By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A cheaper version of a controversial plan to make Humboldt Street more bicycle-friendly heads tonight to the Santa Rosa City Council, but bicycle advocates say the latest proposal doesn’t even deserve the name “Bicycle Boulevard.”
The plan endorsed by city planning staff now calls for removing the temporary traffic circles installed at four intersections in August 2009 and instead installing at mid-block locations seven flat-topped speed bumps called “speed tables.”
The hope is that the speed tables, when combined with other “traffic calming” measures, will accomplish some of the original goals of the project for less money. The tables are estimated to cost $100,000 instead of up to $850,000 for versions that included permanent traffic circles.
“The cost of doing this will not be nearly as much as it will be to do the circles,” city planner Nancy Adams said.
But Christine Culver, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, says the revisions “have resulted in a project that is so watered down that we can no longer consider it a Bicycle Boulevard.”
In an e-mail urging supporters to attend tonight’s meeting to send a strong message to the new City Council majority, Culver argues that the removal of the traffic circles and vehicle diverters “only serve to undermine the creation of a roadway which was intended to optimize bicycle travel and reduce cut-through auto traffic, which is the spirit of a Bicycle Boulevard.”
The debate is likely to be closely watched for signs of just how bicycle-friendly the new council majority will be. Two new council members, Jake Ours and Scott Bartley, ran campaigns critical of the project, and new Mayor Ernesto Olivares has questioned whether it’s the best use of city money.
The latest plan calls for removing all four traffic circles at Silva, Carr, McConnell and Spencer avenues but replacing only some of the stop signs at those intersections.
Under the latest plan, a four-way stop would be restored at the busiest of the four intersections, McConnell Avenue, where Bill’s Friendly Market is located. But the other three would have stop signs reinstalled only in the east-west directions, leaving no stop signs on Humboldt in the north-south directions.
The idea is that the speed tables will slow traffic enough so that those intersection will no longer need the four-way stops, Adams said.
The benefit will be that bicyclists will continue to enjoy coasting through those intersections without being required to stop, one of the original goals of the project.
“For the Bicycle Boulevard concept, stop controls are counterintuitive for bicyclists,” Adams said.
Councilman Gary Wysocky said he has several concerns, including the accuracy of the $800,000 construction estimates, the wisdom of the removal of the traffic circles, and impact on traffic on side streets.
“It’s a significant alteration of the project,” Wysocky said.
Not replacing north-south stop signs at three intersections raises safety questions in his mind, given that the traffic circles are highly visible.
“The thing that was good about the circles, ugly as they were in the present situation, was they made people pay attention,” Wysocky said.
But Adams said the speed tables also will be highly visible, with large painted arrows on the street running up to them alerting drivers to their presence. The city has never put this many traffic tables in such a concentrated area before, she said.
“This’ll be precedent-setting if it goes through,” she said.
Other measures aimed at supporting the project goals include new crosswalks, additional “Bicycle Boulevard” signs and street striping, and radar signs telling drivers how fast they’re going. Improving mid-block street lighting also is envisioned, as is creating “bike boxes” at intersections to give cyclists space in front of cars to wait for traffic signals to change.