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Bulbs & de facto right turn lanes
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Editor’s note: Dennis Wyatt is on vacation. This column first appeared March 26, 2005 in the Manteca Bulletin. The city, 11 years later, is preparing to spend $1 million to take the bulbs in the 100 block of Center Street out.


Mention work going on in the 100 block of North Main Street and you’ll raise hackles at daily coffee gatherings throughout Manteca.

The new No. 1 chart topper for complaints about the city among those who deliver commentary over coffee are the “bulbs” that are going in as part of the downtown makeover.

The “bulbs” are concrete planters that basically are appearing every two car spaces to plant trees and other landscaping. They have a two-fold purpose. They will help beautify downtown and they will make parallel parking easier.

Since the “bulbs” are taking away some parking space, you might think the clamor is over the issue of parking. Guess again.

They complain — and correctly so — over the loss of the ability to make right hand turns well in advance of Yosemite Avenue and Center Street while traveling Main Street southbound. For years, the existence of de facto right turn lanes has helped relieve some of the traffic congestion on this section of Main Street where traffic backs up at times for three to four blocks.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to the Manteca City Council especially since the majority of them saw no need to re-stripe North Main Street from Yosemite Avenue to Alameda Street so four lanes of through traffic could actually go through.

Instead, they directed staff to keep it at two lanes with parking.

Why? Good question.

Councilman Jack Snyder had enlisted SHARP volunteers to survey the on-street parking along the four-block stretch at different times of the day. They found that only a fraction of the 60-plus parking spaces were ever used. Most customers accessing the businesses did so from off-street parking lots or alleys.

Snyder hoped the information would convince his colleagues that eliminating the tourniquet on Main Street through downtown — where four lanes feed into two and then back into four — was the best move to make.

But when the time came to make a final decision, the council was swayed by one businessman worrying about the loss of drop in business during tough economic times. His argument was straightforward: If people were driving down Main Street and on impulse saw his business and wanted to come in they couldn’t do so because there would be no on-street parking.

So those grumbling over coffee should thank those who bought the businessmen’s line of protecting their ability to impulse shop at a termite and pest control business that is — surprise, surprise — no longer on Main Street.

And we mustn’t forget the promise of the ages that once the Industrial Park Drive extension is built — assuming cars still exist when it happens —  it will take some pressure off the Main Street corridor.

Part of the foot-dragging and foundation for what may appear to be subsequent bad decisions on the part of the city can be traced back to the reluctance of elected leaders to “offend” anyone or an incessant drive to please everyone.

Traffic flow improvements have been studied to death in the downtown corridor. If a solution seems on the verge of taking place — such as the four-lane plan — usually one or two people getting loud at a public meeting can stop it from happening. Such was the case years ago when one-way streets on Center Street and Yosemite Avenue were almost on the verge of becoming a reality. The merchant who complained the most ended up several years later arguing in favor of one-way streets. What happened? He moved his business and now viewed the downtown area like virtually everyone else in Manteca as a place not just to shop but as a place you have to drive through to reach a lot of other places in the city.

The only constituent the majority of the council appeared to hear was the one person who was the loudest.

No one spoke for the much larger body of people — those who drive Main Street numerous times during the day in order to go about their daily routine.

The “bulbs” and accompanying landscaping are probably going to be an asset.

But unless a miracle happens when the Industrial Park Drive opens, pressure is going to continue to build on the corridor since alternative routes simply don’t exist thanks to the railroad slashing through Manteca and the grid pattern of major streets.

It should be a shame to ever see the “bulbs” being removed. But then again, if the best decision based on the overall impact of everyone affected was made a few years back, there would be four travel lanes from Yosemite Avenue to Alameda Street just as it is everywhere else along the Main Street corridor. That would have made any talk of removing the “bulbs” — which is sure to occur eventually — a moot point.