For a century and a half the entrance to Sonoma has been a broad boulevard. It once led to an eight-acre fenced meadow where livestock grazed, but since the early 20th Century, leads travelers directly to the entrance to City Hall.
The bustle of horse-drawn wagons and carriages turned to automobiles and trucks, and Broadway was lined with parked vehicles and pedestrians going shopping. As the local economy shifted, so did the nature of the vehicles; tourism and population increases were reflected by a huge increase in traffic. This is, in part, the story of America.
The question before the city right now is whether its decision to ask CalTrans to re-stripe Broadway is a good idea. Narrowing Broadway to one lane in each direction was selected as the best option for study and possible implementation from the the city’s 2016 Circulation Element, a portion of the city’s General Plan that must be revised periodically. That plan, different from the one recently adopted in a 3-1 City Council decision, included bike lanes but kept the parking at the curb. The recently adopted plan flips parking and bike lanes, placing bike lanes in the gutters.
The problem with this plan is that the studies recommended in the Circulation Element never happened. Although preliminary studies of existing traffic were conducted, a concerted effort to analyze the effects of narrowing has never occurred. CalTrans scheduled pavement repairs long ago, and restriping should have been studied and planned long ago as well. With a September start date looming, the city rushed into a plan with an uncertain effect.
The uncertainty extends not just to auto and truck traffic, but pedestrian traffic and safety as well. Narrowing the area that can be occupied by vehicles in theory reduces the time pedestrians need to use to cross the street, but no tests have been conducted. Pedestrian safety is the responsibility of drivers and pedestrians alike. Entering the crosswalk while taking selfies with one hand and grasping a dog leash in the other is not safe.
That said, crossing improvements can and must be made. Better pedestrian-activated crossings, improved driver safety signage and notification systems, improved crossing design, and most importantly, increased traffic enforcement are essential. Speeders need to know they will be caught and cited.
There remain some hurdles to be crossed before this project can proceed. The City of Sonoma has notified the County Clerk that it has applied for a categorical exemption under CEQA for this project; this exemption can be challenged. In addition, the cost of the specially designed, thermo-plastic, color-painted bicycle lane will be charged to the City of Sonoma; the amount of that charge is unknown at this time. If it is over $25,000, approval will require yet another council meeting.
By all indications, public sentiment is running strongly against restriping Broadway in a new, narrowed configuration. People point to 5th Street West, which was narrowed for the addition of bike lanes as evidence that traffic backs up and bicycle use is infrequent. Any reconfiguration of Broadway will never be safe for bicycles; there are just too many cars and trucks.
We hope the City Council will back off this plan and simply let CalTrans proceed with repaving and restriping Broadway in the way it is configured now.