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Sonoma City Council to reduce traffic lanes on Broadway

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Despite expressed community support to keep Broadway as a five-lane highway, the Sonoma City Council voted this week to re-stripe the northern portion of the thoroughfare as a four-lane road, in order to make room for a safer southbound bike lane.

The Sonoma City Council met via a public video conference on April 20 to consider a re-striping of the Broadway approach to the Plaza – a project that would be conducted and paid for by Caltrans as part of its planned rehabilitation of 7.6 miles of Highway 12 through the city and into the Springs, slated to begin in the fall.

The council was presented on Monday with three re-striping options, which had also been vetted publicly as part of a Broadway re-striping survey on the city’s website. Two of the options would bring the five-lane Broadway down to three lanes, slowing vehicle speeds while adding either widened bike paths, or “protected” paths between sidewalks and parking lanes. A third option would keep Broadway as it is — a five-lane highway and spruce up the current bike lanes with more visible striping.

But it was Mayor Logan Harvey’s alternative plan introduced during the meeting that garnered most of the attention: a hybrid of the three designs that would create a four-lane Broadway from Napa to Patten streets, with two northbound lanes and a center turn lane as it currently stands – but reduce the southbound direction to one lane and add a buffered bike lane.

Harvey’s proposal provoked one remote viewer to question the mayor’s qualifications to design his own traffic lane proposal.

“Why is the mayor acting like a traffic engineer?” asked Nick Dixon during the public-comment portion of the meeting. “This meeting is out of control.”

Sonoma resident Kelso Barnett described reconfiguring Broadway as “a solution in search of a problem.”

“The proposal to eliminate traffic lanes on Broadway appears to be wildly unpopular,” said Barnett, referring to the city’s recent survey to gauge community support for any of the three re-striping options.

According to the survey, 61 percent of the 731 respondents favored keeping Broadway as a five-lane road with narrow bike lanes on each side; 39 percent supported either of the options to lower the lanes to three and create safer bike lanes.

It was the strong survey showing in favor of keeping Broadway a five-lane thoroughfare that informed Councilmember Amy Harrington’s support for the status quo.

“I tend to feel the will of the people who live here is probably the most important thing,” said Harrington, herself an avid cyclist, who added that the side streets parallel to Broadway are more than adequate for safe north-south bike travel.

As to Harvey’s four-lane proposal, Harrington said she “appreciated the effort” to promote cycling on Broadway but, “given that it hasn’t been studied, isn’t engineered and wasn’t discussed with the public,” she couldn’t support it.

Councilmember David Cook said his preference would be to discourage bikes on Highway 12 altogether. “Keeping the cyclists away from the traffic and making sure the traffic flows there outweighs anything I have seen by any of the engineers,” said Cook.

Councilmember Rachel Hundley was the lone voice in favor of reducing Broadway to three lanes, noting that Broadway’s current five-lane configuration dates from 1955, a traffic model from 60 years ago that doesn’t reflect today’s current need to promote alternative transportation. Car-centered traffic infrastructure will one-day be “a thing of the past,” said Hundley. “We’re evolving to other modes of transportation and getting people on the sidewalks and on bicycles.”

Harvey acknowledged that reducing the number of lanes wasn’t a popular decision, but said the lack of bike safety on Broadway troubled him.

“The people I’ve talked to about this, who aren’t already avid cyclists, really don’t want change,” said Harvey, noting the negative survey response to reduced traffic lanes. “I also think that change is difficult and something people are generally fearful of.”

He described his four-lane proposal as a “compromise position.” After all, he said, “40 percent of the people said they would like a change” to fewer traffic lanes.

The council ultimately voted 3-2 for Harvey’s four-lane proposal, with Harrington and Cook against.

While traffic consultants in attendance at the meeting voiced no objections to Harvey’s alternative plan, the council also voted for a secondary option in case Caltrans balked at the four-lane proposal. The council voted 3-2, with Hundley and Harvey against, to fall back on keeping Broadway as a five-lane highway as a secondary option.

Email Jason at Jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.

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