By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A plan to revamp a section of Santa Rosa Avenue to make it more attractive and friendly to cyclists and pedestrians was vilified Tuesday by nearly every member of the Santa Rosa City Council, who then approved it anyway.
There was agreement that something needs to be done to improve the four-lane stretch of Santa Rosa Avenue between Juilliard Park and the Highway 12 overpass.
But the latest version of the Santa Rosa Avenue Corridor plan — which calls for two northbound travel lanes, one southbound travel lane and a turning lane in the middle — seemed to please no one.
Council members Gary Wysocky, Susan Gorin and Marsha Vas Dupre said they preferred a plan supported by the historic Burbank Gardens neighborhood, who wanted to bring a village feel to the area by reducing the busy thoroughfare to one travel lane in each direction.
Jake Ours called the three-lane plan ugly. Scott Bartley said trees in the median would probably never survive. John Sawyer said the plan wasn’t the tree-lined boulevard he had envisioned. And Mayor Ernesto Olivares said he had concerns about how congestion might affect public safety response times.
And yet, the council voted 6-1 in favor of the three-lane compromise plan. Only Wysocky voted no.
“I’d hate to see us compromise our ideals and compromise the process that we’ve invited our neighbors and residents into, and that’s what we’re doing,” Wysocky said.
The council’s struggle reflects a division not only within the council but within the community about how far the city should go to promote and plan for a downtown where there is less reliance on cars.
Neighbors were intimately involved in the planning process, and they wanted traffic to be slowed as much as possible and the road made safe for bicyclists and pedestrians. In addition to bicycle lanes, wide sidewalks, pedestrian crossings and a signal at Mill Street, their plan called for the four lanes becoming one travel lane in each direction with turning lanes and medians.
Sawyer said the problem was the neighbors were given unrealistic expectations.
“I think what happened in this case is the neighbors were told, ‘Tell us what you want and we’ll do it,’ and that’s not the way it works,” Sawyer said.
City planner Lisa Kranz said that neighborhood’s plan was “not technically feasible.” City officials said it would increase traffic congestion, slow bus service and impede the response of fire engines.
So they came up with a compromise that retained two travel lanes in the northbound direction, shrank the median, eliminated some parking and didn’t widen all the sidewalks. It kept many of the other amenities, including the bike lanes, new pedestrian crossings and 65 trees.
The total cost of the upgrades was pegged at $4.6 million, money the city doesn’t have and won’t for years.
The turning point in the meeting appeared to be when Bartley said he would prefer another option, a four-lane alternative that had been discussed but rejected by the neighbors as changing little.
Bartley said he worried about wisdom of reducing even a single travel lane on such a busy road, especially one that connects to the city’s transit mall.
“I’m concerned for the future transit,” Bartley said. “This is our main north south artery.”
The prospect of a return to a four-lane option prompted Vas Dupre and Gorin to endorse the compromise plan to avoid spending more money and time on the project.
“I’m dead set against four lanes here with some street trees and bulb outs,” Gorin said.
In approving the plan, the council reversed a planning commission that in November unanimously rejected it, citing a litany of shortcomings.