As Hollister officials continue to move the city on a journey to transform downtown to be more pedestrian-friendly through re-striping, removing stoplights, and narrowing San Benito Street, the city council voted unanimously Aug. 7 to adopt the Traffic Operations Analysis of downtown streets and intersections, but not before Councilman Jim Gillio asked a few questions of David Rubcic, interim city engineer.
Gillio said that after contacting the Hollister Downtown Association about the resolution, particularly about the intersection of Fourth and San Benito streets, which the analysis revealed had traffic flow was unacceptable and would require $175,000 in modifications, he wanted to know the thinking behind other intersection considerations. He said both Fourth and Fifth streets have signals or stop signs, but then it’s another three blocks before there are any traffic controls. Gillio said businesses owners were asking if Rubcic would consider traffic slowing measures every two blocks instead of three.
Rubcic said the engineering company that conducted the analysis looked at the idea of installing stop signs at Sixth Street, but they determined there was not enough traffic to warrant installing signs there. He explained further that delays along San Benito Street were not caused by the four-way stop at Fifth Street, but instead by the situation at Fourth Street.
“Putting stops signs at Sixth Street would drastically increase the liability for the city,” Rubcic said. “An unwarranted stop sign is like putting a stop sign there and telling people not to pay attention to it. People won’t see the stop sign and pedestrians are liable to walk into the crosswalk in front of a car that wasn’t expecting a stop.”
Gillio wanted to know that if the stop signs at Fifth Street were eliminated, would signs at Sixth Street be warranted. Rubcic told Gillio they would not and that Fifth Street is much busier than Sixth, so the signs should remain there. Gillio asked Hollister Fire Chief Bob Martin Del Campo, who was in the audience, if it was important to the fire department to have a four-way stop at Fifth Street. Martin Del Campo said the signs did provide a degree of safety.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez mentioned to Gillio that the proposed changes were a part of the overall traffic calming measures that have been taking place along San Benito Street for the past two years.
“It’s worked great,” Velazquez said. “What’s happened at Fifth and San Benito streets has changed downtown. I remember cars racing through there all day long, running the red light to get to the next point as fast as they could.”
Additional traffic slowing measures are incorporated along San Benito Street, but Gillio wondered about recalculating the lights at Fourth Street and why it was so expensive to replace the poles there. Rubcic said the $175,000 price tag—which would be eligible for Regional Surface Transportation Program (RSTP) fund reimbursement—was due to the arms that hold the lights being extended farther out across the streets, which required sturdier poles to support them. The mayor questioned the reasoning behind needing to extend the arms. Rubcic explained it had to do with aligning the signals with lanes to help increase the flow of traffic. Also, longer arms require new poles and other equipment, all of which would be paid by the state grant.
“What we don’t have to do is dig up the street or put conduits in,” he said. “Otherwise, it would be much more than $175,000.”
Councilman Raymond Friend said he disagreed with the logic of stops signs at Fifth Street versus stop lights. He said it would make no difference moving the lights because “it’s the same traffic and you’re just moving it a hundred yards. The same amount of people are going to be on San Benito Street. What the difference?
Rubcic said more people work or visit government buildings or the Hollister House Bar & Grill along Fifth Street. He said if it’s more difficult to make a left turn on Fifth Street, more of them will go through the alley behind The Vault. People taking shortcuts would cause increased traffic in places it was not anticipated, he noted.
“Will that traffic move to Sixth Street?” Rubcic asked, rhetorically. “A little bit will, but not all of it, and it won’t be equal to the Fifth Street intersection.”
Friend concurred with Gillio that a three-block area with no traffic controls turns that section into a racetrack. Rubcic replied that using stop signs in an attempt to control speed is not a good idea. He said that by stopping cars at unwarranted signs, there will be more rolling or "California stops." Eventually, people will just forget to stop because there is not that much cross traffic.
“At Fifth Street there is, and that’s one of the reasons why the stop signs will remain there,” he said and reiterated that the congestion was being caused by poorly timed lights at Fourth Street. He added that within the next year or so, 50 to 60 percent of people entering the city from the north will turn right on Buena Vista Road (North Street) after it has been completed through a new 81-acre development. Once that takes place, he said it will give the city time to evaluate what equipment will be appropriate for Fourth Street.
Gillio asked Rubcic about the timeline for completing improvements at Sixth Street. Rubcic said the next phase, once approved by city council, would be to evaluate narrowing San Benito Street with landscaping, which would allow restaurants to use those areas for outdoor seating. Gillio reminded Rubcic of the need to let the business community know what to expect in the days to come. Rubcic said that is already planned and the first step is to put up signs to let those who drive through town know about the coming changes.
In addition to modifications to the signal lights at Fourth Street, the analysis determined that there should be an additional east-bound left-turn lane and two north-bound travel lanes. However, the changes were not recommended because of traffic-calming measures that have already been implemented along San Benito Street.
Rubcic confirmed that the flashing lights at Fifth Street would be removed, as well as any electronics from inside the utility boxes, but the boxes themselves would remain because of artwork on them.
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