Residents call for increased safety on major Petaluma roadway

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Petaluma residents are calling for an increase in traffic safety as part of long-awaited plans to improve conditions along the busy North McDowell thoroughfare.

In a virtual meeting last Wednesday, city officials and the Parisi Transportation Consulting group presented plans to reconstruct a section of North McDowell Boulevard in a multiple-phase project set to break ground later this year. David Parisi, founder of the consulting firm, said the project’s first phase would focus on pavement repairs, while the next phase could entail a “Complete Streets” approach.

“We’re going to sharpen our pencils to see what we can get into this Phase I plan and what can be considered for the future Phase II,” Parisi said.

The first portion of the project was approved in the city’s Capital Improvement Program, which earmarked $5 million for pavement reconstruction between Old Redwood Highway and Corona Road, a mile-long stretch rated among the poorest in road quality throughout the city.

The second phase, which would include reconstruction of the mile of roadway between Corona Road and Sunrise Parkway, as well as crosswalk and bus route enhancements, has not yet been officially funded.

Funding sources for the project include street maintenance fees, road maintenance and rehabilitation fees, water fees and state transportation money.

At last week’s meeting, many of the nearly five dozen residents in attendance called for increased safety - not only for drivers, but also for pedestrians and bicyclists.

More than 20,000 cars travel on North McDowell Boulevard each day, Parisi said, and the thoroughfare was the site of 65 injury crashes between 2016 and 2020. With half of those crashes coming as a result of unsafe speeds or right-of-way violations, residents asked officials to consider lowering the current, 40-mile-per-hour speed limit.

Colin McDonnell is co-founder of HenHouse Brewing company, which resides across the street from Lagunitas Brewing Company on North McDowell. During the meeting, McDonnell pointed to a deadly crash that happened in front of the brewery in 2020 as a result of high speed.

“It was unnecessary,” McDonnell said. “It was traumatic for the folks who were working here that day, and I would really love to see the street become safer.”

Other residents called for improvements to make the road more bike-friendly, and some suggested the establishment of a separate, multi-use path that cyclists could use so they would not be prone to clashes with vehicles.

“It’s just a very busy, very fast-paced roadway and I would like to protect our pedestrians and our cyclists,” said Francesca Smith, who said her office is located in the 1300 block of North McDowell.

Multiple residents who spoke in the meeting also expressed concerns for those who reside in the four mobile home parks along the road, saying the lack of crosswalks near their homes create dangers. Smith said she’s seen multiple older residents jaywalking to get to bus stops across the street.

Parisi said the second phase of the reconstruction project could make changes to North McDowell’s sidewalk structure, including curbs that are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Most of the sidewalks in the area restrict access to those in wheelchairs because utility poles are found right in the center of the walkway.

Other concerns centered on the need for increased lighting for safety, as well as a desire to see more trees planted along the boulevard’s median.

“Trees are a great traffic-calming device and help the streets look really good,” said Steve Arago, a former member of the Tree Advisory Committee.

City officials will release a complete corridor design in the spring, with bidding and a contract award expected to happen in the summer. Parisi said construction for the project is expected to begin toward the end of the year.

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

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