My View: A Modest Proposal – Time to Ban Driving in Davis

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – There have been a lot of debates over recent housing proposals with no parking spots provided by the developer. Part of that is due to state laws that have stripped away parking minimums in an effort to lower housing costs, but also in an effort to encourage people to drive less.

The city council is potentially looking at extending the coverage from transit zones to the entirety of the city. But those proposals have proven controversial, with many pushing back that people will drive anyway, they simply will attempt to park their cars in adjacent neighborhoods.

At the same time, in my over 25 years now in Davis, many have complained that bicyclists routinely ignore traffic laws. That’s undoubtedly true. You will often see bicyclists blow through stop signs and even at times traffic signals.

But increasingly I think the biggest danger is now vehicle drivers. It seems that since the pandemic, people have simply forgotten how to drive—or perhaps they simply do not care.

While I remain concerned that the police disproportionately stop people of color and often for non-safety and non-driving rules violation, the biggest danger is people blatantly disregarding traffic laws.

In the past few weeks, I have seen a lot of this.

Driving home the other day, heading east on Third Street, a vehicle slowly turned right in front of me from H St., cutting me off and then looked at me like I’m crazy when I gently honked the horn.

But it gets worse. I was stopped on a green light crossing L St. as a man casually jaywalks against the light—twice, first crossing 5th and then L St—each time, slowly and casually. Clearly the man is mentally ill and probably homeless.

Then on Pole Line a vehicle appeared to have taken the turn too wide and hits the curb, causing damage to his vehicle and backing up traffic on southbound Pole Line.

Not to be outdone, as I head into the Post Office parking lot, there is a vehicle that might as well be parked in the middle of the parking lot. It is so far from the curb, that another full size vehicle could fit into the space

This is just one trip from the downtown to the Post Office one weekday afternoon.

This is unfortunately not an isolated incident.

On another day, I have a couple of vehicles in front of me heading east on 2nd toward Mace. One was driving exceedingly slow. Upon turning onto Mace, the vehicle in front of me attempted to speed up and pass the slow vehicle. Suddenly the slow-moving vehicle sped up to prevent the other vehicle from passing.

They then appeared to exchange obscenities and yelled out of the window at each other.

A few times I have seen vehicles attempting to change lanes without looking, and nearly collide.

On the freeway, I observed this happen and one vehicle ended up in the left shoulder, smoke coming from his rear brakes, and then he pulled ahead and continued driving amid honks.

This has become routine. Every drive home appears to bring a near miss, either with me or usually a vehicle in front of me.

One trend that is concerning is, increasingly I see vehicles simply disregarding traffic enforcement signs.

I constantly see vehicles disregarding not just stop signs but also red lights. I don’t mean rolling California stops. I mean acting as though there was no stop sign or even red lights. We’re not talking about running a red light, we’re talking about disregarding it—not with a freshly changed signal, but in mid cycle with a stale red.

Sometimes it is admittedly early in the morning and no one is around, but a few times I have seen vehicles disregarding red lights when there is a street full of cars and it is the middle of the day.

Davis is becoming increasingly hazardous to drive in. It is remarkable we have not seen more in the way of fatalities. But it appears only a matter of time.

People have become such bad drivers here in Davis that perhaps the best solution is to ban driving. We could become the first car-free city in California. That would solve a lot of problems. We would reduce our GHG. We would save money on parking. We wouldn’t have to worry about traffic impacts.  Free up huge space for other uses. And we would save lives and aggravation. Think about it.

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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18 Comments

  1. Keith Olsen

    People have become such bad drivers here in Davis that perhaps the best solution is to ban driving. We could become the first car-free city in California. That would solve a lot of problems. We would reduce our GHG. We would save money on parking. We wouldn’t have to worry about traffic impacts.  Free up huge space for other uses. And we would save lives and aggravation. Think about it.

    Please tell me you aren’t being serious.  Kind of like an “Onion” article.

    1. David Greenwald

      Article title – “A Modest Proposal” – reference a 1700s work by Jonathan Swift, satirical work which drew attention to poverty in Ireland by proposing the eating of babies as a solution.

        1. Matt Williams

          David, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink.  But one rather humorous byproduct of your article is seeing Walter and Keith agree on something.

  2. johncooper

    Bad driving in Davis is like the weather. Everyone talks about it but nobody does anything about it.
    I would have imagined everyone would be familiar with the satirical nature of “A Modest Proposal “. Alas the article may have overestimated the literacy of its audience.

    1. Kendra Smith

      This is such a supposedly uber-educated town, I am really surprised people missed the reference.

      And, sadly, a lot of people aren’t able to recognize parody or satire.

    1. Kendra Smith

      Sadly, it’s not just Davis. It’s happening in many areas across the country, and I suspect it is as you say: the shredding of the social contract that has sped up since the pandemic for whatever reason.

  3. Walter Shwe

    When a usually serious site posts satire or parody out of the blue without clearly labeling as such, some confusion is bound to ensue. It’s not April Fools Day.

  4. Tim Keller

    What is funny about this to me, is that while David is trolling us with the premise here, it is the fact that there are elements of truth and reason in the troll that makes it effective.

    I recall the uproar around the closing of G street to automotive traffic, and the breathless pearl-clutching exhibited by some when it was revealed that some of the newly proposed G street projects would not come with off-street parking…

    Just like the rest of North America, California has built itself around the assumption that everyone has a car and will use that car to drive everywhere.   As “bike friendly” as Davis claims to be, we also have fallen into that trap, building almost nothing but car-served single family housing and neglecting public transit.

    The truth is that we are irreversibly addicted to cars, and that wont effectively change in our lifetimes, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be aggressively trying to push the needle the other way:  Insisting that our new developments are primarily designed to be served by transit (not cars) and making real choices to prioritize bike and transit infrastructure over that provided for cars.

    Many cities have done this, and with great success.  But it is always controversial to those who just cannot see the world working outside of the automotive perspective they have inhabited for their entire lives.

    This is a great video about the removal of cars from urban centers:
    https://youtu.be/GlXNVnftaNs?si=SzVvm-sLGyA98MI2

    There is a strong case for adopting similar programs here in Davis, but it IS going to be controversial,

    If you need proof, here is a test:

    ” I think we should convert a lot of on-street parking spots downtown into lockers for bike parking, and convert the parking lot near Baskin Robins into a pedestrian plaza “

    Did that statement make a vein bulge out on your forehead?   If so I invite you to do some more research on the topic, and keep an open mind.

    We are never getting rid of cars entirely.   Someone living in west davis for example literally has NO way of living car-free.   Those neighborhoods are simply too far away from employment centers and downtown, and the neighborhoods are not dense enough for public transit to really be effective.   We simply built those neighborhoods wrong, and there is nothing we can do about it now.  Residents living there will ALWAYS be car-dependant, and its not their fault.

    But we CAN build our new neighborhoods much better, and we CAN make choices that allow people who are within biking distance of the university and downtown to bike instead of driving.   Slowing car traffic down to make biking safer, and removing car parking spots for lockers that could park 8+ bikes will actually make car access BETTER for those who have no other choice.

    So while David is trolling us, its useful to examine the breadth of the satire here, including our reactions to it, and listen to what that is telling us.

  5. Todd Edelman

    First of all, “jaywalking” – not clear if your use was part of your intended parody – is a classist and racist term. See this excellent explanation.

    All good parody has many elements of truth that can be addressed by the content of the parody, so it’s folly to dismiss all the benefits of a ban, and the benefits – thinking more practically – of extensive changes that would end the common personal motor vehicle dominance of much of the public right of way/Commons.

    The objective truth here is that Davis infrastructure is BAD for driving. The major intersections would perform so much better for all users – inclusive of people walking, cycling, using various mobility devices –  if they were roundabouts, the small intersections would perform much better if they only had yield in two directions. Safer, less emissions etc just look at countries that do this. New major intersection designs in e.g. the Netherlands avoid the use of signals entirely. Stop signs on local and collector streets are bad and the safest places do not use them. (Dedicated turn signals are better than nothing at dead old school intersections). Cycling in the Netherlands is relatively safe and people driving there like it, too, because overall there’s very good design!

    Compare this to Davis where a long-standing policy to remove objectively dangerous slip lanes/free rights is routinely ignored during major street re-paving or more substantial projects (e.g. Alhambra and Mace; F St at Covell), where yard waste in the street – illegal or not – causes people on bikes to veer in front of motor vehicles, where speeds on arterials are way too fast, where I-80 creates a mile wide corridor with unhealthy levels of noise, free parking at DHS for students (cycling goes down by 50% compared to junior high), where driving often feels most convenient because transit outside of campus destinations is bad, where there’s essentially one equitable crossing of I-80/UP right of way by bike (the others are FAR steeper than in e.g…. yes, the Netherlands, also the UK) – Putah Creek Parkway, where there’s now zero general pharmacies in South Davis, where Staff and the transportation commission have done almost nothing to improve bike parking in many years, where – for regional transportation – taking Capitol Corridor is very expensive (the SMART train in Marin and Sonoma is now free for youth and seniors), where so far the Davis-based County Supervisors have not declared a rejection of the plans of Caltrans to widen I-80…

    Last but not least: Bretton Woods will be extremely car-dependent (even with a magic “transit plaza”), the Cannery already is (really, and there are no safe and convenient cycling corridors from there to Downtown), Promenade (Nishi 2.0) was brought to voters before there was an agreement with UP about a crossing — as a result all walking and most cycling will be via the existing above-mentioned Putah Creek Pathway) and where it seems likely that Village Farms – again, another magic “transit plaza” – will be brought to voters before there’s any agreement about and funding for robust transit… and exactly zero people except for me and a few others understand that almost every car there will be used everyday, even with a TDM plan, and transit within a 1/4 mile…

    Not through only our own volition, WE are the parody in Davis.

  6. Keith Y Echols

    Yes, drivers are getting worse.  Not just in Davis but all over.  I’ve never seen so many cars zig zag in and out of lanes on the freeway.

    I know it runs counter to your general views on community and law enforcement.  But the immediate answer is more traffic surveillance and enforcement….more cops out there busting people for breaking traffic laws and doing stupid stuff.  On the other side of the argument/solution is to offer more mass transit options to reduce local traffic.  But then that costs money and Davis seems to be incapable of creating a viable economic plan and executing it.

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