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Should the City Allow Cars on Water Street?

The city is debating allowing cars to travel one way from East Washington onto Water Street and exit at Western. But critics say it turns the riverfront walkway with plenty of potential into nothing but a parking lot.

City council on Monday voted to move ahead with a project that would reduce Petaluma Boulevard from four lanes to two lanes, but could not agree on whether to allow cars to travel on Water Street between East Washington and Western Avenue.

Work for the so-called “road diet” is expected to start next month, from E Street to East Washington Street, and is aimed at improving the flow of traffic through downtown.

The road works project will be paid for regional grants and state transportation bonds and not utilize any general fund revenue. Still council members Mike Healy, Mike Harris and Chris Albertson voted against the project, each for a different reason.

Healy said he opposed spending limited street funds on a project that was not a true capital improvement project and Harris agreed.

“For me, it’s about the prioritizing of the Prop 1B monies (Caltrans transportation bonds),” Harris said. “These improvements would be nice, but not when we can use the money on more pressing basic items like potholes.”

Councilman Albertson said he only supported the project if it also converted Water Street into one-way street that would allow drivers enter from East Washington and drive along the riverfront and exit at Western Extension, a redesign that would add 21 addition parking spaces. 

This is an option favored by many businesses, but critics worry that allowing cars access to a bigger portion of Water Street eliminates its potential as a riverfront walkway dotted with cafes and restaurants.

“There’s a lot of people that like to be able to enjoy patio dining at Cucina Paradiso and I don’t know how many would enjoy patio dining in a parking lot,” Glass said.

Ultimately, the council agreed to seek more community input about the future of Water Street at the next Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee meeting on July 11.

What do you think? Should the city allow cars to travel on Water Street all the way to Western Avenue and the boulevard? Or would it ruin the character of downtown?

Active Thinker June 19, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Great idea...make Petaluma more bike friendly...look at san anselmo and fairfax in marin...just two lanes and tons of people bike around town..it's better for local business and people...less pollution more downtown shopping
Ptown June 19, 2012 at 07:15 PM
You were always allowed to drive down water all the way to Western longer than not. Forget what year they stopped it, Petalumas character did not change because of it.. With a slower more main st boulevard in the future maybe it's time to think about opening it up again
mikeg55 June 19, 2012 at 07:15 PM
I don't drive downtown anymore since traffic crawls with 4 lanes. Good luck with 2.
LongTimeLocal June 19, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Designate the section a sidewalk. Prosecute anyone using it as a bike lane so it's reserved for pedestrians so people don't get hit by them.
LongTimeLocal June 19, 2012 at 07:19 PM
And going to two is a good idea. Room for cars to park without blocking a lane and having to dodge around parallel park attempts on 4 lanes that are too narrow for safety.
David Keller June 20, 2012 at 07:10 AM
Why would we want to convert pedestrian space into yet more space for cars? Delivery and service vehicles can already use it when needed. While Water Street still needs more attention to it to become the envisioned river-front people's space, opening this one block up to through traffic will kill its true value. Let's not go backwards. Humans like spaces without cars for gathering - we have far too little of public space without cars in our downtown. Petaluma forgot to build a public plaza within the central business district, like Healdsburg or Sonoma, so let's protect what we can.
Chad M. June 20, 2012 at 07:22 AM
For once I actually do agree with David. This space absolutely needs to remain a "river-front people space". I walk through here every Saturday morning and the outdoor cafe is always packed. Turning this into a roadway just to add a few more parking spaces would be a tragedy - particularly if the trestle gets rebuilt as planned. I honestly can't believe this idea is even being considered.
John.Maher June 20, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Turn the river into a people thing, not a car thing.
Don Curry June 20, 2012 at 02:13 PM
As part of the design and construction team for the Water Street project a number of years ago, I can say it was never the intent of the project to have Water Street a through street. It would be used for emergencies only. It was to be used by pedestrians only. Turning it into a drive through would destroy the area. Allowing parking, that would mostly be used by employees of the local businesses, would be wrong. Don Curry
Karina Ioffee June 20, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Thanks everyone for your comments. If you care strongly about this, don't miss the Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting on July 11. They'll be hashing it out some more before it goes back to council.
Seana Gause June 20, 2012 at 03:21 PM
The City already converted the area south of the small parking lot between Laylas and Cucina Paradiso as not for through traffic and it has vastly improved the walkability and appeal of the downtown area. It would not be a good idea to go backwards and allow cars to drive between Washington and Western. All those cobblestones are a lot more expensive to replace when the weight of the cars starts to impact them too.
charles merrill June 20, 2012 at 03:47 PM
I favor keeping it as is. Someday, the decayed train trestle area will be replaced with a people friendly design. Keeping the Water Street area friendly to pedestrians and bikes adds to the beauty of that area. Yes, let's not go backwards.
Bill Fishman July 09, 2012 at 04:33 PM
If you look at the way the Golden Eagle Shopping Center was designed, it is clear that the concept of a riverfront as a focal point for people is a fairly new idea in Petaluma. The stores all had their backs to the river, when the center was designed. Then Jan and Michelle Rosen opened their restaurant, put in the riverfront deck; Dempsey's followed with sidewalk dining, the Balshaw bridge provided access, and the work on Water Street, and the Theater Square development all invited people to promenade along the river between Washington Street and D Street. The area at the foot of Western is a nice gathering area - a worthy substitute for a town square, as David pointed out. Petaluma has become a destination town -- a real jewel, actually. We DO need to think about parking to accommodate folks; but not on Water Street. The two downtown parking structures are well located to serve the entire area. Maybe one or both of them should be enlarged.
Chad M. July 09, 2012 at 04:46 PM
The main problem with the garage is not the lack of parking (there is almost always available spaces), but how dirty it is. The Keller St garage is absolutely disgusting. Puddles of urine in the stairways, bird droppings everywhere, graffiti. If we want to attract visitors then we need to find a way to clean up our downtown public spaces.

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