Commentary: It’s Not the Commission – It’s Our Investment

Davis City Hall with an old style bicycle statue out front

Bob Dunning is offended.  He noted in a recent column that he was in Portland and greatly disturbed by a sign he saw – “Portland: Bicycle Capital of the Nation.”

He then notes the headline from a few days ago in his paper: “Resignations, suspension leave bicycling commission without a quorum.”

He writes: “How could this be in the city of Davis, the true Bicycle Capital of the Nation?”

Anne Ternus-Bellamy noted in the opening paragraph of her Enterprise story, “The bicycling capital of the nation has a problem: The commission that oversees bicycling and transportation safety in the city of Davis doesn’t have enough members to hold a meeting.”

But here’s the thing about the column that is clearly tongue-n-cheek.  There was no such attention two weeks ago when the staff for the city delivered what should have been a very sobering assessment of our bike infrastructure.

We have focused heavily on roads for very good reason – but the bike paths in this town are actually in worse shape.

We have 51.7 miles of bike path in our city as part of the glorious infrastructure programs from decades ago that formed the backbone of our city.  But like roads, that infrastructure is in deep decline.

Right now our streets rate a 57 – which in grade school would be a failure, but we grade roads on a curve, so it’s only fair.  But the bike paths are worse.  They are at 52.  If you get below 50, on the PCI, it would be considered poor.

Drilling down – 46.3 percent of our bike paths are poor and another 14.9 percent have failed – a PCI of less than 25.

Compare that with our roads which has a 57 PCI overall and 65% of them are either Good or Fair with just 29.3 percent poor and 5.5 percent failed.

Staff presented several cost estimates at the meeting two weeks ago for the bike paths.

The existing budget will allocate about $7.6 million over the next 10 years which will result in the bike paths declining from a 52 PCI to a 38 PCI.

Unrealistic as well is the “fix everything” scenario that would cost $60 million over the next 10 years but take our bike paths up to a 90 PCI.

In order to just maintain the current PCI, we have to triple the budget to $22.2 million over the next ten years.  Just to maintain the current PCI for roads and bike paths will cost just under $100 million over that time, just about $10 million a year.

But that only keeps our roads and bike paths in the current state which is not great.

The city’s target PCI for roads is 68 for arterials, 65 for collectors and 60 for residential roads along with 68 for bike paths.

The cost of that is $79 million for streets and $38.7 million for bike paths.  That’s almost $11 million a year – and even that only gets us to a 63 PCI for roads overall which is below state average.

Bottom line here – it is easy to see the commission unable to hold meetings as a symbolic problem, but the city is losing its bicycling status in large part because we have failed to maintain our great bike infrastructure.

—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 Glick

    Somehow no growth in Davis wasn’t analogous, in the minds of the don’t pave the alleys scene, with decline. Well, now they have what they always wanted, to preserve the Davis of an earlier time when it had fewer roads.

    1. John Hobbs

      “Well, now they have what they always wanted, to preserve the Davis of an earlier time when it had fewer roads.”

      You didn’t need a crystal ball to see that coming. I predicted some years ago that Davisvile will be a tumbleweed patch next to I80 by 2040 if the no growth crowd prevails.

    2. Alan Miller

      in the minds of the don’t pave the alleys scene

      there’s no connection.  Not paving the alleys was a good thing — and those dirt alleys are easier to bike on than some of the failing pavement roads with ever-widening striated cracks.

  2. Bill Marshall

    We should worry about losing “status”?  Why?

    Sounds narcissistic…

    Maybe better that we just strive to serve those in the community?

    Remember the fate of Narcissus…

    Goes to City, and DJUSD behaviors… responsibly serving should be more important than ‘status‘…



    1. David Greenwald

      Maybe the question should be – is our bike identity important to you? Is it important to the community? Are your values aligned with that of the rest of the community?

        1. Bill Marshall

          Don… actually gets to my point…

          Do we need to serve the community by having highly functional streets and bike/ped paths (and streets ARE bike/ped routes), other services, or do we have to be “best”, #1, numero uno?  I do not share the “values” of being #1.  I pity and discount those who do.

          I am of the opinion we should serve our community… not trying “to beat the Jones'”…

          Still sniffs of narcissism… reminds me of some quips from last night’s SOTU speech…


      1. Bill Marshall

        Are your values aligned with that of the rest of the community?

        And if not?  Deportation?

        Actually I believe I speak for most of the community… and then some… I have never met anyone in Davis who has one of the form fingers, saying “we’re #1”.

        Yes, I came to UCD when my HS guidance counselor suggested Berkeley, Stanford or Cal Poly SLO… asked about UCD, he said, “a bunch of bike riding liberals”… easy decision.

        But what I’m not getting is the “being #1” thingy… are you saying that being #1 is a ‘value’ held by even 30% of the community?  If true, very sad.  Actually, pathetic…

      1. Bill Marshall

        setting an example for other communities

        Ah, you’re into myths… or being a ‘legend in our own minds’… OK. Your opinion, and I’ll respect that, but not agree..

        I’d be content with being an example to our own community.

        Maybe we should be deported for not following the “party line”.


  3. Josh Pollich

    It’s not just that the biking infrastructure is aging. It’s also that it wasn’t really that good to begin with and now is badly outdated. To my eye it’s clear that Davis envisioned biking as a ‘cute’ affectation for weekend leisure activities, and not as a practical means of travel from point A to point B. It is in many ways a typical 60s CA town designed for the automobile.

    For example: the city has relatively few separated bike paths (in Dutch fietspaden) dedicated to the use of bikes (i.e. no automobiles or pedestrian traffic). More commonly there are mixed-use cycling/pedestrian paths laid out in the greenways in inefficient, curving paths.

    Davis’ bike infrastructure is just OK for the US. I’d argue that in northern California even Oakland and Palo Alto have better biking infrastructure. But from an international perspective it is really pretty meagre and clearly hasn’t been rethought in 40 years (like most things in Davis).

    1. Dave Hart

      Well said, Josh.  Also, construction standards seem to have been minimal from the get-go which is why there are so many tree root bumps, the bane of cyclists.  I’d go further and note that the city has actually made the path and street bike lane surfaces worse by inept patching techniques that build little mini-speed bumps.  The “maintenance” that is taking place (except for some recent ridge grinding here and there) has done as much harm as good.

  4. Bill Marshall

    There are those on the commission, who have advocated a maximum speed limit of 20 mph (or less)[All streets, including arterials]… that doesn’t work with GHG emissions being minimized… or traffic congestion… or reality…

    “Complete Streets”… providing reasonably safe (nothing in life is COMPLETELY safe), efficient, useful, travel for:  trucks, motor vehicles, bicycles, peds, blind/sight impaired, those using wheelchairs, etc., should be the goal… and have worked for that, professionally.

    The old Safety Advisory Commission actually worked towards that, long before ‘complete streets’ was in the lexicon.

    Not so convinced about the current commission… they seem more… how can I word it?  Focused on concepts/ideologies, rather than results?

    1. Bill Marshall

      Cut off with 1:20 on the ‘shot clock’ [sidebar, either lose the edit feature, or fix it, to where it is accurate/useful]…

      Originally there was the SAC… then a Bicycle Commission… ‘Parking’ was added to SAC (became SPAC)… then Bicycle Commission was melded with SPAC… a goulash.

      1. Alan Miller

        WM, in your opinion, too many committees melded into one?  Ignoring the current drama of BTTSC, is one of the reasons it is so dysfunctional is that it is charged with more than it can process, being the combo of multiple commissions?  IYHO

        1. Bill Marshall


          Unclear… on one hand “too many cooks…”

          On the other hand, MV, (inc. parking), bicycles (inc. parking), peds,  safety, etc. are inherently inter-related… so, bottom line, I support the concept of ‘one’ advisory body… as long as there is a balance of representation, and rules that preclude any commissioner from pushing any one ‘agenda’ [their opinions](see other thread).   That was actually true of the old SAC… balanced, across all modes, and focused on results.

          There is, in my mind at least, a difference between personal opinion, and rational judgement in favor of the community at large.


  5. Alan Miller

    The City needs to GET REAL and stop taking pride in its bike paths, and organizations need to stop giving Davis awards.  The bike system is an embarrassment on two levels — it is outdated and insufficient; and it is breaking down.

    I bike frequently in San Francisco and the East Bay, and they are way ahead of us.  Palo Alto, not so much — it still has many of the same mistakes that were there when they installed the original system in the 70’s — like guiding bikes onto sidewalks as they approach major intersections.  Berkeley has a great system, but it has the same problem that Davis has — it’s pavement is breaking down so severely on some bike corridors that some roads are nearly impossible to bike on.  Sacramento put in some decent bike lanes in their downtown a few years ago — but on problem blocks instead of planning them they just send the bikes into the street — and some of their protected bike lanes on one-way streets are deadly because they are on the right side of the street so right turning cars can’t see bikes at all — 10th Street is such — and other lanes just end in critical areas, leaving a bike to fend for themselves in three lanes of traffic.  Oakland actually has a very impressive bike system in my opinion – someone seems to have thought out connectivity.

    There are some good features in Davis — but the new Covell-Cannery overpass is an embarrassment of bad planning, the Dutch Oven on Covell is pretty useless, cement art on Mace an over-indulgent expensive mess, striated road cracks that can catch a bike tire, bumpy root-filled bike paths on 5th and Russell, lanes that direct bikes to slide right alongside parked cars so bikes can be easily doored, most signal-light bike detectors failed years ago, still no plan to direct bike through or around the Rust property on the east end of the freeway tunnel, a downtown that doesn’t do much for bikes at all, and a town that fought 5th street for a decade before we got even basic bikes lanes rather than an insane war-zone of a corridor.

    Let’s stop the bike pride.  It’s undeserved.  The only pride was in being a pioneer bike city, not in keeping up.  Look to Oakland.

    But looking will do nothing, as apparently it’s just going to continue to go to sh*t slowly, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

    1. Josh Pollich

      Great points. I am particularly irritated time and time again by how it is impossible to turn left from southbound B onto eastbound 5th from the left turn lane. The sensor doesn’t work on a bike and you will never get a green left turn arrow.


      I am not so big a fan of ‘Complete Streets.’ That term seems to mean recreating streets as a kind of compromise between cars and bikes, with reduced car lanes and painted bike lanes on the pre-existing streets. I’d rather have complete separation between cars and bikes (again Dutch fietspaden).

      1. Alan Miller

        the term can mean different things . . . but ideally it means it serves all forms of transportation.  What you describe . . . paint . . . is the lowest form of complete.

        1. Bill Marshall

          What you describe . . . paint . . . is the lowest form of complete.

          Right arm!

          Paint is to safety as a dutch treat is to a treat… paint/thermoplastic stripes serve to help channelize traffic, but anyone thinking /behaving they are a ‘safety measure’ (like they will stop a collision between disproportionately weighted objects… not) could well put them in competition for a ‘Darwin Award’.

          Education, as to proper behavior of all users of all modes, is more important.

          ‘Paint’ can lead a bicyclist to stay in a bike line, while preparing to make a left turn at an intersection… reverse j-hook.  The right thing is to look, signal, then ‘take the lane’.

          The new trend to “double-striping” bike lanes is silly (and expensive)… paint does not prevent a car door from opening, and maybe a ‘false sense of security’ for a bicyclist… where they pay less attention… a lack of ‘situational awareness’.

          Yet the commission under discussion appears to like “bells and whistles” (discussion of improvements to the Ponteverde/Tulip intersection… [it’s for the bikes, it’s for the kids])… but, as I spoke to the commission in Sept., too many measures, not supported by crash data, mode counts, can actually lead to more collisions/crashes due to the ‘false sense of security’ thing, on one hand and the TMI/distraction on the other.

          One commissioner was very dismissive of my comments… but that is another thread.

          Physical barriers pose their own dangers… particularly low-profile ones…

          Back to topic… maybe the commission needs a “re-do”… start from scratch, with a clear, tangible charge.  Some commissioners could be a good fit for that… others, not so much…

          Thoughtful/informed consideration, good… advocacy not so much

        2. Alan Miller

          WM, I agree with about 63% of what you said.

          Which is my point – I didn’t say what.  Just like — what is the purpose of mentioning that “a” commissioner said “something” ???   Are we supposed to guess?  Is that for the 0.001% of Davis people who were there and get your nod?

        3. Bill Marshall


          If you are willing to discuss off-line, would be more specific…

          You are correct, I was a bit oblique… it was not captured in the minutes of the meeting…

          My bad for raising that particular point.  Distracted from the primary points.  It was appropriate for you to remind me. Thx…

        4. Alan Miller

          WM, I am a big fan of the oblique and the obtuse.   The issue I had was it was so vague but just implied, so people would be filling in the blanks with “maybe he meant . . . maybe he means . . . ” and maybe they’d be right maybe not.  Which is OK for jokes, but not about facts and people.

          And to go back to the other topic of the commission itself, I felt this was happening at the CC meeting on that item . . . speakers and council-persons implying things, implying it was really serious, but not giving any real evidence or specifics . . . and that’s not only not good enough for removing a commissioner, but it’s terrible process and doesn’t make anyone look good.

  6. Bill Marshall

    and organizations need to stop giving Davis awards.

    Or, the City should just stop looking for awards, and focus on getting the job done… a new concept… actually, an old one, but not used in many years…

    “Complete Streets” is what we need… not ‘gimmicks’…

    And, as Alan points out, once you build it, you d**n well better maintain it before it turns to s$%t.

    1. Alan Miller

      And, as Alan points out, once you build it, you d**n well better maintain it before it turns to s$%t.

      But there’s no money for maintenance, so apparently, like Noah, Davis needs to build an ARC.

      . . . and as for why there is not money — I blame the last 20 years of City Councils, passing their spending into the future for Davis Today to deal with.

      1. Bill Marshall

        I blame the last 20 years of City Councils, passing their spending into the future for Davis Today to deal with.

        As do I… and part of that was trying to be “all things to all people”… little sense of ‘priorities’…

        And the commission in question does the same thing. IMNSHO…

        1. Ron Glick

          “As do I… and part of that was trying to be “all things to all people”… little sense of ‘priorities’…”

          Exactly, Davis has tried to pay competitive salaries, maintain infrastructure and services , and restrict growth. Hard to do.

  7. Dave Hart

    Obviously, from the above discussion, we could go on for days about who is responsible for what transportation atrocities exist, but all that doesn’t help.  We’re constantly forced to confront the reality that our ground transportation infrastructure was designed for automobiles and retrofitting any kind of infrastructure is always more expensive than building it the “best” way in the beginning.  Good points about how other cities have approached that.  It’s a challenge for a small city like Davis because of scale and the fact that we are basically a residential, commuter suburb with our largest employer exempt from our tax base.  I’d be happy if the city just didn’t make matters worse, i.e., invest more in pavement grinders to smooth surfaces and utilize some kind of liquid filling material for cracks instead of dumping asphalt on top and creating a new speed bump. No, I don’t expect much, but I do think we can do better.

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