Today's transportation picture is dimmer than it was a decade ago, when carpooling was on the rise, along with transit use and walking to work. In a word, it consists of more: more roadway, more cars on the road, more mileage traveled, more congestion, longer travel time to more jobs outside the county, and more accidents. The bright side: vehicle registration per capita is slowing; a greater proportion of commuters now work at home, and fatal accidents have decreased significantly.
The ratio of residents to vehicles (overlay) leveled off in the early '90s.
While Sonoma County's population has grown over the last 50 years by more than 500%, vehicle registrations accelerated even faster, from .5 to .91 vehicles per person between 1940 and 1990, a 992% gain. (In the meantime, the loss of customers cost the county its passenger rail service, which had once spanned its length.) Vehicle registrations during the last decade continued to rise faster than the population (by 18%), but growth estimates for population in the early '90s outpaced registrations. At the turn of the decade, there were 1.05 residents for every vehicle; in 1994, there were slightly more: 1.08.
To accommodate our chosen mode of transportation, more roadway is built in the county each year. Since 1962, the length of publicly-maintained
roadway increased from 2,040 miles to 2,596, an addition of 556 miles in 30 years. The rate of roadway building is mounting as well, from 6.5 miles per year during the '60s to 23 miles added annually during the late '80s and early '90s--enough to connect Guerneville to Cotati once over again each year. Today, if all the publicly-maintained roadway criss-crossing the county were laid end-to-end, the result would span the county's length, measured along Highway 101, 46 times.
Vehicles travel a total of 8.8 million miles daily within the county. The current rate of roadbuilding adds enough roadway to connect Guerneville to Cotati once over again annually.
Vehicle travel within the county increased steadily during the last five years by 13.8%, now amounting to 8,822,000 total miles traveled daily. Population levels have climbed at a faster clip (17.2%), but the per capita rate of vehicle miles traveled continues to average a little over 21 miles per person per day.
Bicentennial Way is now the busiest interchange in the county along Highway 101.
Highway congestion increased by 221% during the last 25 years at the interchange of Highway 101 and 4th Street in Santa Rosa, consistently the busiest section of highway in the county between 1968 and 1993. More than 9,800 vehicles now pass through this location at peak hour on weekdays, up from 3,050 vehicles a quarter-century earlier.
Traffic loads on Highway 101 at peak hour vary considerably from one interchange to another; in the early '80s, the highest traffic count shifted from 4th Street to Baker Ave. Top readings now register at Bicentennial Way, with 11,200 vehicles passing in either direction during peak hour in 1993.
In 1990, a little over 15,000 commuters traveled to Marin, while nearly 156,000 stayed within the county (overlay). The difference between total commuters and the number remaining within the county has widened from 1960 and 1990, with 8% more now traveling to work outside.
Commute traffic today reflects the growth of the county's workforce, now 47.7% of the total population, up from 33% in 1960. Most resident commuters remain within county borders; however, a greater portion today travels to destinations outside. In 1960, residents working within the county comprised 90% of the commuter total; in 1990, they accounted for 82%. The greatest proportion of out-of-county commuters continues to travel to jobs in Marin (44%) and San Francisco (24%). Nearly 7% now head for destinations outside the nine-county Bay Area.
During the last decade, commuters reaffirmed their preference for private conveyance as the favored mode of travel, with more than 87% of the 190,431 commuters in the county using a car or truck to get to work in 1990, 11.3% more than in 1960. Gains made in carpooling around 1980 have since lost ground throughout the Bay Area, with more car-bound commuters reverting to driving alone. In Sonoma County, carpooling dropping down from 16.3% participating commuters in 1980 to 13% in 1990. Slightly more than one in eight resident commuters now chooses to carpool, bringing the average commute vehicle occupancy rate to 1.08 people per car.
During the last decade, the number of commuters choosing to drive alone increased by 5%. Interest in other modes of travel lessened.
Alternative modes of travel have also dropped off: 9% fewer commuters chose to take transit to work in 1990 than a decade earlier, when transit commuting peaked at 3.2%. Walking, the preferred mode of travel for 8.6% of commuters in 1960, is now favored by 3.3%. For all commuters, the average travel time (now 24 minutes) increased over the last decade by 6%. However, the 1990 census saw a resurgence in the number of salaried people who don't commute, but work at home--now 4.9% of the worker total.
Accidents and injuries on Sonoma County roads appear to be rising despite annual fluctuations, with five-year averages over the last 15 years reaching their highest in the late '80s and early '90s. The number of injury accidents now averages around 3,000 per year, the number of injuries, around 4,400. In 1990, 4,759 people were injured in local highway mishaps.
Fatal accidents and fatalities, on the other hand, have dropped by 30% in recent years, from an average of 85 lives lost annually on Sonoma County roads in the early '80s, to 59.5 people killed each year during the early '90s. In 1993, the most recent data year, 49 people lost their lives in 43 accidents, the lowest count since the early 1970s.
In their 1992 annual accident report, CHP researchers attribute higher accident survival rates in California to several factors, including seat belt and helmet laws, and anti-drinking and driving campaigns. Drinking and driving
had been responsible for more than half of all traffic injuries and fatalities in the state.
Overall, traffic accidents increased in recent years. Fatalities (overlay) have fallen off significantly.
State Department of Motor Vehicles Forecasting Unit;
US Bureau of the Census; state Employment Development Department; state Department of Transportation; Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Planning Section; and Department of California Highway Patrol.
The Sonoma County Transportation Authority, in its annual Sonoma County Unmet Transit Needs Plan: FY 1995/96 Update, concluded that, based on testimony at its annual hearing (reportedly scant), "while all transit needs in all cases are not being met," no significant changes in service in Sonoma County were warranted, "particularly given the already high level of public transportation services available" (i).
The jurisdictions of Rohnert Park, Cotati, and Cloverdale were permitted to use transit funds for road and street improvements, according to rules applying to rural counties (those with populations of 500,000 or less), because their transit services are considered adequate, with no unmet needs existing.
The 10 public transit services operating within the county during 1994 reported a total average of 381,919 monthly riders.
return to chapter selection page go to chapter 4
Return to the Sonoma State University Website