Petaluma-Sebastopol bike path takes shape

Planners seek input on the 13-mile trail, with a feasibility study underway.|

Sonoma County officials are seeking the community’s input as part of a study to identify potential routes for a bike and pedestrian path that would link Petaluma and Sebastopol.

An April 15 meeting will be held at the Petaluma Veterans Memorial Hall as part of the $248,000 feasibility study launched last year to examine conditions in the corridor situated west of Highway 101 and identify possible alignments for the so-called Petaluma-Sebastopol Trail.

The study, funded by grants from Caltrans, local governments and advocacy groups, will also seek to identify design, assess public benefit and help prioritize segments for construction to determine if the project is feasible to move forward.

Identified in the 2010 Sonoma County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, the roughly 13-mile paved trail would have entry points near the Petaluma KOA Campground and Bloomfield Road in Sebastopol, with a connection to the Joe Rodota Trail leading to Santa Rosa.

The community meeting will be held to gauge public interest and get feedback on potential alignments between those points, which are also envisioned to provide connections to schools, churches and points of interest, said Ken Tam, a planner with Sonoma County Regional Parks, which is spearheading the project.

“Part of the community workshop is to get some input from the public that live in that area to look at the benefit of if we were to develop a trail and look at any existing use patterns … If there were improved infrastructure pathways it might encourage people to use them for more walking or biking.”

The trail was initially envisioned to trace the path of the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railroad, an electric railway that took passengers from Petaluma to Forestville in the early 1900s. But, the right-of-way along the rail line between Sebastopol and Petaluma is divided between a patchwork of private ownership, said Tam, making that specific alignment an unlikely bet for the path.

Amid concern from property owners, engineers from Questa Engineering have focused instead on creating separate trails along existing roadways including Highway 116, Stony Point Road and other streets, he said.

Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, who represents Petaluma, said he’s heard from residents concerned about the impacts on their property.

“People think that the county is going to come in and do rails to trails and put an eight-foot wide asphalt trail on top, but that’s not the case here because they don’t have the continuous property rights,” he said. “And you have the issues in some areas of peoples’ backyards that are right along the path, and they’re nervous about what that means … I heard that loud and clear and I do think there are other ways.”

A draft feasibility study incorporating public comments, options and alternatives should be wrapped up by July for public review and feedback, with a final study released by November for review by the Board of Supervisors the following month, Tam said.

Rabbitt expressed support for boosting connectivity between the two cities, but suggested planners consider options that could take advantage of other trails, like a proposed Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit bike and pedestrian path or choose routes like Highway 116.

“The connectivity and to be able to have the bike routes is a good thing,” he said.

Melissa Hatheway, chair of Petaluma’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, said the trail would be a boon for a wide range of cyclists.

“The engineers totally envisioned it as a recreational opportunity, but they didn’t really realize that people would probably also use it for commuting,” she said.

Joe Morgan, part of the 250-member Petaluma Wheelmen Cycling Club and a member of Sonoma County Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee praised the plans. His cycling club helped raise money to fund the feasibility study for the trail, he said.

“There are some alternatives and things we can look at to get the trail to Sebastopol,” he said “That would be the dream. We want to get it built.”

Early estimates price the path at roughly $4.5 million, according to the 2010 plan.

“First of all we want to find out if it’s feasible,” Tam said. “And then we’re going to have to do environmental work as well as to secure funding. That’s going to be one of the things that takes the most time.”

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