A recently installed median on Mitchell Road has clamped down on access and the customer base at La Perla Tapatia market, said its owner, who has asked the Ceres City Council to tear it down or come up with another solution.
The council only seemed perplexed about a remedy at a special May 13 council Study Session.
Some council members appear willing to see the median jackhammered out despite warnings from the city's chief traffic engineer, City Engineer Toby Wells.
With the intersection of Hatch and Mitchell roads one of the busiest in the county and carrying an estimated 44,000 vehicles per day, the median prevents drivers from steering left from the southbound lanes to enter La Perla's parking lot. Drivers have the option of going further south to make a U-turn at the intersection or proceed eastbound on Hatch Road to enter through the southern lot entrance.
The location has a history of accidents, said Wells, due to motorists turning left in front of northbound Mitchell Road traffic. Wells said the median limits conflicts of traffic movements and removing it opens the potential for more serious collisions. He recalled that one accident involved a left turn into the center in which six riders were injured.
Most road engineers recognize that left turns should not be permitted within 250 feet of an intersection, said Wells. La Perla's Mitchell Road entrance is 174 feet from the Hatch intersection. In addition, he noted that studies show that 72 percent of crashes at a driveway involve a left turn.
Wells said it's safer for southbound drivers to turn left onto Hatch Road and then left into the shopping center's southern entrance.
Wells appeared frustrated at times trying to convey traffic engineer knowledge to the council, which placed simplistic but non-workable solutions on the table. More than once the council suggested that Wells install an exclusive left-turn pocket for the La Perla entrance similar to the one at the CVS Pharmacy for eastbound Hatch Road. Wells said the CVS situation differs because its left pocket is 300 feet from the Central Avenue intersection.
Wells continually reminded the four councilmen present that the action would shorten the stacking capacity for Mitchell's dual southbound left turn lanes at Hatch Road and said it would create further backups on Mitchell Road.
"There's not a physical way to do what you're asking without impacting the storage of the left turn," Wells told Councilman Eric Ingwerson, who in turn said "I don't agree with that - show me."
Gabe Villa, owner of La Perla Tapatia, said many of his Modesto and Empire customers don't shop with him anymore because it's harder to access his store.
He offered specific sales figures from since 2008 in an attempt to show the median has affected business. Wells suggested La Perla has been hurt less by the median and more by the economy and the opening of a competitor in Rancho San Miguel. The sales data released to the city by the business showed a sharp drop before the median was installed.
Sukhi Sandhu, owner of Valley Mart in the same center, said his liquor and cigarette dropped after the median installation. He said customers coming from the Airport District or Beard Industrial Park have to "get creative" in how they access his store.
"I'm a convenient business and that is not convenient to my customers at all," said Sandhu. "My customers want to be in and out."
He said he was not consulted about the median before they were installed last August.
Tony Covarrubias, a representative of Mancia Commercial which firm that owns the center, told the council "since that divider's gone up it has been very difficult to rent the property." He added: "I hear from the tenants how they're having a hard time."
Councilman Bret Durossette and some members of the public noted that permitting U turns for southbound motorists has created problems, especially for tractor-trailer rigs and other long vehicles that can only navigate through it on a three-point U-turn. He appeared willing to vote for the median's removal.
"I'm all for the safety aspect but these people have been here (since) ... 2003 and all those other businesses in there," said Durossette. "If they walk we're going to have blight and we're not going to have the tax dollars."
Vice Mayor Ken Lane ran the study session since Mayor Chris Vierra - an engineer by trade - had to leave for another meeting. Lane hinted that he is willing to see the median come out.
"I think it's going to take more study..." said Lane, "...there needs to some solution but I don't know what that is, other than taking that out."
The matter will come before the council again on Monday, July 8.