Palo Alto's most divisive traffic-calming project will be in place at least until next summer, the City Council decided Monday night. The council extended the Arastradero Road lane-reduction experiment until next June.
The council voted 7-0, with Greg Scharff and Gail Price absent, to follow the recommendations from staff and the Planning and Transportation Commission in continuing the trial period. Much like the commission, the council took its vote after hearing from more than a dozen members of the public, with the majority advocating keeping the new configuration in place.
The city redesigned a busy stretch of Arastradero Road, between El Camino Real and Gunn High School, last August to make the street safer for pedestrians and bicyclists and to provide drivers with new signals and left-turn lanes. The most significant component of the trial is a reduction of lanes from four to three, with left-turn lanes in each direction. The project also includes an expanded crosswalk at Clemo Avenue and a new traffic signal with a left-turn arrow on Coulombe Drive.
Most speakers said the project that the project made the street safer for bicyclists, particularly for students who rely on Arastradero. Nina Bell, who lives in the neighborhood near Terman Middle School, acknowledged that there is no way to satisfy everyone but said the safety of students should take precedence. The project, she said, succeeded in slowing down drivers.
"I feel so much safer on the road with the current configuration," Bell said. "The four-lane speedway that it used to be was a terror."
Others were more skeptical. Doug Moran argued that the new configuration frustrates drivers and prompts them to use other streets, endangering children in those areas. He said city officials have simply ignored input from many members of the public who have expressed frustration with the new road configuration.
"When you simply slow down traffic, you produce displacement that causes an increase in traffic on streets that are more sensitive to this increase in traffic and a decrease in safety overall," Moran said.
But the council, like the commission, agreed that the three-lane design should remain in place for now. This is partly because some aspects of the project remain untested. The traffic signal at Coulombe was only installed last month. Staff also expects road conditions to improve when Gunn High School delays its opening bell from 7:55 a.m. to 8:25 a.m. -- a move that will stagger the starting times at the various schools along Arastradero.
The council acknowledged that the project is not without flaws. Mayor Sid Espinosa said the Arastradero Road experiment remains a work in progress and should continue.
"This trial hasn't been perfect, and we're only part way there," Espinosa said. "But we made course corrections along the way, and we'll continue to make those."