By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Windsor took a step Wednesday toward radically redesigning one of its main thoroughfares — Old Redwood Highway — potentially adding as many as three traffic roundabouts to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians.
The Windsor Town Council approved a concept that would turn a half-mile long stretch of Old Redwood Highway into a “complete street” beginning at one of the town’s most prominent intersections, at Windsor River Road at the edge of Town Green Village, just west of Highway 101.
The design is intended to slow motor vehicles along Old Redwood Highway and make it more welcoming to cyclists and pedestrians.
“This is continuing to make Windsor stand out as one of the best communities in this county,” said Councilwoman Debora Fudge. The redesign is a reflection of “smart growth,” defined by walkable communities and compact development, she said.
The goal is to turn what once was a rural highway into an urban corridor, complete with three roundabouts with landscaped islands, bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides of the road. Meandering sidewalks would include elevated sections to preserve root systems of some large oaks, although 34 trees would need to be removed.
More than 100 roadside parking slots along Old Redwood Highway are proposed as “reverse angle,” meaning the driver has to pull past the parking spot and back up to park.
The idea is to make it safer for cyclists because cars pulling out of parking spots would drive forward, rather than reversing.
Two of the roundabouts, one at Market Street and the other at Windsor Road by Windsor Fuel, are being proposed as part of Bell Village, a mixed-use residential and commercial development on 25 acres that once was occupied by Windsorland mobile home and trailer park.
The other roundabout at Old Red and Windsor River Road will be subject to separate public hearings and design review.
The improvements are to be paid for with funding from developers as well as redevelopment funds. Construction will likely would not begin until 2012, according to Senior Planner Rick Jones.
“Roundabouts serve the purpose to increase vehicle capacity of intersections, they slow traffic down, and also create bookends to a corridor,” Jones said. “Visually it announces this is a different area and the driver needs to pay attention.”
He said it will create a safer environment, “more like a downtown street than a boulevard to race through the area.”
Roundabouts have been controversial recently in Santa Rosa and Petaluma.
An experimental bike boulevard on Humboldt Street in Santa Rosa has prompted complaints that the traffic circles are too narrow and dangerous.
In Petaluma, a similar proposed bicycle boulevard that would replace some four-way stops on D Street with traffic circles drew negative reactions at a meeting last week. While praised by some, the roundabouts were criticized by others as a hazard for bikers and walkers.
Jones said the roundabouts in Windsor will be larger in diameter and avoid some of the problems.
Only two members of the public spoke at Wednesday night’s council meeting about the new design, and both expressed support.
“Keep the roundabouts and the reverse angle parking. When people are faced with something different, they slow down,” said Rob Huebschmann of Windsor.
Tim Ibraham of Windsor said he became a roundabout fan earlier this year after spending a week driving in England, where they are common.
“It might take awhile for people to get used to them. Once they are, traffic flows better, not as fast,” he said.
Jones said the roundabouts on Old Redwood Highway should slow traffic from the current 35 miles per hour limit to 25.
Part of the plan said Jones, is that bicyclists who are less comfortable sharing the road with cars, such as families with children, will have “escape ramps” as they enter the roundabouts. Those would allow cyclists to easily get up on to the sidewalks just before they enter the roundabout and become pedestrians, he said.