Police describe it as a dangerous stretch of road with a tragic history.
Fifty accidents have occurred here, injuring 35 people and killing two over the past decade and a half.
Despite the accidents, Caltrans says the intersection of Lakeville Highway and Pine View Way near Kaiser hospital does not warrant having a traffic light installed, partly because there aren’t many cars traveling on Pine View.
But Petaluma police say the area is ground zero for accidents with drivers speeding on Lakeville and aggressively changing lanes while others slow down to turn at the intersection.
“From a traffic safety perspective, a traffic signal would absolutely help because there are far fewer people running red lights than speeding,” says Sgt. Ken Savano, head of the traffic division for the Petaluma Police Department. “But I also understand that Caltrans can’t just be putting in a traffic signal every time there is a request for one.”
Caltrans did not respond to a request for a comment in time for publication, but Savano says the city has a good relationship with the agency and that they understand the problem, yet are constrained by budget cuts.
Without state help, Petaluma police are left to deal with the intersection as best they can, by ticketing speeding motorists and those that make unsafe lane changes.
The department has also applied for a grant to turn one of the eastbound lanes on Lakeville into a turn-only lane to keep cars that are slowing down separated from other traffic.
But it could be months before funding is allocated and the restriping done.
“We can cover our eyes and pretend that it’s not happening, but it’s not going to make the problem go away,” Savano said, adding that the high rate of accidents is why enforcement in the area has been increased. "“We’re not going to just sit by and wait for the next fatal accident."
(About 15 percent of all citations within city limits within the past year were given out on Lakeville Highway.)
But, he said, the public can do its part by slowing down and driving the speed limit, which is 45 miles per hour west of Pine View and 55 miles west of the intersection. “It’s that simple.”
Most of the accidents in the intersection are caused when drivers turn left from Pine View onto Lakeville or slow down on the highway to turn onto the smaller street.
The first fatal collision (since police have been keeping data) occurred in 2001, when a 24-year-old Vallejo man was killed when his vehicle was struck by another car and rolled over.
The second fatal collision occurred in 2003, when Michael G. Bosmans, a 51-year-old from Canada was struck while riding his motorcycle through the intersection. Today, a wooden cross by a redwood tree marks the spot Bosmans died.
Another cause behind the accidents is less obvious.
In 2003, Kaiser expanded its Petaluma location, increasing the number of visits to the hospital. Over the next decade, numerous accidents involved elderly drivers traveling to and from the hospital for eye exams, Savano said.
“We have very concrete data that supports this,” he said.
The police have met with Kaiser officials and installed directional signs encouraging drivers to utilize alternate routes. (Asked about the prevalence of accidents involving patients, a Kaiser spokesman said that 3 accidents a year did not constitute a problem.)
Savano says it's only a matter of time before another major accident occurs in the area.
“The reason there haven’t been more accidents is because we’ve done a tremendous amount of enforcement there,” he said, “But it’s causing us to divert our attention from other areas of town. And at the end of the day, we can’t always be there."
Are you concerned about this intersection? What could make it safer?