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Traffic mess in Sebastopol

Thanks for your forum to allow us to express concerns about things that our traffic people are doing (or not doing) to our traffic flows.  I apologize in advance if this sounds more brash than it should, but I am very frustrated with two things.

First:  During construction recently at The Barlow (the project in Sebastopol at Highway 12 and Morris — already a highly sensitive chokepoint)) street work at that intersection was under way to change left-turn lane configuration.  The traffic signals were taken off the trip/demand system that normally only releases the Morris Street traffic when vehicles are present and/or when the pedestrian walk/don’t walk button is pushed.  While the construction was under way, however, the system was changed to a strict timing regimen, whether there were cars on Morris Street or not, and the green light for the Morris traffic was much longer than it needed to be.  As a result, the westbound traffic on Highway 12 trying to get in to Sebastopol was backed up PAST Llano Road, a distance of nearly 2 miles and probably around 30-minute delays (I didn’t clock it).  People were making illegal U-turns on 12 trying to escape the backup. There were several near accidents.

I called Sebastopol public works and was told that Caltrans controlled the signal but that they would ask them to look at it.  Well, apparently they didn’t adjust anything. This problem only got worse during the afternoon and did not improve through the weekend (leaving it that way through the weekend is not excusable — how could that happen?).

Creating a 1- to 2-mile backup on a highway that is already stressed with heavy traffic even on a normal day is NOT OK, and it is also not OK to try to explain it away by saying “Well, there are often backups there” or “There is construction in that area.” (Duh!)

Second:  What our public servants (I was one for over 20 years) SHOULD be doing is to 1) carefully evaluate the impact of these kinds of projects before implementing workarounds,  2) plan alternatives and inform the public of the options, 3) react when things are going badly and diminish any unexpected effects of projects.  It is NOT OK to just leave a bad system in place just because it’s the weekend.

Note to our traffic departments:  These things should not be taking you by surprise.  If they do, then you aren’t as aware of your traffic environments as you should be (bad), and if they don’t take you by surprise, then you aren’t doing your job to foresee and mitigate the impacts (worse).  It is not OK to do nothing, when traffic is backed up over a mile at non-peak times and safety, efficiency, and emissions (in other words, the citizens whom you serve) are heavily impacted.


Danger at Highway 116/Occidental Road

I live in Graton and have seen multiple near misses at the intersection of Hwy 116 and Occidental Rd with drivers who are making a left turns from Occidental Rd onto Hwy 116. There is no left turn signal allowing cars to make the turn safely from Occidental Rd onto 116 so they have to gauge if the oncoming traffic is coming straight at them or if they are going to make a turn themselves. Because of this, the traffic backs up a bit and so then drivers make the decision if they are going straight through the intersection to pass the turning drivers on the right, and sometimes then get into games of chicken with the drivers turning left from the other direction.

Seems like it would be easy to add the left turn only signal for drivers on Occidental Rd, as they have it for drivers on 116 turning on to Occidental Rd.



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  1. olivia

    Thanks for this explanation about the back up into Sebastopol. I’ve wondered why this is happening, as I see it on both mornings and afternoons, though not daily. Such a long line of cars has always mean either an accident or a major event such as the Gravenstein Apple Fair. I find it outrageous that government agencies have simply let this happen. The delay is maddening, it wastes a huge amount of gas, causes additional pollution and disrupts schedules.

    February 9th, 2013 9:33 am

  2. Concerned Driver

    I agree with Andrew. Occidental Road and 116 needs a turn signal for those that are turning onto 116! Very dangerous intersection, those that don’t know the rules of driving stay behind the crosswalk during the green light, so they don’t even make it through the light.

    That delays the drivers behind them from getting through the intersection within 2 light changes at times. Those of us that are going through the intersection deserve a lane designated for going forward, and not getting caught behind those that don’t know how to make a turn.

    February 9th, 2013 9:47 am

  3. Tom

    The Morris St light is the single cause of traffic coming to and leaving sebastapol. For a city that hates drive thrus and wants to be green, it sure is a contradiction. A huge parking lot of cars continuously running their engines and emitting greenhouse gases.It’s the most ungreen road in Sonoma County.

    But, its not about the environment for these people. Its about control and the perception of being green by punishing drivers.

    February 9th, 2013 10:57 am

  4. nancy

    I agree about the problem at Occidental Road and Hwy 116. It a serious accident just waiting to happen. Heading west, there is a right turn lane to head north, towards Forestville, but many use it to go around a car turning south to head strainght through the intersection not wanting to wait. I have encounted many near misses due to people getting impatient. Same driving east when people go around the car turning left. This needs to be addressed ASAP..if not sooner!

    February 9th, 2013 1:06 pm

  5. frank

    The intersection at 116 & Occidental rd. is in need of a severe makeover. There is no turning lane there heading east/west. I have seen a few accidents there and have seen numerous close calls with ignorant drivers going around people that are turning to go north/south. Please fix this problem

    February 9th, 2013 3:46 pm

  6. Safedriver

    In the last few years I have yet to see a public face from traffic controllers in the county or any city departments. There are many obvious improvements that could easily be made if the powers that be would spend time observing and taking notes at all the intersections in need of attention and then actually implementing them. They get a paycheck for the job being done now so why should it change?

    February 9th, 2013 8:10 pm

  7. paul

    I disagree that there is no turn lane, but that in both Occidental road approaches, the special turn lane is for right turns. Whoever controls this must live on the right turn path, as everybody else is left in the lurch. Either one way at a time, which might be best as the pass thru traffic can still use right lane, or change the lanes to allow for the left turners at end and the ability to recognize each other.

    February 9th, 2013 8:11 pm

  8. Meghan


    Thank you for the explanation regarding the Hwy 12 back-up which has been extremely frustrating as a resident of Sebastopol and a daily commuter. The whole thoroughfare on Hwy 12 is terrible. In the morning heading East, the traffic is often backed up to Washington Ave. Additionally the intersection of Hwy 116 South and Hwy 12 usually gets blocked because motorist are trying to making it across on the green light however one block ahead at Hwy 116 N the light is red. It is extremely disheartening to have such a major traffic problem in such a small town. I have often wanted to voice my frustrations/concerns with someone who could actually address the problem but do not know who the best person/agency to contact would be. Can you give recommendations?

    February 10th, 2013 8:34 am

  9. Ann

    Agree on the problem at 116 and Occidental Road but it is compounded by drivers attempting to turn into the East entrance-only driveway of the gas station or attempting to turn out of that driveway to go left, crossing a through-lane and a turn lane. It is the station’s responsibility to mark that driveway with NO EXIT signs on both sides and arrows on the pavement, in fact it was a condition of their use permit.

    February 10th, 2013 9:28 am

  10. Dave

    Build a bypass around Sebastapol then we can all avoid it. See how they like being “Green” when no one stops there and their revenue drops!

    February 10th, 2013 6:07 pm

  11. Leo

    I agree that there is a need for a bypass to 12, especially for those in the south part of town. We can only expect more traffic with the completion of the Barlow. Frustrating

    February 10th, 2013 8:35 pm

  12. Tobias

    Occidental Rd. and Hwy.116 is bad enough already with dangerous turning conditions off of Occidental such that the County should have made conditions for the new winery being built at the south east corner to provide for new east-west turn lanes. Traffic in and out of their tasting room on Occidental Rd. is inviting greater difficulties.

    April 6th, 2014 7:24 am

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