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.
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.
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