Sunday Commentary: Mace Mess Not So Messy Right Now

When the issue of fixing the Mace Boulevard redesign finally went before the city council, they went with a compromise – attempting to keep the bicycle-friendly design of Mace while restoring two vehicle travel lanes in a critical northbound stretch south of Cowell and north of Montgomery.

The hope was that they could improve the travel time for those traveling locally in Davis, while avoiding getting caught up in the back up that was occurring off I-80.

While the plan put forward by council makes sense, we continue to believe that the primary problems with the road are not with the redesign and rather with changed circumstances on I-80 leading to back up, and also vehicles that are using directional apps to circumvent some of that freeway congestion and using Mace as a cut through on their way back to the freeway.

Indeed, in recent weeks this view seems more and more accurate.

The last several times I drove through the once-problematic intersection of Mace and Cowell during prime hours on Thursday and Friday afternoons there has been a whole bunch of nothing in terms of traffic congestion.

On Thursday around 4:30, it was free and clear, not just on Cowell headed eastbound – which at times has been a bear, but also on Mace with only a small amount of traffic waiting to get onto the freeway and no back up at the Mace-Cowell intersection.

On Friday just after 5 pm, Cowell was clear, but there was a back up of traffic on Mace headed northbound – not horrible, but probably something that would be helped once they expand the lanes back to four south of the intersection.

The explanation for this? Well, talking to Darren Pytel on Thursday, he didn’t know.

He said, “I just left a Mace meeting and we were trying to figure out why that is.”

He added, “One theory from the consultant that makes most sense is much of Bay Area construction is on hold because of weather. That reduces a lot of commuter freeway traffic along entire corridor. Bad news is it will pick up again soon.”

One more thought, “Also repeated weekend storms have cut down on skiing so far.”

That is not encouraging, but a few things are.

Right now during peak hours, the city estimates that there are about 200 vehicles per hour – that might be a low number – which are using Waze or other apps to cut through using Tremont to Mace as their route back to the freeway.

When traffic is down on the freeway, we see the benefit on both ends.  There is less back up trying to enter the freeway and less cut-through traffic diverting onto Mace in the first place.

We have already seen in recent weeks how those two reductions interact to reduce the problems on the entire corridor.

In the short-term, the goal will be to redesign Mace by adding capacity – but perhaps more importantly give those who live on or around Mace the ability to bypass the congestion and head into town rather than toward the freeway.

Thus, once the city implements the tweaks to Mace, that could free up traffic most of the time and make the road usable even during peak hours for local traffic.

Second, by utilizing signaling, we can hopefully spread out the traffic enough to avoid the local congestion. We might not be able to do anything about the freeway on-ramp, but if it doesn’t clog traffic locally more people will be able to live with it.

Adrian Engel of Fehr & Peers explains.  One way to improve flow is new traffic signals along the corridor that can “help meter some of the traffic that’s coming from the south and create gaps in that traffic,” and “it can help control the flow so you can monitor the flow in a progression through some of the intersections.”

He suggested that a series of signals would help control the flow, just as what exists along other corridors off the freeway but is lacking at Mace.

“Additional signals can help that without having to add capacity,” he said.

All of this does show that the problem is more about the freeway than the road redesign. The redesign would have been fine had we maintained the level of traffic from 2013. It was the increase in traffic from the freeway as well as diverted traffic from Waze that was the real source of congestion.

One of the dangers that exists is if they can speed traffic up on the Mace corridor it could actually invite the apps to divert more traffic onto Mace, thus increasing the problem.

As Adrian Engel pointed out in October, they have found that at least 200 cars per hour are getting off the freeway in Dixon and taking Tremont Rd. east to Mace, then going north on Mace in order to get onto the freeway – that is taking about 13 minutes in their model.

He said, “What we’re seeing it’s about a 10 minute difference.” So by getting off at Dixon and instead of traveling east on 80, the vehicles are saving about 10 minutes of time.

He pointed out, “Anything that we do along this corridor to make it faster to get up Mace from south of Montgomery all the way up to the freeway will potentially draw more traffic off of 80 onto Mace.”

The solutions they want are to get help the local community get through Mace better, “but dissuade some of the regional cut through traffic that’s using Mace as a bypass for 80.”

In the meantime, the alleviation of congestion on Mace, along with proposed changes that will come later this year, should hopefully lower the temperature on this issue.

I’m hoping people start to notice this for a lot of reasons – but a main thing is we should call this the I-80 mess, not the Mace mess.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Ron Oertel

    Wondering if the impact of ARC is being figured into all of this, and when the associated traffic studies are scheduled.  If they’re scheduled during a “down time”, the results won’t reflect the most-impacted times

    I recall that the “fastest” bypass for those traveling eastbound on I-80 was actually on the north side – the same side as ARC.  (Up Highway 113, to Road 29, then past the landfill, exiting at either Mace or near the freeway access point right before the causeway.)  Either going right past the ARC site, or sharing the other shared freeway access point, right before the causeway.

    I’m wondering if apps are redirecting traffic that way now, and if not – why not.

    As that route becomes impacted (via the possibility of ARC and increased traffic in general), then apps could redirect traffic back toward the south side of I-80 (through the Mace Mess). Either way, all of this traffic shares at least one freeway access point, right before the causeway.


      1. Ron Oertel

        I just showed you (in my comment, above) how it would impact the area South of I-80.  But again, a traffic study would show the impact better than you or I can.

        Are they actually basing decisions regarding the “Mace Mess” without considering the possible impact of ARC? Based upon what’s written on a political blog?

        Also, do you know when the ARC traffic studies are scheduled?  (If it’s during a “down time” – as described in the article, it won’t reflect the most-impacted times.)

        1. David Greenwald

          Right now the Mace road has been approved for a re-design. Any impact from ARC will come out of a future traffic study and mitigation put forward by the applicants.

  2. Ron Oertel

    David:  “Any impact from ARC will come out of a future traffic study and mitigation put forward by the applicants.”

    Thanks.  Do you know when the study is scheduled, and/or any details regarding what it would encompass (e.g., timeframes, scope of study, etc)?  (Third time I’ve asked.)  If you don’t know, would you mind indicating that?


      1. Bill Marshall

        Not everyone… just the “frequent fliers” (who are part of the problem, big time).. I pick time, place, manner… live close to Mace, but I choose when to ‘transit’ on it… same for Richards, same for Fifth, same for Covell, etc.

        No worries… here.

        1. David Greenwald

          When I say “everyone” – I was referring to those involved in the traffic study and planning process. Ron should keep in mind that the people conducting the traffic study for ARC are Fehr & Peers, the same consultants who just finished presenting from their study on Mace. I don’t think he has to worry about them not knowing the extent of the traffic problems.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Just wondering – who did the original traffic study regarding the “Mace Mess” – before any work was done (using funds distributed through SACOG, and from the city itself)?

          Or, were they just “winging it” without any study whatsoever?

        3. Bill Marshall

          Fair enough… but remember, I was involved in traffic studies (doing or reviewing, professionally) for 35 years.  I was involved in the ‘planning process’ ~ same window…

          Check your e-mails… possibly act… your call.

          Did Ron participate on this thread?  Looks like he might have, but cannot “see” it… you allude to it…

  3. Ron Oertel

    And then there’s the impact on I-80 itself, resulting from commuters to/from the ARC site.  Which would coincide with the Mace Mess backup.

    All trying to enter the already-impacted freeway – within the same area, and at the same (worst possible) time (e.g., Thursday/Friday afternoons). The conditions on I-80 itself are what’s causing people to bypass the freeway in the first place.

    I would imagine that it’s hard to keep a straight face, when claiming that ARC won’t further impact the Mace Mess.

    1. Bill Marshall

      the Mace Mess.

      A ‘construct’, and an ‘opinion’…

      Time, place, manner… those in Davis, and without (I-80 travellers) have choices.  Time, place, manner… simple.

      I see no “Mace Mess” although I transit that corridor… but I choose when

      Please own up to the apparent conclusion that you care not about Mace Blvd traffic, but just opposing ARC (or, I wonder, any development?).  That would be an honest approach…

      How often do you transit the Mace corridor, I wonder?

      1. Ron Oertel

        I thought you couldn’t see my comments?

        I’m not the one who came up with the name.  But, regardless of how others might try, it’s a name that sticks.

        Not everyone has the same luxury that you have, regarding times of travel. Especially those who are still working. Why would you even use yourself as an “example”, regarding that? Also, why would my (or anyone’s) personal travels be relevant, when examining the overall impact?

        By the way, ARC would also impact those returning commuting to/from Sacramento, in that some ARC residents would (no doubt) work in Sacramento.  This will impact current Davis residents who commute to Sacramento, as well.  The freeway is impacted on the “way back” from Sacramento, as well.

        Regarding opposition to ARC, please explain why traffic concerns are not one of the reasons to oppose it.  And why (in your mind) it would be connected to questions of “honesty” regarding a reason to oppose it.

        1. David Greenwald

          “ I’m not the one who came up with the name.  But, regardless of how others might try, it’s a name that sticks.”

          But it’s not very accurate because the problem isnt the road – it is I 80 and navigational apps that are causing the problem

        2. Ron Oertel

          A difference (between our comments) without a distinction. However, I suspect that at least some of the problem is due to the road redesign. Did we ever figure out if the original changes (e.g., lane reductions) were studied BEFORE making them? And if so, who conducted those studies?

        3. David Greenwald

          Disagree strongly on that. Part of the point of today’s column was to illustrate that absent the heightened traffic, the design was never the problem.  The problem was always the change of condition

        4. Ron Oertel

          Well, apparently the city (along with a couple hundred people, at least) disagrees with you, as they’ve already agreed to change it (partially) back to the way it was. How is that process proceeding, by the way?

          And again, did we ever figure out if the initial changes were studied in the first place, before proceeding?

        5. David Greenwald

          The city doesn’t disagree with me.  The problem that they didn’t account for was navigational apps adding 200 vehicles (or really more) per hour during peak hours to a roadway where the bulk of the traffic empties onto a stand-stilled freeway.  Thats the change of condition.  Their hope is that by opening the second lane, they can get local traffic to be able to flow past the bottleneck.  We’ll see if they can succeed.

        6. Ron Oertel

          The city doesn’t disagree with me.  

          Their actions suggest otherwise, as noted in your own comments (in your final paragraph) below.

          The problem that they didn’t account for was navigational apps adding 200 vehicles (or really more) per hour during peak hours to a roadway where the bulk of the traffic empties onto a stand-stilled freeway.  Thats the change of condition.  

          This is going to be a problem regarding almost all traffic studies, going forward.

          Their hope is that by opening the second lane, they can get local traffic to be able to flow past the bottleneck.  We’ll see if they can succeed.

          Why would they agree to do this, if they “agreed” with you?

        7. David Greenwald

          They have yet to add travel lanes back onto Mace.  Again one of the points of the article – the configuration works perfectly fine when we don’t have the added traffic.

        8. Ron Oertel

          Yes – roads work quite well, when there’s little traffic on them.  😉

          Are you suggesting that (at this point), the city would even consider not making the additional changes that they’ve proposed?  The term “tar and feathers” comes to mind (at least figuratively), given the amount of anger expressed at some of the meetings.

          Not that this should be a reason for decisions, regardless.

          So far, the city’s decision-making process regarding the entire issue has not been exactly “stellar” – starting with the original changes.

          But again, the “traffic elephant” regarding that entire area is ARC. (And, we could have another entire discussion regarding that “process”, as well.)

        9. David Greenwald

          You mean the roads work quite well under the conditions under which they were designed and approved.  And that’s the key point here.  At this point, while I think the concerns were overblown, I think the compromise was reasonable.

        10. Ron Oertel

          I said no such thing, nor am I referring to how the road was originally designed (XX number of years ago).

          How is the “compromise” functionally-different from what existed prior to the recent changes? And, why might you think it’s “better” than what existed before the changes, or now? (Other than the bike lanes, which will be retained.)

          And if you think the “compromise” is better than what existed (or is proposed), was there any particular purpose in writing the article?

        11. Ron Oertel

          (I meant to ask, why are the proposed changes better than the “recent changes”?)

          So, we have 3 iterations of the road configuration:

          1)  What existed prior to the changes.

          2)  What exists (now).

          3)  What will exist in the future – the one that you state is a “reasonable compromise”, without specifying the reason.  In fact, your arguments seem to suggest that this proposed change isn’t needed, and won’t help.

        12. Ron Oertel

          And perhaps the most important question of all:

          If iteration #3 is the “best one”, what process (or lack thereof) caused it to be disregarded in the first place? And, how can that error be avoided in the future?

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