In 2016, when the developers of Nishi put forward their project to the voters, there were two fatal flaws that led to a narrow defeat, despite the clear need for student housing at the time. One of those was concerns about traffic along Richards Blvd., with the other being the lack of affordable housing.
The applicants fixed those problems in 2018 – effectively taking both issues off the table – and the project passed easily by a 60-40 margin. The key was making Nishi university only, which removed the impact of traffic on the already-congested Richards Blvd.
A similar problem exists for the Aggie Research Campus (ARC). There is a recognized need in the community for economic development. People are concerned about the lack of revenue for the city, which has led to an ongoing shortfall of funds needed to maintain basic infrastructure.
But, at the same time, people are concerned about congestion at Mace Blvd. A recent meeting of the city council has attempted to alleviate congestion on the southern part of the route by increasing capacity while better regulating flow. But the consultants acknowledge while “some of the congestion can be mitigated with the solutions that we have, but all of it will not be mitigated.” The key is there will be “freeway congestion that causes queuing onto the corridor.”
Moreover, the solutions put forward by the city will only impact the southern portion of Mace – nothing they have done will impact traffic congestion on the northern portion, which is nearly as bad, as Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida pointed out with her comments.
Traffic concerns along Mace figure to pose problems when the ARC project goes before the city voters some time in 2020.
The number that symbolizes this problem is 4340 – that is the number of parking spots on the site. With that number it is easy to envision traffic pouring onto an already-congested corridor – making it worse.
It is helpful to break down where that number is coming from. You have 850 parking spaces associated with housing. Another 100 with the hotel. That leaves 3390 that are associated with the R&D portion of the project and will be distributed throughout the site.
That breakdown is likely important, because we would figure that 3390 would be incoming in the morning and outgoing in the afternoon, while the 850, if they do not work on site, would be the opposite. It is also important to remember that a portion of those 3390 are likely to be visitors to the site, not necessarily just employees of the site, and therefore a lot of the traffic will be coming and going throughout the day rather than necessarily clustered at the peak hours.
While some estimates have put buildout at as long as 50 years, the project description notes: “It is anticipated that ARC will build-out gradually over the course of approximately twenty to twenty-five years.”
This is important because, while people might be envisioning the full hit of the parking spaces to take place immediately, the reality is rather going to be incremental over a very long period of time. There are four distinct phases planned, with the first phase including 540,000 square feet of nonresidential buildings and up to 270 residential units.
The description notes: “The goal, if possible, is to time the availability of the homes to be concurrent with the creation of the jobs so that it maximizes the likelihood that employees at the Campus will occupy the units thereby maximizing the environmental benefits of including housing at ARC.”
We are probably looking at at least 10 years, perhaps a bit longer before phase one is complete.
The city is looking at doing a Supplemental EIR and a big part of that will be revised traffic counts on Mace Blvd. The previous EIR found that the mixed-use alternative would result in an increase of 14,880 vehicle trips per day.
The alternative then “would involve lower volumes of traffic and less of a delay than the proposed project.”
The problems on I-80 leading to the congestion are probably about ten years away from any long-term solution – and I think people can debate over whether the proposed plans with increased flow capacity are going to make much of a difference.
On the other hand, is the additional traffic coming from ARC going to change the fundamentals of the traffic problems on Mace? The previous study projected additional delays at some intersections, but if those delays are already there, are we going to notice an extra few minutes as we are standing in traffic?
Bottom line: I think we have to operate on the assumption that while Caltrans is going to do corridor improvements, there is no guarantee that their improvements will improve the flow on I-80 and no guarantee that they will improve traffic conditions on Mace on Thursdays and Fridays during peak hours.
Second, we can wait for the new traffic study in a month or so, but, for now, I think it is safe to conclude that adding traffic to Mace in similar numbers to what was projected from a few years ago will add delays.
Third, based on that, the community is going to have to weigh the costs and benefits to going forward with a project here.
This gets back to a fundamental question – will an innovation center create the revenue this community needs to be able to better maintain its infrastructure and provide city services in the future?
The trade off of that is likely to add to traffic frustrations, particularly during a few hour block in the afternoon and early evening on Thursdays and Fridays.
The bigger picture is that the community is concerned about the cost of housing and concerned about the sustainability of its budget – the trade off for addressing either of those issues is likely to make traffic concerns worse.
So I guess my question to the community would be: are you going to foreclose on new development in Davis that you think we need because it may make traffic problems worse?
What we have not discussed so far are mitigation measures. What would happen if the ARC agreed to fund a widening of Mace to provide a dedicated freeway access lane on the overpass? That may not help the traffic get on the freeway better but it could allow the local traffic to bypass the congestion – which I think is what local residents wanted with the southern part of Mace.
The developers are going to look at trains and shuttles to reduce traffic coming to the park itself.
But we also know from our experience in 2016 with Nishi that the voters do not necessarily buy into mitigation measures. After all, the developers of Nishi committed $10 million to create a bypass for Richards Tunnel that would take traffic directly onto Olive Drive and through Nishi onto campus, rather than having to go through the tunnel.
That could have alleviated congestion and I think is something we are missing to this day from the loss of Nishi-1.
But the voters did not buy into the mitigation measures and it took the applicants bypassing Richards altogether to win approval.
The dynamics of Nishi are not the same, of course. Bypassing Mace altogether is probably not feasible. But what happens if ARC reduces the parking spaces from a total of 4340 to half that?
We have seen from discussions of Olive Drive that some people are skeptical of parking reductions as a means to reduce traffic impacts – but how else do we reduce auto traffic other than by making it inconvenient and structurally discouraging it? I think reducing the number of parking spaces on the proposed site from 4340 to 2000 would not necessarily take away the issue, but it would reduce its impact.
—David M. Greenwald reporting