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Traffic angels donning bright safety vests
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I’ve been jogging down Alameda Street from Powers Avenue twice a week for the better part of three years to go to CalFit Manteca.

I stick to the curb line jogging against traffic. The majority of drivers are courteous although everyone seems to speed at least a little. That said a large number of folks simply don’t pay attention. They roll through stop signs without looking to see if there is a pedestrian. They act as if limit lines are where your back tires come to rest instead of stopping before you cross it. And yes — just like any other street — there are a surprising number of people that can’t pull themselves away from cellphones when they are driving.

And to be clear, any near misses I’ve had in the past 24 years of jogging or walking Manteca’s streets have not been on Alameda.

I happen to jog to CalFit perhaps 10 or so minutes before the bell at Shasta School.

Up until a month ago drivers on Alameda turning left onto Powers would ignore kids standing on the corner waiting to cross. They’d simply pull across the crosswalk, stop, look, and go. Ironically they’re taking their kids to the same place that the kids on the sidewalk are headed — Shasta School.

Those turning right onto Powers rarely came to a complete stop nor did they ever look to their right. I know this because I round the corner keeping a close eye on drivers and their cars.

That behavior has all changed. Travel at that time of day on Alameda is a tad slower. Almost every driver looks to the right as well as the left before turning onto Powers.

You now rarely see drivers on Alameda before Shasta School’s bell rings with a cellphone in their hands as they drive.

And it has become the norm for people to do something that is extremely rare in Manteca — come to a complete stop at limit lines.

The death of first grader Jordan Morrison as she walked to Shasta School on nearly Edison Street last month triggered the change initially.

But a tragedy such as that rarely has any lasting power when it comes to changing driving habits of people who frequent specific streets. I can say this with absolutely no doubt in my mind since three times a week I jog down Woodward Avenue passing Wellington Avenue where Darshan Singh was killed and the grandson he was pushing in a stroller seriously injured when they were struck in the middle of a crosswalk in July.

Jog certain routes long enough at the same time each day and you start taking note of the same vehicles you see every day. After the July tragedy, those “regular” vehicles slowed down and the drivers seemed more attentive for about two weeks. Then as if someone had replaced a caution flag with a green flag it was off to the races once again.

The big difference on Alameda Street this time is due to ordinary Manteca folks doing an extraordinary gesture. They are giving their time without any direction from anyone in authority to serve as guardian angels decked out in bright vests and holding stop signs to watch over kids walking to and from school at heavily traveled intersections around Shasta School.

They are making a huge difference. They are the best traffic calming “devices” ever deployed in Manteca. Everyone seems to be going slower.

Before it was rare to see more than two cars backed up on Alameda waiting to turn left onto Powers. The traffic backup usually was on Powers waiting to drop their kids off on Edison. That’s not the case anymore because almost all drivers are coming to a stop and then pausing to look both ways. Actually following the rules of the road probably costs them 15 to 30 seconds. The trade-off is those on foot — especially children — have an increased margin of safety.

This is happening because when there are no kids being helped across the street a smiling volunteer that you can’t miss with their safety vests stands on either corner.

Wednesday afternoon I noticed as I was driving down Edison approaching Lincoln Avenue that I was also driving a little slower than usual. That’s because a full half a block ahead I noticed one of the volunteers. He smiled and waved as I came to a stop. I returned the gesture.

All of us are guilty of being in too big of a hurry at times or being inattentive behind the wheel as driving has become progressively easier and more comfortable over the years with the advent of power steering, automatic transmission, and ergonomically designed seats. Toss in a cellphone, applying make-up, reading material, and eating behind the wheel and you start wondering why there aren’t more accidents, more deaths, and more injuries.

I believe I have become a more attentive and a more careful driver since I started jogging, especially on streets such as Yosemite Avenue between the Food-4-Less shopping center and Button Avenue.

Walk that section of roadway and you’ll experience and see what imperils pedestrians and causes most accidents. Drivers routinely don’t look for pedestrians coming out of driveways, they turn right on red lights without looking for pedestrians, are on cell phones, rarely stop behind limit lines, tail gate,  and do all sorts of things that would get them flunked taking a DMV behind the wheel test.

After just a couple of times walking along East Yosemite you will find yourself asking whether shaving what ends up being only a few seconds  — if that  — off your drive time is worth the risk you will seriously maim someone or take their life.

In the end speed — or whatever bonehead behind-the-wheel move you might do — doesn’t kill. Its drivers that kill.