A comment that caught my attention from the recent discussion on Sterling was that someone noted a meeting took place at 5:30 on a weeknight and it “took me 25 minutes to get from my home in East Davis… to this building.”
The commenter noted, “And the cars coming in the other direction were even more dense – they were pouring out of the structure at UCD.”
As someone who lives in South Davis near the far southeast corner of the city and works in downtown, I have noticed that traffic has gotten increasingly bad during peak hours. This, despite the fact that there has really been minimal residential growth in the last 15 years.
The message from the commenter is that traffic is a reason not to build developments like Sterling – but I’m not so sure that is an accurate assessment.
The EIR for Sterling of course found, “The majority of the study intersections and roadway segments were determined to result in less-than significant impacts with the addition of project-generated traffic.”
The EIR adds, “Should the project result in increased congestion in the Core Area, the City has determined, through the adoption of the above-referenced General Plan LOS policies and thresholds and General Plan EIR, that this congestion is acceptable in the Davis Core Area. As such, the traffic analysis contained in the Draft EIR has properly applied all applicable traffic thresholds of significance to the project study area, and all potentially significant traffic impacts have been disclosed, and where appropriate, mitigated to the greatest extent feasible.”
Of course, the neighbors do not buy into these traffic findings, but I think projects like Sterling have the potential, at least, to reduce rather than increase traffic in the long run.
That sounds counter-intuitive, correct? But I think we need to start understanding better the dynamics of traffic.
Sterling Apartments would be somewhere between 1.5 and two miles from campus, depending on how you measure it. About 45 percent of undergraduate students live within 1.5 miles of campus and nearly 70 percent of them live within two miles of campus. But overall in the campus community, just 32.5 percent live within a mile and a half, and just over half live within two miles.
While a healthy number of students still live near campus, what kills this number is the extremely low percentage of faculty and staff who live within two miles of campus.
That means, on a given day, faculty and staff are commuting to campus – by car. As the university increases in size, that’s more cars clogging local roads. We see this on the major arterials and the route from the freeway to campus, which is literally jammed during peak hours.
We also know from the most recent UC Davis Travel Survey what happens when people live closer to campus and what happens when they don’t.
When students live between one and 2.9 miles from campus – they are not driving to campus. Just 12.2 percent drive alone and another 2.8 percent carpool. How are they getting to campus? Over half of them bike and 30 percent take the bus.
Sterling may seem far from campus, but it really isn’t. At that distance, a vast majority are not using cars.
The bottom line here is looking at travel patterns, and these are not just one year findings – I looked at past surveys and found similar results. They are robust and consistent across time. Even building within two to three miles from campus, most students – the vast majority – are not driving to campus and thus are not contributing to the congestion.
Based on that, if you are concerned about traffic congestion, we need more student housing near campus and not to force students to live outside of town, where they nearly all drive.
As the chart shows, by three to five miles from campus, 42 percent use cars either alone or in carpools. By five miles it is up to 80 percent. The scary thing is that, while most people still live within five miles of campus, there is a population of 7000 in the university community that live 10 miles or more from campus, and not surprisingly 80-plus percent of those drive in one way or another.
There are a few other points that have been raised that would be better discussed with some data.
There has been a lot of talk about the number of parking spaces at Sterling. Based on the recent travel surveys, I believe there is actually too much rather than not enough parking at Sterling.
Right now the student version of the project has 540 beds served by 348 parking spaces.
As we show above, at the distance of Sterling, only 12 percent of all students drive alone, and another 2.8 percent carpool. That comes to about 15 percent. That helps with traffic impacts during peak hours, but is silent on the issue of how many people simply store their cars but do not drive to school.
The UC Davis Travel Survey has an answer and it finds that just 42.7 percent of undergraduates have “access to car.”
The parking lot would allow for 64.4 percent of the residents to have a vehicle. That is well above the 42.7 percent of undergraduates who have access to a car, according to the latest surveys.
At that rate, the parking lot would only need 230 spaces. That gives the parking lot over 100 spaces of fudge factor, which seems more than enough for the lot.
There have been anecdotal stories that some apartment complexes have not planned for enough parking, but unless we can analyze them with hard numbers, it is difficult to assess that. The trend overall seems to be that fewer students are driving and have cars.
There are concerns about the fact that Unitrans is not expanding their service based on Sterling. Again, numbers are helpful. At the Sterling distance, roughly 30.6 percent use the bus. If Sterling holds 540 students, that would project to about 165 student riders from Sterling.
Of course they don’t all get on the bus at once. According to the staff report, “The Sterling Apartments project is within an area of the City of Davis designated as a TPA (Transit Priority Area) by the SCS.” It is close in proximity to transit and there are buses with service at intervals no longer than 15 minutes.
Some have argued it is absurd to believe that more service won’t be needed – but the problem is that the argument is being made without taking into account rideshare or the fact that not everyone gets on the bus at the same time.
Unitrans should have metrics to be more precise than we have been here, but it seems pretty clear that 165 students spread over a period of even a few hours should not tax their system.
Finally, while the focus has been on student housing – for good reasons, with a low 0.2 percent vacancy rate and increasing enrollment – the biggest contributor to traffic congestion is probably faculty and staff – each of whom live further from campus and many of whom cannot afford to buy housing in the Davis market.
My purpose in this is not to advocate for housing but rather to point out that, if traffic is a concern, the biggest problem right now is that we have an increased number of people coming to campus and more and more that are not living in Davis. When people live in other communities, they are far more likely to drive rather than bike or take a bus to campus.
—David M. Greenwald reporting