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Dozens of Sonoma County schools participate in International Walk and Roll to School Day

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The usual rush-hour traffic along a busy Santa Rosa thoroughfare came to a brief halt Wednesday morning as a dozen schoolchildren and many of their parents rode their bicycles or walked across a flashing crosswalk at Fourth Street on their way to class in solidarity with thousands of others throughout the region.

About 60 Sonoma County elementary and middle schools joined other cities and counties across the nation, and at least 40 countries, for the annual International Walk and Roll to School Day. The event, which coincided with the countywide push for children to walk or bicycle to school on the first Wednesday of every month, was expected to draw more than 8,000 students, according to the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

Schools in Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Windsor and Healdsburg also were among those participating on the brisk Wednesday just after sunrise to encourage more active and environmentally friendly methods of travel to school.

In Santa Rosa, the students who attend Proctor Terrace Elementary School took part from two neighborhood meetup points. Many of the children, who ranged in ages from 7 to 11, rode their bikes from one of the locations on the south side of Fourth Street, while a few ambitious pedestrians did their best to run alongside them and keep up for the four-block excursion.

Parents chose the Fourth Street meetup site to bring more attention to a larger effort in the area to reduce vehicle traffic and build buffered bicycle lanes from Farmers Lane to D Street in downtown Santa Rosa. The city’s addition of the flashing crosswalk at Talbot Avenue in summer 2018 has helped, advocates say, but their hope is also to improve safety for youngsters who on a normal school day might cross Highway 12 where motorists occasionally ignore or misinterpret the blinking yellow lights.

“The city is being responsive and doing something, but I wish they would do more,” said Minona Heaviland, a member of the city’s bicycle and pedestrian advisory board. “I want to see them take a little bolder action by calming traffic and making more space to bike in downtown Santa Rosa.”

That area of the road saw more than 23,000 vehicles per day in 2017, with peaks during the morning and evening commutes, according to the city’s most recent traffic count data. Farther east as motorists head for Highway 12, the numbers grow to more than 34,000 vehicles each day.

The challenges of getting across traffic- ridden Fourth Street is what resident Danyale Hambly, 48, said keeps her from allowing her 11-year-old son, Yoshi Hambly-Jones, from biking to Proctor Terrace school each day. They took advantage of the Walk and Roll event Wednesday to take the pulse of the possibility going forward, despite safety concerns that she said started when more motorists shifted over to Fourth Street once Sonoma Avenue dropped to three lanes to add dedicated bicycle lanes at the end of 2011.

“It’s the freeway to the freeway, or downtown,” Hambly-Jones said of Fourth Street. “But we’re trying to do it (bike to school) more. If we can get ready in the morning.”

Rob Sprinkle, the city’s deputy director of traffic engineering, said Fourth Street has been prioritized for a full study estimated to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The in-depth analysis, which the city aims to pay for with grants, will allow Santa Rosa to closely examine what adding enhanced crosswalks, bike lanes and widened sidewalks after reducing the number of vehicle lanes might mean for the rest of the area’s streets.

The advocates of changes to Fourth Street, which includes employees at Quadriga Landscape Architecture and Planning located off Stanford Street, simply want to see the city move more quickly. They’d prefer the city implement temporary modifications to the road while the study takes place, or just forgo the study altogether.

The Quadriga Landscape workers point to county bicycle coalition data concerning Proctor Terrace school, for example, showing that 85% of students live within 2 miles of the school and about 60% within a mile, but just 25% walk or bike to school. Proctor Terrace was built in 1949, and as one of the oldest elementary schools in Santa Rosa, has limited parking for parents who drive their kids to school, only increasing the need to change travel behaviors sooner than later and pull cars off the road, advocates say.

On Wednesday at least, many Proctor Terrace families did their part. Heaviland’s daughter, Zinnia Bruland, and her friend, Ollin Zuniga, both 8, each were joined by their mothers and tied silver ribbons and blue and gold streamers around their bicycle handlebars to celebrate the occasion. The next-door neighbors normally ride their bikes to school, but said they were excited to be part of a larger event with greater attendance, and by the hope of hot chocolate and doughnuts once they arrived to the tree-lined campus.

The two girls and other participants were forced to settle for banana-and-berry smoothies, however, before the first bell rang at school. Children swarmed a folding table manned by teachers to award prizes to those who walked or biked, including school supplies, stickers and magnets and reusable straws branded with the monthly walk and ride event logo.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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