By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa traffic officials are considering removing one of the four roundabouts on the city’s experimental “Bicycle Boulevard” following safety concerns expressed by pedestrians, including blind ones.
The option is the latest effort by the city to tweak the design of the 1.5-mile stretch of Humboldt Street revamped last summer to make it more bicycle friendly.
At the heart of the project are four temporary roundabouts designed to help drivers and cyclists keep their momentum through those intersections, making it easier and safer for them to get to and from downtown.
But neighborhood reaction to the project has been sharply split. Critics say the roundabouts are unnecessary, confusing and dangerous, while supporters say they’re succeeding in reducing traffic and improving the experience for cyclists.
“It’s been a mixed sentiment,” city planner Nancy Adams said.
When the features and signs were installed in August 2009, the city envisioned a six-month trial, but the Santa Rosa City Council has extended that period to help work out the kinks.
City Traffic Engineer Rob Sprinkle said he expects to ask the City Council in September to make a final decision on whether to make the project a permanent one and what the final design should be.
At the moment, he said, it seems to make sense to return the intersection of Humboldt Boulevard and McConnell Street in front of Bills Friendly Market to a four-way stop.
“Our concern is the visually impaired who tend to use it to go to the bus over on McConnell,” Sprinkle said.
Beryl Brown, 72, who is legally blind and a member of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, said trying to cross at a roundabout is a big challenge for the visually impaired.
Since the cars don’t stop, blind pedestrians can’t be sure when they can safely cross, she said. A group of visually impaired people from the Redwood Empire Council of the Blind, some with dogs, others with canes, visited the roundabout recently and found it intimidating.
“One thing that they all agreed on is that it was an unsafe place to cross,” Brown said.
Roshan Asefnia, co-owner of the market, said neighborhood opposition is fierce and the lower car traffic has reduced her business.
“They should all be taken out,” she said. “They’re ridiculous.”
In June, city planners sought input from the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, which rejected the idea of removing the roundabout. Sprinkle returned to the board last week and again asked for input. This time, the board deadlocked 3-3 with one abstention, he said.
Brown, who voted in favor of removing the McConnell roundabout, said there’s something of a standoff on the board between bicycle and pedestrian supporters.
“I personally don’t think we’re ever going to agree on it,” Brown said. “This whole test project is in limbo.”
Project supporter and area resident Susan Adler said she strongly supports the concept, but thinks the city needs to show some decisiveness instead of continuing to debate and tweak the design.
The longer the test period drags on, the worse the project looks, she said. Temporary stanchions have been run over and crosswalk striping has worn away, she said.
“People in the neighborhood are so confused; they’re thinking this Bicycle Boulevard thing is such a mess.”