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Posts Tagged ‘walkability’

This post in in the response to the following comment from the Press Democrat Close to Home published by advocates of the Charter School.

Paul, I read your opinions as being very much centered on your own neightborhood. Not very many people live in walking distance of the current campus. I wish you could approach the situation from a slightly larger point of view. The potential of the new campus is that many more people would be able to get there without cars than is the case at the current campus. This is what is exciting to me about the new campus from a let’s-not–drive-if-we-don’t-have-to point of view. I realize that there is a risk that it might not develop this way, But if we can put the infrastructure in place — a campus served by a bike trail — then there is a possibility that it WILL happen. For me it is worth the risk.

My Response:

I wish I could believe that John. I did an overlay on an aerial photo with a 1 mile radius circle centered on the existing downtown campus, the existing K-2 campus and the proposed campus. The downtown campus circle encompasses pretty much the entire city limits of Sebastopol. The proposed campus gets almost to Bodega Ave., leaving out anyone south of there. Which yes, that includes my neighborhood, but it also includes about half of the residential neighborhoods of town. Unless there is some strange coincidence that the families of the Charter School only live north of Bodega Ave., I’m not sure I understand where you are coming from.

The blue circle is a 1 mile radius from the existing downtown campus. The yellow circle is a 1 mile radius from the K-2 campus and the red circle is a 1 mile radius from the proposed campus. The blue circle clearly encompasses more of the residential neighborhoods of Sebastopol than the red circle. Am I missing something?scs-campuses

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I am often troubled by the complete disregard many drivers have for pedestrians.

A situation I encounter on a regular basis is vehicles parking on the sidewalk. On my route between home and work, I walk by The Grateful Bagle, a bagel shop on Main Street. Given the form of the building my guess it was a service station back in the day. But today it’s a popular bagel shop. There is no indoor seating but there are tables in front of the store that are often filled with patrons.

I suppose it’s because of the former service station life of the property that drivers feel entitled to pull up in front of the shop, but many of them end up parking on the sidewalk. This happens all the time. img_20151012_101352009.jpgimg_20151022_080737406.jpgimg_20150914_081231457.jpgimg_20151209_082841202.jpgimg_20160127_130544562.jpgimg_20150910_082508032.jpgimg_20151015_134315108.jpgimg_20150914_081326859_hdr.jpgimg_20151214_082942606_hdr.jpgimg_20151015_134150526.jpgimg_20160411_081812938.jpgimg_20160406_123126960_hdr.jpgIt’s not that it’s impossible to get around the car, but I do feel that it shows a disregard for the pedestrian and the small amount of space in the public realm that is allotted to us. Most of the space on our streets is devoted to the car. the curb-to-curb width of Main Street in front of The Grateful Bagel is 50′. There are two 8′ parking lanes and two 17′(!!!) drive lanes. The sidewalk is about 6′ wide.

The Grateful Bagel does have parking in the back, and there is generally space nearby on Main Street. But still, people park on the sidewalk. And given the extensive curb cut along the side street it’s easy to pull right in. (It’s interesting to look back at these photos and notice that most of the offenders seem to be driving pick-up trucks…).

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I admit the parking lot is difficult to access from the side street as the curb cut is in the wrong location, but there is a curb cut on Main Street which leads to a driveway on the opposite side of the building from where the photo is taken. And it would not be difficult to add a curb cut on this street as well.

It would be easy enough to add a planter along the backside of the sidewalk along the side street and expand the amount of outdoor seating. I don’t believe this would hurt business, but actually would improve it as it would be a nicer place to sit without the imposition of a car or truck adjacent to your table.

I’m sensing an opportunity for some tactical urbanism…

 

 

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Recently closed restaurant

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Recently closed toy store

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Great corner retail opportunity.

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Soon to close wine shop

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Corner storefront location occupied by the jiu jitsu studio

I’ve noticed something a bit troubling recently. There are a couple of vacant storefronts on Main Street. In addition, there is another that is about to close and a recently closed business was replaced with a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu studio. I don’t know about you, but a martial arts studios opening on a main commercial street in a community is often not a good sign. Storefronts on Main Street should be just that, the fronts of stores. Stores, restaurants, bars, cafes generate pedestrian activity which is necessary for the vitality of a downtown commercial district. Martial arts studios and professional offices do not. Often you walk to a store on Main Street with a specific task at hand. But other times you walk along Main Street to window shop, and sometimes you see something in the window that draws you into the store. I doubt many people walking down Main Street suddenly decide they need to take a Jiu Jitsu class, and if they did if would be too bad because it seems to have rather limited hours, mostly in the evening as far as I can tell. I rarely see anything going on inside.The economy seems to have improved over the days of the recession, yet these businesses have closed.

Some people may be ready to blame The Barlow. It’s been a concern of Main Street merchants from the early planning stages of the project. The Barlow is a rehabilitated former warehouse/light industrial area adjacent to downtown. And while there are still vacancies in some of the spaces at The Barlow, it generally seems more lively than Main Street. There is a mix of light industry like wineries, breweries, a coffee roaster, a distillery, a bakery, a glass blower and a foundry. But there are also retail shops, restaurants, a local co-op market and cafes.

If The Barlow seems to be doing better than Main Street, and I have no data on whether or not this is true, I would offer a couple of reasons why. Firstly, The Barlow has done a very good job of marketing itself. It was recently written up in the New York Times travel section, Sunset Magazine and USA Today. They have billboards around the Bay Area, they sponsor a weekly street fair during summer months. It’s a definite draw.

Barlow

McKinley Street in The Barlow

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Narrow lanes and on-street parking keep speeds slow on McKinley Street.

IMG_20150911_140648676IMG_20150911_140714280_HDRBut more importantly, it’s just a nicer place for people. One of my early blog posts was about how Main Street is not a place for people. It feels like a highway, and it is, California Route 116. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Main Street needs a face lift. To start with, returning streets to two-way traffic, and reducing the lane width would help. The one-way traffic, wide lanes, straight street and limited traffic controls encourage speeding, particularly once traffic is ‘freed’ from the light at the main downtown intersection. Traffic literally takes off at that point and speeds over the posted 25 mph are a regular occurrence south of Bodega Ave.

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Storefronts are nice enough, but this environment is dominated by cars.

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Lots of space devoted to cars, not much to people.

IMG_20150911_142233154_HDR The pedestrian infrastructure takes second seat to the car. As a pedestrian, you feel this is a place for cars, and you are here provisionally. Most of the street furniture is decent enough, but sidewalks are narrow, trees are pathetic and lighting is dismal. The Barlow has much nicer landscaping, street furniture and narrow, slow streets. When walking in The Barlow, you feel welcomed, relaxed. This is a place for you. If something catches your eye in a store front across the street, you can cross mid-block without concern that you’ll be run down. Traffic moves slowly here; it’s not on it’s way somewhere else. You don’t feel welcomed as a pedestrian on Main Street, you feel like you always have to keep an eye  on the cars, particularly when crossing the street. Even at crosswalks, cars are not looking out for you.

The Barlow also has restaurants with outdoor seating.

Covered outdoor seating

Covered outdoor seating

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Uncovered outdoor seating

With the narrow sidewalks of Main Street this is not really possible. One solution I’ve come across recently is to extend the sidewalk into the parallel parking zone to allow for outdoor dining.

Outdoor seating in San Rafael, CA. Notice how the sidewalk swings out to occupy the parallel parking zone.

Outdoor seating in San Rafael, CA. Notice how the sidewalk swings out to occupy the parallel parking zone in order to allow for the seating.

If we want Main Street businesses to succeed we need to improve the streetscape to benefit the pedestrian. The Core Project has partnered with the City of Sebastopol on the submittal of an encroachment permit to Caltrans for a parklet demonstration day on Main Street. We have 5 different  locations selected where we propose to construct a parklet for a day. The hope is that this will inspire businesses to apply for more permanent parklets. And we hope that the demonstration will make Caltrans comfortable with the idea of permanent parklets. To our knowledge, Caltrans has never approved the construction of a parklet on a state highway.

Parklets could be a first step to improve the pedestrian environment of Main Street. But not the only solution. We need to turn the tables and make people in cars feel that they are passing through a pedestrian priority zone.  There are enough visitors and people living in Sebastopol and it’s environs to support both Main Street businesses and The Barlow. We just need to be able to put the Main Street businesses on equal footing when it comes to a pleasant pedestrian experience.

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Sebastopol, like many other small towns, needs to get a handle on its parking requirements. Current zoning code parking requirements is often at odds with good urbanism. Without a mechanism such as a parking assessment district, or simply reducing on-site parking requirements, our attempts at creating good pedestrian-friendly urban environments fight an uphill battle. Sebastopol has several city-owned, free surface parking lots that, like surface parking lots everywhere, leave gaping holes in the urban fabric.

Main Street Sebastopol has almost 2 whole blocks without a parking lot or auto-oriented use. (The north end of the west side of Main Street has what used to be a gas station but is now a smog check business.) These two blocks are full of traditional zero-setback buildings, mostly one story with a couple 2-story buildings sprinkled in. And while I think the buildings could be taller, these 2 blocks generally work.IMG_20150718_113337891_HDR

IMG_20150718_113245274IMG_20150717_171825281_HDR IMG_20150717_171532233 IMG_20150717_171720942_HDR IMG_20150717_171707259_HDRUnfortunately, these two blocks could not be built today. Any new building needs to provide on-site parking. Now this isn’t 100% true. Sebastopol apparently did have some kind of parking district at some point, although it’s a little vague. My understanding is that once upon a time, downtown property owner’s were allowed (required?) to buy into a parking assessment district. They paid for a certain number of spaces to be allotted in municipal parking lots for their building. If one of these lots is redeveloped they can credit the number of spaces they had ‘purchased’ toward any new parking requirement.

I would like to look at one specific example. We have a live theater company in Sebastopol, Main Stage West. The theater is in a small 2-story building on the corner of Main Street and Bodega Ave. My understanding is that the ground floor was originally a pharmacy with offices on the second floor. The offices are still on the second floor, but the ground floor has been converted to an intimate theater. It’s a great resource to have in such a small town, and does provide some after hours activity downtown. I don’t know the exact seating count, but I think it’s around 80 seats. The building takes up it’s entire lot. There is no parking on the property.

Main Stage West Theater. The theater is on the ground floor with offices above. The building takes up the entire lot.

Main Stage West Theater. The theater is on the ground floor with offices above. The building takes up the entire lot.

If someone wanted to build a theater of this size on Main Street today, they would have to provide on-site parking. The Sebastopol Zoning Code requires 1 parking space for every 4 seats in a theater. For the Main Stage West theater, this would require 20 parking spaces. for the roughly 2,200 sf second floor offices you would need 6 parking spaces (1 per 400 sf). That’s 26 parking spaces total required for this building. You couldn’t get 26 parking space on their existing site even if there was no building. The lot is 25’x87′. you actually can’t even make a parking lot with those dimensions. Assuming you could line up parking spaces in the 87′ dimension and just pull in off Bodega Ave you could get 8 parking spaces. But no room for a building, unless you built it above the parking lot. Theoretically, the building could have purchased some parking spaces when the parking assessment occurred, but I’m fairly certain they did not purchase 26 parking spaces.

We’ve essentially made the Main Street we love today impossible to build.

There is a very underutilized property at the opposite end of the block the theater is on. It had been a gas station but today is a smog check station. (Great use for Main Street, right?). The lot is about 59′ wide and 165′ deep. 9,735 sf. Say the theater wanted to move and build a slightly larger facility, assume 150 seats. That would require 38 parking spaces. If you wanted second floor offices about 24 parking spaces. Total 62  parking spaces required. I’m pretty sure that since the site had been a gas station, they never bought into the parking assessment district and would be required to supply all 62 spaces on-site. Impossible.

Smog Check property

Smog Check lot

Smog check lot

Smog check lot

Forget the theater. Make the ground floor retail with 1 floor of office above. 48 parking spaces would be required. Maybe you just make the ground floor parking and build above with a small retail space along the sidewalk to screen the parking behind. Say 800 sf of retail with 9,735 sf of office above. 26 parking spaces required. You could fit about 14 spaces on the ground floor behind the retail. That doesn’t work either. It is impossible with today’s zoning code to build a good urban building on this site.

This is not right and needs to be fixed if we have any hope of creating a good walkable people-centric downtown. Sebastopol needs a parking assessment district where downtown property owner’s are required to pay a fee that will be used to construct and maintain a municipal parking garage. And the parking garage must NOT be free. People that choose to drive and park downtown should be required to pay for the privilege and for the financing and maintenance of the parking facility. We cannot have good urbanism with the current parking requirements downtown.

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I was asked recently to suggest ways to provide vitality in a small town downtown in the evening, after the shops close. It’s a great question and one in which many small towns struggle with. People are out and about downtown during the day and on weekends in particular, but after the shops close at 6:00 things get pretty quiet. Most of the businesses in downtown Sebastopol are retail in nature. We have a decent number and variety of restaurants downtown, particularly for a town its size. But these alone are not enough to create a vibrant downtown scene in the evening. A downtown needs entertainment and social venues to keep it active. It also benefits greatly from people living nearby.

I think one place that helps keep Sebastopol even a little vibrant in the evenings is the movie theater. The movie theater is located in a building that was formerly a distillery (I don’t know when the conversion was made, but it’s probably been at least 20 years). It’s a great re-use of an existing building located in the heart of downtown Sebastopol. It currently operates as the Rialto Cinema which relocated from Santa Rosa about 3 years ago. It shows a combination of independent, foreign, documentary and mainstream films. They also broadcast Metropolitan Opera and London’s National Theatre Live events and screen other special events including a live screening party for the Oscars and the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival. It’s a great resource for a small community and a great fit for Sebastopol.

The problem with the theater is the way the physical building fits into the community. I realize they were working with an existing building, and maybe I don’t understand all of the limitations. But physically, it turns it’s back to the town. The aerial photo shows the location of the theater in relation to downtown. Sebastopol downtown aerial with barlow-042013As you can see, it is kitty-corner from the town plaza. Almost all of the residential neighborhoods in Sebastopol are located to the west (left) in the aerial photo. So people approaching the theater will be coming from the direction of the plaza.

View of Rialto Cinema from the plaza

View of Rialto Cinema from the plaza. The logo at the top of the sign announces ‘Rialto Cinema’ but that’s all that identifies this building as a movie theater.

The small park on the corner, which is city-owned property, has a sidewalk that connects visually with the plaza, if you know what you are looking for.

Sidewalk that points  to the plaza across the street.

Sidewalk that points to the plaza behind me across the street.

And it does lead you to the lobby. But the actual entry to the theater is on the opposite side of the building, facing the parking lot.

Entry to lobby, across the parking lot.

Entry to lobby, across the parking lot.

Once again, we expect, encourage, and reward people who drive while making pedestrians search for the entry to the building.

The theater lobby is currently being remodeled, but the entry will still not at all be obvious on approach to the building. To be honest, I lived in Sebastopol at least 3, and maybe as long as 6 months, before I even knew where the movie theater was. I would hear people talk about the movie theater but for the life of me couldn’t figure out where it was. Look at the location of, I guess you would call it a marquee? You really cannot see it unless you are across the street from it. This is not a location many people would find themselves.

Cannot see this 'marquee' from just about anywhere.

Cannot see this ‘marquee’ from just about anywhere.

An entrance on the west side would make this building feel much more a part of the community. People leaving the theater after a film would be directed toward Main Street to maybe grab a bite to eat or have a drink. As it is now, you are sent back to your car and on your way back home. Or if you go out to dinner after, you are encouraged to get in your car and drive. Doesn’t bode well to encourage you to park once and walk when downtown.

The theater also now serves as a critical link between The Barlow and Main Street. On that score it is particularly not successful. This is the frontage on McKinley Street which leads to The Barlow behind me.IMG_20150410_110025068 While The Barlow and Main Street are about a 3 minute walk apart, this wall and the largely vacant site across the street make it feel much farther. To be fair, this is a new arrangement. When the building was converted to a theater, the area which is now known as The Barlow was warehouses and light industry and there was no reason to walk down McKinley Street which was a dead end. But thinking of how this frontage could be at least a bit more interesting is crucial to linking Main Street and The Barlow, along with the redevelopment of the property on the opposite side of the street, which doesn’t even have a sidewalk.

It would also be great if the theater could do something to announce it’s presence. I realize it’s too late to relocate the lobby to the west end of the building. But new signage, including a real marquee that reaches toward the plaza, would be great to let people who are just visiting, or even new arrivals to Sebastopol, that we have a great movie theater in town. I don’t know that it would increase the vitality of downtown, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

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One of the topics at our General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) meeting this week was ‘Community Character.’ It was an interesting conversation and it made me think about the form of the public spaces in Sebastopol and how they may be improved. People often describe Sebastopol as ‘quirky.’ I don’t know that that adjective is meant to describe the physical form of the community. There are a variety of building types and styles that I suppose could be described as quirky, but so do many other places. I think when people describe Sebastopol as quirky, it has more to do with the characters in our community than the character seen in the physical make-up of the town itself.

The physical character of Sebastopol is largely defined by the state highways that bisect the town. As in most of America the car has come to dominate the public realm. In the 50’s 60’s, and continuing into the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s commercial development began it’s sprawl toward the edges of town. In the 80’s the north-south state highway was converted into a pair of one-way streets through downtown. This has done much to define the character of downtown, and not in a good way.

All of the primary gateways to town are lined with auto-oriented sprawl.

East Entry - SR 12

East Entry – SR 12

South Entry - SR 116

South Entry – SR 116

No sign - but this is the north edge of town.

No sign – but this is the north edge of town.

This strip mall is near the northern edge of town on Gravenstein Hwy North.

This strip mall is near the northern edge of town on Gravenstein Hwy North.

There has been a focus in the last 20 years on improving the downtown character in Sebastopol. A new town plaza has been created on the site of a former parking lot, utility lines have been relocated underground, some streetscape improvements have been undertaken and the city has offered facade improvement grants to downtown businesses which has resulted in some much-needed makeovers. A couple of new buildings and remodels have improved the character of downtown, most significantly in The Barlow.

Downtown Plaza

Downtown Plaza

The Basso Building on Main Street generated $118,819.92 per acre in property taxes, a whopping 6.6 times more than Safeway!

The Basso Building on Main Street

McKinley Street in The Barlow

McKinley Street in The Barlow

A lot more work needs to be done at the gateway entrances to town, particularly from the north and south. While these areas are car-oriented in their physical form, they are close to residential neighborhoods and have many resident-serving businesses. During our conversation at the GPAC meeting this week I realized that most, if not all, residents of Sebastopol are within walking distance of a major grocery store. The south end of town has Fircrest; center of town has Whole Foods, Community Market and Safeway; and the north end of town has Pacific Market and Lucky. I think that’s remarkable given a population around 7,400!

Circles represent 1/2 mile radius from the 6 grocery stores in town. Pretty much everyone in town is within walking distance of a grocery store, except maybe the SW corner.

Circles represent 1/2 mile radius from the 6 grocery stores in town. Pretty much everyone in town is within walking distance of a grocery store, except maybe the SW corner.

What we need to do is strengthen the links between the residential neighborhoods and these commercial nodes to encourage people to leave their cars at home and walk to these services. And we need strengthen the links between the nodes for pedestrians. That largely involve making route 116 more pedestrian friendly.

Sidewalks would be a good start. The sidewalks on the east side of Gravenstein Highway South are spotty. You have to walk on the shoulder of the road in some locations. I’m a dedicated walker so I’ll do it. But I’m sure it discourages many people. The city needs to prioritize connecting the sidewalks to support these businesses.The east side of Gravenstein Highway North also has stretches of missing sidewalks.

One of the stretches of 'missing' sidewalk on Gravenstein Hwy South

One of the stretches of ‘missing’ sidewalk on Gravenstein Hwy South

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Another section of ‘missing’ sidewalk on Gravenstein Hwy South

There is a sidewalk here, but would you want to walk on it?

There is a sidewalk here, but would you want to walk on it?

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Sidewalk on west side of Gravenstein Hwy South.

Gravenstein Hwy North, the trees help, but it's still not a great place to walk.

Gravenstein Hwy North, the trees help, but it’s still not a great place to walk.

While the west side has a sidewalk it’s not a great walking experience at either the north or south ends of town. The sidewalk is adjacent to the curb and there is no parallel parking so traffic whizzes by at 35 mph or faster. You feel out of place as a pedestrian. The road is a reasonable 3 lanes (1 northbound, 1 southbound and a center turn lane) except a couple of stretches at Gravenstein Highway North, but you feel like you are walking along a highway. A similar experience may be found at the north end of town. Although a large extent of the frontage of the west side of the road is taken up by strip commercial shopping centers which makes it even less pedestrian friendly since the frontage is all parking.

More frequent pedestrian crossings would help. The city has recently installed two ‘Street Smart Sebastopol’ crosswalks on Gravenstein Hwy South. They are about 740′ apart.

Gravenstein Hwy South - existing crosswalks are shown in yellow, proposed in red

Gravenstein Hwy South – existing crosswalks are shown in yellow, proposed in red

There is a street intersection about halfway between them which would be a great opportunity for another crosswalk. The next crosswalk to the south is about 760′ and is at a traffic light. Again, there is an intersecting street about halfway between, another opportunity for a crosswalk and a more reasonable distance between crossings. The next crossing to the north is about 1,200 feet. There is an opportunity for a crossing about 400′ north, but then it’s tricky due to the geometry of the streets where they turn into the one-way streets. If/when the streets are converted back to 2-way, this would be a great location for a roundabout. A roundabout would also make it easier for a pedestrian crossing at this location.

Good place for a roundabout

Good place for a roundabout

North of downtown, Healdsburg Ave. has several ‘Street Smart Sebastopol’ crossings, but from the crossing at Murphy Street, the next crossing to the north is about 2,300′. There could be a crosswalk at Lyding lane, 300′ from Murhpy, but then you get to the awkward intersection of Covert and Healdsburg Ave. A roundabout has been mentioned in the past for this intersection as well which could accommodate a better pedestrian crossing.

Gravenstein Hwy North - existing crosswalks are shown in yellow, proposed in red

Gravenstein Hwy North – existing crosswalks are shown in yellow, proposed in red

Parallel parking would make it more comfortable to be a pedestrian. You feel a measure of protection from moving traffic when you have cars parked between you and the travel lane. And parallel parking does serve to slow traffic as you have to be more alert to cars’ parking maneuvers. New developments on North and South Gravenstein Highway have been required to install parallel parking. I don’t know if the width of the right-of-way is enough to accommodate parking lanes on both sides at all locations, but where possible it would help.

This is the site of a proposed mixed-use project. The adjacent residential development was required to improve the frontage with a sidewalk, street trees, parallel parking and even enough room for a bike lane. The proposed project is 2-stories and will be located at the back of sidewalk.

This is the site of a proposed mixed-use project. The adjacent residential development was required to improve the frontage with a sidewalk, street trees, parallel parking and even enough room for a bike lane. The proposed project is 2-stories and will be located at the back of sidewalk.

Street trees would also improve the pedestrian experience. Many of the existing curb-adjacent sidewalk on the west side are probably too narrow to allow for street trees in the sidewalk. But maybe the private property owners could be encouraged to plant trees behind the sidewalk. Maybe the city could donate the trees, or provide them at cost to interested residents/businesses. New developments have been including street trees in addition to the parallel parking and should be required to do so in any future development/redevelopment.

Strip shopping center on Healdsburg Ave. Not a positive contribution to the community character.

Strip shopping center on Healdsburg Ave. Not a positive contribution to the community character.

A couple new projects and a renovation are creating a restaurant/commercial hub on Healdsburg Ave. about a block away from the strip development above.

A couple new projects and a renovation are creating a better restaurant/commercial hub on Healdsburg Ave. about a block away from the strip development above.

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Healdsburg Ave, where the sidewalk ends.

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Gravenstein Hwy North, where the sidewalk ends on the east side.

Even with the crosswalks, you still have a problem with traffic speed. South Main Street and Healdsburg Ave. have several of the ‘Street Smart Sebastopol’ pedestrian crossings, but traffic tends to travel faster than the posted speed limit along both stretches. These crosswalks do not eliminate all conflicts between pedestrians and cars (several pedestrians have been hit in these crosswalks, one man unfortunately died last year after being hit in a crosswalk across Healdsburg Ave.) but they generally make drivers more aware of pedestrians than if there were not crosswalks. In a previous post I discussed the concept of raised intersections which would serve to slow traffic. Another option would be to install stop signs. Traffic from side streets does probably not meet whatever Caltrans’ standard would be for the installation of stop signs, but installing stop signs at every block or 2 would definitely slow things down. And it certainly is not without precedent to have a stop sign at every intersection in an urban area. Drivers may not like to have to stop so often, or have to slow over a raised intersection, but who cares. We need to decide if our public right-of-way is to be designed to benefit people or cars. This is a key decision that will effect the overall character of the community. So far we have been prioritizing the car at the expense of our community’s physical character. I argue that to improve our character we should favor the pedestrian at the expense of the car. The added benefit is that when people feel more comfortable walking, they will, which will in turn reduce traffic.

Not an easy crossing for pedestrians. Another possible roundabout location?

Not an easy crossing for pedestrians. Another possible roundabout location?

As I’ve been writing this I’ve realized a very easy low-cost first step would be to rename the north and south stretches of 116 as they enter town. At the south end of the we have Gravenstein HIGHWAY South and at the north end of town we have Gravenstein HIGHWAY North (The gravenstein is a type of apple that is produced locally, although there are not as many apple orchards as there once were. Trader Joe’s does sell gravenstein apple sauce). Maybe we could start by renaming both roads to eliminate the word HIGHWAY. This may start the transformation of how we view these roads and their function differently in our community. It’s sometimes amazing how the smallest gestures can trigger a tidal wave of change. Maybe we start with changing the names to Gravenstein Avenue North and Gravenstein Avenue South. I feel better about them already.

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I live in a small town. The population is around 7,400. The total area is about 1.8 square miles. There are some hills but it’s generally easy to walk and bike pretty much everywhere in town. Even though we have 2 state highways passing through town and therefore have our share of traffic, no street is wider than 3 lanes and there are many quiet residential streets to walk on, avoiding the busier roads altogether. I’ve committed myself to walk/bike to in-town destinations whenever possible, unless I will need to be transporting something more that I can fit in my backpack. I know this is not standard practice, and why is that? I’ve been trying to wrap me head around it and cannot figure out why we are so attached to our cars. It’s definitely a cultural thing. Most of us are raised in environments where the car is the primary means of transportation. And the environment does not encourage us to get out of our cars. So even when we end up living in a community like the one I live in, we are used to just getting into our car to go by that tube of toothpaste rather than walk the 15 minutes to the drug store.

We need to change the paradigm of immediately getting in the car whenever we need to get somewhere and we need to start with our children. My daughter’s school participates in Walk and Roll to School Day every Wednesday. I stand in the courtyard of her school and count the number of kids walking, biking and carpooling to school (we decided to include carpoolers because as a charter school there are a fair number of kids who live outside of town and could not realistically be expected to walk and this was a way to encourage them to reduce their carbon footprint).walk and roll tallyingOn the first Wednesday of the month the class that has the most walkers and bikers wins the ‘Golden Sneaker’ award and the class with the most carpoolers wins the ‘Silver Hubcap’ award. They also get a pencil, which is a surprisingly popular ‘award.’ Participation varies but is generally decent. It tends to be higher on the first Wednesday of the month when the award is tallied and pencils handed out (and families receive a phone call reminder the day before). So far this year we’ve had a high of 88% participation. This was on October 8, International Walk and Roll to School Day 2015. November was a close second with 78% participation ( percentages are based on the total number of kids living in town which is 72 attending the grade 3-8 campus). The winter months have been a bit lower which I guess is to be expected, but this is Northern California after all. It’s not like we have blizzards to contend with. As you may have heard we’re in the midst of a drought and haven not had many rainy Wednesdays (although the lowest was 21% which happened during a day of pretty steady rain). So weather really shouldn’t be an issue, although we have some ‘chilly’ mornings now and then.

I know we can do better though. I know there are kids that live within a 15 minute walk to school that rarely, if ever, walk. One kid in my daughter’s class (eighth grade) lives about 1,000 feet from the school and he is almost always driven. I can’t even fathom this. It’s so great for kids to get some exercise before school. Studies show that kids are more alert when they get some exercise before school. Walking is a way to decrease stress and increase creativity. Walking to school gives them an opportunity to be independent, think responsibly and make decisions for themselves.

The most encouraging aspect of being the parent counting the walkers and rollers has been to see the enthusiasm of the third graders, which is the youngest kids on campus. There have been days when the number of walkers/rollers is more than the number of third graders that live in town which means there are families that park away from the school and walk the remaining distance to campus (they are asked to walk a minimum of 10 minutes to be counted). I also hear participation at the K-2 campus is good so I’m hoping that as these kids age the total number of participants rises. The K-2 campus has 2 regular ‘walking school buses‘ which is when a group of children meet at a specific location and are walked to school with at least one accompanying adult.

I am concerned, as I have written about on several occasions (here, here, here and here) that the school is planning on moving from it’s 2 in-town locations, to a location on the edge of town which is far less walk and bike friendly. I’m still hoping it doesn’t happen, but if it does, I hope that the kids that currently walk and bike will have it ingrained enough to continue to do so.

My daughter has been walking to school since kindergarten and I think it’s been so good for her. From kindergarten through second grade it was about a mile walk. She didn’t always walk both ways (which would end up being about 4 miles of walking for my wife), but at least one way every day, sun or rain. In third grade she started attending the ‘upper’ campus location, which is about 3 blocks from our house so her time spent walking decreased significantly. But the day she was aloud to walk by herself, near the end of third grade was great. You could just see how proud she was of her new found independence. I believe it’s made her much more confident and not only in knowing that she can make her way around town on her own, but in other aspects of her life as well.

We need to break the cycle of immediately getting into a car for every trip. There are so many benefits to be gained from walking and/or biking. In his book ‘Why I Walk,’ Kevin Klinkenberg discusses the benefits of walking, breaking them down into four categories; financial, freedom, health and social. I am fortunate enough to be able to walk to my office (it was in my house until about a month ago, but is now about 3 blocks away) and to most of my daily destinations. Because of the way we’ve been building our cities for the past 70 or so years, many of us are not this lucky. But if we look for them, there are opportunities to walk more than we do. I’d encourage you to look for the opportunities to start if you are not walking already. And start your kids walking more. Once it become normal for them, they will likely continue to be walkers into adulthood.

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