Sunday Commentary: The City Wants to Fix Mace, but at What Cost?


By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – I want to put this into proper context.  I’ve never been a fanatic on the issue of Mace Blvd. and the redesign.  I firmly believe that the structure of the road was dangerous and problematic for non-automobile traffic and needed to be revised.  Moreover, I also believe that the traffic problems were incidental to rather than caused by the redesign.

To bolster that view, I have pointed out that there were times even before the redesign when the entire corridor was locked up.  Moreover, pre-pandemic at least there were a number of times when traffic backed up to Harper Junior High on the north side and that direction was completely unaffected by the redesign.

I have never used the term “Mace Mess.”  I think the use of the term misses the confluence of events that caused traffic backups—much of which will not be alleviated by another redesign.

With that said, I read the staff report and was appalled by the proposed sticker price.  In the report on Friday, I actually intentionally buried the lead until I could talk with city staff and councilmembers to clarify what I was reading.  None of the commenters remarked on the price tag.

So here it is.  The sticker price for all of the proposed changes is a whopping $4.5 million.

The first phase costs are about $2.5 million, which is cheaper by nearly three-quarters of a million to do it all as a single project rather than separate it out.

The total cost jumps to $4.5 million.  Are they really going to not do a signal at Mace and Montgomery or Tremont that would hopefully help to meter some of the bypass traffic?  So, while I get the point that the council may balk at the total package, you have to wonder what they would really want to cut out.

It is important to note the difference between one-time money and ongoing money.  The ladder truck has not only one-time costs but ongoing personnel costs that the city must pay for every single year.  This is a one-off.  So, if they get grant funding or use ARP (American Rescue Plan) to fund it, then that offsets a good deal of the cost.

But the cost is enough that the council should really ask the question—is this really the best use of money right now?

Here’s the thing—the design here seems to alleviate the concerns of those who want the road restored to the way it was and the concerns of those whose input led to the road changes in the first place.

But as I said at the outset, how much of the problem will this fix—at least during peak times?  Will having the second lane allow the local traffic to move through the corridor or will it get jammed up with bypass traffic which then has to merge back onto the freeway onramp lane?

Listening to people who live along Mace, especially those in El Macero, they seem to want things the way they were—without recognizing that they probably are never going to get things like they were because the conditions have completely changed over the last seven years, and will worsen as the world starts to more closely resemble 2019 than 2020.

The county and El Macero apparently want the city to go further—but are they willing to kick in money to make that happen?

For those who say this was the fault of the city to begin with, they have a point.  There needs to be some sort of reckoning and accountability here.  $2.5 to $4.5 million is not pocket change for a city with the budget size that Davis has.  That’s a major expenditure.  And it’s on top of what was spent when they did this the first time.

I will stop short of proclaiming “heads must roll” but it doesn’t seem like the council—even if it was past councils—has really owned up to the problem here.

At this point what’s done is done.  Going forward, it would seem prudent, however, that council once again asks what is the bang for the buck here—and how much will throwing good money after bad actually improve things?


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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7 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: The City Wants to Fix Mace, but at What Cost?”

  1. Alan Miller

    And the freakin’ rocks embedded in cement remain after the 4.5 million is spent.  And adding a lane back in . . . and no, that won’t allow local traffic movement, it just satisfies the calls of the vocal pro-car crowd.  El Macero needs it’s own late — out the back, to the east.  And let Dixon pay for it.

  2. Matt Williams

    The total cost jumps to $4.5 million.  Are they really going to not do a signal at Mace and Montgomery or Tremont that would hopefully help to meter some of the bypass traffic?  So, while I get the point that the council may balk at the total package, you have to wonder what they would really want to cut out.

    The staff at Public Works has chosen a very wise course of action with respect to metering at either the Fremont-Mace intersection or the Montgomery-Mace intersection … specifically conducting a 30-day trial at each of those locations before committing to the $1 million plus expense for the construction of a permanent traffic signal at one or the other of those two intersections.

    I strongly believe that the 30-day trial at Tremont will very quickly and decisively show that a metering light there has no effect on the congested portion of Mace between Montgomery and the I-80 on-ramp.  The reason is simple.  Let’s assume the metering light has a 15 second duration mof a red light between green lights.  Once a vehicle that has been delayed by 15 seconds is released by the meter light, it turns left off of Tremont onto Mace and has open road for the 3 miles between Tremont and Montgomery.  To recapture the 15 seconds lost, a WAZE driver only needs to go 5 MPH faster over those 3 miles.

    I believe that the the 30-day trial at Montgomery will similarly quickly and decisively show that a metering light there has no effect on the congestion.  The reason is pretty simple.  During the time that a vehicle is waiting at the Montgomery metering light, how far forward will the last vehicle in the line of backed-up cars move?  The answer to that question is “not very far … somewhere between zero and four car lengths” Once a vehicle that has been delayed by 15 seconds is released by the meter light, it will quickly traverse the distance between the meter light and the last vehicle in the line of backed-up vehicles, which is the same place it would be if there was no meter light at Montgomery.

    I am not saying that the City and County shouldn’t conduct the two 30-day trials, but everyone should expect that the data from those two trials will unequivocally indicate that putting a permanent meter light at either of those locations would not impact the WAZE traffic at all, and would be a huge waste of a $1,000,000 … and should be cut out of the project.

  3. Matt Williams

    There is a third 30-day trial that I believe could actually reduce the volume of WAZE vehicles.  Specifically, it would be to install a temporary meter (just like the ones proposed for the Tremont and Mongomery trials) for the left lane of the Mace I-80 on-ramp.  Currently that lane is an unmetered HOV lane, and a significant proportion of the vehicles using that lane are WAZE scofflaws who use the lane even though they do not qualify as a HOV.

    The net effect of that scofflaw behavior by the WAZE drivers is that their travel time from the Pedrick Road exit of I-80 in Dixon, over Tremont, up Mace, and over the on-ramp is reduced by at least 4 minutes (probably more) compared to their travel time if they did not “jump the queue.”

    Using the Apple Maps screen capture image from my phone at the end of this comment, when you add 4 minutes (or more) to the 19 minutes of the Tremont route, the time difference between staying on I-80 and exiting at Pedrick Road is now zero minutes because the data reported to WAZE by the phones in the cars using WAZE will be 23 minutes (or more) rather than 19 minutes.  That will give the WAZE drvers no incentive to exit at Tremont … and as a result reduce the amount of traffic on Mace between Montgomery and Chiles.

    Such a 30-day trial would need the blessing of CalTrans, which is no easy feat.  However, there is a potential benefit for CalTrans from metering both lanes of the on-ramp, which is a more managed flow of entering cars onto I-80.  Right now the volume from the on-ramp HOV lane is unregulated, so there are times when the number of cars merging into the main I-80 traffic flow is high.  That causes disruption in the smooth flowing of the I-80 traffic … disruption (and attendant slowing) that would be eliminated if both on-ramp lanes were metered.

    There is another potential advantage for the backed-up Mace traffic if the left on-ramp lane were metered, specifically, that there would be 15-20 car lengths of ramp that could “hold” backed-up cars that would otherwise be located on Mace itself.

    1. Alan Miller

      Not sure I’m following — are you saying get rid of the HOV lane and make it a regular lane?  I am virtually certain Caltrans would not go along with this, as HOV is the holy grail – I won’t comment on what I think of that.

      Also, not sure why you assume people jumping the meter in the HOV lane is so prevalent that it causes the difference to show up in the WAYZ app.  Do you have data to back this up?  I mean it’s easy to be in the legal lane and see a couple of single drivers go around you, but does that actually change the numbers — and how many are even coming from Mace as opposed to from west or even east?

      1. Matt Williams

        Yes Alan you followed correctly … on the on-ramp, convert the HOV lane into a regular metered lane.  There is an example of that configuration on the westbound on-ramp to Business 80 (US Route 50) at 5th Street in Sacramento.  There are two lanes on that on-ramp, and both of the lanes are metered.  The timing of the two meters is set to have the vehicles in the left lane release half way through the right lane’s meter cycle.  That way there is a very closely controlled single file flow of vehicles up the ramp to merge into the “laminar flow” of the through traffic on Business 80.

        I have no reason to argue with your characterization of “HOV as the holy grail” but from my discussions with CalTrans, even more “holy” than HOV lanes is reduced travel times on the thru lanes of a major controlled access highway.  In a September 23, 2019 letter to the City of Davis, CalTrans wrote, “The Chiles Rd ramp meter to EB I-80, which was activated in April of 2018, reduced travel times by about 9% and eliminated a severe bottleneck along the corridor.  After the activation of the Chiles Rd temporary ramp meter, the eastern most bottleneck along the corridor is at Mace Blvd.” (bold added by me for emphasis)

        Later in that same letter CalTrans said, “Currently, over 40% of the on-ramp volumes use the HOV bypass lane during metering hours, which is a greater than expected amount. These currently unmetered HOV bypass vehicles are reducing the effectiveness of the ramp metering system by “queue jumping” the metered vehicles on the Mace Blvd on-ramps.”

        When I read those statements, and couple it together with my knowledge and experience with the one-lane Chiles Road ramp, it is relatively easy to come to the conclusion that the “greater than expected” volume in the Mace ramp HOV lane is causing the same kind of disruption to the “laminar flow” of the through traffic on I-80 that the unmetered Chiles Road ramp was causing.  If CalTrans achieved an additional reduction in travel times by anything close to 9% by metering the second lane of the Mace on-ramp, that would almost certainly trump any HOV lane “holy grail” status.

        As additional emphasis to my thinking, the CalTrans letter continued on to say, “Recently Caltrans metered its first HOV bypass lane on NB SR 99 at Mack Rd. The travel times in the area decreased by over 4 percent. Metering both HOV bypass lanes at the Mace Blvd interchange could improve travel times along EB I-80 between 4% and 8% (1.25 to 2.6 minutes).”

        How important is 1.25 to 2.6 minutes of reduced travel time on I-80?  The following table in the CalTrans letter shows the respective travel time numbers for (1) I-80 from Pedrick Road to Mace, (2) the Pedrick to Tremont to Mace and back onto I-80 alternative, and (3) the CA 113 to Covell to Mace and back onto I-80 alternative.

        Reducing the numbers in the Pedrick to Mace on EB I-80 column by between 1.25 and 2.6 would make staying on I-80 as the fastest alternative of the three.  Further, if “queue jumping” is eliminated on the EB Mace on-ramp the travel times for that alternative (2) route will increase by as much as 4 minutes (the 16 vehicle lengths of the current HOV lane times 15 seconds per meter light interval).

        All of those factors make it well worthwhile in my opinion to conduct a 30-day trial of that possible solution, especially since CalTrans has temporary meter lights like the one they deployed at the Chiles Road on-ramp prior to installing a permanent meter.

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