YOLO SUN OPINION :
Like many other towns within California’s Central Valley, a state highway served as a primary element of Woodland’s historical character and development. Some of these cities continue to host a major highway running through their core downtowns.
Woodland is no longer one of them — but anachronistic inertia and misplaced nostalgia attached to such a thoroughfare have so far stymied basic evolution of its core downtown beyond that obsolete planning paradigm.
___ Commercial Drift Caused Downtown Descent ___
Downtown Woodland gradually declined in commercial stature as the City’s retail center, eclipsed by an ever-widening, peripheral spiral of new commercial hubs sprawling around it.
Specialty retail, entertainment and office uses – as well as chronic, glaring vacancies — have eventually come to dominate downtown’s identity.
A redevelopment authority was created in 1987-88 to assist emergent municipal intentions for revitalizing downtown Woodland — after a few vanguard efforts toward architectural restoration by devoted individuals, and prior to completion of renovation of the City’s Opera House in 1990.
Slow progress is being made during the intervening twenty years.
A Downtown Specific Plan was adopted in 1993, to provide a uniquely focused planning framework for the city’s core.
Various historic buildings, such as the Woodland Hotel and Capital Hotel & Saloon — as well as an increasing number of redesigned retail spaces — have been refurbished and in some cases extended into mini-plazas linked by paseos (pedestrian corridors) to Main Street, or suitably expanded to augment existing uses.
Diverse restaurants and cafes appear relatively successful. Taverns of yesteryear have disappeared, remodeled in style with current policies.
Genuine gravity and public magnetism, hoped to be generated within this exercise of incremental, civic rejuvenation — however — remains a deeply elusive goal.
___ Once Major Highway — Now: “Minor Arterial” ___
The old State Highway 16 running through its downtown was an essential component of Woodland’s identity during most of its development.
Downtown Main Street was for over a century the principal channel of local commerce.
Increasing vehicle volumes necessitated signal lights be installed at some point, when Main Street was the ultimate traffic course through town, developing its character into that of a vigorous city thoroughfare.
While Main Street was once such a crucial conduit of vehicular dynamics — it is by today’s traffic-engineering parlance festooned with the label: “minor arterial” — with respect to its “functional classification.”
Downtown Main Street still carries a substantial amount of traffic, but is now dwarfed by vehicle numbers on East Main Street — around the freeway interchanges.
2002 PM Peak Roadway Volumes, according to the recently released, ten-year update of Woodland’s Street Master Plan, indicate 1,370 vehicle trips in the core downtown, compared with 2,430 trips at the center of freeway connections on East Main Street.
Even Gibson Road (from College St. to Matmor Rd.) has peak traffic flows far exceeding downtown Main Street, peaking at around 2,000 trips at East Street.
By 2020, peak traffic flows along downtown Main Street are projected to slightly lessen (~1,200) — while the middle zone of freeway interchanges skyrockets to 3,370 and Gibson Road proximate to East Street approaches 3,000.
For the first time — vehicle trips on Kentucky Avenue, averaging more than 1,500 from East to West Streets, will surpass those through the downtown. Plans exist to widen Kentucky Avenue to four lanes, increasing peak traffic flows to over 2,000.
County Road 102 must be widened to four lanes in several sections.
Peak traffic is predicted to roughly double along County Road 98 by 2020, with 1,500 vehicles traveling on the portion south of West Main Street.
In due perspective of changing times, therefore — it becomes quite plausible that Main Street (west of East St.) — as well as Court Street — have now been designated: “minor arterial.”
___ Level of Service Standards in General Plan Appear Unsustainable ___
Relevant language of Woodland’s General Plan establishes that:
“The City shall develop and manage its roadway system to maintain LOS ‘C’ or better on all roadways, except within one-half mile of state or federal highways and within the Downtown Core. In these areas, the City shall strive to maintain LOS ‘D’ or better. Exceptions to these level of service standards may be allowed in infill areas where the City finds that the improvements or other measures required to achieve the LOS Standards are unacceptable because of the right-of-way needs, physical impacts on surrounding properties, and/or the visual aesthetics of the required improvement and its impact on community character.”
The 2009 Street Master Plan — however — announces that: “An evaluation of the projected [traffic] volumes indicate that the following roadway sections will [during traffic peaks] operate at service level D conditions by 2020[:]
* County Road 98, from West Main Street to Gibson Road;
* Cottonwood Street, from Cross Street to Gibson Road;
* West Street, from West Main Street to Gibson Road;
* Pioneer Avenue, from Gum Avenue to East Gibson Road;
* Gibson Road, from County Road 98 to Cottonwood Street;
* Gibson Road, from West to East Streets.
None of these roadways are capable of being widened to preclude LOS D conditions or avert further deterioration of LOS Standards.
In 1995, “total daily vehicle trips generated in Woodland or traveling through [it] was approximately 342,000. [ ] By 2020, this number is expected to increase to about 621,000, which represents an 82 percent increase,” relates the updated Street Master Plan.
Coping with ever increasing volumes of traffic, where road widening is not feasible, is planned by means of installing added:
pedestrian and bicycle facilities[;]
left turn pockets[;]
Intelligent Transportation Systems improvements[;]
[and targeted] Traffic Calming measures.”
“The use of more general traffic calming measures may be justified to mitigate citywide congestion levels. The applicability and definition of these measures will be the subject of future studies,” describes the new Street Master Plan.
Woodland’s General Plan (as noted above) already recognizes that regular LOS Standards are unrealistic within its downtown zone and freeway linkages.
___ Minor Arterial, Major Civic Center ___
While downtown Main Street’s historical status as prime conveyor of vehicle traffic has significantly waned — its preeminent station as principal conveyor of local culture has become vastly magnified by the escalating dimensions and diversity of Woodland’s population.
Unfortunately, the style and volume — the freeway-feeling — of motor vehicle traffic remaining on this “minor arterial” — downtown Main Street — is distinctly inconsistent with the nature of genuinely pedestrian-friendly conditions required to successfully engage an authentic renewal of Woodland’s core district.
Evolution of the key civic institution of Woodland’s downtown area is imperative for fulfillment and satisfaction of historic public values.
A new policy balance must emerge between pedestrians and motor vehicle traffic along the historical section of Main Street, in order to predicate true renaissance within downtown Woodland.
___ Back to the Future ___
Returning the — initial model — of downtown traffic flow is now the proper path toward restoring real pedestrian values alongside the downtown itself; otherwise, revitalization will be unreasonably impeded.
A durable downtown ambience must display, that draws the public in a magnetic manner because of attracted interest, comfort and convenience.
Original equipment along downtown Main Street was, of course: stop signs and diagonal parking.
By definition — stop signs put pedestrians in the driving seat.
They may leap into the roadway without concern at any intersection, perhaps even at mid-block cross-walks — as vehicles must yield and creep along, reasonably calmed (like dogs on a leash).
Diagonal parking combined with stop signs clearly signal to vehicles that safe progress must be relatively slow and cautious (thus usually: quieter) further elevating pedestrian values.
___ Options and Benefits of New Street Master Plan ___
Companion roadways to Main Street, Court Street and Lincoln Avenue (the latter is now designated as a collector street, but could easily become an arterial, with a one block jump to Main Street at Fifth / Sixth Streets) are not being called upon to provide a significant enough contribution toward motor vehicle movement through the city.
A wide and signalized roadway, Court Street accounts for barely 1,000 peak trips at the present time, with future projections well under that volume (~850).
Lincoln Avenue (generally un-signalized) has recently been revamped adjacent to downtown, but is projected to carry only about 600 peak trips (College to West Sts., and less toward either direction).
These parallel roadways are reasonably available for participation within a redesigned functional balance of motor vehicular movement for the downtown area.
___ Mitigations Rise Over Improvements for Traffic Strategies ___
Detailed above, municipal directions on the subject of traffic standards are now being driven toward: “mitigations” rather than “improvements” — by basic, irresistible dynamics of its population expanding against limitations of civic infrastructure.
One of the — “traffic calming measures [ ] to mitigate citywide congestion levels” — should be this hugely valuable, proposed adjustment of the traffic format of downtown Main Street.
Eliminating extraneous traffic from downtown Main Street, and advancing use of Court Street and Lincoln Avenue to assist that goal, are indispensible for achievement of prominent civic purposes associated with downtown renewal.
Diversion of extraneous vehicles from the historical section of Main Street will tend to deflect them (especially, when traveling easterly from outside city limits to the freeways) — away from Woodland’s single most serious zone of traffic congestion: the freeway interchanges on East Main Street — toward alternative freeway access.
Freeway signage noticing vehicle drivers of a sharply — “reduced-speed zone” — along the historical portion of Main Street will also motivate potential routing options, further relieving peak traffic congestion on East Main Street.
Plus, some of these folks may thus become interested to visit Woodland’s downtown and discover precisely what fashions of civic importance have elevated local cultural values above crass convenience of motor vehicles.
Along the lines of related policy (above) within its General Plan:
Woodland should “find[ ] that [ ] measures required to achieve the LOS Standards [within its core downtown area, such as signalized intersections and parallel parking on Main Street] are unacceptable because of [ ] physical impacts on surrounding properties, and/or the [various] aesthetics of [such measures] and impact[s] on community character.”