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‘Love our Town, Slow Down’ signs come to Glen Ellen, the Springs

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Traffic-calming signs

The Springs ‘Despacio’ signs can be ordered by email at cathy@cathywade.com.

Glen Ellen’s ‘Love Our Town’ signs can be requested from the website www.glenellenca.org.

Cars and trucks breaking the speed limit through neighborhoods have long been a concern for Sonoma Valley residents, from Oakmont to the Springs, and action from the county Transportation and Public Works department can take a long time to implement.

For a handful of Valley residents, it was time to take charge.

“I worked for 30 years to get the curb, gutter and sidewalk through the Springs, and it was because of safety,” said Cathy Wade Shepard, a Sonoma Valley resident since 1974.

Safety motivates her even more today, now that the highway has been upgraded to state standards – and traffic can move that much faster.

“It’s wonderful that Boyes (Boulevard) is paved, it’s not wonderful that people think it’s a speedway,” said Wade Shepard.

“Some of the worst offenders are moms picking up kids and kids coming home from the high school.”

In Glen Ellen, neighbors have been concerned about the same thing – and last year they did something about it.

Glen Ellen residents formed a Traffic and Safety Committee – composed of six members of the 15-month-old Glen Ellen Forum community group.

Stacy Vilas said local residents are well aware that traffic through town is going faster than it should, even if not fast enough for a ticket.

A former Madison, Wisconsin, police officer, Vilas moved to Glen Ellen when she retired a couple of years ago to join her partner and longtime Glen Ellen resident Sandy Strassberg. Back in Wisconsin, Vilas had been on a community safety coalition that found signs were an effective way to calm traffic, especially around schools. Perhaps the same idea would work here, she thought.

Working with the other members of the traffic committee, and with the backing of the Glen Ellen Forum, she asked local artist Archie Horton to design the “Love Our Town / Slow Down” sign on a bright yellow background, decorated with geese, moose, school children, even a green alien (an in-joke in Glen Ellen).

Vilas fronted the cash and ordered a number of signs, and began to sell them for $20 a pop (including post) so residents could have something to put on their lawns, or curb-side meridians, to advance the “education” portion of the Three Es of traffic safety – Education, Engineering, and Enforcement.

They started popping up along Arnold Drive and its side streets in late summer, and it didn’t take too long before they had a noticeable effect, say locals. A couple of the signs were posted on Madrone Road, which links Highway 12 with Arnold Drive just south of SDC – one of the worst areas for speeders, said Vilas.

“Cars were going 54 miles an hour in a 25 zone. Not many cars were doing it, but that anybody was doing it was too much,” said Vilas former police officer.

The idea caught on, and at the last Glen Ellen Village Fair on Oct. 8, remembered Vilas, they sold a large number of signs and enthusiasm grew.

“That was the day the fire started, and quite a few of them went up in smoke,” she said. In fact half the members of the village’s Traffic and Safety Committee, three of them, lost their homes in the fires.

But the word was spreading, and though 1st District County Supervisor Susan Gorin’s office was preoccupied with fire recovery, her then-aide and Springs resident Jennifer Gray Thompson became interested in the signs when Ellen Conlan told the Springs Alliance what Glen Ellen was up to.

Traffic-calming signs

The Springs ‘Despacio’ signs can be ordered by email at cathy@cathywade.com.

Glen Ellen’s ‘Love Our Town’ signs can be requested from the website www.glenellenca.org.

Thompson asked artist Veronica Napoles, a new appointee to the City of Sonoma’s Cultural and Fine Arts Commission, to design a version of the sign for the Springs.

“My aesthetic is a cleaner one, without having so many visuals,” said Napoles – referring to the parade of creatures on Glen Ellen’s sign. “I came up with that sign and the verbiage, and ran it past the Hispanic community to see if it resonated, and it seemed to work.”

“Slow Down – Loved Ones Ahead,” it reads. Then, separated by a heart, “Despacio – Queridos por Delante.”

Thompson asked Wade Shepard to take it the next step, and the 74-year-old area activist – she founded the Friends of the Sonoma Valley Regional Library, among other accomplishments – took the idea and the design and ran with it.

She took the idea to a meeting of the Springs Community Alliance last week, presented the signs to the larger-than-normal turnout, and got a more positive-than-normal response. Many hands went up when she asked who wanted a sign, and even telling them the $5 cost was no deterrent.

The day after the meeting Wade Shepard ordered 100 of the signs, at $4.50 each – a bargain compared to the Glen Ellen sign, even without the alien. (Vilas took note, and will change her printer for the next run.)

Both women think the value of the signs will increase over time.

“What I hope to happen is that all the people who are putting it on their lawns will see their own responsibility to be equally mindful when they’re in somebody else’s neighborhood,” said Wade Shepard.

But even now, the movement for traffic-calming signs is spreading. First Glen Ellen, then the Springs – is Oakmont next?

“I got a call from Carolyn Greene up in Oakmont. They’re having a meeting in March,” said Wade Shepard. “It’s one of those catching-fire things.”

It could become a variation of the oft-cited phrase, “It takes a village.” Here, it takes a Valley.

“I would love to see the whole Sonoma Valley Corridor say, ‘Love our Valley, Slow Down!’” said Vilas.

Email Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.