I have often discussed the issue of traffic congestion, of cars driving through the Richards underpass in the morning on their way to UC Davis and the Davis Downtown. But on Thursday, as I headed to the school board meeting after 6 pm, I got a rare opportunity to observe the traffic flow making the out-commute.
It was nothing short of stunning. The traffic flow was completely backed up. I drove down D St to 1st Street, and saw the line of traffic backed up to the light at 1st and E. As I turned right on 1st, the traffic backup continued all the way to B St.
Then I drove north on B St. and the traffic backup continued all the way up B St., and it was jammed up at the light at B and 3rd. It was jammed up to the light at Russell Blvd. And as I crossed Russell, I could see that the traffic congestion extended to the west, onto eastbound Russell as the road merged onto B St.
Just estimating the length of the backup, those cars just turning onto B St. were looking at least at ten minutes, maybe longer, before they got through the congestion and onto I-80 either east or westbound
The question is – why would they do that? They had two other alternatives that would have saved them time and gas and headache. They could have attempted to drive to the west side of campus and enter the freeway either at Hutchison or Old Davis Road. Or they could have traveled westbound on Russell and utilized the Highway 113 onramp.
Google Maps estimated that route at 17 minutes from the bus pickup on Howard Way to I-80 at Richards Blvd. during peak hours. It estimates a trip to 113 via Hutchison at six minutes. To get onto 113 at Russell is about a five-minute drive. So why would someone drive from campus to I-80 via Richards Blvd. when there are far quicker routes?
More importantly is why we have allowed this to occur? Given the expenses that would have gone into solutions like widening the Richards underpass, all we had to do was re-route the traffic – a very low cost option that would fix the entire problem.
As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, widening Richards Blvd. would not have fixed the problem anyway. All you have to do is drive through the underpass at 8:30 or 9 am and you realize that the choke point for the road is not the underpass. The traffic congestion does not end as you get to north side of the underpass – it continues.
The first problem is the light at E and 1st – 95 percent of the traffic does not head to the right. It does not go straight onto E St. It turns left onto 1st Street. The biggest problem is that 1st St. is not built for that kind of throughput.
There is another light at 1st and D St., and that is a huge problem. The traffic quickly overwhelms the ability of that short block to handle the traffic. As soon as the light on 1st and D turns red, the traffic quickly backs up right back onto Richards and the traffic is pushed backward through the underpass, past Olive, and the chain reaction ensues.
One simple answer would be to sync the lights at 1st and E with the lights at 1st and D. The problem is that the light at 1st and E is designed to be extra long to allow as much traffic as possible to get through that intersection in the hopes that it will alleviate the traffic jam through the underpass. The problem is that, for at least half of the green light cycle, the 1st and D light is red and therefore impeding whatever advantage you would have from the light cycle at 1st and E.
A simple answer would be to run the two lights simultaneously. That means whenever the light is green at 1st and E, traffic would be able to get through 1st and D without stopping. If you do it right, it could fix the traffic in the opposite direction as well.
The problem you have going the other way is that, whenever the light is green for Richards, there is a right turn enabled for traffic headed east on 1st St to turn right onto Richards. But there are several problems along the way.
First, the traffic light at Olive is not synched up with traffic turning southbound onto Richards. Not that it matters, because in the southbound direction, Richards is synched first for all traffic turning left onto Richards from westbound 1st St., going straight onto Richards headed from E St., and then turning right headed from 1st St. in the eastbound direction.
The problem becomes obvious during peak hours as Richards lacks the capacity to handle all of that traffic. The traffic backs up eventually all the way to Russell Blvd. On Fridays, when I used to work on F St., there was a huge backup of southbound traffic on F St. trying to turn right on 1st St., to get to Richards.
The city does not have the ability to re-engineer all of these roads, so the simplest solution is to re-route as much traffic to the west as possible, taking advantage of wider, two-lane roads that are built for much greater capacity.
Why the city has allowed this situation to continue as long as it has remains baffling.
—David M. Greenwald reporting