Stanislaus traffic planners hear fears, concerns of residents in problem areas. What next?

·4 min read

Debbie Smith, 69, said she is scared to step outside of her home. While she uses a walker, there’s no space outside her trailer at the intersection of River and Bystrum roads where she can safely walk. There’s no stop sign to slow the cars that rattle by at 35 miles per hour or more, and like most of streets in this unincorporated south Modesto area known as Bystrom, there are no sidewalks, either.

“I shake, especially when I have to go around these vehicles,” Smith said, referring to the busy intersection. The River Road Market sits across the street, but the only traffic control is a stop sign for Bystrum Road motorists.

According to on-site Driftwood Mobile Home Park manager Katie Whiteley, more than 150 people live there, and like Smith, many are elderly and disabled.

On Friday, Smith crossed the street to the market, where representatives from the Stanislaus Council of Governments (StanCOG) were conducting the last in a three-part series of surveys and workshops aimed at alleviating these kinds of transportation barriers.

Bystrom residents Denise and Linda Espinoza look at traffic design concepts with traffic planner Mia Candy, right, during a pop-up meeting to gain input from residents on what changes they would like to see in their south Modesto neighborhood on Friday, August 5, 2022.
Bystrom residents Denise and Linda Espinoza look at traffic design concepts with traffic planner Mia Candy, right, during a pop-up meeting to gain input from residents on what changes they would like to see in their south Modesto neighborhood on Friday, August 5, 2022.

The project, part of a $223,682 grant from the California Department of Transportation, led StanCOG to select a few high-traffic streets within two of the county’s underserved and unincorporated communities, Bystrom and Empire. They include sections of Church Street and Yosemite Boulevard in Empire. In Bystrom, the project focuses on Latimer street and on River Road, where the Driftwood Mobile Home Park sits.

Dressed in T-shirts and jeans, the county officials looked like they were at a birthday party rather than a city planning event, with toys for kids and a big tent and signs. They sought input from residents to help refine street design concepts developed for the community.

“I want to see sidewalks. I want to see crosswalks. I want to see stop signs of some kind, and I want to see speed bumps,” Smith told The Modesto Bee at the event. With the help of StanCOG officials and consultants from the transportation planning firm Toole Design, she indicated her preferences for the street using a small sticky note that she placed onto a placard set up in the parking lot.

Traffic planners held a pop-up meeting to gain input from residents to help refine street design concepts in the Bystrom area of unincorporated south Modesto, Calif., on Friday, August 5, 2022.
Traffic planners held a pop-up meeting to gain input from residents to help refine street design concepts in the Bystrom area of unincorporated south Modesto, Calif., on Friday, August 5, 2022.

From across the street, Raymond Antonio, 47, pushed his bicycle through the intersection. He’s unemployed and collects recycling around the neighborhood. Last July, a car hit him while he was biking along nearby Ninth Street, he said. The crash caused a compound fracture of his ankle that needed four screws and a plate, and his ankle remains swollen a year later.

In the past five years, there have been more than 100 motor vehicle, motorcycle, bicycle, and pedestrian crashes in this swath of Bystrom, according to StanCOG’s visual map of the neighborhood using data from the California Highway Patrol.

Beyond the usual street changes, like bike lanes and better visibility for crosswalks, StanCOG representatives also discussed more nuanced additions, like widening the curbs. Research shows that this subtle change can shift drivers’ behavior, leading them to make slower and safer turns. Other changes can be tricky. Installing a stoplight, for instance, requires a complicated county process where city planners must prove the area has experienced a certain number of traffic accidents, said Andrew Kotalik, an engineer on the project with Toole Design.

Kotalik said the addition of sidewalks would “visually tighten the road” and encourage better driver behavior.

To anticipate these challenges, StanCOG Associate Planner Emma Goldsmith met with Caltrans early on to see which proposed changes were feasible. At this stage in the process, the improvements are well-vetted, both by city planners and by the public. But these are only recommendations. Caltrans isn’t required to implement them.

StanCOG plans to finalize the street improvements plan in October. If the end result includes some of the changes proposed this week, residents like Smith and Antonio could feel a newfound sense of safety.

But the Caltrans grant supports only the creation of a plan. There’s no money secured for the implementation, and those dollars likely will need to come from the county, Caltrans, or elsewhere.

For now, that leaves Smith stuck at home more often than not. “If they hit me,” Smith said, referring to the cars that zoom by, “it’s on them. But I don’t want to get hit.”

Traffic planners held a pop-up meeting at River Road Market to gain input from residents to help refine street design concepts in the Bystrom area of unincorporated south Modesto, Calif., on Friday, August 5, 2022.
Traffic planners held a pop-up meeting at River Road Market to gain input from residents to help refine street design concepts in the Bystrom area of unincorporated south Modesto, Calif., on Friday, August 5, 2022.
Traffic planners held a pop-up meeting to gain input from residents to help refine street design concepts in the Bystrom area of unincorporated south Modesto, Calif., on Friday, August 5, 2022.
Traffic planners held a pop-up meeting to gain input from residents to help refine street design concepts in the Bystrom area of unincorporated south Modesto, Calif., on Friday, August 5, 2022.
A roundabout is one of the proposed street design concepts for the intersection of River and Herndon roads in the Bystrom area of unincorporated south Modesto, Calif., on Friday, August 5, 2022.
A roundabout is one of the proposed street design concepts for the intersection of River and Herndon roads in the Bystrom area of unincorporated south Modesto, Calif., on Friday, August 5, 2022.
Beverly Kidwell talks with traffic planners Mia Candy, right, during a pop-up meeting to gain input from residents to help refine street design concepts in the Bystrom area of unincorporated south Modesto, Calif., on Friday, August 5, 2022.
Beverly Kidwell talks with traffic planners Mia Candy, right, during a pop-up meeting to gain input from residents to help refine street design concepts in the Bystrom area of unincorporated south Modesto, Calif., on Friday, August 5, 2022.
Traffic planners held a pop-up meeting to gain input from residents to help refine street design concepts in the Bystrom area of unincorporated south Modesto, Calif., on Friday, August 5, 2022.
Traffic planners held a pop-up meeting to gain input from residents to help refine street design concepts in the Bystrom area of unincorporated south Modesto, Calif., on Friday, August 5, 2022.
Debbie Smith moves off the street to avoid oncoming cars, she says “she shakes’ when she needs to walk around parked cars that jut out to the edge of River Road leaving no room for her to pass safely as moving vehicles pass by. Traffic planners held a pop-up meeting to gain input from residents to help refine street design concepts in the Bystrom area of unincorporated south Modesto, Calif., on Friday, August 5, 2022.
Debbie Smith moves off the street to avoid oncoming cars, she says “she shakes’ when she needs to walk around parked cars that jut out to the edge of River Road leaving no room for her to pass safely as moving vehicles pass by. Traffic planners held a pop-up meeting to gain input from residents to help refine street design concepts in the Bystrom area of unincorporated south Modesto, Calif., on Friday, August 5, 2022.