By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A plan to reroute a popular bicycle trail around a proposed gas station and market on the western edge of Santa Rosa was criticized as not doing enough to protect bicyclists but was approved anyway Thursday by the city’s Planning Commission.
In a 5-1 vote, the commission signed off on plans to build the station, market and one-bedroom apartment along the Joe Rodota Trail at North Wright Road just south of the Fulton Road and Highway 12 intersection.
Most commissioners felt the developer had found a creative solution to the problem of possible conflicts with bicyclists by diverting them behind the station along an easement on the property.
But some bicycle advocates and Commissioner Vicki Duggan felt the project wasn’t doing enough to protect bicyclists along what is already a problematic portion of the trail linking Santa Rosa to Sebastopol.
“I cannot support a gas station that’s going to give us 3,000 additional points of conflict with cyclists,” Duggan said, referencing the number of car trips the station is expected to generate. “To make it more dangerous, I think it is really unconscionable.”
Duggan instead wanted the developers to be required to install a crosswalk that would allow bicyclists to get across North Wright Road at the project site instead of Sebastopol Road about 300 feet to the south.
Bicyclists heading west on the trail need to turn down the sidewalk on the east side of North Wright Road until they get to Sebastopol Road, where they cross at that intersection to pick up the trail again.
But Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, called that intersection “incredibly dangerous” for bicyclists.
“The bike coalition really doesn’t care one way or the other about the gas station. We care about the safety of cyclists through this area,” Helfrich said.
Duggan, who rides the trail often, said it is unnatural for bicyclists to ride against traffic along a sidewalk. The crosswalk at Sebastopol is dangerous because cars at the busy intersection don’t pay attention to bicyclists, she said.
Instead, most bicyclists heading west prefer to shoot across North Wright Road at the project site to get to the bicycle lane on the west side, Duggan said. For this reason, she supports a signalized crosswalk at that location, and felt the developer should have to pay for it.
But most commissioners agreed with city staff that a signalized crosswalk in that location, which the developer estimates could cost up to $170,000, wasn’t justified.
“There’s got to be, with all due respect, a little give-and-take here,” said Commissioner Tom Karsten, who praised the project as a significant improvement over what was proposed in 2007.
He said the developer “shouldn’t be held hostage” by a costly and time-consuming requirement to fix a problem that his project wasn’t creating.
City Traffic Engineer Rob Sprinkle said it didn’t make sense to build the crosswalk until that detour along North Wright Street was eliminated and the trail continues west along a former railroad right of way.
“The need doesn’t seem to be there until that pathway is constructed,” Sprinkle said.
Until that time comes, Sprinkle said Sebastopol Road remains the safest place for bicyclists to cross North Wright Road. He said the plan to reroute the trail behind the station would minimize conflicts with bicyclists trying to cross busy driveways along the sidewalk.
The developer had worked hard to make sure the project, called Elm Tree Station, is compatible with the bicycle uses and the city’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, said Jean Kapolchok, the developer’s land use consultant.
The project got its name from a large Chinese Elm tree on the property that will be preserved. Eight of the 10 trees on the property are slated for removal.
The station will have solar panels, four electric vehicle charging stations, bicycle racks and a picnic area. The market will sell fresh food and will not sell alcohol, Kapolchok said. The one-bedroom apartment above the market will be for the attendant.
A similar proposal for the site that included a car wash and drive-thru was rejected in 2007.
Most commissioners called the new project a significant improvement over the previous version, but Duggan was unmoved.
“What’s the point of having all these Climate Action Plan things at the edge of town for a car-centric use?” she said.” It’s green-washing.”
Helfrich also called it “a little hard for us to swallow” that the impact on bicyclists was somehow being offset by “a few charging stations and a picnic area.”
Commissioner Peter Stanley said he would like to see a crosswalk at that location someday, too, but agreed the developer shouldn’t be saddled with the burden of building it. He called the current plan “a good interim solution.”
(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or email@example.com. On Twitter @citybeater.)