Commentary: Nonsensical Argument that Nishi Project Will Make Downtown Traffic Worse

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

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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. dan cornford

    Most unsurprisingly,  David makes no effort whatsoever to summarize let alone do justice to John Troidl’s article and argument.  This is unlike with some of his previous adversaries who he summarizes at length.  Perhaps he fears the weight and substance of John’s argument.  It is worth pointing out also that with Nishi 1.0, when access by Olive drive to Nishi was permitted,  David parroted exactly the same argument  (and the very flawed EIR traffic study supporting such an assertion)  yet now he, and most Nishi 2.0 advocates, argue that the presumed lack of access (No-one  knows how long this agreement with UCD will hold up!) totally negate the real traffic problems created by Nishi.  And he thus further shreds his credibility.   [edited]

    1. Jim Hoch

      The entire article is dumb from beginning to end. The premise is to set the Nishi student population traffic equal to zero. This presumes if the students don’t live at Nishi they will stay home or got to Sac State or becomes Tibetan Monks.

      While David does not directly reference it the law of gravity means they will stick to the surface of the Earth somewhere. Without comparing Nishi to most likely alternatives it loses all credibility.

        1. Jim Hoch

          Yes, I previously read it on the site whose name will be neither spelt nor spoken. You did a much better job.

          The author likely has a career writing for less critical readers who accept assertions at face value rather than deconstructing them.

      1. Howard P

        To be clear, “traffic”, particularly related to this topic, inludes:  Motor vehicle (including trucks and motorcycles); Buses; Bicycles; Pedestrians; Emergency vehicles… “trips”…

        Unfortunately “traffic” is “in the eye of the beholder”… he ‘beholder’ is generally a part of the”traffic”… but denies it…  my experience has been that 90+ percent of those who complain about traffic are a part of the ‘problem’…

        Folk want to go smoothly, at their own pace, their own mode, from point A to point B… everything that impedes that is “traffic”…  but there are a very few who admit that… Walt Kelly had it right, via Pogo…

  2. Todd Edelman

    David also makes a good argument for having no parking at Nishi (of course carshare, ADA-related and possibly job-justified could be exempt.) Having no parking would save a few million dollars, and instead there’d probably be a deeper green barrier that would further protect residents (and all downwind, etc.) from air pollution (I am not sure how effective this passive system is but Nishi supporters love it.) I agree that it will remove some negatives.

    Nishi supporters say that it’s “only 700 cars”. One problem is that this means that every apartment has one car on average, which makes it easy for a single home to share that car in different ways (from sharing trips to borrowing it…) That significantly reduces the demand for carshare and cargobike share.  We don’t have level of service data about Nishi 2.0, right?, because there was no new EIR, and while the campus travel survey is great it only covers travel to campus.

    The VMT argument about the school commute makes sense – still, Nishi residents should not be allowed to have a permit to park on campus, the same rule for people at Solano Park across the tracks and all other on-campus housing – but – just like there have been no new air pollution studies, it’s curious that the commute VMT reduction analysis has no specific-to-Nishi study to back it up.

    1. David Greenwald

      I actually believe you paradoxically increase traffic by having no parking at Nishi. You end up eliminating people with cars rather than discouraging people with cars from driving which the current set up does.

        1. David Greenwald

          “How does eliminating cars increase traffic?  That is a curious bit of logic.”

          Because most people with car will keep them and live elsewhere.

    2. Todd Edelman

      So…. there are people who are permanently attached to cars? At what point in your parking-places-as-methadone theory does it start to become counter-productive?

      To be clear, any dis-obligation to parking entitlement needs to be handled holistically: Through various mechanisms Nishi residents should not be allowed to park without restrictions nearby… let’s say within 5 miles of Nishi.

      1. Alan Miller

        > Through various mechanisms Nishi residents should not be allowed to park without restrictions nearby…

        Name some of those various mechanisms.

      2. David Greenwald

        Within 5 miles of Nishi?  So they’re going to drive the car to a location where they can park for free for extended hours and then either bike or take the bus to and from their home?  If they are going to use their car that infrequently, we should create a space to store their car for those purposes.  That is something that should be encouraged?

        1. Ron

          Matt:  “The storage space should be in their home town in the same garage as their parents’ car.”

          Probably one of the more amusing and direct comments that you’ve made!

        2. Ken A

          It looks like Todd and Matt think the UCD students can just take multiple trips via bike with a trailer towing all their stuff when they move from Marin (I rode from Marin to Davis once without a trailer full of furniture and it was so scary that will never take Highway 37 on a bike again) or just toss their snowboards in the bike trailer and put chains on their bikes above the snow line on the weekends when they head up to Tahoe.

        3. Jim Hoch

          Note previously when there was some issue about Russell and it was suggested the people who lived north of Russell could enter/exit via 8th instead of Russell one woman was incensed that they should be subject to this inconvenience.  Now that same defender of drivers rights is propagating the message that other people should not be allowed to have cars at all.

          I wonder if “hypocrisy” is considered a “philosophy”?

        4. Todd Edelman

          Ken A: Yes, I agree that everyone driving to Davis at the beginning of term – either themselves, or a parent helping – is a stupid and intense waste of resources and unnecessary pollution and road danger.

          So you’ve given me a great idea for partly solving the moving-to-school logistics clusterf*ck:  Trucks will distribute crates in e.g. Marin to people coming here, people will fill them up, the people will get here e.g. Smart (train) to Capitol Corridor and their crates will arrive and they will unpack them and that’s it. You have to pay extra to do it by car, though exemptions can be made for rural people.

          One large truck instead of multiple cars. You’re a genius!!

  3. Tia Will

    I read John’s article. I do think John has not chosen to include some information that might be helpful. I do not know the answers, so maybe someone can help who does.

    1. What arrangements are there for guests, if any?

    2. What arrangements are there for deliveries, if any?

    3. I do not believe that anyone has made the claim that there will be “zero” impact. I believe that the claim is that there will be less impact than if no adjacent housing is built, which I also believe due to the proximity to campus.

    4. John seems to be making the assumption that there will be zero apartments in which none of the inhabitants will require a parking space. This was not my or my children’s experience. I lived 3 years completely car free and had roommates who did the same, as did my children for 2 years each.

    1. David Greenwald

      Tia – how many guests are you talking about?  It’s not like there is going to be a steady flow of guests in and out in large numbers all day long.  In general when I think look at traffic volumes overstates the impact of any one place because even if you have one guest on average every five minutes, you are talking about a small contribution the traffic.

      Deliveries – you have mail service, you have UPS, you have FedEx on a daily basis.  You’ll have delivery trucks.  This doesn’t seem likely to be a huge traffic generator during the course of a day.

      1. Tia Will


        I did not have any particular number of quests in mind. The question was informational only as some of the apartment complexes have a small number of spaces marked as guest.

        My dorm had a round semicircular area with spaces designated for short deliveries, drop offs, and pick ups. I don’t remember the specific amount of time, but it was convenient for pizza deliveries and the like. Was wondering if something similar is contemplated.

  4. dan cornford

    In the past David has allowed, even encouraged, people with different POVs to his and the Vanguard to post articles, to his credit.   Thus why not published or allow John Troidl to publish a lengthier articled on the Nishi traffic issue???  But, the vetting goes further than that:  In my earlier post I provided a link to another rival political blog in Davis that had published John’s article and this link was “edited” out.  So what are David and Don so scared about?  And how does it reflect on the Vanguard that it is essentially censoring references to another political blog?  I don’t think this reflects creditably on the DV both with me and a wider public.

    1. Ron

      In support of your comment, I’m not sure why a “non-profit” blog would feel threatened by another non-profit blog, or view it as competition.  That point of view is usually attributed to commercial enterprises.

  5. Craig Ross

    DV has this right.  Students are coming to Davis regardless, putting housing next to campus and downtown will reduce overall driving.  I read Troidl’s piece, he acts as though the new cars will materialize out of thing air.

  6. Tia Will

    I am curious why anyone would think that either David or Don are “afraid” of anything. As both have stated, if John, or anyone else wants to submit an article for publication here on the Vanguard, it will be published as long as it meets guidelines.

    I ought to know. David has published many of my articles including those with which he was not in agreement or neutral.

    1. Keith O

      I think what commenters are referring to is the deletion of any reference to the other blog in town even though this article is about a piece posted on it.

  7. Don Shor

    For the record: I don’t set policy at the Vanguard, I am not on the editorial board, I do not know what is being published any sooner than any of you do, and I barely interact with David with regard to how the site is moderated. I am a volunteer moderator. I am not “scared about” anything in particular with regard to any of this. I am happy to discuss this issue with anyone via

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