On February 1 at a public hearing in Santa Rosa, Greenbelt Alliance joined a standing room only crowd of about 100 neighbors, advocates, and elected officials to speak out in favor of a safe at-grade crossing over the SMART tracks at Jennings Avenue for walkers and bicyclists. No one spoke against the City of Santa Rosa’s application to build the at-grade crossing.
The hearing held at Helen Lehman School was convened by an administrative law judge for the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which claims that a super-sized bridge over the railway is the only solution. A final decision won’t be made until later this year, perhaps too late to build the crossing before the SMART commuter service starts running in December.
The CPUC recently blocked off the historic railroad crossing at Jennings, forcing people to walk or bike an extra half mile each way along busy thoroughfares such as Guerneville Road, where “you can reach out and touch cars going by” according to Janet Barocco, a 16-year resident of Jennings Avenue.
Before it was blocked off, as many as 91 people and 25 bicyclists a day typically crossed the tracks here, according to the City of Santa Rosa. Now they must walk another 15 to 30 minutes or get into cars. The CPUC claims that some 170 elementary students who go to school nearby might cross the tracks at Jennings if the at-grade crossing is permitted.
“Yet we know that 32 cars drive down Dutton Avenue every 110 seconds,” pointed out Gary Helfrich, Executive Director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. “So how is that safer than an at-grade crossing with signals and gates where 32 trains per day go past?”
“Why is it safer for people to walk along sidewalks next to roads with heavy traffic, multiple driveways and cross streets?” asked Willard Richards of the Sonoma County Transportation and Land Use Coalition.
If warning signals and gates are not provided, the area will become more dangerous than before as some people have already been seen scaling or cutting through the cyclone fences.
About 60 at-grade crossings are already in place along the SMART rail line and more than 10 of them are used by the adjacent bike/pedestrian pathway. Four at-grade crossings are currently in use by walkers and bikers along the SMART line:
- The at-grade crossing for College Avenue, which serves pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles but is more than 1/2 mile south of Jennings Avenue
- Copeland Pedestrian/Bike Crossing in Rohnert Park, which serves the Copeland Creek Trail
- The pedestrian/bike crossing near Las Gallinas Road in San Rafael, which serves the Los Ranchitos neighborhood
- The pedestrian/bike crossing about 1/8 mile north of the Hamilton Station (Novato), 1/4 mile from a charter school, and 1/2 mile from an elementary school
The elected officials who spoke in support of the at-grade crossing at Jennings Avenue included Santa Rosa city councilmembers Chris Coursey, Gary Wysocky, Julie N. Combs, and Erin Carlstrom. Rohnert Park City Councilmember Jake Mackenzie, a Greenbelt Alliance board member, pointed to the at-grade crossing that connects to the Copeland Creek Trail as a good model for Jennings Avenue. Christine Culver spoke on behalf of Supervisor Shirley Zane and Chris Rogers represented Senator Mike McGuire.
Many neighbors spoke in favor including Johanna James, Janet Barocco, Julie Fullenweider, Richard Heinberg, Debbie Van Dyke, Kate Spellman, Paul Foster, Margarita Tacia, Paula Wentzl, and Pablo Ortiz.
Organizations that support the at-grade crossing include:
- Greenbelt Alliance
- Friends of SMART
- Sierra Club
- Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition
- Accountable Development Coalition
- North Bay Organizing Project
- Sonoma County Conservation Action
- Sonoma County Transportation and Land Use Coalition
You can still express your support via email or a letter by February 25 (details here). Indicate that your message concerns the following: “Application 15-05-014 by the City of Santa Rosa for an At-Grade Crossing of the SMART Tracks at Jennings Ave.”
EMAIL THE CPUC
Please send an email expressing your support for an at-grade crossing of the SMART tracks at Jennings Avenue in Santa Rosa to email@example.com
SEND A LETTER TO THE SPUC
Address the letter to:
CPUC Public Advisor
505 Van Ness Avenue, Room 2103
San Francisco, CA 94102