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