Letting a pair of consultants — one hired to improve downtown and the other retained to address traffic movements — with limited understanding of Manteca convince him in 2004 to change his vote on North Main Street is something former Manteca Mayor Steve DeBrum regrets to this day.
DeBrum on Friday said he is concerned that the current council on Tuesday may be enticed by the same siren song for a “walkable” Main Street just as he was 17 years ago when he switched his vote for a 3-2 decision that led to Main Street being two lanes with landscaped bulb outs through downtown instead of four lanes.
The City Council when they meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. will decide whether to reaffirm a decision they made four months ago — and that a previous council over three years ago made as well — to make Main Street four lanes all the way through downtown.
That decision four months ago was “paused” by the council just as they were ready to go to bid in late April for work that would have addressed what is considered the worst traffic congestion stretch in Manteca. The “pause” was the result of a last minute staff plea to make North Main Street “walkable”.
The decision to “pause” going to bid led to the other option being discussed Tuesday. That option is to keep Main Street two lanes and widen sidewalks to make it “walkable” and to encourage sidewalk dining while enjoying backed up traffic. Staff has even gone as far as to suggest that Main Street north of downtown should ultimately be converted to four lanes with traffic signals removed and roundabouts put in their place.
Staff has retained two consultants — just as they did back in 2004. One is making the case that having Main Street as two lanes and creating a walkable atmosphere for the arterial that currently runs from the Lathrop Road interchange south to the 120 Bypass and beyond to where groundwork is now underway to add another 1,400 homes will be a boon to downtown economic development.
The other will offer short term ways of reducing traffic congestion on Main Street which would require either sending — or frustrating drivers to do so — onto other corridors such as Union Road, Powers Avenue, and Cottage Avenue or adjoining narrow neighborhood street to get around downtown.
Back in 2004 the council had voted to go with four lanes based on an alternate the traffic consultant said would address Main Street traffic congestion the best.
There was some hesitancy about eliminating roughly 75 parking spaces. Then council member Jack Snyder who was also in charge of the SHARP unit had volunteers check the number of vehicles actually parked on Main Street at various times of the day. The number was minimal.
The reason was simple. Getting in and out of parking spaces was a nightmare. Most businesses said their customers used parking lots or alley access points to reach their business.
Staff was in favor of two lanes and so was the downtown consultant.
Before the final meeting to move the project to bid, the consultant conducted a quick phone survey of 25 residents. He reported to the council that 90 percent of them used Main Street to “go downtown.”
That — along with a plea from a pest extermination firm that is now out of business that he’d lose drop-in business if parking was eliminated — convinced DeBrum to change his vote.
The staff and consultant prevailed in their bid to “slow traffic down” so they could look into store windows when they were backed up in traffic and be tempted to stop and spend time and cash in downtown.
Several days after the meeting, the Bulletin called 10 different people who had moved to Manteca in the previous five years. It turned out without specifically defining downtown, almost all of them said they did indeed use Main Street to go downtown. But when asked about how they defined downtown, nine of the 10 included Walmart, Mervyn’s (now Burlington Coat Factory) Kmart, SaveMart and various restaurants on the corridor as being in what they believed was downtown.
The consultant later conceded the questions they asked never defined what was meant by downtown
DeBrum has regretted that decision ever since he saw what it ended up creating without any marked improvements to making downtown more walkable.
The 100 block of North Main Street has been the bane of motorists and the center of controversy ever since the city in 1992 adopted a traffic consultant’s recommendation to ban left turns from southbound Main onto East Yosemite Avenue as part of a way to mitigate changed traffic patterns on Main Street after Walmart opened. The left turn ban allowed two lanes of south bound traffic to flow. That decision was ultimately reversed as well.
The 100 block in North Main Street had one through lane in each direction up until 1992.
That’s when a traffic consultant convinced the city they needed two southbound lanes in the 100 block of North Main Street.
Then 12 years later in 2004 another traffic consultant sold the city on one through lane in each direction.
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