Concern: Our current transportation system doesn’t serve us well; it’s overly car-reliant which has climate impacts, it’s in mediocre condition because of funding constraints, and it’s insufficiently supportive of the alternatives of walking, bicycling, and transit.
Why a Solution Isn’t Easy: Petaluma is a town with many neighborhoods that only cars can access. Similarly, connections to many destinations are only available by car. Therefore, cars will remain essential for the foreseeable future.
Steps toward a Solution
As Petalumans, we can greatly reduce the impact of cars by conversion to electric, by extending the reach of transportation alternatives, and by shaping new development to be less car-dependent.
As vehicular speeds increase, the comfort and safety of bicyclists and pedestrians decrease. The City needs strategies to reduce vehicular speeds whether by Safe Streets or other strategies. Viewing our town through a windshield limits what all of us see. When we slow down and can look around, we see elements of our town for the first time, creating community, promoting safety for all, but particularly for our children and older residents, and becoming physically more healthy.
Bikes are great. Petaluma with its mild climate and flat terrain should be a bikeable city. But the City must think about where riders start and finish. A bike path that doesn’t end in a useful place is less valuable than it could be. Bike boulevards must also play a role.
Walking is another good alternative, but the City needs to think about the walking environment. Bumping into friends, window shopping, and watching children at play are all better than walking alongside blank walls.
Transit fills a need, but more routes and reduced wait times would make it more useful, which means it needs more funds. Our city, unlike many, doesn’t allocate general fund dollars to transit.
Connectivity between east and west matters, but the conversation must start with why people from one side want to visit the other. If the City can help create similar amenities, shopping districts, recreational access, and cultural opportunities on both sides of town, the traffic demand on the east-west connectors can be reduced. Great cities have many districts worth visiting. At its own scale, Petaluma should emulate.
But if another east-west connection remains necessary, there are numerous possibilities, Corona Road, the Rainier Connector, the Caulfield Bridge. Each has specific benefits and costs, including environmental impacts. With competing demands on municipal resources, a renewed and careful investigation of the benefits and costs of each alternative, including the long-term maintenance costs, must be undertaken before decisions are made.
Lastly, all of us must consider the condition of our streets and sidewalks. Sidewalks are included because, despite the continuous furor about potholes, many sidewalks are even worse. As is so often true, resources are the problem. The City doesn’t have enough dollars in the municipal budget to do all the street repairs we would like and many households are unable to afford the sidewalk repairs that are their responsibility.
The solutions start with the November ballot, including the municipal sales tax measure, the county-wide Go Sonoma measure, and Proposition 15 that would all provide more city funding. Combined with my proposal for expanded resources into the revolving fund to assist homeowners with sidewalk repairs, the City would begin to improve the condition of our transportation infrastructure.