Stockton has a lot of roads. At nearly 62 square miles in size (not counting unincorporated areas), a lot of asphalt is needed to stitch together all the corners of the city. But our roads vary greatly, with some much nicer than others. Many of our streets lack sidewalks and bike lanes, creating unpleasant experiences for pedestrians while devaluing adjacent neighborhoods. We decided to pick out the very worst in terms of form and function. Here’s what we came up with; did we get it right? Let us know what roads we missed, or vote on the roads we listed below.
High on our list is Thornton Road in North Stockton. It’s bad nearly the whole way through, but where Thornton stands out from the rest is between Wagner Heights and the split between Davis Road, where it squeezes down to one lane in each direction. It’s not so much the bottleneck that occurs, but the fact that, by and large, there are no sidewalks on this entire stretch, yet it’s constantly used by pedestrians and cyclists alike. Moreover, this stretch of Thornton road also lacks shoulders, so your walk to Dairy Queen or Best Lumpia could put you just a couple feet away from 40 mph+ traffic with absolutely nothing to stop a driver from careening into your path. Tragically, this has been the case on multiple occasions as numerous individuals have lost their lives walking or biking down this perilous street.
This stretch of Thornton Road is technically in the county, meaning that there are no sidewalk requirements. But with the right streetscaping project, Thornton Road could not only become much less dangerous, but could also stitch together a nice, walkable commercial district that is currently lined with many open lots that scream “mixed-use development!” Until then, Thornton will remain a treacherous path for motorists and pedestrians alike.
North Center Street
A lot of attention has been given to Weber and Miner Avenues, with one benefitting from a streetscaping project (Weber) and the other slated for major upgrading in the near future (Miner). However, the Downtown street that deserves the most consideration is Center Street. Back in the day, Center was converted from a two way road into the one-way speed corridor we know today in order to get people into and out of Downtown Stockton as quickly as possible (the folly of which we’ve written about before). As a result, motorists can cruise down Center at 40mph with nary a stop light in their path. While this is great at getting cars from point A to Point B, this at times five-lane road completely cuts off the central business district from Weber Point and the waterfront.
For over a quarter mile (or 1,600 feet), there is only one actual stop light crosswalk that allows pedestrians to safely cross from the east side of Center Street to Weber Point (I don’t count the lighted crosswalk that leads to Dean DeCarli Square as many times cars will continue speeding through). And even then, the sheer girth of Center subconsciously discourages pedestrians from crossing. This leads to the underutilization of downtown’s greatest green space. In other cities, downtown parks are filled with people enjoying lunch in the afternoon or taking a stroll in the evening. But thanks to Center Street, Weber Point seems much less accessible than it actually is, leaving the park largely empty when it should be our liveliest green space (also at fault are the gates surrounding the park, but that is a whole other issue).
But there is hope for Center. Simply returning the street to a two-way arterial, installing protected bike lanes and adding parallel parking on the west side along Weber Point could completely transform Center into a strong link between the waterfront and downtown.
Iron Canyon Circle
The first subdivision road to make our list is Iron Canyon Circle in the Spanos East neighborhood. Iron Canyon is not inherently unlike other suburban thoroughfares: it’s long and curving, allowing drivers to speed by residential properties (and in this case, a park and school), without impediment. This standard suburban design leads to dangerous streets for children playing the front yard. But what differentiates Iron Canyon is that to rectify this design, the city installed “chicanes,” or traffic calming barriers, in an attempt to slow drivers down. Now, Iron Canyon is less of a street and more like an obstacle course. The worst part is, the chicanes really don’t reduce speeding like speed bumps would. Instead, the chicane is almost like a challenge: how fast can I drive through these without hitting? This is evident by the numerous scuff marks lining the barriers.
Iron Canyon is a cautionary tale: we need to stop allowing roads to be built that we know will encourage unsafe driving. Not only is the city letting developers intentionally build dangerous streets, but public dollars must then be used to fix these streets down the road.
You can’t fault Oak Street without faulting Park Street, and vice versa. Much like North Center, these two roads were converted to one-ways to expedite travel between I-5 and downtown. But unlike North Center, these streets are offensive because they primarily run through historic residential neighborhoods. Sure, Oak and Park will get you through midtown quickly, but at the expense of the surrounding area. You can easily hit 35 or even 40mph driving down these streets, even though you’re driving through one of Stockton’s oldest, most significant neighborhoods. This need for speed greatly devalues the homes along Oak and Park as potential buyers don’t want their kids playing just a few feet away from an urban expressway. These one-way streets also leave Weber Square—which should be a neighborhood anchor—marooned from the surrounding area.
These streets could easily be returned to two-way streets, and adding a few stops signs here and there would greatly reduce reckless driving. But in order to fix these streets, we have to ask ourselves what’s more important; getting people out of downtown a minute or two faster, or revitalizing older neighborhoods?
Honorable Mention: North El Dorado Street, Pershing Ave (between Lincoln and Pacific), Country Club Boulevard