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.