New plans for Palo Alto's Oregon Expressway call for preserving trees along Middlefield Road and leaving open the possibility for a future bicycle boulevard at Ross Road -- two victories for residents, according to one neighborhood leader.
The revised Oregon Expressway plans were released by the Santa Clara County Roads and Airports Department on Feb. 17. They will be discussed at a community meeting next Wednesday (March 4) from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Jordan Middle School cafetorium, 750 North California Ave.
The meeting will be the last in a series prior to city review of the plans.
Residents had voiced alarm at a meeting last year that as many as 13 mature street trees would be removed along Middlefield Road, shrinking the vegetative buffer between traffic and the sidewalk.
Other major concerns included proposed medians on Oregon at Waverley Street and Ross and Indian roads that would have prevented left-turns from the expressway onto those streets.
Residents called the plans ill-conceived and not based on traffic studies. In response, county officials last June promised to take neighborhood concerns to heart.
Residents now say the revised proposals signal a surprising turn-around that is representative of how city "civic engagement" should work.
"It's a complicated process for input when you're working with two agencies -- city and county, a large geographic area, ad hoc groups and organized neighborhood associations," said Pam Radin, traffic chair for the Midtown Residents Association. "This is a blueprint of how a process gone right is supposed to work."
Radin said she hasn't received any e-mails or phone calls critical of the revisions, but she also said the Midtown Residents Association has not endorsed the plans.
The changes to Oregon Expressway are in part designed to improve safety among vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians.
Masoud Akbarzadeh, county project planner, said bicycle-safety concerns, especially routes to and from schools, were a priority in the planning.
Between Bryant and Cowper streets along Oregon, plans call for a 5-foot-wide paved shoulder going east, he said.
Also, "we are ... shifting the roadway toward the median to provide a continuous bicycle travel way between Bryant and West Bayshore so that bicyclists can go over Highway 101," he said.
At Middlefield Road, the intersection is being modified to have straight crosswalks and better-situated pedestrian ramps, he said.
Middlefield Road resident David Fryberger, a founding member of the community group Friends of Reasonable Expressway Design (FRED) said he was glad to see an option for the Middlefield intersection that won't eliminate any trees. Two proposed alternatives would remove four trees; one option, alternative 4, would preserve all of the trees.
The intersection would also include left-turn lanes, but the road's lanes would be narrower as a result.
"I don't like the narrower lanes, but maybe that's suitable," Fryberger said.
Fryberger said he is also glad to see that the new plans do not include barriers that would have prevented left turns onto Ross Road and Waverley Street.
Radin agreed. The proposed cement median at Ross would have eliminated the future bike boulevard. But the revised alternatives especially alternative 3, which adds two crosswalks and "bicycle only" push buttons at signals will create safer access to Jordan Middle School and Garland Elementary School, which is planned to reopen, she said.
The Louis Road intersection, which Ohlone Elementary School students frequently cross, has had some of the highest accident rates -- 23 collisions between 2003 and July 2008, according to a traffic-analysis report by consultant Kimley-Horn. But the redesign improves the bike lanes and adds new signals for better traffic flow, according to Radin.
"It's very child-oriented and eliminates conflicts for left turns," she said.
The plan dovetails nicely with school redistricting and allows for changes that could not be achieved with city funds alone, she said.