Commentary: When Critics Get It Wrong

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Clearly there are some unanticipated problems with the redesign of Mace Boulevard, but some critics have turned this into an opportunity to attack the “complete streets” concept itself.  On Sunday, I took issue with the notion pushed in the Enterprise by their editorial and by columnist Bob Dunning that the road redesign was a way to encourage alternative transportation by punishing those who drive motor vehicles.

But there was a second point in Mr. Dunning’s column that needed to be addressed.

Mr. Dunning writes: “After the city put a portion of Fifth Street in East Davis on the Atkins Diet a few years ago, those in charge of making such decisions declared it a roaring success. The only problem is that much of that traffic simply shifted over to once-pleasant East Eighth Street, which is now an early-morning and late-afternoon nightmare. Put simply, it’s a vehicular form of robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

He argues: “Morning traffic on Eighth has reached that dangerous stage where frustrated drivers roar out of line and speed down side streets, just as school kids are leaving home on their bicycles.”

Later he writes: “The Fifth Street diet didn’t take cars off the road, it just moved them somewhere else.”

But there is a problem with this view – it ignores what has else has taken place.

I experienced this problem on Eighth Street earlier this year.  Around 5 pm on an evening, I dropped my daughter off at soccer practice at Civics Field and then cut up Eighth Street to drive to Pole Line.  Only one problem: I got caught up in a ridiculous traffic back up.

So I cut down F Street to Fifth Street and it was smooth sailing over to Pole Line.

There are really two problems with Mr. Dunning’s unsupported claim that Eight Street traffic is caused by Fifth Street.  First, Eighth Street is far worse than Fifth Street right now.  Clearly, if people were clogging Eighth Street to avoid Fifth Street, and they found Eighth Street to be worse, they would stop going that route.

The second problem with that theory is one of timing.  Up until the last several months, Eighth Street, long after the Fifth Street redesign, was fine.  Maybe there was slightly more traffic, but nothing to cause concern.

When did it become a problem?  It seems to be that a big cause of that is the work done on both L Street and Pole Line that has altered traffic patterns temporarily and pushed a lot more traffic onto Eighth Street.

By way of example, yesterday L Street was closed off.  That led to a large amount of congestion between L and Pole Line on Fifth Street, as traffic that would normally head north on L had to drive to Pole Line and then head north.

The other point worth making is that when the highways back up, all of the west to east roads in Davis do so as well.  I’ve already noted what happened on Mace Blvd. to the north as you drive from Harper Junior High to the freeway onramp, but on Thursdays and Fridays, all the roads that go west to east are congested in Davis – as both local and out of town traffic attempts to avoid the bottleneck on I-80 and creates bottlenecks on surface streets.

The overall problem I see right now is that critics are blaming road redesigns for problems that really are caused by things that are external to those road work.  The changes in traffic patterns, congestion on the highway, and road construction is causing changes to traffic flows – a lot of which will end up being temporary in nature.

That is the problem I have with the critics on Mace Blvd.  The identified problems clearly need to be addressed: tight right turns, the San Marino intersection, the ability for farm equipment to transport through, and perhaps the need to help queue on-coming traffic onto I-80.

But the core issue of congestion is more likely not related to the redesign but rather coincidental to it.  While the council and city are being pushed to quickly address community and local concerns, we might be better served in the long run with a more thorough analysis.

As the Bob Dunning column demonstrates, the immediate reaction might not be true – and it might be an overreaction.

—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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31 thoughts on “Commentary: When Critics Get It Wrong”

  1. Ron Oertel

    It’s difficult to know if the arguments presented in this article are accurate, especially without examining a map (e.g., which shows where construction is occurring, and how that might be impacting traffic on various streets).  Or, what might happen when the construction is finished.

    But, as the city allows more development, more traffic (of all types) will continue to increase.  This will also occur on I-80 (and streets impacted by backups on I-80), as tens of thousands of additional houses are planned for and will be built across the region – with apparently no end goal.

     

    1. Craig Ross

      As oppose to the argument presented by Bob Dunning?

      I think you’re second point is flawed.  It depends on the type of development.  Adding more student housing near campus and on campus will likely reduce traffic as fewer students have to drive to school and take I-80.  More single family, peripheral housing on the other hand would do as you suggest.  That’s why infill is so important – you can through good planning reduce traffic impacts by putting people near work and/ or school.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Dunning’s argument might be flawed, as well.

        Students travel to places other than campus.  But, your point is the reason that some of us have argued for more student housing on campus.

    2. Alan Miller

      as the city allows more development, more traffic (of all types) will continue to increase.

      Said a bit too loud in a snotty, snooty, nasal voice:  “no it won’t, because young people don’t own cars and are driving less, and driving is disappearing!!!”  Bleeeeeeeeeh!

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        The UC Davis survey bares that point out – only about 30 percent of students living in town drive to school and less than half have access to a vehicle.

        1. Ron Oertel

          David:  Students drive to places other than campus, and use vehicles other than their own.

          One might also want to examine how that study was conducted (e.g., distribution, response rate, self-reporting, types of questions, etc.) before drawing any conclusions.

          Regardless, if you’re going to argue that “young people” are driving less, you might want to define and differentiate between different categories of “young people”, e.g., who aren’t all UCD students. (Nor are all UCD students “young”.)

          And again, ride-hailing counts as “driving”.

        2. Ron Oertel

          David:  “That’s why the stat on car availability is important.”

          100% have access to “car availability”, via friends and family, ride-hailing, ZipCar-type rentals, etc.

        3. Alan Miller

          only about 30 percent of students living in town drive to school and

          Seriously? – 30% drive to school from town?  That sounds like an incredibly high number – from town.  Why would anyone drive to UCD with the prohibitively high parking cost, the fact it takes little longer than driving from most points in Davis when you factor in parking and walking from your car, and there is Unitrans all over town during school days.

          less than half have access to a vehicle.

          Actually they ALL have access to a vehicle, it’s called Uber and Lyft.  So even if there are less students with vehicles they OWN, this may not reduce traffic as such.  I had a housemate from China a few years ago who didn’t own a car.  But two or three times a day she’d call an Uber/Lyft to the house and take off.  I doubt she reduced auto traffic in Davis much with that lifestyle.  But without the high cost of overall owning a car, that leaves lots of extra cash to order a lot of Uber/Lyft rides.

        4. Alan Miller

          I had a housemate from China a few years ago who didn’t own a car.  But two or three times a day she’d call an Uber/Lyft to the house and take off.

          vs.

          As a student without a car, I can’t afford Lyft or Uber very often – and don’t think I’ve used them in the last year.

          And our Vanguard Scientific Study is complete!

    3. Richard McCann

      Ron

      Are you then defending Bob Dunning’s characterization? Again, Dunning presents no basis for his claim. I had forgotten about the long run of construction on L St. That cuts off one of the main cut over streets from 8th to Covell or 5th. Is there illogic in David’s observation? I already noted in an earlier comment that I have been a frequent user of 8th for decades and I did not notice a sudden jump in congestion when they changed 5th Street.

      As for building more housing across the region, what is your “end goal”? Global population control enforced by the U.N.’s black helicopters? We already saw what it took to enforce China’s one-child policy and the unbalanced consequences. Improving women’s education is the best population control, but all of this takes decades. What’s your workable interim solution? You need to be very specific in your proposal because the complexity of diverting regional growth has both problems of accountability and authority and unintended consequences.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Richard:  I already responded, regarding Bob Dunning’s view.  I’m not automatically accepting that view, or your observations as “fact” regarding the only causes of the problems discussed.  Nor am I objecting to sharing of input.

        Regarding sprawl, some of your questions go beyond the scope of this article. But, since you asked, what is your goal regarding continual accommodation of sprawl?

  2. Tia Will

    Oh, the irony of Bob Dunning’s positions:

    “….the notion pushed in the Enterprise by their editorial and by columnist Bob Dunning that the road redesign was a way to encourage alternative transportation by punishing those who drive motor vehicles.”

    “The Fifth Street diet didn’t take cars off the road, it just moved them somewhere else.”

    It seems to me that Mr. Dunning has correctly identified the core problem. There are too many vehicles on the road. But he misses the core solution and criticizes the city for attempting to implement that core solution. When there is excess, the solution, is to reduce the number, not just move some of the excess elsewhere. So what would solve the problem? Fewer cars on the road. Now Mr. Dunning is a staunch critic of the local government attempts to achieve this “by punishing drivers”.  Yet Mr. Dunning makes no call for those who could solve the problem, drivers, to do so by the obvious step of driving less.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Fewer cars on the road. Now Mr. Dunning is a staunch critic of the local government attempts to achieve this “by punishing drivers”.

      Seems to me that David was recently arguing that “punishing drivers” is not the goal of recent infrastructure projects.

      Regardless – to be truly effective, “punishment” has to be comprehensive enough to actually discourage driving (and not just shift it elsewhere).  Something that’s quite difficult to accomplish, outside of a place such as San Francisco.  To paraphrase another use of the term, one might refer to the “San Francisco spanking machine”, for drivers.  🙂 (Really, it’s starting to apply throughout the Bay Area.)

      On a related note, I read that the Golden Gate bridge is raising it’s cash price for tolls to somewhere near $10.

       

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        Yes I did argue that punishing drivers is not the goal of recent infrastructure projects but I also said it was some people’s goal.

        1. Ron Oertel

          I sometimes wonder if more density (and associated challenges) actually causes “sprawl”, as some folks choose to escape it.  Perhaps a reason that the region is growing, as a result of refugees from the Bay Area.

          I don’t think that the “official” goal is to punish drivers, but that’s ultimately the result. I’m not passing judgement on that.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Alan:  Sorry – I was referring to “pay by plate”, without a Fastrak.  The Fastrak price is a little less, but I don’t recall the exact figure.

    2. Richard McCann

      I suggest that the City condemn Dunning’s house and his neighbors’, and build a new arterial through the route to alleviate road congestion.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Richard…

        E Eighth is my main go-to and has been for many years… you are correct, it’s an efficient route, but @ peak hours, has been much less so since the Fifth St ‘road-diet’… City had to go to ‘lead-lag’ timing @ F & E Eighth signal (Eighth/B, Eighth L, are still “fixed time controllers”)… Eighth and Oak might be…

        Fifth Street was never bad “off-peak”, even prior to “diet”… often traversed on bike, no problems… most “crashes” on Fifth, that Tracy and others cited to ‘justify’ the diet, were due to DUI, inattention, other “stupids”… over HALF!  Fifth hour ‘peaks’ now are longer, and Eighth Street is now trending towards that… queues from L, past F, w-bound, D to L e-bound.

        As predicted @ time of road diet on Fifth.

        1. Alan Miller

          5th Street was as good as death for bicycles.  I rode it regularly so that if I got hit, I’d be a martyr for the cause of the road redesign.  Thankfully, it happened without my sacrifice.  Thanks largely to Steve Tracy and many others who fought for this much-needed change for years.

          One can argue that the traffic has changed because they believed it would — but that’s not science, it’s a self-deluded prophecy.  I mean, maybe, but without studies, you can’t make that claim.

        2. Bill Marshall

          We had the studies, Alan… pre implementation… predicted what has come to pass… post implementation studies were suppressed via CC members (listening to Old North) via direction to CM, then to staff…

          Inconvenient truths…

          I rode Fifth in the diet segment on bike many times, but was smart enough to avoid peak hour… main danger was CATV scar ~ 18 inches off the lip of gutter… no problem with cars…

        3. Alan Miller

          > post implementation studies were suppressed via CC members

          Well, there’s some investigative journalism waiting to happen.  Pick up the ball, DG?

          Oh, were those studies from the bicyclists point of view, the cars point of view, or both?

          You are one of the few still claiming that 5th Street was a bad idea.  I mean seriously, you would advocate for going back to what it was?

        4. Alan Miller

          I rode Fifth in the diet segment on bike many times,

          The “diet segment” meaning what?  After the diet, before?  I did before, and was nearly clipped many times.  Certainly very few people respecting anything near the mandated-by-law three-foot bike-car clearance rule.

          but was smart enough to avoid peak hour…

          Because bikes should avoid traveling at peak hour?  Seriously?  It’s peak hour for everyone.

          main danger was CATV scar ~ 

          On that we agree.  They did fill that scar in somewhat since the road was reconfigured.  Though other parallel scars all over the city are deepening as the roads go to sh*t, making getting one’s wheel lodged-as-if-in-a-railroad-groove all the more likely.

      2. Rik Keller

        Richard McCann said: “I suggest that the City condemn Dunning’s house and his neighbors’, and build a new arterial through the route to alleviate road congestion.”

        This seems like a modest suggestion!

        What one generally finds is that the “YIMBY” types don’t generally mean THEIR personal backyard.  😉

  3. Kristine Gual

    I live in South Davis and have been impacted by the construction. I’ve been as inconvenienced by the construction at times as everyone else in South Davis, but I’ve also driven through the intersection during peak hours with no problem. I was happy to see that the City started a traffic study on Cowell near Mace this morning. I’d like to see decision-making about where we go from here based on real data and projections for future growth rather than all of our anecdotes, ie: science!

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