Imagine, if you will, if the traffic signals at Union Road and Center Street did not function for 13 months.
We’re not talking the default flashing red in all directions when something goes haywire. Instead they are not working – period.
The City Council probably would be up in arms.
It’s a question, after all, of traffic safety.
So the question that needs to be asked is why after 13 months is the crosswalk flashing safety system on Woodward Avenue at Wellington Avenue by Woodward Park still inoperable?
Does pedestrian safety matter in Manteca? Based on the body count of the past three years with six pedestrians — significantly more than those killed who were wrapped in thousands of pounds of steel that were involved in city traffic accidents over the same time period — apparently not much.
It would be disingenuous to say more crosswalks with flashers would have prevented any of the six deaths nor would it be correct to say that the pedestrians killed in an instance or two didn’t shoulder most of the blame. But that is no reason to take a laissez-faire approach to basic maintenance of Manteca’s rudimentary pedestrian safety efforts. It is especially true given the city doesn’t apply the same “oh well, we’ll get around some time in the next year or so” in regards to maintenance issues related to safety equipment such as replacing road signs and repairing signals when it comes to vehicle traffic safety.
And while it is absolutely true if everyone just slowed down and paid attention to driving and walking and acted as if their lives depended upon it instead of being comfy cruising the streets wrapped in a steel cocoon that makes driving effortless or having their noses buried in smartphones when they are on foot crossing streets the number of deaths, injuries, and accidents would plummet.
The Wellington/Woodward crosswalk debacle is symbolic of Manteca’s failure to get pedestrian safety right. It is the latest in a growing list of brush offs the city seems to give to making streets safer for those on foot. Remember the crosswalk at Woodward Avenue and Buena Vista Drive? The City Council after being petitioned by area residents in 2010 agreed to put a crosswalk in place that had an overhead flasher. Two studies and six years later the overhead flasher was in place.
The Wellington in-ground flashers stopped functioning in November 2017, nine years and 11 months after they were put into operation with much fanfare from the city on how it would help those going to and from the park using the Wellington bike path that connects with the Tidewater system have a larger degree of safety.
Several months after they stopped working and nearby residents complained, the city placed a barricade with a sign advising the flasher wasn’t working. A couple of months after that it was replaced with an office computer generated sheet of paper saying the flasher wasn’t working that was duct taped to the poles on each side of the street.
Last Saturday two kids of about 8 years — they were from out of town participating in a soccer tournament so they had no knowledge of the quaint Manteca tradition of allowing crossing safety systems stay inoperable for more than a year at a time — repeatedly pushed the button but to no avail.
Someone in elected office should try pushing a few buttons themselves.
Last June, staff indicated that repairing the in-ground system at Wellington would not be as effective as replacing it with overhead flashers. They added that the city council could enjoy a scale of economy and save money by going forward with permanent flashers for the temporary ones put in place for Pagola Avenue at Woodward Avenue at the start of last school year in August of 2016.
It made sense at the time. Now it is clear it was just tossed on the pile of things to do with no clear time frame or course of action going forward.
In fairness to staff, this is really a priority the council has to establish given everything that needs to be done. At the same time council needs to be made aware if they are burying the staff. One of the most enlightened moments of council-staff communication came early last year when Parks & Recreation was pressed about why the project to convert grass at the Civic Center with more water miserly landscaping had been dragging on for a year without any movement. Staff was upfront: They lacked the manpower to get to it given it was lower down the priority list.
That said, pedestrian safety is in a little bit of a different league than replacing water guzzling grass. While there is an expectation the city will try to do things in the most economical manner possible, delaying action on a clear safety issue for 13 months is inexcusable. If the city is slammed dealing with growth as well as moving major municipal infrastructure projects forward such as the food waste to fuel project, this might be one of those times where hiring a “consultant” to do the engineering specs for the Wellington and Pagola crosswalk safety projects might not irk residents who actually live here and whose kids actually cross Woodward Avenue as opposed to planning for new streets that will allow more homes to be built.
A nice start would be for the council to secure a do-able timeline to do the work at Wellington Avenue.