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Petaluma – Central Petaluma Specific Plan

Case Story

Climate Action Connection: Efficient Transportation

Focusing development to increase density and to reduce barriers to the use of alternative modes of transportation increases the use of alternative modes of transportation and, consequently, reduces VMT and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.

Community:Petaluma (Sonoma County)

Population: 56,996


Nearly 60 percent of Petaluma’s greenhouse gas emissions are from transportation – almost twice the statewide average. The Central Petaluma Specific Plan concentrates development downtown in order to improve residents’ ability to use transit and link to regional transportation networks.

Program Highlights

  • 400-acre downtown focus area zoned for twice the density of rest of city.
  • Main city transit terminal moved adjacent to regional rail station in the city.
  • Decreased parking requirements in plan area.
  • Focus on pedestrian access.

Lessons Learned

  • City can’t dictate behavior changes, but improving safety and convenience increases likelihood people will use alternatives to auto travel.
  • Take comprehensive approach – improves project evaluation and increases grant competitiveness.

Resources to Learn More

The Rest of the Story…

The City of Petaluma is focusing much of its greenhouse gas reduction efforts on the link between land use planning and transportation to reduce the amount of vehicle-miles travelled. The city adopted a major piece of this strategy, the Central Petaluma Specific Plan, in 2003 to revitalize the downtown core and improve the overall transportation system. The plan focuses new growth in the geographic heart of the city to allow future development to occur with increased emphasis on pedestrian, bicycle, and transit circulation. Supporting this focus, the priorities of the General Plan Mobility element, updated in 2008, include:

  • Improving the transportation system to increase mobility for all modes of travel;
  • Creating a pedestrian environment that is safe, attractive, encourages walking and is accessible to all;
  • Implementing a bicycle network free of gaps that permits easy bicycle travel; and
  • Determining level of service ratings that include a multi-modal emphasis.

The plan area includes about 400 acres adjacent to downtown that had been vacant or underused. Petaluma designed the plan to take advantage of the opportunity redevelopment presented to increase pedestrian and bicycle accessibility and decreasing automobile use.

The city moved its main bus terminal to a location in the plan area that is adjacent to the site of the central Petaluma station of the planned Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART Rail) system. The SMART Rail system is expected to be operational in 2014, providing 70 miles of regional rail service paralleling Highway 101, the main commuter thoroughfare for the region.

Zoning in the plan area is for mixed use with up to 60 residential units per acre, twice the density allowed in the rest of the city. The higher density supports, and is supported in turn, by proximity to regional rail, and local and regional bus service, along with the pedestrian and bicycle focus of the plan.

The city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, which adds additional implementation guidelines, also support the goals of the Central Petaluma Specific Plan, and the new General Plan. The Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee monitors implementation and reviews and comments on development proposals as a formal part of the city’s entitlements process.

Compiled May 2009

This case story was prepared in partnership with the California Integrated Waste Management Board.


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