News

Park Boulevard accidents concern workers, residents

Driving, biking, walking to become increasingly hazardous as city plans dense development, they fear

The broadsiding of a sedan that pushed the vehicle through a plate-glass window on March 15 is just the latest accident that residents and workers say happens with frequency on Park Boulevard in Palo Alto. And the city's plans to turn the California Avenue area into a densely inhabited tech hub will only increase the problem, they said.

The street is a busy conduit to the California Avenue retail district and Oregon Expressway. The planned new tech corridor along the boulevard parallels the Caltrain tracks and is already home to Groupon, AOL and other tech companies.

But some residents and employees said the busy street is already dangerous, and they are hoping the city will address the issue soon rather than piecemeal as the area is redeveloped.

The city's California Avenue Area Concept Plan has earmarked Park Boulevard for offices and multiple-story housing. The city would encourage this growth by pushing allowances for intense development to the maximum, according to the concept plan.

Some residents said they accept that denser development will come. But blind spots, speeding and a lack of crosswalks present accidents waiting to happen, and injury accidents are already happening, they said.

Police traffic records show there were seven accidents along a five-block stretch between Sherman and Olive avenues between January 2013 and March 21, 2014. Five resulted in injuries, two of which involved bicyclists. Three of the accidents occurred near Sherman Avenue, according to the Palo Alto Police Department.

But Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System data does not show a higher rate of collisions than in other parts of town, the city maintained in the concept plan. Residents said that data doesn't record the number of near-misses. On March 17, two days after the collision that injured the driver whose car ended up in the plate-glass window, an almost identical incident nearly occurred at that location. As a pedestrian watched, a driver turning left from Sherman Avenue almost collided with a pickup truck driving south on Park. The sedan had turned in front of the truck without hesitating.

Todd Burke, president of the homeowners association for the nearby Palo Alto Central condominium complex, said such close calls are routine. Residents of the 141-unit complex use Sherman on the east side of Park Boulevard to exit the complex, but for whatever reason, northbound traffic on Park often speeds, he said. There is often a blind spot on the corner when a vehicle parks there, he said.

"If there is a truck parked on Sherman and there's a bicyclist or a speeding car and I can't see them coming, it's a bit of a leap of faith," he said.

From Page Mill Road to California Avenue, "there's nothing slowing traffic down," he said.

Alice Jacobs, a mother who lives nearby on Sherman Avenue, was home when the March 15 accident occurred. She and her husband heard the loud crash between 9:30 and 10 p.m.

"Someone was going south on Park and was crossing the intersection, and they T-boned a person crossing from Sherman. The car was thrown into the law building. It makes me nervous walking around. We stand on that corner. If someone was walking there when that accident occurred, they could have been wiped out if it occurred during the day," she said.

Jacobs' husband witnessed a collision between a car and a bicyclist on Oct. 30 just north of the same intersection, she said.

"The cyclist was heading southbound on Park Boulevard, and a parked driver opened his car door across the bike lane without looking first. The cyclist was seriously injured and needed medical attention," she said.

Burke said the street is dangerous for pedestrians.

"Have you ever seen how many people are walking on that street when people are getting off the train to go to the AOL building? There is significant traffic," he said.

Several employees at tech firms said they are fearful of crossing the street, which has only one crosswalk at Page Mill Road.

"I wish there were more crosswalks. It's a death trap for pedestrians," a Groupon employee said on his way to lunch.

The city has made some improvements, Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez said. It resurfaced Park Boulevard south of California Avenue last summer and added wider bicycle lanes with green bike-lane markings and intersection improvements at Page Mill Road, he said.

The City Council approved additional studies as part of the Park Boulevard Bicycle Boulevard project on March 17. The improvements would be decided upon after the traffic studies and bicycle/pedestrian counts and community outreach, he said.

Burke said his vision for a safer boulevard would include additional crosswalks and speed-reduction devices -- perhaps in the form of raised crosswalks and flashing beacons to alert drivers when pedestrians are crossing, he said. He wouldn't mind a speed hump or two, although that would be controversial, he said.

A study by Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants for planning and preliminary environmental assessments is scheduled to take 18 months, with public outreach in about one year, according to a Planning Department report.

Comments

Posted by Karin Bloom, a resident of Ventura
on Apr 4, 2014 at 8:17 am

The "road" that goes between Park Blvd and the Caltrain station is treacherous. (near small bridge) I can not see pedestrians at night. Street lights would be a quick fix to a very serious problem.


Posted by slow down, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2014 at 8:46 am

The street is only 5 blocks for heavens sake. You can afford to drive 20mph for 5 blocks. The next life you save could be your own. If drivers can't police themselves, the city should put up more stop lights to control the traffic volume.


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 4, 2014 at 10:11 am

3 accidents in the just last year at Just Park & Sherman, but "data does not show a higher rate of collisions than in other parts of town." That's obviously nonsense. The right turn merge across the bike lane along with the uncontrolled intersection there is really poorly designed. Just throw in a temporary stop sign and see if it helps.


Posted by nancybee, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 4, 2014 at 10:59 am

The crosswalk did have flashing lights. Please reinstall the lights at the intersection on Park Blvd. next to the AOL building and the new construction project. Temporary stop signs would help too.


Posted by 35 year resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 4, 2014 at 11:09 am

Mr. Recycle is absolutely on point. I take Park Blvd. home from work every day around 6 P.M. The new bright green bike merge is difficult, at best to navigate when car traffic on Sherman pulls out beyond the stop sign and onto Park Blvd., especially when you have bike traffic merging with two automobiles. A trial stop sign there would be a good idea.


Posted by 35 year resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 4, 2014 at 11:09 am

Mr. Recycle is absolutely on point. I take Park Blvd. home from work every day around 6 P.M. The new bright green bike merge is difficult, at best to navigate when car traffic on Sherman pulls out beyond the stop sign and onto Park Blvd., especially when you have bike traffic merging with two automobiles. A trial stop sign there would be a good idea.


Posted by Ventura resident, a resident of Ventura
on Apr 4, 2014 at 11:23 am

Ventura resident is a registered user.

The lighting at the Park Boulevard crossing at Sherman is very bad indeed and it is exacerbated by cars parking right up to the crossing. One of these days someone is going to be run down as they are rushing to work or running to catch a train. It has been like that for too long and the construction work is no excuse.


Posted by Why I moved, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 4, 2014 at 12:08 pm

That particular stretch of park with its nice curves seems irresistible to speeders. And the street lighting is deplorable..what little there is is too dim, or too blocked by trees. More and better lighting would help at night, but driver self-control and police monitoring would help during the day.

We complained to police several times during our tenure there, and the PAPD denied that there was a problem, saying that they had staked it out before....yet no one ever saw any police cars in the area during the time PAPD said they staked it out.

It took ten years to get a broken streetlight replaced, and twice we had cars who misjudged the curve and ended up on our front lawn. The city was no help, so we sold the cursed location and moved further from Park. Voila!


Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 4, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Let's have more gridlock and more frustrated drivers who create their own lanes when they get tired of being backed up for miles. It's happening everywhere.

The bikes-only folks whose anti-car nonsense is like religion: passionate but irrational.

Let's backup traffic to Indiana and watch more people die.

How green are YOUR exhaust fumes?


Posted by Tenant in South Palo, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 4, 2014 at 12:36 pm

I live on Park Blvd, South of Oregon Expressway and I drive daily north and south between Curtner and California Ave also to and from CA AVE train station turning south on Park. Pedestrians and bicyclists are in TOTAL darkness coming and going on the road that connects train station to Park at Oregon. The crosswalk at AOL is not visible at night to a driver traveling south on Park until it is upon it. I have come close to taking out a pedestrian here. If one is pulling onto Park from the train station and Oregon, they must watch cars approaching from the right, the left, bicyclists in the middle lane, pedestrians in the crosswalk, cars switching from the lane that proceeds straight on Park to the Lane that goes to Oregon expressway and vice versa. Someone in the transportation or public safety dept. needs to travel on Park Blvd. between CA AVE and Groupon at night a couple of times about 6-8 pm to experience what is possible here.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 4, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

The battle to make Park Blvd safer for pedestrians and cyclists was fought and lost a long time ago, during the evaluation of the Holbach 195 Page Mill project (under construction) and the Cal Ave Priority Development Area plan. The City decided it wanted high density development so that people would walk to Caltrain, but largely rejected input from pedestrians who were already using that route (eg from Ventura going to Cal Ave).

The City approved 195 Page Mill despite a traffic study that was self-contradictory. It approved the area plan even though Staff had been unable to come up with a plan for handling the traffic from the density increase.

And the City declared the Park/Page Mill intersection to be well-functioning and in no need of improvement, contrary to what their own eyes showed them. During an on-site meeting, the south-bound traffic on Park waiting to get onto Oregon backed up past Sheridan, almost to Grant. And the back-up on north-bound Park waiting (seemingly forever) to turn onto the Oregon on-ramp was long enough that it was past the point where cars going straight could pass on the right. Multiple of us residents at that on-site meeting pointed this out to Staff and officials (Planning Commissioners). Did this cause a reassessment? No. The City reconfirmed that the intersection needed no improvements. One can't let facts get in the way of a developer who wants to grossly exceed the zoning.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 4, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Additional:
A reason that the City said that pedestrian improvements weren't needed on Park was that there would be a pedestrian and bike cross of Oregon/PageMill at Ash Street (where it curves into the underpass). They said they would signalize this crossing (and it is explicitly in the zoning ordinance that Council approved).

This is contrary to basic traffic engineering -- you don't have a light that close to a major intersection. Oregon/PageMill is a County highway, but Staff didn't check with the County Highway Dept about feasibility. I did. They would give a definitive answer without an official study, but the traffic engineer's reaction was that that was the sort of thing that they routinely avoided.

So the City decided against improvements based upon an alternative that they would be unlikely to be allowed to build. Hey, but it looks good in a Staff Report, and paper is the only reality that matters to bureaucrats.

In summary, the City is encouraging high density on the assumption of heavy pedestrian traffic but refusing to provide safe pedestrian routes because that would interfere with building high density.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 4, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Excellent summary of the situation, Doug.


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 4, 2014 at 2:04 pm

"The City reconfirmed that the intersection needed no improvements."

Take a clue. The city obviously considers the conditions there perfectly acceptable. Gridlock is good. It proves we're a real city. We've made the big time. Only hick towns don't have gridlock.


Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 4, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Since it's taken the city 8 years and counting to write a plan and look for consultants to figure out how to change the TRAFFIC LIGHT TIMING near Town & Country, take heart. You might get a response from them on this in another 20 or 30 years.

Stay tuned for plans to plan for a study to decide what work -- if any -- is needed.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Problems along Park Boulevard have been well-known for years and Doug provides an excellent perspective on why it's only going to get worse with more dense development.

Remember this one? Park Blvd crash spurs $17 million claim with Palo Alto Web Link

Speeding cars are not the only problem. Pedestrians wander across Park and Page Mill, oblivious to traffic. The green bike lane starts and stops. Getting to Oregon Expressway is a nightmare: no signal light, no left turn lane.

But Jaime Rodriguez assures us that the city has made some improvements. Whether they work or not is irrelevant. He doesn't have time to deal with real-world problems. He's too busy applying for grants to build new projects.


Posted by slow down, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2014 at 3:44 pm

What does "pedestrians wander across Park and Page Mill" mean? Are you whining that pedestrians are walking instead of running in the crosswalks? I am sorry, but running in a crosswalk is much more dangerous since distracted drivers are less likely to see you. The safest way to cross is to walk slowly and steadily to give yourself time to try to spot distracted drivers and stop sign runners. That includes walking slowly enough to look behind you for cars coming around the corner from behind. If you are confident that drivers are competent on that particular street, then go ahead and walk more briskly. Park and Page Mill and all other major streets in southern Palo Alto do not qualify.


Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 4, 2014 at 4:47 pm

Pedestrians and bicyclists are as spacey as drivers. Let's not get all religious about blame here.

Just yesterday I watched a bunch of pedestrians of all ages and genders crossing the street and it was like Keystone Kops. The pedestrians would start across, stop in the middle of the street and call to friends still on the sidewalk, start again, the friends would debate crossing and then stop, some were reading their phones and not looking, etc..

The delay was even more special because of construction so cars were backed up because there weren't any turn lanes.

Stay tuned for more of the same.

And someone get Jaime Rodriguez out of his office. Let him walk, bike and drive all the major choke points.


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 4, 2014 at 6:03 pm

@slow down - sometimes these problems are legit Ped vs bikes vs cars arguments. Not really here, it is a bad intersection for peds, bikes, and cars, and it could be improved for everyone. Pick a fight with the city, not drivers.


Posted by slow down, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2014 at 6:38 pm

I blame the impatient drivers who blame pedestrians for walking too slowly in the crosswalk. If drivers had more patience, this problem would go away. You are driving a 2 ton deadly weapon. Use it responsibly.


Posted by Karin Bloom, a resident of Ventura
on Apr 4, 2014 at 8:16 pm

I drive with extreme caution and slowly in this area. The fact that it's very dark where people are walking, biking and driving (near the back entrance to the train) is not fixed by just slow speed or extra vigilance. It helps, but I still fear hitting someone. Lights would help this area a great deal.


Posted by safer streets for all, a resident of Mayfield
on Apr 4, 2014 at 9:08 pm

Looks like a lot of the commenters didn't read to the end of the article! In fact the City Council just approved a safety evaluation as part of the design process for the proposed Park Boulevard Bike Boulevard. This is good news, people!

And enough of personal attacks! Engage in fact-based exchange of perspectives, leave the unsupported name calling and prejudice at home.


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 4, 2014 at 10:01 pm

@slow down - The article doesn't mention any pedestrian accidents, so not sure why you are so focused on it. Look at the picture accompanying the article, it isn't a speeding car, it is reckless pedestrian crossing.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2014 at 11:02 pm

wan·der: verb (used without object)

1. to ramble without a definite purpose or objective; roam, rove, or stray

2. to go aimlessly, indirectly, or casually; meander

3. to extend in an irregular course or direction


Posted by False blame to dodge bkame, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 5, 2014 at 7:18 am

Remember DRIVERS ARE NEVER AT FAULT.

Someone here tell me: Who is in control of your car? Who decides when to push the accelerator? Who decides its time to brake? Who turns the steering wheel?
Apparently drivers have ZERO control...its all about the bike/ped plans causing so much frustration that apparently its causing
This is a sickening dodge of personal responsibility. Seems par for the course in this town: "Not my fault, someone made me do it"


Posted by slow down, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 5, 2014 at 7:28 am

@Mr.Recycle - the photo is NOT a "reckless pedestrian crossing". You are reckless for believing that. The pedestrian is clearly crossing at legal street intersection with stop signs. There are more pedestrians in the background about to do the same thing. Is the pedestrian jogging instead of "wandering" because he is scared of speeding distracted reckless drivers on that street?


Posted by False blame to dodge blame, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 5, 2014 at 7:44 am

Lets put two motorcycle cops at the intersection for 3 weeks,
then see if this is a design issue or a driver behavior issue.
I suspect that if drivers see cop there each day, the dangerous behaviors they are currently exhibit will be greatly reduced. This would prove the issue of safety is in control of the drivers and dependent on the choices they make behind the wheel. If they alter their selfish behaviors and start driving as if cops are watching all the time, not just when they literally are, there would be no story. Its up to you drivers, nobody else.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 5, 2014 at 10:58 am

@False: Your comments make it impossible to have a reasoned discussion. Drivers are not the only ones who exhibit dangerous behaviors. Who's in control of their bicycles – or their feet?

On Park Blvd. I've seen cyclists riding with no hands, with smartphones in their hands (texting?), with earbuds plugged in so they can't hear what's around them. I've seen cyclists riding on the wrong side of the street. I've seen pedestrians in groups stop in the middle of the street to talk to each other. I've jammed my foot on the brake when a pedestrian ran out in front of me from between two parked cars.

No one can deny that there are bad drivers out there. But don't make them out to be the only villains. Everyone needs to take personal responsibility.


Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2014 at 11:58 am

Pat, I'm just wondering how many people have been killed or injured by inattentive pedestrians? There is a reason you need a licence to drive a car and not to walk, I don't think most people appreciate how big of a responsibility it is.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 5, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

@Robert,
Plenty of people are killed by inattentive pedestrians, mostly those pedestrians but sometimes others who get killed when the driver attempts to avoid killing that pedestrian.

My experience is very similar to Pat's. In addition, it is not uncommon for a pedestrian to stop in the middle of the street to read a text message and respond. Nor is it uncommon for a pedestrian standing on a corner oriented to cross the crossing street and without looking to turn and step into traffic.

Pat's comment was about pedestrians needing to show awareness and consideration of drivers. "False Blame...", and to a lesser extent Robert, contort this into irresponsibility by drivers and that it is up to drivers to accommodate pedestrians, but no responsibility on the part of the pedestrians.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Some ideas.

Increase the use of mid block crosswalks, with or without signals. Use of safety islands mid cross, well lit and use of barricades.

Set backs of crosswalks from certain intersections or roundabouts.

Intersections have gotten busier, right turns without checking, red light funning, quick left hand turns.

Right hand turns on red.


Posted by Look, a distraction!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2014 at 5:57 am

Ya know what's also not uncommon? Palo Alto drivers flipping their cars and driving into people's houses, more than a few times this year alone.
Personal observations add nothing but the fortification of one's one viewpoint, right or wrong. There is data to bring into these discussions, but nobody will because it shows the undeniable sins of the diving public being the biggest threat to everyone's safety.
Anyone who cannot accept that is adrift in their own personal biases.


Posted by Anonymous 2, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2014 at 9:21 am

There's something incredibly confusing about that intersection. I made a mistake there once that still gives me nightmares. Luckily nothing bad happened but as the mistake dawned on me, so did the shear dumb luck that no one was killed.

Planning is supposed to put safety first, not push developer interests. I wish people in this town understood that our road safety and emergency services are subordinate to planning and transportation, i.e., things like safe evacuation routes and emergency vehicle access are first the domain of planning and transportation, and never get dealt with by emergency services if P&T sees nothing wrong in irder to push a development. Think about that the next time you are sucking exhaust fumes on your crawl to work or school.


Posted by Anonymous 2, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2014 at 9:58 am

@Look,
Putting safety first and being a part of PLANNING means you factor in human frailty. You don't give up on it, that's why we have rules, laws, driver regatration and education, etc. but you don't expect perfect implementation to avoid having a margin of safety for development's sake.

It's why medical centers are full of hand sanitzer dspensers. Washing hands does a far better job, but people are more likely to mess up. These are not irresponsible drivers, we're talking trained medical pros who know the consequences. So some srudy in how to best get the outcome given the human frailty results in a different solution.

Our planning department is doing the equivalent of packing in more and more patients and doctors all the time, and figuring we have to because it reduces the amount of time it takes to see the doctor if we go for more and more density in a medical setting.


Posted by Garrett , a resident of another community
on Apr 6, 2014 at 2:20 pm

We spent years designing around cars and to move them around in the quickest possible way. Automobiles took priority over street management. Places get crowded with bikes and pedestrians, time for a whole change beyond white lines and drivers thinking that they are primary user.


Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 7, 2014 at 10:08 pm

This is NUTS. On the one hand, for California Ave we are supposed to accept that underparking and density works b/c people will walk, bike, and take the train. On the other hand, we are supposed to accept that Palo Alto's expressways need expensive and disruptive revamping to accommodate "an expected influx of cars in 2025" (Weekly, April 4, page 7). I submit that at the very least we either need to dump the use of consultants or get some new ones b/c the City relies heavily on consultants (too much, in my opinion) that are supposed to be experts yet we get contradictory justifications and we consistently overlook reality. The prediction of an influx of cars strikes me as accurate as to WHAT but wrong as to WHEN. It's here. Now. Not 11 years hence. Unless we stop our headfirst crusade into stultifying density we're going to mess things up beyond our worst imaginings. People are screaming STOP not b/c they are contrary but because of the serious lack of comprehensive planning. We are drowning in density. How much longer are we to believe that individual projects should be assessed in isolation, w/o recognition of cumulative impact? The greatest gift we can give ourselves and those who will follow is to slow down and do some sensible planning. I am not convinced existing personnel are up to the task.


Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2014 at 7:12 am

Annette, the alternative to hiring consultants is to hire full-time city employees who are experts in the various subjects needed. That will be a lot more expensive and less efficient because they will be sitting around even when you don't need them, unlike consultants who can be hired short-term for specific projects.

You should also pay careful attention to who is saying what. The expressways are run by the County Roads department, not the city. The article about the expressways said that the study was done by the county and has not had any input from cities yet.


Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 8, 2014 at 9:44 am

Donald - thanks - I do know that the expressways work is a county project (or idea at this point) but PA's part came to mind given that a report by PA's Jaime Rodriguez is referenced as are remarks by him. My overall point is that the city should not proceed w/o taking county plans into consideration (and vice versa if we dare hope for such practicality). You also make a good point about consultants; maybe we should instead scale back our full-time staff since we rely so heavily on consultants; it's hard to accept that a city our size needs both in high numbers.


Posted by fight the developers, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 9, 2014 at 10:11 am

A new development wants to go up on 2555 Park BLVD just south of Cal Ave. If you want to come fight be at 250 Hamilton Ave. 1st Floor 8:30 am Thursday April 17th.

This new building will create more traffic and more cars pulling in and out onto the bike lane and I can already predict more bike/car collisions as people race home from work.


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