Thirty Years Ago

“Like their counterparts all over California, most Petaluma commuters prefer driving themselves to work rather than taking the bus or sharing rides with fellow workers. In Sonoma County, 80.5 percent of commuters drive alone in their own cars, 16.3 percent share a ride, and just 3.2 percent take the bus, according to statistics compiled by the Associated Press.

As the county has grown, so has crowding on the North-South routes that link North Bay communities. Highway 101 has taken the brunt of the increase. But excess traffic has now spilled over to parallel roads. Once quite two-lane country roads are now carrying more single-driver cars, as more Petaluma commuters attempt to avoid the gridlock by searching out alternative routes to their jobs.”

(Argus-Courier, Tuesday, May 12, 1987)

In the 1987 statistics cited in this excerpt — taken from an Argus-Courier article by Anne Dolcini – a whopping 80.5 percent of Sonoma County commuters were driving unaccompanied to work, leading record numbers of solo Drive Time travelers to seek out routes along the lesser traveled backroads of the North Bay. If folks such as Marianne Jones (shown in the photo that accompanied the article) were asked, in 1987, to guess whether the problem would have grown worse or gotten better by 2017, how many could have predicted that conditions would have actually … improved. Slightly. According the 2016 Sonoma County Economic and Demographic Profile, 75.1 percent of Sonoma County residents were driving unaccompanied to work. That’s an improvement of 5.4 percent. Oddly, the same study showed that the number of Sonoma County commuters using public transport declined as well, dropping from the 3.2 percent cited in the above study to 2.1 percent.

The most startling change, however, isn’t in the number of drivers on the road or in public busses. It’s that map ... the one that Ms. Jones is consulting to seek out an alternative to Highway 101.

Maps? What are those?

With smart-phone navigation systems verbally informing drivers the fastest way to their destinations, the days of paper maps — making wild guesses as to which road is least travelled — appear to be long, long gone.