Plan ahead to avoid traffic, parking problems in downtown

If you're driving your car Wednesday to watch the world's top cyclists race into Modesto, you might want to steer clear of the course.

Streets on or bordering the race route will close as early as tonight, and definitely by the morning of the race. Those outside downtown along the race route could be shut down on race day as early as noon, about three hours or so before the riders are due in Modesto for the finish of the Amgen Tour of California's fourth stage. They'll re-open at the conclusion of the race.

Oh, and if you're trying to park on the route? Don't, or you'll face a hefty towing fine.

"Last year, things went really smooth, except we had to tow cars in the morning," said Lt. Scott Blom of the Modesto Police Department's traffic division. "A lot of people didn't read the signs or said they blew them off."

Police will be out in force Wednesday, not only to monitor traffic but also to assist motorists, Blom said. There'll be about 30 officers in addition to lieutenants, sergeants, reserves, volunteers and Explorers.

The first street closure is tonight at 6:30, when the city shuts I Street between Ninth and 16th. I Street will serve as the finish line and the site of the all-day Lifestyle Festival. That area will re-open Wednesday at 11:30 p.m., city officials predict.

Also, beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday through the end of the race, 11th Street between K and I streets will be closed, as will J Street between 11th and 16th.

If you live inside the route, Blom suggests that you work your schedule around the race. He said if you have a doctor appointment or other important reason to get out of the race zone, volunteers may be able to help you through. Once riders reach Modesto, no way.

Parking is another issue. Race officials want all streets on the race route free of parked cars. Blom said there'll be no street parking downtown from 6:30 p.m. today to 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. along the outer downtown route, including areas near Carpenter Road and Kansas Avenue, where the cyclists will enter Modesto.

Police were out Monday putting up nearly 600 signs. Today, they'll check to make sure the signs are in place. Wednesday, they'll knock on doors if there's a parked car, and if there's no answer or resolution, it'll be towed.

"We'd rather not tow anyone," Blom said.