Analysis: Nishi Touts Sustainability, But Its Success Will Rest on Traffic Impacts and Mitigation

Richards-exit

The Nishi Gateway project is comprised of two distinctly separate but adjoining areas which total 57.7 acres. The first part is the 46.9-acre Nishi site with a proposed mixed-use project with roadway connections to the city of Davis and UC Davis. The second part is rezoning of 10.8 acres within the city (hereafter referred to as West Olive Drive) to allow for redevelopment.

The EIR notes, “No new development is currently proposed as part of West Olive Drive; however the rezoning of the parcels within West Olive Drive will allow for redevelopment.”

“The Nishi site has been considered for development by the City for the past 20 years and is reflected within the City’s General Plan as being within the Sphere of Influence for the City. However, the site’s original use, consistent with historical land uses in the region, was agricultural,” the EIR notes.

Right now the project features a mix of land uses including rental and for-sale, high density residential units, research and development (R&D) space, accessory commercial/retail space, and open space including a public park, greenbelts, and private open space for the proposed residential uses, as well as surface and structure parking with solar panels.

The project currently proposes 650 residential units of which 440 are rental and 210 are for-sale units. It also has up to 325,000 square feet for R&D uses, and 20,000 square feet for retail uses – coffee shop, café, restaurant.

“While not proposed at this time, the site could potentially accommodate an extended-stay hotel, which would be subject to subsequent market assessment and discretionary City review and approval with performance standards,” the EIR notes.

The EIR considers two scenarios of vehicular access to the Nishi site: an option with connections to both West Olive Drive and Old Davis Road on the UC Davis campus; and an option with access only to West Olive Drive.

In 2014, the city was awarded a grant from the Strategic Growth Council to assist with the planning and design of the Nishi Gateway Project. Its focus is on sustainability and green development. As part of the SGC grant, the City and the applicant prepared a sustainability implementation plan for incorporation to the project to provide a more sustainable development and model for future development within the City and the region.

The key finding of the project would be that it increases traffic volumes within the Richards Boulevard Interchange Area, including Richards Boulevard/Olive Drive, Richards Boulevard/I-80 Westbound Ramps, Richards Boulevard/Private Driveways, and Richards Boulevard/I-80 Eastbound Ramps intersections.

“With the addition of project traffic, service levels would deteriorate substantially, and peak queues would spill back in several locations to and beyond upstream intersections,” the EIR’s traffic analysis finds.

It notes that at Richards Blvd. and private driveways, as well as the eastbound and westbound ramps of I-80, the LOS would fall to LOS F with the addition of project traffic. LOS F or Level of Service F means “forced or breakdown flow. Every vehicle moves in lockstep with the vehicle in front of it, with frequent slowing required. Travel time cannot be predicted, with generally more demand than capacity.”

However, “the City considers LOS F at this intersection to be acceptable.”

The EIR continues, “Project traffic would exceed the relevant threshold of significance for three freeway interchange area intersections. As a result, impacts would be significant.”

As mitigation measures, the project “shall either make a fair share contribution for the following Phase 1 improvements prior to initiation of construction of Phase 1 or conduct a focused traffic assessment to provide a more detailed assessment of the mitigation trigger timing.”

At Richards Boulevard/Olive Drive:

  • Widen the south leg of Richards Boulevard to add a second northbound left turn lane (from northbound Richards to westbound Olive Drive) with a storage length of approximately 250 feet. Widen the north leg of Richards Boulevard to add a second southbound through/turn lane. The widening of the south leg may require some widening of the approach to the underpass and construction of new retaining walls to support the new turn lane. No modification of the existing underpass is required.
  • Widen the west leg of West Olive Drive to provide two westbound lanes and three eastbound lanes. The eastbound lanes on West Olive Drive at Richards Boulevard shall include a left turn lane, a through/right lane, and a right turn lane. On-street bike lanes, which may include either a sharrow (shared bike and vehicle lane) or dedicated bike lane, shall be provided on West Olive Drive.
  • Richards Boulevard/Private Driveways: Place barriers in the median of Richards Boulevard to restrict driveway access, between West Olive Drive and the I-80 westbound ramps, to right-in, right-out movements only.
  • Richards Boulevard/I-80 Westbound Ramps: Realign the westbound ramps to eliminate the two loop ramps to provide a diamond ramp configuration and install a traffic signal. Provide an exclusive left turn lane and two exclusive right turn lanes on the westbound off-ramp approach. Provide one through lane and two exclusive left turn lanes on the northbound approach. Provide two through lanes and an exclusive right turn lane on the southbound approach. The southbound right turn lane shall extend from just south of the existing Caffe Italia driveway to the new westbound on-ramp entrance.

There are also proposed Phase 2 Improvements where, “The project applicant shall contribute appropriate funds for the following Phase 2 improvements, which shall be constructed before occupancy of project uses that would generate fifty percent or more of the forecast project a.m. peak hour trips. Alternately, the project applicant may conduct a focused traffic assessment to provide a more detailed assessment of the mitigation trigger timing.”

  • Richards Boulevard/Eastbound Off-Ramp: Widen the eastbound off-ramp to provide a second exclusive left turn lane.
  • Richards Boulevard Bicycle Cycle Track: construct a separated cycle track on the west side of Richards Boulevard from West Olive Drive to Research Park Drive.

The city is “in the process of implementing improvements at the Richards Boulevard/Research Park Drive intersection that include the addition of a second southbound through lane, and this improvement was taken into consideration as part of the mitigated condition. With that improvement and implementation of the mitigation shown above, LOS E would be restored to the impacted intersections and impacts would be reduced to less than significant.”

The EIR adds, “Modification of the I-80/Richards Boulevard interchange, including off-ramps, would require approval by Caltrans and is outside the purview of the City as lead agency. Further, Caltrans is currently considering improvements to the I-80/Richards Boulevard Interchange, which may or may not coincide with improvements necessary to reduce impacts of the project to less than significant levels. Because the approval of interchange improvements by Caltrans cannot be assured, the impact would remain significant and unavoidable.”

The project would generate substantial new travel demand related to commuting and other trip purposes associated with the industrial and retail uses on-site. The project is projected to generate approximately 45,000 VMT (vehicle miles traveled) at buildout. As such, “it would increase City-generated VMT and GHG [greenhouse gases], not reduce them.”

However, the EIR notes that the project includes a number of factors that “would generate lower auto trip generation and VMT when compared to projects of similar size and intensity in other parts of the Sacramento region.” These include cite location and the mix of residential with employment land uses.

The EIR notes, “As the project would increase VMT by approximately 45,000 miles per day, potential increases would be considered substantial and impacts would be potentially significant if they impede the City’s/region’s ability to achieve VMT reduction goals.”

As we discussed with regard to the upcoming Hotel-Conference Center, we believe there are ways to reduce the traffic impact on Richards Blvd which involve rerouting traffic that currently utilizes the Richards Underpass to access the university – rerouting traffic to the west side of campus with access from I-80’s UC Davis exit, and Hwy 113’s Hutchison and Russell Blvd exits.

—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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17 Comments

  1. darelldd

    ” is comprises of ” – first sentence.

    When I read the subject line, that Nishi *touts* sustainability, my first though was that so did the Cannery. :sigh:

    That said, I think there’s little chance that we’ll blow it again like we did on the Cannery. Zero water catchment? No real non-motorized connectivity to the rest of the community? Not net zero?

    Nishi is far more likely to be closer to the sustainability ideal. But whenever something is “touted,” it concerns me.

    1. David Greenwald

      I used the word “tout,” I’m not sure you should read much into it. I used it to refer to the fact that they sent out two press releases highlighting the sustainability features of the project.

    1. Topcat

      Per day?

      Yes, it does say “per day”.  I wonder what the “Cool Davis” folks and those interested in carbon emissions reduction will have to say about this?  Could it kill the project?

  2. Topcat

    The project would generate substantial new travel demand related to commuting and other trip purposes associated with the industrial and retail uses on-site. The project is projected to generate approximately 45,000 VMT (vehicle miles traveled) at buildout. As such, “it would increase City-generated VMT and GHG [greenhouse gases], not reduce them.”…..

    The EIR notes, “As the project would increase VMT by approximately 45,000 miles per day, potential increases would be considered substantial and impacts would be potentially significant if they impede the City’s/region’s ability to achieve VMT reduction goals.”

    It sounds like the traffic impacts will be significant.  Perhaps the Nishi property is not the right location for this type of development.

  3. Barack Palin

    “As the project would increase VMT by approximately 45,000 miles per day

    Does this figure take into account the mileage that people would be driving anyway if they lived or worked elsewhere?  Are we only looking at local miles driven when the same miles will be driven elsewhere?  Miles driven in Davis are no worse than miles driven in the region.

    1. Topcat

      Miles driven in Davis are no worse than miles driven in the region.

      But miles driven in Davis do contribute to more traffic congestion.  The Richards/Olive area is already a serious problem area and adding that much more traffic will make a bad situation worse, even if the proposed mitigation measures are done.

  4. Davis Progressive

    unless you fix the traffic impacts here – nishi is dead.  i don’t understand why this hasn’t been a bigger point of emphasis, the city has known that both nishi and the hcc were in progress and what have they done on traffic on richards?

    1. Topcat

      unless you fix the traffic impacts here – nishi is dead.

      It will be almost impossible to “fix” the traffic impacts for the Nishi site because of the constraints.  On one side is a freeway and on the other side is the railroad.  There is only one way in and out and it happens to pass through a very highly constrained intersection.

      Perhaps the city should be looking at a different use for the site.  How about using it for a solar energy collection site?  It could be filled with solar cells that generate clean, carbon free electricity. It would be highly visible from the freeway and so would be a major public relations benefit for Davis.  We could boast to the whole world about how we are a “Solar Electric City”!

      1. Topcat

        I’m sure “The Vanguard” will propose a third Davis Train Station and a “Third Rail”.

        I’m surprised that “The Vanguard” has not proposed re-routing the rail line around the city.

  5. Anon

    “Analysis: Nishi Touts Sustainability, But Its Success Will Rest on Traffic Impacts and Mitigation”

    My guess is the success of Nishi will rest on traffic impacts/mitigation AND improvement to the economic impact – from a net fiscal negative to a net fiscal positive.

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