A letter writer driving through the Richards Boulevard and Olive Drive area on Sunday afternoon described the situation as getting worse. She even saw perhaps nefarious intentions on the part of the city “for not passing the most recent proposal.”
Sunday was a chaotic day in the downtown anyway. The downtown was bustling with young students arriving for school and their parents – people unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of driving downtown and getting around. Are things worse or have we simply forgotten what happens when the college downtown is actually filled with college students – plus their parents?
That is not to say things won’t be getting worse – there are 1000 more students or so enrolled this year than last year, with very little new housing coming on line. That will mean more people filing into Davis each morning and hence more traffic on Richards.
While you can point to things like Redrum Burger, air quality and affordable housing, the chief reason why Nishi lost by some 600 votes was traffic, traffic and more traffic.
While the city has improved on the lighting sequence, which at times last year brought forward a painful trip from Cowell to Richards to the downtown, the main problems still remain. A majority of traffic that goes through Richards is coming from the I-80 off-ramps, which never looked like they were designed to handle such capacity.
The traffic then converges onto the one-lane Richards Blvd. at the tunnel, and continues to press through lights not built to handle such large capacity. First Street is a single-lane street that easily backs up traffic, even as it gets through the tunnel. The majority of traffic turns left on First, and then either heads directly to campus, or much of it heads north on B Street, and left on Russell Boulevard before entering campus either at the north or the west.
A simple answer to Richards that would not generate a huge amount of engineering and construction costs would be figuring out ways to convince those headed to campus from westbound I-80 to use the UC Davis or Hutchison entrances to campus.
Would Nishi have improved the situation? The developers at Nishi would have at the very least created a new option. It involved widening West Olive Drive, creating two turn lanes from Richards, and then an underpass that took vehicles onto campus, dumping them off on Old Davis road near the parking garage.
That change would have at least thinned the jam of traffic headed for the tunnel, but may have triggered the need for upgrades along Old Davis Road.
The second part of the problem on Richards is that the I-80 interchange is completely illogical. That is particularly true of the traffic exiting on westbound I-80, where the off-ramp attempts a merge onto Richards. During peak hours, the off-ramp backs up and you have this mesh of cars – some of which are merging onto Richards, some of which want to go right onto east Olive Drive, and they mix with bikes and buses to form what could be a deadly cocktail of interactions
There is a corridor plan that would change the configuration.
First, it will widen the westbound off-ramp to three lanes, which will “prevent cars from dangerously stacking up on I-80. This will provide a smoother transition and added capacity for people traveling to downtown, campus and south Davis.”
Second, it will move the off-ramp closer to the bridge, with a tight diamond to create more distance from the Olive Drive intersection. “This will eliminate the dangerous weave conditions from the existing cloverleaf reads that conflict with cyclists.”
However, with the loss of Nishi, one of the big questions is whether this corridor plan will get funded and, even if it does, we are still looking at five years or more before completion.
In our view, the city probably erred in attempting to put Nishi on the ballot before dealing with Olive Drive. Nishi may or may not come back as soon as 2018. If the developers bring it back, it would be in everyone’s best interest to attempt to fix Olive Drive.
How the city is going to do that without the $23 million or so in infrastructure improvements that was promised by Nishi is a tough question. But it is hard to see the community approving additional development along Richards, even as the Hotel Conference Center is limbo, without first addressing traffic.
Again, in our view, the easiest and lowest cost is to find a way to change driving behavior – a tall task to be sure, but something that should be prioritized now while we have the chance.
—David M. Greenwald reporting