Final design for North McDowell Improvement Project revealed at community meeting

Many community members were enthusiastic, though some voiced concerns over a lack of dedicated bike lanes.|

Neighbors and other Petaluma community members got a final look at city staff’s suggestions for the highly trafficked, and not very pedestrian-friendly, stretch of roadway slated for upgrades under the city’s North McDowell Boulevard Improvement Project.

Though far from unanimous, many residents expressed enthusiasm during the Sept. 28 meeting, saying the proposed changes would be a boon for pedestrians trying to cross the high-speed industrial corridor. But others said the improvements didn’t go far enough for bicyclists.

The City Council is slated to vote on the project at its Monday meeting. If approved, construction could begin later this year and finish by the fall of next year, at an estimated cost of $12 million.

On the project’s web page, city staff stated that “Our vision for North McDowell is referred to as a ‘Complete Street’ project – meaning we will be creating new elements that benefit all users along the corridor and support the flow of local commerce.” Those elements include better crossings, sidewalks, curb ramps and bike paths, and an improved roadway surface.

The project was designed with input from a community workshop held in January, where several dozen residents were able to provide feedback and ideas, some of which made their way into the final design.

Community members still had criticisms, however, including a stated need for better signage, better bus shelters, and dedicated bike lanes. Designers said they were unable to include separated bike lanes due to traffic volumes, truck traffic and existing roadway constraints, opting instead for high-visibility bike lanes with buffers.

Susan Kirks, a mayoral candidate in the upcoming election, said she found the proposed bike paths “very disappointing.”

But others expressed support for the proposals, especially the better crosswalks and sidewalks, which would be improved through pedestrian “refuge islands,” curb ramps with detectable warning surfaces, rebuilt transit access points and other measures.

“It looks like this is going to vastly improve the pedestrian experience along the stretch,” said meeting attendee Eris Weaver.

City staff emphasized improvements to traffic flow on North McDowell as well, especially through implementation of “green wave” traffic lights – a system which syncs three or more lights to coordinate traffic flow across multiple intersections. This means when vehicles travel at the speed limit, they have a higher chance of hitting all green lights down the entire stretch.

Other proposed tools to manage vehicle speeds include narrowed traffic lanes and flashing beacons around the crosswalks to warn drivers when a pedestrian is crossing.

For more on the project, visit

Contact reporter Rebecca Wolff at

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