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Stanford Avenue/El Camino Real Intersection Improvements Project

Original post made by Roger, College Terrace, on Jan 10, 2010

Since it appears almost no one in Palo Alto is aware of the project to redesign the intersection at Stanford Avenue and El Camino Real, I feel compelled to publicize it and point out some serious concerns I have. My first concern is that this project is on a fast track for approval, with draft plans being presented to the Planning and Transportation Commission on Wednesday January 13, 2010 at 7 PM in the Council Chambers. These plans appear to have been developed by the City and its consultant with no public input. The City held a "community meeting" in December, two weeks before Christmas, to present the plans to the public. Needless to say, only about 20 people attended this meeting. And most of those who attended were property and business owners at the intersection who appeared to be most interested in the types of trees being considered for the area.

My biggest concern with the proposal is that it calls for the elimination of the right turn lane from southbound El Camino onto westbound Stanford Ave and the right turn lane from eastbound Stanford Ave onto southbound El Camino. I believe elimination of these right turn lanes will reduce traffic flow, increase waiting at signals, increase neighborhood cut-through traffic, increase driver frustration, and increase pollution. In particular, in the absence of the right turn lane from Stanford Ave onto El Camino, traffic will back up behind drivers turning southbound onto El Camino while those drivers wait for pedestrians to cross. The areas of the current right turn lanes are being replaced with large patio like areas with benches, maybe to allow Starbucks patrons to sip coffee as they watch all of the frustrated drivers now waiting at the lights to turn right. Actually, I can't imagine anyone sitting there on El Camino relaxing.

The draft plans do have improvements for pedestrians, such as realigned cross walks and improved mid-street shelter islands for people stranded in the middle. They also have more attractive crosswalks that help indicate to drivers when pedestrians may be present. But, there are certainly ways to improve pedestrian safety that do not extract such a drastic negative toll on the flow of traffic at this intersection.

What do you think?

The plans can be viewed at:
Web Link

Comments can be sent to Planning and Transportation Commission at:
Planning.Commission@CityofPaloAlto.org.

For additional information, contact project manager Ms. Shahla Yazdy at shahla.yazdy@cityofpaloalto.org or at 617-3151.

Comments (28)

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2010 at 5:39 pm

I haven't seen the proposal, but, it sounds like a good idea to me. Free right turns a huge problem for pedestrians. If the proposed change is more pedestrian friendly, that is probably a good thing.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2010 at 6:09 pm

The best way for a designated right turn lane is to have a designated right turn signal. A sign with "right on green arrow only" and a right turn arrow would mean that a pedestrian signal could operated when the pedestrian button has been operated and the pedestrian "cross" signal would show when the green arrow is not lit.

This type of signal sequence is not common in California, but occurs very effectively in other countries and would make sense at many traffic intersections that have high pedestrian traffic. There are many intersections in Palo Alto that would benefit from such a sequence.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Why are so many car drivers trying to turn on to Stanford Ave? Are they trying to use Stanford Ave. as a short cut between El Camino and Foothill Expressway? Stanford Ave. is a narrow 25mph residential road with two elementary schools, day care centers, etc.

I think the city is right to try to discourage high speed traffic through traffic on that road. If people want to drive fast, they should use Page Mill Expressway instead.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by It's The Economy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2010 at 7:13 pm

I thought the city was going to stop wasting money.... just what we need, more "improvements" like the light at Trader Joe's and the trees on California Avenue.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by VoxPop
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Bill, the proposed changes are for traffic moving to the east -- toward the bay -- and south -- toward California Avenue. Not in the direction you're concerned about.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Quote from the original post: "My biggest concern with the proposal is that it calls for the elimination of the right turn lane from southbound El Camino onto westbound Stanford Ave and the right turn lane from eastbound Stanford Ave onto southbound El Camino."

Stanford Ave. west of El Camino Real is exactly the narrow residential road passing by 2 elementary schools that I was talking about.

Stanford Ave. east of El Camino is only a couple of blocks before it dead ends near the Caltrain tracks. There is no demand or use for a free right turn in that direction.


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Posted by anon
a resident of Monroe Park
on Jan 10, 2010 at 8:59 pm

VoxPop,

The right turn cuts to be eliminated are the right turn off of El Camino heading west on Stanford and the right turn off of Stanford heading south on El Camino. Many cars do use Stanford Ave instead of Page Mill to head west - I sometimes do it myself.

That said, the plans look as if they incorporate a number of modifications to improve pedestrian safety, something much needed at a number of spots along El Camino, particularly the "safety" zones in the medians for people who don't make it all the way across during a light change.


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Posted by Roger
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 10, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Bill,

Stanford Avenue is a main, and possibly the busiest, route to use when entering College Terrace. It is also the only way to get to Escondido Elementary School, which hosts the Spanish immersion program taking kids from throughout Palo Alto. Also, it is the main way for Stanford faculty to access their homes and is used by Stanford students. The measures proposed for the intersection do nothing about reducing speed.

I am not necessarily opposed to the elimination of the "free" right turn that exists now, but I don't see why the existing street space cannot be converted into a standard right turn lane. All this begs the question of whether there is an actual problem or if this is a solution in search of a problem. I don't know of pedestrians being hit by cars at this intersection.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2010 at 9:31 am

Nearby Page Mill Expressway has 1000 times more traffic than Stanford Ave. There are no free right turn lanes from El Camino to Page Mill and they seem to do fine. Right turn lanes are just unnecessary for a 25mph residential street like Stanford Ave.

And yes, there are regular car vs. pedestrian and car vs. bicycle crashes at Stanford Ave & El Camino. I think the Mercury-News recently rated this as one of Santa Clara County's most dangerous intersections for pedestrians and bicyclists (based on police incident data). Most of the crashes probably occur because of cars making unsafe turns; especially right turns at red lights.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2010 at 10:02 am

Where will the money come from?

The city has a budget deficit and the state budget is a disaster. Is this project a priority, given that urgent human needs are not being funded?

IMHO, El Camino is not the place for "A center of community activity rather than an barrier between activities on either side of the street." Palo Alto has MANY places for community activities other than a major thoroughfare.

The master plan goals calls for "A fully multi-modal urban thoroughfare that maintains mobility and improves safety for transit, trucks, and autos...."

How will vehicle safety be improved by narrowing lanes? Traffic is already bottlenecked along El Camino, particularly along this stretch near California Ave. It only gets worse as one goes through Menlo Park, where traffic is cut to two lanes. This should provide a model for what NOT to do in Palo Alto.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2010 at 10:14 am

"There are no free right turn lanes from El Camino to Page Mill and they seem to do fine."

No, it is not fine. I've waited for 2 light changes when trying to make a right turn from El Camino north to Oregon Expressway/Page Mill. People pulling out of the driveway at the new ATT building exacerbate the problem.

I was told the following by the planning department: "Regarding the northbound right turn lane on El Camino at Page Mill, unfortunately that improvement was not effectuated when those projects were processed, as transitions in transportation staff at the time resulted in that oversight."

Also see: Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Roger
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 11, 2010 at 10:19 am

I just learned that the meeting time on Wednesday the 13th was changed to 6 PM. Regarding El Camino and Page Mill, there is a right turn lane from Southbound El Camino onto Westbound Page Mill. I don't know what you (Bill) mean by a "free" right turn? Regarding the money for this project, I believe it State and Federal money.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2010 at 10:44 am

The article about this project is at Web Link

"The project is being funded by a $1.3 million federal transportation grant and includes all four corners of the intersection."

It's all just tax dollars, so why not spend it on stuff like this instead of high priority needs.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by embee
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 11, 2010 at 11:49 am

It seems the major benefactor of this plan is Starbucks, which is the cause of the traffic jam at Stanford Ave. in the first place. We can do without it; there plenty of other coffee choices. Stanford Ave. is NOT a fast access to Foothill Expwy. It is a SLOW BUMPY route for us on Stanford campus to get out of Stanford and to shopping on El Camino and California Ave. Now that Stanford is filling up Stanford Ave. with new houses, there will be even more cars using Stanford Ave. and wanting to head south on El Camino. Leave the turning lane. Also, to turn west of Stanford from N-bound El Camino, the turning lane is not long enough. Many times I have to wait in the lane beside it, and that impedes northbound traffic.


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Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 11, 2010 at 1:01 pm

The main purpose of this project is to make this intersection safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, AND motorists. This intersection is dangerous, and many children use it to get to schools - Nixon, Escondido, Jordan, and Palo Alto HS every day of the school year. I am amazed that someone suggested that we accept that El Camino should be considered a barrier to community activities and gathering. I wonder if that person (who apparently lives in the Midtown neighborhood) has done a survey of the people in Midtown to see if they would like to treat Middlefield Road as a barrier to community activities. Do they want traffic speeds increased on Middlefield? I for one am perfectly happy to drive slowly on Middlefield, the major thoroughfare in that neighborhood, even though I don't live there.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2010 at 2:51 pm

El Camino is a major artery – a county road.

My house is near Oregon Expressway. I wouldn't expect the city to make it "A center of community activity rather than a barrier between activities on either side of the street." And it's only got 2 lanes in each direction, not 3.

Will we be planning block parties on El Camino next?


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Posted by It's The Economy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2010 at 3:04 pm

I just don't trust the city with another new project. Today I saw them installing a no u-turn sign on the traffic light in front of Trader Joe's, as if anyone would make a u-turn from Paly back into Paly when there isn't even enough room for anyone to do that. It's crazy.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Too Much Traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Pat--being a major artery has never stopped officials from trying out experiments to control traffic in this city.
Remember the following plans involving major arteries in the city:

1) Turning Embarcadero into 1 lane in each direction with traffic circles
2) Closing University to all traffic
3) Joe Kott's experiment to have 1 lane in each direction on Middlefield in midtown

Maybe what we need to do is to follow the College Terrace plan--put in traffic calming measures on ALL streets in Palo Alto!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Waste
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 11, 2010 at 3:28 pm

What a waste of money. Who is paying for this? El Camino is a county road are they paying?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2010 at 6:11 pm

El Camino is State Highway 82 and is "owned" by Caltrans. A few years ago they decided that it would be good to make El Camino more attractive and safer for all users (they call it the "grand boulevard" concept). These particular plans have been in the works for years and have been approved by Caltrans, but the funding is from a federal grant. It also includes benches and amenities for the bus stops there. It is the first of many such projects that we will be seeing along El Camino.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Too Much Traffic: I think it would be safer to build a moat around Palo Alto.

That would satisfy the "no new traffic" requirements and force us all to find jobs in the city so we could give up our cars. It would also ensure that we shop locally. Who needs CostCo, Target, super Safeways, etc.?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by RD
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 12, 2010 at 9:52 am

Totally agree with embee. This change if it goes through will not be good for Stanford residents or for College Terrace.


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Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 12, 2010 at 10:20 am

Well, if those College Terrace or Stanford residents ever decide to get out of their cars and walk or bike somewhere, the change will be good for them. I agree - IF they are driving their cars east on Stanford Ave and IF they want to turn south on ECR and IF it is during a couple of brief, peak periods each day, they MIGHT be delayed up to a minute or so. Possibly, those who developed this plan might have weighed the increased safety for everyone and decided it was more important.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2010 at 10:40 am

"… if those College Terrace or Stanford residents ever decide to get out of their cars and walk or bike somewhere…"

This is exactly the kind of self-righteous talk that creates conflict: Bikers good, drivers bad.

Should residents bike to work if their jobs are in San Jose or Milpitas? Should they bike to CostCo to buy a month's worth of supplies?

How about people who can't ride a bike?

If you are able to walk or bike to get all your needs satisfied, good for you. Just don't be so sanctimonious about it.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 12, 2010 at 11:13 am

I apologize. I was not trying to criticize people for driving their cars. I drive more than I bike or walk. I was just trying to say that the changes to the intersection will be positive for people who walk or bike. And the changes will be have a relatively small effect on drivers.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by rd
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 12, 2010 at 11:56 am

Oops, RD does not drive, but takes the Marguerite, and does not want to see the Marguerite having any "issues" turning there. RD also crosses El Camino there to take the 22 bus.

So there!!

As a pedestrian/user of public transit, I am against these changes. Nothing can make crossing El Camino any less dangerous, so leave it alone.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Pat and others: I drive a lot, also. I still prefer to walk whenever I can, and yes, it is a moral issue if you make it that. Just think, only a hundred years ago people walked a mile or two across town without batting an eyelash, and, we didn't have 68 percent of the population overweight or obese (the good news is that we are reaching saturation on this). Anybody who favors walking over driving may be, but, is not necessarily "sanctimonious"-- they might just be "right" instead. We need to do everything we can to protect people who walk and bike, and, not always favor cars. I'm not willing to "get over it"-- I want "you" to "get over" your obsession with driving everywhere as quickly as possible.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 14, 2010 at 7:47 pm

The Mercury News is cited as having examined accident data for some South Bay cities, and determined that this intersection is a "hot spot" for certain kinds of accidents. They are quoted as saying that there were nine accidents in ten years at this location--making it "dangerous".

Well .. nine accidents in ten years comes to less than one a year. There are any number of intersections in Palo Alto that have more accidents than that. This project is clearly not being driven by any "procedure" that uses real accident data to identify roadway segments that actually need rethinking and rework.

While there is no doubt a lot of anecdotal evidence that this intersection is "unsafe", how many people have been killed here? How many "near misses" are there per week?

The Palo Alto Transportation Department could use some engineers that understand math, and some managers that require well thought out procedures for determining what are "safe" and "unsafe" roads here in Palo Alto.

Spending a million dollars on this seems like a vast waste of money .. but that's what Palo Alto City Government does best.


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