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Stop signs, crosswalks for Powers
Council nixes roundabout; OKs gates for MHS on Garfield
Manteca High students cross Garfield Avenue to reach classes where the City Council Tuesday night authorized Manteca Unified to place gates to close off the street during school hours and during school events. - photo by HIME ROMERO
All Councilwoman Debby Moorhead wanted on Powers Avenue at Hutchings Street to improve the safety of pedestrians was a crosswalk.

She finally got her wish Tuesday night – along with stop signs – but not before the Manteca City Council shot down a staff proposal to place a roundabout at the intersection instead that could ultimately have cost as much as $100,000.

It was one of three council actions taken Tuesday to improve pedestrian safety.

•Manteca Unified was given permission to place gates on Garfield Avenue just south of Mikesell Avenue and at the northern end of the Manteca High student parking lot to enhance the safety of students who have to cross the street to go back and forth to classes. Currently there are two stop signs with about a 50-foot wide crosswalk. The gates will be closed during school hours and for certain school events to block the segment of Garfield off to traffic. Manteca Unified is responsible for all costs.

•Two new developments planned south of the Woodward Park neighborhoods will have parks in the heart of each project with streets that intersect at the park’s various corners going into a roundabout to slow traffic down and enhance pedestrian safety.

The roundabout also raised some concerns among citizens about slowing emergency response times as a fire station is about a block away from the intersection on Powers Avenue.

The only impact the stop signs will have on fire response is exercising more caution at the intersection. Fire Chief Kirk Waters said typically that means when fire trucks responding to an emergency pass through a controlled intersection whether it has stop signs or traffic signals they hit the air horn in addition to red lights and siren.

Ironically, fire engines responding to emergencies using Powers Avenue go the speed limit unlike most vehicles.

“Safety is our big concern,” Waters said.

Moorhead revived a long running concern of Curran Grove neighborhood residents whose children either use Lincoln Park or access Lincoln School on the west side of Powers by bringing up the need for a crosswalk several months ago.

The initial municipal response was to narrow the travel lanes by repositioning the bike lanes. The decision was based on the need to slow traffic down that often goes way above the 25 mph posted speed limit. Public Works Director Mark Houghton noted it would be dangerous to give pedestrians a false sense of security when they enter the crosswalk if traffic wasn’t first slowed down.

Stop signs with a crosswalk were nixed at the staff level due to a long running policy of municipal traffic engineers that stop signs shouldn’t be used to slow traffic down. In some instances, drivers actually accelerate to higher speeds going from stop sign to stop sign.

After narrowing the travel lanes didn’t slow traffic, staff proposed a roundabout with crosswalks. The temporary solution was $5,000 but a more permanent roundabout ultimately would have cost $100,000.

The $100,000 price tag prompted the council to balk. Both council members John Harris and Vince Hernandez suggested flashing pavement level lights like the crossing into Woodward Park across Woodward Avenue at Welling Avenue.

“It’s pretty effective,” Hernandez noted.

The cost of that device, though, has ballooned from when it was first installed in Manteca from $35,000 to close to $100,000.

Councilman Steve DeBrum, who brought the issue up a few years back, noted that “I still don’t have a warm fuzzy feeling “about the roundabout doing what it is supposed to do to slow down traffic and suggested stop signs instead.

Moorhead followed up noting that she was out at Powers Avenue earlier in the day traveling 25 mph in one direction while traffic was coming at her from the south at 40 mph.

Moorhead pointed out cars pick up speed as they enter the slight curve just past the fire station.

Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford – who was on the police force at the time Sequoia School asked for a three-way stop sign at Locust and Martha – noted city staff argued against it but the council went ahead and authorized them anyway.

The mayor noted the stop signs seem to be working fine on Locust.

Weatherford added that stop signs – at the very least force drivers to at least slow down even if they never come to a full stop.

The city is moving forward with new development designs that put traffic calming devices in place – primarily roundabouts – at critical intersections at the developer’s cost.

Neighborhood roundabouts are less elaborate than the one envisioned by staff for Powers Avenue and cost less. Manteca may see, though, roundabouts on more heavily traveled intersections that would eliminate the need for traffic lights thus reducing development costs for the developer as signals are more expensive and reducing long-term maintenance costs for the city.

It also slows traffic down without forcing it to come to a stop.