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Council, mayor hopefuls dont think bulbs were exactly a bright idea
This median in the 100 block of North Main Street is part of the downtown traffic calming and beautification project. - photo by Bulletin photo
Street landscape bulbs - particularly along the 100 block of North Main Street - have riled some since the day they were first installed 2005 on the strength of the recommendation of a group of downtown businesspeople and citizens.

They are also surfacing as an issue in the Nov. 2 Manteca municipal election.

The landscaping devices cut three lanes of traffic (two southbound and one northbound) down to two lanes in the 100 block of North Main Street. It was designed to slow traffic as it flowed through the business district to improve safety and induce more people to shop in the downtown.

Subsequently motorists and shop keepers alike have grumbled about traffic backing up at the peak commute hours.

Councilman John Harris, running for another term on the council, said he voted for the bulb landscaping.

 “The reason I did it was because I kept hearing from citizens that they wanted some traffic calming devices,” Harris said. “I felt that was the way to go and also the bulbs create some esthetic values with trees, shrubbery and flowers.  I thought it would be a nice addition to Manteca’s downtown.”

Harris was one of three council candidates attending the forum co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of San Joaquin County along with the Manteca Bulletin. There are four council hopefuls seeking two seats - incumbents Harris and Vince Hernandez along with challengers Samuel Anderson and Richard Behling. Anderson was not in attendance Wednesday. All four mayor candidates were in attendance - Carlon Perry, Willie Weatherford, Ben Cantu and Debby Moorhead.

Harris said he doesn’t regret his vote because it was done for traffic calming purposes.  

“It is now being revisited (by the council) and I will do, as I always do, and listen to both sides before making a decision,” he said.

Cantu said the bulbs should be removed, but specifically they should be removed in an overall project to develop better traffic circulation in the downtown.

“I have seen bulb outs, brick pavers, trees put in, trees pulled out, trees put back in, trees pulled out, and trees put back in.  There is no comprehensive plan for downtown, and I think that needs to be done,” Cantu said.

The former Manteca senior planner said he has seen people “in a mad rush” because they had waited through three cycles of the signal light, drive over that bulb and drive over that tree more than once.

Cantu insisted that the bulbouts need to be addressed as part of a comprehensive plan for the entire downtown area.  

Perry said the bulb outs and the median strips “have caused tremendous frustration” for every resident wanting to go downtown.  

“They must go,” Perry said, “and when I am elected that will be my top priority to eliminate those and to allow citizens to come back downtown.  We have a lot of merchants down there that need the support and the purchase power that each of us has to help generate retail sales tax,” he added.  

Perry continued saying he believes the city had tried to create an atmosphere to move traffic away from the downtown “and that’s why they built the roads around the downtown, to keep people from going downtown,” he said.

“People are coming down to the merchants but it has created a lot of frustration in going downtown,” he said.  “Main Street, you back up from Yosemite to North Street because of the median strips and the bulbs – if we open that up to two lanes traveling southbound that will help that area tremendously.”

Perry recognized a current movement to encourage a change in the flow of the one-way Maple Avenue from vehicles going southbound to north: “it should have never been changed in the first place, he said.

“Our council has created the issue of taking people out to Bass Pro Shops, because we have wide streets going out there and narrow streets in the downtown.  We need to take a look at that and reverse that – at least making wide streets downtown,” Perry said.

Weatherford voted
against bulbs originally
Current Mayor Weatherford said he was the only one who voted against the downtown bulbs and landscaping following a study by a consultant and a 15-member committee of citizens  that felt slowing traffic would cause motorists to slow to where they businesses.

Conversely, making it four lanes, traffic would fly through downtown, “but unfortunately that won’t work either as the motorists won’t see the businesses,”  Weatherford said.

“As an old police officer, that won’t work – all it will do is create accidents and additional problems,” he added.  That move would also eliminate parking and “vehicles will fly through the downtown,” he said.

The mayor said, “Whether they come out, or whether they stay, will be determined In the next couple of years based on traffic flows.”  

He noted that the esthetic value is there, it’s starting to “look pretty nice” in the downtown.  Weatherford noted that the current one lane of travel has calmed traffic and by mid afternoon vehicles do back up about two and a half blocks adding that with all the streets around the area feeding into the arterial, two and a half blocks isn’t bad.