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All streets are safe until people drive on them

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POSTED June 8, 2013 1:19 a.m.

“There is no such thing as an unsafe road.”

Those are the words of a Caltrans engineer following a 1973 church bus crash that killed three teens on a hairpin curve on Highway 193 in Placer County after it slammed into a row of palm trees.

Those who lived along the curvy highway in the Sierra foothills had been arguing to get the state to straighten out 10 miles of roadway which would require wholesale destruction of the hillsides. They were using the accident to hammer their cause.

But a close examination of the accident data showed the bus was exceeding the posted 35 mph speed limit by 15 miles per hour.

The driver simply wasn’t paying heed to posted traffic signs.

Keep this in mind when you take a look at the Madison Grove Drive and Lathrop Road T-Intersection by the Del Webb at Woodbridge neighborhood just west of Raley’s.

Nearby residents are concerned – and rightfully so – about a spike in accidents at that intersection. There were three in the last month compared to just one in the prior year.

It might help to trim some of the vegetation back. A traffic signal obviously would control traffic but it is a tad bit of an overkill.

Given how the accidents have happened – Madison Grove vehicles waiting to turn, or turning  left onto Lathrop Road getting clipped by westbound vehicles – the solution might just be the elimination of an annoying assumption.

That assumption is that divers in the right lane on westbound Lathrop Road are going to turn onto Madison Grove simply because the city has installed a sign and marked the pavement telling them to do so. It is further compounded by the fact Lathrop Road west of Madison Grove is still wide enough to accommodate two through travel lanes instead of the one that it is marked for currently.

There is nothing inherently unsafe about the intersection until you put drivers in cars that don’t pay attention to traffic signs or don’t wait until people clear an intersection. Assuming someone is in a turn lane in such a situation or has their blinker on signaling a turn will actually turn goes against the entire concept of defensive driving.

This is not the first time that folks who design Manteca streets assume that everyone is on the same page when it comes to following traffic signs, lane markings and using common sense and basic driving rules when it comes to taking two travels in the same direction and going down to one at an intersection where the right lane turns.

The classic example is where westbound Yosemite Avenue goes down to two lanes at Powers Avenue where the right lane is supposed to terminate into a right turn.

You’d be hard-pressed to go more than 15 minutes or so during peak traffic times without seeing one — or sometimes two — cars in a row travel through the intersection from the right turn lane and then force their way into the remaining lane.

And while it is frustrating to drivers following the rules, most of the shenanigans come right after the traffic signals change meaning much of the illegal movements happen at slower speeds.

And as an added bonus the license plate holders most of the time shows the car is from a Manteca dealership which means they aren’t out-of-towners unfamiliar with the streets but locals who wantonly choose to ignore traffic signs.

Madison Grove at Lathrop Road certainly doesn’t justify traffic signals that can run between $300,000 and $400,000. It does, however, warrant making modifications to how westbound Lathrop Road lanes clear the intersection.

If the right lane continues to be striped and signed in a bid to try and force motorists to turn onto Madison Grove then the city should gets serious. That would mean placing bollards blocking the pavement to the west of the intersection so drivers in the right lane are forced to turn or merge left before clearing the intersection.

Better yet, the right lane should continue through the intersection and be in a forced merge to the west of Madison Grove.

That would create a two lane roadway in each direction through the intersection. That way it is clear to everyone the likelihood of the car in the right lane not turning is very high.

Who ever came up with the current lane configuration would be absolutely right if they invoked what the Caltrans engineer said back in 1973.

But when you’re dealing with humans you’ve got to remember some simply choose not to follow the rules, others get distracted, and still others can get confused.

You can’t do much to passively get people to comply who don’t follow the rules but you can reduce the impact of distractions and confusion somewhat when it comes to improving safety.

That is why city staff should change lane configurations at the intersection and not take 45 months and counting as they have with the crosswalk they first promised to put across Atherton Drive at Buena Vista  Drive in 2009.

And while they’re at it, they might want to revisit the intersection at Yosemite and Powers avenues as well.

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 or 209-249-3519.

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