Frustrated residents gave City of Palo Alto officials an earful Thursday night over a trial restriping project along Arastradero Road. Some balked at city data that showed traffic impacts haven't changed.
City officials insisted the program to reduce traffic speeds and improve bike and pedestrian safety is working. But some residents said the project has done exactly what it was supposed to avoid: shifted traffic into neighborhoods and increased the danger to schoolchildren from enraged motorists.
The one-year, trial lane-reduction project is the second phase of the Charleston-Arastradero Road study. The corridor runs from Miranda Avenue near Foothill Expressway to Fabian Way near San Antonio Road. It serves 11 public and private elementary, middle and high schools, many preschools, three community centers, six parks and the Stanford Research Park. The Charleston Road portion of the study was completed and approved by the City Council in 2008.
The Arastradero study added crosswalk striping and turning arrows at some intersections. But the biggest change reduced four lanes to three on a road where schoolchildren must contend with more than 18,000 vehicles daily, according to a city traffic study.
As much as 17 percent of vehicles speed between 37 mph and 50 mph along some stretches of Arastradero, according to the study. The speed limit is 35 mph. Reducing those speeds was a major project goal, said Jaime Rodriguez, city chief transportation official.
That plan is working, Rodriguez said. The very fast speeds have been reduced by 50 percent. East of Terman Avenue, where the interaction between children and vehicles is highest from Terman Middle School and Henry M. Gunn High School, the speed of 85 percent of vehicles dropped by 2 to 3 percent.
But some residents did not believe the data. "They're hardly moving at all. They're moving 4 mph," someone yelled from the back of the room, to applause.
School-bus driver Cary Vierra said the lane reduction from El Camino Real to Arastradero is particularly harrowing.
"I drive on Arastradero four to five times a day, I'm big and I'm yellow and drivers do not see me. It is a hazard. People make really scary moves. I hold my breath. It has gotten 100 percent worse with these changes with that lane merging," she said.
The project might have changed some drivers' habits, but residents insisted it isn't necessarily for better. Traffic backups have led to an alarming increase in road rage as more drivers become frustrated by slowdowns and a sea of bicyclists during morning and afternoon school commutes.
Vierra said she recently had to break up a road-rage incident.
"The road rage I have witnessed has been incredible. They are putting kids' lives in jeopardy," she said.
Heidi Stern, a Suzanne Drive resident since 1973, said he has nearly been hit head on three times by drivers who cut her off at McKellar Lane and Arastradero since the changes were implemented.
"In the past, people were polite, people slowed down. Everyone is so frustrated, all semblance if civility s gone," she said.
Other residents didn't believe the traffic-volume data. Lydia Kou, a Matadero Road resident, said the data is focused on the tactical aspects of bicycles and pedestrian interaction with vehicles, but it doesn't consider impacts on residential streets.
John King, another Matadero resident, said traffic volume on his street has increased by 40 percent.
City officials were at a loss to explain residents' assertions that more traffic is cutting through neighborhoods. The data doesn't support their assertions, he said. Traffic increases were negligible, with a 2 percent to 5 percent change along the corridor, he said. But he conceded that traffic counts on neighborhood streets hadn't been done, and he promised to look into the problem.
The City Council is scheduled to receive the study results in July, when city officials will ask for a one-year extension for further study related to issues residents have raised and to look at impacts from Gunn High School's planned bell-schedule change this fall, he said.
Gunn plans to change its schedule from 7:55 a.m. to 8:25 a.m., which could significantly reduce the traffic load created by Gunn, Terman and Juana Briones Elementary School during peak commute hours, he said.
Some residents embraced the changes.
"The changes I've seen are excellent," said Miranda Avenue resident Jumana Nabti. She rides her bicycle and drives on Arastradero.
"Traffic speeds are slower and I drive slower. You have to consider what our values are in our city. Is it about life and safety or getting to work five minutes earlier?" she said.
Penny Ellson, a Greenmeadow neighborhood resident, said wider bike lanes have made a big difference. Turning movements by drivers are more controlled now, she said.
Ellson's husband is a bicyclist and was hit two times by vehicles prior to the changes. One time, he was broadsided; a second time he was clipped by a driver who made an uncontrolled turn, she said.
"I really appreciate the effort the city is making," Ellson said.