Fixes to dangerous Palo Alto intersection get green light | News | Palo Alto Online |


Fixes to dangerous Palo Alto intersection get green light

City to start reconstruction of Stanford Avenue at El Camino Real in March

When the signal light turns green at El Camino Real and Stanford Avenue in Palo Alto, pedestrians step off the curb and into the most dangerous intersection along El Camino in Palo Alto.

Crossing west towards Stanford University, walkers and bicyclists must keep an eye on harried drivers turning right off of El Camino and on the signal lights that change while even brisk walkers are only a quarter of the way across the "Royal Road's" six lanes.

Pedestrians approach the narrow median strip and consider their options: Should they wait on the cement perch as cars whiz by or make a mad dash across the remaining lanes to reach the safety of the "pork chop" island?

Even the triangular island poses a dilemma: when to cross to the sidewalk, as car drivers — not regulated by a right-turn light — sometimes don't see pedestrians and bicyclists.

Between 1999 and 2009, 105 accidents occurred at the intersection; 38 people were injured, including six bicyclists and one pedestrian, according to police reports. The intersection is an important school route, according to the city, serving Stanford University and Escondido Elementary School students.

Next week, $1.3 million worth of safety improvements will begin, aimed at reining in the risk, city officials said.

Construction will include new lighting; shorter, straighter, colored crosswalks; pedestrian-controlled signaling and other features.

Crews are expected to break ground next week and temporary striping will be laid down, city Transportation Engineer Shahla Yazdy said. The work is planned to span seven months.

A contractor, Pavex Construction, will do the work, and the city has hired a construction manager to assist the Public Works department. City inspectors and engineers will oversee the project, she said.

The island and right-turn lane from Stanford to El Camino, considered the main reasons the intersection is so dangerous, will be altered, Yazdy said. The island will be removed and signal controllers for pedestrians crossing Stanford both directions will be added, she said.

The narrow El Camino median will be widened to an 8-foot-wide pedestrian safety refuge. Colored concrete bulb-outs will be added to each corner. Along with wider sidewalks, they will shorten the pedestrian crossings.

There will be new benches, bike racks, landscaping and trees to contribute to the feeling of a "grand boulevard" that's been planned for El Camino throughout the Peninsula.

Residents who frequent the intersection and some business employees said Wednesday they approve of the changes.

The current V-shaped crosswalk and pork-chop island don't afford a clear view for drivers, according to Jesus Zavala, an employee at The Bike Connection.

"Cars turning south onto El Camino have issues with not seeing pedestrians. Around December, a student on a bicycle was struck by a vehicle at Stanford Avenue. A customer ran out and took the kid out of the street before a second car hit him," he said.

Some patrons sipping lattes at Starbucks had a clear view of the intersection on Wednesday afternoon.

"I've always been confused why the crosswalk is a V," Stanford student Caleb Kruse said, noting that it is difficult for drivers to see pedestrians and bicyclists. And "coming north toward Stanford Avenue, there's no easy way to get across."

Lupe Garcia and his daughter, Illiana, were walking that section of El Camino late Wednesday afternoon. Since the 1990s, when Garcia was a Stanford University graduate student, he has been concerned about the idiosyncratic signal light at the west side of Stanford Avenue, he said.

"It doesn't seem like the light is in command. It changes colors at odd times. The light is not turned toward pedestrians or drivers," he said.

Yazdy said the signal poles will be replaced with pedestrian countdown signals during the construction phase, but Caltrans will maintain the current signaling for the time being.

According to the city's 2003 El Camino Master Plan study, intersection signals across El Camino at Stanford provide only 70 percent of the desired time to cross.

"After the project is completed, we will propose to Caltrans to change the signal timing," she said.

View the master plan.

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Like this comment
Posted by 105 accidents
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2011 at 3:01 pm

105 accidents at a single intersection? Why did the city take so long to start fixing this? Does the city really only care about road improvements in North Palo Alto?

Like this comment
Posted by 105 accidents
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2011 at 3:07 pm

I am really glad that they are finally removing those "free right turn" lanes on the west side of El Camino. Those just encourage red light running. I bet that is where most of the crashes happened. There is just too much traffic on these streets to allow red light running.

Like this comment
Posted by Tyler Hanley
digital editor of Palo Alto Online
on Feb 27, 2011 at 11:03 am

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.

The following comments were moved from a duplicate thread:

Posted by JeffD, a resident of the Evergreen Park neighborhood, 12 hours ago:

As a cyclist these bulb-outs disturb me, the four feet or so that crossing the roadway is reduced for a pedestrian hardly makes up for the way it squeezes the cars and the bikes together. They are referred to as a traffic calming device, nice idea but I have never seen a car slow when approaching one. They often result in the car crossing into the bike lane. I would advise anyone from riding El Camino on a bike, and this $1.3 million only makes it worse for cyclists.


Posted by Occasional cyclist, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, 12 hours ago:

I had been told that bulbouts were designed to have cut throughs for bikes. The bulbouts at Loma Verde and Bayshore do not have these cut throughs and I suspect that any others that are built in Palo Alto will not have cut throughs for bikes.

As a driver and sometime cyclist, the Loma Verde/Bayshore intersection is very dangerous as a result, particularly with regards to visibilty as well as no cut throughs.

Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I agree that bulbouts can help pedestrians but be problems for bicylists. Cut-throughs are not a good solution because they can trap debris and become unusable. Street sweepers can't get in there to clean them out, either.

Looking at the drawings for this project, though, I don't think they will cause problems. There will still be about 5' from the curb to the edge of the traffic lane (which will be marked with a stripe). The bulbouts take up the space that is occupied by parked cars farther away from the intersection. Any bicyclist who is riding far enough from the parlked cars to avoid their door zone should be able to ride a straight line all the way through the intersection without getting squeezed.

The changes to Stanford Ave should be very beneficial to bicyclists who are crossing El Camino.

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Posted by bulb outs
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2011 at 4:54 pm

The picture (which isn't the greatest quality) appears to show bike lanes next to the bulb outs, so bicyclists should have an indication of where to safely position themselves. Car drivers need to remember that they are required by law to merge into the bike lane before turning right. Do not just cut off the bicyclists in the bike lane.

Like this comment
Posted by PAUSD Mom
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Great project! It's about time. There are a number of El Camino Real intersections in south Palo Alto where children cross to go to Gunn HS, Terman Middle School, Juana Briones, Barron Park... to say nothing of the private schools.

I hope they'll use this project as a pilot for those other intersections.

Like this comment
Posted by Occasional Cyclist
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 27, 2011 at 7:52 pm

Fair enough then about the bulbouts on this particular intersection.

The bulbouts on LomaVerde at Bayshore are still dangerous. There are no bike lanes here and now there are a lot of cars parked on both sides of the street. There is an accident waiting to happen here which is ironic as this was supposed to have been a safety measure when the bulbouts were put in not so long ago.

Like this comment
Posted by report it
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2011 at 8:42 pm

You can report hazardous bicycling conditions around town via the city web site: Web Link
Sometimes they are responsive and sometimes not, but it doesn't hurt to try. If the web form doesn't get a response, try a few phone calls: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Tristan
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2011 at 4:42 am

While on the subject of El Camino in Palo Alto, what will it take for the city and or CalTrans to repave the northbound right lane of El Camino in the vicinity of Palo Alto Ave. The lane is in terrible shape causing motorists to veer in order avoid the rough pavement. The same is true for Palo Alto Ave close to El Camino and the northbound connector to El Camino.
Does the city have to wait until a pedestrian or cyclist is hit by a car or truck negotiating the pavement problems?

Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 28, 2011 at 8:37 am

The first thing required to fix a hazard is for the relevant authorities to know about it. Use the links above to report them. Caltrans and Palo Alto don't have people who just cruise around looking for problems to be fixed. They rely on people like you and me to report hazards to them. They can't fix it if they don't know about it, so be their eyes on the road.

Like this comment
Posted by Occasional Cyclist
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 28, 2011 at 9:43 am

Thanks for the link the link, report it.

I have done so.

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