The community debate over the year-old Arastradero re-striping project, which has cut the road's lanes from four to three, bubbled up at the Wednesday night meeting of the Planning and Transportation Commission. The commission voted 6-0, with Susan Fineberg absent, to support a staff recommendation to keep the project going until summer 2012 and to re-examine its traffic impacts next June.
The project has been in the works since 2003, when the City Council directed staff to prepare a new plan for the Charleston-Arastradero Road Corridor — a busy stretch that runs between U.S. Highway 101 and Interstate 280 and is used by hundreds of schoolchildren. Lane changes to the segment from Fabian Way to Alma Street were made permanent in 2008.
Alterations between El Camino Real and Gunn High School took effect last August. The city reduced the number of lanes from four to three, with dedicated left-turn lanes in each direction and an expanded crosswalk at Clemo Avenue. A new traffic signal at the intersection of Arastradero and Coulombe Drive was scheduled to go live Thursday (July 14) morning, said Jaime Rodriguez, the city's chief transportation official.
City officials launched the entire project because of a wave of dense new developments that popped up in south Palo Alto over the past decade near the corridor. These include the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life on Charleston Road, Arbor Real on El Camino Real, and several large multi-family developments on East Meadow Drive, including Echelon and Vantage, said Curtis Williams, the city's planning director.
At the same time, city officials hope to make conditions safer for students at Gunn and other schools along and around the corridor, including Terman Middle School and Juana Briones Elementary School.
The project has received a mixed response from the public. Representatives from both camps addressed the commission Wednesday and urged members to halt the experiment immediately, to extend it or to make it permanent.
Barron Park resident Doug Moran criticized the project for not paying sufficient attention to the "road rage" caused by the new lane configuration and told the commission, "Driver problems are worse than before." John Elman, who lives on Hubbartt Drive next to Arastradero, said the new lane configuration has slowed traffic and forced drivers to rely more on residential side streets.
"The darn thing is a mess, and I hope you listen to people who object to this," Elman said.
But the majority of the speakers said they support the new setup and urged the commission to extend the trial. Philip Malese, who lives on Arastradero and whose children attended Gunn and Terman, said the road previously resembled a highway, with drivers regularly exceeding the speed limit. The new configuration is making things safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, he said.
"I found the current configuration has done what it promised — it made Arastradero seem less like a freeway where people from one end or another go as fast as they can and made it more conducive to walking and biking," Melese said.
The commission agreed that it is too soon to determine the impact of the project, particularly given its evolving nature. Gunn High is scheduled to delay its start time from 7:55 a.m. to 8:25 a.m. in the fall, a shift expected to improve traffic conditions by creating staggered starting times at the various schools along the corridor. Rodriguez said he expects Gunn's new bell schedule to have a "significant" impact on traffic conditions. The new traffic signal at Coulombe, which will include a dedicated left-turn arrow, is also expected to make things better for drivers.
"There are some things that still need to be accomplished or finished before we can adequately evaluate this," Vice Chair Lee Lippert said.
Commissioner Daniel Garber also said the road changes reflect the values of the Palo Alto community, which he said is increasingly tilting toward walking and biking.
"This isn't a project that's being foisted on our community," Garber said. "It is a trial and it has errors, and as a result it's structured in a way that we can address these errors, study them further and work to correct them every time."
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