Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - June 10, 2011

Extend traffic-calming trial

Reduction of lanes on Charleston-Arastradero corridor deserves another year of assessment

We hope the howls of road rage at the recent hearing to assess the success (or failure) of the Arastradero Road restriping experiment don't convince city traffic planners to throw in the towel on this important, albeit at times painful, effort to improve safety on this busy route.

Certainly many who attended the May 26 hearing got a chance to shout about the gridlock they experience when joining the 18,000 others who use the Arastradero-Charleston Corridor on a daily basis. But no matter whether the streets are striped for two, three or four lanes, it will not prevent backups during peak periods when classes are set to begin at Gunn High School or Terman Middle School during the morning commute.

And some drivers at the hearing may not have heard some cyclists say they feel much safer now that the road has narrowed and the top automobile speeds have been reduced, which is the goal of the lane reductions in the first place.

Any traffic planner could have predicted that during peak periods on Arastradero backups will occur, regardless of the street configuration. And residents who groaned about never-seen-before cut-through traffic in their neighborhoods need to realize that they must share part of the burden to make sure students — and parents — arrive safely at school whether they are in cars, on a bicycle or walking. Four lanes of speeding traffic does not promote safety on this heavily used street.

The Charleston-Arastradero Corridor has plagued traffic planners for years, and after many years of discussions, last year it was decided to begin a one-year repaving and restriping project to improve traffic flow and travel times. Staff members will forward comments from residents at the recent meeting to the City Council at a meeting in July.

The traffic pressure on Arastradero-Charleston roads from Miranda Avenue near Foothill Boulevard to Fabian Way near San Antonio Road is exacerbated by the 11 public and private elementary, middle and high schools, many preschools, three community centers, six parks and the Stanford Research Park along the route.

At the hearing, the city's transportation chief Jaime Rodriquez explained the city's challenge to reduce speed and promote safety in the corridor and defended the lane reduction project. He said that with four lanes, 17 percent of the motorists reached speeds of 37 to 50 miles per hour along some sections of Arastradero Road. With the number of lanes reduced, speeds have fallen by 50 percent. East of Terman Avenue, which has the largest confluence of kids heading to Terman Middle and Gunn High, the speed of 85 percent of motorists has dropped by 2 to 3 percent.

Penny Ellson, a Greenmeadow resident who has long taken an interest in making the corridor safer, said the wider bike lanes have made a big difference, adding that turning movements by drivers are more controlled now.

Ellson said her husband, a bicyclist, was hit two times by vehicles prior to the restriping. In one incident he was broadsided, she said, and in the other he was clipped by a driver who made an uncontrolled turn.

This is the type of accident that easily could be fatal, and involve a student cyclist who might not be aware of the danger from speeding vehicles just a few feet away.

When the City Council takes up the issue in July we urge them to approve the one-year extension of this experiment recommended by staff. With a 30-minute delay in the start time at Gunn in the fall, the peak commute in the Arastradero-Charleston Road corridor should ease, but nevertheless, motorists must continue to control their speed, especially when children are present.

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