Traffic guard

City of Chico’s ‘bulbing’ rattles quiet Avenues neighborhood

East Sacramento Avenue residents Lynn Pardini and Chuck Nelson watch as a bus comes barreling down their street.

East Sacramento Avenue residents Lynn Pardini and Chuck Nelson watch as a bus comes barreling down their street.

Photo By Ginger mcguire

About a week ago Carol Riddell sat down at her dining room table to start on her Christmas cards, but she got distracted and started tallying how many times the bus drove by her house on East Sacramento Avenue.

That day she counted 20 buses, keeping track till about 9 p.m. The next day she started earlier and counted 25 buses. Lynn Pardini, who lives just down the street, says the buses are just the same as having a garbage truck drive up and down the street every half hour, six days a week.

For residents living on the historic East Sacramento Avenue, listening to this rattling was unfamiliar, that is until temporary traffic barriers were installed on East First Avenue a little more than a week ago. The city of Chico installed temporary bulbing at the intersections of West First and Magnolia avenues, and East First and Oleander avenues. Some residents living on nearby side streets are irritated with the changes and believe the bulbing will create more complications than it solves.

City Traffic Engineer Brian Mickelson said the bulbing was included in the Avenue Neighborhood Improvement Plan to increase traffic safety and to be more pedestrian friendly. He said the neighborhood plan was recommended by residents who are part of the Chico Avenues Neighborhood Association and was adopted by the City Council in April 2008.

East First is a busy road with some 14,000 cars traveling daily, he said. Bulbing narrows the crossing distance for pedestrians at intersections and slows traffic. But now some residents are outraged because they say they were never included in the process, and they had no idea traffic would be diverted to their neighborhood as a result of the bulbing.

“This is not a place to put a bus line and fast traffic,” said Judy Galli, who has lived on the corner of Laburnum and East Sacramento for 11 years. “If [the city is] looking at slowing down traffic, why would they do it one block before The Esplanade?

“It’s a dangerous situation,” she continued. “I think it’s more than just a neighborhood issue. It’s a Chico issue as well.”

Hers are not the first concerns over the plan. An Internal Affairs Committee Agenda Report dated Feb. 10, 2009, states that “the diversion of traffic onto adjacent local residential streets was a major concern expressed by residents at a neighborhood meeting [in early 2000] as well as during the recent circulation action group meetings.” The report also states the goals of the city’s Neighborhood Traffic Management Plan are comparable with those of other communities where traffic-calming measures are intended to slow speeds and “not divert traffic onto adjacent residential streets.”

Traffic counts on Oct. 21, 2008, show about 1,130 vehicles pass through the East First and Oleander intersection during the morning peak hour and some 1,270 pass during the evening peak hour, according to the IAC report. Since the roadway has been reduced due to the bulbing, cars and buses are prohibited from turning left at Oleander. Therefore, the route 4 B-Line bus that travels down East First Avenue is now turning at Spruce Avenue and travels down East Sacramento to connect to Oleander.

Mickelson said cars cannot turn left because traffic would be backed up if someone tried, and buses do not have enough room to make the turn.

Now cars are weaving through the once-quiet and -quaint neighborhood at fast paces and there are no stop signs or even visible speed-limit signs, Galli said. Drivers who once turned left onto Oleander from East First to go to the county offices or Chico Junior High might divert through the residential neighborhood, said Chuck Nelson, another East Sacramento Avenue resident.

Galli said many people walk their dogs, ride their bikes and often walk to downtown from the area. Often these people either live on the street, or are avoiding the busy traffic on East First and Oleander.

Galli has been asking her fellow residents and she hasn’t found anyone who lives near her who was part of the process. She has had some 15 e-mails from her neighbors in eight days and none knew who wanted the bulbing.

“Who are these people? Who voted on this?” she asked.

Pardini thought that it would have been more effective if the city had put in crosswalks and signs that say not to block intersections rather than the bulbing. “They are using an elephant gun to kill a mosquito,” she said.

Mickelson said the $38,000 bulbing installation is only temporary until the city can monitor traffic and evaluate whether it is effective in improving safety in the neighborhood. One of the recommendations of the neighborhood plan is to bulb all the corners on East First Avenue from The Esplanade to Mangrove, he said. Permanent bulbing fixtures are more costly, he said.

The temporary bulbing could last as long as six months, he added. Mickelson said the city is planning on having a meeting with the neighborhood in January because the city does want feedback on the project and wants residents to voice their concerns.

“[My husband and I] were joking about it after awhile because it was so ridiculous,” Riddell said about her bus count. “I wake up in the morning because they wake me up and I can’t get back to sleep.”