Around TownRANK AND FILE ... Gunn High School snagged 42nd place in Newsweek's 2011 rankings of "America's Best High Schools" but oddly, its cross-town rival was nowhere to be found on the 500-school list. With Palo Alto's two high schools virtually identical in the six metrics used by Newsweek to rank 1,100 schools, it was a peculiar outcome to say the least. While Gunn Principal Katya Villalobos reacted with appropriate modesty ("We are pleased with our students' achievement in all areas, this being one measure"), Palo Alto High School Principal Phil Winston got curious. After some inquiries, Winston said he learned that Newsweek's email had never made it to him or his administrative team. "Apparently it was sent to the folks from last year's admin team, who are not here any longer," he said. "We are working with Newsweek to get them our info. We should be on the 'board' very soon."
THE ROAD ... Bicyclists who frequent Page Mill Road and Foothill Expressway will soon have something to cheer about. Palo Alto is preparing to issue Stanford University a permit to allow construction of a new bike lane on Deer Creek Road, which connects Page Mill and Arastradero roads. The new bike lane is part of Stanford's trail-alignment project, which also includes a pedestrian trail between Page Mill and Arastradero. According to a report from Palo Alto Traffic Engineer Rafael Rius, Stanford also plans to improve a crosswalk that is primarily used by equestrians and horses at the Page Mill Pastures. While these projects are sure to please bikers, walkers and horse riders, they are unlikely to make life easier for drivers. To make room for the new bike lane, Deer Creek Road will be switched from four lanes to three (one in each direction and a two-way left-turn lane in the center). The car capacity would decrease even as the number of cars is expected to rise with the major expansion of VMWare at Stanford Research Park. Even so, Stanford believes the three-lane road will accommodate the future demands. Palo Alto officials say the new road design is consistent with the city's 2003 Bicycle Transportation Plan, which encourages construction of new bike lanes. The plan, however, calls for widening the roadway rather than eliminating lanes. The city doesn't see it as a problem. Rius wrote that "due to limited right-of-way availability and the amount of vehicle capacity, staff agrees that the lane reduction through restriping is a more cost-effective solution."
CHUMP CHANGE ... Caltrain's proposed electrification project could bring many benefits to Palo Alto, including faster service and greater safety. But when it comes to economic benefits, the projected results are a bit underwhelming. According to a draft study assessing the economic impacts of Caltrain electrification and high-speed rail on Palo Alto, an upgraded Caltrain (not counting high-speed rail) would reduce train-related vibrations, boosting the city's property values by about $34 million. Even so, these higher property values would net Palo Alto only about $41,500 in annual revenues, according to the consulting firm Economics & Planning Systems (EPS), Inc. "It's just not much," said Derin Smith, a consultant from EPS who presented the findings to the City Council's Rail Committee Thursday. Committee Chair Larry Klein agreed. "We're barely covering your fee," Klein told Smith. The high-speed-rail portion of the study, meanwhile, reconfirmed what the council and members of the community have maintained for the past two years: A rail design involving aerial structures would cause the most economic harm (mostly because of aesthetic impacts), while a design with open trenches would be the most beneficial option among those currently on the table.
MUSICAL MESSAGE ... Call it a message with a musical twist: A circular sign appeared recently on an overpass above Oregon Expressway in Palo Alto, depicting the capital letter B with a musical symbol for "natural." Be natural? The clearly non-official sign doesn't list a sponsor, so one can only guess what its imperative refers to. A warning against putting on airs? Marketing for a nudist colony? Anyone with information, or wild speculation, on its origins is asked to contact Around Town at email@example.com.