Bicycle lanes installed last week on Sonoma Avenue are winning praise from bicyclists and few complaints from the drivers who gave up roadway real estate to accommodate them.
The changes mark the creation of a long-sought east-west corridor for bicyclists between downtown Santa Rosa and the scenic Rincon Valley and Bennett Valley areas and parks popular with bicyclists.
"It seems to be safer," said Glen Wiseman, who rides daily from his Bennett Valley home to his job as a cook at a Fountaingrove restaurant. "The cars seem to be watching what they're doing more."
Wiseman, 47, estimates that the addition of the Sonoma Avenue lanes means he enjoys about three-quarters of his 15-mile round-trip commute on streets with bicycle lanes.
City engineers said the three-week project to realign Sonoma Avenue and add bike lanes wrapped up last week. Instead of two vehicle travel lanes in each direction, Sonoma Avenue between Montgomery Village and Santa Rosa Avenue now has three travel lanes — one in each direction plus a middle turn lane. The extra space allowed for new bicycle lanes in each direction while preserving on-street parking.
A previously completed portion brought bicycle lanes and shared bicycle/car lanes called "sharrows" between Hahman and Summerfield avenues.
City traffic engineer Rob Sprinkle said he drove down Sonoma Avenue after the latest striping was completed was pleased with the results.
"It looks like it should have looked all along," Sprinkle said. "It's working well."
There are many residential cross streets and driveways to professional offices between Santa Rosa Avenue and Montgomery Village. This created challenges for drivers when the road was four vehicle lanes, Sprinkle said.
Drivers turning left often had to come to a full-stop and wait to cross two lanes of opposing traffic, creating sudden traffic backups, Sprinkle said. Those turns are now made from the middle turning lane, which keeps the traffic flowing more smoothly, Sprinkle said.
"We haven't gotten any negative feedback other than people being a little skeptical about the whole project to begin with," Sprinkle said.
Such "road diet" changes were controversial when the city first started implementing them several years ago. Some drivers expressed impatience at the fewer travel lanes and slower overall speeds.
But such "traffic calming" improves safety, Sprinkle said. Similar projects have previously been done successfully on Hoen Avenue and Calistoga Road, he said.
Work began Nov. 14 and was completed last week on schedule and under the $287,000 budget for the final phase of the project. The final tally appears to closer to $265,000, said city civil engineer Greg Dwyer. The project is being paid for entirely through federal transportation grants, he said.
The city will continue to monitor the traffic patterns, especially during rush-hour, Sprinkle said.
But so far the feedback from bicyclists is positive, and motorists who park on the street will notice feeling safer as they exit their vehicles, Dwyer said.
"I think people are really going to like it," he said.
The material used to paint the lanes isn't paint at all but a sprayed-on thermal plastic, which is supposed last 7 to 10 years, Dwyer said.
The project isn't only about new lanes, however. New traffic cameras can now identify when bicyclists are waiting at the intersection, triggering the signal just like cars do. And optical detectors now allow first responders to switch the signals remotely in emergencies, Dwyer said.