News

California Ave. lane reduction 'won't impact traffic'

Study finds no major delays or backups if lanes are cut from four to two

A controversial plan to cut California Avenue's four traffic lanes to two in the business district will have minimal impact on traffic and pedestrians, a study commissioned by Palo Alto has concluded.

The 399-page traffic study by Hexagon Transportation Consultants Inc., of San Jose estimated the reduced lanes would also reduce the street capacity from 1,360 vehicles per hour to 560 per hour, with traffic delays of about two to three seconds per vehicle. But those delays are still well below traffic standards considered to cause traffic delays. Vehicle delays if 10.0 seconds or less are considered having little or no traffic-delay impact, according to the Transportation Research Board's "2000 Highway Capacity Manual," the consultant's report stated.

Planned streetscape improvements for the business district would place street parking at a shallower 60-degree angle (to making backing out easier) and reduce the traffic lanes to accommodate wider sidewalks, but some residents have opposed the lane reduction at community meetings, fearing traffic backups from vehicles exiting parking spots and increased hazards to pedestrians. Residents were also concerned that traffic would be pushed onto parallel streets, they said.

The consultants analyzed present vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle patterns and the effects of proposed lane reductions. The study looked at traffic during three weekday peak-traffic periods: 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Currently, 2,800 to 5,300 vehicles travel California Avenue with higher volumes near El Camino Real, according to the report. Cambridge and Sherman avenues -- parallel streets flanking California -- have 2,100 to 3,000 vehicles per day and 1,800 to 2,600 vehicles respectively. These volumes are typical of two- to four-lane commercial streets, consultants said.

But no major projects are expected in the area in the near future, so the volume of traffic should not change, the report said. The consultants did not think traffic would be pushed onto Cambridge and Sherman, since overall delays throughout California would only be about two to three seconds per vehicle, they said.

"Even with the narrowing, traffic delays and [backups would be well within acceptable standards," the consultants said.

The consultants also considered potential delays from cars backing out of the diagonal parking spaces that line the street. But the delays would still be within the two- to three-second range, the consultants said.

But at El Camino Real and California Avenue, the lane reductions during peak traffic times could cause traffic to back up 200 feet, which could block parking spaces, the study concluded.

The consultants recommended the existing two- to three-lane westbound approach to El Camino should be maintained to help ease backups. This would result in a loss of five parking spaces on the north side of California.

Fewer traffic lanes would also reduce speeds slightly, which would improve safety for bicyclists, according to the report.

The lane reductions would not impact adversely on bus operations, the study found. But the 60-degree angled parking represents one area of concern. City standards for angled parking require 16-foot lane widths behind parking spaces to allow vehicles to back out without encroaching on opposite-direction traffic.

For most of the area, the project would provide 18- to 19-foot street widths behind the parking spaces. But three locations would have back-up space of just 13.5 to 14.5 feet. A report by the Urban Land Institute found that a 14.5-foot-wide minimum lane width is acceptable for 60-degree angled parking.

The report came up with several alternate remedies for the narrow lanes.

"The city may wish to review the proposed plan to determine whether the existing street width in these areas could be increased by slightly relocating double-yellow lines or changing the parking angle to 45 degrees" in the narrow-lane areas.

The City Council is scheduled to approve California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) recommendations for the lane reductions and approve $1.7 million for the streetscape project on Feb. 7. The complete study can be found at www.cityofpaloalto.org/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=25743 .

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by J Smith
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 7, 2011 at 2:08 pm

I'm wondering what the reasoning is behind this change... Is there a problem with the current 4-lane structure of Calif. Ave? Why does it need changing? What improvement will that bring to the Avenue?

And is it a done deal? Has community input already been solicited?

As someone who lives near and uses Calif Ave businesses often, I'm curious how this will make the area "better"...


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 7, 2011 at 3:30 pm

I'm all for improving the business district but utterly fail to understand how taking away a lane each direction will "help."
Everywhere I've personally experienced a before & after of driving on a street where a lane has been removed it has been far worse AFTER.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 7, 2011 at 4:13 pm

follow the money


Like this comment
Posted by robit noops
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 7, 2011 at 4:25 pm

California Ave has been fine for decades. What is the need for change? It is a marginal to poor shopping district.


Like this comment
Posted by mj
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 7, 2011 at 6:41 pm

"But no major projects are expected in the area in the near future, so the volume of traffic should not change, the report said."

High density housing and office space for the California Avenue area is the stated goal of the Planning Department. They are actively working on changing the area's zoning asap to encourage high density housing and office space. This has been in the works for more than a year.

No wonder that in the "near future" no major building projects on and around California Avenue are planned. No doubt property owners are waiting to see how high they are going to be allowed to build when the new zoning is approved.

Here is the kicker. The City's planning regulations only allow for CURRENT DATA on traffic flow to be taken into account.

The Director of Planning and Transport made a point of reiterating this point last December during the public presentation of the plan. He told us that future development and increases in traffic that they don't yet know about, and may or may not happen, would be speculation. Therefore the possibility of increased traffic in the future cannot be taken into consideration in the plan.

At this meeting we were presented with the current traffic data for California Avenue. The current traffic flow along the busier segment of California Avenue was categorized as an "A" and is downgraded to a "B" after the improvements are completed.

We were given a convincing argument that we would not notice any difference in the flow of traffic. This is because so few cars use California Avenue. The argument made to support this appeared to compare California Avenue to a fictional busier street so that, no matter what happens, we will be better off than this fictional busier street.

Yet the current planning does not, and will not, take into account any future traffic increases generated by the high density housing and offices around California Avenue.

We are asked to take it on faith that because the current California Avenue traffic numbers are so low, any future increase will not impact the traffic flow negatively. In fact, we will be no worse off than the busier streets California Avenue was compared to.

However, without reducing the lanes from four to two the city will not be eligible for the 1.5 million beautification grant.

At this same meeting we were also told that widening the sidewalks is not going to happen. If the reporter has new information that this is going to happen after all, this will be good news indeed. Up until now Planning and Transport has been very clear that wider sidewalks have not ever been and will not be part of the plan.


Like this comment
Posted by More development
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 7, 2011 at 10:02 pm

"But no major projects are expected in the area in the near future, so the volume of traffic should not change, the report said."

I thought the entire Fry's area was to be redeveloped isn't that near California Avenue?!! What a load of ______!!!

There are two other large lots along Park between California Avenue and Page Mill under consideration for development right now. One is in litigation the other is the lot leased by the City for a Public Safety Building.

There is also another development proposed for Sherman and Birch. The list goes on. There must be more than 100 housing units under consideration for development. That whole area is zoned Transit Orientated and ripe for new developments.


Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 8, 2011 at 9:56 am

What about the Birch St. project? On November 22, 2010, the City Council approved a mixed use project on a ½ acre lot, currently addressed as 2640 and 2650 Birch Street, 305 Grant, and 306 and 320 Sheridan Avenue. The project comprises first floor office space with 8 residential units above on the second and third levels.
Web Link

The Hexagon study says:

1. "the reduced lanes would also reduce the street capacity from 1,360 vehicles per hour to 560 per hour, with traffic delays of about two to three seconds per vehicle."

2. "Fewer traffic lanes would also reduce speeds slightly, which would improve safety for bicyclists,..."

3. “Generally, motor vehicle speeds would remain as is or could be reduced slightly because fewer travel lanes would eliminate the ability of faster drivers to pass slower drivers."

4. "The proposed lane reduction would result in small increases in travel time in the corridor due to the increased parking supply on California Avenue and fewer travel lanes.”

If I read this correctly, there are 3 separate pieces:
- Reduction in capacity
- Lack of passing ability
- Increased parking supply (thus more stops for people pulling in and out)

Seems like the CUMULATIVE effect of all three could result in more than 2-3 second delays.


Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 8, 2011 at 10:00 am

> Here is the kicker. The City's planning regulations only allow for
> CURRENT DATA on traffic flow to be taken into account.

If this is true, it needs to be challenged by the Council. If the Council is too cowardly to make an issue of it, then we citizens need to become more vocal about it during meetings with the so-called "planning professionals".

While there are no models that can produce "the truth", it's better to have a peek at what things might be like under some assumptions associated with future growth.

Maybe it's time to outsource our planning department, and rid Palo Alto of the ideologues that routinely hold the residents and business owners in open contempt.


Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 8, 2011 at 10:02 am

The street-narrowing madness is happening all over. Cars & drivers are clearly out of favor and the government is willing to spend huge amounts of tax dollars to create traffic jams.

San Francisco will spend $28.4 million of federal, state and city money to narrow a portion of Cesar Chavez Street.

“The plan calls for narrowing the street from six lanes to four, with left turn lanes at major intersections, adding bike lanes in both directions, …. Cesar Chavez … carries about 50,000 vehicles a day. It is one of the busiest arterial roadways in the city.”

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2011 at 10:28 am

Drove Cal Ave area this week at lunch time looking for a parking spot. No cars backed out to delay me (or provide me with a parking spot). All traffic seemed to be driving around looking for parking. No traffic back ups to El Camino. All lots appeared full. All restaurants appeared full. All stores not selling food appeared empty.

Next time I will park near Alma and use the tunnel.

This tells me a lot more than any study.


Like this comment
Posted by More development
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2011 at 11:30 am

I live in South Palo Alto; narrowing down California Avenue will be just another good reason for me to shop and eat in Mountain View.


Like this comment
Posted by who cares
a resident of Triple El
on Jan 8, 2011 at 4:45 pm

1300 potential customers per hour reduced to 500 customers per hour according to the outside consultants report (city staff was unable to handle study) due to lane restrictions, guess the business's won't mind. Too funny! Senior management and city manager appear to be out of control in their effort to turn city into little Berkeley.


Like this comment
Posted by notafanofnarrowing
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 9, 2011 at 10:01 am

Another street narrowing? I live on the Arastradero - Charleston corridor and this street narrowing is nuts. Two lanes to one then back to two then back to one all along the way. It's hard to get out in traffic, but the worse is the cars that speed up to get ahead of you when the lanes narrow to one again. This is supposed to be safer but I see a lot of fender benders.


Like this comment
Posted by Next election
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2011 at 10:30 am

The only way out of this narrowing down streets madness is to vote for any City Council person who is willing to step out there and back those who wish to get around this town with a car. They should state categorically that they are opposed to narrowing down streets for any reason.


Like this comment
Posted by Commander McBragg
a resident of another community
on Jan 9, 2011 at 11:10 am

If it won't impact traffic, then what's the point? Handing out lucrative construction projects?


Like this comment
Posted by Too much traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2011 at 11:36 am

notafanofnarrowing--have you not figured it out? If you narrow streets the cars will magically disappear!!! The anti-car mentality is alive and well here. we hear all the time about how there is no excuse for not walking, biking or using public transportation. Then there is the "Walkable neighborhoods" mantra. Too bad, none of these ideas are based on any reality--just a pipe dream from the "green" crowd in Palo Alto. Where will people walk to in Greater Miranda, Palo Alto Hills, or Duvenek/StFrancis as just a couple of examples? Too bad in their haste to force their green agenda on us, the "green" council member let two neighborhood shopping centers fall by the wayside.


Like this comment
Posted by Joseph Kott
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Congratulations to Jamie Rodriquez and the City of Palo Alto on winning grant funding to realize this enlightened project! The result will be a safer, more comfortable, and more attractive street for all to enjoy.


Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Lest anyone forget, Joseph Kott used to have the Jaime Rodriguez job at City Hall. Joe was the person who wanted to narrow Middlefield from 4 lanes to 2 in Midtown. He was also in league with Yoriko Kishimoto to put roundabouts on Embarcadero.


Like this comment
Posted by notafanofnarrowing
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 9, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Toomuchtraffic -- Sigh, you speak so plainly. I would really like to believe it was done for the children to keep them safe. Who could oppose that? OK, I've had my suspicions that there is more brewing here as you so plainly point out.


Like this comment
Posted by Anne
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 9, 2011 at 5:40 pm

This is another laughable effort to fix a 'problem' that isn't broken. At what point in the planning stage can Palo Alto residents have a say before these plans are approved? Do any of the planners actually have to navigate the roads they are 'improving'? Palo Alto is becoming like San Francisco: in its efforts to embrace all that is politically correct, without examining the logic or impact the reasoning has on real life, Palo Alto is being legislated into an unlivable mess. The longterm goals are laudable, but until we have an infrastucture in place to support this ' green lifestyle', these plans are doomed to failure.

First build the neighborhood shopping areas up, with sidewalks and bike paths, wait, see what the impact is, and THEN change, if necessary, lane configurations.


Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2011 at 5:42 pm

> The result will be a safer, more comfortable, and more attractive
> street for all to enjoy.

The only purpose for the segment of California Ave. is to provide a business district for merchants and customers. Interesting that Mr. Kott does seem to include enhancing the revenues, and the business opportunities, as one of the end results of this expensive, and unneeded, project.

It's very likely that the Joe Kotts of this world will simply shrug off any loss to the business community as "acceptable collateral damage to my way of thinking".

Unfortunately, there is no way to track the damage the Joe Kotts do to this world, other than anecdotally.


Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2011 at 7:53 pm

What is all this talk of Joe Kott? He has been gone for years, which tells me how out of touch the people are who continue to reference him.

The fact is that California Ave IS broken: the physical infrastructure is out of line with the usage. There is far more capacity than is being used, which is wasteful at the least. This unused capacity in the form of multiple lanes also makes life difficult and dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists.

It is far easier and safer for peds to cross a street with only one lane in each direction. You can make eye contact with a driver and continue it as you cross, without having to worry about a driver in the left lane who can't see you start to cross. Similar for bicyclists turning left: only one lane to merge across and only one driver in each direction with whom to make eye contact. 4-way (or 3-way) stops on multi-lane streets are confusing and dangerous for everyone.

This is a project that will improve and enhance the area for everyone with minimal impact on traffic and for little cost to the city. I am all for it.


Like this comment
Posted by PA res
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Who are these curmudgeons posting and where have they been living for the past 30 years?

I moved here in 1985, when Castro street in Mountain View was a creepy ghost town at night. And it was creepy and deserted during the day. If we went to eat at a restaurant there after dark, people hit and ran, preferably with men to walk the women to their cars.

Castro made it through one huge economic boom completely untouched, still creepy Castro. When the city redid the streetscape and narrowed the street FOR THE PURPOSE OF WIDENING THE SIDEWALKS, CREATING A MORE FRIENDLY PLACE FOR FOOT TRAFFIC, AND SPACES FOR SIDEWALK DINING the place transformed OVERNIGHT. New restaurants moved in, the place became cool, people stroll there in droves on warm nights. (If you build it, they will come.)

If Palo Alto is narrowing California to emulate the work they did on Castro, then it's about eff-ing time!! (If the narrowing is to product a couple of new parking spaces, or to make it similar to Arastradero, then forget it!)

California is centrally located and has so many things going for it, but it's just not a great place to walk around and hang out. The sidewalks are too narrow unless you like walking by yourself or maybe one other person and dodging obstacles. The traffic lanes are totally underutilized -- the sidewalks should be expanded to transform the street into a more modern city hub, which means making it more pedestrian/group/footshopper friendly. The businesses there need it (and we need the taxes they will generate with the same kind of uplift Castro got).

This improvement is a huge opportunity for California and this town.

(Can you people with your knee-jerk negativity please tone it down? You have absolutely no perspective and no sense of responsibility to the opportunity to make California Avenue what it should be. I don't like Arastradero either, but THAT change has nothing to do with this and was for the PURPOSE of slowing down the traffic, which it did. I personally, and apparently mistakenly, though the purpose was to make it more bikeable and walkable, but apparently not. It's still the same horrible single-file pedestrian obstacle course it used to be. I don't think that's what's being proposed here for CA Ave.)

We have this great bike path that runs across the South part of Palo Alto, and makes walking or biking to California a snap from even Gunn HS. The only reason California hasn't bloomed the way Castro did is that the streetscape is more like the way Castro used to be.


Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2011 at 8:53 pm

> There is far more capacity than is being used, which is wasteful
> at the least.

This kind of thinking is simply irrational. Given the two block extent of California, the idea of "capacity" is almost meaningless. Converting this excess capacity for vehicular traffic to bicycle use begs the question--where is the current unmet demand for bicycle access to this space? How many bicycles are currently denied access, as evidenced by "bicycle delays"?

Well .. everyone knows that all of the bicycles that want to use California are currently using the street as it is. The idea that somehow millions of "new cyclists" are going to appear, that currently are denied use of the road space, is insane. Maybe a few more bicycle racks are in order, but that's about all.

This segment of California Avenue is NOT BROKEN! It meets the current needs of this tiny little business district well enough. There is nothing in this plan that guarantees increased business opportunities for the merchants, or increased revenues from cyclists who are going to magically appear.



Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2011 at 9:07 pm

The unused capacity of California Ave. is not going to be converted bo bike capacity; it is going to be turned into wider sidewalks and a safer environment for those both inside and outside cars. All the restaurants will benefit from the former, and every customer will benefit from the latter.


Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2011 at 9:39 pm

> it is going to be turned into wider sidewalks and a safer
> environment for those both inside and outside cars

It doesn't matter what it is going to be converted into -- the changes are unneeded.

The sidewalks are more than wide enough now .. unless someone wants to push a crowd down one of the sidewalks. During the non-business hours, there are not very many people on the sidewalks, and during working hours .. there are not that many people on the sidewalks .. with the exception of the noon hour.

But .. let's be a little analytical, shall we? How many people per hour are currently accommodated on each of the segments of California Avenue's sidewalks? What are the delays for pedestrians to gain access to the sidewalk? And after this "improvement", how many pedestrians will be accommodated, and what will be the "delays" for pedestrian access to a sidewalk?

Well .. with the possible exception of the Sunday Farmer's Markets, when some of the sidewalks become overflow for the stalls, every one knows that there is no problem getting access to a bit of sidewalk to navigate. Maybe there are other people on the sidewalk .. but if that offends you .. maybe you should be using one of Palo Alto's underutilized parks .. there aren't many people using the footpaths in these areas.

As to "safety" .. how many people have been killed on California Avenue on a yearly basis? How many people have been run down and injured? If the answer to any of these (and other questions) is "not many" or "none", then this issue of "safety" is a major red herring.

There is a stop sign in the middle of the two-blocks of California Avenue now. Cars generally stop. How many tickets have been issued by the police on this street for running the stop sign, or speeding?

Really .. this is about as safe a street segment as you will find in Palo Alto. Claiming that reducing the vehicular capacity of the current street, without any evidence that there is a "safety" problem to begin with that is associated with vehicular capacity, is tantamount to fraud.


Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Bill, the wider sidewalks are not just for more walking space. They will allow restaurants to have outside seating without interfering with pedestrians. That is converting excess and unused road space to usable restaurant space.

Safety is more than documented fatalities. Waiting until there is blood on the pavement leads to purely reactive and ineffective responses. Close calls are unreported but determine how people feel about an area. If people don't feel safe and comfortable walking somewhere they will not do it regardless of the fatality statistics.


Like this comment
Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 9, 2011 at 11:55 pm

Umm.. guys... The purpose of this is to make Cal Avenue a more attractive place to eat/shop. It's only a couple blocks long. I don't see people clamouring for more cars on Murphy Street in Sunnyvale, Castro in Mountain View or University Ave. This isn't a major thoroughfare that's being changed.

Are you all trying to drive down Cal Avenue to get to the Caltrain station?


Like this comment
Posted by Mr. McGoo
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 10, 2011 at 9:36 am

What a bunch of maroons... In the morning or afternoon, take a drive on South bound ECR before Arastradero Road, Arastradero Road, or Maybell... Experience the major impact of lane reductions in this area and the extreme arrogance of the City Transportation Staff relative to the recent complaints of the majority of the residents in the area. Then notice the LACK of INTEGRITY of City Staff for scientific research relative to "traffic calming."

Pogo was right. We have met the enemy and the enemy is us {City Staff, and Special Interests.

Through James Keane under the bus too for his lack of ethics, morals and integrity too. Read between the lines and see that our City Council and Local Papers are protecting him and not being honest...

Integrity. Hold on to your hats as they continue to cast blame around themselves and not take responsibility for their current and past actions.


Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2011 at 9:56 am

Bill, Thank you for your analytical (and intelligent!) thoughts on this “problem.” I agree with all you say.

I shop on California Ave. often and do NOT find “…life is difficult and dangerous for pedestrians.” It’s nicely crowded during the farmers’ markets, but no problem.

I wonder how many restaurant patrons go to lunch and dinner on their bicycles or walk to the restaurant. Finding a parking space during those hours is almost impossible.

Ask shop and restaurant owners if they can survive on foot traffic and bicyclists. Most people drive, park, then they walk.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The whole country is in an economic crisis. Funding for these non-essential projects --- $28.4M for Cesar Chavez St. in SF or $1.5M for California Ave. -– is money that should be spent on education and fixing urgent infrastructure problems. And it’s all coming out of our pockets.

Do you really think the best use of your tax dollars is kiosks and bulb-outs?

Palo Alto has a $500M infrastructure backlog, with no idea how to fund it. Yet the city is spending $500K on narrowing California Ave.

When the city council puts a bond issue on the ballot asking for MORE of your money to fix the streets and pay for a new police building, will you still think this California Ave. is a good idea?


Like this comment
Posted by Millie
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 10, 2011 at 11:05 am

Cal Ave currently has such a parking shortage we no longer think about going there for lunch. And our genius planning dept. wants spend money to take away even more parking.

In the interim, our aging water mains keep breaking. We've had 2 water outages in the last 2 weeks that lasted hours and polluted the water for days. Try spending the money to fix that instead.


Like this comment
Posted by MJ
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 10, 2011 at 11:07 am

Donald,

THE SIDEWALKS ARE NOT GOING TO BE WIDENED. The city has never planned or has plans to widen the sidewalks in future. You are making an assumption without knowing the facts. Though why spend so much taxpayer money without ending up with wider sidewalks is beyond me.

At the intersections there will still be a turning lane, so when you cross you are still going to have to check both lanes as you cross. There will be one additional and much needed mid-block pedestrian crossing approximately where the Bank of the West parking lot is.

There is not going to be a bicycle lane because it would have to run right behind the cars parked diagonally. Not safe as cars pull in and out of the parking slots.

The three foot decorative strip between the diagonal parked cars and the driving land was designed by Jaime Rodregues to have texture (bumpy), though at the last meeting in December someone pointed out that would not be safe for people on bikes.




Like this comment
Posted by Cal. Ave. is my south PA downtown
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2011 at 11:26 am

There is so much misinformation here, I don't know where to start.

Comparing Arastradero (a road that carries 18,000-19,000 cars per day)to California Avenue (which carries less than 6,000 cars per day)is ridiculous. There are auto volume thresholds for lane reduction projects of this kind and the volumes on Cal. Ave. are WELL below any threshold I have ever seen. (and I actually researched this extensively) In fact, with the proposed changes there will still be plenty of room for auto volume growth resulting from new development.

The very successful retail rejuvenation of Castro Street which carries MUCH higher volumes than California Ave probably ever will is an interesting comparison. The area was completely revitalized. Though I love Calif. Ave and shop there regularly, it is getting pretty shabby. It badly needs an upgrade, and as a motorist and bicyclist, I think this is a great idea for ALL users of the road, including drivers.

I hope the city will just say YES. Please, please, please say YES!


Like this comment
Posted by JacoP
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2011 at 11:27 am

@MJ and everyone else besides PA Res

Did you even read the article at all? It says right there that the plans were to widen the sidewalks. This is a great idea. Spend 1.5M now and create a mini University avenue (which last time I checked was 1 lane in each direction). All you people don't have a clue about economic stability. Spend money now to receive tax dollars in the future. Jeeze it's not rocket science.

I'm sure they are taking parking into account too. They are probably going to build structures where existing lots are now... They think about these things people. It's what they are paid to do.

PA Res thank you for summing up the argument. I completely agree.


Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2011 at 11:39 am

“Spend 1.5M now and create a mini University avenue (which last time I checked was 1 lane in each direction).”

Now there’s a model to emulate! Constant traffic jams the length of University.

“Spend money now to receive tax dollars in the future.” Where do you imagine those tax dollars will come from? Let's just keep spending all that money we're borrowing from China and let our grandchildren pay the debt.


Like this comment
Posted by JacoP
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2011 at 11:57 am

Pat,

In order to create revenue you have to spend it first. I guess we could just sit back and let Cal Ave turn into a ghost town. That would be beneficial.

University Ave isn't that bad. Plus it feeds Stanford and the 101 thus adding massive amounts of traffic. Plus where does Cal Ave go anyway? It runs into Caltrain. I hardly see cars there at all.

Um Sales tax revenue? Do you have any idea how much money the city makes from University Avenue? Plus making Cal Ave more friendly for shopping will boost the house values of the surrounding neighborhoods thus creating revenue for the county and city.


Like this comment
Posted by Cal. Ave. is my south PA downtown
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2011 at 12:03 pm

University Avenue carries MUCH higher volumes of traffic than California Avenue. AGAIN you are comparing apples and oranges. Do your homework, please. Auto volumes make a huge difference. This project will not create a congestion problem. It's a no-brainer.


Like this comment
Posted by K
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 10, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Study. Did they study one car sitting and waiting for someone to load their car and finally leave, while the rest of the cars line up beihind this all, in the one line.
or the one day/time you decided to go around the stoppage, you get a ticket for crossing a double yellow line.
Charleston is a prime example. you have 2 major schools, a new complex of housing on el camino, and the route to the freeways 101 or 280 now must creep along on the one lane


Like this comment
Posted by JacoP
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2011 at 12:15 pm

@K

Usually planners anticipate this activity and put loading zones on every block. Plus you can use side streets as well. We shouldn't go based off of people doing something illegal.


Like this comment
Posted by Evergreen Park Neighbor
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 10, 2011 at 12:51 pm

I hope this project gets moving. I remember when Castro street was a deserted, life-less f with four lane of traffic. There was lots of parking but who would want to go there back then. After they narrowed Castro, put in sidewalk sitting and landscaping improvements the street turned into the central point of Mountain View, bustling with activity all the time.

I look forward to the same transformation for California avenue. It has so much possibility.

Imagine all the places people like to hang out in the world in the great cities of the world and they all have one thing in common: very few cars, lots of places to sit down and enjoy the sun, a safe place for the kids to run around in. That's what we need in Palo Alto.


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Posted by Shopper Mom
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I live on Charleston so I drive it, and walk it, and bike it all the time. It is a vast improvement over what used to occur--regular car crashes, speeding traffic in a place where lots of kids are walking and biking to schools and parks.

Traffic does get congested during the morning peak hour now, but it always did. The big difference is the rest of the day when drivers used to race down those wide open four lanes to speed. The road is a lot safer now in the afternoons when kids are walking and biking home from school and other people are out walking and biking, too.

Charleston carries 16,000 cars per day. California Avenue carries less than 6,000. That's a HUGE difference. It really doesn't make sense to compare these two projects.

The Cal. Ave. design is a great idea.


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Posted by Judy
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 10, 2011 at 1:36 pm

This morning, I was driving south on El Camino a few minutes before school was to start at Gunn. The traffic making a left onto Arastradero was backed up into El Camino while the cars trying to make a right onto Arastradero were backed up for many blocks. As a long time communter, I haven't come across regular occurance until Arastradero was reduced from two lanes to one.

My question: How could it be then, that doing something similar on CA Avenue wouldn't have similar consequences? And how would the back up of cars make it a more attractive destination to many of us who arrive by car? Studies aside, how about just using common sense the observe already existing traffic patterns?


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 10, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Would support IF these things are addressed/solved first:

1. "But the 60-degree angled parking represents one area of concern. City standards for angled parking require 16-foot lane widths behind parking spaces to allow vehicles to back out without encroaching on opposite-direction traffic. For most of the area, the project would provide 18- to 19-foot street widths behind the parking spaces. But three locations would have back-up space of just 13.5 to 14.5 feet. A report by the Urban Land Institute found that a 14.5-foot-wide minimum lane width is acceptable for 60-degree angled parking." --Interpreted: more backups.

2. "But at El Camino Real and California Avenue, the lane reductions during peak traffic times could cause traffic to back up 200 feet, which could block parking spaces, the study concluded.

The consultants recommended the existing two- to three-lane westbound approach to El Camino should be maintained to help ease backups. This would result in a loss of five parking spaces on the north side of California."


And on a positive note:

"Planned streetscape improvements for the business district would place street parking at a shallower 60-degree angle (to making backing out easier) and reduce the traffic lanes to accommodate wider sidewalks" -- direct from the report -- definitely wider sidewalks.


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Posted by Questionable
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 10, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Okay who are these studies being done by, is it the same people who thought narrowing Arastradero would be fine. Really we increase the population in our city and Palo Alto decides to decrease the flow of traffic. Who are these people??????????????????
The people who say Unversity isn't that bad, trying going down University it is a pain, everyone goes Lytton and Hamilton


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Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 10, 2011 at 3:40 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

Thank you people who can still ride a bike from their home. Some of my neighbors can't ride a bike anymore.
Workers on the hill don't commute from the east bay and beyond on bikes.

Why not kill all the rest of the jobs on Page Mill and area, by making it mandatory that all employes Bike or Transit to work?
And where will the Farmers market set up if you kill all the lanes that the booths occupied?
Great thinking.


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Posted by JacoP
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2011 at 4:38 pm

University isn't bad. It takes an entire 2 minutes to drive down it. Nobody has patience anymore. Plus APPLES AND ORANGES. University services Stanford AND the 101. Cal Ave, just ECR and it hardly get's used!

As for the farmers market, I'm sure they will figure out a way to fit it in. Maybe with they can encompass the widened sidewalks somehow.

People it's a good idea that has worked in other cities. Cal Ave has a lot of restaurants that would LOVE to have outdoor seating. Let's try to change Palo Alto for the better instead of stonewalling it.


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Posted by Cal. Ave. Shopper mom
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2011 at 5:45 pm

University carries 18,000+ cars per day. Arastradero carries 18,000-19,000 cars per day. It is ridiculous to compare these roads to Calif. Ave. which carries LESS than 6,000.

A more reasonable comparison might be Stanford Ave. which (don't quote me) I think carries about 9,000 per day with two lanes and WITHOUT the significant additional capacity afforded by turning lanes that are proposed on Calif. Ave.

This is a good project. It is exactly the right plan for California Avenue. All road users, including drivers, will benefit from safer speeds, better controlled turning movements (fewer crashes), and when you get out of your car to enjoy the shops and restuarants we'll all enjoy the wider sidewalks.

The street needed repavig anyway. The city will get a grant to help fund this. Please, just say YES.


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Posted by who cares
a resident of Triple El
on Jan 10, 2011 at 7:40 pm

"Donald" thinks cty staff has a great idea, guess he's not a business owner on California Ave. and just enjoys walking around not realizing business's survive with customers who actually patronize their stores. Regarding his reference to Joe Kott, well, old Joe was "let go" by the city but still posts nonsense on this site as if he will somehow regain public support.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2011 at 8:46 pm

California Avenue could use a boost. Get rid of the hideous sculptures, redo the sidewalks like Castro in Mountain View - this would make a good difference. Castro is a great place to hang out any time of day or night. I do have to mention, however, that Arastradero is a disaster, which I recall several times a day as I sit in the traffic created by this stupid plan. The changes in Arastradero have resulted in not one additional bike or bus trip among the members of my family, but have caused many additional hours of idling engines.


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Posted by paresident
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 10, 2011 at 9:04 pm

That's what these idiots said about Arastradero. It never helped, and only made things much much worse.


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Posted by mj
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 10, 2011 at 11:44 pm

To JacoP

"Did you even read the article at all? It says right there that the plans were to widen the sidewalks."

I actually did read the article. I also happen to have been at the public presentation of the plan last December. I have also been at other city sponsered meetings about plans for California Avenue.

Obviously you haven't done your homework or you would know that widening the sidewalks has never been part of the plan. City personnel have been very clear about that at each of the public meetings about plans for California Avenue the city has sponsored.

Reporters aren't always right. Don't be so gullible. Check your facts.


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Posted by Bill
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2011 at 8:08 am

> Plus making Cal Ave more friendly for shopping

The street doesn't bring shoppers in .. the stores, and the prices do.

California Avenue will need a lot more than a "streetscape" makeover to attract shoppers. It will need "anchor" stores that offer more than the products and services being offered now (such as growing number of nail saloons offer).

It's very doubtful that businesses will be better off after this "makeover". Maybe the street people will be happier, but the merchants are the ones that we should be worrying about. Hopefully the local Merchants Association will be tracking the health of its members in some way, and keeping the public informed of how this project has affected their businesses.

> Increase the value of the homes surrounding California Avenue.

What bunk!


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2011 at 10:26 am

>“The city will get a grant to fund this.”

And where do you think the grant money comes from? The $1.5M GRANT COMES FROM YOUR TAX DOLLARS! YOU are paying for this.

Forget about the volume of traffic on Arastradero vs. California. Forget about the width of the sidewalks.

I repeat: Palo Alto has a $500M infrastructure backlog, with no idea how to fund it. Yet the city is spending $500K – of YOUR money – on narrowing California Ave.

Are you so fabulously wealthy that you just don’t care?

> “University isn't bad. It takes an entire 2 minutes to drive down it.”

You’re dreaming. It took me at least 5 minutes to get from El Camino to Emerson yesterday.


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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 11, 2011 at 11:19 am

mj's comments on reported changes to sidewalk width are on target. The October 4th grant proposal to the Valley Transportation Authority (approved in December) does not include any provision to create an extensive, uniform widening of the sidewalks in the California Avenue business district.

The traffic study referenced in the article states three times that "the additional pavement space provided from the lane reduction would be used for streetscape improvements including decorative pavement bands, intersection bulb-outs, and to provide additional on-street parking supply. " (See pages ii, 5, and 22 at Web Link ). No mention of sidewalk expansion.

Palo Alto Online reporter Sue Dremann's wording that "planned streetscape improvements ... reduce the traffic lanes to accommodate wider streets ..." may be referring to planned bulb-outs at intersections that would reduce existing crosswalk lengths (page 3 of the traffic study). She might also be referring to the potential for additional bulb-outs extending into the parking area for the installation of tables and seating for outside dining, a concept the city aired at the public meetings, but did not specifically included in the grant application.

Some of the confusion to date relates to two key points not explicitly stated early in the public process and that the public had to extract: (1) a viable grant application was dependant on a lane reduction, and (2) a reduction in lane capacity would not result in an increase in sidewalk width.

The result of a 4-to-2 lane reduction along sections of California Avenue is a wider 16-foot shared automotive and bicycle lane, but also a 3-foot paver band designed to further separate that lane from the parking spots and raised intersection crosswalk tables. (See page 10 of the grant application at Web Link ).

The earlier and unsuccessful, April grant application included an option to use the space gained from the lane reduction to increase the sidewalk width by 3 feet and with the preferred alternative determined during community outreach for the final design

That conversation will most probably not occur. It appears that both the paver band and lane reduction are already set in grant-acceptance stone. On December 6, and as required by the VTA, the city council passed a resolution that in addition to "authorizing" and "executing" the grant application, states that "[the] Project will be implemented as described in the complete application ... if approved ..."

I don't know at this point if widening the sidewalks tied into any lane diet is the optimal way to go, or if it would have been viable (e.g., possible re-placement of new trees, movement of utilities) or cost prohibitive (i.e., need for additional funds), but I do believe it was a conversation we should have had.


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Posted by JacoP
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2011 at 12:20 pm

@MJ

Then why does it say this in the article "and reduce the traffic lanes to accommodate wider sidewalks" are they lying to us? Is it possible that hey have revised the plan since you last saw it?


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Posted by Sue Dremann
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Jan 11, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Sue Dremann is a registered user.

Sorry. Mea culpa. I should have specified the bulb outs when referring to the sidewalk expansion: The streetscape proposal adds "bulb outs" to extend the sidewalk in some places but does not uniformly widen the sidewalks.


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Posted by JacoP
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2011 at 2:45 pm

@Sue

Thank you for the clarification. I'm still behind the idea. I hope they add a bike lane too.


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Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 12, 2011 at 2:46 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Several people have complained here that Cal Ave has insufficient parking, and that a lot of traffic is drivers looking for a spot. Well, good news everyone: the plan calls for 19 ADDITIONAL PARKING SPOTS. (It would have been 24, but 5 new ones are lost in retaining two lanes before El Camino Real, to address the concerns raised in the traffic study vis-a-vis backups at the light). Businesses and drivers will benefit from the 17% increase in parking spots, drawing more customers. Once they park, drivers become pedestrians. The pedestrian safety enhancements will also attract more customers. All this may lead to increased business and revenue for the city, as it has for Castro and many other locales, which is how the city pays for this modest investment of city funds.

Fears of traffic delays are overblown, and commenters repeatedly ignore the fact that California Ave has about a quarter of the traffic volumes of University or Arastradero (5K versus 19K vehicles a day). The only reason Cal Ave has 4 lanes is because it used to be the through street crossing the railroad, before Oregon Expwy. Now the 4 lanes is a waste of space, unnecessary for the small number of autos, and a danger for pedestrians. Pedestrians crossing multiple lanes of traffic is the number one source of vehicle pedestrian collisions, where one car can stop for a pedestrian and a second car does not see and strikes the pedestrian. Yes, some intersections retain multiple lanes, but these all have stop signs. The safety of the four unsignalized mid-block crosswalks will be improved by the lane reductions, plus cars will have to slow to go over them because the crosswalks will be elevated to the level of the sidewalk, like a long speed hump, upon which peds are more visible, and those with physical impairments have an easier time crossing on a level surface.

Note that Cal Ave is scheduled to be repaved in any case, but the city planners have taken this opportunity to not just repaint the lanes in their outdated configuration, but to design a streetscape that more intelligently responds to the current conditions, not those that were in place 70 years ago. They have sought and obtained outside funding worth $1.2M to cover 70% of the restriping and other improvements. The city's share will be ~$500K

Unfortunately, uniformly widened sidewalks is not part of the plan. The city did apply for a grant to widen the sidewalks, but it was not awarded to the city. One opinion against widening the sidewalks is that, with the replanted trees where they are now, if the sidewalks were widened, the trees would be in the middle of the sidewalks. However, I think that would be a fine way to shade patrons at lunch, and I hope that in the future the city will try again to get such a grant. In the meantime, the plan does optionally call for a few areas of expanded sidewalk, which could serve as restaurant seating, and which would replace some of the additional parking. The position and size of these areas will be determined in consultation with the public.

In regards to the Farmers' Market, as the actual roadway is not really narrowed, the stalls will take up the space they currently do without change.

One person mentioned hoping they would add bike lanes, but bike lanes are not permitted behind back-out diagonal parking, because they would put bikes in a dangerous position, just behind cars backing out. Instead, the plan calls for share-the-road arrows (AKA Sharrows, bike symbols with chevrons) which would be painted in the travel lane, at a safe distance from the parked cars. These indicate to cyclists the safe path to ride, and to motorists to expect and share the road with bikes. The Palo Alto Bicycle Advisory Committee has reviewed these plans, helped improve them for bikes, believes this configuration will be safe for cyclists, and supports this project.

The one change in the plan for which I have advocated regards the diagonal parking. People have commented here and in previous public meetings that they are concerned about cars backing out of the steeper diagonal parking, without being able to see past giant vehicles parked upstream of them. This is why I have suggested we adopt here back-in diagonal parking. Basically the stripes are painted diagonally, but the stalls point downstream instead of the usual upstream. Instead of driving the front of your car into the stall, you drive just past the stall, and back your butt in. People sometimes balk at this at first, but that back in movement is a lot easier than, say, parallel parking, and a lot less sketchy than blindly backing out of regular diagonal parking. You know whether you need to watch out for cyclists, because you would have just passed any, and you can see them in the street behind you. When you return from your shopping with your groceries, your trunk is by the sidewalk, so that's convenient, and your opened car doors funnel your kids into the car instead of into the street, so that's family friendly. When you're ready to drive away, as the driver you're close to the street looking over the hoods of upstream cars, and it is a lot easier to see if there is oncoming traffic before you pull out. Palo Alto does not yet have any back-in diagonal parking, but many other cities have had great success with it. Plus, it appears that bike lanes may actually be allowed with back-in/head-out diagonal parking. I think this would be a great location to do it in Palo Alto, where the road is absurdly wide, it's a shopping district, and the street is getting repaved and re-striped anyway. More info on this type of parking can be found at Web Link


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2011 at 10:43 am

> "They have sought and obtained outside funding worth $1.2M to cover 70% of the restriping and other improvements. The city's share will be ~$500K."

"Outside funding"? Where's "outside"? Is there some magical source of money? Get a clue: ALL of the "shares" are yours! It's ALL coming out of your pocket.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Reverse diagonal parking. Most Americans can't reverse. It is much harder to reverse in rather than reverse out. To reverse in you have to turn the wheels, to reverse out, the wheels are generally in the right position. I would imagine a lot more scratches on cars if we had these spots plus more people would use the lots so that they don't have to do reverse in parking.

As an alternative idea, why not have the bike lane between the parking and the sidewalks so that bikes are separated from the cars driving on the street. That would make a lot of sense to me.


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Posted by JacoP
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2011 at 1:37 pm

@Cedric

Thank you for posting that. I agree with everything you said except not sure about the parking. Sharrows are fine with me. I don't think the trees would be that hard to transplant if they were doing such a major renovation such as widening the entire sidewalk, but yea as of now they have to make due. I can't wait for them to finish this project.

I heard about the 4 lanes being a connector to Oregon before, but never knew it was actually true. Thank you for your insight and it's good to see someone put together such a detailed and thought out response.


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Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Pat, yes this is all taxpayer funding, but it has already been taken out of our pockets (statewide, not just those in Palo Alto). If it isn't spent on this project it will be spent on another one, possibly in another city. You can't "save" this money that has already been collected and allocated for specific categories of project. You can only change what gets collected in the future.


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Posted by sigh
a resident of Portola Valley
on Jan 13, 2011 at 3:08 am

Just another reason to avoid that whole area.

As to the person who claimed it only took 2 minutes to go down University Ave. I made the mistake of driving down University tonight. I wish it had taken only 2 minutes.

The self-righteous cycle and bus everywhere folks need to realize that not everyone is physically able to ride a bike or hop on a bus. Some of us even live in areas with very limited bus service.

It's just so much easier to shop at a large mall than put up with the hassle of shopping downtown Palo Alto. Plus, there's always the threat of parking tickets. Sigh.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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