Let’s not cut corners. Opponents of roundabouts seem locked in circular logic: i.e. roundabouts are confusing to drivers because few have been installed in the county, and Sonoma County shouldn’t install any more because they are confusing to drivers. What’s not confusing are the facts. Studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Federal Highway Administration have shown that roundabouts typically achieve a 37 percent reduction in overall accidents, a 75 percent reduction in injury collisions and a 90 percent reduction in fatal accidents. That’s because when accidents occur at roundabouts, the worst that happens are side-swipes and fender-benders. Studies also show a 40 percent reduction in pedestrian accidents.
All of this is give a big thumbs up to Healdsburg for moving ahead with plans for a roundabout where Healdsburg Avenue, Mill Street and Vine Street converge with the railroad tracks. A community open house and information session on the $10 million project is set for 5 p.m. on April 14 at City Hall. The central question now concerns whether to shut down the intersection entirely and get the project done in about seven months or to allow some traffic to trickle through while doing it in about 16 months. It seems to us that getting done more quickly, and saving $400,000 in the process, is the better route. Either way, until this project is completed, the area will be confusing. Drive around it.
Construction of a traffic roundabout and replacement of aging water and sewer lines at the gateway to downtown Healdsburg promise to cause disruption for both motorists and businesses just as the busy summer tourist season gets going.
In a little more than four weeks, crews are expected to start digging up the prominent five-way intersection for a job estimated to take as long as seven months, or as many as 16 months, depending on whether the busy crossroads is shut down completely or vehicles are allowed through on a limited basis as work progresses.
“Admittedly, it doesn’t matter which way we do it. Someone is going to be inconvenienced, I guarantee,” Public Works Director Brent Salmi said.
Several community meetings to explain the project are set for next week before the City Council holds a public hearing on April 18, awards the approximate $10 million construction contract and decides which timetable to pursue.
The long-anticipated roundabout that will be built where Healdsburg Avenue, Mill Street and Vine Street converge with the railroad tracks is seen as a more efficient way to handle motor vehicles and pedestrian traffic at the sometimes befuddling intersection. But the work also includes major infrastructure improvements, like rebuilding a badly-deteriorated, near century-old culvert that funnels Foss Creek under the road; clearing a decrepit, abandoned gas station; installing new water and sewer pipes; and under-grounding electrical and other utility lines. The railroad tracks and ties will also be upgraded, along with installing signals and safety gates for eventual SMART train service.
Shutting down the intersection entirely so the work starting May 9 can be completed faster — by Nov. 24 — will save more than $400,000, according to Salmi. But it also will create highly circuitous traffic detours and make it harder to reach some downtown businesses.
The other option would allow vehicles to continue through the five-way intersection during much of the construction by using rotating stop controls, but it adds to the cost. It’s estimated to extend the completion date until Sept. 1, 2017, but the longer time frame would maintain drive-by access to all businesses.
City Council members as well as business owners are split over which option to pursue.
Janet Browning, who owns Shoffeitt’s antiques collective on Healdsburg Avenue, just north of the five-way intersection, said closing it entirely “will hurt us and everybody.”
“We’ve really been concerned about it,” she said, adding that some of her 40 vendors in the building will have trouble paying rent if the intersection is closed down and customers fall off.
“We will lose a lot of meanderers — people who come up and down (Healdsburg Avenue),” Browning said of impulse shoppers attracted to the eclectic mix of art, antiques, clothing, jewelery and furniture.
But Gino Bellagio, owner of an auto body paint and glass shop right next to the intersection, was of the opposite mind. “Do it. Get it done. I don’t want two years to do it. If you have to close it down, close it down.”
Next door at the Valdez wine tasting room, Vice President Adelina Valdez agreed.
“I prefer to have it done in seven months, than 16 months,” she said, adding that people will still find their way to her tasting room.
By Ray Holley, Healdsburg Tribune, Managing Editor
An idea decades in the making will move forward in the next two years at Healdsburg’s most complicated intersection, with a City Council go-ahead of a roundabout design for the southern entrance to downtown.
The five-way intersection of Mill St., Vine St. and Healdsburg Ave. has been problematic since Vine St. was constructed in the 1980s. The addition of a diagonal street elongated a traditional four-way intersection into a stretched-out five-way, and motorists are easily confused by its geometry.
“What’s out there now is a lot of pavement, a lot of confusion,” said David Gates to the City Council last week. Gates is one of seven consulting firms working on traffic, landscaping, design and right-of-way issues on the project.
In addition, growth in the Russian River and Dry Creek Valleys has increased traffic.
Vehicles that want to get into and out of the Westside Rd. area have to navigate that intersection, and lengthy bottlenecks are common at red lights.
“What will happen on Friday afternoons (when traffic is heaviest)?” asked City Councilmember Eric Ziedrich at the meeting.
Gates answered with what consultants have told the city all along, that a roundabout offers greater efficiency. “It moves cars slowly but they don’t stop,” he said.
This roundabout concept came up in 2003, after Healdsburg commissioned a “Gateway Study” to recommend ways to improve access and circulation at the major entrances to the community.
At the time, then-Public Works Director George Hicks scoffed at the roundabout concept and later ate his words, telling the City Council that a thorough traffic study supported the efficiency of a roundabout.
The project almost lost its funding in 2012, when Governor Jerry Brown did away with redevelopment funds statewide.
Healdsburg had funds set aside for the roundabout in its redevelopment agency account, but was able to appeal the state take-away and recover the funds.
Last week’s action gives city staff permission to prepare the documents needed to bid the project, which includes multiple pedestrian and bicycle safety features and calls for Healdsburg Ave. To “neck down” from two lanes to one lane (with a center turn lane) south of the intersection. That section of Healdsburg Ave. will look much different, with wide sidewalks, parking on both sides and drought-tolerant landscaping.
Other parts of the project include repairing the box culvert where Foss Creek passes under the intersection and placing utilities underground.
The currently unused railroad line will pass through the roundabout and plans call for railroad arms to shut the intersection during train crossings if rail service ever returns.
The estimated cost for the project is $4 million. Construction is expected to begin in Spring of 2016 and last 18-24 months.
According to Healdsburg Public Works Director Brent Salmi, traffic impacts should be less than a current major project, which has resulted in the closure of Memorial Bridge for more than a year.
“We think we can keep the (five-way) intersection open during the entire process, but there will certainly be lane closures at times that will result in some delays and inconvenience.,” Salmi said.
More information about the project is available on the city’s website www.cityofhealdsburg.org.
In a tangible sign that the Healdsburg roundabout is closer to becoming reality, the city is planning a series of workshops to help explain how the traffic feature will work at one of the its major intersections.
The roundabout at the gateway to downtown is not expected to break ground until the spring of 2016. But beginning in early October and stretching over nine months the city will hold a half-dozen meetings to both answer questions and solicit input on the associated improvements to Healdsburg Avenue.
Unlike some other cities where roundabouts have been opposed, the one planned in Healdsburg is less controversial.
“There was an extensive public process and strong support for doing it,” said Jim Heid, whose Urban Green consulting firm is conducting the public outreach for the project.
“It wasn’t us force-feeding it to anyone. People came to the conclusion it was a good option for that intersection,” Councilman Tom Chambers said Friday.
The roundabout is expected to help traffic flow at the city’s tricky, five-way intersection where Healdsburg Avenue, Mill and Vine streets closely converge with the railroad tracks.
The intersection can confuse motorists, especially those who are unfamiliar with it, and can challenge pedestrians and bicyclists.
The roundabout “will be a dramatic improvement,” Chambers said. “This will move traffic through there a lot better and a lot more safely.”
Heid said roundabouts can handle more cars without the backups of traditional intersections. Vehicles move slowly, but continually, and as a result there are lower rates of fatalities and damage, he said.
Chambers said people worry about how the roundabout will work with the tracks when commuter train service is eventually restored. But he said there will be gate arms to stop traffic when a train rolls by.
“The arms go down, people stop. The arms go up, and life resumes,” he said.
The roundabout has been under consideration for more than a dozen years, but gained momentum more recently when the city embarked on a public outreach process to come up with a development plan for the central Healdsburg area.
The first three workshops to help explain the roundabout are tentatively set for Oct.1, Oct. 29 and Dec. 2. They also are intended to gather public input on design elements, from lighting to landscape, paving and even public art that will stretch along Healdsburg Avenue to Exchange Street.
The City Council earlier this year authorized a $997,000 expenditure to pay for the roundabout’s engineering design elements, including roadway, rail, hydrology, utilities, landscape architecture, preparation of construction documents and community outreach.
The actual cost of construction is estimated to be at least $2.5 million.
A significant source of funding for the project was approved and set aside by the city’s Redevelopment Agency before the state dissolved those programs in 2012.
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or email@example.com
All hail to Healdsburg — conquering hero of circular arguments. More precisely, the city is the latest champion for those seeking an end to the asymmetrical madness about roundabouts in Sonoma County.
“Roundabouts are confusing and dangerous,” a letter writer wrote last year in encouraging Healdsburg to reject plans for a roundabout at a five-way stop on Healdsburg Avenue in downtown.
Similar sentiments have been expressed about roundabouts recently built or still in the planning stages from Petaluma to Windsor to the Sonoma Valley. Opponents have referred to them as, at best, a waste of government money and, at worst, a deliberate attempt at making the lives of citizens more complicated and, possibly, more dangerous.
Call it Cirque de Silliness.
The opposition reached such absurd extremes that three years ago Cotati voters not only rejected a reasonable plan for calming traffic on Old Redwood Highway through the center of town with the help of a couple of roundabouts, they banned roundabouts completely.
The rejection cost the city more than $1 million in federal grant money that was targeted for the project and sent the city back to the drawing board, where, for the most part, it still sits.
But this week, the Healdsburg City Council struck a blow for rational thought.
After nearly 30 years of discussion about what to do with traffic patterns downtown and after getting five years of public feedback on possible plans, the council on Tuesday gave the green light to plans for a roundabout at the complicated five-way stop where Healdsburg Avenue, Mill and Vine streets all converge with the railroad tracks.
It’s hard to imagine a better candidate for such a traffic improvement.
The roundabout will make it safer for bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers to move about.
Studies show that roundabouts speed up traffic flow, cut down on idling and prevent major accidents. If and when collisions occur at roundabouts, they are more likely to be fender-benders — not T-bone accidents where lives are put at risk.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, the installation of roundabouts typically result in a 35 percent reduction in overall accidents. More important, they translate to a 90 percent reduction in fatal accidents and a 76 percent reduction in injuries from accidents.
The Healdsburg roundabout is expected to cost around $2.5 million with construction expected to get underway in the spring or summer of 2016. When completed, it will take about 18 months to complete.
Councilman Gary Plass summed it up well when he noted that the opposition to roundabouts, which has tapered off in recent months, is more the “fear of the unknown.”
Traffic circles aren’t the perfect solution to every intersection. But, as anyone who has driven in Europe or many countries around the world knows, they certainly are a cost-efficient and safe way to address the safety problems of many.
And the more residents can see them and use them for themselves, the less likely Sonoma County is to see this debate come around again. We hope.
A long-planned roundabout at a main Healdsburg crossroads passed a milestone this week with the City Council’s approval of its conceptual design and authorization for the public works director to prepare construction drawings so the project can be put to bid.
The roundabout at the gateway to downtown is seen as a more efficient way to handle motor vehicles, as well as make it easier on pedestrians and cyclists to navigate the five-way street intersection bisected by railroad tracks.
“Reduce the traffic, reduce the speed, put the car in a secondary position, upgrade the position of the pedestrian and the bicyclist,” said consultant David Gates, describing the aim of the roundabout. “It’s an equal treatment of all the elements, or more equal treatment.”
The intersection where Healdsburg Avenue, Mill and Vine streets converge with the railway tracks can sometimes confound motorists and challenge those who are on foot, or on two wheels.
Consultants say roundabouts can handle more cars without the backups of traditional intersections, with less engine idling and air emissions. Vehicles move slowly, but continuously, and as a result there are fewer fatalities and less damage when collisions occur.
Pedestrians will have shorter crossings because of islands between traffic lanes. And bicycles will be able to flow with traffic moving at around 20 miles per hour, according to consultants.
“It’s intended to be more functional for everyone involved,” said Bill Silva, a consulting engineer with GHD Inc.
The Healdsburg roundabout, anticipated to cost around $2.5 million to build, is expected to break ground in the spring or summer of 2016 and take about 18 months to complete. It has not been subject to controversy like those in some other towns.
In Cotati, voters enacted a permanent ban on roundabouts in 2012, likely the first municipality in the nation to take that step. A roundabout planned in Forestville and another proposed next to the Sonoma Plaza also met with resistance.
Despite assurances from traffic consultants and insurance companies of their safety, opponents see roundabouts as confusing or unnecessary.
“People seem to think a roundabout is this strange thing no one can ever get around, “ Healdsburg Public Works Director Brent Salmi said of the skeptics. “They watch too much of ‘National Lampoon’s (European) Vacation,’ ” he said in reference to a classic movie scene where the fictional Griswold family gets hemmed in for hours driving around a traffic circle in London.
Salmi said that in the numerous workshops and community outreach meetings in Healdsburg, he heard from a small number of doubters or those adamantly opposed to a roundabout. “Everybody else has supported it,” he said.
A roundabout at the five-way intersection in Healdsburg was proposed in one study as early as 1982, according to consultants.
About five years ago, the idea began to gain momentum after the city embarked on a public outreach process to come up with a development plan for the central Healdsburg area.
Prior to approving the conceptual design on Monday, council members wanted assurance that the new traffic feature won’t be prone to backups — for example, when northbound cars will funnel from two lanes into one, along Healdsburg Avenue, before entering the roundabout.
Councilman Gary Plass said he still gets calls from some longtime residents in the community surprised that the city is going ahead with the roundabout. He described it as “fear of the unknown.”
Plass said he is in full support of moving forward, although he won’t be convinced until the roundabout is built that “it will work 100 percent.”
Councilwoman Brigette Mansell had questions about how smoothly traffic will flow, but said she was in favor of anything to increase the number of pedestrians downtown and “slow things down.”
“It’s been a long time coming. I think it’s a very nice plan,” Councilman Tom Chambers said.
The conceptual design involved making sure that big vehicles with trailers will be able to navigate the new traffic feature.
The City Council last year authorized a $997,000 expenditure to pay for the roundabout’s engineering design, including roadway, rail, utilities, landscape architecture, preparation of construction documents and community outreach.
Hydrology is another issue that is being addressed in the plan, because Foss Creek flows under the intersection and repairs are required to a badly deteriorated, nearly century-old culvert that funnels the water.
“It’s like five different projects all rolled into one,” said Salmi, the Public Works director.
A decrepit former gas station at a prominent downtown Healdsburg intersection has been purchased by the city after years of being boarded up and finding no buyers.
The Healdsburg City Council last week authorized the city manager to sign an agreement to buy the property at 185 Healdsburg Ave. for $640,000.
The site has been on the market for years and the city recently struck an agreement with the owners, Steven and Leslee Chain, to buy it.
The plan is to raze the structure and eventually expose, or “daylight” Foss Creek, which runs underneath the property before re-emerging a short distance away.
“The community has wanted that down for a long time,” Councilman Gary Plass said of the eyesore. “How soon can we take that building down?”
“As quick as we can,” says Public Works Director Brent Salmi, who noted that there will still be some environmental study required because the building is identified as a “cultural resource.”
Plass, 62, remembers the station being there when he was a young boy.
He said it was one of the last full-service gasoline stations in Healdsburg and has been closed at least 15 years. “They’d pump the gas, check your oil and wash your windows,” he said.
Foss Creek flows under the adjacent street intersection and through a “severely deteriorated,” nearly century-old box culvert structure under the property, located at the corner of Healdsburg Avenue and Mill Street, a block south of the Healdsburg Plaza.
Salmi recommended the purchase, saying it wouldn’t be possible to repair or reconstruct the structure without major disruptions that could undermine portions of Healdsburg Avenue.
The move also fits in with the city’s long-term plan to restore the creek as it emerges from under the adjacent five-way intersection.
“The idea is they want to daylight that creek and make it similar to how it is at Bear Republic (brewery),” said Mayor Shaun McCaffery.
The city is also planning to replace the tricky five-way intersection with a roundabout. Although Healdsburg doesn’t need to acquire the property to create the roundabout, “it’s helpful to tie the space all together and make it more pedestrian friendly,” McCaffery said.
The property is being sold “as is,” but the city has 20 days to inspect it. If the inspections reveal anything that renders the property unsuitable for purchase, the city can terminate the agreement.
City officials said previous tests found no sign of contamination from gasoline or oil. Plass noted that the underground tanks were removed some time ago.
Funds for the purchase come from the city’s capital improvement program, derived from bond proceeds that were transferred from the city’s defunct Redevelopment Agency.
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dispelling myths about the solution to Healdsburg’s five-way intersection
Concerns whether emergency vehicles and large trucks could cross Healdsburg’s proposed roundabout came full circle when Urbangreen founder Jim Heid and GHC consultant Frank Penry shattered myths about roundabout safety and design. Not only are roundabouts a safer alternative to the current five-way intersection on Healdsburg Avenue and Mill Street, the community welcomed an opportunity to move all their utility lines in the area underground, cleaning up the aesthetic of Healdsburg busiest traffic area.
Heid said a roundabout wasn’t a new idea. Rather, a Regional Urban Design Assistant Team (RUDAT) study conducted in 1982 suggested a roundabout would better replace the original five-way intersection. Healdsburg conducted the RUDAT study to plan for future growth scenarios. “There’s been about a decade of progress and reasearch that’s led to this conclusion,” Heid said.
The Oct. 28 workshop focused on the creation of a roundabout, but the whole plan includes improvements to roads beyond Healdsburg Avenue and Mill Street The scope of the project comprises of five parts, which include improvements to Healdsburg Avenue, upgrading and safety improvements to the five-way intersection and the reconstruction of Foss Creek, among other municipal projects.
Penry led the discussion to dispel myths surrounding roundabouts. He focused on various traffic safety statistics and simulations conducted in 2001 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “Fatality collisions were reduced by 90 percent after roundabouts were installed at an intersection,” Penry said. “Driver sight lines are directed toward pedestrians. They can see you coming, you can see them coming.”
Penry’s first myth revolved around the belief that a roundabout, traffic circle and rotary are synonymous. “Traffic circles like the ones around London and Eastern Europe are large, multi-lane circles that have a lot of movement,” Penry said. Rotaries on the east coast envelop large areas of land and block line of sight from one side to the other. The proposed roundabout for Healdsburg consists of a single lane circle with five “legs” where traffic enters and exits at 15 mph, with rail signs for the train to pass through. Penry said the slower speed helps create more opportunity for entering and exiting the roundabout. He provided a simulation where the train enters the roundabout, forming a queue that slowly builds through the train’s transition, but clears quickly after the train makes its way out.
The community’s biggest concern is the myth that a roundabout cannot host large trucks or emergency vehicles. “That’s not true,” Penry said. “In fact, large vehicles are a big part of the design in roundabouts.” He then played a simulation where a large vehicle could use a “truck apron,” a slightly raised surface in the middle of the roundabout, to navigate around and exit without incident. Truck aprons are typically made of different materials from the road and are raised in order to discourage drivers from abusing them.
Penry showed a side-by-side comparison of the possible collision points in the current 5-way intersection and the proposed roundabout. The current intersection has 24 points where collisions are possible. Due to the roundabout’s circular nature, the collision points are reduced to eight. “Because the cars are going at 15 mph, the nature of the collisions are much lighter,” Penry said.
To discourage pedestrians from walking directly into the roundabout, Heid proposed a vista in the center designed to be unreachable from the outside of the roundabout. “It’s very important to have a vista so people don’t believe they can drive over it,” he said. The roundabout is projected to accommodate Healdsburg’s traffic needs for the next 30 years.
Heid scheduled the next workshop for Dec. 3, where the community can directly voice their input for the roundabout’s design and character elements, like placing all the currently aboveground utility lines underground. Without another World Series game, Heid is confident attendance will be much higher for the next workshop.
The Roundabout and Healdsburg Avenue Improvements are coming!
By Susan C. Schena (Patch Staff)
Announcement from the city of Healdsburg:
Healdsburg Avenue Improvements:
How We Got Here and Where We’re Going
Thursday, October 2nd 6:00 –8:00 pm
Foss Creek Community Center
1557 Healdsburg Ave
(Former Foss Creek Elementary School)
This is the first* Community Workshop to help shape the final design, character and look of HealdsburgAvenue. The proposed improvements will span from Exchange Avenue to Mill Street and include thenew roundabout.
The purpose of this meeting will be to recap the main ideas behind the Central Healdsburg Avenue Plan(CHAP) and why the Roundabout was approved as a priority for the Community. The selected consultantteam will explain the project scope and schedule for design and construction. We will be solicitingcomments from attendees on the process, and the opportunities this important project offers.
* Future workshops are scheduled for:
Wednesday, October 29th 6:00 – 8:00pm
Wednesday, December 3rd, 6:00 – 9:00pm
Workshops in January, 2015 will be announced after January
The first Community Workshop to help shape the final design, character and look of Healdsburg Avenue, including the Roundabout at the five-way intersection, will be held Thursday, October 2, at the Healdsburg Community Center.The approval of a Roundabout has been met with some resistance, but supporters believe the intersection of Healdsburg Ave. at Vine St. and Mill St. is an ideal location for the traffic flow solution, widely used in European capitals.
The workshop, “How We Got Here and Where We’re Going,” will recap the main ideas behind the Central Healdsburg Avenue Plan (CHAP), which includes the area from Exchange Ave. to Mill St. A discussion of why the Roundabout was approved as a priority for the Community will be featured, with a selected consultant team explaining the project scope and schedule for design and construction.
The Healdsburg Community Center is located at the former Foss Creek Elementary School, at 1557 Healdsburg Ave. Comments from attendees will be solicited on the process, and the opportunities this important project offers will be explained.
Additional workshops are scheduled for the coming months as follows:
Wednesday, October 29, 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Wednesday, December 3, 6:00 – 9:00 pm
Workshops in 2015 will be announced after the first of the year.
For more information on the Healdsburg Avenue Improvements visit: