The new diverging diamond interchange on Union Road at the 120 Bypass is definitely different.
To accomplish less traffic congestion and significantly reduce the potential for accidents from turn movements, the travel lanes on Union Road cross each other twice at “X-like” intersections controlled by traffic signals.
Thanks to the city’s decision to put in place a separate protected crossing over the 120 Bypass for pedestrians and bicyclists, the handicapped in power chairs or 10-year-old kids who looked both ways first don’t have to worry about some idiot running red lights as they do on Yosemite Avenue at Commerce Avenue.
Many will see this as confusing — at least at first.
It is a departure from the accepted norm. That in its self will make it a target for criticism from motorists shell-shocked from the past decade or so of driving the streets of Manteca.
Will a major accident occur at some point? The interchange is no more accident proof — regardless of its design — than any other stretch of pavement in the city whether it is Main Street downtown or the asphalt in front of your home.
Design can be a factor in accidents but the real culprits by a wide margin are inattentive driving and those ignoring California’s basic speed law.
While it is not legal to exdceed posted speed limits, it is not necessarily legal to drive 5 mph under the speed limit if it is not safe to do so based on conditions. That could be everything from fog, icy pavement, a kid on the shoulder who had taken a tumble from his bicycle, construction work, congested traffic, and the list goes on.
So let’s go back to the basic question: Is the new diverging diamond interchange confusing?
It is no more confusing than a refrigerator that is blocking a lane that had fallen off a truck minutes earlier or even a stop sign.
The refrigerator analogy may strike you as outrageous but consider the following:
A full two years after San Joaquin County placed a roundabout on four-lane 11th Street’s intersection with Grantline/Kasson roads, a mid-size sedan westbound on 11th Street late one July morning with the sun high in the sky behind the driver and no other vehicle in the roundabout at the time, that said driver drove up onto the raised circular center before slamming on his brakes.
Alcohol or drugs were not a factor. The sun was behind him. There was no other traffic in the roundabout. There were numerous signs with amber flashing lights designed to make drivers aware there was a roundabout about up ahead and with a reduced speed zone.
So what happened?
The driver wasn’t paying attention.
Yet there were those that sent newspapers letters saying the roundabout should be taken out because it was confusing. It certainly was less confusing than barreling down on a stalled semi-truck ahead of you without benefit of being warned. Yes, one driving most streets in California wouldn’t expect a roundabout “in the middle of nowhere” as the 11th Street roundabout location has been described as, but the same holds true for a stalled truck in the middle of a lane posted for 25 mph.
Now let’s look at the diverging diamond interchange being no more confusing than a stop sign.
Take a walk on the wild side sometime in Manteca and cross intersections with stop signs and even traffic signals when cross traffic has the red light.
There are more than a few locations where drivers, while barely slowing down, make right turns on red lights and roll through stop lights. They often do so without looking to see if someone is in said crosswalk or are about to enter it. That’s because they are looking for traffic coming from the left that has the legal right of way just like the pedestrian.
Is the driver “confused” about the stop sign or simply ignoring it although they are obviously concerned about their safety and getting struck by oncoming traffic that has the right of way?
Manteca suffers a number of hits and near hits from people who are “confused” by stop signs. Perhaps the city should cease adding more given the “confusion” could lead to somebody being killed.
We need more “confusing” traffic improvements like the diverging diamond interchange if it gets more of us — myself included — to be off of autopilot when we are behind the wheel or believe that is OK to multitask while steering 4,000 pounds down the road that is capable of maiming and killing others.
In defense of those questioning the wisdom of plopping down a diverging diamond interchange in the middle of the motoring madhouse known as Manteca, their observations are fanned by a decade plus of inadequate traffic law enforcement and foot-dragging on the part of the city to improve safety on existing streets.
It’s nice that we once again have five police officers devoted to traffic enforcement after going a decade with two less due to budget cuts during the Great Recession.
But does anyone in their right mind think that five traffic officers with 86,000 people is sufficient when back in 2008 when Manteca was at 64,500 people and had five traffic enforcement officers?
While population ratios aren’t the best way to judge needs, Manteca had 1 traffic officer for every 13,000 people in 2008. Today it is at 1 officer for every 17,000 people. Keep in mind you could never accuse Manteca of being 100 percent staffed and certainly not overstaffed in the past 30 years. A strong case, as Mayor Ben Cantu has made a few times, can be made to add more than two traffic officers now and not sometime after 2030.
As for the city dragging its feet, they received over $2 million in federal grants more three years ago to do two things that would go a long way toward calming down many impatient drivers and upgrading safety.
One was to use the latest technology to coordinate traffic signals based on real time traffic flow throughout the city. The other was to replace older road signs — think stop signs, speed limit postings, curve ahead signs and such — with newer ones that have a higher degree of reflectiveness allowing them to be seen at much greater distances in the dark.
Yet nothing has happened.
Perhaps the next council taking over in December might want to make traffic safety and flow on existing city streets a priority much like they made making sure the segment of Lathrop Road just east of Airport Way was replaced before it was reduced to crushed asphalt.
The opinions are of editor Dennis Wyatt and not necessarily the Bulletin or 209 Multimedia.