By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The bicycle boulevard has reached a fork in the road.
The year-long experiment to turn Santa Rosa’s Humboldt Street into a bicycle-friendly roadway returns Tuesday to the City Council for a vote that could decide its features and future.
Public works officials plan to ask the council whether the 1.5-mile-long pilot project should be made permanent, with modified roundabouts and added speed bumps, or whether it should be abandoned.
Public opinion on the subject appears divided as ever.
“Neighborhood sentiment on this is absolutely split,” said Councilman John Sawyer.
Humboldt Street resident Barbara Gude, who describes herself as a single mom with three children and two dogs, wrote a letter to the council saying that after the roundabout was installed at the intersection of Silva Avenue near her home, “our neighborhood is much safer and quieter.”
Instead of cars slamming on the brakes as they come to a stop and “peeling out” as they accelerate again, traffic flows around the circle more smoothly, she said.
Plenty of others, however, dislike the temporary roundabouts, saying they are confusing and dangerous for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike.
“I am not sure than anyone really understands what is supposed to happen when traffic approaching in all directions encounters a yield sign,” commented resident Clarke Lancina.
The test began in August 2009 as a way to create a street that cyclists and motorists share equally. Four-way stops at four intersections between Lewis Road and Fifth Street were replaced with temporary roundabouts designed to help drivers and cyclists keep their momentum.
Cars were encouraged to travel single file behind bicycles until it was safe to pass. Signs and road striping were installed to help educate drivers about the circles and warn of the road’s dual emphasis.
The city originally envisioned a six-month trial but extended that in hopes of working out the kinks. Now the time to make a decision has arrived, said Vice Mayor Gary Wysocky.
“It can’t be a pilot program forever,” he said.
He and the council’s other vocal bike advocate, Councilwoman Veronica Jacobi, support making Bicycle Boulevard a permanent fixture of the Junior College neighborhood.
Wysocky, the former head of the Bicycle Coalition and a resident of the neighborhood, thinks most people want the city to find ways to shift from the current auto-centric culture to one more welcoming of alternative transportation options.
“At what point do we want to change our national policies? Where do we start?” he asked. “I think the citizens in this county want to be part of the solution.”
Jacobi, who once road her bicycle 2,000 miles from Banff, Canada, to Alaska, said the experiment has been worthwhile and educational.
“I think things have been learned, and I think creative solutions have emerged,” she said.
One of the proposed alternatives is to not build a traffic circle at McConnell Avenue in front of Bill’s Friendly Market. The high volume of pedestrian traffic at that intersection convinced city staff that it should be returned to a four-way stop.
Other alternatives to cut vehicle traffic include installing speed tables, which are a type of a gradual speed bump, and a traffic diverter, which would force vehicle traffic to turn off Humboldt Street at Pacific Avenue.
Prices for the various options range from $809,000 for three circles, a diverter and one speed table to $275,000 for six speed tables and one traffic circle. The fourth option listed in the report is to do nothing.
Sawyer seems to be learning toward the fourth option.
“In my estimation, the experiment, such as it is, is a failure,” he said.
The project has had “too many masters” and too many people coming up with various fixes for the problems created for the neighborhood by the project, Sawyer said.
“It has truly become a mess and I’m concerned,” he said.
Jacobi said she hasn’t made up her mind about the various options but will listen closely to the numerous members of the public expected to turn out Tuesday.
“I’m hopeful that five years from now we’ll have something that people are really glad happened,” she said.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org.