‘It scares me to death’: D Street residents demand city address safety, traffic concerns

A group of more than two dozen residents living along D Street are pushing city leaders to implement road improvements, citing speeding cars and trucks and unsafe pedestrian access.|

Not long after pandemic lockdowns muted the usual hum of daily life last spring, Petaluma resident Pepper Fernandez began to hear a discordant cacophony of rumbles, screeches and hisses during the many months spent inside her westside home.

The noise, emanating from a section of D Street between Windsor Avenue and Petaluma Boulevard, was that of speeding cars and large construction trucks barreling past rows of homes – grating homeowners’ nerves and stirring concerns over pedestrian and cycle safety.

“We all started discovering during the beginning of COVID just a mass quantity of really large trucks going down D Street,” Fernandez said. “A bunch of us neighbors started thinking, what is going on here?”

In the months since, Fernandez and a group of more than 30 individuals living alongside or near the street’s western terminus have started to call for the city to devote more attention to D Street, demanding both immediate and long-term solutions.

Calling themselves the D Street Coalition, the group is pushing the city to implement “quick build” projects, which require less time and money than other projects, to repaint the road with more crosswalks, bike lanes and add visual elements alerting motorists to slow down.

With a long-planned overhaul of the road slated to begin in three years, many members are also eager to shape future, more permanent changes to one of the city’s most important connectors.

“I have a hard time being someone who complains and doesn’t do anything about it,” Fernandez said. “So when I started asking my neighbors if they want to do this together, it surprised me how much of a desire they had to see things change, too.”

A critical arterial road and designated trucking route, D Street is one of just a few western gateways in and out of Petaluma, and the only passageway offering a straight shot to Point Reyes Station. It’s also often used by commuters looking to bypass congested sections of Highway 101.

But unlike other thoroughfares, more than half of D Street is lined with residential neighborhoods, presenting a quandary for city officials and for homeowners alarmed by what they say is an influx of dangerous traffic.

Paramount among their list of grievances is that of pedestrian and cyclist safety. Fernandez cites nearby McNear Elementary School and Petaluma High School as cause for concern.

“Sometimes when I watch from my window, I see kids from the high school walking across D Street and it scares me to death,” Fernandez said. “We just decided enough is enough.”

Coalition member Michael Dollar said he’s been lobbying the city to address speeding and pedestrian safety concerns on the stretch of road since moving into his home along the D Street extension three years ago.

Dollar and other coalition members have expressed hesitation over allowing their kids to walk or ride their bikes alone along the street. He said he’s seen drivers drag race along the road out of town, and remembers several close calls between vehicles and cyclists.

Others said they routinely see cars speed over the county line and into the neighborhood, after carelessly zipping through the country backroads. In January 2020, a driver crashed into coalition member Neil Smith’s D Street home, he said, obliterating a section of fencing before landing upside down on his property.

Council member Brian Barnacle, who met with the coalition outside their homes recently, said he’s observed several hazards, from speeding cars to difficult turns.

He said he’s supportive of reimagining not just D Street, but other streets around the city as well, to slow down dangerously fast traffic and encourage people fed up with bumper-to-bumper drives to either walk or cycle more around town.

“I think this is a more substantial problem than we give it credit for,” Barnacle said. “There’s probably more parents that don’t allow their kids to ride around town because they don’t think it’s safe. And there’s probably neighborhoods all over the city that would like to also have traffic calmed on their streets.”

The coalition has had conversations with members of city council and with city staff in recent weeks. It helps that Gina Benedetti-Petnic, the city’s interim Public Works director, is a coalition member.

Benedetti-Petnic said she has acted as a liaison between the neighbors and city staff, encouraging them to make contact with officials and discuss their complaints during public meetings.

Concerns about traffic began to increase last year, she said, as the sight and sound of heavy haulers ferrying construction material to a project in Point Reyes irked dozens of residents.

As the area’s neighbors commiserated over the loud trucks and brainstorm ways to minimize their disruptions, the group began to discuss more long-standing concerns about the road.

“The group now has started to discuss the bigger picture about D Street, about what could be done to calm traffic and make it safer for cyclists and pedestrians,” Benedetti-Petnic said. “And those are things (the city) is committed to as well. We are very much on the same wavelength and are looking for a solution to the same problems.”

She said staff has discussed striping changes, adding crosswalks and curb extensions, as well as installing delineators that reflect light and better guide traffic. Once more data is collected, including resident input, Benedetti-Petnic said staff will submit a report and recommendations to the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee for feedback and potential approval.

Benedetti-Petnic said improvements can be implemented in six months.

But it won’t be the only work city staff is planning for D Street. In 2023, the city is expected to begin a multi-million dollar reconstruction of D Street’s length from the city limits to Petaluma Boulevard South

Although the small adjustments and the reconstruction project are expected to meet most of the coalition’s demands, Benedetti-Petnic said neither will change the road’s fundamental purpose.

“It is a main entrance into town, it’s an arterial, a designated truck route, and it provides main connectivity from the west to the center of town and to 101,” Benedetti-Petnic said. “That is not likely to change, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it safer. It doesn’t mean we can’t re-envision some of this, and now is wonderful timing.”

Though supportive of the quick builds, Dollar says waiting three to four years for the D Street reconstruction is critical time wasted, and instead champions the proposed Scott Ranch residential development project as a potentially quicker fix.

Now in its third iteration, the proposed 28-home development includes a roundabout installation along D Street at the Windsor Avenue intersection, forcing drivers to slow down substantially before reaching D Street neighborhoods.

Yet residents like Dollar and Fernandez are resolute in their requests for immediate action, regardless of what future construction projects or developments may bring in the years ahead, characterizing the street as an urgent safety concern that has long been ignored.

“I have a bee in my bonnet about this, but this isn’t meant to be an ongoing project,” Fernandez said. “I want a beginning and an end to this.”

Contact Kathryn Palmer at kathryn.palmer@arguscourier.com, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:
  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.