Sebastopol looks to make Morris Street for everybody, for now

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, October 15, 2021

morris street

Overnight campers line Morris Street, just east of the Barlow, on a bright October day. (Photo by Laura Hagar Rush)

What an ideal Morris Street in Sebastopol would look like for bikers, drivers, current RV residents and nearby businesses is a key question asked and yet to be answered. More specifically, the question posed during an Oct. 5 Sebastopol City Council meeting was whether to modify the city’s bike plan and replace the bike lanes with sharrows.

First, a report from city staff recommended taking out the bicycle lane striping on Morris Street and replacing them with sharrows, the road markings that show where cyclists should ride when sharing a lane with vehicles. But in his presentation, City Engineer Joe Gaffney suggested installing signs that say bikes can use the full lane instead of sharrows, seeking an $8,000 bump to the public works street budget for modified striping.

The discussion ended with the council directing staff to bring back recommendations at a future city council meeting with certain conditions to be met in the road’s design.

Council members agreed they wanted the 7-foot parking spaces on both sides of the street to be widened to a minimum of 8 feet that allows for enforcement when parked vehicles butt into the bike lane. While they seek to preserve the dedicated Class II bike lane, the council also directed the city to prioritize relocation of the eastside RVs over their removal.

Councilmember Patrick Slayter introduced an amateur road design during the discussion that others directed staff to run by traffic engineer Steve Weinberger for feedback.

What’s the matter with Morris Street?

Morris Street means a lot of different things to different people. People drive up and down the road and they park there, working at the Barlow and businesses north of Laguna Park Way or just visiting, while trucks swing wide, struggling to turn in the 10-foot traffic lanes, Gaffney said.

It’s especially popular for cyclists as a connector between the Joe Rodota Trail and the West County Bike Trail through Eddy Lane and North Street and for the past couple years, Morris Street is home for people living in RVs parked on the east side, he said.

Several issues are built into the street design itself and other challenges developed over time and circumstance. The city engineer said the street is 44 feet wide, with 7 feet wide parking spaces that weren’t intended for RVs that are typically broader than that and hang over into the 5 feet wide bike lane.

It turns out those parking spaces aren’t even enforceable. Sebastopol Police Chief Kevin Kilgore said they aren’t the proper or legal width to enable the police department to issue a ticket for anyone encroaching into the bicycle lane. The citation would be dismissed in court straight away, he said. Gaffney confirmed 8 feet is the normal width for such parking spaces.

Kilgore said encroachment into the Morris Street bike lanes is the top complaint he’s heard from community members about their bike travel there. The parking width issue “is why we’ve not been able to do a whole lot of enforcement other than conversations with people asking them to bring their vehicles back in, their popouts back in from the RVs,” he said.

Sometimes, the bike lanes aren’t wide enough for cyclists to avoid getting “doored” — smacked by the opening doors of a vehicle — or thrust into the traffic lane because of an encroachment.

Gaffney stated most emailed public comments he’d received by the meeting revealed many people don’t want to lose the bike lanes, nor install sharrows that could actually be more dangerous.

Mayor Una Glass said the city could consider keeping 10-foot travel lanes to slow traffic, which Gaffney said he would work out with Weinberger. Still, Kilgore stated that however the lanes get rearranged must allow for the large box trucks and semi-tractor trailers to make deliveries to businesses in the vicinity, Kilgore said. The police chief added that the trucks make turns on Laguna Park Way and elsewhere, with semi-tractor trailers bearing a maximum width of 8.5 feet.

Eris Weaver, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, said some cyclists feel good about riding in traffic, “I hear over and over again from people who would like to bike, but don’t because they don’t feel safe, and these folks need more protected bicycle infrastructure.”

She continued, “So, if the city wants to meet its climate change goals,” she said, “get more people out of cars, get more people to try biking, we need to make safer bike facilities rather than going backwards, to those that are less safe.”

Several introduced the idea of making more room for the different lanes by removing parking from the west side of Morris Street along the Barlow, including Councilmember Patrick Slayter with his own amateur road design.

Beside the Barlow, he’d drawn a sidewalk and double bike lanes — a 5-foot lane going south next to a 5-foot lane going north. Beside that lane, a 3-foot buffer would separate the bike lanes from the 11-foot southbound traffic lane to their immediate east and the 11-foot northbound traffic lane. Slayter drew a sidewalk and a 9-foot parking lane on the east side, next to the northbound traffic lane.

It was generally evident in the meeting that visions of the future didn’t tend to include the row of RVs lining the street, but Mayor Una Glass made it clear she absolutely opposed any proposal that would oust people off Morris Street before finding a place they could go, “a viable solution.”

She said she’s had numerous conversations with West County Community Services (WCCS) “and others” about relocation. Aside from that, Glass voiced her support for keeping bike lanes.

From Morris Street to where?

The original staff report prepared for the Oct. 5 meeting had listed three starting options. The first option was to take out the bike lane striping and replace them with sharrows on Morris Street.

The second option suggested the city could “remove parking on one side of Morris Street and restripe the street to provide a 10-foot parking lane on the east side, a 5-foot bicycle lane, two 12-foot travel lanes, and a 5-foot bicycle lane on the west side.” The third was to “do nothing.”

Whatever turn the city takes on Morris Street, relocation of the RVs is going to be part of the ride. The Sebastopol City Council later voted to create a committee to support WCCS in its aid to the city’s unhoused community members and to identify related tasks to address that don’t fall into the organization’s defined scope.

Councilmember Diana Rich said the committee would seek to report back to the full council monthly with the information it gathers, which could include opportunities for an RV park or tiny village in discussion that the council could act on.


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