The Red Church at the north of town is Sonora’s most iconic view.
Once again, the City of Sonora has set aside practicality driven by the dream of Vision Sonora. The goal is to address potentially dangerous situations at the intersection of Washington Street, Snell Street and Elkin Street. The answer is to ignore the hazard and add a public park that only increases the danger.
The City of Sonora is accepting public comments until Oct. 20 on this project before they adopt what is called a Mitigated Negative Declaration. This is their way of saying there is no impact to traffic, to air quality, to public services, or to aesthetics. This action paves the way to pursue grant funding for the project with no further study.
A public hearing is tentatively set for Oct. 30, but will only be held if sufficient public comments warrant the need to meet.
The city should hold that public hearing. Citizens need to know more about the project and hear the problems that it will create.
If you want, you can wade through the 64-page initial study available at City Hall. But let me point to the problems in the proposal.
The proposed design reconfigures Snell Street where it connects with Washington Street. It eliminates parking and narrows the road. In its place are park benches and landscaping. Unfortunately, the design forces commercial trucks and school buses to cross the lane and drive into oncoming traffic to complete a right-hand turn heading south on Washington. It also eliminates an existing elementary school bus stop.
The proposed design takes the existing easy and safe right-hand turn and makes it into a traffic hazard.
That stretch of Snell is heavily travelled by residents. The new configuration would cause traffic congestion and increase carbon emissions due to the traffic jams.
This proposal does not address the traffic problem that needs to be solved. The reason this intersection is being examined is pedestrian/vehicle collisions on the east side of Washington Street crossing Elkin Street.
Southbound traffic wishing to turn left onto Elkin Street slows to a stop and watches oncoming traffic to find a break to make their turn.
Their focus is solely on the vehicles driving north. They stop watching for pedestrians and, when there is a break in the auto traffic, they pull forward, only to discover the pedestrians who had entered the crosswalk.
Our previous police chief described it as a slow-speed collision. The proposed design does nothing to address that issue — the one issue that is crucial and needs to be addressed. Rather, this concept focuses on park benches and landscapes on the opposite side of the street.
The desire for plants is misplaced. The real danger is ignored.
An additional problem is the City of Sonora’s poor performance at maintaining the landscaping it is currently responsible for in the city. And problems of tires meeting and marring the curbs of the planting boxes in the roadway. One sheriff’s deputy described it as “one more thing to drive your car into.”
Perhaps it would be wise for the city to set out cones and barricades where this project would extend into the street and see how many get hit.
All this had been discussed at City Council meetings last year. Including the fact that the schools, business owners and building owners had not been invited to join in the discussion of a roadway that impacts their livelihoods.
Months later the city has still not invited those community partners into the discussion.
Instead they declare the damage to be insignificant.
The City of Sonora should host the public hearing and reject the Mitigated Negative Declaration for the proposed design on the intersection. It is in the best interest of the city to have this project more thoroughly examined before any action is taken.
Elena Linehan is a Sonora resident.