Monday Morning Thoughts: Fixing Richards Blvd At Least Partially Has Become Possible

Over the years, the city of Davis has attempted a number of fixes to the perpetual problem of traffic flow through the narrow Richards Corridor into the south end of the downtown.  In the late 1990s, it attempted a ballot measure that would authorize the widening of Richards Blvd to four lanes.

The problem with that approach is that you would basically empty the large volume of traffic onto two lane surface streets that were not built to handle that kind of volume.  In short, you would simply transfer the choke point for traffic from outside of the downtown to inside of the downtown.  That was not a great solution, and the voters rejected it.

The best solution that I have seen was the plan that emerged during the Nishi 1.0 discussion.  The developer of Nishi was going to put $23 million of that money toward infrastructure improvements.  A lot of that would go to the grade separated crossing to gain access to the UC Davis campus, but a portion would widened West Olive Dr and allow a bypass of the Richards Tunnel and divert traffic directly onto campus.

However, the voters in 2016 narrowly voted down Nishi – and in part because of traffic concerns despite what I always believed would be a permanent fix to the problem of the Richards Tunnel – because if you track the heavy volume of traffic in the morning, most of it is flowing to campus.

At the same time, the city was going to be responsible for the last $10 million of the funding needs to fix the Richards Blvd/ I-80 freeway interchange.

The city of Davis will finally have the money needed to complete the I-80/ Richards Blovd Interchange Improvement Project that the city has been seeking to achieve for years now.   They are receiving about $5 million from SACOG to make this possible.

With the $5 million for the Richards Blvd Improvement Project, the city will be able to add a grade separated Class I pathway under the westbound I-80 onramp to improve bicyclist and pedestrian safety between Research Park Drive in South Davis to First Street in Downtown Davis.

The city will then be able to reconfigure the Richards Boulevard westbound I-80 ramps from a cloverleaf to a tight diamond to create additional intersection spacing with Olive Drive.

The city plans to signalize the Richards Blvd exit from westbound I-80 to improve the flow of vehicles merging with vehicles already queued on Richards Boulevard at the Olive Drive intersection.

Finally, the city will officially close the Olive Drive exit from westbound I-80 to prevent vehicles from using the exit as a thoroughfare to improve safety in the Olive Drive neighborhood.

A separate grant that could be awarded as soon as January could fund an overcrossing between Olive Drive and the train depot.  This would finally reconnect Olive Drive after Union Pacific built the fencing back in 2011.

City Manager Mike Webb told the Vanguard that the $5 million will pay for just under half of the construction of the interchange.

“The project construction cost is estimated at around $11m, and we have already expended some funds for design and environmental review,” Mr. Webb explained.

The city should have the rest of the money coddled together from impact fees from various development projects including Lincoln40, Nishi, and the hotels.  In addition, there is money from RDA bond proceeds and $500,000 from UC Davis as agreed to in the recent MOU.

Make no mistake, this is really good news for the city.  Aside from the issue of the tunnel which is too narrow and the back flow onto the narrow surface streets, creating a more sensible freeway exit configuration will be extremely helpful.

Right now particularly traffic from west bound I-80 exits onto Richards Blvd with that traffic merging at a mesh point that brings together bikes, pedestrians, buses and vehicle traffic into a single confluence.  By changing that configuration, a dangerous merge will be averted.

In addition, closing down the I-80 exit on Olive Dr is something the city has longed to do for many years.  That changes the nature of Olive Drive from a freeway access point back to a residential street and will reduce greatly the number of vehicles that drive down Olive and empty onto Richards Blvd.

But what it doesn’t do is what Nishi version 1.0 originally did – take the traffic headed to campus and divert it directly to campus prior to heading into downtown through the Richards Tunnel.

Currently Nishi 2.0 which passed overwhelmingly by the voters in June is caught up in litigation.  Once that litigation is resolved, they will build the roadway through which may accommodate emergency vehicles and buses through the grade separate crossing onto campus.

Why not revisit this issue in five to ten years.  By that point most of the infrastructure will be place, and the city could simply look at another grant funding to open the connection to through traffic and improve the roadway at Olive Drive to accommodate the new flow.  It would take a new vote of the people, but down the line they might not see as problematic as they did in 2016.

To us that is the only way really fix Richards Blvd.  Widening the tunnel really doesn’t solve anything unless you build First St to accommodate the higher flow of traffic.

—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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18 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Fixing Richards Blvd At Least Partially Has Become Possible”

  1. Ron

    Not that it matters at this point, but I recall someone with traffic engineering experience (Howard, I think) noting that Nishi 1.0 would have created problems at the Richards/Olive intersection, before reaching the tunnel.

    I believe this was a large part of his reason for not supporting Nishi 1.0, but supporting Nishi 2.0.

    Perhaps he’ll clarify, without attacking me.

    Personally, I don’t see how any of the planned improvements will “improve” anything.  In fact, things will get worse as more development is approved. Regarding rebuilding First Street (mentioned in the article), you’d have to ask if the goal is to turn the city into even more into a corridor to reach UCD. Even if that was the goal, I wonder what complications that would create.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      When you write: “Personally, I don’t see how any of the planned improvements will “improve” anything. In fact, things will get worse as more development is approved.”

      If you are referring to the current improvements, I don’t think it fixes the problem of back up through the tunnel, but I do think it makes driving the corridor safer.

      1. Ron

        Do you recall what Howard’s traffic concerns specifically were, regarding Nishi 1.0?  He noted it a number of times, on here.  (At one point, I think he even expressed concern regarding buses accessing Nishi through the Olive entrance.)

        Perhaps something about extended left turn lights, onto Olive (from Richards)?  Thereby backing up and blocking other traffic?

        In any case, it seemed as though a lot of folks were more concerned about traffic from Nishi 1.0, vs. Nishi 2.0. Perhaps because Nishi 2.0 primarily routes its own traffic through an entirely different route, ultimately through campus. (It seems as though your article fails to note this difference.)

        1. Ron

          I tend to listen to folks with actual expertise in specific technical areas (like Howard), before making conclusions.  Even if I don’t always like the manner in which that expertise is delivered. Especially if there doesn’t seem to be any other motive for expressing that expertise.

          Of course, he’s not the only one. But, he might be the only one with traffic engineering expertise who comments on here.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I had met wtih a traffic consultant who lives in Davis but doesn’t take Davis-based projects.

  2. Ron

    Seems to me that the most important thing at this point is to construct a bicycle/pedestrian overpass over Olive/Richards, toward UCD.  Ideally, as part of the “improvements” to the Richards/Olive intersection.

    In contrast, a bicycle/pedestrian overpass from Olive to the train station makes very little sense.  (And yet, isn’t this what’s planned?)

    I believe both of these (competing) options were considered at one time. I recall seeing diagrams posted by another commenter, showing the better option (which apparently won’t be pursued).

      1. Ron

        Seems pretty obvious to me that those living on Olive (including at Lincoln 40) will primarily be traveling to UCD (on a daily basis), and not the train station.  And, there’s no reason to believe that they’ll use the overpass to the train station, to reach UCD.

        It seems more likely to me that bicyclists and pedestrians who live on Olive will continue to travel through the impacted intersection at Olive/Richards, instead. Made all the worse, when Lincoln 40 is built.

        In other words, overpasses which don’t go where bicycle and pedestrian traffic already flows are likely to fail, regarding their purpose. It’s difficult for me to believe that I’m the only one who sees this.

        1. Ron

          Again, those living on Olive are not going to the core on a daily basis.  They’re going to UCD (and will select the most direct route, to do so). In the absence of a bicycle/pedestrian overpass that makes sense, that route will likely continue to be via the Richards/Olive intersection – and then perhaps through Nishi.

          I suspect that the reason that the train station overpass is being pursued is entirely due to the stipulations attached to the funding sources, and not what makes the most sense.

          Again, I’ve seen a detailed plan which showed an overpass across Olive/Richards. I think that Matt posted it on here, some time ago.

        2. Ron

          In fact, the lack of a bicycle/pedestrian overpass from Olive to UCD also undermines any claims that this route would offer a viable “alternative” for those living beyond Olive (who could presumably gain access to Olive from the eastern overpass).

          Surely, I can’t be the only one pointing this out.

          But again, I suspect that this has more to do with stipulations regarding external funding sources, vs. what actually makes sense.

  3. Mark West

    “Widening the tunnel really doesn’t solve anything unless you build First St to accommodate the higher flow of traffic.”

    The basic problem here is that our current traffic priority is to make it easier for commuters to pass through the downtown to get to the University. We complain about the amount of traffic going that route, but the problem is there because we created it. That means we could also make it go away. We do that by prioritizing getting people into the downtown to conduct business or be entertained and then getting back out again. Passing through the downtown should be minimized. The most direct way to do that is to prevent left turns from Richards on to 1st street during the morning commute hours, pushing the traffic on to E or F streets instead. Another option would be to block West-bound 1st street at D during commute hours, but allowing turns into the parking lot at Davis Commons or North on to D. University commuters will quickly learn that Richards is a poor choice and will go elsewhere. Signage on I-80 can be used to direct University traffic to other preferred routes. If we get rid of University commuters heading through the Richards tunnel most of the traffic problems are reduced to more manageable levels.

  4. Jim Frame

    The most direct way to do that is to prevent left turns from Richards on to 1st street during the morning commute hours, pushing the traffic on to E or F streets instead. 

    I think the most direct way is to install a gate on a timer at First and A to prevent campus entry in the morning and campus exit in the afternoon.  That avoids penalizing local traffic using First to get to/from B Street and points beyond.  It also allows bus traffic to continue as-is.

    1. Mark West

      That will work as well, but does nothing to reduce the commute up B to Russell then on to campus. My goal was to move all of the University commuters to different routes. Traffic priority should have the Downtown as the primary destination, not just a pathway to somewhere else. In that regard, local traffic through downtown to points beyond should be ‘penalized,’ at least during high traffic periods.

      The bus issue can be addressed by signage allowing busses to turn left.

  5. Jim Frame

    That will work as well, but does nothing to reduce the commute up B to Russell then on to campus.

    True, but how much of that traffic is there?  There are only three parking facilities likely to be accessed via that route, the lot at First & A, the structure on Howard Way and the lot on California Avenue.  The majority of the parking on campus is more quickly accessed via Old Davis Road, La Rue Road or Hutchison Drive.

    1. Mark West

      “The majority of the parking on campus is more quickly accessed via Old Davis Road, La Rue Road or Hutchison Drive.”

      Yes, and that is the entire point. Push the traffic to those routes and the problems at Richards and on 1st largely go away. Once commuters realize they are going to be dumped onto E or F and face all the four-way stops they will choose a different route. Those who want to access a business downtown will find their route improved, giving them more reason to go that way.
      I don’t see any reason why the City should continue to prioritize access to University commuters over those who want to do business in our downtown. If it becomes harder to get to campus in their cars a few more may take the train instead, and they are more likely to buy something while walking across downtown to the train station then they will while driving along 1st to or from work.
       

  6. Jim Frame

    Yes, and that is the entire point. Push the traffic to those routes and the problems at Richards and on 1st largely go away.

    So just time-gate First and A and the problem is solved without imposing penalties on B Street drivers.  Denizens of Central Davis (myself included) use the Richards-First-B route as their primary connection to I-80.  Why force them into the stop-and-go of downtown when they want to get quickly to other parts of the city?

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