After several public meetings with citizen complaints about the redesigned Mace Boulevard, staff is recommending that council proceed with further design revisions for the corridor which were referred to as Alternative 1 at last Thursday’s meeting – the viable alternative that garnered the most support from the 200-plus citizens in attendance at the South Davis Fire Station meeting.
The recommendations call for Mace Blvd. to be restored to four lanes between Cowell Boulevard and N. El Macero Drive, as well as restore northbound Mace to two automobile travel lanes between San Marino Drive and North El Macero Drive.
They would convert the problematic Mace/San Marino three-way flashing red light stop control. They will also install bollards at key locations “to prevent unwanted vehicle entry into bike/pedestrian areas.”
Staff reports that the unallocated remaining budget for the project is just under half a million, and they believe, “There are sufficient funds to begin the design revisions as presented in this staff report and to partially fund some of the lower cost construction items.”
The goal of the project was to “create a safer traveling environment for motor vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians.” However, “Since the project design phase was completed in 2016 and prior to construction, traffic congestion steadily increased along the corridor during the evening peaks, particularly on Thursdays and Fridays.”
The city cites at least three factors contributing to this problem: traffic congestion on eastbound I-80 which backs up past Richards Blvd., resulting in motorists exiting at Richards and bypassing freeway congestion by traveling east on Chiles through Mace, increasing congestion at the Mace Blvd./Chiles Road intersection.
Second, the Mace Blvd. on-ramps are backing up, and third, “Mobile and in-car navigation applications re-route freeway traffic in Dixon at the Pedrick Road interchange around the congestion via eastbound Tremont Road and northbound Mace Blvd.”
Staff believes that the project itself has likely contributed to congestion both through the construction work and some of the design features, including the reduction from four to two automobile traffic lanes and the removal of right turn lanes at the Mace and Cowell intersection.
Staff writes: “Traffic congestion on Interstate 80 continues to increase, as does the use of navigation applications diverting drivers around it. This technology has also affected Cowell Blvd, Covell Blvd, and Second Street corridors. Given navigation applications algorithms route drivers based on travel time, peak traffic congestion relief from capacity-increasing design revisions may not endure, long term.”
Staff warns “routing more cars through the corridor may occur, resulting in similar congestion problems.”
Therefore, they argue that “adjustments to the Mace Blvd corridor should focus on accommodating local traffic demands and movements, while assisting with alleviating out of town ‘cut through’ traffic to the extent possible.”
The ultimate solution is therefore to increase capacity of I-80 or “other policies to bring highway travel in better alignment with capacity. Separate efforts with Caltrans are underway to examine this issue more closely.”
Staff notes that the “original design concept was intended to improve safety for all Mace Blvd users.” They continue to believe this should remain the core objective, but they need to balance that with the need to alleviate peak congestion “while achieving the broader objectives of reducing vehicle speeds, improving comfort and safety for non-motorized users.” At the same time, there is a need to increase walking and bicycling to Pioneer Elementary School.
A top concern raised by residents was the removal of “channelized right turns.” They note that such removals is consistent with adopted city transportation policy. On the one hand, the restoration of these turns for “all right-turning vehicles to pull into when safe, could improve intersection level of service during peak hours.”
At the same time, it increases vehicle/pedestrian and bike conflict points.
Staff writes: “This is a topic requiring clear council direction. If council does consider restoring some right-turn movements, adding right turn lanes, or pockets instead of channelized right turns would be the recommended alternative.”
What should be done on Mace Blvd. between Cowell Blvd. and El Macero Dr.?
Staff acknowledges “that reducing travel lanes from four to two lanes exacerbates queueing during peak hours, which increases travel delay. Restoring this segment to four lanes will help with traffic congestion but requires removing the constructed protected bike lanes.”
Staff acknowledges as well that, with the exception of what has happened during peak hours along Mace, particularly during the Thursday and Friday afternoon/ evening commute, “the Mace Blvd corridor largely performs as intended, albeit with clear design challenges which have led to user frustration.”
They note: “The absence of pavement striping and marking, which occurs as construction’s last phase, has likely contributed to some confusion about the design. Striping will take place shortly and will improve immediate concerns until corridor revisions are made.”
At this point staff is willing to support the compromise proposal of Alternative 1, but “recommends against restoring the corridor to its identical prior configuration.” Here they argue that previous vehicle speeds were higher than desired, the corridor was uncomfortable for non-motorized users, and in some locations, the prior design was incompatible with 2016 street design standards.
In addition, “Staff does not generally support restoring channelized right turns or right turn pockets. These alternatives encourage higher turning speeds and/or increase crossing distances for non-motorized users, which significantly affects perceptions of Mace Blvd as a crossing barrier.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting