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Ask the PAC: Petaluma slow streets program nearing one-year mark

This weekly feature aims to get to the bottom of Petalumans’ burning questions and provide insight into vexing daily curiosities.

If you would like your question featured in Ask the PAC, simply email askpac@arguscourier.com.

As reopening speeds up amid the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, some residents are questioning why Petaluma still has them slowing down as part of the city’s “slow streets” program launched last summer.

The program has shut out through traffic along stretches of 16 streets, including a contentious stretch of Oxford Court – a popular parking destination for Helen Putnam Regional Park visitors.

In this week’s Ask the PAC, we’ll delve into the coronavirus-era program.

Question: What’s going on with Petaluma’s slow streets program, especially along Oxford Court?

Answer: Let’s start with the fact that the barriers put up at intersections across Petaluma, particularly in the city’s west side, do not indicate those streets are closed to vehicle traffic entirely. Those with business along any of the 5 miles of city streets that have been closed off since last summer are welcome to venture past the signs. Just be wary of pedestrians, per the warning signs.

Petaluma’s slow streets program was modeled after similar programs in numerous Bay Area cities, including San Francisco, as city staff sought a way to reduce traffic and encourage safe driving on certain residential and commercial streets. There were a number of criteria used to select locations for the program, including neighborhoods that have narrow sidewalks that make social distancing more difficult.

A city survey ahead of the program’s launch last May and June showed 87% of respondents favored the slow streets approach, and Petaluma Public Works Director Jason Beatty said that initial positive impression has largely remained intact.

Oxford Court, though, has been a different story.

“The city has received comments/complaints from both the residents accessing Helen Putnam Park via Oxford Court, and from the residents living on Oxford Court,” Beatty said in an email last week.

The closed west Petaluma stretch, which ends in a cul-de-sac, features 22 homes. It also features about as many parking spaces along the park boundary, marking a popular destination for visitors seeking to avoid using a more distant paid parking lot off of Chileno Valley Road, Beatty said.

None of this is news to neighbors, or to those who would frequent Oxfort Court for parking purposes alone. But there could be relief on the horizon.

Beatty said plans are being developed for another paid parking lot and park access off of Windsor Drive.

Other than that, it appears slow streets are here to stay. Although city officials say they’re listening.

“The city continues to balance health and safety with the needs and rights of the community to use and access public right-of-way and a regional park,” Beatty said. “Oxford Court is one of the few public streets that has parking permits required from sunset to sunrise. City staff will continue to navigate these competing demands with fairness, empathy, equity, respect, legal obligations, and (an eye toward) what is best for the greater good of the community.”

For more information about the city’s slow streets program, go to cityofpetaluma.org/slow-streets-petaluma.

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