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Petaluma parking proposal on hold

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After meeting with city officials and residents, the Petaluma Downtown Association’s parking committee is holding off on a proposal that would have created 45 additional spaces, requesting more research before moving the project forward.

Last month, city officials presented a proposal from the committee that would change Liberty Street, from Washington Street to Howard, and Keller Street, from Western to A Street, to one-way traffic. By doing so, there would be room to construct a series of angled and parallel parking spots — similar to stretches of Kentucky Street — that would increase the total along those roads from 82 to 127 spaces.

But residents on A Street were fiercely opposed to the project, worried the narrow road in front of their homes would be swarmed with drivers forced to turn onto it from Keller and B Street. With a blind curve at the corner of Liberty and A Street, neighbors were concerned about pedestrian safety at the crosswalk and the likelihood of more accidents.

The hope for PDA president and parking committee co-chair Holly Wick is updated research on current traffic patterns and parking habits will lead to a solution that would please both nearby residents and downtown merchants.

“We still need to try to find more parking,” she said. “There’s still an element of people that are circling back to paid parking, which, in my opinion, is absolutely absurd.”

Bradley Thompson, who ended up becoming the spokesperson for the neighbors on A Street, considers the move a small victory.

“There’s a general sense of relief, but obviously a sense that people need to stay aware and pay attention to the city council agenda,” he said, since all parties do want to see some resolution to the chronic lack of parking.

The decision to back off from the proposal followed an informal meeting between parking committee members, Councilwoman Teresa Barrett and Thompson. On a recent Wednesday morning, the group spent time walking along Keller, Liberty and A streets, discussing different options and watching current traffic patterns.

Wick said they identified a number of additional issues like enhancing parking garage signage, improving crosswalk safety and enforcing disregarded rules for trucks that unload supplies on Liberty Street, stifling traffic flow during the daytime.

After the meeting the consensus was to put this proposal on hold, and pursue research that could support a project that satisfies merchants, residents and visitors alike.

“The meeting was nice,” Thompson said. “It was amicable.”

The need for a less bureaucratic gathering became clear after a City Hall workshop on May 9 devolved into a much more antagonistic assembly that pitted business owners against residents.

During the project’s presentation, the language used by city officials gave the “impression that it was a done deal,” Thompson said, and some residents stormed out, assuming the city was cozying up to business interests over the demands of ordinary citizens.

“There were a lot of neighbors at that meeting and, very quickly in the first few minutes, the tenor turned tense,” Thompson said.

In the aftermath of that, Thompson and Wick began working together, hoping to identify a reasonable approach to completing the process.

“It was so nice to talk to a rational person even if we have different views,” Wick said.

Of course, pursuing traffic studies requires money, and the swift movement on the initial proposal was partly due to its low cost. Rather than building another garage that costs $20,000 to $50,000 per space, a letter mailed to residents earlier this year said “this project will deliver 45 spaces for the high side of that range.”

In an email to Wick, Public Works and Utilities director Dan St. John said the city currently lacks funding for parking studies, “and therefore will have limited abilities to study traffic patterns and the overall downtown parking situation.”

Wick said the parking committee will keep applying pressure so business owners can get something positive done for their staff and patrons.

“I’m very sensitive to not disturbing neighborhoods and making things right, but leaving things the way it is, is walking away from a challenge,” she said.

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at yousef.baig@arguscourier.com or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)