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Downtown ‘road diet’ narrowing approved

Boulevard South will go from 4 lanes to 3 wider lanes

A four-block stretch of Petaluma Boulevard South through downtown would be reconfigured from four lanes to three under a “road diet” plan.

Terry Hankins/Argus-Courier Staff
Published: Monday, October 4, 2010 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 4, 2010 at 10:50 p.m.

One of downtown Petaluma’s main roads will soon be slimming down, after the City Council on Monday approved a plan to change Petaluma Boulevard South from four lanes to three in an effort to improve pedestrian and bike safety and downtown walkability.

The City Council voted in a 4-3 split to devote funds to the project, which would affect Petaluma Boulevard South between Washington and D streets. Debate arose over the necessity of the “road diet” and the effect the change would have on downtown businesses.

Mayor Pam Torliatt and council members David Glass, Teresa Barrett and Tiffany Renée supported the plan, which they said would improve safety downtown and encourage people to walk and bike in the downtown core.

“I think we’ve seen that this was successful,” said Barrett, referring to a similar narrowing of Petaluma Boulevard north of Washington Street in 2008.

Council members Mike Harris, Mike Healy and David Rabbitt said that final approval of the narrowing without first getting more input from businesses on the still-unfinished design details was unwise.

“I have a hard time approving the project when we don’t really know what the project is,” said Rabbitt.

“We certainly have better things to do with $200,000 of our own local funds,” said Healy.

Under the plan, four blocks of Petaluma Boulevard South through downtown would be converted from two lanes in each direction to one lane in each direction with a continuous center left-turn lane. The new lanes will be about 12 feet wide, with parking lanes eight feet wide, allowing for a larger bike lane. The lane widths are currently 9.5 feet, with parking lanes at 6.5 feet.

The “road diet” was made possible by a grant of $708,000 in federal money from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and $198,000 in local street maintenance funds. In April, the City Council directed staff to apply for the grant, which was awarded in July.

City staff consulted with downtown businesses before applying for the grant in April, but some still had concerns that the plan was being rushed through.

Linda Postenrieder, co-owner of Pelican Art Gallery, said that the plan may decrease parking for her store and could possibly increase collisions as drivers stop in the one lane to parallel park. She also worried about construction on the road during sales and holiday seasons.

“All of those things are going to negatively impact my business,” she said.

Larry Zimmer, the city’s capital improvements manager, said that he and other city staff would consult downtown businesses to finalize the plan, which was about 30 percent complete when the funding was approved Monday.

“This is a solid design. It’s been looked at by traffic engineers,” said Zimmer. “I’m very confident that there isn’t any concern that can’t be resolved.”

The earlier narrowing of Petaluma Boulevard North cut the number of accidents in half, with 20 total accidents from 2005 to 2007, and nine between 2007 and 2009. Traffic volume remained the same on the road, but flowed more smoothly, according to staff reports.

Some council members applauded the outreach to businesses in reaching the final design, but worried that the collaboration is coming after the project’s approval. If public input is that the concept of three lanes instead of four is undesirable, the city would be forced to move forward with a project that is unwanted, they said.

“It’s very difficult to proceed with all of these unknowns,” said Rabbitt.

But Zimmer said that “we know way more about this project at this stage than any other project,” based on the similar narrowing on the road just north.

City staff will next get funding authorization from Caltrans and hire a designer for the work. After a designer is hired, more input on the design details will come from businesses.

Construction includes re-striping of the road, traffic signals and limited surface treatment, and could begin in 2012.

(Contact Philip Riley at philip.riley@arguscourier.com)

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