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City of Sonoma eyes a 3-lane Broadway

City public works officials are recommending lowering the number of vehicle lanes on Broadway from five to three — and making room for bike lanes.

As state highway officials are planning to repave Highway 12 over the next two summers, including its Broadway portion, Sonoma has an opportunity to ask them to re-stripe the road to fit Sonoma's 21st century traffic-flow needs, according to Public Works Director Colleen Ferguson.

On March 6, the city website at sonomacity.org added an online survey for the public to weigh in on plans for 'Broadway Restriping,' which could change the flow of traffic for much of Broadway in Sonoma from MacArthur Street to the Plaza.

It won't result in any changes in the street's physical layout, but simply be a matter of a paint job to restripe the lanes from five lanes to three, with additional room for a bike path on each side of the street.

'Restriping Broadway is an idea that predates my time with the City of Sonoma,' said Ferguson, public works director since 2017. She points to the 2016 Circulation Element of the General plan, which recommends a reduction from five lanes to three. '(It) would be expected to operate safely and efficiently, would help to regulate vehicle speeds in a pedestrian-oriented area, would create space for bicycle facilities, and would potentially create space for additional parking spaces.'

Ferguson moved the idea forward last summer with a public orientation to the restriping of Broadway during the Tuesday farmers market on June 11. Along with Frank Penry, of GHD, a consultant for the city, and then-councilman Logan Harvey, Ferguson led small handfuls of locals down Broadway from the Plaza for a block or two to explain the concept.

Those informal discussions and consultations have now been formalized in a public survey, on the web page at sonomacity.org/broadway-restriping , which explains the options for changing the five-lane configuration in that half-mile of Broadway to a three-lane configuration.

The basic rationale for the striping changes is that the street is 70 feet wide, and a standard traffic lane is 12 feet. While a five-lane approach to the Plaza is stately, traffic studies show it's unnecessary, and Broadway carries about 8,000 vehicles per day, peaking at 10,000 on busy weekends.

A three-lane configuration, with bikeways, is projected to comfortably carry 11,000 vehicles per day, according to the study by Penry, who said the current configuration is 'more appropriate for 25,000 to 30,000 cars.'

The new configuration would have just one lane in each direction with a turning lane in the middle for most of the length of Broadway. This would allow room for Class II bike lanes on either side of the street – as called for in the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan from 2014 – as well as maintaining parking on both sides of the street.

However, the northbound approach to Napa Street at the Plaza will remain as two lanes, a left-turn and a right-turn lane, with a single southbound lane. 'None of the options for restriping Broadway would change the flow of traffic at the intersection,' said Ferguson.

The five choices presented in the survey include one to keep it the way it is – with five lanes throughout, no bike lanes and existing parking; or to standardize the bike lanes but keep the five lanes.

But there are several three-lane options: one with bike lanes next to the traffic lanes, on the outside of the curbside parking; and one with a 'parking protected bikeway' on the inside of a parking corridor next to the traffic lane.

The re-striping options will not affect the curbside parking in each direction nor the landscaping and intersection operations; transit stops will also remain. But traffic will be reduced to one lane in each direction – except for opening to two northbound lanes at Maple Street, as Broadway approaches Napa Street and the Plaza.

On March 2, along with consultant Penry, she presented the idea to the City Council, and hopes to return to the council at their April 6 meeting with the results of the online survey.

The council was intrigued and receptive to the restriping idea, though the 'protected bike lane' option drew the most debate. Harvey observed that since people were used to parking next to the curb, expecting them to adapt to not parking in the curb-site bike lane was a big ask.

On the other hand, said Mayor Harvey, 'We've heard a lot about bike-riding kids lately. If we could give them a lane and get them off the sidewalk that would be great.'

Councilmember Rachel Hundley said that, as an occasional bicyclist, a protected bike lane 'would make me feel safer as a bicyclist.'

Ferguson and Penry argued for keeping the protected bike lane in the survey, with adequate explanation, since that's the best way to find out how receptive the public is to it.

One sticking point seemed unavoidable, how to 'squeeze down' the four-lane configuration to a two-lane configuration, wherever it starts – whether at MacArthur or elsewhere. Drivers jockey and race to get ahead in such lane changes, said Fred Allebach during public comment. 'Squeeze-downs just bring out the worst in people,' he said.

The online survey is prefaced by an extended explanation, with photos and illustrations, of the five options. The survey itself is estimated to take about 15 minutes, and consists of a number of multi-choice questions gauging use of Broadway, traffic and bike safety, and other factors.

Whatever the council's preference, and whatever the results of the survey, Ferguson cautioned, 'We can make requests on what we want to do, but Caltrans will make the decision.'

To learn more and take the survey, visit sonomacity.org/broadway-restriping. Survey responses will be accepted until the end of day, March 27.

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.

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