Modesto could remake J Street by reducing it from four to two lanes, eliminating the center turn lane and adding diagonal parking along much of the downtown thoroughfare.
That’s the proposal being advocated by the Downtown Modesto Partnership, which has worked with the city and the community on how to make J into a destination street that encourages walking, increases street parking and slows down traffic, all with the aim of making downtown more inviting for visitors.
The plan is based on what Livermore did on a few blocks along one of its downtown streets. It is also similar to what Modesto did a couple of years ago on Tenth Street between I and J streets.
The J Street proposal drew mixed reviews from several businesses along the street contacted by The Bee. Some said it will make the street safer because cars will travel at lower speeds and the extra parking will help. Others predicted it will cause traffic to back up onto McHenry Avenue and business will suffer as drivers avoid J Street.
City staff provided an update Wednesday on the proposal at the City Council’s Economic Development Committee meeting. Modesto has not made a decision on whether it will change the street’s configuration. Downtown Modesto Partnership President-CEO Josh Bridegroom and board members were at the meeting to show their support.
It was a tough meeting for staff. They were asked several questions by audience members they were not prepared to answer, including whether the city was exempting itself from regulations it would require others to follow for a similar project and why it had not spoken with the California Department of Transportation about the plan’s potential impact to traffic on McHenry, which is a state highway.
Staff also gave responses that did not answer the questions. Committee members asked staff to report back to them with answers to audience members’ concerns. Staff also struggled when questioned about a similar project along Paradise Road that includes Modesto High. The committee also asked staff to come back with answers.
“Members of the public asked a number of detailed, technical questions,” city spokeswoman Heather Graves said, “and staff will bring back answers in January. ... We are happy to have public input and inquiry so we have the best possible projects for the community.”
The proposal — which a city report calls the J Street Corridor Design Concept Plan — covers J Street between Ninth and 16th streets. It changes the section of the street that is four lanes to two, removes the center turning lane on the section that is now two lanes and puts in angled parking along much of the street.
That would add about two dozen parking spaces, according to the staff presentation. The other work includes Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades and adding four-way stop signs at the two intersections that don’t have stoplights.
Modesto has more than $1.5 million in federal funding to repave and stripe the street and for the other work. The question it will need to answer is how it will restripe the street after paving it.
The proposal’s advocates envision more improvements, including planting trees along the street. Modesto applied for a $2.4 million state grant for that and related work in May, but the application was rejected.
Tom Slater with Slater’s Home Furnishings at J and 16th streets has worked in downtown since 1969 and supports making it better and more attractive. But he said this proposal is not the answer.
He said Modesto’s downtown is not the same as Livermore’s, and J Street is a major artery into a downtown that has government offices, law firms, and banking and financial institutions.
He said reducing the number of lanes on J Street will cause traffic to back up and drivers will avoid the street. Slater questions where delivery trucks will park and how police and fire will get down the street in emergencies. “They are playing with people’s business lives here without knowing what’s going to happen,” said Slater, who attended Wednesday’s meeting.
Maryann Rose with Basic Properties Resources said she shares those concerns. She said Basic Resources Properties is a major property owner in downtown, including two blocks along J Street. She said if the city goes forward with this plan she hopes the work will not take as long or be as disruptive to the businesses as when the city remade the one block on Tenth Street.
“I’m kind of conflicted on whether this will improve downtown,” she said. Rose said she likes some of the plan’s concepts but worries about unintended consequences or details that will be overlooked that will end up hurting the businesses. She also questions whether J Street has enough stores and restaurants to make it a true destination street.
But other businesses were more hopeful.
“I like it,” said Vince Altadonna, who owns Chefs of New York at 14th and J streets. He said cars drive too fast and he has witnessed about 10 accidents by his restaurant in the past year.
He said slower traffic will make the street safer and give drivers a chance to really see and appreciate downtown. And the extra parking will make it easier for them to patronize the businesses. “I’m for any kind of improvement for downtown,” he said. “I like change. I like things to move in a forward direction.”
And Mira East with Mira’s Bridal Couture said she likes the plan, though she has questions, including how long construction would take and its impact on businesses.
“My initial reaction is very positive,” she said in an email. “I chose to open my business on J Street in 2005 even though I had friends and family that opposed it because of the lack of parking along with safety and homeless concerns. But I was inspired by other small towns with an urban ambiance that I had traveled to like Palo Alto, Pleasanton, Livermore, and Lodi. And I had aspirations that downtown was on its way.”
Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316