North McDowell improvements coming along

The city recently gave an update on new paving, striping, crosswalks and other upgrades.|

In an effort to increase safety for pedestrians, bikers and drivers on one of Petaluma’s most impacted thoroughfares, the North McDowell Boulevard Improvement Project is now underway – and city staff recently provided an update on its progress.

Pavement and roadway striping along the 1.75-mile corridor from Sunrise Parkway to Old Redwood Highway is expected to wrap up in the fall, making way for next steps in the roadway’s $12 million improvement project, city staff said during a presentation at the July 17 City Council meeting.

“This has been a long time coming,” said senior traffic engineer and co-project manager Ken Eichstaedt. “We’re not finished yet but it’s good news.”

The project was approved by the City Council in October 2022, and a contract awarded to Santa Rosa-based Ghilotti Construction. Work on the project began in January.

Improvements completed since then include new sidewalks, better crosswalks, and three pedestrian refuge islands – including one between the HenHouse and Lagunitas breweries, two popular destinations.

The city has also installed curb ramps along the roadway, improved bus stops and loading zones, and has updated water, sewer and storm drain infrastructure.

Repavement and restriping of the roadway began in June and will last through the fall, the city said. In his presentation, Eichstaedt detailed the four-step process for recycled pavement, where the street’s current concrete is ground up and used in the new pavement’s base layers – a process Eichstaedt said could result in an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional paving.

Other next steps in the project include installing traffic-calming elements such as narrowed lanes to slow traffic, installing three high-intensity activated crosswalks called HAWK signals, and lowering McDowell’s speed limit by 5 mph. Buffered bike lanes also will be installed.

The crosswalks are expected to be installed in 2024, as are improvements to the SMART crossing and access to the new train station and multi-use pathway.

The city also plans to grow more trees along the corridor, which Eichstadt said is already underway in partnership with ReLeaf. The goal, he said, is to plant 150 new trees in total.

“Our community has clearly expressed a desire for more trees along the McDowell corridor and we wholeheartedly agree, mature tree canopies are essential and offer valuable climate and aesthetic benefits to our community,” the city said in a post on its website. “We are working with certified arborists to ensure our work is done in a way that will best support tree retention and health.”

The city acknowledged that some existing trees did have to be removed in the process of installing new sidewalks, but “only unhealthy trees or those with roots interfering with utility lines and/or sidewalks.”

Eichstaedt noted that drought-tolerant landscaping will be installed to replace turf in some areas, in order to help balance out the amount of water needed for the new trees.

As the city wraps up paving over the next couple of weeks, and during future phases of the project, traffic control measures will remain in place and delays should be expected during heavy commute hours. Drivers are advised to take alternate routes when possible.

When work began, the city also conducted a traffic analysis in the area in order to determine whether a “road diet” plan would be feasible in the North McDowell corridor. The analysis projected that moving the roadway from five to three lanes to make way for wider bike lanes would wreak havoc on already difficult traffic conditions.

“It’s definitely not something we’d recommend based on the impacts we would have,” said co-project manager Jeff Stutsman, adding that the city will explore other opportunities.

The project follows a number of crashes and other traffic incidents on North McDowell Boulevard in recent years, including 130 injury collisions between 2016 and 2020, according to the city. Recently, a pedestrian was critically injured after being hit by a car on the morning of June 4 on North McDowell at Candlewood Drive.

Amelia Richardson is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at or 707-521-5208.

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