VOTE: Is Freedom Boulevard Safer?

Police and city Public Works Department staff say the changes at Lincoln Street are improvements, but 265 residents signed a petition saying otherwise.

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.

sweetcakes May 25, 2012 at 01:42 AM
Changing the street was a waste of taxpayers money. The City of Watsonville wastes our tax money and now wants to raise our taxes (water rates) again. Last rate increase for me was 100%. Now I am contacting the California Public Utilities comm. to complain.
sweetcakes May 25, 2012 at 01:43 AM
The red paint was not applied very carefully. It is a messy job.
Lorena G May 25, 2012 at 05:59 AM
I used to drive by this road all the time now I avoid it. I've scraped my tires because of the narrow space. I can't see the road very well to avoid hitting the side of the side walk so i avoid it alltogether to avoid an accident. I always thought crossing the street at this space was a dumb thing to do and I still think it's a dumb idea to try to cross it. I hate the design. Maybe there are less accidents because more people have decided to avoid this street too. Food for thought.
Quite Big Bill May 25, 2012 at 07:09 AM
Well, ya know; the City gets all that money and then has to figure out silly new ways to spend it. But, how did this become yet another “issue” which is split down along those same familiar lines in the City Council? Frankly, I think it illustrates once again that there is really only one genuine political issue in Watsonville. Our hometown needs a STRONG MAYOR who is hired and fired directly by the “Collective Overall Electorate”. THE PEOPLE of Watsonville need a real Mayor who has the power to Veto the silly whims of the City Council when needed and who is THE BOSS of the City Manager.
Carol A. Sales May 26, 2012 at 05:35 AM
Who thought that this would make the intersection safer? I only got thaat way now when I forget how the intersection was changed. IT IS AN ACCIENT WAITING TO HAPPN. Someone is going to get hurt. Also an issue...the curbs that were installed at Bridge and Beck....Just sayin..........


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