For years the city of Davis has been discussing what to do about Fifth Street. The important east-west corridor through the center of town is a pain for pedestrians, a risk for bicyclists and for vehicles, but the city has yet to make any significant changes.
A group of residents met with a design expert last week to talk about the idea of a “road diet” that would involve removing some traffic lanes to make room for bike lanes and wider sidewalks.
“It’s an interesting issue on both sides,” said Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor. “The question is what is the community’s readiness for change?”
Well, since he asked …
Some students and staff who live in Central and East Davis refuse to bike to campus because of the glaring absence of bike lanes on Fifth Street between L and A Streets. Others ride on the street, risking their own safety and that of the cars driving by, inches away.
Some have argued that a “road diet” would cause more traffic and making driving downtown even more unpleasant. According to street design expert Dan Burden, this has not been the case in the dozens of other communities that have tried it. Burden says that creating a single dedicated left-turn lane for both directions would make up for the loss of one lane in either direction. Even if Burden is wrong, which seems doubtful, there are still plenty of reasons to consider a change.
Downtown businesses have been the most vocal opponents of reconfiguring Fifth Street. With already slim profit margins and a bleak economy, their concern is understandable.
However, it’s not clear that reconfiguring Fifth Street will hurt business downtown. For all anyone knows at this point, it could actually increase business. By making it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to move around, there could be a greater incentive for those without cars to explore the downtown area.
Furthermore, a more bike-friendly Fifth Street could mean fewer bikes in the downtown core. Currently, most bicyclists who want to get from one side of downtown to the other use Third Street, which is full of four-way stops. This often makes for a confusing and inconvenient mess of bicycles and cars going in all directions. If those bikes could use Fifth Street instead, driving through downtown could be much more pleasant.
There are many ways that Fifth Street could be reconfigured, ranging from the cheap and simple to the expensive and complex. Regardless of what the city ultimately does, what is most important is that it does something. Fifth Street has been a problem for far too long, and city leaders should know that we’re tired of waiting for a solution.