Trying to clear the air

When Susan Gilbert sat waiting for the number 11 bus in front of the Petaluma Market one rainy afternoon in February, she never expected to be calling the police. But that's what she wound up doing after a young woman sat down next to her in the enclosure and lit up a cigarette.

Gilbert, a uterine cancer survivor with a familial history of the disease, said she politely asked the young woman to step out of the enclosure as she smoked, citing her battle with cancer as the reason for her request. The young woman's response shocked Gilbert.

"She said &‘no' and told me to call the cops if I wanted to," Gilbert said. "I called the police and then waited outside the shelter in the rain until they showed up, about 10 minutes later."

Gilbert, who rides the bus every day, said that she was surprised when the officer arrived and told her Petaluma doesn't have an ordinance banning smoking at bus stops.

"Berkeley and San Francisco have rules against this, why can't we?" she asked. "People who may have mobility issues and can't wait for the bus without sitting on the bench should be able to breathe freely while waiting."

Petaluma Transit Manager Joseph Rye says that part of the reason the city has no ordinance on the books is that he hasn't had a lot of complaints about smoking at bus stops. But he said now would be a good time to look at it, as ridership has increased to an all-time high this year with Petaluma recording almost 300,000 riders for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. Rye said he will try to add the issue to the June 28 Transit Advisory Committee meeting.

"If there's committee support, we'll look at how other cities have crafted their ordinances, and work on presenting it to the city council," he said.

Rye pointed out that there are many aspects for the committee to consider — like whether the ordinance would include enclosed bus stops, unenclosed bus stops, all bus stops, or the transit center — and added that because his office is understaffed, creating the law may not happen immediately.

Councilmember Gabe Kearny, who is the council liaison to the Transit Advisory Committee and serves on the American Cancer Society Advisory Board in Sonoma County, said that Petaluma should be doing everything it can to create stricter smoking laws for the benefit of its residents.

"If this issue comes before the transit committee, I would certainly support it," he said.

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