In a bold move, former Davis City Councilmember Michael Harrington has furnished a report from Daniel Smith, a traffic engineer with Smith Engineering & Management. He has reviewed “the portions of the Draft Environmental Impact Report (the DEIR) related to transportation and circulation for the Nishi Gateway Project (the Project) in the Davis, CA (the City).”
He writes, “My qualifications to perform this review include registration as a Civil and Traffic Engineer in California and over 47 years professional consulting engineering practice in the traffic and transportation. I have both prepared and reviewed the transportation and circulation sections of environmental review documents, including studies of similar developments.”
Just after midnight this morning, Mr. Harrington sent an email to Katherine Hess, among others, asking “that the City hold open the comment period while its consultant works on a report that addresses the valid technical concerns of Mr Smith. Then we would have another 45 days to comment.”
The city released the Draft EIR in early September. Today is the deadline for the submission of comments. The Nishi Gateway Innovation District is a collaborative planning process among the city, UC Davis and Yolo County, and is proposed on the 47-acre Nishi property adjacent to the city limits and UC Davis. The Innovation District also includes West Olive Drive and is designed to complement adjacent uses on the UC Davis campus.
According to the city’s release in September, the Draft EIR analyzes impacts that may result from development of the project under different circumstances, including full project buildout, no project, and several alternatives which provide additional important information and context for the community and council to consider.
The alternatives studied in the DEIR include examining research and development (R&D) only, alternative land use mix, and off-site (5th Street corridor) considerations. The DEIR addresses the impact of development of the 47-acre Nishi property as a mixed-use innovation district, as well as potential redevelopment of properties on West Olive Drive.
What Daniel Smith’s letter to Don Mooney dated October 25 offers is a technical analysis of the Nishi Draft EIR. He concludes, “It seems evident that the City has pared the content of the DEIR’s transportation section to make it more difficult for the public to understand and comment on it. Based on all of the foregoing, I am convinced the problems with the transportation and circulation section renders this DEIR unsuited for certification.”
Mr. Smith is critical that the analysis of the trip generation “are unreasonable and result in understatement of the Project’s external motor vehicle trip generation and consequently findings of impacts and mitigation needs.”
He adds, “Reliance on assumptions that unreasonably minimize the Project’s external traffic generation is inconsistent with the good faith effort to disclose impact that CEQA demands. The analysis should be redone with more realistic assumptions…”
Daniel Smith is also critical of the project alternative. He writes, “The analysis of alternatives has failed to consider one seemingly feasible alternative that could avoid much of the significant adverse transportation consequences of the Project as proposed.”
The applicant has proposed “to develop a grade-separated crossing of UPRR railway in order to gain access to Old Davis Road. This is a highly significant matter from perspectives of engineering, cost and agreements between the developer, City, University and the railroad and perhaps others such as the State Public Utilities Commission.”
Mr. Smith offers, “An alternative to develop an grade separated access beneath I-80 to West Chiles Road might be less costly and less administratively complex than the proposed Project access scenario 1 and would appear to have less adverse consequences on the critical Richards Boulevard corridor. This alternative should be added to the analysis and the current DEIR is inadequate for having failed to consider it.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
The following are the full text of the technical comments by Mr. Smith:
Calculations Supporting Estimates of Existing Traffic Delay and Level of Service Are Not Provided.
Neither the DEIR nor its supporting appendices provide calculation sheets supporting its estimates of existing delay and level of service (LOS) on the various intersections and roadway facilities studied in the DEIR. Such information is customarily provided with DEIRs prepared under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Such detailed calculation information is vital in that allows the public to determine whether the calculations do or do not accurately represent existing conditions that are readily observed by the public – such as typical delays experienced on individual intersection approaches or typical queue lengths on those approaches. Unless the public has assurance that the analysis procedures accurately replicate existing observable conditions, it can have no confidence that these same procedures can accurately estimate delay and LOS in the future analysis scenarios that purport to measure the effect of adding Project traffic. This is particularly critical at traffic analysis locations in the Richards Boulevard corridor where the DEIR has analyzed traffic delay and LOS using traffic micro-simulation procedures (VISSIM). Unless the public has access to the full computational record, it cannot examine considerations that are critical to the credibility of the entire analysis including:
- Since final results of a simulation analysis are based on the average of a number of runs of the simulation, how many runs of the simulation were performed and how radically different or closely comparable were the results of the individual simulation runs from the average and from each other?
- Since the traffic entering the various movements in the simulation is generated by probability functions, the number of trips passing through each movement on a simulation run and the aggregate of all trips on that run may be different from the actual counted movements and their aggregate. Consequently, the data provided must address the question of how does the number of trips on the various movements on each run on the simulation and on the average of all runs compare with the actual movements observed in the existing traffic counts?
- How do delays and queues on the major movements in the simulation compare to delays and queues measured in actual existing traffic conditions?
If such information about the existing conditions analysis is not provided in the DEIR or its appendices, the public has no basis for confidence in the results of the analysis – not only in the existing conditions analysis but in the future scenarios that evaluate the consequences of adding the Project since those are built on the same techniques as the existing conditions analysis. Hence the DEIR is deficient as an information document. Moreover, since the missing information is so essential to intelligent comment on the DEIR, it is insufficient to supply it as part of the response to comment in an FEIR. The DEIR should be subject to an additional 45 day comment period following release of the appropriate information.
Furthermore, there is good reason for the public to regard the findings of the VISSIM simulation for the intersection of Richards and Olive Drive with skepticism. In 2011 the transportation analysis for the UC Davis Hyatt Place Hotel Expansion and Old Davis Road Extension Focused Tiered Draft Environmental Impact Report was performed by Fehr & Peers, the same transportation consultants who performed the transportation analysis for the current subject Nishi Gateway Project DEIR. In the 2011 study, those consultants found that existing delay and LOS at the Richards-Olive intersection was 24 seconds / LOS C in the AM peak and 15 seconds / LOS B in the PM peak. However, the 2011 report’s narrative noted the following:
“Although the 1st Street / Richards Boulevard and Olive Drive / Richards Boulevard intersections are reported to operate at an acceptable LOS with the peak hour traffic volumes used in this analysis, field observations indicate that these intersections often operate unacceptably during the peak hours. The HCM 2000 methodology used to analyze these intersections does not consider the effects of queuing that extends into adjacent intersections. This situation frequently occurs during the peak hours along Richards.”
Now, the same consultants, using the VISSIM simulation, say the same intersection, with slightly different 2014 traffic counts, report that Richards-Olive operates at a delay of 15.4 seconds / LOS B in the AM peak and 20.7 seconds delay / LOS C in the PM peak. Quite evidently, the VISSIM simulation employed in the current DEIR is no better at replicating the unacceptable conditions that exist in the peak hours at Richards – Olive than the earlier methods. This is a critical flaw in the analysis.
The narrative discussion on page 4.14-29 makes evident that the DEIR relied upon the City of Davis travel demand model. However, neither the DEIR nor its appendices present a representation of the actual trip distribution. A figure or table summarizing the trip distribution is a customary component of the transportation and circulation section of most EIRs where traffic-related issues are a concern. The lack of this information makes it difficult for the public to determine whether the trip distribution underlying the transportation analysis is reasonable or to assess whether the DEIR’s compilation of Project-generated Vehicle Miles Traveled (see subsequent discussion herein) is reliable. This is another example of how the DEIR is deficient as an information document.
Unreasonable Trip Generation Assumptions Understate Project Trip Generation
Certain of the assumptions made in the DEIR analysis of trip generation are unreasonable and result in understatement of the Project’s external motor vehicle trip generation and consequently findings of impacts and mitigation needs. These include the following:
- The trip generation analysis assumes that except, except for 210 ‘for-sale’ units and some 88 market rate rental units, all of the remaining 352 rental units proposed would be occupied by UC Davis students. Students at UCD make relatively few of their trips during the normal am and PM commute peak periods and make a very high percentage of their trips by walking, bike or transit. But unless these rental units are, as a condition of approval, required to be administered as reserved for student housing (current student registration required as a condition for continued rental), there is no guarantee that any particular percentage of them will be occupied by students. Examples of others who might rent these units include former students who have graduated and have jobs in the commutable region, but who like living in Davis and just keep their unit, couples in which one spouse or significant other is a student while the other has a job somewhere in the commutable region, or people who work anywhere reasonably commutable but who just wish to live in the Davis environment.
- Per Table 4.14-8a, the DEIR assumes that 429 of the Project’s gross daily trips will be internal trips between the Project’s residential component and its R&D-office component. Recognizing that half this total are internalized trip-ends from the residential component and half are internalized trip ends from the R&D component, the numbers suggest that in excess of 20 percent of the employed residents in those 298 non-student dwelling units would be employed in the Project’s R&D-office component. They also suggest that about 22 percent of the employees in the R&D-office component would be drawn from this 298 units of housing. Both of these circumstances are extremely unlikely and unreasonable.
Reliance on assumptions that unreasonably minimize the Project’s external traffic generation is inconsistent with the good faith effort to disclose impact that CEQA demands. The analysis should be redone with more realistic assumptions in the above areas.
Existing + Project Analysis and Mitigation
The inability to verify the accuracy of the delay and LOS computational procedures in the existing conditions evaluation as described previously results in an inability of the public to place credence in the DEIR’s evaluation of the Existing + Project scenarios which rely on those same unverified procedures. In addition, the actual computations supporting the Existing + Project analysis are not provided in the DEIR or its appendices. We reserve the right to make further comments on these matters until after the City and its consultants have provided detailed computational support for estimated existing and future delay/LOS conditions and the necessary observed existing observed queuing and delay information to verify the accuracy of the computational procedures employed.
However, what we can comment on with respect to the Existing + Project analysis is the conceptual design proposed as mitigation for impacts at the Richards Boulevard – Olive Drive intersection. This conceptual design is shown on DEIR Figure 4.14 -9.
On the north leg of the subject intersection, the proposed design adds an additional southbound through/right turn lane (the existing southbound through/right turn lane becomes exclusively a through lane) and the northbound bus stop formerly located on the south side of the intersection is shifted to the north. These changes are accomplished relocating the bike-pedestrian path that flanks the west side of the northerly leg farther west and widening the roadway on both sides. Accomplishing this will require retaining wall construction and appears to eliminate one and perhaps more trees that are Landmark Trees or Protected Trees under the City’s Tree Ordinance (Chapter 37 of Davis Municipal Code). This fact is not disclosed in the DEIR. Whether the widening of this approach to the Richards Boulevard underpass of the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR), a designated historic structure, constitutes a change to the historic structure is a matter for historic preservation experts.
On the west leg of the subject intersection, the proposed design replaces the existing single approach and departure lanes with separate left, through and right approach lanes plus two departure lanes, with sidewalks relocated in correspondence to the added roadway width. This involves significant right of way taking, particularly on the south side of West Olive where the scheme would involve demolishing the Red Rum Burger building and taking much of the landscape area in front of the drive-thru coffee shop, points that are evident on Figure 4.14-9 but not mentioned in the narrative.
The added approach lanes on the west leg and that on the north leg are all quite short, providing about 90 to 100 feet of effective queue storage and in each case are the three resulting intersection approach lanes are fed by a single lane upstream. The shortness of the added approach lanes and the existing left turn lane on southbound Richards makes them function less efficiently when queues build back into the single-lane upstream approaches. This characteristic makes it difficult to accurately compute or simulate the actual delay and LOS resultant in intersection operations.
On the south leg of the intersection, the proposed mitigation would have two left turn lanes, a single through lane and a right turn lane northbound and two formal through lanes plus a bike lane southbound. As noted above, the existing northbound bus stop on this approach would be eliminated and relocated to the north side of the intersection. The advantages and disadvantages of relocating the bus stop in this manner is a matter that the DEIR does not address. The modifications on this leg to the Richards-Olive intersection would also eliminate left turns to and from private driveways along Richards between Olive and the I-80 westbound ramps, movements that are currently permitted though very difficult to make at peak traffic times. Because of the current difficulty in making them, the elimination of the opportunity to make left turns to and from these driveways may seem inconsequential, but perhaps not so from the perspective of the affected property owners.
On the east leg of Olive, the proposed mitigation of the intersection with Richards involves no major changes; just modification to the crosswalk striping to conform to the changes on the other three legs of the intersection.
The assertion on page 4.14-46 of the DEIR that the proposed mitigation at Richards and Olive would return Existing + Project conditions to acceptable LOS E conditions is unsubstantiated by any calculations presented in the DEIR or its appendices. Furthermore, the evident inability of the VISSIM simulation to replicate observable existing queuing and delay conditions at this location cast doubt on any calculations that simulation may produce unless it is recalibrated to demonstrably replicate existing queuing and delays.
The DEIR’s VMT Analysis Is Vague, Inadequately Quantitatively Documented, Conclusory and Mitigation to Less Than Significance Is Speculative
DEIR page 4.14-50 states that Project-generated vehicle miles of travel (VMT) is 45,000 miles per day. DEIR page 4.14-29 states that Project-generated VMT was calculated as follows:
“Forecasts of project VMT was estimated by utilizing a combination of vehicle trip generation estimates as well as trip length data based on household locations in the Economic Evaluation of Innovation Park Proposals (BAE, March 2015), California Household Travel Survey data, and census data. This provides a full accounting of VMT generated by the project.”
Although the cited reference source does provide a clear distribution table of the residence location of workers holding jobs located in the City of Davis or at the UC Davis campus, there is no indication of where employed residents of Davis who do not work within the City or University campus commute to. Since no computations of VMT are provided, just the end result, the public has no way whether the 45,000 VMT estimate is reasonable or accurate. We also note that, as we previously commented on the trip generation section, the assumed internalization of trips between the Projects residential and R&D – office components is excessive. This would lead to an understatement of VMT generated.
Although the DEIR admits that the Project’s 45,000 VMT per day is potentially significant, it makes the irrelevant exculpatory statement that there are many other locations in the Sacramento region where a project of this size and intensity would cause greater VMT generation, then makes the assumption that a TDM program comprised of a vague laundry-list of potential elements would mitigate the Project’s addition to regional VMT to less than significance. This is an inadequate speculation.
The cumulative transportation analysis is fundamentally irrelevant to the critical transportation issue affected by the Project due to the VISSIM simulation’s apparent inability to accurately replicate existing queuing and delay at the Richards-Olive intersection and the City’s determination that LOS F is acceptable at this location. However, the cumulative analysis does disclose other issues.
In access scenario 1, more than stop control is required at the intersection of the Project access roadway and Old Davis Road and at the intersection of West Olive and West Olive cul-de-sac more than stop control is required under both access scenarios. The Project is conditioned to fund design and construction of signalization at both of these locations as mitigation (or as an alternate at the Old Davis Road intersection, a roundabout).
At First and F Streets, the intersection deteriorates from LOS B in the existing and Existing + Project scenarios in the PM peak to LOS F in the Cumulative and Cumulative + Project scenarios, with the Cumulative + Project scenario experiencing more than 30 percent more delay than the Cumulative – No Project scenario (delay values compared for access scenario 1). Although the Project is conditioned to fund a study of potential mitigation at this location and to make fair share payment toward construction of the ultimately determined mitigation, this appears to be a deferral of mitigation that should have been developed in this DEIR. The situation also appears to evidence the volatility of the VISSIM simulation relied upon in the analysis.
Alternatives to the Project
The analysis of alternatives has failed to consider one seemingly feasible alternative that could avoid much of the significant adverse transportation consequences of the Project as proposed. We note that the Project sponsor proposes to develop a grade-separated crossing of UPRR railway in order to gain access to Old Davis Road. This is a highly significant matter from perspectives of engineering, cost and agreements between the developer, City, University and the railroad and perhaps others such as the State Public Utilities Commission. An alternative to develop an grade separated access beneath I-80 to West Chiles Road might be less costly and less administratively complex than the proposed Project access scenario 1 and would appear to have less adverse consequences on the critical Richards Boulevard corridor. This alternative should be added to the analysis and the current DEIR is inadequate for having failed to consider it.
It seems evident that the City has pared the content of the DEIR’s transportation section to make it more difficult for the public to understand and comment on it. Based on all of the foregoing, I am convinced the problems with the transportation and circulation section renders this DEIR unsuited for certification.