Road diet drawing flak
Published: Friday, October 18, 2013 at 12:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 18, 2013 at 12:23 p.m.
After receiving a few raves and plenty of rants about the new Petaluma Boulevard South road diet, the Petaluma City Council is set to discuss at its Monday meeting traffic timing, congestion and other issues that have been raised by residents.
The City Council will hold a public hearing on a proposed 144-apartment development on Maria Drive Monday night.
The proposed apartment complex at 35 Maria Drive, requires a general plan and zoning amendment changing the site's designated use from mixed-use commercial to high density residential.
The complex is projected to rent units at about $2 per square foot, which is about $2,000 per month for the average 1,000-square foot residence. The developer's preliminary plans include 144 apartments in six, three-story buildings, a community building with a pool and clubhouse at the center of the site, 252 parking spaces and 144 bicycle spaces. 60,000 square feet of open space is also part of the project.
The hearing will be held at 7 p.m. during the Petaluma City Council Meeting Monday night at 11 English Street.
Councilmember Mike Harris said that he is happy staff will be offering some solutions to the increased traffic congestion.
“It's unfortunate because we're trying to persuade people to go downtown, not dissuade them,” Harris said. “I've received a lot of feedback from people about the traffic backups. There are things we can do better and we need to explore all those aspects.”
The project reduced four lanes of traffic to two on a four-block stretch of Petaluma Boulevard South, from East Washington Street to D Street, in an effort to increase bicycle and pedestrian safety. It also added a center turn lane and median meant to enable delivery trucks to park for short periods of time. It cost about $1 million and was funded mainly through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. The project came to a close this June, after beginning in the summer of 2012.
Many bicyclists and pedestrians say that getting around downtown now feels safer.
“I see traffic flowing more smoothly and people adjusting well,” said Petaluma woodworker and bicycle commuter Scott Braun. “It's made it safer and easier for me to ride downtown and traffic is still moving well.”
But many others argue that several aspects of the project, including the reduction in lanes and the timing of crosswalks and traffic signals, have made traffic congestion unbearable.
“Traffic is terrible downtown,” said Petaluma resident and driver Mistie Ann Lema. “If you are on Petaluma Boulevard, you're stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I've lived in Petaluma all of my life and used to love going downtown. Now I hate it.”
Downtown commuter Courtney Pastrick said that while she generally approves of the road diet, she sees some serious issues with traffic signal timing.
“Particularly at the D Street and Washington Street crossings,” Pastrick said.
Several Petaluma officials also said they have received complaints about traffic on Petaluma Boulevard South from residents, and that aspects of the project, such as signal timing, may need to be tweaked,
“The primary mission of this project was to fix dangerous conditions in the downtown area,” said Mayor David Glass. “Having said that, ideally, we would fix a condition without worsening traffic flow. There are some things we can and need to address regarding signal timing and crosswalk timing.”
City staff has been studying the issue and will present its findings Monday night.
“Now we have some hard data to look at, both before and after the road diet happened,” said Glass. “There are some small things that might provide some relief and would be fairly easy to accomplish.”
Based on complaints that travel time downtown had increased by as much as 15 minutes, staff has been analyzing the time it takes to make it through downtown since the Road Diet was completed. According to City Engineer Curt Bates, staff drove The Boulevard several times a day on a dozen different occasions. The average time it took to make it from East Washington Street to D Street ranged from two to six minutes, depending on the time of day. The city did not track how long it took to travel the same distance before the changes were implemented.
Staff has also been collecting data on the number of vehicles that travel through that area, and how the traffic signals are timed. Bates said he is recommending that the City Council allow city staff more time to study current traffic conditions before they form a plan regarding possible changes to signal timing and other minor improvements that may further help alleviate traffic congestion in the area.
“We forget that we're dealing with an already difficult traffic situation,” said Public Works Director Dan St. John. “We are constrained by problems that existed before the Road Diet occurred. If the area was completely undeveloped, we would have engineered the road wider, put in bike lanes and made better parking. But the right of way that exists there today isn't wide enough to put all that in. At least the lanes we have now are wider and bikers can share the road with drivers. Before the road diet, you couldn't ride your bike down there and have a car pass you and stay in its lane. It was very unsafe.”
Since work ended on June 17, six collisions were reported through Aug. 28. None have been reported since.
“Although the post-project sample size is small, the trend is encouraging and suggests a reduction in reported collisions from 2.1 per month to 1.7 per month,” said Bates in a staff report provided to the council.
Petaluma Boulevard South was a frenzy of activity Friday afternoon. Cars drove along The Boulevard, cyclists zipped through the area and pedestrians leisurely strolled the sidewalks. Despite the wider car lanes and increased safety for bicyclists, some still illegally drove their bicycles on the sidewalks and down the newly constructed middle lane of Petaluma Boulevard South. Overall though, foot, bicycle and vehicle traffic moved smoothly — albeit, somewhat slowly — through the downtown corridor.
But when pedestrians used the lighted crosswalks in front of the Starbucks and 24 Hour Fitness on Petaluma Boulevard South, traffic quickly piled up. In fact, when several pedestrians used the crosswalk in a row, the backup of cars stretched for several blocks. And it wasn't just the untimed pedestrian crosswalks, which automatically stop traffic whenever they are pushed. Traffic signals along Petaluma Boulevard did not appear properly timed and often caused additional backups.
The Petaluma City Council will discuss the Road Diet on Monday at its meeting at 7 p.m. in council chambers at 11 English Street in Petaluma.
(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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