During Modesto’s rapid growth years, no one had a greater impact on the changing face of downtown than Douglas Carmody. For 33 years, starting in 1954, Carmody served as director of Parking and Traffic. The changes during his tenure brought a dramatic new way in how Modesto looked and functioned.
One of his most controversial moves was to switch four key downtown streets from traditional two-way traffic to one-way flow. G and H Streets and K and L Streets were transformed into free-flowing one-way arterials, much to the consternation of those who were accustomed – and comfortable – with the old way of driving.
“It will never work” was the mantra around town, and indeed for a few weeks it was mildly chaotic. But Carmody sat quietly by, and sure enough downtown traffic flow soon was much improved.
One of the unique characteristics of downtown Modesto was the train that ran down the middle of 9th Street. Before Highway 99 was constructed as a limited-access freeway, Ninth Street was actually State Highway 99, and all north/south traffic through this part of the state flowed down the main street of downtown Modesto.
It was amazing to drive the main boulevard, next to a slow-moving train, and see just how much confusion, delays and chaos could occur when that train suddenly parked. Downtown frequently turned into total gridlock. Even after the train traffic ceased, the tracks remained, and these could create a jarring experience for all who crossed the intersections.
After much wrangling about cost, routes and other bureaucratic tangles, Carmody was able to oversee not only cessation of regular trains but also the removal and proper paving of this key street.
Parking meters were a feature of downtown Modesto in early days. Prior to construction of the Vintage Faire Mall, downtown had many major retailers, including Sears, JCPenney, Woolworths and lots of local stores. The merchants complained long and loud over the proliferation of meters. If only the meters would vanish, then downtown could become a major retail center, they claimed.
After much political debate, the City Council directed Carmody to remove the meters and work out parking time limits. Of course, with the emergence of neighborhood shopping centers, then the big mall, downtown retail soon enough became a thing of the past.
Carmody liked to say that when he came to town there were only 18 traffic lights in Modesto and when he retired there were 150. Many of us who idle our way down the traffic light corridor of McHenry do not see this as an improvement.
He died earlier this month. Doug will be missed by those of us who knew a different side of this gentle man.
We had an interesting personal relationship. Starting out in the real estate development business in 1975, I often found myself at odds with the requirements he wished to impose on my projects – particularly treatment of street access, signage and especially the cost of those dreaded traffic signals.
We first met him in a most unique manner. Chuck Billington and I were preparing a racing pickup to compete in the Baja 1000. We were finishing work on the truck in my garage in East Modesto.
One Saturday I was under the truck, working on a suspension part, and a pair of feet appeared. A voice said, “Don’t come out, just curious how things are coming along with you fellows.”
When I eventually crawled out from under the vehicle, a scholarly looking, bespectacled fellow stood there, stuck out his hand and said, “Hello, I am Doug. I heard about this project and wanted to see it for myself.”
From that moment he became a regular visitor, watching our progress, asking very good questions and never offering any criticism or negative comment. Close to race date we would work late into the night, and often Doug would show up, occasionally with his wife Rosalie, just to observe and encourage. And each time we returned from a successful race, he was one of the first to greet us, ask a few more questions and just be a friend.
While we often disagreed on the development process, I counted Doug as one of the really good guys in our community. I will miss him.
Dick Hagerty, an Oakdale real estate developer active in nonprofits. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.