Analysis: Richards Blvd Corridor Improvement Plan Deals with Light Sequencing But Not Re-Routing UCD Traffic

Richards Tunnel
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Richards Tunnel

The city staff is introducing a $175,000 plan to improve safety and circulation on Richards Boulevard in the near term, in advance of development along the corridor. Most of the cost of that plan is the signal upgrade of $160,000.

The plan addresses some short-term issues including signing and striping, that could alleviate some problems as well as deal with the sequencing of the signals through the corridor.

Some of the immediate changes that staff calls for include the elimination of left turns in and out of the Shell Gas Station and the Dutch Bros. Coffee kiosk along Richards. Staff writes, “This will minimize the number of conflicts in the corridor. Elimination of the left turns will be accomplished by installation of delineators. Emergency vehicles may drive across the delineators when needed. Left turn access into and out of the Caffé Italia and University Parks Inn will be maintained.”

They also call for the creation of “an exclusive right turn lane on Olive Drive to provide for a right-in, right-out access for Dutch Brothers on Olive Drive.” Staff writes, “Installation of the exclusive right turn lane will require removal [of] 5 to 7 parking spaces on the south side of Olive Drive. However, this lane will provide for the queuing space that is currently blocking westbound Olive Drive and sometimes extends to Richards Boulevard.”

Finally, they will refresh the existing striping on Richards Blvd. that they say has become “faded and nearly disappeared in some areas of the corridor. The striping refreshing will provide for a clear guidance to all travel modes and improves safety for all road users.”

While these will be helpful, none of them gets to the core issue causing the traffic congestion.

A bigger issue will be the signal improvements which, from our observations, in both directions is one cause of the traffic congestions during core hours.

Staff notes, “The traffic signals between Richards Boulevard/Research Park Drive and First Street/D Street intersections (a total of five signals) used to be in coordination to provide for an orderly movement of traffic throughout the corridor.”

Staff claims that over the last two years, “due to the numerous signal equipment failure and malfunctions, the traffic signals have been gradually taken off coordination, as they could not communicate with each other.”

Staff proposes a communications system which allows for “communication between signals and allows the clocks to be synched which is essential for a coordinated system.” They will also add detection which will allow “the signals to operate in the most efficient manner and minimizes the unnecessary delays throughout the corridor.”

Finally, they will have pedestrian countdowns with audible signals at all five intersections.

If the city can address the light sequencing issue, that will greatly help the flow of traffic. Right now, the traffic signals are working at cross-purposes, with traffic not allowed to flow through a series of traffic lights. Instead, for example, the green light at 1st and E hits a red light at 1st and D, a short block as it is, which immediately causes the traffic to back up onto Richards.

Simply synching those two lights will dramatically improve the traffic flow. The same happens in the other direction as the traffic stopped at Olive backs up back to the First St, holding up traffic at a green light at 1st and E, backing up traffic at 1st D and, as we noted earlier this week, causing traffic to back up during peak hours all the way back to Russell Blvd.

What the staff report does not address at all are the issues the Vanguard has raised repeatedly and the council raised at the September meeting – the need to re-direct traffic to alternates routes onto the UC Davis campus.

Instead, the long-term improvements simply discuss the corridor plan study. As staff notes, “The above improvements are intended to address some of the most pressing existing needs in the Richards/Olive area.”

However, “other enhancements are still being explored to improve travel within this area. In the Richards Corridor, the most significant effort is the Richards Boulevard and I-80 interchange Project Study Report (CIP 8730). This Study is currently under way, in cooperation with Caltrans, and is expected to be complete in early 2016.”

Staff notes that the project, if approved by Caltrans, “will eliminate the existing cloverleaf ramp configuration on the north side of I-80 and will construct the diamond shaped on and off-ramps (shown in the below figure). As part of the interchange reconfiguration, ramps will also be signalized which would improve safety by minimizing the conflicts for all modes.”

In addition to the increased safety, “the distance between the off-ramp and Olive Drive will be longer which will provide for additional vehicle queuing. The Project Study Report also incorporated corridor modifications proposed in the approved Hotel Conference Center.”

“Until such time that long term planning and improvements can take place, the signal and striping improvements identified above will greatly enhance traffic safety and circulation throughout the corridor,” staff concludes.

What the plan does not address at all is what the council discussed in September.

It has been the Vanguard’s belief that traffic on Richards Blvd. can be solved by simply changing the habits of those who exit on Richards and head to UC Davis from I-80. By figuring out ways to encourage traffic to utilize the UC Davis/Old Davis Road or Hutchison Drive exits instead of Richards, the city can fix a huge part of the Richards Blvd. traffic without spending much in the way of resources.

The council in September added language to examine traffic and come back with recommendations to fix Richards Blvd.

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs noted, “I also think the suggestion (about re-routing traffic) has a lot of merit. I think it would take a comprehensive educational campaign to work with the university on trying to re-route a bunch of this traffic off the Richards tunnel and the Richards Blvd. intersection and have folks that are heading to the core part of the campus… have them head to Old Davis Road and use that interchange as opposed to Richards.”

He noted when the students are back in session, “the exit ramp heading off of 80 onto northbound Richards Blvd backs almost all the way off onto the freeway, often-time in the morning, it many times backs to top of the overpass as well.”

He believes there is the ability to work with the university in a way that is “minimally expensive” to get folks to utilize another access point to the university.

Rochelle Swanson added, “I would like to recommend – we own land out there – people have approached us in the past about doing a billboard and doing a partnership” to create a billboard with instructions to take these exits. “I think waiting on Caltrans is going to take forever, it’s a huge process.”

She said, worst case scenario, set aside some money to put the city’s messaging on existing billboards. “That’s a phone call tomorrow,” she said. “I want to see this item come back with the traffic piece – but have that included. It’s a really simple solution that can get up and getting moving.”

She said, “Everyone gets off and goes onto Richards Blvd. and there’s definitely a work around.”

So where is this language in the staff report?

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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23 thoughts on “Analysis: Richards Blvd Corridor Improvement Plan Deals with Light Sequencing But Not Re-Routing UCD Traffic”

  1. Anon

    So where is this language in the staff report?

    HAVE YOU ASKED CITY STAFF ABOUT IT?  My guess is that way-finding signage as you have suggested is on the radar screen of Public Works/Transportation Commission.

    1. Miwok

      You know, If you don’t cram too much on it, tourists and Visitors can benefit also.

      used to be in coordination to provide for an orderly movement of traffic throughout the corridor.”

      faded and nearly disappeared in some areas of the corridor. The striping refreshing will provide for a clear guidance to all travel modes and improves safety for all road users.

      It is clear the neglect and maintenance form the city has exacerbated the situation, but also that the 1920 roads and streets are inadequate in 2020. It is one reason I moved away. It was bad enough working in Davis.

  2. Frankly

    Light sequencing is generally terrible to non-existent in our city.  It exacerbates the existing car travel challenges in a hyper-dense city with more bikes and pedestrians than average.  It causes more pollution as cars wait unnecessarily at stop lights.  It frustrates drivers and causes them to drive more aggressively to get to destinations in a reasonable amount of time.

    However, we absolutely need  to be working on a plan to route more UCD traffic away from the Richards Blvd. underpass.  I don’t find the light sequencing at that complex intersection to be problematic… it is just too many cars, bikes and pedestrians.

    1. Anon

      If I were to hazard a guess, I would bet that almost everyone could find an alternate route to avoid the underpass, but out of habit keep taking that route.  Either that, or they don’t find the extra 5-10 minute wait during rush hour that onerous.

      I also think you have to put things in perspective – San Francisco has traffic problems; I-80 at the Yolo bypass at times has traffic problems; Davis has minor traffic problems relatively speaking.

      1. Matt Williams

        Anon said . . .  “Either that, or they don’t find the extra 5-10 minute wait during rush hour that onerous.”

        You are probably right Anon.  In today’s connected world that 5-10 minutes is probably used by many people to use their iPhone or Samsung to check on e-mail, surf the web, and/or send text messages.  If the Davis police would issue some of those using a phone while driving tickets to the cars involved in that 5-10 minute wait, the behavior patterns would probably change much faster.  Having that 5-10 minutes available after they have parked their car in the Howard Way garage is preferable to a multi-hundred dollar traffic ticket that also drives up the person’s auto insurance rates.

  3. Barbara King

    How about someone do some simultaneous rush-hour tests of various routes from the Howard Way parking garage to Mace and Cowell in South Davis, tape them with a dash cam, time them, and report the results with some fanfare. I bet if folks can, literally, see that some alternate routes can be faster then they will be much more likely to use them.

    Some possible routes include Russell-B-First-Richards-80-Mace-Cowell as a control;  Russell-113-80-Mace-Cowell;  on Fridays, when 80 can be clogged, maybe Russell-113-80-Richards-Cowell-Mace.  (In December this route has the bonus of bringing you past Derrick Bang’s fabulous Snoopy themed Christmas light display.)

    Something that includes La Rue-Hutchinson-113 might be worth throwing into the mix, but the complexity of that route might put off lots of people, and the bike-auto-pedestrian mix along that route can be a challenge.

      1. Barbara King

        No funds needed.  Dave has a dash cam and, likely, the motivation to do this, so all that is needed is one more car with a dashcam.

        I am not talking about expensive, super accurate scientifically designed studies.  I am talking about a couple of cars with dash cams doing a few crude comparison drives.

        What traffic engineers, etc think of this does not matter.  Only what drivers who might change their route from the Howard Way garage to 80 think of this matters.

  4. Dave Hart

    I’m having a brain freeze on trying to envision the right turn lanes for Dutch Bros. coffee.  I get the no left turn into Dutch Bros. from northbound Richards traffic and no left turn exit from Shell onto southbound Richards.  In my small brain I can’t see the right turn into Dutch Bros from northbound Richards that replaces the left turn.  Wouldn’t that mean a longer left turn queue at Olive and then another left across Olive next to Redrum Burger?  A lot of their business is “incoming” traffic at rush hour.  And another small consideration:  taxpayers will pay how much to restructure these lanes to provide better flow to one business that sells coffee?  Again, I question the decision of the owner of Dutch Bros. to locate a business in that particular location…maybe it’s time they found out about the downside of risk in our capitalist market system. Just eliminate left turns across Richards.

    While I’m at it, I can’t contain the urge to suggest that we look at another or at least a supplemental solution to the Richards underpass/lemming-like commute pattern.  When I was in Oslo, Norway, there is a transponder reader that charges drivers when entering central Oslo similar to our FasTrak or the camera system on the Golden Gate Bridge.   It could be programmed to only charge vehicles during certain hours.  Rates adjusted to pay off the system or avoid more costly solutions.  Problem solved.

    1. Matt Williams

      Dave Hart said … “While I’m at it, I can’t contain the urge to suggest that we look at another or at least a supplemental solution to the Richards underpass/lemming-like commute pattern. When I was in Oslo, Norway, there is a transponder reader that charges drivers when entering central Oslo similar to our FasTrak or the camera system on the Golden Gate Bridge. It could be programmed to only charge vehicles during certain hours. Rates adjusted to pay off the system or avoid more costly solutions. Problem solved.”

      Now that is an idea that is worth exploring.

      I would add a wrinkle to it (from a study parameter perspective), which is that local Davis businesses could have their cash register computers linked to the same system and issue credits to valid Davis Downtown customers spending money at local businesses. That way the toll you propose would not drive away legitimate customers.

        1. Matt Williams

          I’ll bite BP,

          What is the harm in analyzing the feasibility of Dave’s proposal as a possible way to reduce the volume of unnecessary traffic through the Richards/Olive intersection?

          What are your suggestions for getting the current substantial volume of sub-optimally routed traffic out of that traffic corridor?

          As they say in basketball, “Never up, Never in.”

          Or as Einstein said “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

          We clearly have a problem. We can either do nothing about that problem, or we can use our knowledge, creativity, energy and experience to explore options for mitigating that problem.

      1. Tia Will

        Dave and Matt

        I do not see the problem as the roads, but rather as too many cars.

        I have an extension of this idea which might be an equalizer. You can decide for yourselves if this is tongue in cheek or not. Since riding a bike or walking pose less wear and tear on our roads and do not pollute, I would suggest the following. We have a transportation card for use on toll roads which are swiped at intervals as is the case on the freeways in Europe or like the Clipper card in San Francisco. We could make it applicable to select roads where there are typically congestion problems such as the entryways to downtown, or around the schools to encourage parents to have their children bike or walk to school and it could be timed for hours of peak usage.

        It could work like this. Cars would have a charge for use of the street. Bikes and pedestrians pass free or maybe even get a small credit on their card which then could be used for other alternative forms of transportation such as on buses or the train thus equalizing use of public transportation a bit for the poor. Those who want to go downtown could park on the periphery, use their card to obtain credit and increased exercise by walking a few blocks to their destination. Being out of their car and walking might even lead to some impulse shopping on their way back to their car thus being a plus to the local merchants.

          1. Don Shor

            Maybe they could just hire someone to dress up in a silly outfit and go out and dance around with a sign that says “go the other way next time.”

        1. Tia Will

          Anon

          That is a legitimate concern. I am sure that allowances could be made for those truly  in need just as they are now with parking spaces for the disabled. I would actually favor a free pass for any means of transportation for this group.

  5. Tia Will

    Because swiping credit cards certainly won’t back traffic up.

    My experience in France was it did not seem to have this effect. We chose the freeways sometimes and the surface roads at others. We were not familiar with the area and so were relying on GPS and did not seem to have as many delays at those locations as we do on the non toll roads of similar usage here. I suspect that part of this is due to where money is concerned, people tend to find and use alternatives fairly quickly if it will cost them less.

    1. Barack Palin

      I’ve driven thousands of miles through France.  The toll roads were almost exclusively on freeways.  They were expensive and really added up on long trips.  I remember one going into France that was about 15 euros.

      Putting toll roads in a small town would be rediculous.

  6. Tia Will

    BP

    Putting toll roads in a small town would be ridiculous.”

    I fail to see why other than it is something that we have not traditionally done. Do you feel that it is ridiculous for various needed infrastructure projects such as bridges to be funded in this way ?  If not, then why not our streets. Why should those who use them disproportionately not pay more for their use ?

  7. Tia Will

    Matt

    We clearly have a problem. We can either do nothing about that problem, or we can use our knowledge, creativity, energy and experience to explore options for mitigating that problem.”

    One of the more succinct expressions I have seen for at least considering the seeming “ridiculous” ideas that are put forward. If we will not at least consider the new idea, we are forever stuck with our old, often costly and unhealthy practices.

     

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