Several stretches of California highway have, over time, been given the sardonic nickname “Blood Alley.” In recent memory, Highway 37 east of Sears Point earned the macabre moniker due to the high rate of deadly head-on collisions.
The nickname stuck and drove attention to the problem until, in 1995, Caltrans installed a median barrier, eliminating the equally morosely dubbed “suicide lane” while drastically reducing the bloodshed.
A new stretch of highway near Petaluma is perhaps ingloriously deserving of the title of Blood Alley. Highway 116, locally known as Lakeville Highway, has been the scene of numerous injury accidents and fatalities in recent years. Extending from Highway 101 in Petaluma to Highway 37, Lakeville is becoming a more heavily traveled route for workers in the East Bay and Vallejo commuting to Sonoma County. The post-fire boom in construction jobs has made this route even more congested.
And with the extra traffic has come an increase in the number of vehicle accidents. CHP statistics from the past five years show accidents increasing each year, from 31 in 2013 to 56 last year.
The most recent fatality in April killed a renowned marine biologist right at the edge of Petaluma. The driver, incidentally from the East Bay and heading to work in Sonoma County, veered across the double yellow line near South McDowell Extension and slammed into several oncoming cars.
Solutions to the problem will involve the state, county and the city, since all three jurisdictions share oversight of this increasingly unsafe roadway.
From the last stoplight at Frates Road, it is about two miles until the edge of town. Caltrans official Highway 116 designation continues down Lakeville only to Ernie’s Tin Bar, where the route heads east on Stage Gulch Road. From there, Lakeville is a county road until its terminus at Highway 37.
For its part, the City of Petaluma is taking steps to make the part of Lakeville Highway within city limits a bit safer. Work on a lane striping project at Pine View Way, which has been in the planning process for eight years, is soon to get underway. The project will create a merging lane for cars turning left onto Lakeville from Pine View Way, which is home to the Kaiser Permanente medical campus and other businesses. The work will also include the installation of two radar signs that display motorists’ speed and warn drivers when they are going too fast.
For the stretch of Lakeville south of Petaluma, Caltrans has no plans to add a barrier between lanes of the two-lane highway. That would be costly and might not be practical given the number of driveways and roads that link to the highway.
But something must be done. Perhaps raised reflective pylons in strategic locations would give a semblance of separation between lanes of oncoming traffic and make the roadway safer.
Until any physical improvements are made, the CHP is stepping up patrols on Lakeville. An increased law enforcement presence should help keep drivers off of their cell phones and laser focused on the road ahead.
All it takes is one lapse of attention to cross into oncoming traffic. And when that happens, Blood Alley can be unforgiving.