News

Commission approves Arastradero traffic plan

Restriping project heads to the City Council but calls for neighborhood-traffic study

Last summer, when south Palo Alto residents asked that a test of restriped traffic lanes on Arastradero Road be studied for another year, the city agreed. On Wednesday, the plan to permanently turn the street's four lanes to three lanes and add shared left-turn lanes and other improvements got the approval of the city's Planning and Transportation Commission -- with one caveat.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to recommend the project to the City Council, with Commissioner Samir Tuma absent. Commonly known as the Arastradero Road Re-striping Trial Project, the changes are aimed at slowing down traffic and making the road safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.

But the repercussions of changes to the major thoroughfare -- problems that prompted last year's extension of the trial -- remained on the mind of at least one commissioner.

Commissioner Mark Michael said he felt the study did not fully address traffic cutting through neighborhoods along Arastradero. He voted for the project only after receiving assurances from city staff members that they would study the issue, which residents said has increased hazards in the Barron Park neighborhood since the project began.

The Arastradero restriping constitutes the second phase of restriping and traffic signal changes along the Charleston-Arastradero corridor, which stretches from Foothill Expressway to Fabian Way. The corridor serves 11 public and private elementary, middle and high schools; multiple preschools; three community centers; and six parks. It leads to Stanford Research Park. New development, including at least 900 new homes, has caused congestion during commute hours and speeding at other times, residents have said.

The council approved changes for the Charleston Road portion in 2008 after a two-year study; the Arastradero portion has been studied since 2010.

The Arastradero changes include the lane reductions; the addition of a median, speed-reminder signs and traffic signals; restrictions on left turns during certain hours; and modification and coordination of signal timing at certain intersections.

Excessive speeding and accidents along the route have decreased by half as a result of the trial, city staff reported. But traffic volume rose in three areas within the Barron Park neighborhood: Maybell Avenue and Maybell Court; Maybell Avenue and Pena Court; and Matadero Avenue at Josina Court. The traffic count at Maybell and Pena rose significantly from 2,700 vehicles to 3,348 daily since the trial changes, according to the study.

Residents told the commission Wednesday that drivers are creating unsafe conditions along neighborhood streets that do not have sidewalks, endangering pedestrians and cyclists who must be in the road.

Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez admitted a speed survey had not been done along the cut-through routes. But he attributed increases to a 5 percent overall jump in traffic throughout the city.

Michael did not seem convinced by the staff explanation.

"There's something going on here with this cut-through on Maybell (Avenue) that's not really reflected in what we see here," he said of the study.

He said he was tempted to add an amendment to the commission vote to require a neighborhood-traffic survey, which would extend the road test for several months. He asked Rodriguez to commit to a study without the formal amendment.

Rodriguez agreed, saying it would be part of an analysis completed for the city's Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan. He has already recommended that the bike-boulevard design along Maybell Avenue be accelerated because it already functions as a bicycle boulevard, he said.

Commissioner Greg Tanaka said Maybell Avenue has three speed tables and two stop signs to slow traffic, and he asked about what other measures could be added to slow traffic down. Rodriguez said a combination of speed bumps and striping might be part of a design.

But it wasn't just diverted traffic that some residents said they disliked about the Arastradero plan.

Resident Joseph Hirsch's morning commute along Arastradero has gone from about 10 minutes to at least 20, he said. He asked that the changes not be approved until there are improvements along El Camino Real, which city staff have pointed to as causing backups along Charleston-Arastradero. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is in charge of El Camino, and any design improvements to the state highway are under Caltrans' authority, however.

Barbara Freeman, a Donald Drive resident since 1982, said she does not feel safe crossing Arastradero now. Moving traffic through more consistently has not improved pedestrian safety, she said.

"Traffic used to go like schools of fish. Now it's like one unrelenting freight train," she said.

Some residents said the trial has accomplished its goals, chief of which is to improve safety. They pointed to the reduced number of accidents the study showed, both for vehicles and bicyclists and pedestrians.

"We must remember the purpose of this trial period," said Betty Lum, a Suzanne Drive resident since 1965.

Nina Bell told the commission she supports the changes, particularly the addition of shared left-turn lanes.

"With the center turn lane, I no longer have to wait in fear of someone rear-ending me when they come up from behind," she said.

Elizabeth Alexis said the study showed a 50 percent reduction in fast-vehicle speeds, which were above 37 mph.

"Slowing cars saves lives. If you are hit at 35 mph, you are probably dead," she said, citing studies.

Commissioner Eduardo Martinez said he was struck by the polarization among residents.

"I'm hoping that we see the value of what the city has attempted to do ... and that the city will continue to do" to ensure the safety of schoolchildren, he said.

Commissioner Arthur Keller agreed.

"Arastradero Road prior to the trial was a raceway. A four-lane street without left-turn lanes is simply not acceptable. I think there's enough improvement in the trial to move forward with this," he said.

The commissioners asked staff to work with the police department to increase enforcement along Arastradero and in Barron Park on Maybell Avenue and Matadero, where residents complained of speeding.

"It makes sense to increase law enforcement, particularly focusing in the beginning of the school year," Keller said.

Comments

Posted by baddesign, a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 27, 2012 at 9:14 am

Just the other day I wanted to turn in to Los Palos coming from El Camino. I moved into the middle turn lane and then a truck moved into the same middle lane: we were heading straight at each other. The truck moved over again -- I was so startled. If we had crashed, who would have been at fault? There is no dedicated turn lane there, just two arrows pointing left/right that make it look like first come, first served. I was in that lane first before the truck moved over, but obviously this is confusing to drivers. Not a good design.

The constant merging two lanes to one, then back to two, then back to two is bad design. Not safer at all.

And the steady stream of traffic makes it difficult to get out onto Arastradero. How much more pollution and wasted gas with cars waiting to move?


Posted by Bill, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2012 at 9:18 am

> Excessive speeding and accidents along the route have
> decreased by half as a result of the trial

What exactly is "excessive speeding"?

And any claims that "accidents have been reduced" can not be proven, since the police do not respond to accidents unless someone is injured, or vehicles are disabled. There is no way to know how many "fender-benders" occur along this segment of road. Therefore, the only truthful claim that the City can make is that "responded accidents" have been fewer than before. Many of the accidents along this roadway have nothing to do with speed, and more to do with illegal vehicle movements (illegal U-Turns, entering roadway improperly, etc.)

By-and-large, the report by the Traffic engineering people have not been particularly truthful, nor have they made the data available to the public upon which they make their claims.


Posted by Rajiv Bhateja, a resident of Hoover School
on Jul 27, 2012 at 10:37 am

I called the PA Traffic Dept weeks ago and spoke to a traffic engineer, suggesting that the "No Right Turn on Red 7:30AM-8:30AM" sign from southbound El Camino to Arastradero be limited to school days, or at least Monday-Friday. There is no reason to restrict right turns on red at this intersection on weekends and holidays when traffic is very light. In other areas that are impacted primarily by weekday/school traffic, the rule is relaxed on weekends/non-school days.

He stated that he would look into it but I haven't seen any action on this yet. It would keep traffic flowing more smoothly, avoiding unnecessary stops and wasted gas.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2012 at 10:54 am

Not studying the traffic on neighboring streets effectively is akin to not testing the lane reduction on Cal Ave.

Also, residents are using the turn left lane and the median to turn into/out of their homes. When landscaping goes into the median they are going to have a different opinion.

The first poster poses a good point. Suicide lanes on residential streets make no sense.

Overall, the traffic commission show lack of sense in approving this lane reduction in light of these salient points many have pointed out.


Posted by Philip Melese, a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 27, 2012 at 11:02 am

I found the tone of this report more negative than the actual commission hearing. There was a lot of support for the project because it fundamentally transforms Arastradero away from a expressway - which it should not resemble. I suspect that any proposed change would have its critics, this being no exception. Whether or not traffic has been diverted onto Maybell will be evaluated. Even if this is an issue, it was announced that there is a separate initiative to make Maybell a "Bike Blvd" which would solve this particular problem of cut-through traffic.


Posted by James Holloway, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 27, 2012 at 12:02 pm

All I know is after taking my kids to school for years, around 8am is a complete disaster for the Arastradero/Charleston thourghfair. Gridlock is the word. Now it was not this way before this 'study'. To conclude that this study of change is effective is erroneous, not dealing with the morning/afternoon school related gridlock. This is not acceptable for any final plan. Changing from two lanes to one always produces backups, especially during high use times related to school schedules. The Transportation Commission needs to deal with this. Otherwise they are missing the boat, so to speak.......


Posted by Frank, a resident of Ventura
on Jul 27, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Well having bicycled with my children to school for many years I can say these are definite improvements for children's safety.

We should watch for traffic cutting through the neighborhood and try to mitigate that if it appears to be a problem - no question there.

And "Excessive speeding and accidents along the route have decreased by half" is a huge win.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 27, 2012 at 1:05 pm

terrible decision. Huge impacts on drivers trying to reasonably get across town. Causes confusion when lanes suddenly merge.Poor use of taxpayer money and staff time.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 27, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

The trumpeting of the reduction of speeding is indicative of how disingenuous this process has been. The speeding predominantly occurred outside the hours when pedestrian and bicycle safety were a serious concern. For example, drivers doing 50mph or more at 1am is not a threat to children biking to school.

From what I could tell from the data, the speeding occurred predominantly during times that traffic was sparse, and was a predictable response to the sparseness of that traffic and the width of the road.

Is such speeding a problem? Yes. But the degree of that problem needs to be balanced against the problems created by the "solution". And that has not happened.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 27, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

The claim of accident reduction is open to question. In the three years before the trial (2008-2010), there were 11, 13 and 11 recorded accidents. In 2011, there were 18. In 2012Q1 there were 3, which is 12 annualized.

However, if you look back further, there is larger variability, but when working with incidents this infrequent, you should expect that simply from the statistical distributions.

Most of the pre-trial accidents were attributed to lane changes caused by the 4-lane configuration. Yet during the trial, complaints about near accidents caused by the lane changes created by that configuration have been treated dismissively.


Posted by Alice Smith, a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 27, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Thank you, planning commission. As a direct beneficiary of the traffic calming measures, I applaud this decision. What will be a huge help for the families on Los Palos and Glenbrook will be the left turn holding area to be placed where there are now double bumps. The morning traffic is between 7.30 and 8.30. If the commuters came through at 7 or 9, they would not have the same level of traffic. If parents stopped driving their children to school, there would not be any congestion during these hours.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 27, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Philip Melese, a resident of the Green Acres

This attitude is typical of what has made this change so contentious. Although he acknowledges that the Arastradero changes have created significant problems on Maybell, he precludes Arastradero being part of the solution to those problems (by delaying addressing the Maybell problem until after Arastradero changes become effectively permanent).

Consequently, the Maybell "fix" is almost certain to push even more cut-through traffic onto other residential streets.

A classic example of "beggar thy neighbor".


Posted by Corey Levens, a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 27, 2012 at 10:42 pm

The Arastradero traffic plan is one of the worst thought out, terribly planned projects I have experienced in Palo Alto. And the proponents of the plan on the City staff, and the minority of residents who support the plan in the neighborhoods, have been incredibly disingenuous in their efforts to defend the plan against clear evidence that it is not responsible for the few positive results achieved and have swept the numerous problems with the plan under the rug. For the most part, the positive results I have experienced occurred only after the staggering of school start times. The traffic backups and blocked intersections for local residents continue unabated. But no problem for City staff, they'll be moving on to resolving all the other traffic problems in the City...real and imagined.


Posted by Safe as you wanna be, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 28, 2012 at 6:10 am

There are no unsafe roads, only unsafe drivers.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 28, 2012 at 8:59 am

Here are a couple examples of the backups that can occur on the East Charleston segment of the C/A Corridor--

Web Link

Web Link

And of course, having to endure comments from various P&T Commissioners that "Palo Altans ride bicycles" (or words to that effect), we have to wonder where all of these bicycles are?

Web Link


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 28, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Safe as you wanna be: "There are no unsafe roads, only unsafe drivers."

Traffic engineers routinely talk about unsafe road elements. Not to mention that a primary motivation for the C/A project was that the 4-lane configuration was seen as unsafe (with substantial justification).

God save us from people whose intellectual capability is limited to bumper sticker items, but are so arrogant that they don't hesitate to befoul the public discourse with their ignorance and stupidity.


Posted by Oh My, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 30, 2012 at 11:28 am

Relax Douglas, sometimes people use bumper sticker-isms on message boards. It does not mean that doing so reflects their complete intellectual capabilities. Many times its done to bring out a response of anger or frustration from others(mission accomplished I guess)
Regardless, I do hope that God saves you from your perception and that you somehow can recover from the "befouling" of this sacred message board. Be strong. Drive safely on safe roads.


Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 30, 2012 at 11:36 am

the_punnisher is a registered user.

When I had to use Arastradero, we called it ATRASHtadero back then.

It's funny, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

It had bad engineering back then, too. If you want the title ENGINEER, you MAKE THINGS BETTER, NOT WORSE.

Time to dump these City Engineers. They have had their chances.....


Posted by Paco, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jul 30, 2012 at 4:22 pm

The reduction of traffic lanes on major arterial roads in and out of Palo Alto can be directly associated with major companies such as Facebook, Space Systems Loral, Hewlett Packard, Xerox, Genencor, Roche, and others joining the exodus out of Palo Alto. It is a pity that uninformed city council members and city manager are intent at reducing a once economically vibrandt community into a low income retirement village. They in turn blame others (city workers) for their ignorant actions. With a community consisting of 53% renters (2010 U.S. Census) I guess the transient population of Palo Alto voters have made their choice.


Posted by Use the side streets, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2012 at 6:11 pm

The study completely ignores the fact that many more students use side streets to get to Gunn now with the Arastradero changes
This is how it plays out...They will make the changes permanent then the residents of the side streets will raise a tizzy as they should because they didn't buy homes on a busy street! Then the city will block and limit traffic on side streets and the whole area will be choked down and will be an even worse mess. This is another example of someone in the traffic department trying to justify their ridiculous salaries and pensions....


Posted by Just my opinion, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Posted by Philip Melese"Whether or not traffic has been diverted onto Maybell will be evaluated. Even if this is an issue, it was announced that there is a separate initiative to make Maybell a "Bike Blvd" which would solve this particular problem of cut-through traffic."

The city studied Maybell for years to make it a "Bike Blvd". They took grant money to put in speed bumps. They added stop signs in the middle of what used to be a quiet neighborhood street. All of this was done to make this street safer for biking to Gunn, Terman, Briones and a private school.

Now in an attempt to calm Arastradero Rd. the efforts have forced more cars on to the only street that parallels Arastradero which happens to be Maybell. Gone are all of the efforts to make Maybell a "Bike Blvd" and Arastradero is a daily nightmare as well.


Posted by Storm Ryder, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 1, 2012 at 9:26 am

Wait for it Just my opinion. If they had intentions of creating a bike blvd like Bryant St, on Maybell, they were likely going to install a couple of traffic blockers/dead ends that will allow cyclists through.
Once those go in, the cut through issue is resolved.


Posted by Just my opinion, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2012 at 10:46 am

I prefer not to "wait for it". Schools start in just a few short weeks.

Maybell calming project was done well before the Arastradero change to improve the increase in traffic due to the reopening of Terman Middle School. The effects of those improvements has been voided due to the changes on Arastradero. If the City is planning on readdressing Maybell then please hurry so that we do not see the bicycle/pedestrian accidents occurring on the neighborhood streets.


Posted by Storm Ryder, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 1, 2012 at 11:19 am

Well, I _prefer_ not to do a lot of things myself, but sorry, you'll have to wait. I don't think this is the ticking time bomb of dead kids some people want to predict. Again, drivers should slow and drive safely for the conditions. It comes down to that so often doesn't it? Cops cops cops will be seen all over once school starts, same as every year. I predict no increase in accidents on Maybell...but that's just my opinion.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2012 at 11:57 am

Most of the streets in Palo Alto aren't meant to handle such high numbers of traffic, we got kids going to school, parents taking them, workers heading to work, visitors to offices, tourist and etc. We need to solve our problem of having to get where we want to go and get there fast. Folks we live in a urban area, you have to change your habits.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Garrett, I thought we lived in a SUBurban area. San Francisco and San Jose are what I consider urban. Of course, with ABAG dictating so much growth, the whole peninsula will be one big urban blur in a few years.


Posted by I like it., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2012 at 12:15 pm

If you live south of Arastradero as thousands of Palo Altons do, you have no choice but to use this road to get everywhere in the city--especially schools. I like the project. I drive it. I walk it. I bike it. It's better now.

Thank you, City Council.


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