Sonoma City Council votes for new bike lanes on Broadway

City officials have been accused of sowing confusion in process to reconsider Broadway Restriping Project.|

Bike lanes and a road diet were again approved on Broadway, but with a different design than originally selected by the Sonoma City Council, which shifted course Friday following a contentious – and at times confusing – series of meetings.

The council on Jan. 14 voted 3-2 for a plan to reduce the number of traffic lanes from MacArthur to Napa streets – while placing buffered bike lanes between moving traffic and parked cars near the curbs on both sides of the road.

The new Broadway Restriping Project plan steers away from the “protected bike lane” design originally approved by the council on Aug. 2 – which placed parking between the bike lanes and moving traffic, known as Option B. Instead, the the council voted for the staff-recommend Option A, where bike lanes are between lanes of traffic and street parking, but separated from vehicles by 3-foot striped “buffers” on the pavement.

Councilmember Bob Felder led the effort to change designs after it was revealed to the council earlier this month that Caltrans was seeking to install 2-foot-high bollards to act as separators between parking spaces and cyclists in the protected-bike-lane plan.

Felder described the bollards as “unsuitable” and also expressed concern about safely navigating the bike lane curvatures around the “bulbouts,” or the rounded extension of the curb at intersections.

Both the “buffered” and “protected” bike lane designs were presented to the council on Aug. 2, leading to the 3-1 vote for Option B, though council member complained that they were not given detailed plans on what the design would include.

“I think the cleaner design by a mile is going to Option A because of the situation with the bulbouts and the bollards, the parking lane next to the travel lane and encroaching into the travel lane for parallel parking,” said Felder at the Friday meeting.

While the new design offers cyclists a straighter path, few have described the city’s process for getting to the new configuration as a “straight path.”

Earlier this week, in response to Felder’s concerns about the protected-bike-lane design, Mayor Jack Ding called an emergency city council meeting, held Jan. 12 via Zoom, to potentially reconsider the matter. If council members were to change direction on the project, they’d have to make haste: Caltrans was planning to begin the restriping the following week, according to city staff.

According to Rosenberg’s Rules of Order, a set of common parliamentary procedures the Sonoma City Council follows in conducting its meetings, to reconsider an action that has already been taken more than two meetings after the original action, two-thirds of council members must approve.

At the Jan. 12 emergency meeting, the vote to reconsider the Broadway Restriping Project design was 3-1-1, with Councilmember Madolyn Agrimonti against and Councilmember Sandra Lowe, who was not on the council at the time of the Aug. 2 vote, abstaining.

With only three of the five council members voting in favor of reconsidering the project, city staff declared the motion failed and the meeting was adjourned.

But when city officials took a closer look at Rosenberg’s Rules of Order the following day, it was clear abstentions aren’t counted as votes, meaning the Jan. 12 vote was 3-1, or 75%, and thereby reaching the two-thirds threshold.

City officials then called for a continuation of the emergency meeting to take place Jan. 14, also on Zoom, at which time the council was allowed to reconsider the striping project.

Some in attendance lambasted the city for the confusion caused by the on-again, off-again process for a project the council first approved in April 2020, which was rescinded a month later by then-mayor Logan Harvey, only to be approved again in August and then reconsidered this month.

Sonoma resident Tom Conlon described the city’s actions as “incompetence” and said the “process is just completely flawed, top to bottom.”

Jenny Bard, president of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, said, “We are pretty disappointed in the manner these meetings have come about and the confusion they have created.”

Douglas Wood said he was “dismayed at the nature in which the meeting was brought forth.”

Sonoma resident Matt Metzler cautioned that the city had opened itself up to litigation in its handling of the emergency meetings and questioned if council members had violated the state Brown Act open-meetings law.

Still, others were pleased the council was revisiting the Restriping Project in the hopes they would drop the plan to reduce traffic lanes altogether. “This is absurd that you guys are making this single-lane traffic,” said Sonoma resident Scott Peterson about the effect on safety. “People will die. It’s a matter of time.”

Several cycling advocates raised concerns that the council would abandon plans for bike-safety improvements altogether – a notion Felder tried to dispel early in the meeting. “I’m not trying to go back to ground zero, just to modify the restriping plan,” he said.

Councilmember Kelso Barnett agreed that the process hadn’t gone smoothly, but said it was “important to get Broadway right.” Still, he didn’t think either bike lane option was the answer. “I’m concerned going forward with Option A will preclude the process of improving Broadway in the future,” he said.

Lowe, meanwhile, conceded they may be weathering a perfect storm of city council confusion. “Two things you try to avoid are special meetings and reconsiderations,” said Lowe. “Unfortunately, we’re in the midst of both of them.”

Before the final vote, Lowe expressed hope for a unanimous decision from the council.

“Considering the disruption that occurred this week, (it) would be a first step in bringing back confidence in this council,” she said.

In the end, the council voted 3-2 for Option A, with Barnett and Councilmember Madolyn Agrimonti against.

Next, city staff will present the new plan to Caltrans for review and approval.

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