Merced’s streets are now dangerous ‘speedways,’ residents say. Here’s what the new police chief wants to do about it.

On January 28, 2024 by Brianna Vaccari

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Jan. 25, 2024

MERCED (CVJC) – At the city’s first town hall of the year, Merced residents from all parts of town called their neighborhood streets “speedways” and asked city leaders to act.

Merced’s new Police Chief Steven Stanfield was on hand during Tuesday’s town hall, held at the Civic Center, to update attendees on how Merced Police Department is planning to combat the traffic concerns.

City officials host the town halls annually beginning in January to solicit resident input that will guide the Merced City Council’s policy goals and priorities for the annual budget.

Residents’ traffic-related concerns aired Tuesday included speeding, red light runners and reckless drivers doing wheelies and donuts on suburban streets and large thoroughfares alike.

One resident who lives on Lehigh Drive called her street “Speedway Lehigh Drive” saying Merced College students and residents alike use it as a shortcut between M Street. and San Jose Avenue. 

City officials heard the same complaints from residents about Buena Vista Drive and El Redondo Drive, as well as McKee Road,Coffee Avenue and Campus Parkway on the other side of town.

“It’s a hazard. It’s not only a high senior area, but it’s a lot of families with small children as well,” the Lehigh Drive resident said.

Stanfield said that since he began the job in October, the No. 1 complaint the department receives is about traffic.

“I have to be honest, in all my years (working in law enforcement), I was kind of unprepared that speeding and traffic was going to be the biggest community complaint that I hear,” he said.

To that end, Stanfield said he’s beefing up Merced Police Department’s traffic unit, from one supervisor to seven motorcycle cops. That will take time, Stanfield said, since officers must get the proper license to operate the motorcycles.

Stanfield also plans to buy red light cameras for major intersections in town. He said statistics show the cameras will help reduce speeding and red light running, but most importantly, it will help reduce traffic collisions.

“If you want to know what I lose sleep over at night, it’s that since I’ve been here, six people have died in auto- related accidents in this town,” he said. 

“I have not had one homicide since I’ve been here, but I’ve had six people pass away due to traffic-related incidents. I cannot stand in front of you and tell you that that’s acceptable. I cannot do that.”

Last year, Merced police arrested two drivers suspected of street racing before a crash that killed a 67-year-old woman.

Police also made a number of arrests last year related to illegal sideshows, where spectators gather and watch drivers race or do burnouts or donuts. Law enforcement agencies in many San Joaquin Valley cities have cracked down on sideshows.

Merced’s next town hall is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday in the multipurpose room at Tenaya Middle School, 760 W. 8th St.

The last town hall will be at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 15 in the multipurpose room at Chenoweth Elementary School, 3200 N. Parsons Ave.

Brianna Vaccari is the governmental accountability/watchdog reporter for the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative, a nonprofit newsroom covering the San Joaquin Valley.

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