Sunday Commentary: Traffic Complaints about Construction on Mace Seem a Bit Overblown


In a story that caught my eye, the Enterprise ran one about the frustration residents are feeling by Mace Blvd. roadwork.  A few public commenters last Tuesday raised the issue and Mayor Brett Lee informed them that there would be a meeting at the South Davis fire station at 5 pm on Wednesday to address concerns.

As Brett Lee stated at the meeting, he and city staff will be present to meet with residents “to hear the neighbors’ concerns and hear from the fire chief and the design team to talk about the intent (of the project) and … what has been constructed.”

I understand that construction can be inconvenient at times – but the city’s roadways have greatly deteriorated over the last nine years as funding has dwindled.  The council and city have done a good job of carving out both general fund money for road repair and applying for grants for new projects to save money.  This has become more important since the voters voted down local funding for roads.

This is one of them – this was a $3 million grant application with SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) to pay for improvements to bike and pedestrian safety, while at the same time getting money to resurface Mace Blvd. 

I get it – road work is never fun, but it’s essential.  Last year, I had to re-route taking the kids to school as the city improved the Drummond-Cowell intersection to put in a traffic circle.  The construction, of course, went a few months over, the but the result is a far safer and quicker intersection.

The fact is, I drive through the Cowell-Mace intersection every day.  They have created a four-way stop instead of a traffic light controlled intersection.  It probably slows down the north-south traffic on Mace by a little bit, but not much.  It really functions quite well.

And I understand, they are probably two months behind where they said they would be – but it is really not a big deal.

It read a comment on Facebook that the city is doing a lot at once.  In one sense that is true, you see major work on several spots in town – like 3rd Street and L Street.  But is it really that much work?  It is hard to time out longer road projects to stagger them when there are limited months when work can proceed, and sometimes the work gets delayed.

The article notes: “But many Davis residents who live near or travel through the area have expressed frustration over increased travel times and questioned whether the changes have really made anything safer.”

I don’t really understand these complaints.  The travel time for the most part is only marginally impacted – and perhaps not by that much.

But how is someone in position to question whether the changes will make anything safer when, in fact, nothing is completed and we have ample studies and other determinations to back up traffic safety issues?

There is a separate issue that I think is worth looking into more – even before these changes, Friday afternoons driving even the side streets has become impacted.  It used to be the freeway traffic onto the Causeway would back up starting 2 or 3 in the afternoon and start hitting as the lanes condense around Richards Blvd. 

There were easy ways around such traffic, however – you simply get off the highway and could drive on Chiles or Cowell to get to the eastern parts of South Davis.  No more.

Now you are likely to find traffic backing up along Chiles, Cowell and both southbound Mace from the Mace Curve to I-80 and northbound Mace south of the freeway all the way back to El Macero.

That may be triggering some of the complaints about intersection – but that really has nothing to do with the construction, as the traffic stays congested all the way to the highway.

The city probably has no real way around that until and unless the Causeway is widened.  There is simply a bottleneck starting around UC Davis as the lanes having temporarily increased to as many as six drop all the way down to three and remain bottlenecked at the Causeway.

A few years ago, the traffic problems were attributed to the proliferation of apps diverting people onto surface streets, causing congestion on those surface streets.  That problem seemed to be alleviated for a while but it is now back.

Another complaint that people raise in the article is the lack of notification informing them of the project prior to it beginning.  The article points out that there were ample notifications that appeared in newspapers and on social media like NextDoor.

The reality is that people miss these notifications because they are not paying attention.  We saw this with the switch over from PG&E to Valley Clean Energy.  People suddenly complained that they didn’t know this was happening, even though there had been numerous public meetings and articles.

Lesson is: people are not paying attention.  And then they wonder why they miss stuff.

Now the city is going to go out of their way for another public meeting on a project that is almost completed.  People have to be a bit more tolerant about traffic delays sometimes. 

Again, the biggest issue is traffic being diverted onto surface streets during peak hours – which is going to be a problem with or without the construction.

—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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22 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Traffic Complaints about Construction on Mace Seem a Bit Overblown”

  1. Alan Miller

    Now you are likely to find traffic backing up along Chiles, Cowell and both southbound Mace from the Mace Curve to I-80 and northbound Mace south of the freeway all the way back to El Macero.

    It’s called WAZE (or Google Maps).  It tells people the ways around traffic and in turn creates traffic on those short-cuts until it all balances out, but the throughway shortcuts through cities are now permanently impacted because they are now known.

    1. Matt Williams

      Alan is correct.  I travel South Mace for approximately a mile every time I want to do something in Davis, Sacramento or Woodland … and points beyond. 

      WAZE definitely has increased the traffic on Tremont Road coming east from the Pedrick Road exit of I-80 in Dixon, intersecting with South Mace four (4) miles south of the Chiles-Mace intersection. 

      However, WAZE is anything but static.  Ever since the construction began on Mace, the steady stream of car traffic turning left off Tremont onto Mace and then north to Chiles has dwindled to a trickle.  WAZE understands that the construction delay is as much as, or more than, the congestion delay on I-80 from the Pedrick Road exit to the Mace Blvd exit … and as a result no longer advises motorists of that alternative route.

      David’s article (and the Enterprise article) fail to cover the really meaningful impact of the Mace construction project, which is the reduction of the number of automobile travel lanes on Mace from four (two lanes each direction) to two (one lane each direction), while converting two of the lanes from automobile use to bicycle/pedestrian-only use.  That reduction is going to have a permanent impact on north-south automobile traffic congestion on Mace south of Cowell, and to a lesser extent on east-west automobile traffic congestion on Cowell and the east-west streets south of Cowell. 

      The other point that the public commenters have raised a concern about is the question whether the substantially raised curbs shown in David’s pictures with the article above are going to impede Fire Trucks from making a right turn out of the Fire Station onto Mace and then a right turn off Mace onto Cowell. If that is indeed the case, then that is a significant design flaw.  It is my understanding (but not knowledge) that during the construction fire trucks going to a South Davis location that is west of Mace have had to turn north on Mace and then West on Chiles and then south from Chiles on one of the connector streets in order to get to Cowell.  That is definitely a less efficient route than turning right out of the Fire Station onto Mace, and then right onto Cowell.

      1. Darell Dickey

        >> reduction of Mace from four lanes (two lanes each direction) to two lanes (one lane each direction). <<

        This does not reduce the number of lanes from four to two. It reduces the number of travel lanes (what is commonly referred to as “car lanes”) from four to two. The distinction is important because cars are not the only transportation devices used on our roads. And this is similar to what was done on 5th Street (where the street was redesigned from four (travel) lanes to five total lanes  (two travel lanes, a turn lane, and two bike lanes for a total of five lanes).

        >> That reduction is going to have a permanent impact on north-south traffic congestion on Mace <<

        Yes, it will likely have a permanent impact. And that impact could result in a reduction of congestion and confusion as we’ve seen on 5th street. (how many people even remember how bad the 5th street “freeway” used to be??) And it could and should result in a more comfortable and safer situation for all modes… as we’ve seen on 5th street. It turns out that organizing cars into a row instead of allowing drivers to jockey for position in multiple lanes, leads to more consistent travel times and increased safety.

        No, the Mace redesign is not how I would have (and have!) suggested. But reducing the travel lanes from four to two is one of the “appropriate” improvements in the plan.

        1. Matt Williams

          Darell is correct in his correction of what I have said.  To eliminate any confusion caused by my incomplete/misleading wording, the original text of my comment has been revised to comport with Darell’s correction.

  2. Alan Miller

    Lesson is: people are not paying attention.  And then they wonder why they miss stuff.

    OOOm.  Y’know most people, especially those raising children, aren’t paying attention.  DG, you have devoted your life to knowing local stuff and have a zillion connections.  I wouldn’t be so quick to berate the average citizen for not knowing stuff until it hits them.

  3. Alan Miller

    From what I’ve read, much of this is the ongoing ‘cars vs. bike/peds’ civil war.  In SoCal in some places, ‘complete streets’ reconstruction has led to near civil wars.

    In general, I’m a supporter of bike/ped improvements, though some current philosophies are more fad than function.  The example I oft site is bulb outs, which give the illusion of a shorter ped distance, but in reality make all modes less safe and increase congestion.

  4. Alan Miller

     the really meaningful impact of the Mace construction project, which is the reduction of Mace from four lanes (two lanes each direction) to two lanes (one lane each direction)

    Yes, that’s what I referring to in the ‘complete streets’ comment above as to what residents were really concerned about.  In many cases, it can be shown that lane reduction with added turn lanes does not actually reduce throughput.  However, that depends on the street and the design.

    1. Matt Williams

      Point well taken Alan.  In this case there aren’t any added turn lanes because a substantial portion of the route has a fixed vegetative island that takes up the area where the turn lanes would be.  There are currently existing turn lanes that expanded the four lanes to five, but now those same turn lanes expand two lanes to three.

  5. Todd Edelman

    the result is a far safer and quicker intersection

    Drummond-Cowell? Really?
    The story about this intersection is that it was designed before the Street Standards were updated in 2016, its final design was approved for construction go-ahead by a Public Works staff member who is not a transport expert, was criticized for being unsafe for ALL users by a well-known cyclist activist after it was completed, it was denied that anything was a problem… and then the City of Davis hired a consultant from the Netherlands who focused on this intersection as a confusing and potentially dangerous design during his presentation at the Cycling Hall of Fame just under two weeks ago*.
    It’s perhaps safer for cars vs. cars. Have you ever cycled through it? Do your children cycle through it?
    The Mace-Cowell plan was voted on by the BTSSC long before I was on it, and was even in town. I later saw the design and nearly vomited due to its hodge-podge of different design era solutions. I could not see how it would work — it’s hard to say definitively how it will in the end and of course during construction things are never ideal, and its location next to the conduit of the interstate highway system that continually assassinates the peace and hygiene of our city makes any solution here difficult. So let’s see what happens a few weeks after the ribbon-cutting, when kids going to and from school are using it. If they don’t feel significantly safer compared to the pre-construction situation it’s a failure. And – based on e.g. the fake Dutch Junction on East Covell – if any fundamental design error is identified it will never be more than superficially modified.

    * Starting in  2017, before and then after I was elected to the BTSSC, I had serious concerns about the design of Anderson Road that was being shepherded forward in a few community meetings. I created an additional alternative concept but Public Works refused to consider it.  I had huge problems with the design that came to the BTSSC last spring – I believed that I either voted against it or abstained but can’t verify it now as none of the BTSSC minutes show up on the City of Davis on two different browsers.

    Anyway, the design went forward and Staff recommended that the Council approved it. But the day of the meeting when it was going to be approved, the item was pulled from the Agenda because the Dutch consultant’s opinion was that its design left a lot to be desired.

  6. Tia Will

    much of this is the ongoing ‘cars vs. bike/peds’ civil war.”

    I don’t know that this is a “war” so much as a lack of recognition of the needs of bicyclists and specifically pedestrians. I will use a different example. A few months ago extensive work was being done on the F and Covell intersection near the northeastern corner of Community Park. Although there was a pedestrian detour marked, it was not clear that there was no way to walk from this intersection to the Nugget shopping center without walking through the Cannery and then re-crossing Covell. I suspect this was simply an oversight, possibly caused by the lack of awareness that people might actually choose to walk that distance as their routine means of transport. Oooops.

    The majority of Davis lives still live in a car-dominated society. It will take an increased awareness on the part of city staff if we have a goal of decreased automobile usage so that people on foot as well as those using a bike or car can get from point A to point B safely.

    1. Darell Dickey

      >>lack of recognition of the needs of bicyclists and specifically pedestrians<<

      Indeed. It is easy to see this in the language we use. 

      Parking invariably means “parking for cars.”Lanes invariably means “lanes for cars.”

      1. Alan Miller

        . . . and in generally in the way laws are enforced.  It is common for cars, pedestrians, police and delivery vehicles to occupy the new protected bicycle lanes in Sacramento, and rare for the police to cite those that do so.

        1. Don Shor

          It is common for cars, pedestrians, police and delivery vehicles to occupy the new protected bicycle lanes

          I’ve looked at the vehicle code on this. I don’t think it’s illegal to block a class II bikeway. Certainly delivery vehicles do it all the time, as they have no alternative.

      1. Darell Dickey

        There’s no way to ever get it perfect. The key today is to *at least* be mindful of all users… and the concept that our transportation future may not look like it did 70, 50, 30, even ten years ago. Currently it remains in this priority:
        1. Cars
        2. Fit everything else around the cars when it is convenient to do so. (witness the lack of painted crosswalks, the lack of any bicycle facility that continues through any of our intersections or traffic circles.
        So odd that we continue prioritize the movement of motor vehicles over the movement of *people*. (and in the spirit of Alan’s comment above… I say this as a regular driver, of course.)

        1. Alan Miller

          I agree.  From the perspective of as a driver, cyclist and someone who wants ‘all mode’ streets, the issue is when there is a severe degradation for auto traffic, there is also going to be a severe backlash politically, and that isn’t good for investment in alternative transportation infrastructure.

  7. Dave Hart

    I’ve been following the discussion of this project on Next Door since the first post nearly a month ago as well as the Covell Blvd/F Street/Cannery bike trail project, the L Street utility replacement project, and the Cowell/Drummond roundabout.  The 5th Street road diet project preceded the appearance of Next Door but I doubt the discussion would have been much different.  In the days before social media, most of the grumbling about disruptions of our very predictable routines that typify living in Davis would have been limited to neighbors, people at church, etc., and would not go much further.  I don’t honestly know if that is a good thing or not, but it is clear that it’s easier to raise a mob with pitchforks and torches using social media than it ever was in the bad old days.  I really do think these projects become the surrogate for deeper dissatisfaction and mistrust.  Tell me again why anyone in his or her right mind would want to be on the Davis City Council? 
    I’m sure some people genuinely feel inconvenienced.  As this discussion began to explode on Next Door, terms like “mismanagement”, “incompetent”, “boondoggle”, “waste of taxpayer dollars”, calls for “investigating” whose idea it was or “investigating” who approved it set a rather nasty tone.  Very few comments entertain the possibility that this project may or even could be an improvement.  That’s the nature of uninformed criticism and the shoot-from-the-hip instant gratification of social media. 
    I rode my bike out to Mace Blvd on Friday and rode up and down the stretch of road from Montgomery to Cowell three times between 4:00 and 5:00pm.  I rode in the vehicle traffic lane because the bike lanes were closed off with yellow tape.  I can see how the curbed bicycle lanes will provide a secure riding experience.  Traffic backed up, then thinned out a couple times while I was out there.  It wasn’t a bad experience because traffic was moving slowly as people queued up at the four-way stops.  I can only wonder how the traffic signals will be timed to facilitate north/south traffic but don’t see how it feels much different from signalized intersections in other parts of town. 
    That is an improvement from what usually feels like a Mad Max road warrior free for all when there were four traffic lanes with the huge marked parking or bike lane previously.  It looks like Mace Blvd in that area was originally designed to be a future eight lane Fair Oaks Blvd with 55mph traffic and no hope for crossing but every mile at another major intersection.  So, ratcheting back an earlier bad idea is what is going on here.  People in cars who are used to hitting 50mph therefore feel like they are losing something.  ‘They’ are taking something away from us.  Hence the insinuation of graft, corruption and need for ‘investigations’ and attorneys.

    1. Matt Williams

      Tell me again why anyone in his or her right mind would want to be on the Davis City Council?

      I have often asked myself that very question.  The answer is often unintelligible.

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