What could an important section of Mendocino Avenue look like to better protect cyclists and pedestrians?
That’s the question that’s been debated among city officials, cycling advocates and downtown business owners for the past six months or so.
Cyclists and allied residents have been pushing for a sweeping overhaul — a move that appears to have won the support of city staff and the Santa Rosa-appointed Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.
A design unveiled in mid-November calls for reducing traffic lanes on the city’s central north-south link between College Avenue and Fourth Street and adding 5ft bike lanes on either side of the road. A 2-foot buffer separating cyclists and vehicles would extend from 10th Street south to Old Courthouse Square, where Mendocino Avenue ends.
It is similar to the road configuration on nearby E Street.
Eris Weaver, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, said that while buffered lanes don’t offer as much protection as bike lanes offset from vehicular traffic by landscaping, safety features or a curb , the design is an improvement over a previous iteration.
“I’m very happy that the staff is moving in the direction we pushed them to go,” Weaver said. “We are heard.
The design is expected to be finalized by January and the road will be restored following planned pavement improvements next summer or fall.
Infrastructure upgrades are part of a city-wide plan to keep cyclists and pedestrians safe in several key corridors that have been identified by authorities as unsafe or high-risk and, more broadly, to expand access and convenience for residents who wish to use alternative modes of transportation.
It also comes as the city envisions a more walkable and livable downtown, with up to 7,000 new homes by 2040 — part of an even longer initiative to revitalize Santa Rosa’s urban core and bring more residents closer to the area’s main transportation and commercial hub.
“Paint is not protection”
Vehicle traffic on the affected section of Mendocino Avenue has dropped by 60% since the 2017 reunification of the Place du Vieux Palais de Justice.
Planned pavement work has given the city a blank canvas to rethink the design of the road, and city officials began in the spring soliciting input from downtown residents, visitors and businesses on what they would like see.
In large part, responses to a city survey and feedback from participants in a May Community Meeting called for measures to tackle speeding and traffic noise, the addition of cycle lanes and the preservation of parklets erected at the height of the pandemic.
Merchants favor maintaining parking spaces for customers and employees.
The affected half-mile segment of Mendocino Avenue currently has two northbound lanes, one southbound lane, and parallel parking on either side of the road. There are no cycle paths.
Weaver, who cycles from his home in Cotati to his office on Mendocino Avenue just north of College, said the current configuration makes it difficult to cross south from College Avenue and drivers are often frustrated with share the road with cyclists.
She shared a video taken of her ride to show the experience from a cyclist’s perspective.
An alternative favored by city street engineers and presented to the downtown subcommittee in October called for the elimination of a northbound lane and the addition of painted bike lanes.
Community members, including Weaver, said that plan didn’t go far enough. They called for protected cycle lanes – a lane separated from vehicular traffic by a physical barrier such as bollards, planters, a sidewalk or even parked cars.
“Paint is not protection,” said Cris Eggers, a volunteer with Bikeable Santa Rosa, a coalition of residents of all ages and abilities advocating for a safer, more connected bike network across the city.
Eggers, who addressed the committee during public comments, said families and new cyclists would be uncomfortable getting downtown without safer infrastructure.
So city staff went back to the drawing board.
The new design calls for a 10-foot vehicle lane in each direction, 5-foot cycle lanes, and 2-foot buffers from Fourth Street to 10th Street. Turning lanes at Fifth and Ross streets will be eliminated, resulting in an increase in parking spaces that can be used for parklets or bike corrals.
North of 10th Street, the road will change to 11-foot traffic lanes to accommodate buses with 6-foot painted bike lanes.
Rob Sprinkle, deputy director of traffic engineering, said the design will help calm traffic and improve bike safety without reducing parking.