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Are city officials cluttering up our streets?

Uploaded: Aug 28, 2018
Do you know that Palo Alto has a “Complete Streets” program? Until last week, I hadn’t heard this term. But council members adopted this complete street policy back in 2015, and city staff is well on its way to cluttering up our roads in town.

Think of the newly installed street “furniture” on Ross Road. The onslaught of bulbouts, median strips, a roundabout, green painted sharrows, etc. are being replicated on other streets in town, most notably Arastradero Road.

According to Smart Growth America, “By adopting a Complete Streets policy, communities direct their transportation planners and engineers to routinely design and operate the entire right of way to enable safe access for all users …
“There is no singular design prescription for Complete Streets; each one is unique and responds to its community context. A complete street may include: sidewalks, bike lanes (or wide paved shoulders), special bus lanes, comfortable and accessible public transportation stops, frequent and safe crossing opportunities, median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, curb extensions, narrower travel lanes, roundabouts, and more.”

Sure seems like the transportation staff went overboard in planning its first complete street -- Ross Road. While Joshuah Mello, chief transportation official, declares Ross makes everyone safer and also accommodates buses, I’ve been told some people and buses are having trouble with the new $1 milllion-plus-plus redesign. All in all, enacting this complete streets policy will cost $10 million (2015 predictions).
And now comparable work has been started on Arastradero Road. Joe Hirsch, a Palo Alto resident who lives just off this east-west arterial, is alarmed at what he sees happening. He is most concerned about the bulbouts – those rounded sidewalk corner extensions that are there to slow traffic and to permit pedestrians to cross streets theoretically more safely. Seven will be constructed on Arastradero. Hirsch told the council, “They are large, they decrease the width of the entrances to each of those seven [side streets, forcing passing cars closer together, potentially leaving the rear end of a car out in Arastradero where rear-end collisions might happen.”

In other words, an accident waiting to happen.

I am certainly not against making our roads safer for everyone, including motorists. But Ross Road changes have their problems – like forcing bikes and cars into the same lane in places. Is the city going overboard in its zeal to design complete streets? Many people I’ve talked to wonder what is really being accomplished – and if cars are given as much consideration as bikes.

I asked Mello if there is any chance of changing the city’s mind, given resulting residential anger over Ross. He told me two surveys of residents will be conducted this fall, and then will be analyzed, with the results and staff recommendations going to the council afterward. Until the council decides anything, there will be no changes. By then, the Arastradero work will probably be all finished.

And next on the list? Mello said the city plans to put in bike lanes on Embarcadero Road between Bryant Street and El Camino. If can’t help wonder if bike lanes are going to fit in this area, including at the underpass. The street already has narrow lanes, and backups occur morning, noon and early evening.

While the idea of complete streets probably sounded perfectly fine to the council when first presented three years ago, concepts don’t always turn out perfectly in reality. This is one project that the council should closely follow, because the changes will dramatically affect a number of streets in our community for years to come.



Comments

 +   12 people like this
Posted by StarSpring, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Aug 28, 2018 at 3:07 pm

StarSpring is a registered user.

Residents are up in arms. Palo Alto has budget problems. The council should stop this now or we will elect a city council that will. Fait accompli may be Mello's goal, but it is not right nor respectful to our community.


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Aug 28, 2018 at 3:47 pm

"...the idea of complete streets probably sounded perfectly fine to the council when first presented three years ago..."

It doubtless was presented and perceived as yellow brick roads to everywhere. But its implementation has been misguided, expensive, intrusive, and downright dangerous.

Mello and his mysterious hypnotic spell are leaving. Gentlemen, start your bulldozers.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by DianaDiamond, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 28, 2018 at 6:57 pm

DianaDiamond is a registered user.

Curmudgeon --

I agree with you. One hears these marvelous new-thinking plans for communities, and the council buys into them. And the problem is that once a person decides something, it's hard for that person to reverse what he agrees to. But are these plans and concepts really working?


 +   11 people like this
Posted by DianaDiamond, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 28, 2018 at 7:05 pm

DianaDiamond is a registered user.

I just read Joshua Mello resigned. I have no personal dispute with him, and he tried hard with his cyclist enthusiasm, but perhaps it is time for the council to hire a transportation officer who recognizes the needs of motorists and bicyclists. The two groups can accommodate each other -- if we try.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by BP, a resident of Barron Park,
on Aug 28, 2018 at 11:09 pm

As residents of Palo Alto, why can't we have reasonable actions taken by our city officials? They have gone off on tangents way too many times. What has happen to common sense?


 +   8 people like this
Posted by They know what is best for us, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 8:09 am

BP-- because they get this idea in their heads and do not listen to what anyone says. This is what is happening to the Ross Road project--city ignoring any and all criticism of the plan. Same with Arestadero Road. This all comes from the mentality that Palo Alto has to be the leading bike community in the country and we have to show everyone else how to do it.
It is not only that, look at Karen Holman's bike bridge fiasco. we need a simple, not too expensive bridge over 101. But, no, that is not what palo alto stands for--we need an "iconic" bridge that will send a message to all who drive under it (as per holman). So we need a design contest. Then Holman et al reject the winner of the design contest and pick another entry. But by then the cost has risen so much that it is abandoned. And we still do not have a bike bridge, due to the ego and pipe dreams of certain city council members.
This mentality extends to other aspects, we have council members declaring that they are "the guardians of public health" so they can pass laws telling us how to live. And it goes on and on.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by OKRoss, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 9:13 am

I'm amused by all the hub-bub over Ross Rd. and similar roadwork. As usual, any change is immediately objected to, but after a month or so most people will be so used to it that it will hardly be noticed. For example, bulb-outs don't force bicycles to swerve into the path of cars. Anyone riding a bike, regardless of age, knows (or should know) that they can't just swerve into oncoming traffic. If an approaching car slows down to accommodate a bike, then the biker can carefully proceed -- otherwise, the biker yields the right of way.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 10:28 am

Online Name is a registered user.

"Are city officials cluttering up our streets?"

Absolutely -- st an absurd cost of $40,000,000.

It's way past time to declare Palo Alto a Bollard-Free Zone. Please start with the 2 at the foot of my driveway where the road narrows to one lane and preventing cars from bypassing me and causing multi-car backups.

Any insight you can offer into Mr. Mello's departure right when we've got rail separation issues etc etc, would be great.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Patrick, a resident of Woodside,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 12:22 pm

Don't put bike lanes on Embarcadero! There's no space for them without taking out a lane and there's enough traffic already.

Protect the main arteries for motorists so that they don't bleed over into the neighborhoods.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by StarSpring, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 12:37 pm

StarSpring is a registered user.

@OKRoss, I walk that road daily. The median "gardens" at Ross and Corina, for example, force drivers to turn towards the sidewalk and the people on it) to navigate around the obstacles. Now, instead of everyone going nicely parallel they briefly aim right at the pedestrians as they drive by. The roundabouts, the bulbouts, the bollards, the median plantings all serve to make roads less "failsafe" if you will. I do not foresee ever not being angry at the money wasted in a way that makes our city less safe. In a way, you are right though: Eventually the complaints will stop, not because we become used to it, but because we will realize that the Council simply does not care. Really, vote them -all- out and let them know why.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by BP, a resident of Barron Park,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 1:20 pm

This is what happens when you have too many city employees for the number of residents. The city engineers probably consider road furniture more fun to work on rather then focusing on repaving the torn up streets in Barron Park and other neighborhoods, and maintaining our city infrastructure which is what they were hired to do in the first place. Instead, they justify their existence by proposing new and aggravating projects so they can list them on their resumes.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by bikermom, a resident of Mayfield,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 2:59 pm

Here's an idea Palo Alto, you want to make the streets better? Well why don't you repave Bryant street, especially between Oregon Expressway and North Palo Alto. It's a horrible mess. It is not fun to bike down this so called bike boulevard. I dar each of the city councilmen to ride their bike to work down Bryant and see how they feel after.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 6:35 pm

I do have a gripe about the blight on our streets. The problem as far as I can see is that as a driver having to negotiate our streets, there are so many signs, obstacles, colors painted on the street, etc. that we are being forced to pay attention to the obstacles rather than look for pedestrians and bikes. I think pedestrians are now almost invisible because of all the silly signs and painted blue, green and red crossings. I am continually forcing my eyes away from the colors to look for actual people on bikes or people on the sidewalks. They can't be seen as easily as they were before because my attention is on the things that shout at me rather than the safety obstacle.

I know the idea is that it is supposed to make me slow down, but really it makes the pedestrians and bikes invisible against a loud backdrop which is screaming "look at me".


 +   3 people like this
Posted by wayne douglass, a resident of another community,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 10:12 pm

wayne douglass is a registered user.

Thus spake Diana: "Many people I've talked to wonder what is really being accomplished " and if cars are given as much consideration as bikes."

This is clearly preposterous to even the most casual observer. California is the most car crazy state in the Union--and Californians are proud of it. Car crazy California became a runing joke in early Woody Allen movies (in "Annie Hall" Alvy Singer complains that the only contribution to American culture from California was the right to make a right turn on red), and it always got a laugh. As a kind of atonement, that's also why California has more stringent smog standards than anybody else, more regulations about mileage standards, and a different formula for refining gasoline--and still it isn't enough. Politicians in every jurisdiction may dicker over fines, incentives, taxes, and even legal measures, like (horror of horrors!) confiscating driving licences as a punishment--and still it isn't enough because California simply has more people than anybody else. And that's the real problem, especially in the Bay Area, and LA, and San Diego, and <insert random municipality here>--everywhere, in short, but Badwater in Death Valley and Pelican Bay in Northern California.
Cars are king in California and everyone else, you should pardon the expression, takes a back seat. You don't hear many complaints about the bad roads from bike riders and pedestrians because nobody cares about them (I did hear you about Bryant Street, @bikermom--and good luck with that), and the car owners have the ears of the authorities, when they whine about cut through traffic (as if public byways were not for everybody), parking garages (or lack thereof), and the timing of traffic lights on El Camino Real. With all the to-ing and fro-ing I see in the commenting on this blog, it's no wonder Joshuah Mello packed it in for the relative stability of high tech.
Who NEEDS this mishegoss? (Where is fabled commenter, @Moishe Pipick, when we need him?) Kris Kristofferson (from nearby San Mateo County) could have been thinking of the average Palo Alto voter, when he wrote, "He's a walkin' contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction." I'll give Walt Kelly, the creator of Pogo, the last word: "We have met the enemy and he is us."


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Vasche LaMou, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 10:54 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   16 people like this
Posted by Midtown Mom, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 11:36 pm

Driving around Midtown feels like being in a pinball machine. There are distractions everywhere, and the designs are so vastly different from street to street. Who knows what you'll encounter around the bend!

Along Ross... Bulb-outs! Bikers! Speed Bumps! Roundabouts that no one knows how to navigate! Pedestrians! Metal signs in the middle of the sidewalk!

Along Louis/Moreno... Shiny brick section with weirdly-placed stops signs that no one knows how to use! Fish swimming in water! Or was that a child? So hard to tell. Super-wide sidewalks that bicyclists use as their own Autobahn!

To make matters worse, they start sidewalk construction along Amarillo the first week back to school. Asinine.

Sigh. Midtown's a hot mess now. If they wanted to install a traffic-calming solution, why not just do what they did along Bryant?

When will the madness end? Oh, never, because we're stuck with the residual mess.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by They know what is best for us, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 30, 2018 at 5:50 am

[Post removed.]


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Being historic is a plus, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Aug 30, 2018 at 11:27 am

[Post removed.]


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Chip, a resident of Professorville,
on Aug 31, 2018 at 10:48 am

Do incoming council members believe they need to promote some new idea for a "project" as their visible legacy to Palo Alto? I think there's a lot of ego involved. Maybe these sometimes harebrained ideas are brought forward to justify their new roles in City government, just as every US president wants to leave behind something for which he'll be remembered.

I think council members feel they haven't made a noteworthy contribution unless they figure out a scheme for spending lots of money changing something that often would be better left alone.. "I left my mark on Palo Alto." Yikes! Most of us would be happy with a smaller council paying attention to keeping city services running smoothly & within budget and enforcing zoning regulations. I still can't figure out who Larry Ellison paid to get his hotel permitted with no on-site parking.

I avoid going into Midtown now because of the very awkward street furniture & markings, which means I spend money in other towns. I'd prefer to support local merchants if I could get there safely & without frustration.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Senior Citizen , a resident of Green Acres,
on Aug 31, 2018 at 1:06 pm

Joe Hirsch is not the only person who is very alarmed about the changes being made on Arastradero. It is a dangerous situation and residents of the area were never consulted.




 +   6 people like this
Posted by Neil, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards,
on Aug 31, 2018 at 1:25 pm

@ OKRoss: I'm glad you find our collective displeasure 'amusing', but I still see motorists accidentally driving over inexplicable concrete oddities on Ross. It's been more than a month, by the way.

Your argument is that "change is uncomfortable, but then we get used to it." Yet, a bad idea is still a bad idea.

Palo Alto can be mindlessly idealistic sometimes. 'If you build it, they will bike instead' seems to be the motto. However, anyone in tech knows that nobody is going to use your product if it solves a problem no one had to begin with. These road "enhancements" are no different.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 31, 2018 at 3:03 pm

Autonomous vehicles are practicing on Ross and Louis. I have seen many Waymo cars on these streets and others nearby recently. There is a grocery delivery service in San Jose already operating driverless vehicles and they plan to expand to Mountain View and Palo Alto next Web Link, possibly in September.

All this street furniture and driverless vehicles are most definitely going to mix well.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on Aug 31, 2018 at 3:48 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Q. Are city officials cluttering up our streets?
A. Yes.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 1, 2018 at 4:50 pm

I took a closer look at the recent work on Louis today.

I saw a couple of adult bikes riding on the sidewalk/bike path and wondered what would happen if someone was backing out of a driveway. My only thoughts were first about visibility of the driver being able to see a bike doing 15+ mph while backing out. Secondly, what happens if a bike is going the opposite direction to a bunch of pedestrians walking to and from school. Whereas school traffic is likely all to be in the same direction, there are bikes supposedly using these paths who are commuting against the school commute traffic.

Seems a bit ludicrous to me.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 3, 2018 at 3:03 pm

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> I took a closer look at the recent work on Louis today.

>> I saw a couple of adult bikes riding on the sidewalk/bike path and wondered what would happen if someone was backing out of a driveway. My only thoughts were first about visibility of the driver being able to see a bike doing 15+ mph while backing out.

Please never back out at 15+ mph. 1.5 mph is more like it. And, bicycles or no, pedestrians, especially younger children and the elderly, are greatly at risk by people backing out quickly.

>> Secondly, what happens if a bike is going the opposite direction to a bunch of pedestrians walking to and from school. Whereas school traffic is likely all to be in the same direction, there are bikes supposedly using these paths who are commuting against the school commute traffic.

Actually, I believe that the idea of these lanes apparently is to create reverse (and therefore two-way) bike lanes near schools. I don't like the idea myself-- I think the "wrong-way" direction is likely to cause more accidents. I surmise that they are doing it because some students go the "wrong way" anyway, so, why not make it official?

>> Seems a bit ludicrous to me.

I don't trust "common sense" necessarily, so, I don't consider it a "ludicrous" idea. But, I would like to see some statistics from where this has been tried already that show improve safety. I have not seen such statistics.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 3, 2018 at 3:17 pm

I never mentioned backing out at 15 mph. I mentioned that bikers doing 15 mph on the sidewalk crossing driveways may not be seen by drivers backing out. Pedestrians walk much slower than bikes. It can be hard to anticipate pedestrians but at least they appear slowly. A bike doing 15 mph on the other hand can appear while the driver is paying attention the other way. Yes, drivers have to be very vigilant when backing out of driveways, but putting fast bikes right near the driveways will make it extremely hard for those drivers to see particularly if they are coming from either/both directions.

Definitely ludicrous.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 3, 2018 at 3:48 pm

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,

>> I never mentioned backing out at 15 mph.

Mea culpa.

>> fast bikes right near the driveways will make it extremely hard for those drivers to see particularly if they are coming from either/both directions.

In many locations, bikes next to the curb as close as sidewalks in other locations. I think the "reverse direction" is the real problem. You can't be looking both directions at once. e.g. along Arastradero between Suzanne/Los Palos/Pomona, towards Fletcher.

>> Definitely ludicrous.

I want to see statistics. Traffic engineering is full of examples of misleading/wrong "intuition" and "common sense".


 +  Like this comment
Posted by resident, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Sep 4, 2018 at 12:12 pm

Arastadero and Charleston are main thoroughfares in this city. We need main thoroughfares going West/East and North/South. Main thoroughfares should not be bike lanes. Middlefield is suppose to be a thoroughfare as well as Alma. I now use El Camino to go up to RWC vs 101. Ours is the only city that has RV's on El Camino - you don't see RV's going north up to San Mateo. So what is going on in this city where every main thoroughfare is now getting cut up and diminished or somehow relegated to some strange agenda. Can we please dispense with strange agendas and leave the streets alone? But this state is filled with strange agendas where people are trying to make a name for themselves for some future political endeavor that is self serving. Glad elections are coming up because the strange agenda people are going to be put on the ropes for all of the costly activity.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Sep 4, 2018 at 12:34 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@OKRoss

"Anyone riding a bike, regardless of age, knows (or should know) that they can't just swerve into oncoming traffic. If an approaching car slows down to accommodate a bike, then the biker can carefully proceed -- otherwise, the biker yields the right of way."

Lots of assumptions made, like bikers and car drivers all know the rules, written or just common sense rules...many times relying on visual eye contact to be the guide of who goes first. That requires absolute alert and focused attention to the traffic around them. No iPhones, hands off the handlebars, etc. This is serious stuff. I see way too many drivers and cyclists, mostly cyclists, being way too casual and self assuming that they have the right of way.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Sep 4, 2018 at 1:17 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@Chip

Yes, I think you've got it right. New CC members might be slow in gaining confidence once elected, but then they learn about 'colleague's memos' and that's how they get to put their toes in the water for the first time. Just an example...ADU's. And if it's their idea, and it works out, then that is good fodder for getting re-elected. If it doesn't you'll never hear about it again.

The reports on ADU's sound impressive, at first glance, number of applications, etc. But I doubt if we'll ever hear the main reasons for them being built. For 'grannie' or family members? Or for market rate rental income to help pay off the main house mortgage? Long term or B&Bs? There will never be enforcement. And how many will be built for the attractive benefit if they are rented out to low income people? My guess is 'zero'.

Lots of talk by CC members on affordable housing, but their affordable benchmark is just below market rate housing, thus they can brag about supporting BMR housing. 'Work force housing' are their latest buzz words and one project has been approved that will be affordable to the tech workers, those making six digit incomes. Nothing serious ever happens for the low and very low income folks who work so hard in our community, and have to commute so far.

Keep all this in mind before you vote in November, and go to meetings and ask/address a lot of hard questions to CC candidates, but be wary of smooth talkers. Listen to candidates who are good at analysis and financial impacts of projects. The progressive idealists should be challenged hard for how all their projects will be paid for.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 4, 2018 at 1:52 pm

Posted by resident, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,

>> Arastadero and Charleston are main thoroughfares in this city. We need main thoroughfares going West/East and North/South. Main thoroughfares should not be bike lanes

I don't want to belabor this, but, there is a large challenge for Arastradero at Fletcher/(Terman) Middle School and Gunn High School. (Most of) the South of Arastradero neighborhoods between Fletcher and the tracks don't have a very good route into Fletcher. Perhaps as a consequence of that, bicycle usage at Fletcher hasn't been as sustained as it has been at JLS and Greene/(Jordan). Add more parents driving to Fletcher, all the Gunn auto traffic, and all the traffic trying to reach the VA and the businesses up on Arastradero, and, you end up with a major bottleneck at Arastradero and Foothill, where there is, as someone posted elsewhere, a -geometry- constraint.



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