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Vicious circle of one-way street debate

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POSTED April 15, 2014 12:41 a.m.

Manteca’s question for the ages is once again being asked: Should Yosemite Avenue and Center Street going through downtown be one-way venues?

Since the late 1960s the question has surfaced repeatedly. Except for the first time the question was floated by Caltrans, it is either asked by a segment of the downtown merchants or elected leaders. Initially it was asked because Highway 120 traffic on Yosemite Avenue through Manteca made it extremely difficult to travel north-south due to the volume. Downtown was still the city’s primary retail center. It made movements for local shoppers frustrating at times. Until the 120 Bypass was built, Fridays and Sundays saw long lines of traffic literally backed up for miles slowly snaking through Manteca going from the Bay Area to the Sierra and back.

Caltrans in the 1960s was trying to find a way to relieve traffic congestion. What stopped it from happening was the fact Center Street ended at Fremont Avenue. Beyond that for about a mile to Highway 99 were homes, apartments, and businesses standing in the path of any extension of Center Street to carry westbound Highway 120 traffic. It’s safe to say Caltrans’ proposal got about as far as Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose aircraft did before being mothballed.

By the time the 120 Bypass opened, Manteca had grown to the point local traffic started creating congestion issues downtown.

Much of downtown’s traffic flow problems are its advantages. Main Street at one time was Highway 99 meaning it crossed Highway 120 at the intersection of Main Street and Yosemite Avenue. As Manteca grew, commercial areas naturally developed along the two heavily-traveled state highways. Today Yosemite Avenue isn’t the most heaviest traveled east-west corridor – that distinction belongs to Louise Avenue – but it is right behind it. That’s because it connects with Highway 99 which Louise Avenue doesn’t. It also connects commercial areas on the east with those on the west

Main Street is still the heaviest traveled north-south corridor. It also connects major commercial north and south of downtown. It also connects with Highway 99 as well as the 120 Bypass.

That means Manteca’s downtown has never really fallen to the wayside due to locally generated traffic dropping off as the community grew as has happened in other valley cities. Manteca’s physical heart is still Yosemite and Main.

Yosemite Avenue from Walnut Street to Powers Avenue is a street designed with 1908 sensibilities. It was a wide boulevard for its day.

Once traffic was eased somewhat by the 120 Bypass, the pedestrian friendliness of downtown came into question – especially along Yosemite Avenue. That’s when the precursor to the bulb-out project took place. Sidewalks were widened to cut into the amount of pavement available for vehicles traveling through downtown on Yosemite Avenue.

It not only allowed trees to be planted but it gave pedestrians more room and put some distance between them and cars. To get an idea of what sidewalk widths were once like in downtown Manteca, walk in front of the Manteca Bulletin building in the 500 block of East Yosemite Avenue.

The issue with downtown streets eventually swung back to congestion by the 1990s. That led to the infamous no-left turn from Yosemite Avenue to Main Street strategy as well as eliminating parking in the 100 block of North Main Street to allow two north-bound travel lanes.

Concerns that the city was just jamming traffic through downtown led to the dropping of plans just over a decade ago to eliminate all parking on Main Street north of Yosemite Avenue on Main Street to allow the jamming of four travel lanes through downtown. The result was the decision to put in place bulb-outs, revert back to two lanes and place landscaped medians to eliminate left turns across Main Street into parking lots and alleys.

About five years after that, the city did a preliminary cost estimate on what it would take to put one way-streets between Union Road and Fremont Avenue with Yosemite handling eastbound traffic and Center Street westbound traffic. The price tag was placed at $700,000. The study was lost in the din over the bulb-outs and whether they were making congestion worse and/or costing downtown valuable on-street parking space.

Today, the question is being asked as a way to breath new vigor into downtown as a destination. Just for the record, there are successful businesses downtown that have thrived despite perceived shortcomings of the area. Also a good number of improvements have been made by merchants, some property owners and the city. That said there are still two basic issues: Traffic congestion and making Manteca more appealing to people which means creating a pedestrian-friendly area that invites people to linger.

Keep in mind the only way to compete with strip malls and shopping centers is to level downtown and put in massive parking lots. Instead of focusing attention on Yosemite Avenue traffic which means one-way streets, the effort should try to take advantage of the much wider Center Street to grow downtown. Much like 10th Street in Tracy that is one bock off its version of Yosemite Avenue – 11th Street (formerly Highway 50) 

Transforming Center Street into the heart of a 21st century destination downtown will help strengthen Yosemite Avenue business potential just as 10th Street has for 11th Street in Tracy.

The never-ending debate about one-way streets is keeping the city from  moving forward in downtown Manteca.

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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