Segments of the public are clearly unhappy with traffic congestion. Personally, I’m not a big fan of it either. However, it seems important to put such concerns into perspective.
The voters along with the city council did approve a number of housing projects over the last few years: Sterling, Lincoln40, Trackside, Davis Live Housing, Nishi, West Davis Active Adult Community and the Chiles Road Apartments.
None of those have been built. Therefore none of them are impacting traffic. In fact, the only major housing project that has been built and opened over the last two decades is the Cannery. Is that to blame for the traffic? Maybe indirectly as there has been construction on F and Covell and also L Street.
But I would argue that we ought to let the major road projects complete before we start looking at culprits for traffic congestion.
Just as I think Bob Dunning was wrong to point his finger at the Fifth Street road redesign for traffic impacts on Eighth Street which likely had more to do with road construction, I would caution folks to wait before looking at putting the blame for current road problems on population growth.
Nevertheless, there it is. Read the letter in the local paper complaining about sprawl, where the author argues: “If you take the time to look around, you will see that Davis is rapidly confronted by urban sprawl. Development continues at breakneck speed all over the city.”
Urban sprawl? You could have argued that in the 1990s perhaps. But in 2019? It seems like a weird comment.
In general, sprawl refers to peripheral development. If you look at Davis, you might be able to argue that the Cannery represented peripheral development. It took what had been an industrial site of the tomato cannery (Hunt-Wesson) and converted it into residential housing (with a little mixed-use up front).
While I was opposed to the development, I find it hard to justify calling that sprawl. Moreover, and more importantly, with the exception of the Cannery, there has not been a single peripheral subdivision built in Davis since Wildhorse – which was 20 years ago.
The voters did approve Nishi last spring and WDAAC last fall, but neither have been built. Moreover, neither are projected to have a huge impact on traffic – especially Nishi, which is nestled against the university and expected to be inhabited by students who will largely be able to bike and walk to campus, taking existing students off the roads and putting them near their destination.
Given that, it does not seem like sprawl is a viable explanation for the current concerns with road congestion.
And make no mistake, road congestion, as we see from the next paragraph, is the driver of this letter.
Observe: “How many additional cars access our roads with each new development? How does sprawl impact quality of life issues? You may say: get out of the car and ride your bike? When you drive our roads here in town, that is not the reality. We are 12-25 cars deep at lights in the mornings and afternoons. And more lights are on the way. More developments are on their way.”
There is a lot to unpack here.
The first point is that, when he asks how many additional cars access our roads with each new development, not only is that a complicated question but it also seems premature – because, as I pointed out already, the new developments have not been built.
But I think we have to go further. Not building more housing can also lead to traffic congestion. As we know, the university is growing in size, and putting more student housing near campus is likely to reduce not increase traffic.
Furthermore, as we have pointed out a number of times, there is a housing-jobs imbalance and a lot of people who work at the university and in town commute from outside of town, which creates more traffic impacts.
Third, as we pointed out already, the traffic we are seeing is more likely caused by disruptions to normal traffic routes than an increase in cars.
The increase in cars, however, is less likely to be locally based and more likely to be based on increased congestion along I-80.
He seems to dismiss bicycling as an alternative – but why?
As we noted in our article last week featuring Maria Tebbutt, bicycling is an alternative to driving, but it is also worth noting the pushback against the complete streets on places like 5th Street and now Mace.
It is true that more developments are underway. Sterling is being built, Lincoln40 cleared its legal hurdle, we will see Davis Live Housing be built shortly, then Chiles Road Apartments and eventually Nishi.
However, I would argue that the student housing in particular will likely reduce traffic impacts. Students are coming right now – having more of them living locally and not commuting means more students riding their bikes and taking the bus, which could reduce automobile traffic.
He concludes: “More developments are on the drawing board. It is time to contemplate the future of further development and their impact on Davis. Where are we headed in the next 3-5 years regarding these questions? I have been here for 20 years and the development frenzy and its accompanying blight is unsustainable. What do you think?”
One conversation I have had repeatedly since the Mace Blvd. situation became a major issue is whether what we are seeing is a blip on the radar due to the coalescence of a number of factors – road construction, traffic congestion on I-80, the increased use of apps redirecting traffic off of highways to circumvent sprawl, etc. – or whether we are seeing the new normal in town.
Davis drivers have lived for a long time with relatively low levels of traffic congestion. It may be that we just can’t avoid that anymore.
At this point, given how quickly the problem has risen and how much it has coincided with road construction, I’m inclined to believe that this is a temporary problem that will be alleviated once the roads are at normal capacity and flowing freely again. We’ll see.
—David M. Greenwald reporting