Man advocates for a more bikeable Petaluma

Bjorn Griepenburg started a group to push for more cycling infrastructure.|

During his formative years in Petaluma, Bjorn Griepenburg remembers biking from his west side home to his elementary and high schools. In fact, he felt so comfortable navigating the city’s streets on two wheels that he chose not to get his driver’s license until he left for college.

It wasn’t until after he moved back to his hometown after getting a master’s degree in community and regional planning from the University of Oregon that he saw things in a new light.

“(In grad school) I started taking an interest in the policy and planning side of things,” said Griepenburg, who now works as the policy and planning director for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition. “I was thinking about why some cities are so bike friendly and then when I moved back to Petaluma from Eugene, it was like I was seeing Petaluma for the first time … it’s a city with so much potential to become really, really bikeable.”

The west side of the city was designed with pedestrians in mind and could easily transition to become even more bike friendly, though the east side has a more car-focused mentality, he said.

“The bike infrastructure is designed for people who already bike, people who are strong and fearless … not many people feel comfortable riding bikes on streets with traffic going 30 or 40 mph and a thin line of paint separating them from traffic,” said Griepenburg, who also serves on the city’s pedestrian and bicycle advisory committee that’s tasked with providing project oversight.

With that in mind, he’s in the process of forming a nascent advocacy group to unite residents for a collective voice for the community. Through the group, tentatively dubbed “Bike Petaluma,” he plans to help bring to light existing facilities that he feels are underutilized, such as the Lynch Creek trail, promote a more robust trail network and help shape policies with pedestrians and cyclists in mind.

“A pedestrian and a bike advocacy committee is a great way for people to basically get engaged and see how a project moves forward and call out certain ideas and certain things that need to be improved,” he said.

As the group matures, he plans to lobby the city council to update its pedestrian and bicycle master plan, a document that outlines projects and planning to improve the community. The plan was written between 2004 and 2007 by members of the city’s bike and pedestrian advisory committee before it was released in May 2008 as an appendix to the city’s general plan, its guiding blueprint for development.

An update would help incorporate advances in transportation infrastructure - such as new class of bike path that separates cars from cyclists - and would aid the city in becoming more competitive when seeking funding or grants for infrastructure projects, he said.

“At the end of the day when people describe Petaluma, they often say it’s got a great small town feel,” he said. “It’s a family-friendly place and it’s a great place to raise kids and people say it’s livable. That would only be enhanced if it was easier to get around and if there were more chances to get around in an active fashion.”

City Councilwoman Kathy Miller, the council’s liaison to the advisory committee, highlighted city efforts already in place to promote safety, such as upgrading crosswalks and paths and adding an additional motorcycle patrol office to the police force.

“I would love to see (an upgrade) done, but I don’t believe it was identified as a priority,” she said. “We’re working on roads and housing and things like that and I see those as more of priority than updating the bike and pedestrian master plan.”

Moving forward, Griepenburg plans to work with the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition to help develop and further advocacy efforts at a local level. Alisha O’Loughlin, the coalition’s executive director, praised the effort.

“It’s challenging for us to be in every city and community all the time, and locals are the ones that know the community better than anyone else,” she said. “I’m excited to see such an ambitious group of people who are looking to get some of those improvements moving forward.”

Joe Morgan, who is part of the 250-member Petaluma Wheelmen Cycling Club and also serves on the Sonoma County Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, said he’s looking forward to playing a role in the group. He’d like to see the city tackle projects that will bolster accessibility, including more crosstown connectivity.

“The community should look more toward cycling and walking and I think that when the master plan was written, it had a different vision or goal than what I think these kids see,” he said. “A lot of communities have done this and been very successful.”

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