Deadly Lakeville Highway crash prompts action from Petaluma officials
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.
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.