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Roundabout future for Manteca?
Mayor wants green light for traffic calming
The landscaping median on Fishback Lane helps to slow down traffic as well as beautify the neighborhood. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin
One way to slow down traffic – and to make neighborhood streets safer – is by designing developments with narrower streets, roundabouts, chicanes, bulb-outs, and non-intrusive fast growing trees that create a partial canopy over the pavement.

Such strategies were delineated in street standards outlined over five years ago but never adopted as required tools that developers must deploy when they are designing new neighborhoods.

The measures that have been put in place such as the massive roundabout that includes an acre park in the middle of Bella Vista Drive near the entrance of a neighborhood north of Woodward Avenue were the result of a development agreement between the city and builder Anderson Homes. That agreement resulted in a landscaped median along a section of Woodward Avenue east of Main Street, another passive road design that studies have shown slows down traffic.

The city wanted the round-about in to avoid turning Buena Vista Drive into a thoroughfare for people looking for a short cut in the future when commercial and offices develop along the extension of Atherton Drive paralleling the Highway 120 Bypass.

The Woodward Avenue median complete with trees was pursued  to slow down traffic that was being routinely clocked at 55 mph – well over the speed limit – causing residents in the area to express concern about the safety of people crossing streets. The median creates a narrower field which helps slow most drivers down. It also provides a mid-point of relative safety in crossing the street.

Whether roundabouts and landscaped medians continue to be placed as part of new residential developments is questionable given the changing housing market.

If demand doesn’t exceed sewer allocations in future years, Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford noted there is a very good chance the city will end up going back to allocating sewer once a year as it did before 13 developers got together in the late 1990s. They were the ones that advanced the idea of bonus bucks to cement development agreements in exchange for sewer allocation certainty.

“We may need to require community development to apply them to (new subdivision maps) as requirements,” Weatherford said.

The street standards – that included the new sound wall landscaping rules that actually were adopted as a requirement – came about after public fury over plans to continue the so-called “Manteca tunnel” effect. Manteca tunnels refer to the old municipal standard of putting in a masonry wall abutting against sidewalk on both sides of major streets with the only landscaping being periodical cut-outs into concrete for trees. Critics called the sound walls everything from barren and eyesores inviting graffiti to anti-pedestrian as the block wall retains heat making them oppressive to walk by on summer days and even early evenings.

Residents were able to stop the city from continuing with their plans to put the equivalent of a four-lane road with turn lanes in along Fishback Road just west of Sierra High. One segment did go in that way in the Cowell Station neighborhood immediately south of Wawona Street.

Fishback Road from Cowell Station to Daniels Street was the first residential collector street – roads such as Powers Avenue, Pestana Avenue, Crom Street, Mission Ridge Drive and Buena Vista Drive to name a few – to have a landscaped median placed in the center with the purpose of slowing down traffic.

“Narrower streets definitely slow people down,” said Weatherford who is a retired police chief.

He pointed to Mission Ridge Drive as an example of how wider streets can encourage speeding.

The cost of going back after development occurs to put in traffic slowing remedies can be expensive. The chicane on Crom Street north of the golf course is credited with slowing down traffic but cost in excess of $10,000. The islands that narrow down traffic lanes on Powers Islands cost over $30,000.

Requiring developers to put such improvements in on key streets in new neighborhoods as a condition of the subdivision map in case they don’t opt to go for a development agreement would avoid the city from not just incurring such costs but also reduce the potential for frustrated residents.

The mayor said he’d like to see more roundabouts in future neighborhoods.