Make the left turn from southbound Freedom Boulevard onto Lincoln Street today and you'll have two hands on the wheel and one foot on the brake.
The left turn veers into a right curve, and both sides of your vehicle boxed in by curbs. The movement almost feels like you're driving a race car, except the narrow lane has slowed you down. And keep your eyes on the crosswalks for pedestrians, who may be taking refuge on the traffic island between your lane and northbound Lincoln Street traffic.
has been a focal point for motorists who worry about the safety of the new design—265 Watsonville residents were concerned enough to sign a petition calling for a second look at the heavily-traveled area.
"I think you have not listened to community," City Council Member Nancy Bilicich told city staff during the Watsonville City Council meeting Tuesday night. "... It just kind of happened."
Bilicich, who asked that the intersection be reviewed at a council meeting, said residents weren't consulted about the new design. Even as city staff talked about their intentions at Tuesday's council meeting, there was no one in the audience to comment on the issue. of the night and didn't start until 11:15 p.m.
"It bothers me that the public's not here. There's a lot of people who are very upset," said Bilicich, who left toward the end of the conversation when fellow council members began praising the project.
"I like it. It's pedestrian-friendly," said Mayor Eduardo Montesino, who drives through the area at least twice a day, either behind the wheel of his Metro bus or heading to his children's babysitter his personal vehicle.
Mary Esther Rodriguez from the Public Works Department, explained the redesign project, which began with a 2009 traffic study.
"It's had a history of safety problems at that intersection," she said, highlighting unsafe speeds, illegal turns and right-of-way violations as major issues.
Vehicles making illegal turns from nearby Broadis Street get broadsided by Freedom Boulevard traffic, and pedestrians walked wherever they wanted because there was no crosswalk, Rodriguez added.
"I have noted issues at that intersection the entire time I've been with the police department," Watsonville police traffic officer Michael Ridgway said.
In 2011, the city approved funding to repave Freedom Boulevard. When the bids came in, they were 20 percent lower than the city had budgeted for, so the Freedom Boulevard-Lincoln Street intersection redesign was lumped into the project.
The redesign includes:
- curb extensions on the Lincoln Street side to reduce speeds
- a "defined area" for pedestrians, including crosswalks and a traffic island
- a narrower lane to slow drivers
Rodriguez said the design was tested to ensure buses and emergency vehicles could handle the lane widths (16 feet) and turns.
Bilicich questioned if this was true. She said there are skid Marks all through that area. But, according to city data, there have been no reported car crashes at the intersection since the redesign. Also, the Public Works Department hasn't received complaints about the area.
Ridgway added that he's seen positive changes in motorists' behavior since the new intersection opened in March.
"Traffic's no longer racing," he said, adding. "I personally and professionally believe the improvements have been beneficial."
Because the Freedom Boulevard issue came before the city council so late in the evening, the public hearing will be rescheduled to give residents the opportunity to weigh in on the issue at a reasonable hour.