Santa Rosa panel floats redesign for dangerous stretch of road
Santa Rosa is looking to revamp a stretch of Stony Point Road bisected by Highway 12 in a bid to provide more protection for cyclists, a move that would follow a string of deaths that underscored the area’s status as one of the most treacherous in the city for cyclists and pedestrians.
A package of new bike paths, pedestrian crossings, curb expansions and lane adjustments is in the cards for Stony Point Road from Occidental Road to the Joe Rodota Trail — the heart of a half-mile highly trafficked stretch between West Third Street and Sebastopol Road that includes two highway on-ramps and two exits.
The area has been highly dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. In one seven-week span of 2018, three people on foot or bike were fatally struck along Stony Point Road near Highway 12.
They included Sidney Falbo, a 20-year-old Santa Rosa Junior College student on her way to class. On Thursday, cyclist Wayne Morris trained his camera on a memorial to Falbo that sits close to where she was struck and killed by a truck, at the point were the Joe Rodota Trail crosses six lanes of Stony Point Road.
Morris, 82, said that cycling at his age is a great way to keep his legs in shape. But while taking the trail from Sebastopol to Santa Rosa five weeks ago, he was badly shaken up when he was struck in the Stony Point crosswalk.
“I was waiting to cross on the light. It changed, I got up on the pedal to go across and bang, this lady hit me,” Morris said. “I hit the ground and cracked some ribs and my clavicle.”
The dangers of that stretch of road are called out in Santa Rosa’s latest bicycle and pedestrian safety master plan, adopted in early 2019. It’s one of only three traffic corridors in the city labeled as a “high-injury network” for both those on foot and bike.
The Press Democrat highlighted the 2018 deaths and dangers in the area in a June 2019 story that noted it accounted for 10% of all fatal bike and pedestrian crashes in the city between 2009 and 2018, according to collision data compiled by UC Berkeley researchers. Only two other corridors — the blocks where Mendocino and College avenues meet and a roughly 1,500-foot stretch of Santa Rosa Avenue near Court Road and Powderhorn Avenue — had as many deaths reported over the same period.
The loved ones of crash victims and local advocates said two years ago that the city was not moving fast enough in the wake of the tragedies to address the area’s known hazards, including the warren of highway ramps that intersect with Stony Point Road, which is at least four lanes wide throughout the corridor.
The most perilous half-mile stretch is bracketed by the Oliver's Market grocery store on the north end and the Stony Point Plaza shopping center and Joe Rodota Trail on the south, with Highway 12 running through the middle below an overpass.
Tony Falbo, the father of Sidney Falbo, said he was glad to hear about the proposed changes to the corridor, including a straighter crosswalk and a bigger curb at the intersection where his daughter was hit and killed.
But it’s not enough, he said. He called for the city to create an an exclusive crossing phase for pedestrians and cyclists at the intersection of the trail and Stony Point Road.
"It’s got to be made safer,“ said Falbo, a mortgage banker who lives in Windsor. ”If cars have a green light, they’re going to go. At dangerous intersections like that one, they have to do crosswalks-only.“
Santa Rosa would consider an exclusive pedestrian crossing phase for Joe Rodota Trail users, Rob Sprinkle, the city’s deputy director for traffic engineering, said at a Thursday advisory board meeting. That move is not yet confirmed to be a part of the plan for Stony Point Road; a similar crossing exists further to the east along the trail at Dutton Avenue.
In mid-2019, then-Mayor Tom Schwedhelm insisted the city was not ignoring the issue.
“I'm sorry that people are thinking that we aren't moving fast enough,” he said at the time, adding, “When does government move fast enough?”
Falbo’s death, as well as safety issues with the corridor previously flagged in a city plan, helped galvanize the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board to make improvements along Stony Point Road its highest priority, said Elizabeth Ridlington, the board’s vice chair. The board did so in fall 2019, according to city staff.
“The current proposed plan does some great things,” Ridlington said. Installing barriers to protect bike lanes and expanding the size of curbs to slow down turning vehicles will make a big difference, she said.
Still, she noted, it would take state action to lower the 35 mph speed limit in the area, and more work will be needed to improve safety at all of the corridor’s intersections and to remind drivers exiting the highway that they’re now on city streets.