The first reaction a motorist might have to the Fifth Street Corridor Improvement Project may be disbelief, and then disdain for city politics.
But it is the result of a slow battle between safety advocates and those who needed convincing that resulted in a road project that promises to improve the safety of everyone who travels Fifth Street from A to L streets. And it will pack some pleasant surprises for motorists along the way, according to academic computer traffic modeling.
It is a story of citizen data crunchers taking police statistics and combining them into a form that could show transportation planners and successive City Councils the need for what might seem an illogical measure.
More than 18 years in the making, the Fifth Street project is now in motion — due to be completed by late spring. It is called the “road diet” in some circles, harkening back to a process coined by transportation planners in the 1990s and used across the country to successful effect.
Athens, Ga.; Vancouver, Wash.; Clear Lake, Iowa; and Dunedin, New Zealand; have all had successful road diets that looked much like Fifth Street in Davis, according to “The Road Diet Handbook: Setting Trends for Livable Streets” by Jennifer Rosales.
What’s planned? Four lanes of traffic will be reduced to two lanes, with the addition of bike lanes and left-turn sanctuaries called turn pockets along with new protected left-turn signals at many intersections.
Some crosswalks will have flashing beacons to make it easier and safer for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross the thoroughfare. And the speed limit on Fifth Street between A and L streets will be reduced from 30 mph to 25 mph.
With bikes given space and pedestrians protection, city staff and bicycle and pedestrian advocates like Davis Bicycles! have agreed that safety will improve dramatically. Previous figures sifted from Police Department data by two local men show the Fifth Street corridor is one of the most, if not the most, dangerous corridor in the city for bikes and pedestrians.
Steve Tracy of Davis Bicycles! spent years studying police data of all collisions in the city.
“When it wasn’t my time to do the dishes I would sit at the computer and pick out (relevant data) one by one,” he said in an interview. “It took months.”
Here’s what he found: From 2004 to 2011, about 11 percent of all traffic crashes occurred in the Fifth Street corridor project area. About 10 percent of all accidents involving bikes and pedestrians happened there. About 42 percent of all injuries in that location happened to people who were not driving or riding in a car.
In April 2009, Russell Neches, a graduate biology student at UC Davis who worked with DNA sequencing, set his mind to parsing the city’s pedestrian and bicycle accident data into a heat map. It is available at http://vort.org/2009/04/25/bike-saftey-davis/.
While the heat map reflects data only for 2004-06, the corridor stayed significantly the same until city crews started their work on the safety improvements this year. A streak of red-hot on the heat map stretches over Fifth Street in a way other traffic corridors do not have. Downtown is seemingly the largest source of heat on the map.
What is most controversial about the project is the traffic congestion. Depending on whom you ask, and whose traffic model you’re using, the story changes. But the most recent high-technology traffic model in 2010 from UCD shows the time it takes to go east and west along the corridor will not change drastically, on average. That means taking the day as a whole, not just peak times, which is important for locals who might travel the road a couple of times in a day.
Eastbound from B Street to L Street should be only 6.9 seconds slower, the traffic model shows, while the westbound trip promises to be 54 seconds faster.
The model assumes people will not avoid the area altogether as some in the community have said will happen, saying drivers will go to Eighth Street instead.
— Reach Dave Ryan at [email protected] or 530-747-8057. Follow him at Twitter at @davewritesnews