Council panel approves new stop signs

Publication Date: Wednesday Apr 21, 1999

COMMUNITY: Council panel approves new stop signs

Goal is to reduce accidents, avoid confusion at intersections

Palo Alto residents weary of accidents and speeding got some relief last week, as a City Council committee gave the green light to install stop signs at five intersections.

"This is significant for our neighborhood, because drivers seem to naturally increase speed when they see that wide open space," said Warren Kallenbach, who lives near the intersection of Melville and Harker avenues, in the Community Center neighborhood.

The Policy and Services Committee, which is made up of four council members, voted April 13 to approve the recommendation by transportation staff to post stop signs at four other intersections: Forest Avenue and Ramona Street, in the downtown area; Ash Street and Portage Avenue, near Fry's Electronics; Channing Avenue and St. Francis Drive, near the Edgewood Shopping Center; and Hopkins Avenue and Wilson Street, across from Rinconada Park.

The vote cleared the way for a City Council decision on the new signs, expected in June. About a dozen residents attended the committee meeting.

The committee also backed the staff recommendation to reject residents' bids to place stop signs at three other intersections: El Verano Avenue and Ramona Street, in south Palo Alto; Birch Street and Chestnut Street, near the California Avenue shopping area; and Channing Avenue and Lincoln Avenue, near St. Elizabeth Seton School in Crescent Park.

The decision on this last intersection perplexed some area residents.

"Cars will see another open stretch and no stop sign for some distance and will accelerate," said Kallenbach, who did not attend the committee meeting.

Joan Bruce, a Channing Avenue resident, echoed his complaint. "I'm astonished that they didn't do something for us there," she said. "They do a race and chase," she added, referring to drivers' habits on Channing.

The city looks to a number of factors when deciding whether to install a stop sign at an uncontrolled intersection, including whether there are other stop signs on the same street, traffic and pedestrian volume, the number of recent accidents and whether the intersection is near a school. Officials first work with local residents to determine whether a minor fix, such as cutting back vegetation to improve visibility, will help reduce accidents.

The city also considers driver confusion. This was the case with the Forest Avenue intersection with Ramona Street, now controlled by stop signs only on Ramona. Drivers on Forest would mistakenly slow down, expecting to stop, causing several accidents over the past few years, said Christopher Thnay, a Palo Alto city transportation engineer. Stop signs on Forest also are advisable because of increased pedestrian traffic to neighborhood restaurants like the Blue Chalk Cafe, officials said.

Although speeding complaints are the driving force behind many citizen requests for stop signs, Palo Alto doesn't approve stop signs solely to control speeding. The reason is that drivers pulling away from a stop tend to speed up in midblock to make up lost time, according to traffic studies.

As other methods to discourage speeding, traffic engineers recommend speed bumps, street narrowing and use of the city's radar trailer, which flashes cars' speeds. City traffic engineers cited these measures as solutions to speeding near the El Verano/Ramona intersection.

Council members noted low accident rates, recently improved visibility and the lack of speeding at the rejected intersections as reasons not to install stop signs there.

--Chris Sadeghian
@bar:TRAFFIC SAFETY @head:Council members approve new stop signs @sub:Goal is to reduce accidents, avoid confusion at intersections Palo Alto residents weary of accidents and speeding got relief last week when a city committee gave the green light to install stop signs at five dangerous intersections.

"This is significant for our neighborhood because drivers seem to naturally increase speed when they see that wide open space," said Warren Kallenbach, who lives near the intersection of Melville and Harker avenues, one of the approved sites.

The Policy and Services Committee, which is comprised of four city council members, voted on April 13 side with city staff and approve stop signs the intersections of Forest Avenue and Ramona Street in the downtown area; Melville and Harker avenues, near the Community Center; Ash Street and Portage Avenue near Fry's Electronics; Channing Avenue and St. Francis Drive near the Lucky shopping center at Embarcadero and West Bayshore; and Hopkins Avenue and Wilson Street across from Rinconada Park.

The vote cleared the way for a city council decision on the new signs, expected in June. About a dozen residents attended the committee meeting.

The council members also went along with city transportation officials' recommendations and rejected residents' bids to place stop signs at the intersections of El Verano Avenue and Ramona Street south Palo Alto; Birch Street and Chestnut Street near the California Avenue shopping area; and Channing Avenue and Lincoln Avenue near St. Elizabeth Seton School.

The decision on this last intersection perplexed some area residents.

"Cars will see another open stretch and no stop sign for some distance and will accelerate," said Kallenbach, who did not attend the committee meeting.

Joan Bruce, a Channing Avenue resident, echoed his complaint. "I'm astonished that they didn't do something for us there," she said. "They do a race and chase," she added, referring to drivers' habits on Channing.

The city looks to a number of factors when deciding whether to install a stop sign at an uncontrolled intersection, including whether there are other stop signs on the same street, traffic and pedestrian volume, the number of recent accidents and whether the intersection is near a school. Officials first work with local residents to determine whether a minor fix, such as cutting back vegetation to improve visibility, would help reduce accidents.

Although speeding complaints are the driving force behind many citizen requests for stop signs, Palo Alto doesn't approve stop signs solely to control speeding. The reason is that drivers tend to speed up in mid-block when pulling away from a stopped intersection to make up lost time, according to traffic studies.

Instead, traffic engineers recommend speed bumps, street narrowing and use the city's radar trailer (which flashes cars' speeds) to curb speeding. City traffic engineers cited these measures as solutions to speeding near the El Verano/Ramona intersection.

Council members noted low accident rates, recently improved visibility and the lack of speeding at the rejected intersections as reasons not to install stop signs there.

The city also looks to driver confusion in deciding to erect new stop signs. For example, the committee approved the a stop sign on Forest Avenue at Ramona Street partly because of the confusion caused by Forest drivers who slow down expecting to stop at Ramona. This confusion has caused several accidents over the past few years, said Christopher Thnay, a Palo Alto city transportation engineer. Increased pedestrian traffic to places like the Blue Chalk Cafe on Ramona Street, and eateries on Emerson Street While some residents are concerned that the city is leaving a dangerous situation alone by rejecting some of the requests, Palo Alto has not been sued for failure to put up stop signs since at least 1990, says City Attorney Ariel Calonne, who noted that suits based on inadequate "signage" are usually over speed limit or curve signs. @id:--Chris Sadeghian 

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