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Days of cars being king in Manteca may be on the wane
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The plug has been pulled officially on plans to convert Airport Way into a six-lane thoroughfare and to make Woodward Avenue four lanes from Main Street west.

In doing so, the City Council sent a clear signal that cost considerations in terms of maintenance and construction as well as making streets more people friendly trumps moving huge volumes of vehicles as fast as possible.

In adopting the update to the traffic circulation element for the Manteca general plan that serves as the state-mandated blueprint for growth, city leaders knocked down the targeted service level a notch. It ultimately will mean perhaps adding a few minutes to a cross-town trip. At the same time, though, it will avoid millions in reoccurring costs as well as slow down traffic a tad.

It also means the city will abandon any plans to widen existing streets through the central district as the traffic element now indicates the longer delays in the downtown district are acceptable.

The just adopted traffic circulation plan concedes it is way too expensive - and disruptive to commerce and residents alike - to try and significantly improve traffic flows in a 40-block area of central Manteca stretching along Yosemite Avenue from Walnut Street to Powers Avenue and Main Street from Wetmore Street to Alameda Street.

The only workable solution to meet the best possible movement of traffic would have involved widening both Yosemite and Main and hacking up numerous properties.

The policy statement included in the traffic circulation notes pedestrians and bicyclist access is important in the downtown area. Traffic that flows as freely as possible would make it less hospitable to pedestrians who have to cross streets to go from one business to another.

Overall, the city is backing off its previously adopted gold standard of striving for free flowing streets throughout the city. By free flowing that means absolute minimum delays at all hours of the day.

The reason has to do with reducing maintenance and construction costs for the required wider streets, larger intersections, and substantial right-of-way as well as trying to combat air pollution by encouraging more pedestrian and bicycle movements.

It means the widest streets would be four lanes instead of the six lanes that had been envisioned for Airport Way. At the same times travel lanes will meet the minimum width standards to reduce upkeep costs. Major arterials will continue to be placed about a mile apart in the pattern already established with north-south major streets such as Airport Way, Union Road, Main Street, Cottage Avenue, and Austin Road as well as east-west streets such as Lathrop Road, Louise Avenue, Yosemite Avenue, and Woodward Avenue.

Woodward Avenue west of Main Street will no longer be pursued as a four lane arterial. Instead it will be rebuilt as a two-lane collector with a median landscaping strip primarily comprised of trees. It would protect the semi-rural character of existing neighborhoods.

The city’s new traffic blueprint encourages bulb-outs around parks and other high pedestrian locations to slow down traffic at intersections.

It also blesses the use of roundabouts instead of traffic signals wherever possible.

Roundabouts help keep traffic moving, make it easier to cross streets and enhance safety near schools and parks, discourage through traffic in neighborhoods, and they avoid traffic signals that can cost as much as $500,000 per intersection.

Virtually every new neighborhood in the planning process already has a requirement for roundabouts either adjacent to future schools or park or deployed in a manner to slow traffic on the main access street.

The use of roundabouts would allow the city to not just keep traffic moving while slowing it down enough to allow access from connector streets but it would also go toward meeting a mandate of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to reduce vehicle idling. The more time vehicles have to stop at traffic signals or stop signs, the less efficiently they burn carbon-based fuel which in turn impacts air quality. Idling vehicles are a major source of valley air pollution.

There are already three roundabouts in place in Manteca. Two are in the Tesoro neighborhood in the triangle formed by Atherton Drive, Van Ryn Avenue, and Woodward Avenue in southwest Manteca. Each is located on entry streets to the neighborhood that would have in the past simply T-intersected with the street next to a school site and a neighborhood park. Instead there are roundabouts.

The other is on Buena Vista Drive north of Woodward Avenue. It is the largest roundabout in the South County. It covers an acre and was large enough for the placement of a small park in the middle.

It was designed to discourage through traffic from Woodard Avenue to reach future commercial along Atherton Drive. That segment of Atherton Drive between Main Street and its current terminus just east of Wellington Avenue is targeted to be constructed this year.

Also, all roundabouts built in new neighborhoods as a condition of development are landscaped with upkeep costs incorporated into landscape maintenance districts.