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Council again OKs reduced lanes on Broadway

Broadway is getting a new look – reversing a prior council’s decision to keep the major thoroughfare as it is now.

The Sonoma City Council on Monday voted 3-1 to ask the state highway agency, Caltrans, to restripe portions of Broadway in a reconfiguration that will narrow the distance of crosswalks and add buffered bike lanes between the sidewalk and a parallel parking lane that would be adjacent to moving traffic.

A proposed brush up for Broadway’s lanes has been in the cards for more than a year, as Caltrans has said it can complete the work as part of its $7 million planned Highway 12 revitalization taking place through 2021 from Vallejo Avenue in the Springs to Napa Street. But by the Aug. 2 meeting, city officials were on the clock to make a decision about any changes to the road, as Caltrans is expected to begin its repaving of Broadway in September, with restriping slated for October.

“We need to do something,” said Vice Mayor Jack Ding at the meeting.

The council in 2020 voted 3-2 to reconfigure the Broadway approach to the Plaza, narrowing the road’s five-vehicular lanes down to four in an effort to widen bike lanes. In an unusual move, that decision was reversed a month later after community members voiced their resistance to such a change on Broadway, often described as the “gateway” to Sonoma. But after a pedestrian was injured and her dog killed in an April 17 vehicle collision in the Broadway crosswalk at Andrieux Street, bike and pedestrian safety took on new urgency and on June 7 the council reopened discussions on improving safety on Broadway between MacArthur and Napa streets.

Sonoma Public Works Director Colleen Ferguson said Monday that the community’s perception of the 2020 restriping discussion was focused on bicycle safety – and that the public response was that it should focus more on pedestrian safety.

Still in the cards, however, was the potential reduction from five lanes — two northbound, two southbound and a middle turn lane — to three lanes at the northern end of the road, allowing for shorter pedestrian crossings and new bike lanes. The lane reduction would lower the length of the crossing at MacArthur Street from 60 to 36 feet; and at Napa Street from 70 to 48 feet.

Traffic studies conducted on Broadway in recent years have shown that a reduction in lanes would have a negligible effect on traffic flow – though Councilmember Kelso Barnett pointed out that one traffic report relied on data collected about a month after the October wildfires of 2017, when traffic was reduced due to the disaster.

The larger discussion focused on a pair of options to institute buffered bike lanes to both sides of the road. Option A placed the bike lanes between moving traffic and parallel vehicle parking spaces. Option B placed the bike lanes between the sidewalk and parking lanes – with the parking lanes next to the traffic lanes. Option B is “a newer concept,” said Ferguson, who added that while it provides greater safety for cyclists, ”it could also mean confused drivers parking in the bike lane.”

City staff estimates Option A’s price tag at $43,200, and Option B at $41,700.

Resident Matt Metzler spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting in favor of Option B.

“Making it easier to get around without having to drive is far more important than making it easier to park,” Metzler said.

Lisa Lavagetto said that over the years she’d had little trouble crossing Broadway safely, as long as she was careful to make eye contact with drivers before stepping onto the road. She said bicyclists and pedestrians need to be “held accountable” for minding the rules of the road.

“People don’t look and just start right off in the crosswalk, because it’s a crosswalk, right? Wrong,” said Lavagetto.

A commenter identifying himself as Paul T said he doesn’t trust the state to protect what has made Broadway so special since its founding. “I’m afraid the city is going to fold its hands and turn it over to the traffic engineers. And they’re going to lose the vision of the grandness of Sonoma,” he said.

Former Sonoma Mayor Logan Harvey was viewing the proceedings via Zoom from his new home in Washington state and addressed the issue of whether reducing lanes would cause a traffic bottleneck.

“The issue of increased traffic due to lane reduction has been studied repeatedly by national experts in traffic studies and not just the opinions of regular everyday citizens,” said Harvey in public comment. “All of these studies have shown that there will be little to no effect on traffic on Broadway.”

Mayor Madolyn Agrimonti and Councilmember Bob Felder voiced their strong support for Option B, to place the parking lane between vehicular and bike traffic.

“It’s innovative, it’s different and there is separation between the (moving) cars and the bikes,” said Agrimonti.

Felder added that bike and pedestrian safety is “a critical issue” and if the council didn’t act it would be years before Caltrans offered another opportunity to restripe the road.

“It’s our responsibility to protect the citizens of this town, not just the cars,” Felder said.

The lone vote against came from Barnett who held out concerns that reducing the number of vehicle lanes would have unforeseen consequences on traffic flow. He questioned the wisdom of once again changing course on Broadway, after the prior city council already made the decision not to restripe.

“I’m not really against these options in principle, I just want to make sure we’re making the right decision,” Barnett said.

Following the meeting, longtime Sonoma resident Jim Karabochos expressed disappointment with the decision. Karabochos, who owns a 2-acre parcel on Broadway at Leveroni Road, believes placing parking spaces between automobile and bike traffic will have a negative impact for Broadway businesses. He plans to hand out leaflets to local businesses explaining how the new parking configuration will result in traffic backups, as vehicles wait behind drivers parallel parking – resulting in cars taking shortcuts down side streets.

“This will happen,” he predicts.

As to the need for bike lanes, Karabochos simply asks: “How many bikes go down Broadway compared to cars?”

Email Jason at Jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.

(Note: This article has been updated to clarify the parcel owned by Jim Karabochos.)

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