By Mont Hubbard and Robb Davis
Davis is special. We were the first Platinum Award recipient from the League of American Bicyclists and today have the highest bike trip mode share (somewhere around 25 percent) and the highest percentage of bicycle commuters in the United States.
Central to creating and maintaining our quality of life have been land-use decisions. We’ve built our neighborhoods compactly and friendly to bike and pedestrian traffic. No other city our size boasts more than 50 miles of bike routes, 55 miles of dedicated bike paths and 29 grade-separated bike tunnels and bridges.
This didn’t come by happenstance. Rather, it is the result of unceasing diligence and foresight by our political and activist forbears. For nearly 50 years, city leaders have made collective quality of life more important than the demands of individual interests.
In 1966, citizens proposed bike lanes but when these were spurned by recalcitrant council members, they elected a new council. Every subsequent one has demanded and funded connectivity in approved developments. The result is the wonderful connectedness we have: one can go almost anywhere as easily and conveniently by bike as by car.
The council-adopted Climate Action Plan goal of 35 percent non-auto transport means that bikes must continue to play an increasingly important role in satisfying transportation needs. Davis cannot meet its goals without an increased bike trip mode share. It is the only way.
Fast-forward to The Cannery project. To understand how connectivity-challenged this project is, imagine your home in your neighborhood of 547 homes (you choose the other 546). Then imagine building a wall around the neighborhood and creating just one entrance/exit, requiring everyone to come and go through this single portal into the busiest artery in the city!
Many issues emerge from the project EIR. Projected bike trip mode share for the development will be only 8 percent. It also adds 12,000 trips per day to and across Covell Boulevard at J Street, already the busiest artery in the city (21,500 vehicles per day). It increases traffic by more than 50 percent and turns level of service (LOS) from A to D (level of service is a technical term for how freely flowing an intersection is, rated from A to F) at Covell and J during morning peak hours.
Traffic effects ripple throughout the city. LOS also will decrease to level D at Eighth and J during the morning peak hour. If the 8 percent bike trip mode share is accurate (we believe it may be less) The Cannery neighborhood will be one of the least friendly for biking in Davis.
But it’s no surprise why. Because proposed connectivity is so poor, with only one auto at-grade crossing of Covell at J, almost all (OK, only 92 percent) of the 12,000 trips to work, school and shopping will be by automobile. The intersection at Covell and J will become in one fell swoop the most congested in the entire city. No parent in their right mind would send a fourth-grader to school on a bike through that intersection. Residents will wind up driving their children to school at Birch Lane or North Davis Elementary because they aren’t confident in the bike safety/connectivity. Residents probably will even drive their cars to shop at Nugget Market, three blocks away.
The developer plans only one grade-separated bike crossing of Covell to the southwest of the project. This runs south just east of the railroad under the overpass, but as currently configured it is awkward, indirect and unsafe. Just after crossing under Covell it immediately turns east parallel to Covell and goes uphill to join the south Covell bike path.
Instead, we believe it is essential for school kids that this one continue south along the east side of the railroad to the H Street tunnel, because the present Covell railroad overcrossing is not appropriate for young school kids. It is the steepest in the entire city, with grades more than 8 percent in spots (contrasted with the 5 percent grade on the Dave Pelz Interstate 80 overcrossing). Further, the western ramp is narrow and makes a sharp turn south onto F Street right next to a bus stop.
But much, if not most, traffic will point to the south and southeast of The Cannery. Davis Bicycles! believes it is essential to have two grade-separated bike crossings of Covell, including a second crossing to the southeast near J or L streets, allowing safe access for Holmes and Birch Lane elementary school students and Nugget shoppers.
Even though the development has some good sustainability features (solar, etc.), its lack of connectedness will result in substantial greenhouse gas emissions. Roughly half of the city’s GHG comes from transportation. Poor connectivity, consequent poor safety and projected low bike mode share of The Cannery project mean that many good GHG features of housing design will be offset by extra-high emissions from unneeded auto traffic.
This development might be a good one in Roseville where an 8 percent bike mode share would double or triple its present bike usage, but it’s terrible for Davis — a true regression.
The developer is Omaha-based ConAgra, the largest private-label packaged food business in the United States. With 2012 revenues of $13.3 billion in the United States, it has been criticized for its lack of response to global climate change. A 2006 report by CERES, a nonprofit climate change/sustainability organization, evaluated 100 leading companies on global warming response, on a 0 to 100 scale. ConAgra scored a total of 4 points (no, this is not a typo), the lowest of any of the food companies rated. A 2009 Newsweek ranking put ConAgra 342nd out of America’s 500 largest corporations for overall environmental score.
ConAgra will sell 547 housing units and, although we don’t know precisely, a conservative estimate is that it will clear $20,000 to $30,000 on each. This is $11 million to $16 million profit. Yet it is unwilling to spend another $2 million or so to fully address bike connectivity, even though good bike connectivity can materially enhance the project and its appeal.
The developers don’t seem to understand that good bike connectivity is a strong economic advantage. Some estimate it costs $9,000 per year to own and operate an automobile. Good Cannery bike connectivity can be had for far less than this amount per household (but only paid once), allowing families to exist with only one automobile. Instead, the development makes Davis look more like other sprawling car-centric communities we’ve worked so hard not to emulate and takes us backwards, not forwards, with its transportation congestion.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The development could be acceptable if the connectivity challenges were addressed squarely with a grade-separated southeast Covell bike crossing at J or L streets and southwest connectivity to the H Street tunnel. Kids could, and would, ride bikes to Birch Lane, North Davis and Holmes schools rather than being ferried by their parents. Adults would ride three blocks on their bikes to shop at Nugget.
Building The Cannery project as designed will violate the unwritten social compact we all buy into when we choose to live in our wonderful city. The increased auto traffic will impact air quality, road capacity and the ability to attract more employers to our community.
The Cannery development should not be built until its bicycle connectivity is improved to be as good as or better than that of the community as a whole, and until it will support a bike mode share of the approximately 25 percent Davis has today. It needs a southeast grade-separated bike crossing of Covell near J or L streets and connection of the southwest bike portal to the H Street tunnel. It shouldn’t be built without these. Period. To endorse our position, please visit www.davisbicycles.org.
— Mont Hubbard and Robb Davis are board members of Davis Bicycles!, a local advocacy group.