The meeting at Escondido Elementary School was the first of two outreach meetings conducted by the city to review the second phase of the California Avenue Streetscape Improvement Project, which focuses on the business district.
This phase of the Improvement Project involves re-paving the road and making two wider traffic lanes — one in each direction — out of the four current ones, city Transportation Engineer Rafael Ruis said.
The change would eliminate "that multiple threat situation, where the car in the right lane will stop for a pedestrian, but the car in the left lane keeps on going. If you go and wait down there for five minutes, I'm sure you'll see it happen," Ruis said.
The city would also convert all California Avenue parking spots to diagonal parking, Ruis said. Some spaces are currently parallel.
"Our concept plans show 20-24 additional spaces and four to five more handicapped spaces. Right now, there is only one," Ruis said.
Other changes include new furniture and newspaper kiosks up and down the street and a new fountain in the plaza at the end of the street, near the train station, Transportation Planner Gayle Likens said.
Many of the meeting's attendees debated the efficacy of the planned lane changes.
Palo Alto resident Brent Barker said dangerous traffic situations could occur as drivers will take time to adjust to the new lane configurations.
"There will be a transitional period where cars are trying to move around each other," he said.
Palo Alto resident Lawrence Garlin said the planned lane changes will make California Avenue safer by increasing the distance between bicyclists and parked cars.
"Bicycles being struck by car doors is the leading cause of bike deaths," he said.
California Avenue business owner Jane Radford-Barker said she and other business owners think the lane changes will increase traffic congestion in the area.
"California Avenue business owners have one major complaint: They've never been asked what they think. They don't want anything changed," she said.
Ruis gave examples of nearby commercial districts with two-lane street layouts similar to the planned California Avenue changes. With more than 19,000 cars daily, University Avenue in Palo Alto and Castro Street in Mountain View both have twice the traffic of California Avenue with minimal congestion, he said.
Safer conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians could also "enhance business" in the area, he said.
Mike Sartor, Palo Alto's assistant director of public works, said the city would apply for a Transportation for Livable Communities grant to fund the next phase of streetscape changes. These additional modifications could include concrete bulb-outs at street corners, added planters along the street and further changes to the fountain plaza, he said.
These proposed changes "would of course come back to the community for input, discussion and modification" should the city acquire a grant, he said. Grant applications are due in April and the city could hear back by July, he said.
The grant is being offered by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the Bay Area's transportation planning agency. The MTC has allotted $6 million in grants for Santa Clara County, of which Palo Alto plans to apply for $500,000 to $1 million pending city council approval, Sartor said.
The city unsuccessfully applied for similar grants twice before, Sartor said — once in 2006 to fund the current re-paving efforts and once in 2005 for the replacement of 50 trees along California Avenue, which took place last September.
"One thing that's changed since 2005 is that we've already invested in the project," Likens said. She said this commitment to streetscape changes could strengthen the city's grant application.
The next community meeting has not been planned but will likely take place in the latter part of April, Sartor said.
View the city's plans for California Avenue at www.cityofpaloalto.org.