Traffic will soon stop in all directions for pedestrian crossing at Highway 12, Verano Avenue
Caltrans will begin implementing its proposed improvements to the Verano Avenue and Highway 12 intersection in August, including stopping traffic in all directions when a pedestrian is crossing.
The traffic agency initially planned to add short-term safety solutions by the end of July, but that’s been delayed.
“Anytime you’re working with other agencies things can take longer and if we run into something underground that wasn’t anticipated it slows progress also,” said Mike Berger, public works director for the city of Sonoma.
Caltrans, Sonoma County and the city of Sonoma are coordinating on the project.
Caltrans’ collision data, which only covers up to June 30, 2020, shows that six pedestrians and three bicyclists were hit by cars in the intersection between 2010 and 2020.
Each resulted in injuries, but no fatalities.
After months of public outcry, Caltrans developed short- and long-term solutions. The agency held a meeting June 21 in the Springs to seek public input on its proposed safety measures.
Specifically, transportation officials asked which of its two options for pedestrian crossing patterns was the right choice.
The first option, called “split phasing,” would eliminate potential conflict between pedestrians and traffic turning left. But it would not address traffic turning right, according to the plan.
The second option, called “exclusive pedestrian phasing,” would stop traffic in all directions, including right turns, while allowing pedestrians to cross in any direction.
An exclusive pedestrian phase is rarely implemented on state highways, according to Caltrans, but are popular in congested city intersections.
Caltrans touted this as the safest option for pedestrians, but it would slow traffic significantly more than split phasing.
Caltrans ultimately chose the second option.
Aung Maung, division chief of transportation at Caltrans, said the deciding factors included the combination of emphasis on pedestrian safety and feedback from the community, its local partner agencies and Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin’s office.
“The Highway 12/Verano intersection acts as major junction between the Boyes Hot Spring community and the Sonoma downtown area. The traffic volume (including the pedestrian and cyclist volumes) heading into this intersection is larger than other intersections nearby,” Maung said in an email to the Index-Tribune.
“With multiple directions of traffic traveling through this intersection, it may be more prone to potential collisions than other nearby intersections.”
Other immediate additions include a higher speed limit and yield to pedestrian signs, which already have been installed.
There also will be temporary overhead lights at the intersection’s northwest and southeast quadrants to better illuminate the crosswalks. Caltrans will install permanent lighting as part of its long-term solution.
Berger said drilling for the foundation of the temporary lights could begin as early as next week.
The second phase of the improvements could still take another two years, and Caltrans continues to consider the addition of an exclusive left-turn lane and traffic light for westbound cars on Verano Avenue to turn eastbound on Highway 12.
“For Phase II, we will include work at enhancing three other pedestrian crossings at Boyes Hot Springs area (Central Ave./Waterman Ave./Sierra Dr.), work at Agua Caliente Creek Bridge and improvements to bike/pedestrian path near Lomita Ave.,” Maung said.
According to Caltrans, the capital cost of the first phase is approximately $200,000, while Phase II is approximately $2 million to $3.5 million, depending on planning development.
Exact dates for the implementation of the temporary lights and Exclusive Pedestrian Phasing have not been decided, though they are expected in the coming weeks. Traffic closures will occur around construction.
Get updates on the Verano Ave/Highway 12 webpage on the Caltrans website at dot.ca.gov.