Guest Editorial: Build bike paths for a greener Petaluma

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This editorial is from the Petaluma Argus-Courier:

Petaluma officials have signaled an eagerness to do their part to make a dent in solving climate change, the single most important issue of this generation.

It’s a commendable goal, and it will ensure that climate change is a key driver of every decision we make as a city.

Solving this intractable problem will require people to make major lifestyle changes, as sticking with the status quo and expecting things to get better is foolish.

One of the biggest contributors of climate-changing greenhouse gases is fossil fuel-burning automobile transportation. This, fortunately, is also an area with much room for lifestyle change.

There are several ways we can reduce our fossil fuel consumption and reduce our carbon footprint. The first is to demand more fuel-efficient vehicles. The second is to buy an electric vehicle.

The third and perhaps most drastic lifestyle change is to reduce vehicle miles traveled by ditching the car and riding a bike. While not practical for every trip, cycling is a fun way to travel that releases zero emissions and gets you in shape in the process.

In order to encourage more people to get out of their cars and onto bikes, Petaluma needs to do more to make the city friendly for cyclists. A lot more.

Right now, Petaluma is a car-centric city. But that is slowly starting to change. New bike paths and bike lanes are being added that will give new cyclists confidence to ride alongside intimidating vehicular traffic.

The city’s bike and pedestrian committee is now reviewing most new development projects and recommending that developers add cycling infrastructure with their projects.

A forthcoming road diet on Petaluma Boulevard South is an excellent opportunity to continue making Petaluma more bike-friendly. The thoroughfare at the city’s southern gateway is set to be reduced from four to two traffic lanes.

There is some debate about what to do with the remaining right of way. While street parking would help businesses in the area, dedicated bike lanes would be a better use of the space.

There appears to be enough width to make bike lanes that are separated from vehicular traffic, which is a key safety measure that encourages cyclists use a busy route.

And Petaluma Boulevard South is not just another street that could accommodate cyclists. It is actually the route for the SMART bike path through Petaluma.

A bike path is being built along most of the length of the Santa Rosa-San Rafael SMART train tracks, with a notable exception being through Petaluma. The drawbridge over the Petaluma River cannot accommodate a bike path, and farther south, the tracks traverse sensitive wetlands where pathway construction isn’t possible.

So, after the path reaches Petaluma, currently under construction to Payran Street, the route will take surface streets through the city, south on Petaluma Boulevard, then through a recently completed bike route along Highway 101 to Novato.

This is all the more reason why it is important to make Petaluma Boulevard South as safe as possible for cyclists.

As the city becomes more bike-friendly and more cyclists take to the road, we will have fewer cars clogging the streets. This is good news for traffic circulation, and also good news for the planet.

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