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