From the start, one of the points the Vanguard has made is that, most of the time, Mace Boulevard traffic is not heavily impacted by changes made to the roadway. Instead, many believe the biggest impacts have more to do with traffic patterns along I-80 and traffic apps re-routing traffic to bypass I-80 and drive up Mace Blvd.
But there are signs that may be changing. A few weeks ago, we were stuck in traffic for about 25 minutes driving south from Harper Junior High past I-80, and it was backed up until we got past the on-ramps on the Mace overpass.
However, during the week of spring break, Chief Darren Pytel told the Vanguard the traffic was smooth sailing, even during the troublesome evening commutes on Thursday and Friday.
“Last week was really not representative of a normal week because the schools were out,” he explained. “I sent an officer out there on Thursday and Friday night which was the reported worst time, and traffic was smooth sailing.”
That was not a representative week, he said: “We realize that.”
The biggest problem times are Thursday and Friday during peak hours, as most people have been aware. The traffic starts as early as 3 pm and goes as late as 7:30 or 8 pm.
Using mapping technology, “You can definitely see Mace, Chiles, and Cowell pretty severely impacted by what appears to be freeway traffic during these times,” he explained. “Most of the other days in the week, you can kind of get through.”
Monday, he said, is really good, then it picks up on Tuesday and Wednesday. “Thursday is actually some of the worst traffic,” he said. “It appears that a lot of the UCD students and staff, who are leaving town, are leaving on Thursdays because traffic really backs up coming off campus.”
But when we drove back through the normally troublesome intersection of Mace and Cowell last Friday just after 5 pm, the traffic was almost normal. Others we spoke to had similar experiences.
Part of this may be cyclical – not linked in to anything to do with changes to the roadway.
Back in the winter of 2017, for example, there were similar road back ups on I-80. That led to a huge traffic mess in the southeastern portion of town, as traffic was being re-routed off I-80 to attempt to avoid the I-80 bottleneck. But it was not the lasting state of affairs – once the rains stopped and the season changed, traffic patterns went back to normal.
The difference then from now is that back then there was no concurrent road construction to either add to problems, or perhaps to appear to be the problem.
Some have concluded from this that the problem was the lack of the signal lights at the Mace-Cowell intersection. While that didn’t help things, it doesn’t explain problems from two weeks ago, when the signal lights were fully functional and yet the back ups were still occurring.
Based strictly on observation, it would seem that something has changed with the traffic patterns on I-80 or even the apps re-routing the traffic onto Mace. It would behoove the city to find out for sure – because this pattern has repeated in the past and if it went away before, only to return, it is bound to repeat in the future.
Some of the fixes that Chief Pytel suggested would seem to apply, regardless of the current conditions.
Chief Pytel told the Vanguard that the city has contacted Caltrans to figure out ways to deal with the on-ramps so that “more cars can be queued on the on-ramps, which will hopefully reduce the number of cars queued on Mace Blvd. and Chiles, which is really where the fundamental thing is creating the issues with the gridlock out there.
“There’s not much we can do about all the traffic apps re-routing traffic,” he said. “They’re basic algorithms and they’re public roads so we can’t really stop people from using them.
“We think the key is trying to reduce the cars queuing on Mace Blvd. and Chiles and hopefully that should alleviate some of the gridlock,” he said. “So at least all the local people can get to other streets and around the area.”
That seems to be a reasonable approach. Once again, I don’t favor going back to the way things were as some are demanding. However, both Chief Pytel and others with the city believe there is room along Mace to address the problems without going back to the way things were.
—David M. Greenwald reporting