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A signal that times are changing at Manteca City Hall

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POSTED February 8, 2010 1:23 a.m.

Roundabouts aren’t new inventions.

Yet they were rarely given much consideration to solve Manteca’s traffic concerns involving movement, congestion and safety until a few years ago. And even then it was a lukewarm embracement at best and it only applied to new developments on the rare occasions it was applied.

Traffic signals have long been the default choice in Manteca to solve issues at intersections with high cross traffic counts.

No one ever questioned whether there was a better way – or less expensive option – until now.

Keep in mind it was the same-old, same-old as staff convinced various elected councils they had to comply with San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District mandates to reduce traffic congestion and idling to cut emissions. That “convincing” was simply including the goal in the city general plan – the state-mandated blueprint for growth.

Now traffic calming devices such as roundabouts are popping up not just in plans for new neighborhoods but even as part of a future expressway. The goal is to keep traffic moving, slow it down at key points, reduce air pollution, and enhance safety of pedestrians.

So what happened?

The collapse of the housing market and the subsequent gut wrenching hits that property and sales tax – the two key municipal revenue sources – took.

Eighteen months ago as Manteca changed city managers, a fairly miraculous thing happened by government standards. The new leadership at city hall, municipal workers, and elected leaders opted not to stick their collective heads in the sand. They realized the day of reckoning, so to speak, was coming.

That is why Manteca was the first to cut back – and got ridiculed for it – while other cities wanted to “wait and see” what happened to the economy.

Manteca isn’t out of the woods yet but cuts, restructuring, and the rethinking of how municipal services are being delivered has put the city in a fairly good position to manage with the new reality of less money.

It wasn’t just about budget cuts and recovering of legitimate costs from development. It was also about looking at how the city did everything from the delivery to water to how the issue of traffic was addressed.

It means rethinking everything while at the same time addressing other pressing issues such as affordable housing.

Out of that came the position that roundabouts that consumed no electricity or ongoing electrical maintenance and cost considerably less to build than traffic signals that can run as high as $500,000 may make more sense in some locations.

At the same time any landscaping involved to make them look appealing while staying functional could be collapsed into nearby landscape maintenance districts.

The recent proposal to place a roundabout at Powers and Hutchings Street was a bit of an overkill especially given the $100,000 price tag. The three-way stop with crosswalks seems much more logical – and inexpensive.

It is a shame that a more enlightened attitude toward roundabouts didn’t exist earlier in Manteca.

Imagine if a larger roundabout had been considered before development started on two of the three corners of the intersection that was vacant at Louise and Cottage avenues for the longest time.

It would have avoided the backlog of traffic at the signal trying to turn left onto Louise Avenue from northbound Cottage.

A roundabout may have made more sense at Louise Avenue and Pestana Avenue. It would have been much more effective at slowing traffic down that often hits it at 55 mph after coming from rural Manteca.

Another good candidate may have been Center and Walnut where the city a few years back put in a full-scale traffic light.

As for its proximity to the Manteca Police Department there is one just as close to the Ripon Police Department that doesn’t slow down police response in that town.

Given one of the top concerns people always express is speeding, it would have made much, more sense from that angle.

Imagine how safe neighborhoods by parks would have been if roundabouts were given serious consideration when they were built. A prime example is Mission Ridge Drive at Tahoe Street.

While roundabouts may not be the panacea to all traffic issues, it is nice that they are being considered seriously instead of just being given lip servcie. The same scrutiny is being given to other areas of city operations.

The bottom line is simple. If you approach challenging times like we’re in right now the right way and reconsider how everything is done, it might just end up being worth some of the pain when the dust finally settles.

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