The commission voted 6-0 to support a proposed redesign of the busy intersection of El Camino Real and Stanford Avenue — a project that city and state officials hope to begin this fall.
The project, to be overseen by the state Department of Transportation, would significantly modify what Palo Alto staff called one of the most dangerous intersections in the city for bicyclists. The redesign includes new sidewalk bulbouts at all four corners of the intersection, a widened pedestrian median on El Camino, new trees and benches. All six through lanes on El Camino Real would be narrowed from 12 feet to 11 feet. The "porkchop" islands, which staff argued encourage cars to make speedy turns, would be removed.
Shahla Yazdy, the city's transportation planner, said the project would both make the intersection safer and support the city's goal of transforming El Camino from a vehicle-oriented highway to a "true multi-modal urban thoroughfare." New benches, streetlights and trees would give drivers visual cues to slow down, she said.
Pedestrians crossing the street would have a safe place to stop in the middle of the crosswalk.
The commission praised the project and voted to recommend approval. The City Council is scheduled to discuss the plan on Feb. 8.
"If we're going to be true to our Comprehensive Plan — where we talk about walkable streets and pedestrian improvements along El Camino Real — you can't get a much clearer example than this," Commissioner Eduardo Martinez said.
Commissioner Susan Fineberg agreed.
"I think the project is attempting to accomplish a great good," Fineberg said. "Getting this intersection more pedestrian friendly and more safe for bicyclists is a good thing that's supported by our Comprehensive Plan."
About a dozen neighborhood residents and bicyclists said they back the plan and argued that the proposed changes would make the intersection safer. A few residents said they were concerned the renovation would create too many distractions on the busy street — a common route for Escondido Elementary School students.
Several residents told how they or their children were nearly hit by turning vehicles while trying to cross El Camino.
"I didn't let my kids cross El Camino Real on their own until fifth grade," Evergreen Park resident David Shapiro said. "My last words to them in the morning would be, 'Be careful crossing El Camino.'
"I shouldn't be saying this every morning."
Commissioner Arthur Keller criticized the accelerated timeline for the redesign, which needs to be approved by this spring to qualify for federal funding. Keller said he was frustrated by what he felt was inadequate traffic analysis by Caltrans and the city. But even he ended up supporting the plan.
"I think on the whole this is a good project," he said. "It increases safety."