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Making Napa Streets Safer with Traffic Calming

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB

Lately, the buzz around Napa has been how to slow down our street traffic. The City Council recently reduce the traffic speed limits on a number of Napa byways as required by the municipal code. This should go into effect in March, 30 days after the Council’s second ordinance reading. Unfortunately, this will have little effect on making our streets safer. The ultimate solution to slowing traffic and improving safety is what’s called Traffic Calming.

Traffic calming consists of physical and visual solutions to reduce traffic speed and minimize shortcuts through neighborhoods while making streets safer and more accessible for bicyclists and pedestrians. By implementing simple traffic management devices, a City can increase its safety while decreasing vehicular collisions and fatal pedestrian accidents. And for an architect/planner, it makes for better community design.

The traffic circles at First and California are great examples of how traffic calming makes traffic flow easier and safer for everybody.  It doesn’t necessarily slow traffic, but it keeps it moving. While providing traffic circles throughout Napa would be expensive, there are other devices that can be used.

Improving the streetscape visually and physically with plants, trees and sidewalks makes a better community. Traffic calming is known to:

  • Reduce excessive vehicle speeds

  • Improve speed limit compliance

  • Decrease injury and collisions

  • Improve street aesthetics

  • Increase property values

Traffic calming is best when the whole community effort is united to improve street safety and reduce speeds. Traffic calming can be implemented at intersections, on busy streets or city wide, but they require unanimity.

In email exchanges with Julie Lucido, Napa City Public Works Director, she agreed that reducing traffic speeds does not necessarily make streets safer and is not considered traffic calming. Sacramento city has published extensive reports on the subject and noted , “a misconception is that speed limits reduce collisions……… Research shows no direct relationship between reducing posted speed limits and reduced hospitalizations…… “ Ms. Lucido noted that while lower speed limits do help improve safety, changing driver behavior is essential.

Napa published Citywide Guidelines for Traffic Calming in 2005. Aside from very complex mathematics, boring charts and 85 pages of pro’s and con’s, there are some good recommendations to be considered:

  • Neck-downs reduce the roadway to perhaps two narrower lanes is effective where motorists must slow for a distance, not necessarily long, then resume speed limit but slowly. However, bicyclists must share the road, so neck downs must accommodate bikers.

  • Bulb-outs are when parkway peninsulas extend into the roadway at intersections to improve pedestrian crossings and slow traffic.

  • Traffic circles. The three traffic circles at California Street and first, do not necessarily slow down the traffic but does improve traffic movement. They can also provide ambiance upon entering a community. While they do prevent speeding through intersections, there is actually increased auto movement through multiple intersections that helps maintain driver attention and minimize distractions. When properly designed, they provide a positive aesthetic to a community while moderating speed and improving safety. Large trucks, and fire fighting vehicles often complain of difficulty circumvent small circles. Landscape maintenance is always an issue.

  • Landscaped central parkway Islands slow traffic and provide pedestrian safe harbor while crossing multiple lanes. Bulb-outs at intersections provide safer pedestrian access to cross streets while forcing motorist to slow down.

Let’s take Browns Valley Road. It’s excessively wide and many portions have no sidewalks. Narrowing the traffic lanes, adding islands, bulb-outs at intersections and meandering sidewalks through drought resistant landscape would help enormously to slow down traffic. And the drive would be worth the slow down. Smell the rosemary.

Providing speed limits on Browns Valley Road will not slow down speeders. While a 40 mile an hour speed limit is posted, nobody drives that slow on BVR. Educating all roadway users of speed laws, sharing the road and respect the rights of others always increases the safety and integrity of a neighborhood.

Providing more stop signs and yield signs is generally useless. More crossings at intersections with blinking lights could help. In San Mateo, people are encouraged to park their cars on the streets to help narrow traffic lanes and naturally, slow traffic. Just providing planters at intersections would help. ​

The Napa City Council has made traffic safety and calming high priorities. While traffic enforcement is one component, the four E’s are: Education, Engineering, Enforcement and Economics. There are various programs proposed throughout the County and City including an update of the citywide guidelines for traffic calming in late 2022. Stay tuned and drive slower.

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB recommends parking crashed cars at intersections to discourage speeders.

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