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These streets were made for walking: Pilot program intends to help pedestrians keep safe distance

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Petaluma is taking a nod from cities like San Francisco and Oakland, launching its very own “slow streets” program last week to discourage vehicular travel on select streets to give pedestrians freer reign and additional space to socially-distance.

The pilot initiative is currently underway on a handful of streets at opposite ends of the city, with signage alerting drivers to avoid driving the section and be on the look-out for bikers, joggers and pedestrians.

The slow streets movement has gained traction in several Bay Area cities within the last few months, as residents sheltering in place turn to sidewalks and regional trails to shake off their cabin fever. Most Petaluma sidewalks average between 5 and 6 feet in width, creating awkward interactions among passersby maintaining the recommended 6 feet of distance, either jumping into the street or scooting to the furthest edge of pavement.

“Everyone is trying their best to be safe while enjoying the outdoors and we all want to go out and exercise, so this is one way of making sure people can do that in a safe manner,” said city civil engineer Ken Eichstaedt.

Residents will notice traffic cones and signs reading “closed to through traffic” at E and 7th streets, Oxford Court leading into Helen Putnam Regional Park and in an east side residential pocket where Kearny Street meets Donner and Orinda avenues.

Eichstaedt said although Petaluma’s density of about 4,000 people per square mile is a fraction of Oakland’s and San Francisco’s, there is a need to provide residents with additional space, especially in high-traffic areas.

The three current locations are dry runs meant to introduce the concept to residents and collect public input. The city is looking to incorporate additional slow streets with special focus on those that funnel pedestrians to popular destinations such as trails, parks and shopping areas.

However, Eichstaedt is careful to stress that these altered streets are not meant to become destinations themselves, urging residents not to travel to the spots or congregate, and instead reserve them for nearby residents.

“We’re not trying to advocate these places are a free-for-all to let your kids play, but rather to just alert drivers to slow down and look out for people,” Eichstaedt said.

The city is currently welcoming feedback on the program, which it will use to gage its general popularity and direction in possibly expanding slow streets to additional areas of the city.

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

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