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Petaluma’s parking predicament

Petaluma Boulevard traffic changes spur request for return of Water Street parking


As al fresco diners at Petaluma’s Water Street Bistro enjoy a fresh-made meal, they gaze out toward the Petaluma River, the Balshaw Bridge and 100-year-old train tracks that eventually may carry a restored trolley.

“This is just blissful. It’s bucolic,” Samantha Alivos said as she relaxed in the sunshine.

Water Street in Petaluma. (Jeff Kan Lee / PD)

Water Street, which as its namesake implies, parallels the river, curving behind businesses that front Petaluma Boulevard.

In 2003, the city completed a waterfront redevelopment project that revamped Water Street with benches, installed a cobblestone promenade at Western Avenue, removed a chunk of parking spaces behind the businesses and prohibited most through traffic.

The goal was to clean up a neglected alley, reduce cut-through traffic and turn the area into a public events setting. While the events aspect never blossomed, some residents have grown accustomed to the pedestrian-friendly area near the bistro.

Now the city is planning a “road diet” on Petaluma Boulevard and some merchants are pushing to have the parking behind their storefronts returned.

The redesign will reduce the number of lanes on the main street, but widen them and add a two-way turn lane in the middle. A few parking spaces will be lost downtown, but gained further south.

Others, including some merchants, would like to see the whole quarter-mile stretch of Water Street become a car-free zone.

City engineers and the bike-and-pedestrian committee are collecting public comment about reopening Water Street at Western Avenue to through traffic and restoring about eight parking spaces. The City Council will consider any changes, likely in September.

Stephanie Rastetter, owner and chef at Water Street Bistro for 13 years, said the city needs to concentrate on highlighting the riverfront as a community gathering spot instead of adding more parking.

“We’re not using it for what it was intended. Eight slots isn’t worth spending any money on. Eight slots isn’t going to change anyone’s life,” she said. “Plus, there are two huge parking garages a couple blocks away.”

But Jeff Mayne, president of the Petaluma Downtown Association of merchants, said parking remains the top concern.

“We are a shopping district,” he said. “We are a center of commerce. If there are really people walking around and buying stuff, great, but we’re not seeing it. People want their car to buy stuff and put it in their car.”

He said the association embraces the idea of bicyclists, walkers and others sharing space.

“But that doesn’t mean we have to exclude cars,” he said.

The area is “idle and underutilized,” he said. Merchants would like at least temporary parking restored.

Suzanne Biaggi, a landscape designer and sculptor who walks downtown from her nearby home, said Water Street used to be a “thoroughfare” that drivers would “zip through” to avoid the main boulevard.

She envisions a farmers market along the water or artisans selling their wares.

“It’s a really special part of Petaluma, and it’s a very small part of what could potentially be a really great space,” she said.

“They need to make it a real destination. If it is opened up again, we lose that.”

(Contact Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.)

15 Responses to “Petaluma’s parking predicament”

  1. Grapevines says:

    Really it does not matter how many parking spaces are eliminated. With the state of the roads and streets in Petaluma, it won’t be long before nobody will be able to drive on them anyway.

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  2. Kim Jong-un says:

    Parking downtown is a disaster already. This idea is pure idealism but this has already been said.

    Petaluma has some great restaurants on the Blvd. from Theater Square to Washington. It is impossible to find parking and there is never a vacant spot. Thanks to 24hr fitness and the two coffee shops.

    The road diet will eliminate ALL of the 40+ street spots in that area.

    I’m just not seeing the benefit?

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  3. GAJ says:

    The “road diet” or “traffic calming” techniques have worked well in Santa Rosa in places where the problem was traffic moving too FAST.

    On a road that is moving too SLOW, where you already have to wait through two cycles to get through the interchange it will be a disaster.

    That is the case going North or South to clear the intersection with E. Washington Street.

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  4. 0 Representation says:

    How incredibly narrow minded is the Petaluma City Council with their “road diet” plans? Why not FIX the pot holes that have been there for the past 30+ years?! Because that makes too much sense. And now they are thinking about an increase in taxes? Come on Petaluma it’s time for a council that cares about Petaluma not their own agendas.

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  5. Dan Quinn says:

    Posts like the one from Bonnie are not based in the real world. She’s never been in a road diet town but wants the liberal utopia of no cars, just bikes.

    Its not real world. Pushing a fairy tale ruins lives. Many people will be effected detrimentally but these liberals don’t care about you or anybody else, just their BS philosophy, their fairy tale. They are the most selfish people on the planet.

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  6. Bonnie Allen says:

    I’ve been in towns that have road diets. Amazingly, they were not congested! Rather, they were more tranquil and inviting to the kind of shoppers that would patronize our downtown specialty shops.

    The same people who predicted gridlock (didn’t happen) when the Washington Street intersection was remade to two lanes and a turn lane are now predicting dire consequences with two lanes all the way. I used to work downtown, and I can testify to the unpleasantness of having cars constantly whizzing by a sidewalk’s width from your storefront.

    People don’t want to shop in an unpleasant environment. A road diet will make the street more shopper-friendly and more of a tourist destination, bringing money in from outside the town. As for parking, when I go downtown, I can always park within a block of where I’m going, about the same distance as you’d walk from a giant mall parking lot.

    A four-lane road through the center of town made sense before there was a freeway and it was the only way to get through the town. Now, it just makes Petaluma Blvd. a noisy, exhaust-laden environment without actually improving traffic.

    The heart of a vibrant city is its pedestrian gathering places. Please don’t take away what space we have for more parking.

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  7. GAJ says:

    I completely agree that it is already a pain to get into downtown Petaluma…not sure who benefits by making it complete gridlock!

    I personally know how difficult it is to have a small business in a downtown area in the NorthBay…probably one of the WORST decisions we made in terms of location for one of our outlets in the 25 years we owned a small business.

    If I was a merchant in downtown I’d be more than a little concerned.

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  8. Steveguy says:

    ” Road Diet ” , ” Traffic Calming ” = code-words for gridlock.

    Their ‘road diet’ is not maintaining the roads !

    Lemme think, Petaluma has the WORST streets in the Bay Area, spend the least, and sue the gravel and the asphalt providers !

    The most in need fight off those that will help solve the problems ? Oh my.

    Build a trolley car track, but make sure that the North Koreans are kept at bay! Save Petaluma !

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  9. Dan Quinn says:

    Road diet…. Try customer diet. This will put people out of business, parking or not

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  10. Dan Quinn says:

    Road Diet? More like income diet.Put it like this, NOBODY is gonna go downtown to deal with that traffic mess. It doesn’t matter if there is parking or not. Downtown Petaluma will be dead.

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  11. Kirstin says:

    @David Keller, you leave out an important component in your comments, don’t you? The “road diet” that is supposedly prompting this proposed change to Water St. is absent. Silence from you on that. That’s because you’re on board with the diet?

    Petaluma should not be spending planning hours/money on how to change the striping on Petaluma Blvd. It should not be paying any attention to the planning crowd’s latest fad. If someome tells you to jump off a cliff and says everyone else is doing it, you DON’T. By the same token, just because one city does something doesn’t mean every city has to do it. Group think is for lemmings, not human beings.

    Petaluma is a wonderful city. I lived there many years and I still often do various pieces of business there. So I do know first-hand about the condition of many of the Petaluma streets. They NEED attention. Please focus on a plan for getting all the streets up to par instead of how to stripe one main artery so that fewer cars can travel on it.

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  12. David Keller says:

    Park your rudeness and myopia, please.

    Rather than rant on about how the United Nations is destroying America’s freedom, it would be helpful if some of the people proposing to use pedestrian space for parking (no less whining in this forum) would actually look at parking in a business district from an engineering and planning perspective.

    What is the actual vacancy rate for parking spaces now? is there really a need for additional parking, or changes in rules or hours might influence parking? Or is this more a political campaign by Jeff Mayne and his cohorts?

    Instead of doing yet another ‘seat of the pants’ demand for parking along the river, Mr. Mayne needs to step back and think about the long-term attractiveness and use of the area. He apparently thinks that customers are so lazy that they won’t shop downtown unless they can park in front of a store.

    The city, through several years of engaged public planning for the success of our downtown area (through the CPSP, Station Area Plan, General Plan), has discussed and agreed that this river-front portion of Water Street needs to be reserved for pedestrians, visitors and customers.

    If there needs to be more garages or off street parking, let’s look at that as part of the overall planning. But let’s not throw out a small but important piece of what makes our downtown attractive. Parking in 8 spaces along the river won’t do that.

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  13. Kirstin says:

    More utter nonsense. Petaluma can’t afford to perform in-vogue “road diet” social experiments. It has a backlog of deteriorating roads all around that desperately need fixing and that takes money. DO THAT; FIX THOSE ROADS ASAP. Don’t mess with streets that are serviceable and change their configurations. And don’t spend money on remaking other streets, such as Water St., to take some pressure off the “road diet” streets. Does anybody have any sense in city government here in Northern California? If so, step forward, and speak up against this stupidity.

    And don’t tell us that the money for road diets comes from a special fed grant or whatever so it can’t be used for regular road maintentance. If it can’t be used for the essentials, then DON’T take the money at all — do you think the rest of us want to go into perpertual debt to China so Petaluma (and other cities — Cotati, Santa Rosa, etc.) can play games with thoroughfares? I think you’ll find few residents who, if it is put like that, would approve.

    This area of Petaluma IS a business/shopping center. It needs adequate parking. And it needs streets that efficiently handle the through-stream of auto and other traffic. To do otherwise will harm the businesses, and that is the last thing Petaluma needs. Stop with playtime. Sop the social engineering and get down to providing the fundamental services, Petaluma.

    It’s just absolutely deplorable to see this kind of irresponsible and extremely wasteful traffic “planning” going on in this area. Shame on everyone who is a party to it.

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  14. GAJ says:

    Went down there a few weeks back for dinner before a concert in SF.

    Was pleasantly surprised that the parking garage in the new section at D Street and Petaluma Blvd South was free!

    So, yes, there is enough nearby parking that is free.

    Better signage to direct people to that perhaps?

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  15. Jim Bennett says:

    The merchant thinks it’s a ‘shopping district’. Makes sense, since that’s what it’s been for generations.
    I believe Sonoma County became a bunch of ICLEI Charters in ’02.
    Sure didn’t take ‘em long to work their black magic on Downtown Petaluma.

    Eight parking spaces next to YOUR business is a lot.

    Parking=business, we all know that.
    including our friends at ICLEI, er,
    Local Governments for Sustainability.

    Petaluma Downtown merchants were hoping their business’ would be ‘sustainable’.

    But thet’s not on the Agenda.

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