Deadly Lakeville Highway crash prompts action from Petaluma officials

As of next week, drivers pulling onto Lakeville will be redirected to intersections with traffic signals.|

Another deadly crash on Lakeville Highway has Petaluma leaders frustrated by state delays in dealing with the dangerous stretch, and this week they announced short-term measures to deal with it themselves.

By the end of next week, drivers should see barriers at two well-used Petaluma roads – S. McDowell Extension and Pine View Way – where they intersect with the two-lane highway. Those intersections lack traffic signals, forcing drivers to pull out in front of cross traffic moving at high speeds.

On Thursday, Feb. 1, when a 79-year-old Sonoma woman, Beverly Kleven, was attempting to turn west onto Lakeville from Pine View Way, where the Kaiser Permanente Petaluma Medical Offices are located, but was struck by an eastbound sedan. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The deadly crash was not unique, as Petaluma’s leaders and first-responders know well. This was the third collision between Frates Road and Browns Lane, located at the edge of city limits, since the start of this year. In 2023 there were 14 collisions on that stretch.

“Caltrans has got to understand when there are really dangerous areas we’ve got to act on this,” said City Council member Janice Cader Thompson at the council’s Monday night meeting.

City staff, under the direction of City Manager Peggy Flynn, decided to install concrete barricades and signage redirecting traffic at the ends of the two streets, said Jeff Stutsman, a public works engineer for the city.

“We’re pushing people to all the signalized intersections,” he said, meaning drivers will not be able to turn onto Lakeville from either of those roads. After the barricades are up, those wanting to turn onto Lakeville Highway will need to use S. McDowell Boulevard or Cader Lane.

However, drivers still will be able to turn onto Pine View Way or S. McDowell Extension from Lakeville, according to Christopher Bolt, the city’s director of public works and utilities.

Hello, Petaluma – [español abajo] We are saddened to share that a fatal collision occurred at the intersection of...

Posted by The City of Petaluma - Government on Thursday, February 8, 2024

Dangerous road

Lakeville Highway connects Petaluma to Highway 37 and the Bay Area, making it an important stretch of road. It is picturesque, but also dangerous, and long considered one of the county’s deadliest roadways.

And as the highway extends into Petaluma city limits, it remains both high-speed and dangerous.

Even within city limits, the highway itself is managed by Caltrans, putting Petaluma at the mercy of a state bureaucratic system that some city leaders say has delayed much-needed safety measures.

The result, they say, is frequent closures on Lakeville due to crashes – and more importantly the avoidable injuries and deaths of people like Kleven, whose SUV was struck at around 12:20 p.m. Thursday.

The 22-year-old driver of the sedan in that crash was hospitalized for minor injuries, and both vehicles were totaled. Police said drugs or alcohol were not a factor and that the sedan driver is cooperating with their investigation.

The roadway was closed for about six hours in both directions following the crash.

Since 2019 there have been 56 collisions on the Petaluma stretch of Lakeville Highway between Frates Road and Browns Lane, said Petaluma police Lt. Jeremy Walsh. This was the second fatal collision – the last one was in 2019 – and 31 of the crashes resulted in injuries.

Major driving dangers on Lakeville Highway come in the form of unsafe speed, unsafe passing, improper turning and right of way violations, Walsh said.

Safety task force

In response to ongoing problems on Lakeville, city, county and state agencies came together about five years ago to form the Lakeville Highway Safety Taskforce. Members of the group include Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol, and representatives from Sonoma County and the city of Petaluma, Walsh said.

The task force does not meet publicly, and it is unclear what progress it has made so far.

But for Petaluma leaders, Thursday’s deadly collision is yet another reminder that action needs to happen sooner rather than later.

“Today, what we know is we can close that left-hand turn lane and we can save lives,” said Cader Thompson, who also serves on the board of Sonoma County Transportation Authority, the coordinating agency that oversees advocacy, planning and funding for Sonoma County transportation projects.

Members of SCTA want to meet with Caltrans to understand how they can expedite safety projects at both Lakeville and another problem area: Highway 116 between Cotati and Sebastopol, Cader Thompson said.

The immediate change using concrete barriers is a “reactive measure” and “temporary solution” before a final design or configuration can be determined in collaboration with Caltrans, Stutsman said.

City staff have been talking to Caltrans “extensively” over the last three years for safety improvements, but it all came to a head last week, Bolt said.

“We got news that a signal or roundabout would be constructed, but that’d happen in three or four years, and we’re partnering on that endeavor,” said Bolt, who added that Caltrans is supportive of the city’s immediate changes.

The day of the accident, Caltrans officials spoke with local officials and county engineers to discuss safety measures that could be implemented in the interim before they start working on long-term projects, said Jeff Weiss, a spokesperson for Caltrans.

“Everybody agrees that we want to address the situation as quickly as possible, but we want to make sure our plans pass muster with the design and traffic codes,” he said.

An accident such as the most recent one is “often indicative of the kind of improvements that need to be made,” Weiss said.

When it comes to more permanent planning and design for safety projects, Caltrans regularly collects data on state highways and compares it to similar sections of road in the state. The agency may start a project study if one road has higher accident data, he said.

“If the study proves that improvements should be made, then Caltrans will design a project,” he said.

Projects could take about three to four years, but “funding is an issue. It takes time to design things and it takes time to get funding for projects,” Weiss said.

As one safety measure, the city had placed two speed radar signs on Lakeville Highway near Pine View Way, but one became damaged and the city is looking to fix and reinstall it soon, Bolt said.

Two outbound lanes currently funnel traffic out of city limits, and city staff are looking to close one of those two lanes with hopes that reduced lanes will reduce speeds, Stutsman said. But that would need to be done in coordination with Caltrans, he added.

Caltrans is working on their side for a possible lane closure and updated signage, Bolt said.

'Safety corridor’

The county stretch of Lakeville Highway outside city limits is designated a “safety corridor,” meaning a segment where more serious injuries and fatalities occur, said Supervisor David Rabbitt, whose district comprises the southwestern portion of Sonoma County.

Between 2019 and 2023, four people died and 21 were seriously injured in collisions on the unincorporated stretch of Lakeville Highway, according to data provided by the California Office of Traffic Safety, which administers grants for traffic safety programs.

The county has been taking its own safety measures, including the installation of “rumble strips” at three areas, the pruning and monitoring of tall eucalyptus trees that flank parts of the road, electronic message boards, and frequent speed studies, Rabbitt said.

The county is also working with Caltrans to install a roundabout at the intersection of Lakeville Highway and Stage Gulch Road, the corner where Ernie’s Tin Bar sits, he said. Construction is scheduled to begin in summer 2025, according to the Caltrans project website.

“Every agency is working together to reduce the time it takes to get things done,” Weiss said.

Back in Petaluma, after the concrete barriers are installed, it’s unclear how soon a more permanent solution – be it a roundabout, stoplight or something else – can be built.

“It’s difficult because we haven’t decided on a course of action,” Weiss said.

Press Democrat reporter Colin Atagi contributed to this report.

You can reach Staff Writer Jennifer Sawhney at 707-521-5346 or On X (Twitter) @sawhney_media.

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