Cul-de-sacs started on Bakersfield traffic corridor

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) After years of waiting, some downtown Bakersfield neighbors are getting barriers between their side streets and the busy traffic corridor on 24th Street. Some residents are thrilled, while others wonder what will happen next.

"We actually love it," Joe Fike said Wednesday morning. "We've been waiting for this cul-de-sac to be happening for quite a while." He's lived two doors down from 24th Street for eleven years. He says when traffic stacks up on the big street, their little streets suffer.

"We have people racing down these streets," Fike said. "And we're loving the fact that this is closed off."

Nearby on Pine Street, neighbor Ron Fraze is also very happy with the construction at the end of his block.

"They're not the prettiest thing, but they're very effective in what their job is," he told Eyewitness News. The job is to keep drivers from taking short-cuts through the residential neighborhoods south of 24th.

This week city crews started work on barriers at Myrtle, Spruce and Pine Streets.

"We're doing the demo work on the concrete, curb and gutter and asphalt to start the installation of the new 'bulb' to create the cul-de-sacs," Bakersfield Assistant Public Works Director Nick Fidler explained. They're starting first on Myrtle, but all three streets have the white k-rail already in place to prevent the through traffic.

"You'll see k-rail there until the 24th Street widening project happens," Fidler said. "That will create the barrier, and once the 24th Street project is in construction, they'll put curb, gutter and sidewalk into the south side."

But, City Councilman Terry Maxwell says no decision's been made yet on a 24th Street widening plan. He represents the downtown area, and notes the council will get the environmental report on a widening plan at their Feb. 12 meeting.

Maxwell said he's surprised the cul-de-sac work on the three streets is happening this quickly, but that project is separate from any possible widening plan.

To get a cul-de-sac, neighbors on each side street from 24th down to 22nd had to all agree. That has required 100 percent property-owner approval, though the council just bumped that down to 75 percent approval.

And while there was the necessary resident approval on these three streets, Maxwell said he hears from some people who don't like cul-de-sac plan.

"Who number-one, don't like the fact that the city's paying for these cul-de-sacs, and number two -- don't like the fact that now they don't have the ability to go up and down these streets," Maxwell said. He says there's no escape for drivers, if there's a traffic jam on 24th.

"There's a lot of places like that," Joe Fike counters. "You're going to get backed up."

He hopes there's more improvement to 24th Street traffic, but he's not entirely sure widening is the best solution to ease east-west congestion. "Why don't they just leave this alone, and use Golden State Avenue?" he asks.

Maxwell also worries about the the current widening proposal. It has two alternatives, but he says it's really the same idea. One option would add lanes by widening the corridor to the north, the other to the south. Bakersfield City staff is recommending the north option, Maxwell says.

But he wants to see all the information and ask a lot of questions at the Feb. 12 council meeting. Maxwell said he hopes everyone keeps an open mind, and a decision won't be made until there's a look at all the data.

Till then, he also worries how the blocked-off streets will impact things when there are traffic jams on 24th. "We'll see how it goes," Maxwell said.

The city is paying for the three barricades now under construction. Officials say they'll cost about $18,000 each.

Beech Street sits near the three current cul-de-sac projects, but it's not getting a barrier. The city's Nick Fidler said that's because a plan to widen 24th Street would require taking out a house at the end of Beech, so a barrier construction project isn't being done there now. But, he says the residents on Beech also want a cul-de-sac.

Residents closest to the cul-de-sacs had to donate some land needed for the closure, and even cover some costs related to the projects.

On Pine, Ron Fraze said he lost 60-70 feet of wrought iron fence, and he'll pay to have that moved. He's also giving up part of his lawn.

"It bites out of our front yard. But, we have big lots downtown, so we can afford to lose a little bit of front yard," Fraze said. And, he said his neighbors are thrilled. "As a matter of fact, they're talking about throwing a big block party, as soon as we get it finished."