Walk across Woodward Avenue east of South Main Street any late weekday afternoon.
I dare you.
It won’t take you long to understand the frustration — and fears — of those who have children that cross what has become Manteca’s combination of the Booneville Salt Flats and a safer haven for 120 Bypass commuters heading to Modesto.
Granted, not everyone exceeds the speed limit. But you can have a massive heart attack watching some of the drivers barreling down Woodward not even taking their foot off the gas as pedestrians barely clear their path. This is not a unique situation in Manteca nor is it unique to Manteca.
Self-absorbed drivers who would never tolerate speeding in their neighborhoods don’t hesitate to turn other neighborhoods into a no-man’s land for pedestrians.
There are those that believe this is an enforcement issue. More ticket writing to clip the wings of the most egregious offenders would help but let’s be honest. This is a design problem at its worst.
Woodward Avenue originally was envisioned by the city as a four-lane major arterial. In retrospect, it wasn’t a good move especially with Atherton Drive about an eighth of a mile or so away and literally dozens upon dozens of homes lining much of Woodward west of South Main Street.
So the city of Manteca corrected its mistake — partially, that is.
The design of Atherton Drive from McKinley Avenue to a point south of Woodward Avenue as it nears Ripon calls for a minimum of collector streets and as small a number of driveways as possible to access commercial uses. Contrast that with Woodward Avenue that had 60 driveways to homes before subdivision construction started between Main Street and Airport Way.
Understanding this, the city modified its plans for Woodward west of South Main Street. Today it is slowly being transformed from a once rural, narrow road to a wide two-lane road with a tree-lined median in a deliberate and effective move to slow down traffic.
Meanwhile Woodward Avenue east of South Main Street is in place with a design that no longer makes sense. Why are four wide lanes needed between South Main Street and Atherton Drive? It is now clear thanks to the city’s decision west of South Main that the four lanes on Woodward east of South Main no longer makes sense. Worse yet, it will develop more and more into a pedal-to-the-metal dragstrip as increased traffic congestion in all directions surrounding the section of Woodward will only encourage many drivers to speed once they reach it to make up for loss of perceived time.
This doesn’t have to happen.
There is a solution that was advanced by former Mayor Willie Weatherford that holds even more water today. It is also a solution that will relieve neighborhood aggravation over parking when there are major soccer tournaments at Woodward Park.
From Main Street to Atherton Drive, shift travel lanes to the north side of the median. The two east-bound lanes could be converted into diagonal parking with a lane headed eastward for pulling into and out of parking spaces.
It would make crossing Woodward significantly less challenging, it would slow traffic down and it would expand parking for Woodward Park. It’s not perfect but it would address three major concerns — speeding, pedestrian safety, and parking.
Regardless of whether you believe Weatherford’s suggestion has merit, what is unacceptable is that this segment of Woodward Avenue isn’t on anybody’s radar screen at 1001 West Center Street as an issue that needs to be addressed during the next 10 years.
As the area around Woodward Park continues to develop the issues won’t get any better. And those who think the addition of another transition lane from the 120 Bypass to south Highway 99 in five or so years will adequately address both safety and congestion issues on the two freeways to the point commute traffic will no longer spill over onto local streets, guess again. Growth has become second nature to the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
If you want cars to stay out of certain areas, for drivers to slow down and for pedestrians to have a fighting chance you have to take steps to make that happen.
Woodward Avenue east of South Main Street stands as a monument to what might be generously called “over planning.” It is akin to plopping down two miles of the Autobahn between Buck Meadows and Groveland on Highway 120.
Besides making no sense, it encourages people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do traversing that neck of the woods.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.