It is difficult to overstate the magnitude of the problem here. The city is already being sued for producing a Mitigated Negative Declaration of the environmental report for the Hotel Conference Center, and the success or failure of a citizen’s vote on Nishi will hang on its ability to deal with traffic problems on Richards Boulevard.
For several months now, the Vanguard has pounded on two critical problems with the Richards underpass, neither of which have anything to do with the underpass itself – which, ironically, is not the problem.
The first problem, the city is looking into fixing. That has to do with the light sequencing.
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.”
I find this a strange comment because, from my perspective, the light sequencing was not working two years ago and it was not working five years ago. I don’t sense the problem of traffic has gotten worse, it just is needlessly bad and is likely to be further strained by new development proposals.
It is annoying to get a green light at 1st and E, only to have traffic back up because the light is red at 1st and D and have to stop. However, the question I still have here is how much capacity can these small streets – that were not built to be arterials – handle?
The problem isn’t just the light sequencing, it is that we are funneling huge amounts of traffic during the early commute, during the lunch hour and during the evening commute onto streets not built for such capacity.
As evidence of this, Richards Blvd. actually works fairly well during the summer when you do not have the massive amount of traffic going to and from the university. It doesn’t work poorly during non-peak hours in the middle of the morning or afternoon.
That should tell us the problem is the university traffic. As we have repeatedly reported, at both ends of the commute, the traffic flow doesn’t work. In the evening, the traffic backs up all the way to Russell Boulevard.
In the morning, the traffic flows north on Richards, turns left onto 1st Street, some of the traffic enters the university at A St. along Old Davis Road but much of it goes north on B St. and heads west on Russell.
In the meantime, on the western part of campus there are three access points that lack traffic congestion.
This is the problem and it remains unaddressed in the report. This despite seeming council consensus in September that we need to figure out a way to route traffic away from Richards and toward the western end of campus.
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 that 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? Why does staff not even mention this critical issue?
—David M. Greenwald reporting