Monday Morning Thoughts: Citizens Are Calling for City to Revert Mace, but Slow Down Here

The city has gotten an earful on Mace – some of that may be justified, but there are still a lot of questions that seem to need to be addressed.

The neighbors and residents along Mace and South Mace, through their petition and elsewhere, are calling the planning “obsolete” and “ill-conceived.”  They argue that “its installation has created massive congestion, dangerous traffic issues, more safety issues for the bicyclists and pedestrians it was purported to protect…”

They are demanding that “Mace Boulevard be immediately restored to two lanes of traffic in both directions…”

But others have pointed out that the original purpose of the road redesign was to deal with problems of speeding traffic, unsafe bike passage, a poor intersection at Montgomery, and too much traffic congestion from those bypassing I-80.

In addition to these points, I would continue to ask several critical questions.  First of all – is the traffic congestion all the time (that hasn’t been my experience) or it is simply a few times of the week that are magnified by changes in overall traffic patterns on I-80?  Along the same lines, if the main problem is in fact Thursday and Friday evening commute times, is the problem structural or is it primarily due to apps like Waze redirecting traffic to bypass I-80?

Third, and again along similar lines, once the app adjusts to the change of Mace from that of arterial to more residential, will that change the app’s behavior of re-directing traffic and, fourth, can the city do anything to expedite those changes?

Fifth, how much of the current congestion is due more to the construction process itself rather than the road structure?

It would seem prudent that the city figure out the answers to these problems (perhaps they already have an inkling) prior to doing expensive structural fixes.  Clearly, not all of the traffic problems are the result of these changes.  I recall, back in 2017, the roadways in east Davis on Friday afternoons were exceedingly bad with far worse backups than what we have seen this year.

The situation seemed to settle down after the winter and its heavy rains passed that year, but have returned this winter.  Is the traffic caused by these changes or coincidental to this changes?

Once again, my experience traveling from Harper Junior High to South Davis on a Thursday afternoon suggests that there is far more than just road construction and restructuring at work here.

Looking at past staff reports on this project which started way back in 2013 – before the city was aware that apps would redirect traffic onto Mace – there appeared to be two objectives with the Mace Blvd. improvements to go from Red Bud Drive to Cowell.

First, they wished to rehabilitate the street.  Staff noted in their 2016 report: “PCI score varies from 16 to 45 as of 2013 and deteriorates at a rate of 2‐3 points per year.”

Second, they wished to “increase non‐motorized transportation along the corridor and between the neighborhoods east and west of Mace Blvd, particularly increasing levels of bicycling to Pioneer Elementary School.”

This jibes well with concerns for traffic speeds and safety along the corridor.

The other factor here is funding – ostensibly why the project has taken so long to complete is they needed to obtain the funding.

In December 2017, there was a construction contract award on consent.  Here they approved the resolution “awarding the construction contract to Ghilotti Construction of Santa Rosa, California, in the amount of $2,377,359.25 with a construction contingency of $238,000 for the Mace Boulevard Corridor Project, CIP No. 8257,” and they also approved the budget adjustment which transferred $160,000 in Road Impact Feeds to complete full construction costs.

Staff notes: “This project is partially funded by Federal grants ($2,104,000) from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG). Local funding covering the remaining $964,328 comes from General Fund and Road Impact Fee Funds.”

Greg Rowe in comments yesterday on the Vanguard notes: “This project is an example of the downside of receiving federal grants for construction projects.”

He points out that “this grant was issued by the federal gov’t through its ‘Complete Streets’ program. In accepting such a grant, the City was to a large extent obligated to design and build the project in accordance with guidelines established by the feds.  In other words, there were strings attached that could have largely limited the City’s flexibility in designing the project.”

This is an all-important point that should be kept in mind.  There were overlapping goals attached to this project.  The first was the deterioration of the roads and the second was the need to increase safety.

The voters of Davis rejected – at least in some sense of that word – the parcel tax for roads last June.  We have pointed out that this is largely a technical rejection as 58 percent of the voters actually approved the tax, but the point is that it fell well short of the threshold needed.

Back in 2013, the city through its consultants recognized that the road pavement conditions were rapidly deteriorating, leading to escalating costs.  However, the cost estimates pushed quickly into nine figures – well beyond the city’s ability to address them with the general fund.

While the city has attempted to secure funding from the voters – but failed in 2018 – they have also found other ways to fund road repairs.  This has included carving out about $4 million per year in road funds from the general fund, and they have also relied heavily on grants and special projects to fund some road repairs.

The result is, as Greg Rowe points out, they get funded, but they lose the ability to control aspects of the project.  One of those losses is the loss of right turn pockets along Mace – which is at least contributing somewhat to the traffic delays.

Could there have been more public outreach done at the time?  From some reader comments, it seems there was some outreach – but the BTSSC (Bicycling, Transportation, and Street Safety Commission) discussions would not have generated much in the way of public participation, the project was treated as though it were low controversy and placed on consent, and there was not enough public awareness to push it off consent as recently as 15 months ago.

Could the city have done better here?  Probably.  But, then again, the project didn’t seem to be generating much in the way of controversy until there were impacts affecting people’s commute and, as some put it, “quality of life.”

It is easy to point fingers on this stuff – but the bottom line is now to find a way forward, and that means the need to figure out what the problem is and whether there is a fix.  I agree with the commenter that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to go to the old flawed road design, particularly if the problem is being generated, at least in part, externally.

—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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23 Comments

  1. Matt Williams

    That is a good recap of the comment thread from Vanguard readers yesterday.  The most notable omission is any assessment of the almost total lack collaboration between the City and the County on either planning the design of a right of way that they share, or with respect to citizen impact and noticing . . . a responsibility they share as well.

    David correctly points out that BTSSC meetings/discussion would not have generated much in the way of public participation, but that point does not address the fact that any BTSSC noticing and discussion would cover only City residents.  It also does not address why the project ignored and/or wasted the County portion of the right of way.

    If the City and County had collaborated with one another, the project could have accomplished all the goals stated in the City/BTSSC documentation, and at the same time continued to have two northbound vehicle lanes in addition to the fully protected cycle track (which currently occupies one of the vehicle lanes).

    A lack of collaboration is a recurring theme for the City.  In this case it is collaboration between the City and the County.  In the February 5th Broadband contract item that was placed on the Council consent calendar, and then pulled because City Information Technology staff had not worked with City Economic Development staff or City Finance staff or the City Broadband Task Force.

    A similar example happened in the December 4, 2018 Council consideration of the results of the Solid Waste Rate Study, which proposed a 41% increase in rates.  When Will Arnold made a motion directing staff to come back with some additional analysis that might have saved ratepayers some money, which all five Council members supported, Public Works staff explained that doing that fiscal analysis would mean the Prop 218 notices, which were fully designed and ready to go to the printer the next day would have to be scrapped and delayed.  Claearly there was a lack of collaboration between Public Works staff and Finance staff … and the net result was that Will Arnold withdrew his motion and the rest of the Council concurred.

    The lack of collaboration between Open Space staff and Economic Development staff (as well as the Open Space and Habitat Commission and the Innovation Park Task Force and the Business and Economic Development Commission (BEDC)) resulted in the Mace 391 consent calendar controversy and community polarization.

    Council recently did away with the inter-Commission liaisons.  Travie Westlund, the Recreation and Parks liaison to FBC, was a very thoughtful, productive and proactive participant in FBC discussions.  That was both efficient and effective, but it, and other similar collaboration is no more.

    I could go on, but you get the drift.  The question is, do we as citizens and taxpayers need to decide whether we want a local government that is collaborative, efficient and effective.

    1. David Greenwald

      I’m not sure I really buy into the need for the collaboration on a project was at least at the time it was conceived, completely limited to the interior of Davis. I understand that issues have now developed that make that less of a bright line – but I think that’s the problem overall – while you can maybe fault the city on past failures to communicate, it’s not clear this was ever going to register with the public until and unless it blew up – which it now has – in part because of external factors.

      1. Matt Williams

        That’s the problem David.  The lack of collaboration with the County to plan the entire Mace right of way produced a narrow and sub-optimal thought process that excluded consideration of arguably the majority of people whose lives would be affected by the project.  That is like planning the Fifth Street Road Diet while excluding a substantial portion of the right of way from consideration.

        I don’t fully agree with your last point.  If the northbound protected/separated bike/ped lane were 8 feet further to the east and two vehicle lanes had been retained going northbound, I do not think it would have blown up.  It would have been essentially identical in public reaction to the Covell-L Street project.  Annoying, as all construction is, but only a temporary inconvenience.

        1. Rik Keller

          For somebody who recently made a big show about “science” and looking at data and facts, David Greenwald just uses his own personal anecdotal drives and guessing as his references in this article rather than any real data or analysis.

          He also seems confused as to whether this is actually even an issue or not:

          David Greenwald on 4/1/2019:

          – “it was already blowing up before any road work was done.”

          David Greenwald on 1/27/2019:

          -“Traffic Complaints about Construction on Mace Seem a Bit Overblown”

          -“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.”

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

          -“People have to be a bit more tolerant about traffic delays sometimes.”

      2. David Greenwald

        Another point – the city has improved their efforts on collaboration in recent years: Road 32A Planning Grant, the City-County-UCD MOU, VCEA, water supply at North Davis Meadows among others off the top of my head.

        1. Matt Williams

          Have you talked to anyone in North Davis Meadows about the collaboration there.  They feel a bureaucratic solution is being rammed down their throats.  A lawsuit from the residents is impending.

          VCEA’s unilateral decision to deny existing solar customers true-up participation was a classic result of bad collaboration and the same kind of rigid bureaucratic thinking that has created the Mace Mess.

          City-County-UCD MOU is definitely a step in the right direction.

          Talk to Jim Provenza about the collaboration on the Road 32A Planning Grant.

          Your examples only are 25% accurate.

  2. Ron Oertel

    From article:  ” . . . the project was treated as though it were low controversy and placed on consent, and there was not enough public awareness to push it off consent as recently as 15 months ago.”

    In the absence of an EIR, perhaps there was not enough council awareness of the resulting impact to push it off the consent calendar (or to conduct adequate outreach).

    1. Craig Ross

      You do an EIR to do environmental view, not for other reasons.  You’re making this into something much more complex – it’s as a simple as no one anticipated the change in traffic flow which took what would have been a routine road upgrade and made it more complicated.  I don’t understand why the need to figure out someone to blame for this.

      1. Ron Oertel

        “You do an EIR to do environmental view, not for other reasons.”

        An EIR includes traffic studies and projections. What traffic studies or projections were conducted prior to this being placed on the consent calendar?

        “it’s as a simple as no one anticipated the change in traffic flow which took what would have been a routine road upgrade and made it more complicated.  

        Turns out it wasn’t “routine”.  That’s what a traffic study and projection is designed to uncover and disclose.  How was it decided that this was “routine” and would have little or no impact? Is that “your” conclusion?

        “I don’t understand why the need to figure out someone to blame for this.”

        It’s more important to uncover the process which led to this situation (to try to avoid future errors), vs. singling out individuals.

      2. Dave Hart

        Craig, as a society, we put a high value on vengeance, getting even and finding someone to blame.  It’s what we do whenever anything bad happens whether there is anyone to blame or not.  In this case, the engineers got the first round of blame but that seems to have shifted to the elected leadership.  I’ve been interested to read the initial environmental document that stated the purpose of the project.  It was primarily to improve pedestrian and bicycle transportation participation to Pioneer Elementary which had the lowest rate of all DJUSD elementary schools.  Curiously, none has suggested that Pioneer was located in the wrong place.  That is one interpretation.  They could have blamed DJUSD for that decision but they’re too far long gone for it to stick.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Dave:  “Craig, as a society, we put a high value on vengeance, getting even and finding someone to blame.”

          I’m not seeing any statements regarding blame or vengeance, other than the statements made by Craig (to me – for some unknown reason), and as referenced by you.

          I don’t think that any of the 13 “deleted” comments had anything to do with assigning blame or suggesting vengeance in reference to the “Mace Mess”, either.

          I made a suggestion that the process should be examined, to avoid future mistakes.

  3. Richard McCann

    The situation seemed to settle down after the winter and its heavy rains passed that year, but have returned this winter.  Is the traffic caused by these changes or coincidental to this changes?

    The answer is “Tahoe”. This happens every winter, and in wet winters it’s more acute as more people head up to ski. In dry and drought years (which we’ve experienced mostly since 2012), Tahoe traffic drops off as skiing is less desirable.  Your observation about 2017 conditions fits this pattern-it was a very wet year, 2018 was below average. We’ll see a decrease in traffic from now to Memorial Day, and then it will pick up again for the summer.

  4. Matt Williams

    My comment to this article prompted a reader to send me a personal e-mail, which I reprint here with the sender’s permission:

    Matt,

    Let’s be honest.

    The entire reason for the Mace project was to elicit funding for repaving of a badly worn Mace Blvd (much of the problem owing to County-generated tomato truck traffic serving the adjacent agricultural industry).

    This city is bankrupt.  When you apply for grant funding, you are at the mercy of the granting authority with respect to how and when that money is expended.

    In terms of transparency and collaborative initiatives – neither of those two factoids has been made a part of this conversation.

    This city’s policies and priorities are driven by its weak financial position and its reliance upon two primary industries (education & agriculture, but could also add non-profit service businesses) – neither of which produce sales or property taxes in proportion to their impacts – and the City’s constant need – and culture – of seeking specialized funding sources to support its essential infrastructure.  Think Unitrans, SACOG, Out of District Students.

    The rest of the conversation is largely comprised of hand wringing and arm waving.

    1. Dave Hart

      Or, Matt, what he/she really meant to say was “Let’s be honest and admit that if we’re over 50 years old, the chances of confronting the worst consequences of bad urban and transportation planning that is firmly rooted in the era of cheap gas, no worry for environmental impacts and instant gratification are so remote we aren’t willing to sacrifice (that horrible word) even one iota of our unsustainable yet cherished way of living especially when it comes to our cars.”

      1. Matt Williams

        Dave, I’m fairly sure that isn’t what this particular individual meant to say, but setting that aside, what you have said does ring true to my ears.

  5. Dave Hart

    I’m one citizen who is most definitely NOT calling for Mace Blvd to revert to its bad old self.  What I’ve been vocal about here and on Next Door is for people to wait for the dang thing to be finished as designed (or close to it) and then determine what needs modification.  When one reads all the criticisms, everything including the kitchen sink is being included as a demonstrable threat to life, liberty and safety.  Especially safety since that is the golden word here.  If there are real dangers, they will become apparent quite soon or can be modified soon enough.  It’s an old and useful tool to overplay danger and safety to get around rules.  I’ve done it myself when it suited me, ‘just to be honest’.  But we’ve all spent $3M of our tax dollars (state, fed, what’s the difference) and we should give the project some time for the public to adjust.  One would think when listening to some of the criticism that the city is trying to get us to enter I-80 on a freeway exit ramp and drive the wrong direction.  There is no certainty that anything out there is so overtly dangerous.  A lot of hyperbole, but zero patience or interest in letting the project work for awhile.

    1. Ron Oertel

      “But we’ve all spent $3M of our tax dollars (state, fed, what’s the difference) and we should give the project some time for the public to adjust.”

      The requirements resulting from accepting the SACOG-distributed funds, as well as the apparent possibility that most of those funds might have to be repaid if the “Mess Mace” is significantly modified, probably leaves the city and community with no realistic choice but to accept your suggestion.  (Not to mention the cost of making additional, significant changes – above and beyond the possible repayment of funds already accepted.)

      It seems like it’s basically a “done, largely irreversible deal”.

      Perhaps the city will examine its approval processes (and stipulations attached to SACOG-distributed funds), to try to avoid such mistakes in the future.

      1. Mark West

        “Perhaps the city will examine its approval processes…to try to avoid such mistakes in the future.”

        I haven’t seen any evidence presented that demonstrates that mistakes were made by the City in this process. The plans were addressed in public hearings, they were evaluated by the relevant commissions, and voted upon by the City Council. Those claiming that they were not properly ‘noticed’ likely either ignored the notice they were given or live outside the City and should have no expectation of being notified about a City project.

        The real ‘error’ by the City was made years ago when the City Council (with the help of the City Manager and Staff) decided to use funds intended for infrastructure repair and maintenance to provide compensation increases for City Staff instead. Without access to sufficient funds in the General Fund to pay for road improvements, the Staff had to look for outside funding sources to make up the difference. Those outside grants come with significant delays and often serious ‘strings’ attached, as we are seeing with the current project. Unfortunately, we as a community have never learned from our ‘history’ and continue to repeat the same mistake of electing folks who prioritized public employee compensation and ‘morale’ above meeting the needs of the community. You cannot rationally expect a different outcome when you consistently repeat the same poor decision.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Seems to me that mayor Lee (and perhaps other officials) are acknowledging that the result was an unexpected “mistake” – as are a good number of folks directly impacted by the decision.  I would not dispute that conclusion. I’ve seen no indication that an adequate traffic study or analysis was performed, which should have disclosed the probable impacts resulting from the “improvements”. Had the council been armed with that information, perhaps they would have made a different choice.

          The city itself contributed a significant amount to this project.  Had they used those funds directly for road maintenance (and left out the other “improvements” tied to SACOG-distributed funds), that might have been a better choice.  Especially since they’re now apparently considering changing some of the “improvements”, thereby spending additional, unspecified money (that could have also been used for road maintenance).

          Assuming that your statement is correct regarding (earlier) diversion of infrastructure maintenance funds for compensation increases, I would agree with that part of your conclusion.  Unfunded liabilities are an enormous and ongoing problem in cities, counties and the state itself.

        2. Ron Oertel

          As a side note (in response to your comment regarding notification), Matt mentioned the following (among other related quotes), above.  I bolded some applicable text, but I am not entirely sure of the implications of some of Matt’s statements, nor am I taking a position on them one way or the other.

          Matt:  “The most notable omission is any assessment of the almost total lack collaboration between the City and the County on either planning the design of a right of way that they share, or with respect to citizen impact and noticing . . . a responsibility they share as well.”

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