Seven people — three of them pedestrians — have died on Manteca’s city streets in the past 33 months.
Bennie Suggs along with a host of parent and community volunteers aren’t willing any longer to simply shake their heads at the carnage and essentially do nothing.
For them it was the death of Shasta School first grader Jordan Morrison on her way to school that pushed them into action. Each day before and after school they don bright safety vests and hoist stop signs to help make sure kids cross safely at select intersections around Shasta School.
However, they know that isn’t enough to make Manteca’s streets safer.
On Tuesday they appeared before the Manteca City Council asking for the city’s help in making the streets safer and to reduce the potential for additional deaths and accidents especially when they involve young children who are pedestrians.
Mayor Steve DeBrum and the rest of the City Council agreed that something needs to be done to increase safety on city streets.
To that end they instructed Public Works Director Mark Houghton to look at the need for additional crosswalks and school zone signage around campuses in Manteca. They also indicated they wanted a two-by-two committee meeting with Manteca Unified trustees to explore other options including possibly more crossing guards and stepped up patrols such as has been done in the past with Seniors Helping Area Residents and Police when vehicle congestion became a problem at specific campuses.
The two-by-two committee consists of two elected officials from each governing body.
Manteca Unified Deputy Superintendent Clark Burke on Wednesday said the district looks forward to working with the city. The Manteca Unified board last week directed staff to bring the general school community together in a bid to improve student safety walking to and from school.
Burke — while pointing out volunteers are operating on their own — noted the district “appreciates the efforts” of parents and the community to improve student safety”.
Manteca Unified has at least one crossing guard working at all of their elementary campuses but those are at crosswalks typically adjacent to the school. Burke noted the district has no jurisdiction on city streets. The district crossing guards at the various school locations are there to “improve the security” of kids walking across streets.
Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion noted what the volunteers are doing is legal.
There are already some changes in the works that should improve pedestrians’ safety. One example is the city upgrading to crosswalks. Instead of just having the traditional two parallel lines going from curb to curb they have multiple bars between the lines.
“The new crosswalks on Louise Avenue are much more visible for drivers to see,” Councilman Richard Silverman pointed out.
Houghton said the city is switching to that crosswalk configuration when crosswalks are repainted or new ones are put in place.
The police chief cautioned that just because someone is in a crosswalk doesn’t make them safe.
“They (pedestrians) have to be aware of traffic,’ Obligacion said.
Burke stressed that the school district is concerned about student pedestrian safety at all district schools.
He noted that they worked with the county to explore options including speed bumps to enhance safety at the rural North Manteca campus of the New Haven School. While the county conducted the studies, when they were completed the county decided the potential improvements would not improve safety and opted not to proceed with them.
“It’s the county’s jurisdiction,” Burke noted.
The first wave of school bond construction projects includes improving vehicle and pedestrian movements at Lincoln, Sequoia, Shasta, and Lathrop schools.
In the case of Shasta, Lathrop, and Sequoia schools specific areas for kindergarten parent parking and drop-off will be created. While the Shasta and Lincoln improvements for kindergarten traffic will be expanding existing parking and drop-off areas, at Sequoia School it will be having kindergartners use the existing Martha Street drop-off when the new campus front is created facing Wawona Street.
Burke noted that a high percentage of kindergarten parents tend to park their vehicles and walk their children to class or the campus entrance.
“Everyone needs to be more careful — motorists, parents, and students,” Burke said.
Manteca Ford is making neon safety vests and stop signs available free of charge to any parents or community members that want to help keep kids safe when they are crossing intersections going to and from school. They’re available at the dealership at 555 N. Main St. Suggs can be contacted at 639.9434 for additional information.