News

Commission votes to cut California Avenue lanes

Businesses in the Palo Alto retail district are leery of the street reductions from four lanes to two

A two-lane configuration for Palo Alto's California Avenue Business District was approved Wednesday night (Jan. 12) by the city's Planning and Transportation Commission.

Banking on an inexpensive way to spruce up California Avenue's retail district, the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of an environmental "negative declaration" for the controversial California Avenue Streetscape Project, including reducing the roadway from four lanes to two.

If the City Council agrees, the project would receive $1.2 million from a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) grant for transit-corridor improvements, including pedestrian and bicycle access. Palo Alto would add $550,000 in a local match.

The $1.8 million-total project can now go before the council to decide if it can begin the design phase. A negative declaration, required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), allows the city to move the project forward without a cumbersome and expensive environmental review, since city staff has determined the project would have little negative environmental impact.

But some businesses are unconvinced and fear a significant economic impact. Despite 399-page traffic study, which found no significant delays due to reducing the lanes, many business owners fear that reducing lanes could damage their businesses.

The plan does not consider the negative impact of construction and the lane reductions will have on their livelihoods, they said.

There is no requirement under CEQA to consider economic impacts, staff told the commissioners.

California Avenue could lose an anchor store, Mollie Stone's Market, one of its owners, David Bennett, warned in a written statement in a petition opposing the proposed lane reductions, signed by several residents and businesses.

The lane reductions "would put the market in a difficult position with reduced access. Fortunately for Mollie Stone's, we are the owners of the property and are not subject to any third-party lease if our business goes below the point of necessity. Our plans would be to develop the property to a different use than a supermarket," he wrote.

Earlier on Wednesday, before the commission hearing, Tony Montooth, owner of Antonio's Nut House, said his biggest concern is parking. Parking is already at capacity during lunch hour and many businesses don't have rear entrances for deliveries, he said.

"Traffic will stop in the middle of the street. It's going to stop dead," he said.

But Jaime Rodriguez, the city's chief transportation official, said loading zones have been figured into the plan, and alleys off California are also to be used for deliveries.

Montooth and others said construction is another major concern.

"I have mixed emotions. I'd love to beautify California Avenue but at what expense? During construction, it would really hurt, especially in this economy."

But some business owners said they just want the street to look better.

"I don't see why changing from two lanes to one will make a traffic problem, especially if there is more parking. I don't see that many cars," Josephine Montoya, owner of Montoya Jewelers, said.

"What they're saying is fine with me -- to make the street more attractive."

Jessica Roth, whose family has owned the European Cobblery for four generations, said she grew up on California.

"Small business is so hard. In Palo Alto, our rents are so high, When they were redoing the sewer lines it was really hard on our business. It's been episode after episode. (of construction).

"People are finicky about their time and convenience, Six months of construction is going to just kill my business -- just kill my business," she said.

Curtis Williams, director of planning and community environment, said staff would work out a plan to limit construction impacts on businesses, such as phasing the work and making sure entrances remain clear.

Roth said she worries that lane reductions would cause backups and that would turn off people traveling up El Camino who might intend to shop on California.

"People going by will have a bad thought in their heads: That street is a mess. I want people to come to my street. It just does not make sense to me," she said.

In a Weekly news poll, 227 were against and 127 were for the changes.

Resident Terry Holzmer, president of the Palo Alto Central condominium complex, told the commission that the city should not base its decision to reduce lanes on a requirement for getting a grant. The VTA grant is contingent on the lane reductions, city staff told commissioners.

Businesses and residents agree that California needs improvement, he said, but "where the devil is, of course, is in the details.

"It's clear that (people) don't want to narrow to two lanes."

Despite businesses' fears, Commissioner Samir Tuma said he "did not see any data that supports traffic congestion or hazards to bicycles."

Vice Chair Lee Lippert said street improvements in Menlo Park enticed several Stanford Shopping Center businesses to move to Santa Cruz Avenue.

"They're eating our lunch?" he asked.

He also did not buy the argument that narrowing the lanes would clog California with traffic from cars looking for parking spots, buses or delivery trucks. A traffic study found that California has about one third or less the traffic volume of other area retail districts, including University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto.

"This is not an arterial. If anything, this is really a shopping center. … It's a way to get from the Caltrain station to El Camino Real," Lippert said. The goal is to make the retail area a destination point, he said.

That assessment was confirmed by Tommy Fehrenbach, the city's economic development manager, who said the plan would add parking and create a sense of place, making the area more attractive and improving business.

Some residents on Wednesday night said they support the changes.

"I think it will be a great revitalization," College Terrace resident Robyn Duby said.

Some residents dismissed the four-lane road as a throwback to the 1950s, which no longer has relevance.

Roger Carpenter and Ted Black, residents of the adjacent Evergreen Park neighborhood, said they approve of the plan. Other retail districts where lane reductions have taken place, such as Castro Street in Mountain View and Santa Cruz Avenue, are "great places and highly trafficked. It will be great for business." Black said.

The commissioners are concurrently reviewing the broader California Avenue Area Plan, and they wanted to know if the traffic study included any impacts of those eventual developments, which could include high-density housing.

Julie Caporgno, chief planning and transportation official, said staff doesn't anticipate that any future development would have a significant impact on traffic. Any residences that go in there would be transit-oriented," she said.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by David Bennett
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 13, 2011 at 7:09 am

I am wondering who benefits from this project? Clearly it is not the retailers as the examples of the different cities where this has been successful are not dead end streets. Why is this being pushed by the person or group who is writing the grant? For what reasons? As a property owner and business owner who has a personal investment in our community, clearly, the majority at least this far, is against this. I would like to know the home towns of the folks who are behind this. Is this in a rush because there is a window that this grant is available? Will the people behind this still be shopping and supporting our street by the time the construction is finished?

"There is no requirement under CEQA to consider economic impacts, staff told the commissioners".

What a comment that economic viability does not need to be considered!
Is no one in the room responsible for making a payroll and paying business taxes? We are the folks who pay the taxes. Stop rushing and listen to us.


Like this comment
Posted by PJ
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 13, 2011 at 10:23 am

David Bennett says: "I am wondering who benefits from this project?"

Answer: Our new Transportation Manager Jaime Rodriguez, he is the bicycle route genius of the peninsula. If it goes through it will be a feather in his cap, along with Arastradero Road He's building up a resume of successful corridor alignments in Palo Alto; in a City were previous Transportation Managers have failed and then resigned.


Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2011 at 10:31 am

Q: “….who benefits from this project?”

A: Jaime Rodriguez, the city’s chief transportation official. What would his job entail if he wasn’t narrowing streets?

“Julie Caporgno, chief planning and transportation official said staff doesn't anticipate that any future development would have a significant impact on traffic. Any residences that go in there would be transit-oriented," …

Right. Anyone who lives in “transit oriented” housing doesn’t own or drive a car.

(And just how many “chiefs” are there in the Planning & Transportation Department?)

“Vice Chair Lee Lippert said street improvements in Menlo Park enticed several Stanford Shopping Center businesses to move to Santa Cruz Avenue.“

I guess Lippert figures that once California Ave. is "spruced up," Nieman Marcus will move down from the Stanford Shopping Center.

VTA grant for “transit-corridor improvements, including pedestrian and bicycle access.”

Since there’s to be no bike lane and no widening of the sidewalks, how is access improved?

What a travesty: $1.8M to “spruce up California Avenue's retail district” -- when the majority of retailers are against it!


Like this comment
Posted by been there, heard that
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2011 at 10:57 am

The arguments sound just like what I heard 30 years ago in Boulder Colorado when they closed there main street and made a one-way circle on the two adjacent streets.....net result has been an incredible increase in buisness and foot traffic.....sure some buisnesses changed, but the net result was very positive for all of the city.


Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2011 at 11:06 am

> “Vice Chair Lee Lippert said street improvements in Menlo Park
> enticed several Stanford Shopping Center businesses to move to
> Santa Cruz Avenue.“

It would be interesting to know how Vice Chair Lippert came by this information. Generally, most businesses don't share their proprietary/strategic information with their competitors, or the public.

Future increases in Stanford rents would be more likely a cause for a store/business to move to a nearby location out of the shopping plaza, than not.

And, given that the City of Palo Alto has made it very difficult for the Simon Property Group Inc. to rebuild the Mall to be fully competitive with other regional malls. Could it be that some shops/businesses are showing their displeasure at the mindless actions of the Palo Alto City Council and moving to a more business climate that is more "business friendly" than Palo Alto?

Someone should ask Lee Lippert some of these questions .. and see if he has an answer, or just "ducks".


Like this comment
Posted by ag
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 13, 2011 at 11:08 am

I'm sorry, but this is a ridiculous idea. Why spend all this money to fix what is not broken???


Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2011 at 11:09 am

> but the net result was very positive for all of the city.

There is NO WAY that taking two lanes out of the very, very, short segment of California Avenue will have any impact on the rest of Palo Alto.

How could any rational person try to draw analogies to other cities where the urban setting is in no way similar?



Like this comment
Posted by ThatGirl
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 13, 2011 at 11:23 am

Haven't they done enough? They cut down all the trees, they are going to take out the fountain, which was very soothing to look at and listen to while I would wait for the Stanford shuttle after a hard days work. How about they put their energy into attracting more business in the area. This plan is ridiculous!


Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 13, 2011 at 11:25 am

Q: “….who benefits from this project?”

We ALL will benefit. Get real - this design is much nicer than what is there now. These are fallacious arguments that this will turn California Ave into grid lock or even be more difficult to travel. Every traffic engineer I heard speak on this agrees - and I've heard several.

Jaime Rodriguez is paid the same if we get 2 or 4 lanes.


Like this comment
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2011 at 11:32 am

OMG! These people make me crazy! I'll bet they don't drive on the streets they are mucking up with this new approach. I personally curse them all (I wonder how they like that negative energy bombarding them!) everytime I have to take East Charleston to get to the 101 fwy onramp.

Well, since they don't care about the citizens of Palo Alto, I don't care if they get silently blanketed with negativity because they sooo deserve it!


Like this comment
Posted by Millie
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 13, 2011 at 11:38 am

Hey, no problem if it screws up traffic, cuts sales tax revenues and destroys the merchants and costs $2 million. They can always just keep raising our utility rates to make up the sales tax shortfall.

How stupid and wasteful!


Like this comment
Posted by Eva
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 13, 2011 at 11:39 am

I agree with Frank above, we all benefit. I am excited to see a spruced up Cal Av that is an alternative to University. I hope sidewalks are increased to allow for al freco dining. I imagine a funky Castro that is friendly and not pretentious. After construction I envision a street where I want to go even more often.

As consumers we must remember to continue to patronize the businesses on California during construction.


Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 13, 2011 at 11:42 am

There are three very clear examples where limiting traffic and narrowing street has created an economic boom: Pearl Street in Boulder, Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park and Castro Street in Mountain View. They are booming! and are wonderful places to stroll, and hang-out. All three places have similar demographics to Palo Alto. In the absence of a counter-example, how could we possibly think this project is bad?

I am all for this project.


Like this comment
Posted by Finally: guts and moxie!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm

What a wonderful decision! Finally, a group of decision-makers that listened to experts and had the GUTS to make a decision on its own, not basing it on Johnny-Come-Lately's from the peanut gallery.

Businesses and property owners should have spoken up, YEARS ago, when they knew all this street work was being discussed. This work has been YEARS in the making. Each was in their hole, yawning about it. You know who you are.

This is a classic example of: "If you snooze, you lose", and when your opinion affecting a whole district is based on NOTHING but fear, ignorance & hearsay, it deserves to lose.


To :"ThatGirl", a resident of Stanford, who wrote:

"Haven't they done enough? They cut down all the trees, they are going to take out the fountain, which was very soothing to look at and listen to while I would wait for the Stanford shuttle after a hard days work. How about they put their energy into attracting more business in the area. This plan is ridiculous."


Are you serious? Have you actually LOOKED at the condition of the existing fountain? There's still time. Go up, That Girl, and look UNDER the bowl. Look at the giant cracks.

That thing is in such bad condition, if there's an earthquake: heads up - that baby's coming down! So vote for the new one - and my word, please pay more attention to your surroundings in the future!

California Avenue will soon look great. Kudos to the city for the effort to finally bring real improvements to the district. This action will attract more business to the district - perhaps more owners and managers that will be team-players, taking more interest in the avenue, for the health of the entire district. This is exciting!

The fact is that the street will be torn up one way or the other, due to resurfacing, so it's best to do it correctly, and from the beginning. This is an excellent decision! Can't wait to see the finished project.


Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2011 at 12:06 pm

> created an economic boom: Pearl Street in Boulder, Santa Cruz Avenue
> in Menlo Park and Castro Street in Mountain View.

What evidence can be provided (and please be specific) that the modifications to the streets "created an economic boom"?

In California (at least), these sorts of public works projects are not required to file an "Economic Impact Report". So .. the only evidence anyone can provide about the economic impact of these sorts of projects is anecdotal.

The local Merchants Association might be able to provide information in the future .. such as how much the rents increased after the project was completed. Or how their vacancy rate went from "whatever" to zero, and there now is a "years-long" waiting list for nation wide companies to move in. The Assessors Office should be getting in the act, and reassessing all of the properties--presumably upgrading their assessments by hundreds of thousands of dollars per property (but Prop.13 won't allow the Assessor to do that).

As a few "street people" how that like the "New California" isn't going to provide much of value either--but that won't keep the local papers from asking them for their opinions.

Certainly repaving the street more frequently, is something the P/W people could have done--but they seemed more interested in chopping down trees.

It might be interesting to look at what the city government could do on this section of California without taking out any lanes from the street.


Like this comment
Posted by Hurray!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2011 at 12:27 pm

This is a GREAT project. It was evident, listening to speakers at the meeting, that the people in favor had really done their homework. The minority of people who were opposed seemed emotional and uninformed about the facts. Well done, PTC.


Like this comment
Posted by Millie
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 13, 2011 at 12:31 pm

How is this going to create an economic boom? Are you going to kick out all the businesses that aren't restaurants??

Compare Castro Street and Santa Cruz Ave. Castro St. is dominated by restaurants and is a ghost town when it's not mealtime because there are few other types of businesses.

Santa Cruz Ave is much more diverse and is so deserted in the evening that one restaurant owner told us he had to borrow a friend's huge white stretch limo and park it on the street with its flashers flashing to try to attract restaurant traffic.

Is PA going to kick out established businesses like the wonderful cobbler, Country Sun, etc.??


Like this comment
Posted by jardins
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2011 at 1:11 pm

With only one lane in each direction, won't traffic get snarled up behind a driver backing out of a parking space?


Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 13, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Just compare Castro and Santa Cruz before and after traffic lane removals. Both were semi-ghost towns and run-down all the time. After the lane removals, business picked up. It's anecdotal but there was a huge difference for those of us who have lived here long enough to remember. I remember the same arguments were put forth about reducing lanes as are now put forth in the California case. I don't think overall, anybody would argue that Santa Cruz and Castro are not better now than they were back then.

Sure the mix of business will change but overall those streets are much better off. Avoiding change is not a good reason to stop this project.

to "Wondering?"'s comments about Castro being a ghost town except at meal times. I think that isn't true at all I frequent the street and there is alot more foot traffic there now then before the lane reduction. Sure there are more people around meal times but that's true anywhere. Sure it's deserted some times but let's face it --- the only way to make any street bustling all the time, we'd have to increase our density to the level of Manhattan.


Like this comment
Posted by JO
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 13, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Is there any way that this can be put to a vote of the community?

From everything I've heard, this plan is being handled like the High Speed Rail authority, where plans are shoved down protesting citizens' throats while obscuring important details.

"Pedestrian and bicycle-friendly" is being used as an excuse for this ridiculous waste of money, while the plans do not even provide for a dedicated bicycle lane or wider sidewalks. The hypocrisy!

I am now convinced that Obama's stimulus plan is an abyssmal failure because of too many examples like this where the money gets distributed in a wasteful and even hurtful manner. (I believe the VTA grant is from Federal stiumlus funds, not to mention the hundreds of millions that have been handed to the HSR authority).

How can I believe that the City is handliing the budget crisis responsibly when they throw away $550,000 on something like this that most residents and nearby businesses don't want?

It would be so much more produtive to spend the $550,000 on repaving a few more streets. The savings in gas mileage and vehicle repair costs would far outweigh the nonexistent benefits of this wasteful and misguided use of City money, and of staff, Commission and Council time.


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 13, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Having one lane in downtown Menlo on Santa Cruz makes traffic go slower through that area. Cars do have to stop to let cars get out of parking spots. I find the effect is that drivers and passengers have a little more time to look around whilst driving, and to check out the business windows displays, see where the restaurants are, etc. Then it is more attractive to making a stop then or next time. Slower traffic can help the businesses like that. You have more time to look and see when in the car. The problem in Menlo is a lack of parking in that area, and limits on time allowed for parking. The area is dead at night I think because a lot of the population of Menlo is older or parents and in bed by 9 or 10. We don't get the college students or 20-somethings.


Like this comment
Posted by JKSmith
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 13, 2011 at 1:35 pm

I initially questioned the need for such a change, but I did the research for myself, and now I think it will be a good thing for the venerable Ave, the former main st. of Mayfield. "Eva" and "Steve" have it right IMHO-- the project will create MORE parking on the street, and will broaden the sidewalks to allow for the already-growing number of cafes that spill over. While construction may be a difficult phase, the end result should make the Ave an even more attractive destination.

Millie you're just being silly-- sorry, couldn't resist the rhyme. Those of us who live near the Ave know that some of the best restaurants in town are right here, and some great local businesses, including TWO excellent groceries, coffee shops, a fabulous weekly Farmers Market, etc. etc. It's a great place for a stroll, day or night, and very family friendly too. That's not going to change-- and if we can make parking and strolling easier, so much the better.

I've been in the neighborhoods bordering the Ave since 1956. I've seen so many changes; so many businesses come and go; heard so much rhetoric about how a change was going to destroy the Ave. None of those dire predictions ever happens. The Ave is more than the sum of its parts-- it's a center, a hub, where I can go shopping or dining or browsing, and say hi to neighbors and business owners who have become friends, and enjoy one of the great benefits of living in this part of Palo Alto.

I say bring it on-- we'll deal with the temporary mess and then celebrate the new look when it's done.


Like this comment
Posted by Marco
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 13, 2011 at 1:43 pm

I am very much in favor of the project. This will make Calif Ave a friendlier place to visit, to walk along and to spend more time, and also a safer road for bicyclists. The City did a great job of outreach to the wider Palo Alto community with the public meetings, unlike what the entrenched Calif Ave business group did with its private proposal of cutting down the trees. If the businesses need even more parking, let them pony up them some money for a parking structure that would replace some of the parking lots.


Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2011 at 1:44 pm

> It's a great place for a stroll, day or night, and
> very family friendly too.

That's the point that most of us are making in response to those who claim that this two-block section of California is "broken".

> That's not going to change.

Really? Then what's the point of dumping $1.5+M into this area?


Like this comment
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 13, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Can we have more civility in our discourse, not just here but across the PA Online site? I've noticed again and again that an alarming number of comments on articles have an aggressive, bullying, repressive tone, sometimes even calling for harm to this or the other public official, or calling other commenters idiots, etc. This sort of mob-mentality bullying discourages dissenting view-points, and gives a false one-sidedness to debates. I would hope that after the shooting of a congresswoman last weekend, we would all take a step back from the vitriol, take a deep breath, and edit out the nastier parts of our comments. We can express differences of opinions without debasing one another. Thank you.


Like this comment
Posted by Midtown resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2011 at 1:56 pm

We shop California St. and eat there often, but we do have to drive from midtown or from work and have to find parking. It's not too bad now, but think about the future. Multifamily residences are next and even the best intentions for public transport will result in more need for parking. Does the city's long term plan include the cost of building free parking structures or city-owned lots that will have the needed capacity?
We shouldn't kid ourselves. I'm all for "green," but it will probably take a few generations for suburbia's Americans to give up their love affair with cars.


Like this comment
Posted by M Park Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 13, 2011 at 1:59 pm

I no longer drive on Santa Cruz Avenue since the lane reduction. I can't even tell you what stores are there anymore, because I use either Menlo or Crane to get across Menlo Park. Pulling out of a parking spot on Santa Cruz is a real adventure.

I have worked near California Ave since 1977, and am not thrilled about the lane reduction. I also think it is too small a business district to have critical mass as a destination. It used to be fairly busy nights and weekends when there were more family-friendly businesses, like Printers Inc and the theater. Now it's mostly restaurants for the lunch crowd.


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Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 13, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

For the sake of efficiency, I'm reposting here more or less the same thing I posted yesterday in the older thread about the traffic analysis for Cal Ave:

Several people have complained 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.

I'll add a note that in the PTC meeting last night, Commissioner Tanaka asked what the value is of an on-street parking spot, and the answer was $40K-$50K/spot. Thus the $550K cost to the city, adding 19 spots, generates 19 spots * $40K/spot = $760K worth of parking value. Plus it leverages $1,200K in additional investment in our community, with the benefits of a safer pedestrian environment. This is a great investment for the city.

People who say this grant money should be used for education or street repaving don't understand that this pot of money is set aside for specifically the sort of project as it was awarded for. It can not legally be spend on potholes or teachers. If Palo Alto doesn't use it to improve its streetscape, another city will.

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 ~$550K

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 [mentioned in the other thread], 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.


Like this comment
Posted by crazy ideas
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 13, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Well of course they approved, they need to do something. The craziest ideas. Do we pay people to think of ways to narrow all our streets when we have many people in our community than we did 20 years ago. Just don't get who are on these boards


Like this comment
Posted by Jo
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 13, 2011 at 2:29 pm

JKSmith, please explain how eliminating 2 lanes will increase parking. The cars won't be double-parked.

You've got the owner of Mollie Stone's threatening to pull out of there. Fantastic. We can lose another grocery store and the tax revenues. Can we say utility rate increase to cover the shortfall???

I'd dearly love to see this put to a vote.

Re Menlo Park's businesses and the older population, they've got something like 5 restaurants on Santa Cruz open in the evening. Nothing else is open.

University Avenue is only 2 lanes and people have been complaining for years that they never go downtown anymore because of the difficulty of finding parking even with all the new expensive garages.

Didn't the city just vote last year to rezone from retail to offices when so many stores closed? Why should Cal Ave be any different?

How much time and money did the people from Mac's Barbecue spend on their place before the whole deal fell apart leaving that space vacant yet again??

How long have Waterworks and Diddams and other retail spaces been vacant? For Waterworks, isn't it about 4 years?


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2011 at 2:32 pm

> “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.”

“May” lead to increased business. And “may” not.

I don’t consider $550K a “modest investment” of TAXPAYER funds.

> “The Palo Alto Bicycle Advisory Committee … supports this project.”

Nice to know the PABAC carries more weight than local business owners.


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Posted by Too much traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Pat--Do not forget that the focus of our city is bicycling and walking. Use of cars is frowned upon by the city council--that is why Jamie Rodriguez was hired. He will narrow streets so that cars will have a hard time, people will get the message and switch to bicycles and walking. Walkable Neighborhoods is the city mantra. If they wanted to do California Avenue right, they would turn completely into a pedestrian walkway--no cars allowed--the same for University Avenue as well. If you get rid of the adjacent parking lots, you will also send the message that cars are not welcome in Palo Alto.


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Posted by Jean
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 13, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I think reducing the lanes from four to two is an excellent idea which will make California Avenue safer and more "user friendly". Thank you Transportation Commission!


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Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2011 at 3:02 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

> 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.

And what does this have to do with California Avenue, which is two blocks long, with stop signs at each of the three (or four) intersections, and a traffic light on the El Camino end of the street?

How many pedestrian accidents have occurred on this two block stretch of road in the last ten years? If the answer is "none", why aren't we using that number--rather than some claim like this one?

> It can not legally be spend on potholes or teachers

If it is not spent on these silly ideas by any city, these dollars will revert to the general fund (if they are "real dollars"). If not, then they will not be borrowed (presumably from the Chinese) and will not have to be paid off by out children and grandchildren.

Every government agency in the US needs to be cutting back, and this is one of these silly projects that should "get the ax".

> Businesses and drivers will benefit from the 17% increase in parking
> spots, drawing more customers.

This is conjecture. Given that most of the parking is in the parking lots and structures, what is the utilization of these parking areas?
By the way, how many actual spots does 17% come to? 15 .. 20? It's really hard to believe that this tiny number of increased spaces (it this is really true) is going to generate a lot of new business, and a lot of new sales tax for the city government.





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Posted by Cal Ave employee
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 13, 2011 at 3:15 pm

I work in the Cal Ave business district and I strongly support narrowing Cal Ave. to one lane, and frankly don't understand the arguments against this. I don't see how anyone will be hurt by this, and the avenue will be safer and more attractive. I can't tell you how many times I've almost been hit by a car because of needing to cross 4 lanes and the inattentiveness of drivers.

Since the street is so short, the volume of traffic is light and I don't see how anyone gets inconvenienced by the change. And I fail to see how this would have any impact on whether the driver of a car will come to shop at Cal Ave.

We can remain stuck in the 1950s with our shopping areas or we can learn from the successes of other places and create business districts that are fun and vibrant like Castro St.

I hope this project gets started as soon as possible.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 13, 2011 at 3:20 pm

We'll see how it is. I just don't get narrowing roads from 4 to 2 lanes. From what I have experienced and witnessed, it creates gridlock and frustration. Maybe the cars go elsewhere (hint, hint)
Seems like there are or should be MANY more priorities for such expenditures in the city of PA.


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Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2011 at 3:20 pm

One of the issues which has not been introduced yet is how long before the "2-laners" are calling for "0-lanes"? Remember, there is a group that wants to shut down University Avenue to car traffic:

---
Reigniting the University Avenue Pedestrian Mall Initiative:
Web Link

Around Town, posted by James Thompson, a resident of the University South neighborhood, on May 13, 2009 at 11:57 pm

Imagine this: University Ave-- from the CalTrain to Waverley-- transformed into a pedestrian-only urban park complete with outdoor restaurants, street performances, community events, trees and gardens, and bike-friendly infrastructure.

This Initiative seeks to do more than just block University Ave. We aim to tear up the road and create a unified and truly beautiful community space. Cities all over the nation and Europe demonstrate the success of Pedestrian Malls. They revitalize business, encourage alternative transportation, and reinforce a sense of community. It's an all-win situation.

So join our effort to transform University Avenue into Palo Alto's community gathering place. Start by joining our Facebook group:
----

It's not hard to believe that everyone who is for this 2-lane reduction, would be even more ecstatic about shutting down California to all vehicular traffic.

And let's not forget that back in 1995, Yoriko Kishimoto, et al, were proposing down sizing Middlefield to two lanes. This anti-car, anti-business, anti-freedom force has raised its head every couple of years in Palo alto. In fact, isn't there a group now trying to downsize El Camino Real, and turn it into something that is "bicycle friendly"-- while showing no particular interest in the impact these changes would have on the businesses?

Yes .. it's time to put these street changes up for a city-wide vote, with Businesses being given voting rights too.



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Posted by Get real
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 13, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Some people are constantly beating the mythical "too much traffic".some people have gone on to political careeers using it as a rallying cry. There was also a move to narrow Embarcadero to one lane also. El camino is next on their agenda. Lets also bash business and stanford as well. This is a city that requiress driving to live in. the claims that you can walk or bike everywhere is more propaganda from the "too much traffic crowd". Has anyone actually looked to see how far grocery stores and other necessities are from peoples homes or does that not matter to the zealots?


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Posted by panative1960
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 13, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Are these the same intellects who uprooted the trees on California Street. That was wildly popular and successful. Now more pavement so you can bake in the sun while "enjoying" Sunday market.

As for "freco" dining and a "funky" atmosphere like the Castro, go there. What, is that too far for you? I would bet you're not a native Palo Altan.

This is just another "front" for spending money needlessly and to justify the importance of their roles in the city. Who are they?

BTW, if someone tries to justify this by saying it's for job creation, let them know that Palo Alto is the 3rd largest income earning city in the country. Just behind 2 east coast cities.

Although, I guess that the people who they put out of business while the construction is going on could work on the project.

How about creating more safety along Alma. The lanes are still so narrow, especially southbound, that you have to ride the curb next to the train fence to avoid hitting anyone in the next lane. And, God forbid your car breaks down there. A cyclist was killed when he got off his bike to assist in replacing a flat tire for a stranded motorist. Hey, but let's spend money to "beautify" California Ave and help shut down barely surviving small businesses.

How many people have died by train? Aren't there now volunteers posted at each intersection to ensure safety? How about paying them or, better yet, find a way (project)to better secure those intersections.

Really? Who are these people and how long have they lived in Palo Alto?


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2011 at 10:16 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Topa
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 13, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Thank you, jardins, for bringing up the point about traffic snarls. A car waiting for another one to back out can cause gridlock that will stop traffic all the way back to northbound El Camino. Look at University Avenue downtown. That's what it will be like! Why in the world fix it when it isn't broken?


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Posted by floyd
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 13, 2011 at 11:25 pm

That one lane idea that is now Santa Cruz Ave in Menlo Park has some interesting potential like the day I was behind a bus watching and waiting the driver to get cash at the Cal First ATM while the traffic queue built up all the way back to El Camino. The lanes at best are very narrow. But you can't stop progress!


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Posted by Great Idea for Cal Ave
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 14, 2011 at 9:20 am

This is a great project for a list of reasons. The best way to educate yourself is to do a search on the term "lane diet." You'll find a wealth of information about how an upgrade like the one for California Ave will greatly enhance the community. The city and residents alike clearly want a thriving business community. More importantly they want a thriving community. Not making any enhancements to the widely deteriorated area will be a tragic mistake. Only repaving, as Holzmer and others mentioned, will also be tragic.

This project is not managed by the same team on the trees. It's not a job justification project and it's not a waste of money. It's a relatively small investment in a great neighborhood which will pay off significantly in the future.

The arguments against the lane diet are readily addressed or disproven by a quick search or two and 15 minutes of reading.


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Posted by Jo
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 14, 2011 at 9:36 am

BACK-IN diagonal parking???? Right. That will certainly speed up traffic since people are such great drivers.

Why doesn't the city do something useful like look that the timing of the traffic lights and put in automatic timers. Traffic's backed up for blocks and blocks because only one lane out of four is moving if that.

I drove 3 miles to Kepler's last night from Embarcadero/Middlefield and it took me 30 minutes. And that's not counting the time it took me to back out of our driveway. Traffic trying to turn from El Camino north onto University was backed up to the middle of Town & Country.


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Posted by Joseph Kott
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2011 at 9:44 am

Congratulations to the City of Palo Alto on the visionary California Avenue Plan!

I studied California Avenue in comparison to some other streets on the San Francisco Peninsula, including Castro Street in Mountain View, in my doctoral dissertation research on determinants of "active" and "sustainable" streets. California Avenue is a prime candidate for a "road diet", just as Castro Street was circa 1990.


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Posted by Too much traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2011 at 10:45 am

If the city is not going to turn California Avenue into a pedestrian mall, but still allow cars, the should charge for parking in all the lots adjacent to California Avenue. That will encourage bicycling, walking and using public transportation and bring us closer to the vision of "walkable neighborhoods". Using cars is frowned upon in Palo Alto and the public should be made aware of it--charging for parking is a good start.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 14, 2011 at 11:31 am

> "I drove 3 miles to Kepler's last night from Embarcadero/Middlefield and it took me 30 minutes.

This shows that the city's strategy of creating traffic jams is working. Next time you'll leave your car at home and ride your bike.


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Posted by Harmonic Convergence
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 14, 2011 at 11:42 am

Walking 5 miles with 3 heavy grocery bags????? Too bad you didn't consider the fact that not that many people LIVE near California Ave. Back to the dark ages.

Are you also looking at horses and buggies as part of your "road diet"?? Probably not since they'd need roads.

I look forward to reading your dissertation on cow paths though while we all bid a fond farewell to Molly Stone. How about all of those farm animals? Considered the smell and sounds of them in residential areas.

At least the nearby towns will benefit from the increased tax revenues from those of us who still live in the 21st Century.

And WHERE, please do other places have diagonal BACK IN parking????


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Posted by Please do your research
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 14, 2011 at 12:17 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

The city isn't against cars. The city and most of the community who elect city officials are in favor of community planning that includes more concerns than just cars. Neighborhood building and place creation are important to those of us who live in the neighborhood.

Do just a little homework and you'll find that very little negative will come of this project.


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Posted by Harmonic
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 14, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Dear Please,

Place "creation" and "neighborhood building" -- ok. Nice jargon.

Are you going to carry my groceries home from the CA place creation to my personal neighborhood building>

How are you going to make up for lost tax revenues?

Why did University Ave change its zoning from retail to commercial when it failed to do retail creation and entered the retail destruction phase?

Where else has Back In Diagonal Parking?

Will you clean up the coffee my engineer husband spurted out when I told him about Back In Diagonal Parking and Road Diets?

Please be SPECIFIC and jargon-free in your response.

Most sincerely,
Etc.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Just googled back in diagonal parking and there is a lot there, mainly in pdf form. But, here is one local attempt Web Link

It seems that the street in question has few cars parked and I wonder why? I myself will not use them because not only do I question my own ability to back in, I also question the ability of anyone attempting to park beside me. I imagine that I will get more scratches from back in parking than regular parking.

California Avenue is always too busy to expect to find street parking anyway. I will continue to look for space in the lots or park by Alma and use the tunnel.


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Posted by Too much traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2011 at 2:23 pm

"The city isn't against cars. The city and most of the community who elect city officials are in favor of community planning that includes more concerns than just cars. Neighborhood building and place creation are important to those of us who live in the neighborhood."

The city is indeed against cars--they follow the "too much traffic" mantra and let that guide their decision making. If they were seriously concerned about "community planning" then we would still have Alma and Edgewood Plaza as viable neighborhood shopping centers--so much for the "walkable neighborhood" concept.
The city does not know really what it wants--their is a constant stream of complaining/whining about traffic, yet we want shoppers and visitors (Destination Palo Alto, anyone). We worry all the time about Stanford generating traffic, yet we make big bucks in tax dollars from their shopping center as well as visitors that come for the academia, arts, sports etc.


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Posted by Harmonic
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 14, 2011 at 2:54 pm

"Too Much Traffic" is absolutely right. The city has screwed up traffic so much it's so impossible to drive anywhere with traffic backed up for miles at each intersection, often with only one of 4 lanes moving at all.

No wonder online retail sales are up and retail traffic is down. It's getting to be too much of a hassle to leave the house except when it's absolutely necessary. Less sales tax revenue, higher utility rates to make up for short fall. Rinse lather repeat.

Is that "Place building"? "Neighborhood creation"?? Our planners need to read Jane Jacobs to understand how bureaucrats destroy neighborhoods.

Is it really desirable to have Embarcadero backed up for so many blocks that people are forming their own lanes, creating serious safety problems?

Is it really desirable to have El Camino backed up from Town & Country to the University turn lane?

Years ago, the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to explore the feasibility of turning Middlefield into a bike lane. There was a huge neighborhood outcry -- and that was before the recent traffic backups when they screwed up the traffic light timing.

Could the city say, "Sorry. 24-hour bike lanes don't make sense when there's heavy school traffic that needs turn lanes?" Mope. They said they'd revisit the idiocy.

How about if they work on traffic light TIMING and automation to cut down on all the exhaust fumes.


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Posted by Harmonic
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 14, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Ooops. It's almost 3PM. Silly me for thinking I could back out of my driveway with the cars backed up for blocks. I'll just sit back down at my computer and order the stuff online instead of getting out of the house.


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Posted by Chuck
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 14, 2011 at 4:11 pm

A year or so ago there was all that talk about turning University Ave into a pedestrian mall. Stupid idea because University is a main thoroughfare from El Camino Real to US101. That's not the case with Cakifornia Ave, which doesn't go anywhere. It could be turned into a pedestrian mall and vehicle traffic moved to Cambridge and Sherman. That's where the parking lots are already. Stanford Shopping Center is essentially an outdoor pedestrian mall. Done right there's no reason California Ave couldn't compete with Stanford Shopping Center for small merchants. But California Ave would actually serve the needs of local residents.


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Posted by Matthew Scott
a resident of University South
on Jan 14, 2011 at 5:59 pm

I lived in Boulder, Colorado for seven years and saw first hand the effect of having several blocks of Pearl St. made into a pedestrian mall. Parking had to move to garages off the mall and to side streets. Driving on that stretch had not been very good for businesses anyway, since people couldn't really stop and wander into the stores. After the change some businesses did not do all that well, but it's not clear the pedestrian mall was the reason. Many others did splendidly and the businesses most appropriate to strolling shoppers gradually moved in--this was not the ideal place to have to carry large boxes to your car but stores can deliver. Most importantly the mall was, and is, filled with people. It's a wonderful center to the city and everyone goes there, for regular shopping, for celebrations, to eat. There is music and cheer--lots of shopping--and plenty of chances to make new friends. California Ave. has some of those qualities, and with the planned changes will be even better. I think the fears about loss of business are not unreasonable since it's always hard to predict what will happen. But there's an excellent chance that business will increase. California Ave is actually better off than Pearl St. in terms of parking. The large parking areas just off Cal Ave are much more usefully located than similar ones in Boulder.

Some of the discussants here rightly describe the terrible traffic jams that routinely occur in many parts of the city. Having a few places where pedestrians or cyclists are favored--and it's very few--will not change that in any important way. I fervently wish that part of University was a pedestrian mall. I'd go there a lot more often and I'd spend a lot more there. Right now it's just a mess, almost always choked with traffic and unpleasant for walking or spending time. We all know that the main cause of the jams is too many cars, not road design flaws. There are some roads that could be a lot better, but If we doubled the width of every road we'd still have jams at rush hour. I'm not anti-car. I use mine for shopping and trips like nearly everyone else. But the bike lanes here do help me significantly reduce my driving, so I am doing my part to relieve some of the road congestion. Imagine if all the cyclists and pedestrians out on our roads were driving instead. That would happen if we didn't have bike lanes. The period of traffic jams would be substantially extended.

As California Ave gets even nicer it will become a more frequent destination--and shopping location--for me and my family. I will go there by bike, often, and by car, sometimes. The planned changes sound great. I'm also glad that a whole lot of people will be employed carrying out the changes. We need that around here.


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Posted by PAResident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 15, 2011 at 8:43 am

Doesn't bother me either way. I do most of my shopping and going to restaurants outside of Palo Alto anyway. The traffic snarls on University and having to move my car after two hours isn't worth it. California Avenue lost my business when the bookstore closed. Town and Country is about the only place I go and the traffic snarls there are getting so bad that I've started avoiding it too. I'm happy for everyone who bikes and walks. Palo Alto forgets that this city is not just North Palo Alto and those outside this area do have to use their cars.


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Posted by Sue
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 15, 2011 at 10:31 am

The point someone made above about the timing of the traffic lights is important.

How do we get the city to understand that backing up traffic is not good? How do we get them to understand that traffic moving in only one direction while the other direction sits idling backing up traffic for blocks is bad for our blood pressure and environment?

I too have seen people get frustrated with the backups on Embarcadero and form their own lane, heading straight AT oncoming cars that are boxed in with no way to avoid them.

Can't something be done???


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 15, 2011 at 12:07 pm

> "Can't something be done???"

It does seem hopeless. Just posting comments here is good for venting, but won't change anything.

I have written to the city council about traffic policies several times. I urge all of you to do the same. citycouncil@cityofpaloalto.org

Maybe if 10 or 50 or 100 people write, council members will realize that not all of us are happy with their policies.




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Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 15, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Even complaining to the City Council won't do any good for El Camino or Oregon/Page Mill. El Camino is a state highway and Caltrans does the signals, with no input from the city. Oregon/Page Mill is a county expressway and the county controls those signals. Neither agency will coordinate with any other and they each have their own policies that govern the settings.


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Posted by Saejin
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 15, 2011 at 8:46 pm

You people that do not like what Palo Alto City government is doing, are going to be made even less happy when you learn that reducing land allocated to car parking, and travel lanes, adding people in the form of high density housing, eliminating lawns, removing trees and landscapes from parking lots and covering them with solar panels (that could go on buildings where trees can not) is all part of what consultants hired by the city, and carefully selected committee and commission members are recommending to make our city more "SUSTAINABLE."

If YOU do not want people that believe things different than most of the citizens of Palo Alto, most of the Peninsula, most of California, and for that matter, most people in the USA believe, then YOU are going to have to displace them out of their positions. YOU are going to have to defend what you have and are taking for granted by giving your time to staff these organizations, stem the consultant money, and remove the power to make changes to your city plan, your Climate Action Plan, and your Land Use Transportation Element, away from special interest groups like cyclist, and fascist environmentalist, who believe we must make all cities more dense, grow our populations, trim per capita water consumption to allow for the growth, and cause congestion until car travel is no longer practical.

If YOU are not willing to put your time into being part of City Government, the YOU should get out of the way and shut up, because by standing on the sidelines YOU are empowering them to do what ever they choose, and YOU will have no one to blame but yourselves.


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Posted by PA res
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2011 at 12:12 am

Saejin,
When Mountain View redid Castro (including making it 2-lane) it transformed overnight. It's now a hopping business district where before it was dead and scary. People complained just the same about taking away traffic lanes and parking.

The reality is that making Castro (and hopefully California) with smaller traffic lanes but widening the sidewalks and putting in more inviting streetscape makes the businesses more welcoming and the street more of a community destination. There isn't that much traffic or parking on California right now, most of the parking is behind the businesses anyway, accessed from the next streets over. The sideswalks on California are delapidated and full of obstacles, and too narrow to stroll together with a group of 3 or more easily as you can on Castro.

The changes are long overdue, if they are going to emulate the intelligent design on Castro. That is what remains to be seen.


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Posted by JO
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 16, 2011 at 1:12 pm

The proposed California Avenue lane reduction plan does NOT provide for wider sidewalks. The plan does NOT provide bicycle lanes. That is why I compare this plan to High Speed Rail. It may sound good in theory, but the details reveal how flawed the plan is.

If $1.75 million dollars (including $550,000 of City money) is going to be spent on reducing traffic lanes from 4 to 2 on California Avenue, supposedly to make it more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly, shouldn't the plan include dedicated bicycle lanes and wider sidewalks? Instead, the space freed-up by the lane reduction is being used to change the angle of the street parking to make it closer to perpendicular, to squeeze in a few more parking spaces. I think this was done to try to get buy-in from the businesses on the street, but that strategy has obviously been a failure.

So the plan makes an already bicycle-unfriendly street much more scary and dangerous for the average bicyclist. Currently, with two lanes in each direction, bicyclists can use the right lane as a bike lane, and cars can overtake the bicyclists by using the left lane. Under the lane reduction plan, bicyclists will have to share the single lane in each direction with cars. With no dedicated bicycle lane, and with the loss of the second vehicle lane, bicyclists will have to deal with vehicles trying to overtake them on the left, while at the same time having to worry about parked vehicles backing out into them on their right. If this plan goes through, I am never bicycling on California Avenue in the business district again.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 16, 2011 at 5:19 pm

> “So the plan makes an already bicycle-unfriendly street much more scary and dangerous for the average bicyclist.”

I agree. I wonder why the PABAC is in favor of it.


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Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 16, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Think about this for a moment. It is not allowable to put a bike lane behind diagonal parking, for good reason. That would require cyclists to ride between the bike lane stripes and only leave after signaling and yielding to anyone on the left, which would have them running into cars backing out or getting tickets for not being in the bike lane. With the current configuration, prudent cyclists ride in the middle or left side of the right lane (depending on speed) to give themselves plenty of clearance from those cars. Drivers perceive them as being in the middle of a lane, which is not looked upon favorably by those who don't understand the issue (i.e most drivers). With the new configuration the street will be the same width, but striped for only one lane. BICYCLISTS CAN RIDE IN THE SAME POSITION AS THEY DO NOW, but will be perceived as being off to the right of the traffic lane. This is really no different in terms of basic safety, but will be different in the eyes of drivers. I think it will be better overall, and I think that is why PABAC supports it.


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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 16, 2011 at 10:13 pm

OK, so educate some of us further:
In a shared, 16-foot Cal Ave travel lane, marked via sharrows (i.e., bike icon with 2 chevrons above it) on the pavement, and bordered by a 3-ft "do-not-enter" paver band, what are the rules of the road: single file for all vehicles (i.e., automotive and bike) in the travel lane or passing allowed?


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Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 17, 2011 at 8:16 am

A 16-foot lane should be wide enough for cars and bikes to safely operate side-by-side at the low speeds of California Ave. If a bicyclist is moving the same speed as traffic, or needs to move to the left to avoid an obstacle or to prepare for a left turn, then single file is appropriate. It is no different than any other street with a single wide lane.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 17, 2011 at 9:42 am

> “… bike icon with 2 chevrons above it) on the pavement, and bordered by a 3-ft "do-not-enter" paver band…”

How is this different from a bike lane? In either case, the cyclists are riding in a specially-marked strip behind angled parking.


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Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 17, 2011 at 10:16 am

Use of a bike lane is mandatory by law for bicyclists and prohibited by motorists, except under special circumstances. Shared-lane markings give bicyclists more freedom and flexibility under the law because there are no mandatory restrictions associated with them.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 17, 2011 at 10:39 am

My point stands. Cyclists are still riding in a strip behind angled parking. Regardless of the law, a cyclist always has the freedom and flexibility to move out of the strip/lane for safety reasons.


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Posted by Cal. Ave. shopper
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 17, 2011 at 11:58 am

I shop and dine on California Avenue (traveling from south Palo Alto), and I either bike or drive there, depending on the weather, my schedule, etc. so I care about what happens to one of my favorite parts of Palo Alto.

I studied the plan and looked at similar installations in other cities on similar street systems. I support it.

An opponent of the project recently approached a friend at Mollie Stones with a petition and told her that the plan was bad because cyclists would have to share the lanes with drivers (as though they don't right now--I wonder if she has ever ridden a bike on Cal. Ave?). She did not mention the proposed sharrows. Misinformation and hyperbole are not helpful in an important civic decision-making process. It annoys me that she either didn't know or withheld important information. There has also been a lot of hyperbole in this thread. Let's stick to the facts, please.

City Council, please say yes, but please make sure that the construction project is managed well to minimize impacts on local businesses.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 17, 2011 at 1:33 pm

The facts are clear: $1.8M of taxpayer money is being used to remove a lane from California Ave. without getting the benefit of a bike lane. Sidewalks will not be widened. 227 businesses are against the plan.


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Posted by who cares
a resident of Triple El
on Jan 17, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Thank-you outside consultants hired by city manager keene and city council for this great idea. It would be unfortunate if the city paid a six fugure consultant fee and found that California Ave. business's are what generates tax dollars and are quite well served under the current street configuration and that the consultant fees were spent unwisely. Yea for more government input!


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Posted by Read the Plan
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 18, 2011 at 8:23 am

Posters to this conversation need to read the city's submission and comments from its supporting agencies. Here's the high level synopsis for those of you who haven't read the plan or believe it's only about a lane change.

"The California Avenue‐Transit Hub Corridor Enhancement project between El Camino Real and the California Avenue Caltrain Station includes the implementation of new community identity markers; bicycle‐parking and community focused improvements at the California Ave ‐ Caltrain Plaza; transit‐stop focused improvements;, traffic
calming improvements such as 4‐to 2‐traffic lane reduction & raised table crosswalks, enhanced roadway delineation and parking stations, high visibility pedestrian‐activated flashing beacons, and bulb‐out improvements throughout the corridor that also function as outdoor dining areas, and a new outdoor community stage."

Specifically around bicycles:
"The project will install Sharrow bicycle facilities to promote the continued sharing of travel lanes between vehicles and bicyclists. The Sharrow use with proposed angled parking along California Avenue was proposed by the City due to the significant amount of bicycle activity to and from the Caltrain Station. To further ensure bicycle safety for the corridor, the decorative 3‐ft paver band that separates the vehicle travel lanes from the parking lanes and raised concrete crosswalk tables will help to reduced vehicle speeds and provide constant reminders to motorists as to the presence of bicycle activity in the roadway. A removal or conversion of angled parking to accommodate bicycle lanes facilities was not supported by the community or the City’s PABAC. PABAC is in support of the Sharrow with angled parking concept."

The Palo Alto Bicycle Advisory Committee believes that this is a good plan:

"The committee strongly believes that the plan would improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, and address the need for improved and additional bicycle parking. PABAC believes the reduction in lanes from two to one in each direction, and the conversion of parallel parking to diagonal parking will not be a hazard for bicyclists. The new 2-lane street configuration will provide a more comfortable travel way to be shared between vehicles and bicycles. The roadway widths will continue to be more than sufficient to permit bicyclists to avoid parked cars and to
permit drivers to pass cyclists on the left, as they do now."

In summary, although there's not a "dedicated" lane, the new configuration will provide much more space specifically for cyclists. As it stands the situation now is much more dangerous especially when cyclists attempt to share the right lane with cars where there's no sharing space or markings now.


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Posted by Agree with Pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 18, 2011 at 11:15 pm

I am a very frequent shopper of the small businesses on California Avenue. I drive there and I bike there.

In this time of fiscal challenges, the only thing that should be reduced is government waste.

Spend precious dollars on necessary repairs. Reducing lanes is NOT necessary.

The potential losses to business and safety are clear. The benefits not clear except for the construction and design companies.

Let's not let another street like Arastradero be mangled up at taxpayer expense.


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Posted by wise investment
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2011 at 11:24 pm

How are the "losses to business and safety" clear? Castro Street in Mountain View was transformed from delapidated and deserted to thriving by removing a lane, widening sidewalks, and making the district more pedestrian friendly. The transformation was astonishing. If anything Castro is a more important through street, California is not.

The goals of the Arastradero construction were different, to slow traffic, which it did. You may be angry about that, but it was a 25 mph street with traffic sometimes going 50 mph. Do I like the way they implemented it ? No, I thought they were going to wide the sidewalks and make it so you could actually walk there (it's still single file in many places, very unpleasant).

California Avenue needs an overhaul, it has for 20 years, and if it's as smart as the one Mountain View gave Castro, the evidence is that the businesses will do much better and safety will be improved. Taxpayer expense? We need the tax dollars from the increased business, it will pay back in the long term.


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Posted by Nicole
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 19, 2011 at 4:34 am

At first I didn't like the idea of reducing the lanes to two, fearing traffic would be worse. After reading some of the very thoughtful comments, how reducing to two lanes won't affect traffic yet will improve the feel of the Ave, I am all for it. In fact, I am thinking that turning California Ave into a pedistrian only zone is the BEST option. It's not like it's thru-fare, and it's pedestrian only zone already on Sundays for the Farmer's Market. It works wonderfully in Europe. I personally would love to see more al fresco dining on Cal Ave; we have great weather here. If we are worried about parking, I certainly am, why not turn some of the flat ally parking lots into more 2 story parking garages?


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Posted by Sight to See
a resident of another community
on Jan 19, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I personally want to see pat and Diana Diamond on bicycles enjoying the beautiful new California Avenue when this project is finished.


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Posted by JacoP
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2011 at 2:00 pm

@Sight to See

LOL!


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2011 at 2:37 pm

The “city's submission and comments from its supporting agencies” is laden with bureaucraspeak, e.g., “implementation of new community identity markers; … community focused improvements transit stop focused improvements;…”

“Traffic calming” is an overused and annoying euphemism for traffic backups.

“I personally want to see pat and Diana Diamond on bicycles…”

How about a little respect for those who are physically incapable of riding a bicycle – or will the old and infirm be put out of their misery when the cyclists take over?


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Posted by Sight to See
a resident of another community
on Jan 19, 2011 at 4:07 pm

"or will the old and infirm be put out of their misery when the cyclists take over?"

Not hardly. Senior citizens are much more likely to be mowed down by an SUV as they try to walk across any given street in Palo Alto. You don't have one of those now do you, pat, per chance?


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Posted by One Lane Johnny
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 19, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Good move! It's nice to see common sense reign for a change.


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Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 19, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Good to see this discussion still going on.

Thanks for the email address for the city council.

Re back-in-diagonal parking (BIDP)and how it seems to exist only in Fremont, we happened to be at a dinner party on Monday attended by a city attorney for the city of Fremont.

I asked her how the BIDP had worked out. She said they promptly had 3 accidents as soon as the back-in diagonal parking (BIDP) was instituted. The area in question had little traffic before the BIDP and now has much less.

I suggest the folks responsible for this decision do a bit more research and call their colleagues in Fremont for an update. That doesn't seem to be too much to ask of them, does it???


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Posted by AGNES
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 28, 2011 at 12:02 am

We have shopped on California Avenue for decades. It is our village and I am impressed that Mollie Stone, and Keeble and Shuchat object to this plan. So we must also. Further, the administration, that gave us the awful art, may very well decide to make a change that is no improvement.


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

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