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 .