A crowd of onlookers gazes upward expectantly as three towering cranes swing matching sections of a new steel bridge toward each other across the Petaluma River on Feb. 21.
These bicyclists, city engineers, and other community members have gathered at the riverbank on North Water Street to observe a major milestone in the progress of the much-anticipated Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.
That plan, finished in 2008, calls for the creation of bicycle and pedestrian routes throughout Petaluma — and for some existing routes to be connected.
Copeland Crossing, as the new bridge is known, is a critical component because it provides safe access from the Lynch Creek Trail — a main bike and pedestrian thoroughfare that leads from the east side of town to the west — across the Petaluma River to North Water Street. From there, pedestrians and bicyclists can connect to downtown, the city's waterfront and the Petaluma River Trail.
The crossing also dovetails with the Petaluma River Access and Enhancement Plan, which is intended to guide development along the Petaluma River with the objective of making the river a central feature of the city.
For river advocate Susan Starbird, who is among the spectators, the installation of the bridge is confirmation that the plans are truly taking shape. Starbird was one of the organizers of an advisory group started in 1996 to draft a plan for future uses for the river.
"I am not here in any official capacity," she says, "but after all these years, this is the most tangible manifestation that we've seen, and it's something so close to my heart, I had to be present."
Bruce Hagen, a former member of the Petaluma Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, commutes by bicycle to his job as a project manager at Enphase Energy and also bikes recreationally.
"The new bridge is going to get a lot of traffic from the two-wheeled crowd," he declares. "Now people in the eastern part of the city will have a safe way to work, shop or ride to activities."
Hagen, along with scores of other bicyclists and pedestrians, has on occasion used the AT&T conduit pipes that span the river next to the new bridge as a shortcut to downtown. That tightrope act won't be necessary anymore with the completion of the bridge.