By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Despite its environmental leanings, Sebastopol doesn’t have a single bicycle lane and soon will have to choose between bike lanes or parking spaces as the city struggles to become cycling friendly.
“It’s the most significant tradeoff,” said Sue Kelly, the city’s engineering director, who is is proposing several streets for bike lanes.
Councilman Patrick Slayter is quite familiar with the problem. He rides a bike on city streets for most of his errands, whether it is going to the bank or to Andy’s Produce.
“What in the world is Sebastopol thinking? We like to think Sebastopol is progressive and green, but if we ask people to park their car for the day, it is like you are taking away their air,” Slayter said.
The City Council will receive a bicycle network master plan Tuesday that proposes changes to several city streets to allow for bicycle lanes and bicycle traffic, some at the expense of parking spaces.
Parking was a hot-button issue in Sonoma a week ago when the council agreed to remove parking for bike lanes on three city streets, but backed off similar action on West Spain Street, bowing to residents’ and business owner concerns.
In Sebastopol, where downtown parking is at a premium, it may be no different.
“The discussion is the same as it has always been in Sebastopol, the problem of creating bike lanes is about dividing up the street among the various users,” Kelly said.
Teresa Ramondo, executive director of the Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce, said the topic will spark debate by the bike community and by businesses that might be affected.
“Parking is always an issue, there is never enough or not in the right place,” Ramondo said. “But bike safety is also important.”
Slayter also is proposing that a bicycle and pedestrian committee be set up with members of the council and the community.
“An advisory committee is legally required for cities of 10,000 or more,” Slayter said. “Sebastopol is clearly under that, but I see it as a value statement, that this is important to us.”
Sebastopol has the Joe Rodota Trail running into the heart of the downtown, a designated bike route on Morris Street to Analy High School where there is another dedicated bike path, and the West County Trail going to Forestville.
However, Sebastopol remains Sonoma County’s only city without a bike lane.
City officials say is because it is at the intersection of Highway 12 and Highway 116, Caltrans has only recently indicated it would approve bike lanes on state highways and Sebastopol’s other streets are too narrow.
“We have a very old system of streets, the town is 100 years old, the streets weren’t built with modern vehicles in mind, it is a matter of there is not enough room,” Kelly said. “It is difficult.”
The city last year hired W-Trans, a Santa Rosa consultant, at a cost of $50,000 from traffic impact fees, to come up with recommendations for a bike network.
Kelly said the proposal calls for removing 52 parking spaces on the east side of Petaluma Avenue from Gravenstein Highway to McKinley Street to make room for a bike lane.
It also recommends removing 30 spaces on the south side and 29 on the north side of Healdsburg Avenue, and removing one southbound lane on North Main Street to accommodate bike lanes.
Kelly said there are other streets designated for bike lanes, but said she doesn’t believe that eliminating parking there will be an issue.
She said the conversions could be expensive, requiring special plastic tape and in some areas street restriping, surface grinding and road edge paving.
The city does not have money for the work, but Kelly said state and air district grants are available for bike lanes.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Michael Kyes is vice mayor of the Sebastopol City Council. An earlier version of this story misstated that Patrick Slayter was vice mayor.