why they don’t consider moving to Davis.  The quick answer is that they cannot afford it.  I then say they could maybe afford a smaller house in Davis, or they could move to Woodland or Dixon where their commutes would be shorter.  The answer is “no way”.  They like their bigger homes, pools and all the amenities that Sacramento has compared to these other places.  So I say, well you should stop complaining about your commute then because you have made a decision that requires it.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          “So I say, well you should stop complaining about your commute then because you have made a decision that requires it.”

          If you’re reading this comment as me complaining about my commute, you’ve missed the entire point of the column. The point of the column has nothing to do with my commute. I’m fine avoiding Richards, that’s not the point. The point was to illustrate why Richards Blvd is impacted and offer a cost effective way to the city to fix it. Why does it need fixing? Because if you want a Hotel Conference Center and Nishi there, we should make the traffic flow better. Obviously the city thought this was problem enough that they attempted in 1996 to fix it via widening the under pass and the city currently thinks it problem enough to not blanket approve the ordinance for the Hotel Conference Center. Why spend millions on fixes if we don’t need to.

        2. Don Shor

          I don’t want to get too far afield here, but I’m curious what part of Sacramento they find preferable to Woodland or Dixon. There are big homes with amenities in both cities. Both have been growing like crazy in the last few years.

          1. Don Shor

            Some parts do, some don’t. Natomas has little more than Woodland, I’d say; in fact, it’s pretty much a wasteland. So when I said “what part” what I meant was “which neighborhood,” not which aspects.
            For a long time South Davis had the same problem of insufficient amenities, unless you counted liquor stores and gun shops.
            While you’re at it, you might ask them which offramp they take to get to work here!

          2. Don Shor

            I guess my point in all of this is that when I hear about increased traffic density at Richards due to development of the hotel, my reaction is pretty much ‘so what’. People will live where they get the amenities, house style, lot size, and school district they prefer, and they will commute if they find those things are more to their liking in nearby cities. Workers at this hotel will likely be drawn from nearby communities; perhaps Solano Express can be induced to add a stop at the hotel (that would benefit everyone, really).

        3. Frankly

          While you’re at it, you might ask them which offramp they take to get to work here!

          Mace to 2nd Street or Mace to F Street.  The generally avoid Richards at rush hour.  So do I.

          1. Matt Williams

            Frankly, their routing is inefficient. Mace to 2nd Street and Mace to F Street are both considerably slower to your offices on D Street in Downtown than the Mace to Alhambra to 5th Street route is.

        4. Frankly

          People will live where they get the amenities, house style, lot size, and school district they prefer, and they will commute if they find those things are more to their liking in nearby cities. Workers at this hotel will likely be drawn from nearby communities

          Exactly my point too.

          I had an employee that commuted from San Francisco every day for almost two years before she finally quit to work closer to home.   She would not move to Davis but bought a house in Land Park and then sold in in a year to move back to San Francisco because, as she said, she did not like it there either.  Too white, too hot, to many allergies, too flat and too many nosy neighbors.

          I think some Davisites mistake their love of their little 72,000 population hyper-dense smallish city as being universal… that everyone in the world wants to be here and should be here.  It is not the case.  It is an attractive lifestyle for those that like it, but others would prefer to be somewhere else.  And they don’t mind commuting some amount of miles to live where they want to live.

        5. Miwok

          I think you nail it, Frankly, when you talk about peoples’ desire to have amenities. Buying a house too small or in the wrong neighborhood can have a deleterious effect on the family and your marital well-being just so your commute is shorter.

          I need space because I have lived in suburbs and apartments where I can hear all the neighbors’ bodily functions. And they pretend to “sell” these as homes? My property such as cars and motorcycles sit outside subject to the whims of the local thieves. Many just want a garage? How simple, and how complicated it is in Davis.

          Just as Old Davis Road is the wagon track to Davis, and has little improvement over the years, “just because” it is on UC Property, the houses in East Davis are little more than the places they were 75 years ago. The Driveways are barely wide enough for a car, and many of these are converted to dorms, so the lawn becomes a parking area as well. Davis is in the business of building slums, one decade at a time, and little thought is given to what they have created.

          If you don’t walk or bike to work, live in another town, even live here and work another town, you are not on the radar of what the City wants of its citizens. They make it hard at every step. I gave up the dream 30 years ago. It is amusing now, because I used to read the Enterprise every day hoping the silliness would go away, but it had persisted. Every step ahead is given up grudgingly, and as they are finding out, always too late to profit from it.

        6. Frankly

          Miwok – You just reminded me of something I heard from a local realtor recently.  There is some significant concern that the Cannery is going to struggle selling the homes it is building.  Two story without any yards.  And expensive.

          I don’t know many people in Davis that want that.  In fact, I don’t know anyone that wants that.

          One-story, smaller with a larger yard… yes.

          One-story, smaller and with a small yard or patio and less expensive… yes.

          Two-stories, big with a big yard and more expensive… yes.

          I would not be too surprised if they have trouble selling these places.

          1. Don Shor

            They’ll make great rental investment properties, to rent to the enrollment increase of grad and professional students that UCD is planning for.

        7. hpierce

          David, David… re: your 2:24 post.  “… Obviously the city thought this was problem enough that they attempted in 1996 to fix it via widening the under pass”.  Your sense of history is ‘stunted’… the City attempted ~ 1973 to do that fix.  At that time, Caltrans would have paid for ~ 83% of the cost.  It was defeated by voters, out of the fear that if it was widened, South Davis would expand in population (maybe 600 houses at that time), and so if it WASN’T widened, we could preclude growth.

          That worked well, didn’t it?  Thank the liberal arts majors who “know” about planning, engineering, etc., much more than professional staff.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Since I wasn’t here in Davis in 1973, I’ll take your word. I remember the 1996 vote as I had just moved here as a Graduate Student. Having talked with a few folks today, I get the impression that the Downtown will support a fix and three Councilmembers are at least receptive to the idea sans details.

        8. Miwok

          Yes, Frankly, not for families, for warehousing students at twice the going rate..

          Maybe some of you folks might want a place “for the children”. Parking and traffic will be a zoo. Driving through the empty streets is a chore as they are not even the same, as bicycle lanes are not even there on most streets.

      1. odd man out

        Dave Hart wrote: “what is known about the utilization rates of the various on-campus parking structures?”

        The campus does campus-wide parking utilization surveys on successive Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays once every quarter.

        “Are parking rate prices absolutely the same all over campus or are there subsidies?  Do campus employees get preferential parking in structures?

        Other than daily permits that anyone can buy, faculty and staff can purchase “A” permits that provide access to lots “closer in” or to lower levels of the parking structures. Students, faculty and staff can purchase lower cost “C” permits for lots that are farther from the central campus or put you in the higher structure levels.

        Non-university affiliated visitors are restricted to the daily permits which are valid in “Visitor” lots (which basically overlap the “C” parking areas).



        1. Jim Frame

          Non-university affiliated visitors are restricted to the daily permits which are valid in “Visitor” lots (which basically overlap the “C” parking areas).


          Hmmm…I routinely buy a monthly permit when needed that lets me park in any A, C, E or V space.  Maybe it’s a contractor permit.  All I know is it costs me $70 ($60 for the month and $10 for the pleasure of visiting TAPS).

          I’m reminded of the TAPS enforcement officer who told me that “anyone can park anywhere on campus for $50 a day.”


        2. hpierce

          Jim makes an important point… UCD has long held the attitude that parking “is not one of their core missions”.  Therefore, all capital/maintenance/operation/admin of parking facilities has to be revenue neutral.  That’s why we (as citizens) have had to implement preferential parking districts, degree of support to Unitrans, etc.  The support of Unitrans I have no problem with, but we need to take some of those transit dollars to pay for street and curb/gutter repairs needed solely needed due to Unitrans operations.

          Believe it or not but the “impacts” (literally and figuratively) of Unitrans is worse than impacts from equivalent weights of semis, etc.  Has to do with the suspension systems, and the pulling onto the curb and gutter at stops.

          Unitrans good. Responsibility towards roadway maintenance, not so much.

  8. hpierce

    The right of way pretty much exists to widen the Richards OH and First.  It would require the removal of olive trees on the south side of First (and relocation/undergrounding of utility lines), etc.  But it won’t happen.  Like a stopped clock (which is right twice a day), David gets the fact that the Richards corridor cannot be “improved” unless and until UCD provides for campus accessibility elsewhere, in such a way that behaviors are changed.

  9. SODA

    If I understood the discussion on Tuesday night, a south Davis (SODA) or person coming off exit at Richards from Sac would need to make a U tur at Olive to enter the hotel or its restaurant (or mabye turn left at Olive and enter grounds that way. I am concerned the line waiting to make a U turn may be long and back up.

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