Commentary: Everyone Has Made Up Their Minds on Mace – but What if They’re Wrong?


On Thursday, there will be another meeting on the Mace Boulevard issue, and hopefully by that point the city will be ready to roll out what it views as a solution to a slew of publicly expressed concerns about the new design of Mace.

In a recent letter to the Enterprise, Elaine Roberts Musser, identifying herself as a “member of the transportation committee that devised the update to the Transportation Implementation Plan” pointed out that one of the goals of this plan was “multi-modal share” or the idea that “all modes of transportation need to be taken into account when planning for road improvements.”

During this process, she noted, there were a number of “very loud voice(s) from the bicycling community,” pushing for more emphasis on bicycle safety.

She writes: “Understandably, they thought it had gotten short shrift over the years, and now wanted some teeth put into the issue. However, in the end, we wisely decided to make sure all modes of transportation were taken into account, with bicycle safety as only one, albeit very important, component of the plan.”

Given their plan, she believes that the consultants who designed the new Mace changes did not follow their direction.

“I certainly won’t call the changes an improvement,” she writes. “The result was to make the situation worse, not better, as the City Council has discovered to the city’s cost.”

Instead, she points to Fifth Street in downtown Davis as an example of the concept of multi-modal transportation that is “working very well.”

She notes: “While it is true that traffic is somewhat slowed at rush hour, it is so much safer for bicycles, cars are not slowed by bicycles taking up car lanes, and (it) has improved traffic on side streets that used to avoid Fifth Street.”

Meanwhile, Bob Dunning over the weekend continues to criticize the city, here about talking with Mayor Brett Lee.

“I think the official city position is that we are working on a re-design that must improve the currently unacceptable situation,” said the mayor.  He would add: “I believe we got into this mess because of a mediocre design that wasn’t properly vetted.”

This is similar to what the mayor told me.

However, Mr. Dunning goes further, noting, “While Lee is predictably and rightly taking the heat on an expensive ‘improvement’ that turned out to be a disaster, this is not a one-man plan. The city of Davis doesn’t work that way.”

Implicit here is the notion that the improvements have been “a disaster” and are the cause for the problems.

However, that probably misrepresents the view of Brett Lee.  To be sure, he is not a great fan of the road design as it is currently comprised.  On the other hand, if pressed, he will acknowledge that the traffic problems – while not solved by the road design – are also not caused by the road design.

He thinks the roadway can be redesigned by this summer to better accommodate the traffic that is coming in from outside of Davis as well as the local traffic.  That is similar to what Chief Pytel told the Vanguard last week – finding a way to better store traffic that is headed for I-80 will free up road capacity for traffic trying to get through the local streets and remain in town.

As my column on Monday attempted to explain, while many people have already seemingly decided that they know that the roads changes are the problem, I am far from convinced that is the case.

Chief Pytel noted that, during spring break, traffic was flowing relatively normally through the corridor, in what had been heavily congested hours during the afternoon commute on Thursdays and Fridays.

I drove through the intersection heading east on Cowell just after 5 pm – there have been times when that intersection has been heavily impacted.  However, not only was there no back up on Cowell, my view of Mace itself showed very little traffic backed up there either.

As I have noted previously, traffic in this area was extremely bad in the winter of 2017 as well, but things cleared up, for the most part, up until the last few months.  To me that suggests that factors other than changes to the roadway are the culprit.

Having talked to both the mayor and Chief Pytel, I don’t really have a problem with their attempting to better structure the flow of traffic onto the highway – as that does seem to be a problem.  But I do have a good deal of concern with the assumption or belief, without substantial additional study, that the current structure is a disaster.

The idea that we should go back to the way it was doesn’t make sense.  That road design was obsolete for a long time before any of this happened.

We will now wait to see what the city has come up with.

—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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15 thoughts on “Commentary: Everyone Has Made Up Their Minds on Mace – but What if They’re Wrong?”

  1. Alan Miller

    Build the diagonal bypass!  A diagonal from West Causeway at I-80 and the bridge at Mace and South Putah via the east-side back fence at El Macero!  Spend $500 million to solve a problem that occurs for a few hours a week!  Put a roof on it for another billion!

    And make Mexi-WAZE pay for it!

  2. Rik Keller

    Based on anecdotal reports, this seems to be the 3rd week in a row that there are no substantial congestion issues on northbound Mace at Cowell. It will be interesting to see if this holds up tomorrow and Friday.

    By the way, David: in an earlier column this week you called for unspecified issues to be addressed. What are those exact issues and how should they be addressed?

  3. Bill Marshall

    It will be interesting to see if this holds up tomorrow and Friday.

    Why would that be valuable info?  It’s not… as Matt pointed out earlier, there is “tweaking” on signal timing… any competent traffic engineer would look at at least a one year evaluation, after the major tweaking, unless there is an obvious ‘fatal flaw’…

    Guess Lib Arts folk have a much shorter time-frame… two days… whatever…

    1. Rik Keller

      Bill Marshall: It would be significant because Chief Pytel said that two weeks ago when traffic was light, it was an anomaly because of DJUSD spring break. If the subsequent two weeks have shown no problems, I stated it would be “interesting” because it would mark three entire weeks without significant congestion problems at the intersection. It’s certainly a datapoint. And even “Lib Arts folk” know that 3 weeks > 2 days.

      By the way, the Davis Vanguard dismissed this theory earlier this week, but has anyone documented any major problems at the intersection since the construction started when the intersection hasn’t had a four-way stop? If so, when exactly, and how bad were the problems?

  4. Rik Keller

    I haven’t seen anyone discuss this, but to the extent that the Mace “improvements” (there are, to say the least, wildly different opinions as to whether they are actually improvements) reduce car capacity they could discourage re-routing to that intersection due to Waze. As a corollary to this,  increasing the capacity of the on-ramps could merely serve as an encouragement for Waze to re-route there and increasing overall congestion

    “The video below shows how the flow of a freeway changes in response to an accident under two conditions: when no drivers use routing apps and when only 20 percent of drivers use routing apps. When there are more app-using drivers, congestion builds up at off-ramps, creating more traffic on the freeway.

    “The situation then gets much worse because hundreds of people just like you want to go on the side streets, which were never designed to handle the traffic,” Bayen says. “So, now, in addition to congesting the freeway, you’ve also congested the side streets and the intersections.””

  5. Rik Keller

    Mayor Lee stated that “I believe we got into this mess because of a mediocre design that wasn’t properly vetted.”

    What is unsaid here is what defines the “mess”. Are there actual continuing problems at the intersection in the past few weeks or is he merely referencing the political fallout from earlier complaints while the intersection was under construction. And what are the actual design flaws? considering final paving and striping was just being done last week (and this week too?) how would this supposed “mediocre design” even be said to be sufficiently in operation in order to make a determination?

  6. Todd Edelman

    Are there relevant and convenient public transport options for travel within this area and to other parts of Davis and the Universe – or at least Sac and the Bay Area – that do not start with a trip by motor vehicle, e.g. to the Park & Ride on the north side of 80?

    Whether there is congestion or not, how many people from the area drive alone with no passengers… and how many of these people are complaining about the traffic situation?

    These are extremely basic questions which don’t seem to have come up in the public debate – not from politicians, journalists, bloggers, muckrakers or curmudgeons!

    1. Frank Reyes

      Hi Todd,

      Between 7am and 6pm Unitrans has 6 buses passing through Mace & Cowell/hour (Lines: A, P, Q) and 3 buses/hour 6pm-11pm. Unitrans also has 1 high school bus going through this intersection 2x in the morning and 2x in the afternoon (Line: T).

      Yolobus has 6 routes passing through the intersection split between express and non-express routes (Lines: 42A/B, 44AM/PM, 232 AM/PM).

      I can confidently say that at minimum 8 bus lines operate per hour between 7am and 6pm with a trip to downtown taking, in moderate traffic, 12-15 minutes.


  7. Matt Williams

    As both a resident of El Macero and also the Chair of the Finance and Budget Commission of the City, I am often copied on official submissions of comment by the public. As such, I received a copy of the following e-mail that was sent yesterday to Mayor Brett Lee. I share it here because the writer clearly took a considerable amount of time to research and organize what he shared with Mayor Lee. I have forwarded this letter to County Supervisor Jim Provenza and posted it in the 600+ comments thread about the project on

    Hi Brett,

    — I have recently spent considerable time driving, riding and observing Mace. I have also had some enlightening discussions, and have heard much of the “local” commentary. Here are my thoughts in bullet form. My big concern is hearing (from you and others) of this idea that “because there is room” that we could (and perhaps should) add more lanes in certain places. Adding more travel lanes for the express purpose of storing more cars on this road does more harm than good. I would love to chat with you about this before the Thursday meeting.

    — Mace has been a problem for years, for every mode of travel. Before the redesign we experienced motor vehicle speeding during the off-hours, and congestion during the commute times. It has always been a moat for school kids trying to get to and from Pioneer.

    Some of the most important stake-holders (the parents of Pioneer students, as well as other S. Davis residents) are too intimidated to speak out due to the current level of vitriol.

    — We cannot determine how much the afternoon car traffic congestion is exacerbated by the continuing road construction and lack of proper striping.

    — The congestion problem generally occurs on Thursday and Friday afternoons, in the north-bound direction, for a total of about five hours per week. This local congestion is initiated by HWY 80 congestion during these times. The other 95% of the time, this road has excess capacity in both directions.

    — During the congested times, some residents complain of difficulty entering Mace from the neighborhoods. Drivers already on Mace are (illegally) blocking the intersections and are not allowing additional cars into the Mace Conga Line.

    — To solve this lack of access, some residents suggest that a second north-bound lane would add enough capacity to allow entrance from the side streets. (Yet adding more travel lanes doesn’t allow more movement during the congested times because the freeway onramp congestion is the limiting factor.)

    — Some residents have signed a petition to return the entire corridor to its previous configuration of four lanes, free right turns, and no protected bike lanes.

    — Adding more travel lanes works against the purpose of this project. More lanes make longer bike/ped crossings (distance and time needed to cross). And more lanes makes for higher motor vehicle speeds and encourages lane-changes and passing during the 95% off-peak times. More capacity benefits the speeders, and induces more demand.

    –Many locals residents have complained for years that the WAZE app is used to bypass HWY 80 using our local road. Many of these residents now apparently wish to accommodate those bypassers by returning Mace to a freeway-like design.

    — The small-radius turns create a slower and safer situation at all intersections for all transportation modes. And the turns are simple to navigate with any passenger car. Full-size cement mixers, tractors, construction trucks with trailers, delivery trucks all make the turns without issue, even without using the mountable curb that is available for larger vehicles at the Cowell intersection.

    — Because the “free right turns” have been removed from the Cowell intersection, those drivers wishing to turn right/south from east-bound Cowell can be stuck behind the cars that are prohibited from entering Mace when it is fully congested in the north-bound direction.

    — There is anecdotal evidence that an emergency vehicle had difficulty responding on Mace during a congested time. I have no details.

    Don’t add back travel lanes
    Don’t change the radius of the turns.

    Yes, the current design is clumsy, throws up artificial barriers to efficient human-powered transportation, and looks as cheerful as a prison. And it is superior to the previous design and works as intended when HWY 80 is not gridlocked. It is significantly better for vulnerable users and makes travel by motor vehicle safer and less stressful. Trying to accommodate gridlock on Mace by adding more travel lanes may offer short-term relief from the residents who are desperate to find traffic solutions that are beyond our local control, but adding extra lanes is a move away from the important goals of this project.

    1. Rik Keller

      Matt Williams: the email you just posted seems to me the most accurate analysis of the situation and also contains the best recommendations I have seen. I haven’t seen this level of analysis and specificity from the Vanguard or from public officials.

      To repeat my earlier comments about David Greenwald and Mayor Lee. Greenwald has vaguely called for issues to be addressed, but has not stated what those issues even are. And Mayor Lee stated that “I believe we got into this mess because of a mediocre design that wasn’t properly vetted.” What is unsaid here is what defines the “mess”. Are there actual continuing problems at the intersection in the past few weeks or is he merely referencing the political fallout from earlier complaints while the intersection was under construction? And what are the actual design flaws? Considering final paving and striping was just being done last week (and this week too?) how would this supposed “mediocre design” even be said to be sufficiently in operation in order to make a determination?

  8. Rik Keller

    Did anyone else notice that David Greenwald attempted to defend Mayor Lee by putting words in his mouth to correct the record?

    The Mayor is quoted as saying “”I believe we got into this mess because of a mediocre design that wasn’t properly vetted.” But then Greenwald says that Lee would say the opposite “if pressed.”  Greenwald then makes up other things that Lee would say, all the while without providing a single quotation in support or verification.

    This is a perfect example of being a spokesperson for the establishment. Did I somehow miss the announcement of another communications person being hired by the City?

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