Petaluma council to consider lane reduction of Petaluma Boulevard South

A $2.8 million federal grant would allow for the continuation of a 'road diet' that reduced the number of lanes along part of Petaluma Boulevard in 2013 from four to two.|

On the 1 1/2-mile long southern stretch of Petaluma Boulevard between D Street and the roundabout at Crystal Lane, there were 142 crashes in the past five years, injuring 39 people.

Dick Jensen, 68, who lives near the roundabout with his wife, Dianne, is all too familiar with those accidents. He's detailed his concerns to city officials over the course of the past year in a string of emails.

“Another accident late this afternoon. Northbound,” reads one. “I'm not a traffic safety expert, but to a novice it seems obvious speeding is the problem. ...There has to be a solution.”

Mayor David Glass said he believes there is a solution: a continuation of the “road diet” that reduced the number of lanes along the northern portion of Petaluma Boulevard in 2013 from four to two.

The federal grant that made that possible is coming up for renewal this September. The county's Public Works Department is expected to bring a draft proposal to continue the “diet” to the City Council in the coming weeks. An item seeking council approval of the application was originally scheduled for Monday night's meeting, but was taken off the agenda when the grant application deadline was moved from this summer to fall.

“Is (the road) a danger? Absolutely,” Glass said. “And this (grant) is a fix.”

Those against the project argue the reduction of lanes is unnecessary and causes traffic to back up.

Sgt. Ron Klein with the Petaluma Police Department didn't deny the lane reduction has slowed traffic in the downtown area.

But, he said, “like anything else, there's a give and a take. Petaluma Boulevard South has its fair share of collisions. ... When you decrease the speed of vehicles - speed is pretty much always the primary collision factor - it would most likely reduce the number of collisions, too.”

The .7-mile lane reduction to the northern portion of Petaluma Boulevard, Klein said, has resulted in a significant decrease in speeding tickets.

“The other thing that's been a benefit is that we used to have a lot of traffic collisions involving parked cars,” he said. Drivers “would constantly clip mirrors or scrape sides of cars, or people would open their doors into traffic. We don't see nearly the number of collisions that we used to.”

Jensen said a reduction in speed would please him mightily.

A few years ago, he would take his 1-year-old grandson out for a walk, crossing the boulevard by the roundabout, five days a week.

“I'd really hesitate to do that now,” he said, because of the speeding traffic. He worries about his adult son, too, who crosses the street to and from the bus for work.

Dan St. John, Petaluma's public works director, estimated the project would cost about $3.2 million. He hoped to obtain about $2.8 million through the grant, with the other $400,000 contributed by the city.

As part of the grant application, the city is required to submit three proposed projects and rank them. A project scoring high according to grant parameters is more likely to be funded.

“We felt (the road diet) would be the highest scoring,” St. John said, rather than the other two projects of repaving and sidewalk improvements on Caulfield Lane or Casa Grande Road.

St. John said Petaluma Boulevard would score higher because of the traffic component, and because it has a significantly higher traffic volume.

Glass called it the “most dangerous street in town.”

“If we're going to tax people to fix the streets, let's get this one fixed on somebody else's nickel,” he said.

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