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Viewing bulbs as safety devices for downtown

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POSTED August 7, 2009 1:39 a.m.
Manteca’s landscaping bulbs – depending upon your disposition - are either blasted annoyances impeding travel or blessed additions beautifying the streets.

 There is a third use for the bulbs that gets little attention in the never-ending debate but were a big part of the original discussions prior to the city going forward with them and other downtown streetscape improvements  – safety.

The point was almost driven home last Friday when I was making a left turn into the parking lot adjacent to Crystal Down’s State Farm Insurance Agency.

Southbound traffic on Main Street was backup to North Street. I was waiting in the turn lane when a SUV allowed a gap to be created in front of her and the next car. She motioned for me to go. I started turning.

What I didn’t see was what photographer Hime Romero who was standing on the sidewalk saw – a small car with a driver who had grown impatient and pulled out from traffic on the other side of North Street and was barreling down the parking lane where there were no vehicles parked on the entire west side if the 200 block of North Main Street. As luck would have it, I got out of the way in time.

Granted, there are no bulbs in the 200 block of North Main.

What happened last Friday was one of the big arguments for placing bulbs in the 100 block of North Main.

What would happen is if there were no cars parked in the 100 block of North Main Street, some drivers would try to zip on by backed up traffic by traveling in the parking lane. In doing so, they sometimes would take drivers who were following the rules by surprise and were getting ready to turn right. Collisions weren’t numerous but you get the picture.

There was also talk at the time about giving pedestrians a fighting chance at crosswalks. It is progressively safer to get across the southern end of Maple Avenue than most other streets in town. It is tough to ignore pedestrians wishing to cross when they are standing almost at your car window on a protected section of sidewalk jutting into the street. The city opted not to put bulbs at Yosemite and Main as well as Center and Main on the correct assumption it would back up traffic too much.

Try walking with the light at those two intersections on a regular basis. You’ll find people making right hand turns against the light not even looking.

Pedestrians are often given a short shrift in many planning decisions as the main focus for years has been to jam as many vehicles as possible down a street as fast as possible.

It is why the city has just started requiring bulb outs at intersections on streets in new residential developments where they expect to be safety issues for pedestrians.

Pedestrians are important to keep in mind. They matter just as much as moving cars and parking cars.

If you put in four lanes on North Main Street through downtown, you will have created wall-to-wall asphalt and cars. It won’t be pedestrian friendly and it would be a tad unsafe having cars that close to pedestrians.

While there have been experts who assert – probably correctly – that simply having four lanes on North Main Street without making restrictions on cross streets by reducing turning motions or making Center and Main one way – won’t make a significant increase in traffic movements, no one really has given much attention to pedestrians.

The concept of bringing more people into the central district to live that would be made possible through zoning modifications also underscores the need to think about pedestrians.

The current street configurations in terms of bulb-outs and center dividers may not be perfect but in time they will come close to being so.

Traffic patterns change over time. Drivers avoid jams when possible.

It is already easy enough now – especially with the Industrial Park Drive extension in place – to get around central Manteca unless you are going from Point A to Point B on the Main Street corridor.
Manteca’s planning should not center 100 percent on the almighty automobile.

It is time to start thinking about pedestrians and their safety unless we are giving nothing but lip service to plans to reduce trips, to put people closer to amenities and jobs, and to encourage people to walk instead of driving in a bid to improve air quality.
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