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Speed tops traffic safety concerns in Manteca
Motorists often fail to completely stop at stop signs either due to being in a routine or else they are in too big of a hurry. - photo by HIME ROMERO

The $1 million “beautification” of Louise Avenue using state tax dollars restricted for that purpose has plenty of detractors.

Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion is not one of them.

“It’s more of a combined beatification/traffic calming project,” Obligacion said.

That’s because narrower lanes — actual and perceived due to landscaping and bicycle lanes — have been proven to slow most people down.

And that’s not just traffic engineers saying that. With 23 years as a Manteca law enforcement officer — including 12 working traffic — Obligacion knows what he’s talking about.

“The No. 1 traffic problem in Manteca is speed,” Obligacion said.

Judging from complaints that citizens make to the department as well as at council meetings, no one is going to dispute that assertion.

Traffic violations, though, can be in the eye of the beholder

It explains why someone who was ticketed by a Manteca officer for running a stop sign would complain to the police chief they had come to a full stop and the ticket wasn’t justified. But then when they are shown a police video that clearly shows the vehicle not coming to a stop and rolling through the stop sign, the person is shocked but still insists they remember stopping.

“We get so use to our routines that we think we did something and we didn’t,” Obligacion said. “We go the same route and we start thinking we did things without realizing we didn’t.”

That is why the three “E”s —engineering, education, and enforcement — are the cornerstone of the strategy to make city streets as safe as possible.

The goal is to make Manteca’s streets safer, not generate revenue as many erroneously believe.

“We get people who tell us all the time if we come out to (their corner) we could write enough tickets to pay for an officer’s salary,’ the chief said.

In reality, Manteca’s share of 4,914 traffic citations issued in 2013 generated only $113,250 — enough to cover the salary, benefits and workmen’s compensation costs for one sworn officer. The bulk of the money goes to the court system and the state.

And officers do not write tickets for going a mile over the posted speed limit nor do they apply every traffic law “to a ‘T’. They go after the most egregious offenders.

• • •

Zombie walkers & bicyclists versus those riding bicycles

Rules of the road also apply to pedestrians and bicyclists.

Obligacion noted that when he drives to work in the morning he passes Manteca High on Yosemite Avenue. He’s come to expect students to walk into traffic.

Many never break their stride nearing the edge of the sidewalk at intersections nor do they look up from either their phones of other device in their hands.

Some have taken to calling the students “zombies.”

Zombies exist around all schools but Manteca High is worse due to the traffic on Yosemite and nearby Center Street.

While officers have cited pedestrians, Obligacion said it isn’t worth a motorist exerting what they may perceive correctly to be their right of way.

His advice is to slow down and drive defensively.

Hitting a pedestrian — even if you have the right of way — can ruin more than just your day.

In cases where drivers have struck pedestrians, most motorists argue unsuccessfully that the pedestrian came out of nowhere or seemed to jump in front of their car. Officers note that what typically happens, as an example, is a pedestrian crossing an east-west street from the north will be struck while near the south curb making it clear that they were in the street or in a crosswalk for a time already and just don’t step off the curb.

Such encounters as well as intersection fender benders underscore the next two big driving issues in Manteca —  right of way violations and distracted driving.

Officers have seen it all: Drivers texting, using the phone, leaning over to retrieve a CD, reading a magazine, applying make-up and shaving all while traveling down the street.

Obligacion has even written a ticket for a driver who had a large dog in his lap that he was forced to look around as he drove.

Bicyclists are treated like vehicles under state law. That means they must go with the traffic and must obey all traffic signs.

Obligacion said “bicyclists” — those that are serious commuters or recreational enthusiasts — understand that while those who hop on a bike to get from point A to Point B as quickly as possible often don’t.

It’s illegal to a bicycle on a sidewalk in California. It explains why officers occasional cite a youngster — and sometimes an adult —for either coming off a sidewalk and striking a  car in a street or hitting one that is coming out of a driveway.

The police chief concedes parents may make decisions contrary to the law.

“If you are a parent are you going to tell your kid to ride on the shoulder of Union Road by the golf course or use the sidewalk?” Obligacion asked.

Even so, the law is clear.

• • •

First E: Engineering

In areas where there are repetitive traffic issues, the city examines it from an engineering standpoint. That includes but isn’t limited to make sure stop signs are placed properly, any visual issues that can be addressed or taken care of, and possibly installing advance warning signs of a stop ahead.

A proliferation of stop signs isn’t something most police officers would advocate. It’s because once more stop signs are placed motorists start speeding between them in a bid to shave time.

Speed bumps work when people don’t ignore them but those that race over them create a big noise issue for neighbors.

Obligation is a big fan of roundabouts.

“They slow down traffic but keep the flow moving,” he noted.

He also likes something that some city critics despise — bulb-outs.

“They do work at slowing traffic down,” the police chief said.

They were placed in downtown not just for beautification but for safety along with the median in the 100 block of North Main Street. They work the same way that Louise Avenue improvements will work — they create a feel of a narrower roadway which in turn prompts the majority of motorists to ease up on the gas pedal.

It is why narrower streets such as those in the 600 block of Pine and Fir streets will see motorists slowing down significantly at the approach of another vehicle.

The city is requiring bulb-outs at intersections around future parks. It inconveniences the drivers making a right hand turn — they have to slow down and make more of a 90-degree turn. But it makes pedestrians more visible and eliminates sight line issues of parked cars. It also shortens the distance a pedestrian needs to cross a street. Roundabouts also are being required in new subdivisions for safety and to slow traffic.

• • •

Second E: Education

The radar trailer the city moves around town is part of an education effort.

When most motorists see the red flashing numbers that show they are exceeding the speed limit, they back off.

The police chief said most people don’t realize they are speeding.

“When we drive Interstate 5 we’re constantly looking down at the speedometer to see how fast we’re going,” Obligacion said. “We don’t do that in town. We tend to drive more by feel.”

It explains not only how speeds creep up but also how narrower roadways such as how Louise Avenue is being transformed into helps slow most people down. 

Firms now are producing stationary radar displays that attached below posted speed signs that cost $3,600 each. Some cities are using them in problematic areas to “educate” motorists when they are speeding.

Part of education is also taking alternate routes when you can.

For example, it is possible to drive on surface streets in Manteca from Costco to Yosemite and Commerce avenues without ever driving on Yosemite until you reach the destination intersection. The missing link of Industrial Park Drive put in place seven years ago makes it possible to do so traveling the speed limit and obeying all stop signs and do so in better time than traveling down Yosemite.

Arguably the best way to avoid speeding is to give yourself time.

Speeding around schools, for example, are done typically by parents dropping off their children. Obligacion noted if they left for work at 7:15 a.m. during the summer they will continue to do so when school starts failing to account for the extra time to get their kid to schools.

“Don’t wait for the last minute to leave,” the chief said.