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