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Modesto Plans a New Road Diet

Modesto plans to narrow Paradise Road from four lanes to three, install bicycle lanes, fill in sidewalk gaps, and add other features to make it safer. Image courtesy of City of Modesto.

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The city of Modesto was awarded approximately $3.9 million from California's Active Transportation Program (ATP) to make Paradise Road, one of the most dangerous streets in town, a little safer. The project includes a road diet to calm traffic speeds and new bike lanes.

“It is the third highest [street] in the city of Modesto for traffic collisions,” according to Jeff Knowles. He’s a senior planning associate for Alta Planning and Design who is working as a consultant with the city of Modesto on the project.

Knowles and Michael Sacuskie, associate engineer and bicycle program coordinator for Modesto, described the planned improvements in detail at a special Economic Development Committee meeting held recently to discuss the project with residents.

Paradise Road is currently a four-laner without bicycle lanes. It also has two gaps along its sidewalk, about 600 feet in total of missing walkway. It’s a relatively high-traffic road, with about 10,000 to 15,000 vehicles every day—and drivers tend to speed along it. It is also well-used by people walking and on bikes, and there are frequent collisions. In the past five years, Paradise Road has been the scene of 77 collisions, 39 percent of which involved bicyclists. Three resulted in severe injuries, and two were fatalities. This is according to a safety analysis done by the consultants in preparation for the project.

The project will make changes along Paradise Road from Sheridan to First streets, as well as along several short street segments surrounding Modesto High School: Jefferson, Washington, I, and G streets. The city plans to convert Paradise Road to three lanes between First Street to Martin Luther King Drive.

The change is expected to reduce speeds by thirty percent without impacting the flow of traffic, according to Knowles.

Narrowing Paradise Road will free up space for new bicycle lanes on Paradise Road from Sheridan to First and along Jefferson Street between Paradise and Vine. There are currently no bike lanes throughout the project area.

Paradise Road runs right through West Modesto, an area that suffers from high rates of poverty and health issues. The road also runs past the city’s largest high school, with more than 2,500 students. One of the benefits of the road diet, said Sacuskie, is that it will make traffic around the high school less chaotic and safer.

“It will clear up a lot of confusion with pick up, drop off, and crossings at Modesto High,” he said.

Existing conditions on Paradise Road, right, include four lanes, no bicycle lanes, and 600 feet of sidewalk gaps. The proposed changes, right, include three traffic lanes, bike lanes, and a median. Image courtesy City of Modesto.
Paradise Road currently has four vehicle lanes, no bicycle lanes, and 600 feet of sidewalk gaps, as seen at left above. The proposed changes, right, would reduce vehicle lanes to three and add bike lanes and a median. Image courtesy City of Modesto.
Existing conditions on Paradise Road, right, include four lanes, no bicycle lanes, and 600 feet of sidewalk gaps. The proposed changes, right, include three traffic lanes, bike lanes, and a median. Image courtesy City of Modesto.

As the application was being readied, Sacuskie and his colleagues met with stakeholders from Modesto High School, and incorporated suggestions and feedback from teachers and staff to improve the road diet design. For instance, they added a median down the middle of Paradise Road, which should both help students trying to cross the road and prevent mid-block U-turns.

The Modesto High School frontage also includes one of seven intersections on Paradise Road that are skewed at a 45 degree angle. These intersections give pedestrians a longer distance to cross, and they make it difficult for drivers to see walkers or bicyclists. The project will add curb extensions to help tee up the corners, thus improving visibility and shortening the distance for pedestrians, Sacuskie said.

“It’s the wild west at Paradise,” said Ron DeLoach, especially at the start and end of the school day. DeLoach, a member of the West Modesto People of Action Council, was one of about 25 community members who attended the Economic Development Commission meeting. He said the high school area is problematic, but so is the remainder of Paradise Road. The commercial area needs better lighting and high visibility crosswalks, he said, and refuge islands are sorely needed.

He has witnessed people of all ages taking risks crossing the wide road where it runs through his West Modesto neighborhood.

“I see older people with walkers trying to cross the street,” he said.

Road diets are not new to Modesto. In 2015, the city completed a similar project on College Avenue in front of the local community college, which is another high-traffic, high-speed area. A road diet, bicycle lanes, improved sidewalks, and crosswalks were installed. Subsequent studies have shown a seven-mile-per-hour reduction in overall speed along that section of street.

Bill Zoslocki, a councilmember for the city of Modesto, has been pleased with those results. “I was on the council when the road diet on College Avenue was proposed,” he said, “and I opposed it because I thought [traffic] would go into the neighborhoods.” But since the road diet went in, it is easier even for drivers. Now, he said, the synchronized traffic signals allow him to drive along College Avenue without having to stop for a red light.

The almost $4 million Modesto received from the ATP Cycle 3 will be augmented with $35,000 from Measure L, the half-cent sales tax that was approved by Stanislaus County voters in 2016. Construction is expected to begin in summer 2021, but not before planners conduct more public outreach to get input from residents.

Perfecto Muñoz, director of the King-Kennedy Memorial Center where the meeting was held, told the West Modesto residents in attendance that he appreciated them coming out to share their concerns about the project.

“We need the voices of this community if we are going to have a say [about] what’s going to happen in this community,” he said.

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