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Bumper cars: Manteca’s street driving game needs to change via corrective engineering
Wyatt column
Back in the good old days when playing bumper cars was something you did at carnivals or amusement parks and not on Manteca’s city streets.

If you’re a fan of bumper cars there’s no reason to wait until a carnival with the ride comes to Manteca for you to have fun.

Just drive down North Main Street, Yosemite Avenue where it turns to four lanes on either side of the central district, or Spreckels Avenue between Historic Plaza Way and Phoenix Drive.

The odds are on any day during normal business hours you will see “chicken” being played with the continuous middle left turning lane.

Forget what the law says about if not being a travel lane even if it is in conjunction with a left turn coming in or off the street.

You’ll be hard pressed to find drivers that use the lane as intended.

It is why in cities like Modesto and Stockton, major arterials have a quaint invention called continuous medians that relegate left turn movements to intersections or at rare break in the medians.

And even then the left turn is allowed only for traffic on the arterial and not coming out of driveways.

In Manteca, your ability to turn left whereever you wish is treated as if it is a constitutional right.

This might come as a shock to those of us who live in “The City of Limitless Left Turns” but institutions like the National Traffic Safety Administration have conducted studies based on actual accident data that shows the most likely time for a collision to take place is when someone is turning.

That little tidbit of information was provided to city councils back in the 1980s and 1990s as four-lane commercial corridors were created in Manteca.

Efforts to eliminate left turns at random between traffic signals were led by business owners that said it would hurt their bottom line by keeping customers away and residents that didn’t want to be inconvenienced by having to drive to an intersection and make a U-turn to reach a store or restaurant.

The elected leaders naturally listened to those who threatened to vote them out of office or who were constantly in their face.

When the city was working with Caltrans when improvements were being planned for East Yosemite Avenue in connecting with the replacement of the 1955 underpass of Highway 99 some 21 years ago, the question of restricting left turns between the freeway and Austin Road came up.

East Yosemite Avenue is the area that does double duty as a state highway and city street.

The main concerns of Caltrans were safety and traffic movement.

That wasn’t the case with the city that was having its proverbial ear bent about how businesses would be destroyed and Manteca residents inconvenienced.

Caltrans wanted to place a median between Button Avenue and Pestana Avenue to prevent left turn movements to optimize safety as well as traffic flows.

The Burger King and Dodge dealership owners said it would hurt business.

El Rancho Mobile Home Park residents at the time spoke of how inconvenient it would be, while at the same time successfully pointing out to Caltrans it could take as long as 10 minutes waiting for a break to turn left in the one-lane of east bound traffic at the time on Highway 120 especially on Fridays and holidays.

The city dug its heels in. They did not want a raised median.

Ultimately, Caltrans compromised not just on the median but on the city’s push for traffic signals at Vasconcellos after then State Senator Mike Machado interceded at the city’s request.

The compromise resulted in no median but a banning of left turns out of El Rancho and signals at Vasconcellos if access from El Rancho to that street was created.

The access was created, the no left turn sign that is routinely ignored put in, and playing “chicken” has become a popular pastime for drivers.

Burger King is now a parking lot for In Shape City, the Dodge dealership is history, illegal left turns are common out of El Rancho and the unsafe turns in and out of the ARCO station as businesses across the street located virtually on top of the freeway ramps create confusion and often times leads to an impromptu game of bumper cars.

Dangerous movements aren’t limited to East Yosemite Avenue.

Check out Spreckels Avenue.

It isn’t unusual for a northbound car moving over to make a left turn into the southern Food-4-Less driveway to have to deal with a southbound car moving into the turn lane to reach Target just after passing the northern Food-4-Less driveway.

Going forward, Manteca needs to start designing arterials as if the city is headed for 100,000 residents instead of clinging to road standards that made sense when the city had 12,000 residents and one traffic light.

And since traffic is only going to increase, Manteca needs to develop a multi-year program to place raised medians on arterials in at least the heavily traveled existing commercial areas to restrict left turns to intersections.

The days of the Wild West on Manteca’s streets need to end.

You can hire all the traffic officers you want, but investment in prevention is more cost effective than trying to cure people of unsafe moves that they can physically make but are not legal to make.

Manteca’s streets can be made safer and less deadly but it needs to be an honest-to-goodness priority of the City Council with a well thought out and executed game plan and not reacting to complaints from residents that they are getting tired of trying to navigate a real world game of bumper cars.

That said, the latest moves of the current City Council to make Manteca’s streets safer by the judicious deployment of speed lumps to slow speeders is a start.

But it is only that — a start.

This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at