Shelter in Place’s Silver Lining

One of Oakland’s “Slow Streets” | Photo: OakDOT

One of the unexpected benefits of the Shelter in Place order has been a resurgence in cycling – folks who haven’t ridden in years are pulling rusty bikes out of the garage and riding with their families. Local bike shops report a significant surge in repairs and sales. (“I even stopped advertising because I have all the work I can do!” said one owner downtown.) VMTs and greenhouse gas emissions are down.

Now, happily, our parks and bike paths have reopened, and we have a marked reduction in vehicle traffic. We have an opportunity to keep this momentum going and support people in their new transportation habits. Cities around the world are closing streets to through traffic to create more space for people to exercise while maintaining social distance. It can be done quickly and cheaply: Oakland recently closed 74 miles of streets using nothing more than cones and signage.

In Santa Rosa, Sonoma Avenue would be a perfect candidate for closure, creating a safe street on which people can walk and bike to Howarth, Spring Lake, and Annadel Parks. There are multiple alternative routes for drivers, including Montgomery Drive and Fourth Street.

Streets closed to through traffic are not closed to emergency vehicles or drivers that must use the street to access a final destination, such as local residents. Drivers using the streets will be reminded by signage to drive slowly and expect to share the roadway with people on foot and bike. Click here to see how Oakland did it.

Other reversible, low-cost improvements to encourage more walking and bicycling could include changing timing of key traffic signals. For example, the signal at College Avenue and the Humboldt Bike Boulevard could be adjusted so pedestrians and cyclists don’t have to wait as long to cross. I’m sure there are other ideas we could come up with!

If you like this idea, email the Santa Rosa City Council. Do you have a suggestion for a street closure or other action in another part of the county? Click here to get a list of elected officials and their email addresses; and please do CC so we can track requests.