The message that was delivered on Thursday was in line with what we have been arguing here on the Vanguard for some time – the problem along Mace Boulevard is not likely to be fixed locally.
As the Enterprise put it: “[E]ven if the city restores the Mace Boulevard corridor to its original configuration as many local residents want, they may not see complete relief from the traffic congestion that has caused so much grief over the last year.”
We have pointed out structural flaws with I-80 that contribute to this problem – the merging from six lanes at UC Davis down to three and the traffic flowing from Mace and Road 32 onto I-80 before the Causeway contributing to that back up.
The problem that the city faces is that, as the amount of time it takes to travel from I-80 to Tremont to Mace decreases, the more traffic will be diverted off I-80 to flow through the town.
The city discussion also focused on the bigger picture in terms of CalTrans possible fixes to I-80, including creating a fourth lane on the Causeway which would improve capacity but also decrease the impact of the UC Davis bottleneck.
But missing from the discussion is the big picture of what is happening to create this problem in the first place – after all, it is not as though the road has changed. What has changed is jobs and population growth.
In an article in the Guardian that we cited last summer, it notes, “The Greater Bay Area Council estimates that up to 100,000 people commute from the Sacramento area to the Bay Area to work each day. The Greater Sacramento Economic Council estimates that number to be closer to 86,000.”
What has happened is that Bay Area people are fleeing the high cost of housing in the Bay Area and have found Sacramento an alluring target. But where the people have gone, the jobs have not followed.
But although Sacramento has been “developing to meet its growing population, it’s unclear if there are enough jobs and industries growing with it to sustain the population boom.”
The same problem occurs in microcosm in Davis as well.
The numbers are getting a bit dated, but they paint an important picture. From the BAE report, in 2014 there were over 28,000 employed in the Davis area. Of that, nearly three-quarters (21,016) lived outside the area while only 7,449 lived within in the area. That means 21,000 people are commuting from outside of the area into Davis each day.
Meanwhile, among those who live in the area, about 24,000, over two-thirds of them work outside of the area – about 16,655.
That means on any given day we have 21,000 people commuting into Davis to work while 16,655 commute outside of the area.
That was data from five years ago which means, if anything, things are probably worse now.
As we see from the commuter numbers, Davis is hardly alone on this scale. In fact, at the two presentations we have seen from Greater Sacramento, Davis may actually be in better shape here than most communities.
From my perspective, this is suggestive of a several things.
First is that we do not have a good jobs-housing balancing. You can argue that we have jobs. We probably need more diversity of jobs, but we do have them. And we have limitations on housing growth. But what we do not have is a good match between the type of housing we have and the type of jobs needed to support that housing.
What we see is that most of the people in town, who work, leave town to do so because they cannot find jobs in town to support the cost of living.
What we see is that we have jobs at the university and in town, but those jobs do not allow most of the people who work here to live here.
What we need then is to find a way to match our jobs to housing to support those jobs, and bring in jobs to support that housing.
In general we have understood the need for more housing near jobs as a way to reduce commute time and distance for the purpose of reducing GHG emissions. What we are starting to see is that, while that remains a vital consideration, our very quality of life is starting to depend on finding ways to get people off the highways – because the impact on highways is choking off our residential streets.
Finally, what we are seeing is that the root of the traffic congestion on Mace is not simply a matter of poor planning on a road redesign by our local community, but rather the housing crisis itself that has uprooted hundreds of thousands of people and created a backlog on our roadways in the process.
—David M. Greenwald reporting