I especially appreciated the mayor's discussion of the expansion's likely costs and how to mitigate them and Mr. Keenan's praise of Stanford's traffic and other environmental efforts.
Among other points, the mayor suggested that Palo Alto ask Stanford to work to ensure that the expansion creates no net increase in Palo Alto's traffic; Mr. Keenan objected to that request as unreasonable.
I have been trying to reason about it, too, and have come to the opposite conclusion from Mr. Keenan: Efforts to reduce automobile trips will serve the greatest public good.
By now we are aware that we can contribute to the well-being of our children and generations to come by drastically reducing our fuel use. We see how we are failing to do this adequately, both individually and institutionally. And we know that our powerful institutions, such as governments and universities, are in strong positions to foster the changes we need -- if we can direct them to do so.
I hope that people at Stanford will make use of the knowledge they have gained in their sustainability efforts and will take action and share the responsibility for the full environmental impacts of this proposed expansion with Palo Alto.
I worry that our practice is to evaluate collective decisions according to fairly narrow criteria. A proposal that will serve one good, like improving health care or creating jobs, might not be asked to meet any other standards beyond financial affordability and compliance with regulations. Eventual victims might be in no position to advocate for their needs or even to know what hit them. Because we don't react quickly to our institutional mistakes it is important to avoid them in the first place.
In her opinion piece, the mayor invoked Oregon Avenue's transformation into Oregon Expressway as an example of the costs of a past traffic increases -- it divided Palo Alto both politically and geographically.
As someone who crosses Oregon Expressway daily on foot or bicycle, often in the company of my young children going to school, I am painfully aware of some of these costs. Oregon Expressway is a dangerous road.
This is not a unique insight of mine. In 2004, Palo Alto commissioned a study of 34 road stretches and intersections along south Palo Alto school commutes. The two Oregon Expressway intersections in the study (Louis and Greer roads) got the lowest safety scores of the 34 sites studied, failing to achieve the grade of "tolerable."
My understanding is that those intersections have remained nearly unchanged since their construction in the 1960s, so I doubt that the findings about their unsafe conditions surprised anyone. Nonetheless, we have continued to tolerate these less than "tolerable" intersections through countless car-on-car collisions and at least four instances of cars striking pedestrians or bicyclists since that 2004 report, despite the availability of improvements that would seem fairly cheap and easy, such as changes to signage, striping or signal timing.
Why haven't adequate safety improvements been made in Oregon Expressway's 40-year history? A proximate reason must be competition with other dangerous intersections for scarce staff and money.
Maybe more fundamental is our difficulty in collectively changing course, even when we have compelling information that our course is damaging. We don't relish the prospect of funding government agencies at a level that would allow them to respond quickly -- we don't trust them with that level of authority.
At the same time, we don't hold any of our other institutions responsible for considering the wider good. We want to believe that the status quo has come about for good reason, and we are reluctant to change it.
I don't want to suggest that changes to striping or signal timing will correct the impact of car trips along Oregon Expressway -- far from it -- I just want to point out that even these cheap and simple improvements are slow and difficult. And they come too late for the people who have suffered serious injuries there.
As we consider this exciting, ambitious proposal from Stanford let's keep in mind the well-being of everyone who will be affected by the expansion.
Climate science has taught us that everyone will indeed be affected. Mayor Kishimoto is right that here in Palo Alto we cannot afford more car trips. We have not yet owned up to the costs of the ones we already have.