Sunday Commentary: Building More Student Housing Will Reduce Traffic Impacts in Davis

Richards Tunnel

The Davis City Council has already approved the Sterling Apartments, it is set to hear Lincoln40 and, last week, the council agreed to move forward with the application of Nishi.  All told, those three projects figure to provide housing for over 4000 students and to close the housing gap between what UC Davis is willing to commit to on campus and what we need.

We have talked about the issue of student housing as a function of the vacancy, but what we have not done is discuss it nearly enough as a function of traffic impact reduction.

As we pointed out in August when evaluating the Lincoln40 Traffic Analysis, there was not enough analysis or attention given to the fact that, while Lincoln40 may put 800 or so more residents on Olive Drive, most of those individuals will be walking or biking to campus – not driving.  And so, the result may be to reduce the impact on the Richards-Olive intersection rather than increase it.

Traffic itself also has a byproduct – carbon dioxide and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions which impact global warming.

It is common sense to understand that putting more student housing in town and next to campus, the campus will reduce GHG emissions and therefore its carbon footprint.  But if you look at the Campus Travel Study, you will see just how stark that data actually is.

This is a chart that we have not previously shown, which estimates the amount of CO2 emitted by mode and role.

The key stat is the 240 thousand pounds per day produced by those people who live outside of Davis, while those who live within Davis only produce about 22 thousand points.  And that number shrinks to about 100 to 143 pounds per day for those who live on campus or at West Village.  I will come back to this point shortly.

Here we see that on a daily basis about 8380 people drive alone to UC Davis and a total of 9519 on a daily basis take some form of vehicular transportation.  The biggest guilty parties are people who live outside of Davis.  See that 4658 of the 7179 people who live outside of Davis drive alone to UC Davis, while just 3722 of the 36804 people who live within Davis drive alone.

That means of those who live outside of Davis, 65 percent of them drive alone.  However, only a smidge over 10 percent of those who live within Davis drive alone.

But we can actually drill down deeper.  If we look at the numbers, both Lincoln40 and Nishi should have driver behavior as if they were on campus.

Those who live within a mile of campus – almost 94 percent of them walk or bike and only 1 percent of them drive.  Almost no one who lives at Nishi is going to drive to get to campus.  It is easier
to bike or walk from Nishi onto campus.  A small percentage will take the bus (about 4 percent).

Sterling is further, but even at its distance just 12 percent drive alone, and 15 percent drive alone or carpool – whereas 52 percent bike and 30 percent use the bus.

That is a far cry those who live beyond five miles from campus, where more than three-quarters will drive alone and upwards of 90 percent will either drive alone or carpool.

The bottom line is clear here – if you wish to reduce traffic impacts and GHG emissions, putting housing at Lincoln40 and Nishi would be a huge plus.

Now of course, those who believe that the campus should be providing all of the housing would counter that the same benefits and then some would be held by putting the housing on campus.

Cannot disagree on that point.  But several points now weigh against the campus housing-only option as the necessity.

First, it is not clear that putting housing at West Village, for instance, has inherent benefits over housing at Nishi, and to a lesser extent at Lincoln40 in regards to traffic impacts and GHG reduction.  It is not clear that West Village is closer to the core of campus than either Lincoln40 or Nishi.  And, from the travel survey data, it appears that anything within a mile has similar impacts of low drivership and higher bike and pedestrian travel.

Second, as we have pointed out a number of times, the campus has only agreed to add 6200 beds on campus.  That will take the campus population to about 40 percent of total students living on campus.  The city of Davis and others have argued for an additional 10 percent of students housed on campus which we estimate at around 3800, or a total of 10,000.

The university launched its Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) in the fall of 2015, it figures to take it to an EIR in January 2018, the city of Davis, Yolo County, student groups like ASUCD, various activists, and such have argued for additional on-campus housing – and all UC Davis has agreed to do is to consider going to a higher number as individual projects come in.

The bottom line is that, while the Vanguard continues to support a 100/50 plan, realistically that does not appear likely at this point in time.  The city now has several active proposals for additional housing and that additional housing would help to improve the vacancy rate, while also reducing the amount of traffic clogging Davis’ streets each day and the overall carbon footprint of the campus.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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. Ron

    Several points immediately come to mind:

    Those commuting into the city (via any method) do not necessarily access the campus by driving through town, nor would they necessarily do so via the Richards/Olive access point.  In other words, the entire premise of the article is somewhat false.

    In addition, this entire “analysis” goes out the window, if student housing is primarily built on campus. (The “only” location that doesn’t require a commute through town in any form, to reach campus.)

    The article also disregards public transportation options, which would likely increase in the future (e.g., when the “innovation center” is built in Woodland. It appears that this development is aimed at facilitating ties with UCD.)

    And then, there’s this:

    “If we look at the numbers, both Lincoln40 and Nishi should have driver behavior as if they were on campus.”

    This entirely ignores the fact that those living in such developments do not necessarily limit their driving to campus, and back.  If housing on campus lacks nearby parking facilities, it would likely discourage driving.


    1. David Greenwald

      “Those commuting into the city (via any method) do not necessarily access the campus by driving through town, nor would they necessarily do so via the Richards/Olive access point.”

      Thats why we’ve tracked the traffic

      you then say we discount public transportation options. That’s untrue. Specifically mentioned it when it has significant usage. But most people out of town are driving to campus. That’s what years of travel surveys consistently show.

      1. Ron

        David:  “Thats why we’ve tracked the traffic.”

        That’s a meaningless statement, regarding the point I made (e.g., access points to reach campus).

        Your article mistakenly “blends” traffic impacts with CO2 generation.  (Even bicycles traveling through town have “traffic impacts”.  Probably even more so, compared to someone commuting into town.)

        Not disputing that those who live near campus (or even better – on campus) are likely to generate less CO2 to reach campus, compared to those living farther away. Suggest you present that to UCD. (And, while you’re at it, you can note that this will have the fewest “traffic impacts” on the city, as well.)


        1. Ron

          Also, assuming that bicycles (and even pedestrians) “have” an impact on auto traffic congestion, wouldn’t that increase CO2 generation?  (Cars idling and stuck in traffic at Richards/Olive as a result of Lincoln 40, for example.)  Also, what about the traffic impacts (and resulting CO2 generation) of the proposed megadorm at Plaza 2555 in South Davis?

          Perhaps your premise regarding “reducing CO2 generation” by approving megadorms is (also) incorrect. (Something that I had overlooked, in my initial comments.)

          That’s the trouble with using charts showing one thing, to make a “conclusion” about something else.

          1. David Greenwald

            “Also, assuming that bicycles (and even pedestrians) “have” an impact on auto traffic congestion”

            I’m not willing to assume that. You have to prove it or provide verifiable evidence to support your claim at the very least. The whole reason they encourage people to bike rather than drive is that it reduces carbon emissions and congestion. You’re going against a whole body of research and thinking to argue otherwise and you offer not even a hint of evidence to support it.

        2. Ron

          Typical response from you.  (You start off making an unsubstantiated claim, I challenge it, and then you say that I need to prove it.)

          The phrase “built on a foundation of sand” comes to mind, again.

        3. Ron

          Again, if you’re ignoring the increased bicycle, pedestrian, bus, and auto traffic created by new developments within the city (without considering the impacts on existing traffic), then you’re not presenting a complete analysis.

          And again, equivalent developments located out of town may not have the same impacts (e.g., creating CO2-causing traffic bottlenecks, at key intersections).

          In any case, the analysis is more complex than what you’re presenting.

        4. Ron

          David:  The study you cited is irrelevant. You’re ADDING additional traffic (in the form of autos, buses, bicyclists, and pedestrians) by creating developments off-campus.

          Again, it’s not as direct of a comparison as you’re making it.  (The EIR for the various proposals outline some of the additional impacts on EXISTING traffic.)

          Again, its possible that putting additional developments in the city will have bigger impacts on local existing traffic (and resulting CO2 emissions, as a result of being stuck in traffic), compared to putting them outside the city (where they might not use the same impacted off-ramps, streets, and intersections to reach campus).  Those traveling from Woodland, for example, would likely use Highway 113 (and would exit before reaching Highway 80).  They’re not going to get on Highway 80, and exit at Richards/Olive.

          Of course, the only option to eliminate daily commutes (to/from campus) is to have the housing on campus. Yes, I realize that Nishi is close enough to be similar, but that has other issues, as noted.


    2. David Greenwald

      Ron: If you look at the third posted chart, it has a column for bus and train.  Overall bus represents 20 percent of all transit, but less than 5% once you get beyond 5 miles.  Train is only a factor from those who live way out.  Even then it’s only 10 percent.  So I’m not sure of you’re overall point here.

      1. Ron

        David:  My point being that as more commute into Davis (from newly-built developments near the city, including the planned innovation center in Woodland), there will likely be additional transportation options.  (Note that I’m not “advocating” for that, but it seems likely.)

        There’s already a Yolobus “commuter” line from Woodland, to Davis. (Not to mention regular bus service, all day.) However, for students in particular, the best place (regarding traffic and CO2) is on campus. As noted in the other article, sites such as Nishi may not be suitable for housing.


        1. David Greenwald

          Your point is completely wrong – right now more people commute to Davis (28,000) of them, by all measures, most of those drive and most those who drive, do so alone.

        2. Ron

          David:  Your response does not address the point I made.

          Also, are you advocating that towns such as Sacramento provide housing for the 21,000 Davis residents who commute to towns outside of Davis?  (Hey – that would free up a lot of units, at least.)

          Of course, you’d also have to “make” people live where they work.  🙂

        3. David Greenwald

          Your point is accurate, “as more commute into Davis” “there will likely be additional transportation options” – more have commuted into Davis over the last several decades and there are not more transportation options and people aren’t using the transportation that is available.  The best way to get people out of their cars is to put their housing closer to where they are going – IF that is what they choose to do.

          To that point:

          (A) I don’ t live in Sacramento, so I don’t have standing to advocate for their community

          (B) “Make” is not a word I would use.  Enable or allow those who choose to live in Davis, especially those attending the university or working at the university to live in Davis would be preferable.  But at the macro level, we have to change the way we do live-work if our species is going to survive.  We cannot continue to set up jobs and housing so that people have to get in their cars and drives to work.


        4. Ron

          David:  For large employment centers, that may not (always) be a viable option.  In that case, subsidized public transit (combined with parking restrictions/cost) can help.  That’s already the case, for many who work in Sacramento and San Francisco, for example.

          In the case of UCD, I wonder if they subsidize public transit (other than Unitrans).

          Of course, the best option being to increase housing on campus, especially for students.

        5. Eileen Samitz


          Unfortunately, in addition to the air quality issues at Nishi, Nishi has a whole lot of hoops to try to get through, which they never accomplished in their last version of the project;

          1) Nishi would need to get a legally binding agreement with the Railroad to allow the developers to build a underpass under the railroad tracks and as I have point out  earlier that the railroad companies have continued to be uncooperative with the City and County as in today’s Enterprise article,

          2)  Nishi would also need to get a legally binding agreement with UCD which is also un-cooperative  to allow the massive access to the UCD campus, and

          3) Nishi would need to get a tax-sharing agreement between the City and County which never happened either for the first project.

          All of this magic is supposed to happen in 6 months which never happened in the years of planning Nishi 1.0?

          I find it interesting that your pro-Nishi articles conveniently do not even mention these problems regarding Nishi, just the cheer-leading. Well, so much again, for “objectivity” when it comes to Vanguard coverage of Nishi 2.0.

  2. Eileen Samitz


    Your “conclusion” of more student housing in the City reducing traffic is absurd. The proposed mega-dorm Lincoln40 would require 708 students at the far east end of Olive Drive to go back and forth to the UCD campus, often multiple times a day, to get across the already backed up Richards Boulevard. This means the traffic light at Richards and Olive Drive would be constantly interrupted by many hundreds of student bicyclists, pedestrians, as well as cars headed west which would back up the already congested car traffic on Richards causing many more cars to be stuck idling and creating far more CO2 fumes. Thre is nothing good about that situation and so quite the contrary, the traffic and CO2 impacts would get far worse.

    In addition, yet another proposed mega-dorm in South Davis Plaza 2555 near Playfields Park makes no sense either because it would require hundreds of student get get across I-80 to and from the UCD campus. These mega-dorm proposals are ridiculous and go against all good planning or sustainable planning principles. On top of that the 4- and 5- bedroom mega-apartment “suites” format predominating these mega-dorms renting by-the-bed does nothing to help housing for non-students like our families and workers. So the vacancy rate is not going to improve for non-students. It just allows UCD to dial-back any on-campus housing that they propose to build sometime down the road as UCD continues to see if the City will “take the bait” of UCD’s inadequate planning for on-campus student housing and their delay tactics.

    So, these many mega-dorms with students-only housing proposals do not help reduce traffic and enable UCD to continue its opportunistic behavior of what would be pushing even more student housing off campus. And they do not help provide housing for non-students which is needed in our community. In-contrast,  far more on-campus student housing than UCD’s LRDP is proposing avoids all of these problems and is truly sustainable planning.


    1. Don Shor

      Eileen: So just to make sure I understand your positions, rather than assume anything —
      — You oppose any housing at Nishi.
      — You oppose high-density rental housing at Lincoln 40, and since it is within 500′ of the freeway you don’t think any housing should be built there (I infer that from your having posted the state study yesterday).
      — You opposed high-density rental housing at Sterling. It is not clear to me if you would have supported any housing project on that site.
      — You now oppose high-density rental housing at South Davis Plaza 2555.
      Have I misunderstood you on any of this?

    2. David Greenwald

      You’re talking about apartments, not dorms. I found it amusing that in Websters, they specifically state: “a residence hall providing rooms for individuals or for groups usually without private baths.” Ironic because one of your objections is that each room has a private bathroom.

      And you are talking about four and five story buildings, not 10 story high rises which are generally used to depict mega-dorms.

      So I object to your use of the language and challenge you to externally substantiate the usage of the term “mega-dorm”. Find me examples where mega-dorm has been used to describe a building with less than 1000 beds.

      1. Ron

        Todd:  I strongly suspect that few in the Sterling development will regularly use the planned overpass onto Olive, to reach campus or downtown.  It’s much more direct to ride down Fifth Street (which I understand will include further elimination of traffic lanes (for bike lanes), almost up to the development itself).

        Neither of the bicycle/pedestrian overpasses needed for Sterling are fully funded.  And, as you noted, the preliminary plans for these overpasses do not appear to be very promising, in terms of design and facilitating use.  Creating better designs will cost even more.

        1. Todd Edelman

          5th St. is more direct but even with the recent re-design it will be less safe and for many will feel less safe than the Pole Line-Olive route. This is assuming that 5th between L and Pole Line is improved, but then there’s the option to cross back over to the north side of 5th or take L and e.g. 3rd via Downtown, which means lots of encumbered travel due to the archaic guidance technology on this route (stop signs), at least until we can build them out of an improved Downtown traffic paradigm!

          The only caveat for Pole Line-to-Olive assuming the performed optimal design in the hopefully-not-so distant future is the need to go up and down the ramps, which is why beyond ADA-compliance they need to have lots of room and no U-bends (which is in the inefficient and likely is/feels dangerous for cyclists concept; that reminds me that Davis has been absent a Senior Civil Engineer for Transportation for over five months…).

          But it’s also a loop, right? Maybe students will take Olive to campus whilst a-rushing to class and the slower route to the east so they can stop Downtown and shop at the stores mandated in the new Downtown Core.

          The best — okay a very good — route for Sterlingniks and others in that area would be a direct one to 2nd St, where there would be a separated path on the UPRR side of the street; this would lead directly to the… conceptualized UPRR over-crossing that is expanded in utility by connecting to 2nd and J, though I realize this will be a challenge due to space limitations, not to mention financing. Though I feel very strongly that any new short-haul railway along this route should have a stop at MRIC, that’s a big IF and a long time coming; on the other hand the route along 2nd – if wide enough for electric-assist bikes – will be an excellent way to get to MRIC, though the existing Old 40 might do similar, it’s not an attractive place to cycle and will only have one access point between the Depot and Mace… (This could be huge mitigation for MRIC’s otherwise crappy sustainable mobility interface, which can be improved with a dedicated bus lane to Sacramento.  I assume that the Board of SACOG and Yolo/Sac County Supervisors already conceptualized all of this years ago, so forgive the plagiarism.)

    3. Todd Edelman

      Actually, South Davis Plaza 2555, Lincoln40, Sterling etc. are on a potentially-amazing corridor to Davis Depot, Downtown and Campus. Pole Line will be connected (it’s mostly-funded) to Olive and there’s an inefficient bike over-crossing of Richards already conceptualized – “the Gateway” – which must be a direct and likely more expensive over-crossing that follows the current desire line on Olive. Along the way is the conceptualized crossing of the UPRR to the Depot and Downtown. To repeat: This is a great solution which also brings students through some commercial areas of the City, so they can spend money. (Not arguing about actual overall costs…).
      My only concern with this is that people who never ride bikes anymore won’t take it seriously, either to see how good it will be, and how to avoid design mistakes*. C’mon, Eileen.

      *I’ve conceptualized a partial solution for the latter issue which is that in all major transportation infrastructure the contracted design firm will be required to create a detailed animated simulation during project development. This will probably help the City to stop approving things like the fake Dutch junction at the Cannery and the Mace-Cowell project (out to bid) and its bus stop – bike lane mixed zones targeted for use by elementary school kids.

      1. Eileen Samitz


        And where is the $7.5 million coming from to build this bike/ped railroad over-crossing on Olive Drive which would be an enormous subsidy to the Lincoln40  developer which is a student-only by design mega-dorm which does not even want to build any affordable housing? C’mon, Todd.

        Also, what are the odds of getting the railroad to allow an overpass on Olive Drive or underpass to UCD at Nishi? See the article today in the Enterprise on how un-cooperative the Railroad is with the City or County.

        1. Todd Edelman

          My direct Richards overpass along the route of Olive concept has nothing to do with the UPRR ROW, whereas the current concept at least gets close to it, though I don’t think it uses the tunnel top as a structural element.

          UP does not want an undercrossing at Lincoln40/Depot for at least semi-bogus reasons, and I imagine they’ll have the same conditions for an additional undercrossing from Nishi to campus. So then they will be an overpass… HEY! This could conceptually have a similar design as the one near Lincoln40, which could save a lot of costs.

          BUT – again – one of my main points is that ANY crossing of the UPRR ROW benefits multiple users, and perhaps you missed this too? I just created a reason for the MRIC developers to help pay for it (IF the 2nd-J addition to the over-crossing concept is not impossible….)

      2. Eileen Samitz


        Again, we don’t agree on this because we have different definitions for mega-dorms. So let’s just say we need to leave this at we need to agree to disagree.

        1. David Greenwald

          But you’re using the label to attack projects with, and you are doing so with what appears to be a capricious definition that goes outside of the bounds of common usage.

    4. Don Shor

      far more on-campus student housing than UCD’s LRDP is proposing avoids all of these problems and is truly sustainable planning.

      Is there anything in any public comment by a UCD official or planner, or anything in any document they have produced, or any other piece of information that leads you to believe they are going to increase the amount of housing significantly from what they have presented?

      1. David Greenwald

        I know this question wasn’t meant for me, but there is plenty in their comments to lead me to believe they won’t significantly increase it because they are going to keep the number of beds in the EIR at 6200, therefore there are actually likely limits on how much they can increase it without it triggering an updated EIR.

        1. Eileen Samitz


          This has been the entire problem with UCD not being a “good neighbor” as it claims it wants to be, yet it continues to be irresponsible in its inadequate on-campus student housing planning. This is why the LRDP EIR needs to expand its number of on-campus student beds now to be analyzed. Instead, UCD is stalling to see if the City is going to “take the bait” and enable UCD to continue its inadequate on-campus housing planning? This would enable UCD’s opportunistic behavior at the expense of our community.

        2. David Greenwald

          UCD is supposed to educate students and provide employment to faculty and staff.  They add roughly $8 billion a year to the regional economy.  Without UC Davis this community would not be as we know it.

          The LRDP isn’t going to expand much beyond its current parameters.  So the question is what we do about that.  I choose not to force students and faculty to drive long distances as we attempt to convince UCD to add beds.

        3. Ron

          David:  The parameters for the LRDP’s EIR include increased density.

          Your “alternative” – don’t be concerned about the financial and non-financial impacts on the city, don’t heed warnings to consider the “toxic soup”, and rush to use up available space that might be better-suited to house a broader range of population (not limited to students), as well as industrial, and commercial space.  (And, then launch a campaign to expand the city’s borders, as those spaces are used up.)

          Alternatively, if there’s any chance that Nishi is suitable for housing (after a more thorough study), then you’d at least have a chance of getting a more efficient and valuable use of the space (e.g., your envisioned “USC-type” village, for example – without access to Olive).

          Then, perhaps other space in the city wouldn’t have to be sacrificed for entirely student housing, ignoring other needs.

          There’s consequences resulting from single-minded focus on one need (which actually could be completely resolved by the public institution that’s creating the need, adjacent to the city).

        4. Ron

          As a side note, I do find it odd that UCD apparently doesn’t have its “underwear twisted up in knots”, regarding the problem it’s creating for its own students.  Only the city (or at least a select few on the Vanguard) seem concerned about it, to the point of sacrificing the city’s own, separate needs.  (Virtually guaranteeing a subsequent “cascading serious of crises”, as a result of that approach.)

          Even the students seem to focus essentially all of their efforts on the city, while they simultaneously “work with UCD’s administration”.  (The same administration which essentially states there’s “nothing they can do” about it.)

          A perfect storm, to sacrifice (and worsen) the city’s own needs (including, but not limited to financial solvency).

        5. Ron

          Also rather amusing that UCD apparently didn’t want the Nishi site, and publically acknowledged that this was at least partly due to air quality concerns.  (I forgot the other reason that Eileen mentioned on the Vanguard. Perhaps cost or access concerns, to reach campus and beyond?)

          And, that was before Dr. Cahill’s latest warnings.

          Go figure.  Is it possible for the city to start wearing a giant “kick me”, sign?  Even then, some will fail to see what’s going on, here. (Actually, some also seem to want to help place the sign, on the city’s back.)

  3. Eileen Samitz


    Well the way I look at it Don, there isn’t a mega-dorm housing proposal that you would not support, despite their exclusionary design to non-students (families and workers) and their impacts on the City. So, If you are asking if I support bad planning (which is what you are describing), I would say the answer is no. And in terms of UCD’s response to building more on-campus housing having all these mega-dorm projects are a totally demotivate UCD to add more on-campus housing. They add up to over 5,000 student beds with nothing for non-students. That is ridiculous especially since they are using all City infrastructure. These mega-dorms amount to being massive subsidies to UCD with all the impacts on the City.


    Yes David, these are all mega-dorms because they are all predominately 4- and 5- bedroom suites each bedroom with an individual bathroom and rented-by-the-bed. These enormous mega -apartment “suites” of over 1,500 sq. ft. do nothing to help provide housing for non-students which you seem and the Vanguard seem to not care about.

    1. David Greenwald

      I asked for an external basis – by that I mean documentation or literature.  I have not found a single example of a mega-dorm as low as five stories – anywhere. Moreover, by definition, these are not dorms.

      1. Eileen Samitz


        These are mega-dorms by their exclusionary design being predominately 4- and 5- bedroom gigantic apartment suites over 1,500 sq. ft. with a bathroom per bedroom and which do nothing to help the rental housing needs for non-students including our families and workers.

        1. Jim Hoch

          “We need a man like Trump to take care of the student housing shortage and start building MAGA-dorms.”

          We just tore down a bunch of buildings from a bankruptcy…


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