Road Safety and Liability: Signage Comparison

On the eve of two critical Petaluma City Council meetings, in March and October of 2001, when the council appeared ready to approve the Lafferty Park project, the county sent letters threatening to sue the city if it went ahead with the project. The county's expressed concern was for the additional liability of adding park traffic (estimated in the EIR as being equivalent to 4 to 8 residences) to Sonoma Mountain Road.

Meanwhile, county staff had submitted input into the EIR process recommending (requiring?) the entire 3-mile, historic country road leading the park be brought up to AASHTO standards, essentially turning it into a thoroughfare, at an estimated cost of $4 million.

This combination of county actions: legal threats and absurdly padded estimates, has had the (apparently desired) result of paralyzing Petaluma. It has been unwilling to proceed with the park project until the county takes a more reasonable stance on the road issue.


A Look at Other Comparable Roads in Sonoma County

We thought it would be interesting to look at other country roads leading to public parkland in Sonoma County, to see how the county has managed its liability there.


Los Alamos Road leading to Hood Mountain Regional Park

This is probably the best comparison to Sonoma Mountain Road leading to Lafferty. Los Alamos is longer, and at least in several stretches, windier and narrower than Sonoma Mountain Road. In addition, being close to an urban center (Santa Rosa), it draws quite a bit of sight-seeing traffic as well as residents and park users.

Here is the signage on lower Los Alamos Road, near the Santa Rosa city limits and Futura Way:

Signage near the base of Los Alamos Road

Note the posted speed limit of 20 mph, which applies to the entire road. The signs in the distance read, "Winding One Lane Road 2.5 Miles Ahead," and "RVs and Trailers not Recommended."

Further up Los Alamos Road, close to the entrance of Hood Mountain Regional Park (a county park!), the following sign is encountered:

Sign on Los Alamos Road

In these extremely narrow, one lane streteches, the posted speed limit is reduced to 10 mph.


Sonoma Mountain Road (North) near the future North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park (Cooper's Grove)

On the northern segment of Sonoma Mountain Road, which is discontiguous with the Sonoma Mountain Road leading to Lafferty, the county owns an 80-acre parcel which is slated to one day become the "North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park" called for in county plans.

This sign warns motorists to slow down in the narrow section near the future park site, saying"Winding One Lane Road Next 0.3 Miles; 10 MPH":

Sign on Los Alamos Road near Hood Mountain Regional Park



Fitzpatrick Lane leading to the Grove of the Old Trees

One of the newest public open spaces in Sonoma County is the Grove of the Old Trees near the end of Fitzpatrick Lane west of Occidental. This preserve, which was acquired in part with Open Space District funds, is now open to the public during daylight hours year-round (similar to what is proposed for Lafferty).

Fitzpatrick Lane is also narrower than Sonoma Mountain Road, and has a number of driveways joining it with poor visibility.

Here is the signage at the base of Fitzpatrick Lane:

Sign at the base of Fitzpatrick LaneSign at the base of Fitzpatrick Lane, close up

Here again, a posted speed limit of 15 mph that applies to the entire road, and the cautionary "Winding One Lane Road."


CONTRAST: Sonoma Mountain Road leading to Lafferty Park (which is not yet open to the public)

Let's look at the signage at the base of Sonoma Mountain Road.

Signs at the base of Sonoma Mountain RoadSigns at the base of Sonoma Mountain Road, close up

The first sign says "Not a Through Road" (equivalent to "No Outlet" in the other examples"). The more distant sign says, "Road Narrows." That's it! No warning about winding roads, no curving lines, and most importantly, NO POSTED SPEED LIMIT!

(A couple of curves have warning speed limits posted, but no posted speed limit applies to the whole road, as in the other examples.)

This is the basis for our claim that the county's position regarding Sonoma Mountain Road and Lafferty Park is hypocritical, or at least deeply inconsistant. If the county is concerned about safety and liability on that road, they could start by posting a speed limit. We refer to that as the $300 dollar solution to making the road safe, as opposed to the $3 million dollar AASHTO standards solution proposed by county staff. Then they could, if they chose, make it a bit more safe by installing a few speed bumps, also at very modest cost, as they have done elsewhere in response to safety concerns.

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