Sebastopol has a program called ‘Street Smart Sebastopol’ that has resulted in improved pedestrian features along the main routes through town. Most of these have been crosswalk improvements across streets in the downtown area. In general, these have been successful, and I feel better as a pedestrian having these improvements (although, I find it amazing how many drivers ignore the flashing yellow lights while you wait to cross the street). A bike and pedestrian master plan was approved by the City Council last year. And a Complete Streets Advisory Committee is in the process of being established by the City Council. So while there are many more issues that need to be addressed an effort is being made to improve Sebastopol’s bike and pedestrian infrastructure.
However, there is one completely missed opportunity that drives me crazy every time I see it. There is a commercial development near the east entry to Sebastopol called Gravenstein Station. It’s a mixed-use development containing offices, a cafe, a wine bar, a restaurant and hotel. Several years ago the city completed a bike-pedestrian trail connection between the existing Joe Rodota Trail, which connects Sebastopol to Santa Rosa, and Sebastopol Avenue. The trail is known as the Railroad Forest Trail. It’s not very long but it provided an important connection taking bikers to a bike route connection to the West County Trail which leads north out of town.
The Railroad Forest Trail passes by Gravenstein Station, sharing the entire east property line of the development. Many people walk and bike on the trail to access the businesses in Gravenstein Station as it is a much more pleasant experience than walking along Sebastopol Avenue which is the street fronting the development. Unfortunately a connection was never formally made to link the development to the trail. So, people being people, several connections were forged through the hedge lining the parking lot, rather than have to walk to the street and around back to the development. There is one location where an existing sidewalk adjacent to the hotel comes within about 3′ of the trail. There had been a shrub there that died. Possibly from people walking through. But it definitely is the best opportunity for a connection between the trail and the development.
Until this happened several months ago.
It started with just the plant. The construction barricades and yellow tape were added later. I couldn’t imagine why someone would want to block access to the development. Being commercial businesses dependent on visitors it seemed they would welcome the benefits provided by a connection to the pedestrian-bike trail. And this location is the perfect opportunity to provide that pedestrian connection. The other strange thing as this doesn’t prevent access, it just makes you walk through the hedge, into the parking lot.
I spoke with the owner of the hotel who planted the shrub and put up the barrier. He had an issue where a bike rider (sounded like a child) fell over on the sidewalk, damaging a car which belonged to a hotel guest. I can see that it’s not the best place to ride a bike. His contention is that it is private property and NOT an appropriate place to invite people in. He believes people should walk around to the street and enter the property from the street side. And to be fair, it’s not that far. It would add maybe a couple of minutes to your walk. But you have to walk from a peaceful trail, along a busy, pedestrian unfriendly road, backtracking to your destination to complete your journey. And it’s human nature to take the shortest path between two points when possible. And although it is private property, it’s private property that is open to the public.
A thought I had on my walk home along the trail (after cutting through the shrubs) was that maybe the 1 parking space along the sidewalk could be eliminated (gasp!). Expand the sidewalk and put a bench there. Or better yet, a bike rack. It would provide a buffer between the sidewalk and car. A sign asking bikers to walk their bikes on the sidewalk would help, although there would be those that ignore it. I’ll have to mention these ideas to the owner. Although given my initial conversation with him, I don’t know that he’ll be too open to them.
Any other suggestions?