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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Reconciling Fifth Street with Our Vision for Downtown

I was reading a letter published in yesterday's Davis Enterprise from the owner's of Fleet Feet Sports in Davis about the potential road diet for Fifth Street.

The gist of the letter is:
"While the safety of all who travel Fifth Street - be they pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists or skateboarders - is a concern for us all, the line must be drawn somewhere. Whatever the city decides to do, we can live with it only if further restriction of auto traffic is not part of the solution."
They argue that reducing the number of lanes on 5th Street to one in each direction:
"It will strangle the economic vitality of the downtown."
"Downtown businesses depend on customers who drive from all parts of Davis, as well as Woodland, Dixon, Winters and points beyond. We already have a major bottleneck to downtown access for motorists on our south side with the Richards undercrossing. Adding a bottleneck to the north side will be devastating."
I am always interested in understanding other people's viewpoints on these things, especially when I do not have a hard and fast idea myself of how to fix a particular problem.

I understand the general view of downtown that they do not want anything that is going to prevent the public from coming into the downtown.

One of the things we were looking at during the election was the idea of having parking access before you get under the Richard's underpass. If you could create a multilevel parking structure off of Olive Drive that goes over the railroad tracks, people could park in that facility and walk to the downtown. That would bypass the bottleneck of the Richards underpass.

People have often suggested that we simply expand the underpass to two lanes in each direction, but to many that simply shifts the bottle neck from Richards Blvd to First Street and you end up dumping multi-lanes right into downtown.

I was actually thinking the same thing with regards to Fifth Street. Why not dump a huge amount of traffic onto B Street and use that as your east bound access to downtown. You can do the same thing West bound onto G Street or even before. In terms of traffic flow we could be a little innovative in terms of how to get the traffic that is actually coming into the downtown and get them into the downtown rather than continuing on Fifth Street.

Just a thought there, I am not going to pretend to have an answer there. While I can see the concerns of Downtown business, I have concerns about safety and there is also I think a move to get people out of their cars anyway. All of these points are somewhat in conflict. The real question is how do we resolve these conflicts.

One of the problems I see is what is our overall vision for the downtown. We have talked about walkability. We have talked about alternative fuel. We have talked about putting higher density near the core so that we can get people out of their cars. We have talked about bike paths and sidewalks. We have talked about expanding the basic function of downtown and having multilevel buildings.

But do we have one vision for the downtown and how would the Fifth Street plan gibe with that vision. The problem I am starting to see is that we may in the end solve those two issues independently of each other and thus produce a plan for Fifth Street that is not compatible with the overall downtown plan.

I think the letter suggests some this problem as it closes:
"Everyone who runs for City Council in this town claims to support our unique downtown, and declares that it must be preserved and protected. They now have the opportunity to follow through by keeping Fifth Street open with four lanes for auto traffic. If the council wants the downtown to continue to thrive as a retail center, it won't throw another obstacle to downtown access in front of the thousands of our customers who drive."
However, it does doesn't provide us with any resolution to this problem. Obviously downtown would love to have unencumbered traffic into it. Obviously. But they do not have that now and probably will have less of that in the future. So how can we protect the safety of people traveling on Fifth Street, work our vision for downtown, and achieve our goals of getting people out of their cars in order to protect the environment.

Again, I do not have the answers to all of these questions, but when we finally decide on the solution to Fifth Street, I hope these questions are very strongly considered.

---David M. Greenwald reporting