One of the big questions is going to be for the next election cycle – just how big a driver is traffic concerns. If we look at the survey results, the percentage of those polled who saw traffic as the most important project was 5 – the same as saw road quality. That ranked sixth on the list. Well behind housing.
Of course just because only one in twenty sees traffic as the most important project, doesn’t mean that a more encompassing question that asked people to rank the top 3 or 5 concerns wouldn’t list traffic.
The issue of Mace Blvd has consistently drawn large and angry crowds. That should be taken into account. Of course, a good percentage of those residents are not city residents, but rather from El Macero. There is another group of folks who are supportive of the road changes.
The more I have viewed the issues here, the less I think they have to do with changes to Mace Blvd. I have noted previously that at other times, the roadways have become impacted as traffic from I-80 causes back ups of those attempting to access the freeway.
I have noted an increase of traffic on Southbound Mace attempting to access I-80 from the north – that is not impacted at all by changes to Mace. Also, it seems that traffic along the frontage to the south of I-80 near the levy has also been increasingly impacted. This is also not impacted at all by changes to Mace.
My observation on Thursday around 5:30 noted that there was no traffic in the two-lane, it was all in the right lane, it extended from I-80 through the on-ramp, past the Mace-Chiles intersection and basically ended at Mace-Cowell with minimal levels of traffic backing up past that.
There are times clearly when the freeway back up goes even further and does back up past Cowell, but clearly, the problem here is less the new roadway configuration and more the traffic routed down Mace combined with freeway back ups.
I would prefer to see the city focus on dealing with queuing issues and helping the traffic flow better locally than a full redesign of the roadway.
In the longer run, I think there are probably three takeaways with specific regard to traffic. First, as traffic congests along Mace, the apps that are redirecting traffic that way should adjust. Second, we just may have to accept that there is going to be more traffic impacts in Davis than there used to be. That is just going to be a fact of life living not only a town that traverses I-80 but also contributes hugely to the congestion with bi-directional commutes in the morning and evening.
Third, the longer-term fixes are going to be a widening of I-80. Someone commented that in the long-run lane expansions are counter-productive. Perhaps. But they are missing a key point. The cause of back ups is not necessarily just traffic volume, but also bottlenecks.
The traffic backs up in Davis not just because the volume is high, but also on the west side because the lanes go from six lanes to three. And on the east side, because a volume of traffic enters at the levy which causes a back up there.
When I first moved to Davis, I used to travel up highway 101 to 680. There was a huge problem at San Jose because inexplicably, the lanes dropped down to two, before going back to four. That causes a huge and long bottleneck. When they expanded the full highway to four, it alleviated the bottleneck even though the traffic volume has only increased since.
To a certain extent, the traffic issues in Davis are out of our hands. However, I do believe that with better housing to jobs balance, some of the local traffic congestion could be eliminated or at least reduced.
We noted this with respect to Nishi in 2018. One of the contributors to traffic at Richards is the volume of people coming from I-80 in Sacramento and points beyond and driving through the corridor, exiting Richards and using Richards to access the university.
By building Nishi, for example, the students commuting from outside of the city, will now be able to live next to the university and walk and bike ride.
Likewise, a huge volume of those who work at UC Davis live outside of town and drive to work each day. Producing housing for those workers would alleviate some of the traffic congestion.
In addition, the models we have presented over the years, show a large volume of people living in Davis but commuting outside of town. Why is that? For one thing, the big economic drivers in Davis are government-related jobs – UC Davis, city, school district. But if you for instance work at UC Davis, unless you are tenured faculty or upper administration, you don’t live in Davis because you can’t afford it.
By the same token, if you live in Davis and want to be able to afford to live here, if you are not a college professor or upper brass at the university, school district or city, you can’t afford it. So many residents of Davis work in Sacramento or the Bay Area and commute.
Creating more jobs could allow fewer people to have to take to the roads.
It is true, Davis has jobs, especially at the university, but there is a sizable mismatch between the jobs we have and the ability for people with those jobs to live here. That is why increasingly we have to look at projects holistically.
It is why the first project at URP is not the expansion of their commercial capacity but rather a place for the existing employees to live. It is why we are looking at housing with commercial expansion in the downtown. And it is why ARC will have a housing component. The hope is by better addressing jobs-housing imbalance, we can better address traffic impacts.
—David M. Greenwald reporting