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Sebastopol residents expressed outrage and bewilderment Tuesday that one of their most vulnerable residents was killed last month in a crosswalk where the speed limit was increased in 2008 following a community effort to get it reduced.

The Sebastopol City Council held a town hall meeting Tuesday to explain how speed limits are set and to give the public a chance to share their ideas in the wake of two major back-to-back accidents on busy city streets.

On Aug. 25, Julie Reibel, a 27-year-old graduate of Analy High School and Santa Rosa Junior College, suffered fatal injuries when she was struck by a car as she crossed Bodega Avenue in a wheelchair.

The very next day, another pedestrian was hit on Highway 12/Sebastopol Avenue near Barnes Road in a painted crosswalk at the eastern entrance to downtown. She survived and has been released from the hospital.

Mayor Una Glass said the meeting was not only in response to these two high-profile accidents, but also due to the innumerable close-calls that she regularly hears about from constituents, including one from a woman who escaped major injury by leaping onto the hood of a car.

“These kinds of accidents seem to be happening very frequently in our community,” Glass said.

The meeting sought to outline the city’s efforts to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety.

Residents were confounded, however, to learn that speed limits in the area were increased from 35 mph to 40 mph in 2008, a move many said makes no sense and has directly led to the dangerous conditions on Bodega Avenue.

Glass stressed that there was no indication that speed was a factor in the accident that killed Reibel. Police say she was in an uncontrolled intersection when struck by a 79-year-old motorist, traveling about 10 mph below the posted speed limit. Glass acknowledged, however, that speed continued to be a huge concern for residents.

“What happened to Julie should never had happened. Period,” said Jessalyn Nash, whose son was killed in crash on Fulton Road at Highway 12 eight years ago.

“Why can’t we be at 30 mph, or 35 at a least!” said Patti Freman, who lives near the intersection of Bodega Avenue at Ragle Road.

Police Cpt. James Conner explained that most local speed limits are set under state criteria after a traffic survey that reviews the speed of at least 100 vehicles in an area. The speed limit is then set using a formula that is based on the maximum speed driven by 85 percent of drivers through the area, with reductions made for mitigating factors such lack of sidewalks or accidents that cause injuries, he said.

The 85 percent guide is “based on the belief that generally people drive no faster than is prudent for safety,” Conner said, drawing howls of disbelief from the crowd at Park Side School, not far from the accident.

The area of Bodega Avenue between Ragle and the city limit has long been 40 mph, Conner explained.

In 2007, the community sought to reduce the speed limit on Bodega Avenue between Ragle Road and Pleasant Hill Road and install a crosswalk. While the crosswalk was installed the following year, the city did not lower the speed limit — but raised it from 35 mph to 40 mph.

A traffic study found 85 percent of the drivers traveled through the area at 46 mph or less, Conner said. Under the state formula, the city claimed a 5 mph reduction for road conditions, resulting in the 40 mph speed limit that exists today, he said.

The explanation caused many residents at the meeting to call for a new traffic study.

Glass acknowledged that she was shocked when she first heard that speed limits are essentially based not on safety but on people’s driving habits. She said her response was “you’ve got to be kidding.”

The explanation also caused one resident to exclaim that the city needed to quit pointing to the state and fix the problem.

“How do we get the freakin’ state law changed? It’s absurd! We need to take back control of our own neighborhood!” she said to loud applause.

City officials outlined that there are several traffic calming and safety upgrades planned for the area, including a new, safer traffic signal near a senior center at the intersection on Nelson Way. After that, Ragle is slated for flashing pedestrian signs that Henry Mikus, the city’s engineering manager, said would be “obnoxiously bright.”

But that’s not scheduled to be installed until 2018, which frustrated some residents of the Ragle Way area. Others wondered if the proliferation of signs along Bodega Avenue right before the crosswalk could have contributed to driver distraction.

“I catch myself trying to read those,” said DeDe Goodrich, who said she counted 18 such signs. Freman questioned why the area up the road was slated to get a signal before an intersection where a woman was just killed.

Conner said he understood the desire to see immediate improvements to the Ragle Road intersection, but data showed the intersection near the Burbank Heights senior housing complex has more injury incidents.

Based on that data, it was clear the “more dangerous intersection needed to be addressed first,” Conner said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.