“Traffic is obviously going to be the real issue we have to look at,” Matt Keasling told the Planning Commission last week. I agree with that view but, at the same time, many are overstating the problem and by a large margin.
South Davis resident Charlene Henwood told the commission: “The City’s traffic engineers have predicted that the ARC project will generate14K-plus new daily car trips with most concentrated in the peak commute periods. The City wants us to believe they can manage 14K trips per day on the existing roadway when they can’t even manage 400 extra trips over a 2-hour peak commute period without gridlocking Mace both north and south of I-80. I’m pretty sure that adding 14K car trips a day will make congestion and gridlock a permanent, everyday feature on all of Mace. “
Alan Pryor, also playing on those figures, estimated that 4000 cars would be exiting the site during peak hours, generating a nearly five-hour delay.
“If you do the math,” he said. “You will find out it will take almost five hours to get all of that traffic onto the freeway every evening. Obviously this is a huge huge problem. It will likely result in total gridlock on the entire southeast side of Davis.”
Even commissioners got into this act.
Commissioner David Robertson said, “I hear 7,000 trips in the evening and that is significant to me. How we’re going to mitigate that, because I don’t hear anything about widening overpasses or additional lanes, which wouldn’t make a difference anyway once you get to 80 because 80 is a total gridlock on that whole stretch in the evening commute hours.
“You can’t get past that. So I need to understand how that’s going to be addressed,” he added.
Commissioner Emily Shandy also had pointed comments.
“One of the things that you said to us earlier this evening is that you want this to be the most sustainable tech campus in the united states,” she continued. “And yet you’ve come to us with a car dominated auto-centric proposal on the edge of town far from the Capitol Corridor Station, not linked to good transit, with huge parking lots and parking structures.
“I don’t want the conversation to go toward widening these streets, because that is not the answer. Widening Mace Blvd. is not going to solve this problem, it’s going to induce more demand,” she said.
We will get a better idea after we see the traffic analysis being prepared as a part of the supplemental EIR, which would include potential mitigation measures. Already, the hope is that by including on-site housing, many people would work at the innovation center and therefore not have to drive off-site.
In addition, a large part of the problem is not necessarily local, but rather the congestion that exists on I-80 itself.
Matt Keasling, attorney for the applicant, stated, “A large part of the problem on the (Yolo Causeway) is the number of people who live in Sacramento and commute all the way to the Bay Area because the Bay Area housing is through the roof and insane. I would love to think we can convince some of those folks to work here and therefore not have them drive all the way to the Bay Area.”
They are going to look at transit like shuttles, trains and buses to deliver people to the site rather than automobiles.
Mr. Keasling added, “This is transit rich. For a greenfield development, we were blown away by the amount of bus service.”
But those buses, he admits, are well-used and so “there will be a need for us to increase the number of buses.”
While the traffic issues are real, the problems are substantially overstated by some of the critics.
First, the project is not going to be at full build out immediately.
This seems to be a forgotten point. This isn’t a housing development that will be commenced in two years and completed in five. We are looking at least at a 20-year build out and potentially up to 50.
That means that there won’t be 14,000 vehicle trips—even if that figure were correct—added any time soon, and that turns out to be important.
For one thing, because the build out will be slow, the applicant and city will have the opportunity to monitor roadway conditions on Mace and adjust according to problems that arise.
That means that with proper planning the worst-case scenarios should be forestalled.
Second, the assumption is that the traffic will be dumping onto freeway conditions that are the same as today.
This is important because we are not taking existing conditions and adding to them. We will see the city tweak the Mace road in the next few months. How much will that calm things down? We don’t know, but it could play a role. More importantly you have the corridor work by Caltrans, which will take place within ten years.
Third, as we pointed out on Friday, all the traffic is not going to dump out at one time. You are not going to suddenly have 4000 vehicles getting off work and dumping out onto the road.
In fact, one of the points that was missed is that the days of folks working 9 to 5 are long over. That is especially true for the tech industry. You will see one group of workers who might start early and end by three, but many will start late and work late into the night.
Fourteen thousand vehicle trips include not just people working there, but people coming on site during the day for seminars and meetings, people coming to the hotel, and delivery workers throughout the day.
The final problem is, as we point out, when we talk about 4340 parking spaces, those are not all commercial spaces. There are about 100 for the hotel which will flow differently. And there are about 800 or so for residential.
Moreover, of the 3400 or so commercial spaces, those are not going to be 100 percent filled. They may never go above 60 percent for all we know.
The bottom line is that people are hearing big numbers—4000, 7000, 14000—and panicking. They are also extrapolating those numbers onto existing conditions, when we know there will be changes to both Mace and I-80. And they are projecting those numbers without taking into account mitigation measures, transit and other planning, and the fact that the slow ramp up will allow the city to cushion the blow and implement further mitigation as needed.
Finally, we have to understand traffic impacts in context with other benefits for the project. Traffic figures to get worse over time. But the project figures to bring in badly needed revenue and jobs for the city.
Therefore we need to evaluate the negative impacts within the framework of the overall picture.
—David M. Greenwald reporting