Durable Growth

North Bay great streets: Yountville and Napa

Vintage building on Main Street in Napa

Vintage building on Main Street in Napa

Early in the holiday season, I made a plan to visit much of the North Bay seeking out great streets.  My criteria were to be the great street standards as set forth by the Project for Public Spaces.

Within the constraints of short visits, not all of standards could be assessed, but some certainly could.  In brief downtown observations, I couldn’t judge the year-round management of a street, but could observe the mixture of uses and the vitality of a sidewalk.

With the rainy December, holiday obligations, and other writing goals, such as the on-going “Intro to Urbanism”, my great streets project has gone slower than hoped, but hasn’t been forgotten.  It will proceed and it will proceed to conclusion.

In previous posts, I’ve noted several points that seemed particularly pertinent to great street performance in the North Bay.  These are the questions of whether the primary street in downtown still functions as the regional highway, how the downtown has responded where a bypass has been constructed, whether traffic is sufficiently calm that pedestrians can jaywalk with care, and whether the local residents live and gather along the street.

In the post on Petaluma and Cotati, I found that the Boulevard in Petaluma had recovered well from a bypass and was an interesting street, but still carried more traffic than desirable, while Old Redwood Highway in Cotati hadn’t bounced back from the bypass, feeling rather moribund.

In the post on Calistoga and St. Helena, I loved the setting of both primary downtown streets, but found that the dual functions as regional highways resulted in too much traffic and a mixture of business that catered more to tourists than to local residents.

Today, I’ll continuing moving southward in the Napa Valley.

Yountville: Yountville offers a mixture of good and bad, but with the bad quickly outweighing the good.

Washington Street in Yountville

Washington Street in Yountville

Highway 29 has long bypassed Yountville, departing Washington Street for a new alignment west of town.  It was an opportunity for the broad community to reclaim the street.  But what happened was the market, likely aided and abetted by City Hall, claimed the street for tourism.

Washington Street through the heart of Yountville is a marvelous pedestrian place, if you’re a wine tourist.  With smooth walking surfaces winding near a calm street and providing easy access to wine shops and upscale restaurants, it’s darned near Disneyland for wine tourists.  And there have been times when I’ve enjoyed it in that role.

But if you’re a local resident of more modest means, looking for a light meal after a youth baseball game or for sidewalk conversation with your neighbors, Washington Street offers little to meet your needs.  It’s the same shortfall I noted in St. Helena and Calistoga, with less history but more gloss.

And that’s a shame.

Napa: I once lived in Napa.  It was only for a little more than a year, but my wife and I enjoyed our time and hold fond memories of downtown.

From that history, I had expectations of my great street search.  I anticipated that my decision would be between First Street and Second Street.  Both have a bit more traffic than I’d prefer, but not overwhelming so.

First Street is the center of Napa’s effort to grab a share of the wine tourism market.  It has a reasonably active sidewalk with a good mixture of storefronts, but is targeted more toward tourists than locals.  Plus much of the architecture comes from an unfortunate era of American building design and undermines the street vitality.

Seasonal ice rink on Second Street

Seasonal ice rink on Second Street

Second Street has the greater level of architecture distinction, especially when the repairs to the recent earthquake damage are complete, and meets more needs of local residents, but many of the functions are governmental or service related, so the street life except during the heart of the day is lacking.

Picking between First and Second Streets wasn’t going to easy.

An unexpected treat, a seasonal ice rink on Second Street, moved the needle toward Second Street, but then I found a surprise.  While cruising downtown, I wandered Main Street heading north, from the recently-built upscale Riverfront project, past a few comfortable eateries and older buildings cleaned up to meet consumer needs, and to the periphery of a comfortable middle-class neighborhood within walking distance of downtown.  I fell in love.

Main Street at First Street

Main Street at First Street

Main Street looking toward Riverfront

Main Street looking toward Riverfront

Main Street, between Fifth Street and Napa Street, isn’t a perfect great street.  There are dead areas and the residential areas that it serves could use selective infusion of capital.  But it has eye-popping potential.

Of the North Bay towns about which I’ve thus far written, Petaluma Boulevard in Petaluma has the best current value as a great street.  But, with a little careful nurturing, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Main Street as one of the best North Bay streets by 2025.  Not wine-tourist special, but local residents enjoying their town special.  I wish every North Bay town had a Main Street to cultivate.

Petaluma Urban Chat

Before closing, I’ll update those who have been following the Petaluma Urban Chat consideration of possible re-use of the Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds.

We had a good turnout for the January 13 meeting where we kicked off a conceptual design effort.  Three teams are currently working on designs.

On February 10, the three teams will present their visions.  The entire Urban Chat group will select a plan, or perhaps a combination of plans, to finalize for community presentation.  Everyone with an interest in the future of the Fairgrounds site is welcome.  Once again, the meeting will be at Taps, starting at 5:30pm.

In my next post, I’ll return to the “Intro to Urbanism” effort, considering what make good public spaces.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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