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As deaths mount on Santa Rosa’s Stony Point Road, city is pressed to do more for safety

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The city’s own master plan for bicycling and pedestrian upgrades has singled out the area as exceptionally dangerous. It is one of three areas citywide known as a “high-injury network” — where people walking or riding bikes are most often injured or killed — according to the updated bike plan.

Jennell Davies was almost home.

On a cool, clear night last October, the 39-year-old preschool teacher was walking home from dinner. It was about 9:50 p.m. when she tried to cross Stony Point Road, one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares — and one of its deadliest for pedestrians and cyclists.

She and her boyfriend approached the intersection of Stony Point with Occidental Road, also a busy route for motorists driving through west Santa Rosa. They were at the intersection’s northwestern corner and were heading east across Stony Point.

She must have crossed there hundreds of times before, her father, Tom Davies, said he thought to himself on a recent visit to the site. An Oliver’s Market grocery store and a KFC fast-food restaurant are right there, a quick stroll from the apartment where she’d lived for more than a decade.

But that fateful night last year, Davies was more than halfway through the crosswalk when she was struck by a northbound pickup, throwing her body about 70 feet north along the eastern side of Stony Point. Her boyfriend had stopped on a concrete median that abuts the crosswalk. He could only watch, helpless.

She died after a police officer and then fire and medical crews could not revive her.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9440594-181/as-deaths-mount-on-santa

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Sonoma plans new traffic, bike lanes on Broadway

Christian Kallen, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

If Sonoma Public Works Director Colleen Ferguson has her way, the route of Broadway from MacArthur to the Plaza will have room for more parking, bike paths in each direction, and encourage foot traffic to support local businesses – without costing the city an extra dime.

“The city’s planning documents definitely show bike lanes on both sides of Broadway,” said Ferguson. “And it’s clear that the volumes of traffic on Broadway now can be accommodated by one travel lane until you get to the Plaza – you don’t need two lanes like we have now.”

What would it take to bring Ferguson’s vision to fruition? Apparently just some paint, thanks to the planned repaving of Broadway – aka Highway 12 – by Caltrans slated to begin next summer.

The majestic street, the so-called “gateway” to historic Sonoma, is far wider than it needs to be (and without the military rationale Napoleon needed to build the Champs de l’Elysee, a similarly over-wide boulevard in Paris).

That’s one reason there’s almost never a traffic jam on Broadway – though the T intersection at the Plaza where it runs into Napa Street can be congested.

“It’s 70 feet from curb to curb,” said Frank Penry of GHD, the city’s consultant for the Broadway Streetscape Enhancements & Traffic Circulation Project, part of the city’s annual budget currently under review.

Read more at https://www.sonomanews.com/news/9696161-181/sonoma-plans-new-traffic-bike

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Op-Ed: What will we do about Stony Point Road?

Eris Weaver, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Richard Burns. Lusiano Garcia. Mathew Eck. Jennell Davies. Sidney Falbo. Three pedestrians and two cyclists have been killed by motor vehicles on Stony Point Road within the past eight months.

That’s one death, on this one street, in this one city, every six weeks. At this rate, we could expect another fatality sometime around Cinco de Mayo.

What are we willing to do to stop these deaths?

After each of these incidents, law enforcement officers call for pedestrians and cyclists to change their behavior: Be more watchful, wear different clothing, walk farther to a crosswalk. Why do we immediately blame the victim?

These soft, unprotected human bodies were struck by heavy, fast-moving machines. Why aren’t we calling for changes in how and where and how fast we operate the machines?

These deaths are preventable. Yes, some of the victims made errors in judgment. But people do.

The Dutch — residents of the most bike-friendly country in the world — recognize human error in their urban design principles. They acknowledge that small children will run around erratically, drivers will become distracted, and they design for it. They separate fast-moving entities from slow-moving entities.

People will always do stupid things, but designing safer infrastructure can keep them from getting killed. For example, requiring seat belts and airbags has saved lives.

We can alter the width of lanes and the timing of lights; add physical barriers between cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles; add controlled crosswalks at those spots where people are crossing anyway because it’s where they need to go and they don’t want to walk an additional mile, and that’s what people do.

Why aren’t we taking this approach to improving safety on Stony Point Road?

We don’t even have to look to the Dutch across the Atlantic for examples of a different approach to traffic safety. We can just look across the Golden Gate.

Within one week of San Francisco cyclist Tess Rothstein’s death, a protected bike lane along the stretch of Howard Street where she was killed was created with temporary barriers. San Francisco Mayor London Breed has made it a priority to fast-track traffic safety projects on the city’s high-injury corridors.

Five deaths in eight months, and we’ve done nothing.

Our community can do better. I urge our city officials to take action now to prevent more deaths on Stony Point Road.

Eris Weaver is executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/9417564-181/close-to-home-what-will?sba=AAS

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Santa Rosa planning commission approves ambitious bike pedestrian plan

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A Highway 101 overcrossing connecting Coddingtown Mall to Santa Rosa Junior College and a contentious railroad crossing with an uncertain future are among the bicycle and pedestrian projects proposed in an aspirational city plan that would more than double the number of bikeways in the city.

“It is an ambitious list,” said Nancy Adams, a city transportation planner. “Once you get the road map, now we have to start talking and having the hard conversations on how do you start and get something accomplished.”

The updated bicycle and pedestrian master plan, which contains dozens of projects meant to make it easier to travel around Santa Rosa without a car, won unanimous approval from the Planning Commission on Thursday. It is set to go before the City Council in March.

The plan is inherently optimistic about the city’s ability to pay for future expansions of its walking and biking network. But cash-strapped Santa Rosa’s leaders have devoted recent budget discussions to cutting spending and replenishing reserves depleted by the October 2017 wildfires to pay down pension liabilities.

The city doesn’t have funding for all of the plan’s projects at this time, Adams acknowledged. The proposed Highway 101 crossing connecting the mall and college campus in north Santa Rosa has funding for its design, but the city hasn’t identified how to pay for its construction, she said.

In all, the city has proposed adding 129 miles of bikeways throughout Santa Rosa, increasing its network of bike paths to 242 miles. Alongside the expansive list of potential projects comes data showing that bikes and feet are far from the most popular ways to get to work in Santa Rosa.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9289467-181/santa-rosa-bike-path-plan

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Programs encourage Sonoma County high school students to ditch car commutes

SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Efforts to shift school commutes away from single-rider trips to more sustainable modes of transportation, such as walking, bicycling, carpooling, and public transit are making a difference at 12 Sonoma County high schools.

“Since September 2017 the Safe Routes to School pilot program has seen measurable increases in active and alternative forms of transportation among students at participating high schools,” said Kelly Elder, Public Health Division manager at the Sonoma County Department of Health Services (DHS).

The two-year pilot program is coordinated by DHS and funded by the Caltrans’ Active Transportation Program, aims to increase physical activity among high school students and decrease greenhouse gas emissions related to vehicle trips.

The Department collaborated with the Center for Climate Protection to implement youth leadership trainings at 12 local high schools, while W-Trans, a traffic-engineering consultant, received funding to assess walking and biking infrastructure around the schools.

“Our team has gathered information on walking and bicycling to and from school, and we led walking audits in the spring to identify critical pedestrian and bike safety issues,” said Principal, W-Trans, Steve Weinberger.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/sonoma-county-high-schools-reduce-carbon-footprint-during-commute

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SMART, Santa Rosa at loggerheads over Jennings Avenue pedestrian and bicycling crossing

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The North Bay’s year-old commuter rail line and the region’s largest city are embroiled in an increasingly entrenched public standoff over whether to construct a long-planned footpath across the tracks in northwest Santa Rosa — a crossing sought by the adjacent neighborhoods, bicyclists and some of the train system’s most vocal advocates.

Santa Rosa favors the pedestrian and bicycle crossing at Jennings Avenue, a project first outlined almost a decade ago and endorsed once again by the City Council this week. The crossing is meant to restore an east-west footpath that dates back to at least the early 20th century, according to the city, and until it was fenced off by SMART in 2015 remained a key community connector.

But the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit system, which previously backed the ground-level crossing and twice offered letters of support for grant funding to build it, abandoned the concept about a year ago and has sidestepped any scheduled public discussion of the disputed pathway.

SMART officials say the at-grade crossing would endanger path users, including schoolchildren. The proposed crossing, about 1 mile north of the downtown Railroad Square station, would traverse tracks where oncoming trains usually travel at 35 mph, according to SMART.

But public comments from Santa Rosa council members over the stalled project reflected the city’s growing sense of frustration. Some were confused by the impasse. Others were incensed. The path is meant to serve an area of the city that otherwise lacks suitable pedestrian access across the tracks.

“I think it’s ridiculous that we’re having a conversation about the safety of this crossing at this point,” said Mayor Chris Coursey, a former SMART spokesman. “If this crossing as designed isn’t safe, then there isn’t a safe crossing on SMART’s line. It’s a railroad that needs to be integrated with these communities. Crossings are part of the design. This crossing needs to be part of the design.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8866793-181/smart-santa-rosa-at-loggerheads

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Op-Ed: Self-driving cars are not the future

Paris Marx, MEDIUM

For the past several years, Silicon Valley’s tech titans have been telling us that autonomous vehicles will become the future of urban mobility. No longer will we have to drive personal vehicles or even walk the “last mile” from transit stops to our final destinations — pods piloted by computers will whisk us wherever we want to go at minimal cost.

Our most ambitious technologists even claim that mass transit is outdated — it’s dirty, scary, and doesn’t get you to your final destination. Autonomous vehicles will make “individualized” transportation accessible to all — space limitations of dense urban cores be damned!

Can you seriously see us trying to cram all the pedestrians of New York City, or almost any major city around the world, into autonomous pods without creating the worst gridlock we’ve ever seen? It’s a hilarious proposal, but some technologists still believe it. (Remember, Elon Musk wants to build a ton of tunnels below Los Angeles for this exact reason.)

The truth is, autonomous vehicles will probably not dominate the streets of the future. Tech boosters’ blind fantasies are finally being revealed for the pipe dreams they really are. Self-driving cars aren’t imminent, the technology isn’t there yet. And while the reality of being sold a lie leaves some discouraged, a much more exciting vision of the future of mobility is emerging. Instead of streets hostile to anyone not in a metal box weighing a ton or two, we may see people reclaiming roadways for themselves.

The fatal crash of a self-driving Uber that killed a pedestrian as she crossed a Tempe, Arizona, street in March impacted the industry enormously. Ambitious visions were replaced by cautious statements about the prospects of autonomous technology. For once, it seemed industry leaders were coming to terms with the realities of a technology that they’d lost touch with after several years of building hype.

Read more at https://medium.com/s/story/the-future-of-mobility-belongs-to-people-not-self-driving-cars-625c05b29692

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Study links rise of SUVs to the pedestrian safety crisis

Angie Schmitt, STREETSBLOG USA

Almost 6,000 pedestrians were killed on American streets in 2016, an increase of nearly 50 percent since 2009.

The cause of the increase, however, has stumped some safety analysts. Groups like the Governors Highway Safety Association, for example, have advanced theories on “distracted walking,” without much evidence.

But a new study from a major group, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, points to real-world causes and practicable solutions. Using federal fatality and crash data, IIHS performed a regression analysis to examine “roadway, environmental, personal and vehicle factors” on pedestrian deaths between 2009 and 2016.

One of the key findings was that not only are crashes involving pedestrians increasing, they are becoming more deadly when they do occur. The share of pedestrian crashes that were fatal increased 29 percent during the study period. One culprit, according to the study, was SUV drivers.

Here’s what researchers found:

Read the article at https://usa.streetsblog.org/2018/05/09/study-links-rise-of-suvs-to-the-pedestrian-safety-crisis/