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Plan to make East D Street more bicycle friendly stirs neighbors' objections


A Petaluma plan to turn an historic neighborhood street into a bicycle boulevard similar to Santa Rosa's Humboldt Street is being met with opposition from businesses and neighbors.

City engineers stress that the plan is only in its preliminary stages and nothing has been decided.

Still, business owners said they are ramping up resistance so their input is considered before the process is too far down the road.

"The idea is to install the interim bicycle boulevard and evaluate it over the course of a year or so and see how it performs with respect to traffic volumes, traffic safety, operational issues and pedestrian and bicycle issues," said city engineer Curt Bates.

"We want it to be a ... safe situation for riders and vehicles."

The focus is a quarter-mile section of East D Street between Payran and Wilson streets, northeast of Lakeville Street.

In the 2008 general plan, the city's long-term planning blueprint, the segment was identified as a test location for a bicycle boulevard where bikers can safely and comfortably ride through town. It is considered a safer route than the crowded East Washington Street thoroughfare it parallels.

The area is a mix of homes from the early to mid-1900s, some newer homes and a few small businesses.

The city received a $50,000 air quality grant through the Sonoma County Transportation Authority to design bike-friendly changes that include lane striping, corner curb reshaping and signs at East D Street intersections with Payran, Vallejo, Edith and Wilson streets.

The theory is that by converting stop sign-controlled intersections to all-way yields, vehicles idle less and create fewer emissions. The changes also reduce the number of vehicles that go through the area, Bates said.

Annie Van Maaren, who with her husband, Dennis, owns EverMay Garden Center on East D and Wilson streets, is spearheading resistance to the plan. She has started a petition against it and so far has about 150 signatures, she said.

"We don't want the traffic circles," she said. "People are going to get killed."

The owners of all three businesses at that corner have expressed opposition to the plan.

Van Maaren said, based on comparisons to Santa Rosa's Humboldt Street setup, the three businesses — hers, Mario and John's tavern and Complete Auto Service — and an apartment building would lose two dozen parking spaces in a redesign of their intersection.

She said EverMay receives soil deliveries in 53-foot long trucks. They couldn't maneuver through a traffic circle, she said.

"That's the entire length of our East D Street side," she said.

Longtime auto shop owner Leo Lavis isn't happy about any possible changes either. "I'm against it. It's right in the front of my yard," he said

He said most bicyclists he sees don't obey the existing traffic signals. "Why do they need a circle there anyway?" he said.

A community meeting to discuss preliminary plans is planned for late September, Bates said.

Changes to the street would have to be approved by the city council.

"This is meant to be an amenity to the neighborhood and the bicycling community," Bates said. "We absolutely want to work with the businesses and residents in that area to make sure whatever's put in is an enhancement."

Some of the opposition apparently stems from a recent payment to the Petaluma Neighborhood Coalition from the developers of the nearby East Washington Place shopping center.

To settle two lawsuits involving the city over the Target-anchored center, developer Regency Centers, among other payments, set aside $40,000 for "traffic calming" measures on East D Street and East Washington, where the coalition's leaders live.

Van Maaren said the coalition doesn't speak for all East D Street's residents or business owners.

The Regency payment is unrelated to the traffic circle and bicycle boulevard plans.