It was an impressive showing on Thursday night at the South Davis Fire Station – estimates were that well over 200 people attended. As one leader asked me – when was the last time I saw a meeting with this many people? I agree. The sentiment of the group was pretty clearly expressed in their vote – they don’t want the current design and either believe nothing will work or some will accept Alternative 1.
What they want they may get in part – the city seems inclined to put two vehicle travel lanes back for at least a stretch. However, it was pretty clear that the city believes that having “free right turn” lanes, like the ones at Richards and Pole Line by the Oakshade Shopping Center, are a safety risk for pedestrians and bicycles and they are moving away from it across the city. Full stop right turn lanes, parallel to the thru traffic, similar to full stop left turn lanes found in numerous places in the city are a possibility though.
As I have explained previously, I believe in part they may be trying to fix something that isn’t as broken as it first appeared. There was a perfect storm, with much of it outside our control that contributed to serious traffic delays – but only during a few key hours of the week. I prefer a more measured, data-driven approach to what was clearly the anger and frustration of those in attendance.
However, the impact on Yolo County farmers moving their farm equipment north and south on Mace from one field to another having to have one wheel in the vehicle lane and the other wheel in the bicycle lane, straddling the concrete curbing that protects the bicycle lane may have been a fatal flaw in the current design. While straddling that curbing, the working parts farm equipment would have had to be raised high enough to clear the top of the curbing, and there would always be a risk of that not happening. The way the farm equipment uses the road now is by straddling the lane lines with the travel wheels with the equipment width covering the full extent of both travel lanes.
The Enterprise this week has an editorial arguing: “The current controversy on Mace Boulevard is only the latest in a series of large-scale infrastructure projects to raise the ire of local residents or businesses. It would behoove city planners to take a step back and look at the big-picture reasons why this keeps happening.”
This is a critical point, but, as I will explain shortly, I think they have this wrong. What I believe we are seeing is a conflict between the needs of a particular segment of the population and a city that is recognizing that the world is changing rather quickly and there is a need to plan for the future rather than accommodate the past.
The Enterprise criticizes a lot of the road changes in Davis, from the paid parking plan to the road diet, writing: “The operative principle in all these projects seems to be that if only we make driving (or parking) inconvenient enough, then people will drive less, or slower, or somewhere else. Experience has shown otherwise.”
I think the Enterprise is completely wrong. The notion of paid parking was driven less by changes to driving habits than the need to align supply with demand, and push people to utilize the areas of downtown where there is more ample supply.
On the other hand, a road diet is not designed to reduce capacity so much as slow down traffic and improve multi-modal safety.
The Enterprise argues: “The drivers won’t disappear, but they will sit in traffic with engines idling, fossil fuels burning, tempers shortening …”
But they are wrong. Driving is disappearing. Or at the very least, fewer people are driving. The younger generation is driving less and less. And as we move to the future, the way we drive and transport ourselves figures to radically change.
The Enterprise clings to the past, arguing that “we can have it all: a project that keeps the existing traffic flow while still improving access for bicycles and pedestrians. That should be our goal every time.”
I don’t necessarily have a problem with that as a goal, but our concerns should be driven by data rather than instance frustration.
My problem with the Enterprise editorial is my problem with many segments of the community – resistance to a changing world. Climate change, car ownership, transportation are all rapidly changing. And yet, what we are arguing for is keeping our road infrastructure the same as it was designed in the 1950s – when, in fact, the world is changing.
But we are not changing with it. Davis, for a progressive community, seems unusually trapped into past practices rather than current best practices.
The downtown parking issue is a perfect example of it. There are people who want the city to build an expensive new parking supply – even as data shows we already have sufficient supply, we just have a disconnect between where the people want to park versus where the available parking is.
Moreover, one reason the DPAC (Downtown Plan Advisory Committee) is resistant to adding supply is that they not only recognize current availability and costs, but also recognize that we are paying for current driving habits – which all signs show are in the process of changing.
One of the problems I have with the entire conversation on Thursday was how limited the audience was. Look at the panoramic photo – you will notice that the audience was overwhelmingly over 60. In fact, in the photo I take, you see exactly one child in the photo – mine. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but it does limit the scope of the feedback.
Someone suggested that is the demographic reality of South Davis and El Macero. To some extent that might be true, but the fact is I live off Cowell myself, down in the southeast corner of town, and the neighborhood I live in is teeming with school-aged children and families – every morning Cowell is jam-packed with parents dropping their kids off.
One of the reasons why they pushed the redesign of Mace itself was to get more school-aged children out of their parents’ cars and onto their bikes, and many parents were afraid to send their kids across Mace.
The truth is NONE of those parents of the hundreds of kids at Pioneer were in attendance at the meeting.
It is like often is the case – the people who were angry about the design came out and came out in large and impressive numbers that should not be ignored. But at the same time, we should not necessarily assume those are the only views in this community.
The city council wants to be responsive to the community – and they should. But the community is not simply the people who showed up on Thursday night. They are the people who live in South Davis but had to take their kids to soccer games, or who didn’t skip Open House as we did to attend community meetings.
Finally, as I have pointed out before, the winter season when there is ample rain here and thus snow in the mountains seems to attract extreme numbers of commuters on I-80 which have, because of the use of apps, caused backups in town.
But if we are going to spend money and make changes beyond the obvious need for altering the problematic turns and the intersection at San Marino – which are clear safety issues – it should be based on data that clearly drives our understanding of not only the current driving dynamics but also future ones. And it should be based on the views of everyone in the community, not just the people who had time on Thursday night to come out and make their voices heard loud and clear.
—David M. Greenwald reporting