By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The new Santa Rosa City Council mapped out a new route for its “bicycle boulevard” Tuesday night, voting to rip out the much-maligned temporary traffic circles on Humboldt Street and install speed humps to slow down traffic.
The council voted 5-1 to spend $60,000 on a series of modest changes to the street through the heart of the Santa Rosa Junior College neighborhood, rejecting a controversial and far more expensive plan to install four permanent traffic circles at a cost of over $800,000.
Councilman Gary Wysocky, an avid cyclist, cast the no vote. “I hate to see this project go by the wayside,” he said.
Mayor Ernesto Olivares said the scaled-down plan represented a good compromise that still achieves a key goal of slowing traffic on the narrow residential street.
“It’s OK to say we tried it and it didn’t work out for us,” Olivares said.
The decision should not have come as a surprise to advocates of the project, who have known for weeks that the election of Jake Ours and Scott Bartley to the council put the project at risk. Both cited it during their campaigns as an example the previous council majority’s skewed priorities.
Former Mayor Susan Gorin reminded her fellow council members that the project was identified by the city in 2001 as an important way to get people downtown with using cars.
But she admitted the temporary traffic circles were “ugly” and after it was clear the new majority supported a scaled-back plan, Gorin went along with it, saying it still accomplished “three or four” of the goals of the original project.
“Let’s hold out for what we can afford right now, move forward and bring the neighborhood together,” Gorin said.
The pilot project has stirred passionate debate since it was launched in August 2009. Advocates have touted it as an important way to encourage people to and from the downtown without using cars by creating an artery where bicyclists were on a more equal footing with cars.
“The bicycle boulevard gives me an incentive to get out of my car,” said Tanya Narath.
But others felt their street had been hijacked by a special interest group that ignored the desires of those who use the street most.
“This is what happens when ideology collides with reality,” said Rosa Koire, a member of the Santa Rosa Neighborhood Coalition.
Some lamented said the project has disrupted their neighborhood. “This project has created a lot of divisions among neighbors, neighbors who used to be friends,” said Diane Test.
Under the latest plan, seven speed tables — basically large flattened speed bumps — would be installed mid-block to slow traffic.
A four-way stop would be restored at the busiest of the four intersections, McConnell Avenue. 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 council held off spending an additional $40,000 on other items, including a radar sign informing driving how fast they are traveling.
Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre was absent.