Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Jake’s Walks

Almost a year ago, I wrote about Jane’s Walks.  Communities across North America and the world organize pedestrian outings for the first Saturday of May to remember Jane Jacobs and to remind participants of the joys of an urban walk.

At the time, although I declined to accept a leadership role, I proposed that we organize one or more Jane’s Walks for the North Bay.  Others must have shared my reticence, as no one accepted my challenge.  It’s unfortunate, but understandable.  We all have busy lives.

But I don’t want the idea to go away.  So I’ll propose a less structured approach to urban walks.  I’ll call them “Jake’s Walks” after one of my favorite walking companions, who’s currently snoring softly a few feet away.

In place of organizing walks for strangers, I’ll suggest that we exchange routes for favored urban walks.  If we happen to meet up in small groups to share a walk, great.  But if we walk solely, at least we’ll still be sharing the insights of others.

I’ll suggest that the walks be two to three miles and require perhaps two to three hours, allowing time for browsing in stores, enjoying a meal, contemplating an overlook, or quaffing a beverage.

All are encouraged to submit walks, either in the comments below or by email.  I’ll share as many as possible in future blog posts.

Because it’s my game, I get to play first.  My walk is below:

+ We’ll start at the corner of B Street and 10th Street, near Petaluma High School.  It seems a bland middle-American high school, but is the alma mater of Lloyd Bridges and Winona Ryder, so there’s a touch of Hollywood in its walls.

+ We’ll head down B Street.  Most people consider D Street to be the prime residential street in town.  They’re probably right.  But B Street feels more comfortable and lived in.  It’s also a reminder of how utilities impact our environment.  B Street sorely lacks street trees, presumably because of conflicts with the overhead utilities.  If the utilities could be buried and street trees planted, an already fine street would jump up several more notches.

+ We’ll turn left at Sixth Street, moving into a neighborhood in which churches and other public structures begin to mingle with homes.  At St. Vincent’s Catholic Church, we’ll pause for a few minutes in the plaza.  It’s a small area, but a pleasant urban space.  It’s a reminder that parks and other public spaces needn’t be large.  They need to be appropriate to the neighborhood and the use.

+ We’ll follow Liberty Street to Western Avenue, where we’ll turn right and enter downtown.

+ At Kentucky Street, we’ll turn left and enjoy the most friendly commercial street in town.  Urban advocates are supposed to deplore one-way streets, but Kentucky is an exception to the rule.  It’s not one-way to move traffic more quickly.  It’s one-way to offer more chances to park and to look around.

+ We’ll poke our heads into Copperfield’s Books, perhaps checking out the urban planning section in the used book basement.

+ Continuing on Kentucky Street, we’ll turn right on E. Washington Street.  The corner will remind us of the difference between streets where the needs of car and people are equally weighted and streets where the cars have the clear priority.  E. Washington is among the latter. For the next couple of blocks, the walk will be markedly less pleasant.

+ When we cross the river, we’ll pause to look upstream and down, at non-vehicular bridges that aid foot and bicycle connectivity.  Downstream is Balshaw Bridge, which we’ll soon cross.  Upstream is the newly installed Copeland Bridge, which connects downtown to the larger grid of bicycle trails.  Although more can yet be done to connect the Copeland Bridge to downtown.

+ Turning into River Plaza, we’ll experience on foot a shopping center that was never intended to be experienced of foot.  But it will give an opportunity to talk about the Petaluma Station Area plan, a latter phase of which calls for redevelopment of River Plaza into a mixed-use area that would help connect downtown to the SMART station.

+ Before crossing the river, we’ll come across Dempsey’s Brew Pub.  If an outside table is available, we’ll stop and enjoy a beverage along with other Petalumans enjoying the proximity of the river.

+ Our thirsts temporarily slaked, we’ll cross Balshaw Bridge, pausing to look at any boats that may be tied to the dock immediately downstream.

+ Back in downtown, we’ll walk a short block to Petaluma Boulevard South, cross the street, and turn left.

+ Immediately after the unpaved parking lot in which Richard Dreyfuss famously hooked a cable to the rear axle of a police cruiser in “American Graffiti”, we’ll come across McNear’s.  If a sidewalk table is available, we’ll stop for a pub fare lunch and watch the downtown activity.

+ After lunch, we’ll continue to B Street, where we can ponder the site of the future downtown hotel and then turn left toward yet another chance to look at the river.  From this overlook, we can see the entire site of the Petaluma Station Area and also the trolley trestle which the community hopes to rehabilitate.

+ From there, we’ll walk up Second Street and then jog up C Street into Theatre Square, the largest urbanist project built in Petaluma in recent times.  We can discuss our perspectives on its successes and shortcomings.

+ That discussion complete, we’ll cross Petaluma Boulevard South.  If we’re walking on a summer Saturday, we can visit the farmers’ market in Walnut Park for fresh produce.  Otherwise, we’ll continue up D Street past the stately old homes, with particular attention to the Fairchild house at D and 8th Streets.

+ At 10th Street, we’ll turn right, walk a final two blocks, and return to our starting point.  We’ve walked 2.3 miles and taken perhaps three hours, depending on the time spent dawdling over lunch.

And that’s my North Bay urban walk.  Please share yours.

By the way, Jake won’t join us for any walks that include more than just me.  Jake is a rescue dog from Montana and retains some cowboy wildness.  My wife and I are giving him his fourth, and final, home, but we’re still working to make him more malleable on a leash.  As of now, walking Jake is like fighting a 100-pound tuna on a deep sea rod.  It may be good exercise, but it’s not conducive to good conversation.  So Jake stays home if I’m not walking alone.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (


  1. What a lovely Petaluma excursion — I'm all there! Sure would like to set foot on that lovely Copeland Street Bridge on the route as well as the Balshaw. Regards to Jake — and good luck to his Master!

    1. Barry, thanks for writing. I thought about the Copeland Bridge, but it doesn't take us any place. At least any place that fits into a 2-1/2 mile walk. But maybe I can teach Jake to ride a bike and thereby expand his range.

      I hope taking the walk on May 4 will work for you.