By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – A few years ago back in 2016, Nishi was on the ballot with full access to Richards Blvd. Traffic on Richards, at least during normal times of commuting, is problematic as a huge amount of traffic exiting the freeway has to be funneled first through the narrow Richards underpass and then onto downtown streets that are not built for arterial traffic capacity.
The result is that, in the morning, you have long lines of traffic up the I-80 overpass and, in the evening, the traffic is sometimes backed up all the way to B Street and even Russell Blvd.
Voters, fearing that Nishi would make traffic impacts worse, voted it down in 2016. They then passed a version that bypassed Richards altogether two years later.
While the plan to mitigate traffic was by no means perfect, it would have created an access point from Richards to the campus that bypassed the underpass. While some complained that the Olive Drive-Richards intersection would have struggled to handle that bypass, with money from the state they might have been able to upgrade the intersection to handle it better.
As it stands now, CalTrans and the city through grant money will be revising the freeway exchange system. They’ve already shut down the Olive Drive freeway exit, but, in the end, you are still pumping that volume of traffic through the narrow underpass and into downtown. The voters, fearing traffic impacts, voted down a plan that might have helped solve it.
The voters will have a similar opportunity now with DiSC—and if history is a guide, many will vote against the plan, fearing that adding 11,000 vehicle trips will exacerbate current (or future) traffic congestion on the northern end of Mace.
But that’s exactly the problem. In the pre-COVID days, when my oldest was at Harper, I remember most days it was fine driving southbound on Mace to get to my South Davis home, but occasionally on Thursday and Friday it could be a bear.
It’s easy to campaign against a project—you lay out that there is bad traffic present, that you are adding thousands of vehicles, and therefore, the new project will make things worse.
But there is another way to look at this—the project has committed to a Mace corridor plan and mitigation and so, if you vote down the project, you don’t get any of those improvements and thus the status quo is likely to persist into the future and probably get worse.
Yes, the city is redesigning Mace, but that’s the southern part of Mace and will not impact the traffic concerns on the northern part.
Can Mace be improved? That’s a big question.
Proponents of the project argue that they will be required to have a corridor plan to improve traffic.
Attorney Matt Keasling pointed out, “On day one of this project, we’re required to fund the city doing a comprehensive Mace Blvd corridor study that looks at Mace Blvd from Cowell Blvd, all the way up to Harper Junior High.”
At that point the city will look at Mace and ask what needs to happen “to make it work better than it does today.” He said the analysis tells them that, at the end of the day, “Mace Blvd, both north and south of the freeway, functions better with this project, because of the mitigations it brings online, then it does without this project.”
He continued, “I do think that’s important to point out that although there will be additional cars coming and going from this location, the project is required to mitigate for it. And those mitigations result in an overall roadway system that functions better than it would otherwise.”
As Councilmember Dan Carson puts it, the mitigation calls for additional lanes and signalization.
“They conclude that the total number of intersections, operating with an average level of service of F during one or more peak hours, would decrease from nine to zero,” Carson explained.
A lot of voters will be skeptical of these claims and I think the city and project should spend a good chunk of time rolling out what this is going to look like, because for many people the only chokepoint to supporting the project is going to be perceived traffic impacts.
But I think a point that everyone misses here is that, without upgrades to Mace, the status quo is going to remain in place and the status quo is not great—at least on Thursday and Friday afternoons when the world is back at full capacity.
By improving the roadway and intersections, perhaps that can be improved. But history suggests in the form of Nishi in 2016, that even with a plan most voters are going to be skeptical and prefer the bad status quo to the uncertainty of upgrades.
If you end up opposing DiSC because of traffic, remember that probably precludes any substantial money to upgrade the roadway for the foreseeable future.