A revised Napa County transportation plan places more emphasis on reducing solo car trips than on building new roads and widening existing ones in rural wine country.
“Napa County’s roadway system reflects its primarily agricultural character,” states the plan for the unincorporated county outside of cities.
To keep things that way, proposed major road projects are focused on the more-urban south county. Elsewhere, the county is looking at such strategies as adding roundabouts and promoting walking, biking, carpooling and other solo-driving alternatives.
On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors adopted a revised traffic circulation plan for its general plan. The Board launched the venture in the wake of a March 10, 2015 “growth summit” attended by several hundred residents, given that participants identified traffic as a pressing concern.
Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said he appreciates that the updated plan emphasizes multiple forms of transportation. He also noted that 77.6 percent of county residents commute by driving solo.
“I think that’s the biggest challenge we face in Napa County,” Pedroza said. “It’s more convenient to get in your car and go from A to B.”
Planner Dana Ayers agreed. But traffic will grow worse and the county needs to have such things as safe bicycle paths available to provide an alternative, she said.
“We need to make the other transportation options more convenient,” Ayers said, adding that frustrated motorists sitting in traffic might decide to join the bicyclists they see passing them by.
Supervisor Diane Dillon pointed to a plan section that said the county could require pedestrian-scale lighting as part of bicycle/pedestrian paths. She asked if that meant the evolving Napa Valley Vine Trail might someday have lights from Yountville to Calistoga.
“We have night skies issues in the rural area already...It’s creating an urbanized outlook to the upper valley area,” Dillon said.
Ayers said these bike path lights might be three feet tall and placed in certain areas, such as intersections.
“The concept is facilities need to be safe if people are going to use them,” Ayers said. “If it’s not safe or even if it doesn’t even feel safe, people aren’t going to use the facilities.”
Thoroughfares aren’t the only roads experiencing traffic woes in the Information Age. The transportation plan said drivers using smart phone apps and GPS are going off-the-beaten path to avoid congestion, placing strain on minor roads and in neighborhoods designed for less traffic.
Napa County will try some new congestion-fighting methods.
For example, proposed commercial developments are to present traffic demand management strategies to reduce the solo-driver trips they would generate. They might do such things as participate in shuttle programs and offer subsidized transit passes.
There is an exception to the county’s reservations about dealing with congestion by seeking major road projects. The county reaffirmed its commitment to support road improvements along Highway 29 in the south county. Among the proposed projects are improving Highway 29 intersections at the Carneros Junction, at Highway 221 and at Highway 12 near Jameson Canyon.
One idea in recent years has been to someday widen four-lane Highway 29 to six lanes in the congested American Canyon area. Napa Valley Transportation Authority Executive Director Kate Miller said Caltrans isn’t supporting highway-capacity boosting projects, which means the money might not be available.
Still, supervisors left a Highway 29 widening item in the transportation plan. County officials said widening can also mean adding passing lanes for buses and adding bike paths.
The county in most cases is aiming to have at least a level-of-service D on its major roads and at its signalized intersections. Level-of-service rankings go from A through F, with A being the best and F being the worst.
Many local commuters experience level D congestion every morning. That’s the rating assigned in a recent Caltrans study to the intersection of highways 29 and 221 south of Napa near the Grapecrusher statue, with average morning rush-hour delays of 54 seconds. Evening rush hour there operates at an F.
Accepting Level D best aligns with the county’s desire to balance its rural character with the need of supporting economic vitality and growth, the transportation plan stated.
However, the transportation plan makes exceptions to that Level D minimum standard. For example, the county will accept level F on Highway 29 between Yountville and Calistoga and on Highway 12/121 between the Sonoma County line and Carneros Junction.
Also Tuesday, the county changed its standards for Devlin Road in the airport industrial area. The only sections that will be four lanes are the four-lane sections that exist. The rest of Devlin Road is to be two lanes with a center turning lane and have a bike path along it.