Fifth Street, now with less suck!

I’ve been thinking a lot (and writing a little) about road safety for several years. The catalyst for this was an accident that nearly killed my sister while she was riding her bicycle in Norman, Oklahoma. The driver was on the wrong side of the road, but couldn’t tell because of the mind-bendingly poor quality of Norman’s street design. Not long after I came to Davis, I witnessed a pretty nasty accident on Russell Boulevard, and wrote about it here. The response to that blog post got me involved in the long-simmering debate over a proposed re-design of the Fifth Street/Russell Boulevard corridor. To me, the debate seemed to hinge on a factual question regarding the frequency and severity of accidents, and so I did some data analysis of city-wide accident reports to satisfy my own curiosity. Well, maybe more than just my curiosity. It’s pretty damned personal to me.

I suppose my data-centric approach made it possible for me to open a dialog with the Davis Chamber of Commerce. Once the business community and activists were able to communicate their concerns to one another, it turned out that the substantive disagreements were not very disagreeable after all; the Chamber’s biggest concern was that in the original design, as proposed, the left turn pockets were too small. I signaled that the activists wanted a general concept: A two-lane design with bike lanes and left turn pockets. As long as the Chamber was willing to roll with that, the details were mostly a matter of law and necessity. Within the general two-lane concept, whatever variations were legal and physically possible would likely be acceptable to the pro-redesign camp. The preliminary design was approved shortly after, with the support of the Chamber. Later on, this lead to my appointment to the City of Davis Safety and Parking Advisory Commission, and later to the new Transportation Advisory Commission. If only all political fights would boil down to misunderstandings, and if only opposing parties could get what they want by arranging the details just so. Alas!

As a commissioner, I’m proud to have been involved in several modest improvements to the street design in Davis. We’ve scrutinized speed limits and moved lane strips around. We were also among the many quarters that called for the City’s swift re-design and signalization of the Russell/Lake intersection and the similar Pole Line/Moore intersection after the death of UC Davis law student Megan Glanville. In the background, though, the Fifth Street Project has preoccupied us throughout my term as a Commissioner.

Well, if you’ve been downtown in the last few days, you’ve probably seen the new signals, the new lines and crosswalks. Fifth Street is no longer a four lane road on which it is suicidal to bicycle and dangerous to cross. It is now a normal, two lane road with left turn pockets and bike lanes. It’s actually quite wonderful.

The new Fifth Street

The new Fifth Street

Expect traffic to move a little more slowly on the new street, but with fewer and abbreviated complete stops. The time it takes to get from one side of downtown to the other should be a few seconds less, despite the slower speed – even in heavy traffic. You will have to slow down, but you will spend less time waiting. It should feel a little bit less “busy.” Of course, it won’t be perfect. Road designs are always compromises. This new design is simply a compromise that better fits the needs of the people who use it.

I am proud that I can finally say, “Go ahead, ride your bike on the new Fifth Street now.”

Posted by Russell Neches

on 11/08/2014 at 23:18 under a Creative Commons Attributuion License.