If you like the changes to traffic flow and parking on Main Street in Merced hold tight because there are more on the way.
The City Council on Monday night decided to move forward on a downtown redesign to implement a permanent one-way street on Main Street from Martin Luther King Jr. Way to O Street.
Now it’s going to be more of the same thing that Mercedians have experienced for the past year, but with a big directional twist.
During the initial pilot program, Main Street was “temporarily” transformed into a one-way, east-bound direction from M to K Streets. Twenty nine diagonal parking stalls were also added along the stretch and on Canal Street.
“It took some getting used to,” said Michael Beltran, the city engineer.
Beltran said reactions were mixed at first, but gradually, as drivers and business owners became used to the new direction, and enjoyed increased parking in front of Main Street shops, the change was generally accepted as a good idea.
Later, city staff received a traffic impact report and parking analysis from a consultant, and also added their own recommendations, along with some community input.
Basically, the big thing now is that they want to change the Main Street traffic flow to a westbound direction starting at MLK, where the Merced Theatre is located. Part of the reason is that the business fronts and signage — especially the landmark locations of the Merced Theatre tower, Main Place Cinema, Playhouse Merced, the El Capitan Hotel and The Mainzer theatre — are situated for the best driver and rider viewership in a westbound route.
Additionally, the analysis provided recommendations to increase parking all along Main Street and 18th Street, from G Street to R Street. They want to add about 96 additional parking stalls, and wider turn lane spacing.
But wait there’s more:
• Canal Street, between W. 18th Street and Main Street, will become permanent one-way (southbound toward Main) with about six more diagonal parking spaces.
• Main Street, from R Street to O Street, and from MLK Jr Way to G Street, would remain a two-direction route, but the lanes would be reduced from four to two (one for each direction). Diagonal parking would also be added along these street stretches.
One staff recommendation that the Council did not go for was an idea to create an “all-way crossing square” in the middle of the M Street and Main intersection. Leaders thought the location was too busy for a crossing that would stop all traffic at once for pedestrians who would be allowed to cross the intersection from any direction.
Councilman Kevin Blake praised the project, saying the goal was to make downtown more “pedestrian friendly,” but he warned against adding too many narrow parking spaces.
“I don’t want an environment where we say: ‘Let’s see how many cars we can fit, and cram everybody in — that’s not the goal. The goal, in my mind, is to be comfortable, pedestrian friendly, and decent size parking spaces. This is Merced. There are a lot of trucks, larger-size vehicles.”
Lisa Kayser-Grant of the city’s Bicycle Coalition did comment that the addition of diagonal parking has reduced the quality of experience for pedestrians and bicyclists downtown. She said people are experiencing more noise and more exhaust. She added that there would be less parking areas for bikes, and cyclists will continue to face risks from cars that are backing out of diagonal spaces.
The pilot program, consultation and design work (about $1 million) has already been paid for from mostly American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, and city staff now looks to bid out the proposal to a contractor. Traffic signals will have to be reworked and in some cases removed. The actual redesign work is expected to cost another $1 million, and there’s ARPA funds for that too. Officials are hesitant to say when the work will be completed, but if everything goes well, the new traffic flow and parking downtown will be in place by the end of the year or the start of the next.
In Other News
The City Council voted 6-1 to move forward with planning to implement an anti-violence program known as Advance Peace. Councilman Kevin Blake voted NO.
The nonprofit aims to reduce gun violence by targeting likely shooters and offering them support intended to counter criminal behavior. The effort has been tried in places like Richmond, Stockton, Sacramento and Fresno. Richmond is said to have had an 85 percent decrease in firearm assaults between 2012 to 2019 while the program operated.
“Since the pandemic, we’ve had a lot more community violence in Merced, Councilman Jesse Ornelas pointed out.
With the council’s vote, city staff is expected to facilitate an Advance Peace “site assessment” and then return at a future Council meeting with a Merced-specific plan for leaders to decide upon.
Councilman Kevin Blake remained unconvinced throughout the discussion on Monday night
“Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t see a lot of redeeming qualities in people who shoot at other people,” Blake said. “I think when you try to kill other people, you kind of give up your rights.”
Blake said increased law enforcement and incarceration should be part of the solution to crime in the area.