Monday Morning Thoughts: Bad Traffic on Richards to Prevent Nishi?

Richards View 2 GE_AS

The local paper reported on Sunday that changes to state law could compel the city to sell the historic City Hall that is currently housing Bistro 33.  If they do sell that property, it would give them access to $5.5 million in bonds that are currently being frozen by the state.  Those funds would then go to the general fund which could then go to fund projects like the Richards Boulevard interchange.

That’s where we pick up the story.

The reality is that Richards Blvd. has a number of congestion problems that cause traffic flow back ups, especially during peak hours.  The city has tried to alleviate light sequencing issues.  There is also not enough capacity through the underpass and onto the downtown surface streets to accommodate peak hour flows through Richards.

When Nishi was being proposed, the developers were hoping to use Nishi as a more direct access point to the university from I-80, in hopes that it would siphon off at least some of the traffic going through the underpass.

Independent of that is the proposed Richards Corridor plan that CalTrans was working on.

The problems along Richards Blvd. are exacerbated by the illogical series of freeway off ramps that funnel traffic without lights or control directly onto Richards, with the most precarious being a forced merge for westbound I-80 traffic onto northbound Richards Blvd.  This creates a back up, both on Richards and the off ramp, and puts motor vehicles, buses, bikes and pedestrians into a single-lane merging situation.

The Corridor Plan will do several things to alleviate these problems.  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.”

When Nishi was proposed, the funding mechanism here was going to be the developers.  However, even absent Nishi, the Corridor Plan is needed to alleviate hazardous roads conditions.

Even after Nishi failed, the city has continued to study the problem.

Back in November, council looked at the issue.  The consultant MTCo. wrote, “The traffic analysis shows the project’s improvements to realign and signalize the westbound ramps to I-80 and to improve capacity at the I-80 eastbound ramps at Richards Boulevard, combined with additional improvements associated with other developments at Richards Boulevard and Research Park Drive and at Richards Boulevard and Olive Drive, would have the most beneficial impact to traffic circulation through the study area.”

Staff added that this would improve circulation for all intersections.  “The Richards / I-80 Interchange project should be considered the City’s highest priority project due to its significant corridor circulation improvements,” staff writes.  They recommend “combining with the Westbound I-80 / Olive Drive Off-Ramp closure due to the relatively low incremental cost and neighborhood traffic calming effects.”

While this would be an expensive undertaking, staff believed “this combined project would be very competitive for State and Regional grant funding.”

One of our posters, however, argues that “the ‘tight diamond’ makes it easier to ‘justify’ Nishi.”

The poster adds, “I’m also not convinced that the ‘tight diamond’ should be the highest priority of the city, regardless.  (For reasons already discussed.) The ‘optics’ of this don’t look good, to say the least.”

This type of thinking, at least in my view, truly boggles the mind.

It is one thing to argue – as many did during the campaign – that we should oppose Nishi because the existing traffic problems are bad and Nishi will make them worse.  The developers of course would counter that they put money into the grade-separated crossing, the underpass, and the Richards Corridor plan to alleviate those concerns – but at the end of the day, it ends up being a matter that people can argue either way.

However, the argument put forth, at least implicitly, is different.

Richards Blvd. is a congested corridor.  While the Vanguard maintains that one solution to that congestion is to direct traffic toward other university access points from I-80, the problem of the poorly constructed freeway interchange remains.

Creating the new freeway interchange could relieve traffic flow back ups and also improve safety.

But the poster is taking the opposite approach.  He appears to argue that fixing Richards would make it easier to pass Nishi.  In other words, he would rather keep traffic congested and retain hazardous merges than open up the possibility of development on Nishi.

In effect, instead of arguing that we should not build Nishi because the traffic is bad and would get worse, we should keep the traffic bad on Richards because fixing it might make Nishi possible.

That’s the wrongheaded approach.  We should fix our roads and make them safe, then worry about the project proposals if and when they come on line.

What are the optics here?  That we should keep Richards dangerous and congested because a few people are opposed to a housing project?  Talk about bad optics.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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  1. Jim Wallis

    It’s always been my understanding that the bottleneck that is Richards has been intended to control growth by frustrating traffic flow into the downtown.  Didn’t we have a vote on this a few years back (rejecting a widening of the railroad underpass)?

    1. Howard P

      Two votes, actually (related to the overhead, the ‘tunnel’)… the first, in the early 70’s was portrayed by the ‘no’ folk to prevent the development of South Davis…  no Oakshade, no Rosecreek, no Woodbridge, no Tanglewood, etc., etc.

      Worked like a charm… none of those projects happened… thank God for the ‘no growth’ sentiment!

      If not for those visionaries, we might have close to 70k people in the Davis urban area today, and would have terrible traffic/safety concerns on the Richards Corridor!

  2. Jim Frame

    If the city elects to direct the proceeds of the old City Hall sale (or any other general funds, for that matter) to the Richards Tight Diamond plan, I hope they’ll establish some sort of assessment account so that if Nishi ever develops with access to Olive Drive there’ll be a proportional reimbursement mechanism available.

      1. Howard P

        A distinction without a difference…

        I agree with Jim… the concept has been used very successfully before over the last 35 + years… any new development, be it Nishi, downtown, Lincoln 40,  should be required to contribute a proportionate ‘fair-share’ to the costs…

        Although the City can’t require it, UCD/UC should be pressured to contribute a fair share for their growth with the last LRDP and the new proposed one.

  3. Ron

    Hey – I’m the “poster” that David referred to, today!  Finally, my 15 minutes of fame!

    Below is the link to the Enterprise article which describes the “forced sale” of old city hall.  Note that the city would receive only 21% of the proceeds:

    It’s not just Nishi – it’s also Lincoln 40 (which I understand does not require a Measure J vote).

    As a side note, there doesn’t seem to be any explanation in the Enterprise or Vanguard regarding the connection between the “frozen” bond money and the forced sale of old city hall.

    1. Howard P

      That was the logic used by the “no” folk the two times the Richards OH was proposed for widening…

      Don, it’s “the build it and they will come” mantra… also used for water supply and sanitary sewer improvements, as we’ve seen…

      In CEQA terms, it is aka “growth inducing”… BS, but a commonly used argument… there are those who are convinced the CC can’t “just say no”, so they try to throttle growth by other means… cowards…

      1. Ron


        Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to recall that you didn’t support Nishi (and stated so repeatedly), due to concerns regarding the impact on traffic at Richards/Olive. (Perhaps I’m recalling someone else?)

        1. Howard P

          I was not opposed to Nishi… but I can see with your monocular, near-sighted, mono-chromatic lens you remember it that way…

          I was opposed to any access to Nishi, from W Olive Drive, except for bike/ped/EVA, and strongly felt that the only motor vehicle access should be @ a new crossing under UPRR to UCD… and still am.

          Had my concerns been addressed, would probably have voted yes… as it was, voted no.

          A new term… in addition to alt-facts, perhaps there is a movement to alt-history of what folk post… and you seem to be leading it,  Ron…

          My concerns for the Nishi access were not based on I-80 access… it was to the intersection of Olive/Richards, and First Street. And the implications for the Cowell/Richards/First corridor.  Period.  Exclamation mark.  End of sentence.

        2. Ron


          A “distinction without a difference”, as you say.  You opposed the Nishi proposal, but would have supported an “alternative” proposal (which did not exist). Welcome to the “dark side”, as you apparently see it (e.g., those concerned about the impacts of development). 🙂

          Got to run, soon.

      2. Don Shor

        The most compelling argument against the widening of Richards last time around was simply that it didn’t solve the traffic problem. It would just move the congestion further in. Also, I recall that the project kind of grew into something fancier than just widening it. But there are other considerations about the whole safety of that intersection/offramp complex. Particularly the entrance onto I-80 west is very unsafe.

        1. David Greenwald

          Agree Don.  In fact, as proof of that, drive through the underpass during peak times and you don’t see the traffic lightening, instead it backs up from the 1st and E intersection more than the Tunnel.

        2. Mark West

          “It would just move the congestion further in.”

          Yes, but wouldn’t that, in turn, have helped clear up the intersection of Olive and Richards and the backups on the offramp?  It may not have helped the overall congestion problem, but it would have moved that point of congestion away from the current bottleneck at Olive, resulting in that area being less congested and presumably safer.

          Doing nothing certainly didn’t help the situation.

        3. Howard P

          Don and David… you’re missing context… on the second vote, the issues of Pole Line OC width, Mace Ranch, etc. were currently “in play”… it needed a 2/3 +1 vote, as I recall… as you both (as I recall) have pointed out that is a high bar when there are contentions/divisions on any significant issues… we were also just starting to come out of a recession, and SF prices were on an ebb… I know, as I took advantage of that lower $/SF lull…

          And Don, you are correct… the widening would have helped one bottleneck, but other significant ones remained on the corridor, so it was not a panacea.  But neither was ‘doing nothing’…

          To think that the majority of voters voted one way or the other, based on ‘effectiveness’, is shall we say, ‘creative’?

          1. Don Shor

            More than one vote over the years. Here’s Mike Fitch’s history:

            In November 1973, city voters got to have their say. The ballot measure facing them estimated the cost of widening the underpass to provide four lanes for automobile traffic and lanes on both sides for bicyclists at about $1.1 million, but by the time of the election, the projected price tag was only about $360,000, in large part because of increased commitment to the project by state officials. Nonetheless, the voters rejected the project by almost a 2-1 margin.

            Fifteen years later, the project was back for another try. In 1987, the Public Facilities Bond Issue Task Force recommended asking the voters for $3.7 million to widen the underpass and make other improvements there. Measure U, a plan for selling up to $7 million for underpass improvements, went before the voters in November 1988. Supporters included Mayor Mike Corbett, who argued a wider underpass would be safer, more convenient and more attractive, and thereby help ensure the vitality of the downtown area while improving linkages between South Davis and the rest of the community. Opponents said the project was unnecessary and expensive and wouldn’t provide more safety for bicyclists. Almost 60 percent of the voters favored Measure U, but it failed to gain the two-thirds vote it needed.

            City voters got another chance to vote on the question on March 4, 1997 after the City Council decided in August 1996 to replace the existing two-lane underpass with a new 100-foot wide, four-lane structure. Opponents sponsored Measure E, a referendum to let the voters settle the issue again . “In 1988, Davis citizens saved Central Park from being paved over by the city. Keeping our downtown pedestrian-friendly is equally vital if Davis is to maintain its community feel,” opponents of widening Richards said in their campaign literature. “A four-lane truck route and 9,000 more car trips daily will forever change our city center, which is one of the last remaining true downtowns in California.” They also challenged the need to spend $9 million on the project, saying several low-cost alternatives were available for easing traffic congestion at Richards.

            Supporters of the city’s plans argued Richards should have been widened long ago to end traffic congestion there and improve the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians in the area. “It’s time to make common-sense improvements to the Richards undercrossing which will protect public safety and provide convenient access to the downtown and university,” Mayor Lois Wolk said in a campaign brochure. “It’s time to bring our neighborhoods together and put an end to the politics of division.”

            Once again, though, local voters were in no mood to widen the underpass. About 56 percent voted against Measure E, thereby overturning the council’s decision to proceed with the project.

            Voters also rejected it in 1968 as part of a bigger tax measure.

  4. Ron

    Don:  “So the logic here is that roadway improvements cause housing growth?”

    Absolutely.  Take a look at all the development that sprang up around freeways, all across the country.  (And, the resulting traffic mess, everywhere.)  Have you ever seen a road “improvement” that wasn’t quickly overcome with “new” traffic?  (That’s also a reason that there was a revolt against new freeways and additional lanes in some areas, decades ago.)  For example, I understand that there was a plan to build a freeway out to Pt. Reyes, at one point.

    But, it appears to be even more than that, here.  For one thing, there’s already a couple of developments “in mind” (e.g., Lincoln 40, and Nishi).  And then there’s this strange “forced sale” of the revenue-generating, city-owned old city hall (in which the city receives only 21% of the proceeds of the forced sale), but which somehow frees up some other taxpayer funds, to be used for road improvements (that would help access these proposed developments).

    One might argue that these public/taxpayer funds will ultimately be used to help subsidize these proposed private developments, to some degree.  Perhaps it depends on whether or not you believe that there’s no connection between the “improvement” and the proposed developments.

      1. Ron


        In general, if roads are being “improved” (using taxpayer funds) partly to provide access to (and enable/subsidize) proposed developments, I’m not sure that the roads will be better or safer.

        Traffic studies may not always address the impact of developments that result from the improvements. (Might be beyond the scope of the study.)

        1. Howard P

          Ron, get a clue… if there was no new development in the area, the tight-diamond will improve safety… it is its design, not its capacity (related to the city… see I-80 operations, below)… it has been identified as a safety improvement for over 10 years now,  probably 15, but I no longer have easy access to the docs to prove that latter contention… CALTRANS sees it as a safety advantage for their operations on 80… they do require local shares tho’…

          One example… there is too little merge length from the easterly on-ramp to the adjacent off-ramp (to the west)… my sphincter tightens nearly every time I use it, if there is any significant traffic flow on the main line.

    1. Howard P

      Actually, look at the transcontinental railroads and Hwy 40 (Lincoln Highway)… those should have never been done… look at all the growth on those corridors!

      ‘Roads don’t cause growth… people and decision-makers cause/permit growth’… your causal logic is devoid of truth.

      1. Ron

        I believe that the transcontinental railroad was in fact partly intended to cause “settlement” of the west.  And, in the process, it made the railroad barons quite wealthy.

        On a related note, the Sierra is a checkerboard of private/public lands, as a result of the “deal” that our country made with the railroad barons.  (I understand that vast tracts of land were given to the railroads.)

        In general, freeways encourage and subsidize sprawl. And, they inevitably end up failing as an efficient commute corridor.

        1. Howard P

          The history you may remember, is that to finance the T-C RR, the US gave them the r/w, and alternating Sections of land on either side of the r/w (each section is nominally one mile wide)… not just the Sierra’s. Along pretty much the entire route…

          So, there is indeed a kernel of truth in what you say… the rest is questionable, at best.  But obviously fits with the ‘world view’ you appear to possess, and which you try to get all others to share, by your professing it as “fact”…

  5. Alan Miller

    Richards is dangerous.  It has to be improved.  Using the excuse not to is focusing on a single issue at the expense of safety.  Selfish & insane.

    Note:  I seem to be able to post again.  Magic. Or maybe the hacker fixed my account.

    1. Ron


      Point noted, especially for bicyclists and pedestrians.  (Especially since the city approved the other apartment complex on Olive, I believe without requiring them to pay into a fund to improve the intersection/bicycle overpass.)

      Safety and overall traffic flow might be separate issues. Difficult to believe that cramming more traffic into the “worst intersection in town” can be improved much by adding two more massive developments. (Other than perhaps a bicycle/pedestrian overpass.)

      How are things working out at the Cannery, regarding the city’s prior decisions for a bicycle overpass?

      1. Alan Miller

        the city approved the other apartment complex on Olive, I believe without requiring them to pay into a fund to improve the intersection/bicycle overpass

        I have been long critical of the City for not requiring developers to pay into infrastructure improvement kitties, starting back when Lexington with built without requiring an undercrossing to downtown.  Lincoln 40 has volunteered an undisclosed amount for that project, but now UPRR is changing it’s song and asking for an overpass, a much less attractive option.

        Difficult to believe that cramming more traffic into the “worst intersection in town” can be improved much by adding two more massive developments.

        Certainly, and without mitigation funds  the potential mitigative advantages of a development are not only lost but negative.

        How are things working out at the Cannery, regarding the city’s prior decisions for a bicycle overpass?

        Horrible.  After promising they would go with the best option sans the one that Cranbrook was (and is) blocking, at the last minute Davis & Frerichs came up with a last minute, ‘low cost’ non-“solution” that is no solution at all, but a complete waste of money.  You get what you pay for.

        1. Ron

          Thanks, Alan.

          I learn and remember much from reading your comments, as well as the comments from others.  (Including from those who may not see things the same way I do.)

        2. Ron

          But – still concerned regarding the connection between the taxpayer contribution toward intersection improvements, and the two proposed developments (as well as the impact of those two developments on that same intersection).  And, the mechanics of the related deal which is “forcing” the city to sell old city hall – while receiving only 21% of the proceeds, supposedly to access some other funds to be used for those intersection improvements.

          Almost sounds like something that should be audited/examined, before the city proceeds with the forced sale of old city hall. 

        3. Howard P

          Ron… you must be Uranium… or at least golden… very dense… it is pretty clear that the proceeds of the sale go to COD… after sale, the resultant property tax goes only to the city as 21% [NOT THE PROCEEDS OF THE SALE!]… the City did not acquire the property, nor build it, with redevelopment funds… the RD funds were used to ‘re-purpose’ it… A ‘second mortgage’ at best… the other entities have no valid claim to the value of the property prior to the ‘re-purposing’… even then, they have no valid claim as to the rents since then, nor the appreciation of the asset… except, when it is sold (if it is), they can lay claim to the property tax assessed to the new owner… please, GYHO.

        4. Ron


          What you wrote makes some sense, but here is a direct quote from the Enterprise article: 

          “When the city does eventually sell the property, 21 percent of the sales proceeds will go to the city, 33.5 percent to the Davis Joint Unified School District, and 25 percent to the county Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund.”

          Has anyone ever suggested that you simply make your statements (sans insults)?

        5. Ron

          Also, according to Rich Rifkin’s comments below the Enterprise article, for every $1 paid in property tax, 65 cents goes to the K-14 schools (which will occur when it’s no longer owned by the city).

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