Just how safe is it for children to walk to and from school in Manteca?
The answer to that question and what level of responsibility do builders who profit from new subdivisions have to make improvements such as missing links of sidewalks and even making street crossings safer that are not immediately adjacent to their project may be answered at least in regards to the proposed 99-home Yosemite Greens neighborhood on Airport Way immediately west of the municipal golf course.
The Manteca City Council Tuesday unanimously required a traffic study specific to children walking to and from school be conducted and brought back before elected officials for possible additional requirements for the development to meet.
“We are talking about the safety of the children of the city,” Councilman Dave Breitenbucher said in advancing the proposal to do a study to make sure the safety of children as pedestrians is as robust as possible.
It marks the first time that any project before the City Council has seen pedestrian safety emerge as a major concern especially regarding students walking to and from schools.
The city’s traffic consultant Fehr and Peers has never deemed there were legitimate safety pedestrian issues created by proposed subdivisions that went beyond the boundaries of a new neighborhood. And because a consultant didn’t think it was a problem, neither did city staff or elected leaders.
Yet for nearly two decades Manteca has routinely approved subdivisions south of the 120 Bypass that had students walking to school down Woodward Avenue often in the fog when it was much narrower with no shoulders and sidewalk. At the same time school officials never raised any concerns about the safety of their students even after busing was reduced substantially due to budget cuts triggered by the Great Recession.
Those approvals have included well over 600 homes where high school students without benefit of a ride have had to walk across the Airport Way overcrossing of the 120 Bypass. The bridge lacks a sidewalk and fencing. The only barrier between where pedestrians and bicyclists walk and a drop off to the freeway below is a 3-foot high concrete K-rail.
Girl killed walking to
school in 2015 prompted
city, school collaboration
on student pedestrian safety
Four years ago when a 6-year-old girl was killed walking to Shasta School and an older pedestrian died several months later, city leaders vowed to work with school officials to make pedestrian safety a top priority.
It resulted in reviving the Safe Route to Schools committee that had periodically made suggestions to improve safety on streets near schools. The school district has no authority to require improvements that are beyond their campuses meaning the city has the final say on what work is done if any.
The city has stepped up to improve safety around Manteca High. Two high profile crosswalks with overhead flashers are being put in place at Garfield and Sherman avenues along Yosemite Avenue. Earlier month the council voted to make changes to Moffat Boulevard to also enhance pedestrian safety at the high school campus.
In recent years previous councils have paid more attention to pedestrian safety. It is why a new separated overcrossing of the 120 Bypass at Union Road is being put in place for exclusive use of pedestrians and bicyclists as part of the diverging diamond interchange project.
Developer required to
extend sidewalk to Zurich
The pedestrian traffic study is addition to installing a sidewalk along the south side of Crom Street next to the golf course from the proposed Yosemite Greens neighborhood to Zurich Drive where a high visibility crosswalk will be installed. They rejected the developer’s proposal to reduce costs by placing a sidewalk at a point between Airport Way and Zurich Drive which would have eliminated on-street parking in front of existing homes. It also would have put a crosswalk between two residential driveways.
The decision followed a back and forth between Mayor Ben Cantu and school district representatives over whether the city shared any responsibility in the safety of students when they are pedestrians walking to and from school. At one point Cantu asserted the only reason the school district was taking issue with the environmental report for the project and worried about student safety walking to and from Stella Brockman School and Sierra High was because the developer refused to participant in a community facilities district to help build classrooms to accommodate new growth.
Cantu called it a “desperate effort by the school district to use the environmental process” to secure a developer’s participation in a CFD. He added that he had never seen the school district “in my 45 years” of dealing with Manteca planning issues resort to submitting a 37-page page document questioning the wisdom of approving a housing project.
Jacqui Breitenbucher, the Manteca Unified chief business officer, said the district was simply trying to collaborate with the city on what the district hoped was a common goal — the safety of students who happen to be pedestrians on city streets.
Sierra High Principal Steve Clark and Stella Brockman Principal Candice Espinoza shared with the council how increased growth in recent years has impacted safety at their campuses before and after school.
Cantu says there is a safe
route to walk to Sierra
High from new project
Clark went a step further and questioned the wisdom of the city not addressing the safety of high school students walking to Sierra High from Yosemite Greens. The proposed neighborhood is a mile from the campus and well within the 2.5-mile radius where bus service is not provided for high school students.
Clark noted there is no sidewalk along Airport Way where traffic often travels in excess of 50 mph hour nor along busy Yosemite Avenue and Fishback Way. Clark pointed out there is also no crosswalk across Yosemite Avenue’s five lanes — including the turn lane — at Fishback.
Cantu replied there is a safe route to Sierra High for high school students to walk. It is almost a mile longer and requires heading east on Crom Street then down Union Road to Yosemite Avenue where they could walk to the west to Winters Street where there is a traffic signal. There would be sidewalk all the way under Cantu’s route except between Zurich and Silverado along Crom.
Cantu made it a point of asking each speaker from the school district to say what they wanted whether it was someone to buy a bus or for sidewalk to be installed elsewhere. Each time the reply was they wanted the opportunity to collaborate with the city to identify concerns and explore possible solutions.
While the developers said they were willing to work with the school district to provide some extra money but not join a CFD that would require future homeowner in Yosemite Greens to pay what their neighbors across the street do for school facilities, the action taken Tuesday could lead to the developers being on the hook for more improvements.
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