I noticed on my Facebook feed an article by John Troidl on another site that argues the Nishi project will make downtown traffic worse. That certainly doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, as I will explain shortly. Mr. Troidl is no doubt a smart guy, but his logic escapes me.
Yes, it is true that there will be 700 parking spaces at Nishi, but I will argue as I have during the course of this discussion over the second Nishi proposal that Nishi will reduce traffic impacts, not increase them. Unlike the opposition, proponents have data to back this up.
When the developers went back to the drawing board, they determined that one of the biggest reasons the 2016 Measure A failed was traffic impacts. Now I would argue, as I did at the time, that the project had a reasonable fix for those traffic concerns that would have pumped $10 million into Richards Boulevard in order to fix some of its inherent problems.
But the voters rejected that and the developers decided to bypass Richards Blvd. altogether. The result is that the new proposal has only university access.
So how will this project impact traffic flowing out of Nishi? Well the biggest flow of traffic figures to be students going to campus. We can look at the UC Davis travel survey and they found in their weighted sample of 767 students, that those living within a mile of campus do not drive to campus – only 2.2 percent either drive alone or carpool. Whereas 76 percent bike, 17 percent walk and 4 percent use the bus.
So, during peak hours, the flow of motor traffic out of Nishi figures to be extremely low.
Second point is that Nishi is not going to cause a population increase to UC Davis. Housing for Nishi will be predominantly, if not exclusively, student housing. This is a key variable. The design of these apartments will favor students. You might have some young faculty or workers who work on the campus, but that’s really two sides of the same coin.
UC Davis is not going to add enrollment based on the construction of Nishi.
In short, we need to look at likely alternative models if Nishi does not get built. Where do the 2200 students live? One option is that they will commute from out of town. If that’s the case, they will drive in via a car. The UC Davis Travel Survey tells us this – of those living five miles or more from campus (i.e. anyone living out of town), over 90 percent drive either by themselves (more than 75 percent) or in a carpool. So not building Nishi will bring, as the university grows, a ton of traffic to Richards and also Olive Drive coming off the freeway.
Second option, they can jam into existing housing. While most people who live in the city do not drive to campus, many will nevertheless drive either to the downtown or elsewhere at other times. In addition, while most don’t drive to campus, the proportion who do increases as they get further from school. So, within a mile 2.2 percent use a car, that increases to 15 percent within 3 miles and 43 percent within the 3 to 5 mile range.
Third, they can live on campus. This seems to be the preferred option for those opposed to Nishi. We have heard it time and again. But guess what, the travel habits are going to be similar. Let’s say they live in West Village rather than Nishi. They will still bike, walk or take the bus to campus just as they did at Nishi. And they will still potentially at least drive to town during other times.
The key factor here is that if you want to argue that students at Nishi will still drive at times into town, the same will hold no matter where they live because the act of building Nishi is not going to increase enrollment. Those students have to live somewhere.
My argument is simple – fewer students will drive to campus each day if you put 2200 of them at Nishi than if you don’t build this additional student housing.
Moreover, putting students at Nishi puts them closer to the downtown where they can actually walk or bike. If they live at West Village, they are more likely to drive downtown because it is a mile or two from that location.
The idea that Nishi is going to be a producer of a vast amount of traffic is absurd. The basic reason is simple math – if the number of students is a constant, Nishi isn’t adding traffic, it is simply distributing that traffic to a location closer to the downtown and the campus, meaning fewer people will need to drive if Nishi is built than if Nishi is not built.
—David M. Greenwald reporting