News

City pushes ahead with lane reduction on Cal Ave

City reaffirms earlier decision to cut lanes, add streetscape improvements to commercial strip

Seeking to make California Avenue safer for pedestrians and more attractive to shoppers, Palo Alto officials on Monday renewed their commitment to reducing lanes on the commercial street despite opposition from a small but vocal group of merchants.

The long-awaited project, which includes switching California Avenue from a four-lane to a two-lane street, suffered a setback earlier this month when Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Patricia Lucas ruled that the city failed to comply with environmental law when it applied for a grant for the project before completing its analysis of the lane reductions' traffic impact. To comply with the ruling, the City Council last week rescinded its earlier grant application and environmental analysis. On Monday night, the council approved these documents once again -- this time in the order prescribed by Lucas.

Mayor Sid Espinosa on Monday called Lucas' ruling and the council's subsequent rescission of its prior approvals "a little hiccup in the process."

"I hope we can correct the process that we did not follow, apparently, the first time," Espinosa said. "But we're correcting it this evening."

In re-approving the documents, the council reaffirmed its commitment to the lane reduction, which the city's traffic study indicated would not cause any serious impacts. Several critics of the project, including former Vice Mayor Jack Morton, argued at the meeting that the lane reduction would hurt businesses by creating congestion. Terry Shuchat of the California Avenue camera store Keeble & Shuchat argued that most merchants on California Avenue oppose the change.

Shuchat, who is one of the plaintiffs in the suit against the city, accused city officials of not listening to the merchants. He said he supports other elements of the streetscape project, including new newspaper racks, lighting and crosswalks, but urged the council to leave the four-lane configuration in place.

"We do not wish California Avenue to have the traffic backups currently experienced on University Avenue," Shuchat said.

While merchants warned that the lane reduction would create downtown-style congestion, council members argued that the change would inject economic vitality into the arty commercial district near the center of the city. Councilman Larry Klein pointed to other major downtown thoroughfares, including Mountain View's Castro Street and Menlo Park's Santa Cruz Avenue, as examples of well-functioning two-lane strips. He also said he was "amazed" to hear critics say they don't want California Avenue to become like University Avenue. He noted that the slow traffic on University only adds to the downtown strip's vitality.

"California Avenue is really an underdeveloped asset for our community," Klein said. "I think this will go far in making it a more vital place in our city."

Councilman Pat Burt agreed and disputed the claim from several property owners that the city is merely chasing grant dollars. Burt noted that the city has been planning to add streetscape improvements to California Avenue for many years but has not been able to land a grant until now. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is expected to consider the $1.2 million grant at its January meeting. The city is spending another $550,000 on design work for the project.

"Those of us who go periodically to Castro have seen a very clear increase in vitality as a result (of the lane reduction)," Burt said. "I'm baffled that merchants and property owners haven't seen that in a variety of communities surrounding us.

"It's really obvious and I'm very confident it will occur here."

Councilwoman Gail Price said she hopes this is the first of many projects the city will undertake to improve California Avenue.

"This is a critical corridor for our community," Price said. "It is a corridor that needs beautification, needs enhancement and needs investment."

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by xSIpar
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 29, 2011 at 10:30 am

"He noted that the slow traffic on University only adds to the downtown strip's vitality." For real? I don't go anywhere near Univ. Ave. unless I have too, because of the congestion. Does anyone know if air pollution effects were considered in the EIR, owing the lane reduction proposal? I'm just baffled why the council is pushing this so hard.


Like this comment
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 29, 2011 at 10:36 am

I'm baffled, too. I can't remember when I last went to University Avenue.


Like this comment
Posted by sally
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 29, 2011 at 11:00 am

stop the madness. we need two lanes.. one lane is often stopped for parking... in and out..
and the other lane can travel... how will having a wider sidewalk help. .. I avoid University avenue because of the traffic back up... if one person is trying to park.. traffic stops... one red light and all the traffic stops.. It's terrible... I hate it whenever I forget and get stuck there ...
don't ruin a good street... also.. the year of construction will hurt all the merchants... please don't that a good situation and make it worse... please , please , please... take the time to get more input, talk to all the merchants... stop the madness.


Like this comment
Posted by nate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 29, 2011 at 11:02 am

"Improve" California Street??? is this like the improvement of last year, when the cut down the trees... Pleee...uz! Leave it alone... it's fine.. the congestion of University avenue is unbearable... please don't make that mistake here...
all it takes is one person to try to park.. and all the traffic stops..


Like this comment
Posted by Betsy Rose
a resident of Walter Hays School
on Nov 29, 2011 at 11:07 am

I have to agree with the previous commenters. I assiduously avoid anything that will take me to downtown University Avenue. When I have no choice, the experience usually leaves me gnashing my teeth at the snail's pace of the traffic and the cumbersomeness of finding parking in the vicinity of my goal. The California Avenue shops have the fantastic advantage of parking behind nearly all the storefronts. In its current configuration, we prefer frequenting the restaurants and shops there over venturing into the University Avenue area.


Like this comment
Posted by member
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 29, 2011 at 11:08 am

Avoid going to downtown PA whenever possible, but when absolutely necessary, find traffic and parking daunting - adore California Avenue the way it is especially once trees have been planted....


Like this comment
Posted by Edward
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 29, 2011 at 11:13 am

Ok ... 3 lanes. One in each direction and a middle 'passing lane" to get around when someone is trying to park.

And I'll tell you what will happen with the lane reduction ... there will be less lanes.

This whole process is ridiculous and silly. Its akin to a sports interview. "So, tell us about the game."

"Well, I'm thinking if we would have scored more points than the other team we would have won."

No sh...


Like this comment
Posted by Edward Perez
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 29, 2011 at 11:17 am

People like congestion when they are going out. They like it crowded because that's what makes it vital. You wouldn't go into an empty restaurant would you? When you go to a party and there are 4 people you say the party was a dud but if you go to a party and its so full you can barely get in you say the party was great. Same thing for University Ave. People like it because its crowded. People like it because of the congestion. Yes its a pain and I avoid it too but people like it when there is a certain density, there has to be a critical mass.


Like this comment
Posted by Eric
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 29, 2011 at 11:19 am

Let this be a lesson to all. If you attempt to stop the City doing something they're bound and determined to do i.e. reduce the lanes on California Avenue from four to two lanes; the City Council will find a way round it, and will fight to get what they want.

This is not the first time this has happened. Remember how Measure D the first library bond was defeated. Here we are some six years later building a brand new library/community center in South Palo Alto.

The City always gets their way even if ballot measures are defeated, and law suits are filed to stop a project.


Like this comment
Posted by citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2011 at 11:32 am

So, all these people don't go to University Avenue because it's crowded. I guess other people are going there. What a pointless argument.


Like this comment
Posted by Mimi Wolf
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2011 at 11:40 am

University is congested because it's the gateway to Palo Alto from 101, not so with California Ave. It's time that we relieve ourselves of the car dominance mindset.


Like this comment
Posted by Ronna Devincenzi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2011 at 11:44 am

At the meeting, a man introduced himself as the new CAADA President.
Jack Morton introduced himself as the new CAADA Vice President.

CAADA is an official non-profit, and as such, it must abide by State of California rules regarding elections of officers, especially when they speak for the whole organization.

I don't remember reading about an official CAADA election among the member merchants. Does anyone know who the new CAADA Board members are, and how their election was handled?


Like this comment
Posted by AR
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 29, 2011 at 11:47 am

Improvement implies that a situation will get better. If California Ave ends up like University Ave, it will be changed but not improved. Congestion does have an upside but if you have to actually accomplish something and have a schedule to keep, PA downtown + car = headache. Big time. I was recently asked about a venue for a large business meeting and I advised the person to avoid downtown for the very reasons that have been mentioned in these comments.


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Posted by rhody
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 29, 2011 at 12:09 pm

I avoid Univ. Ave also due to traffic congestion. I don't believe this is a useless argument, it is an attempt to indicate how much objection there is to making Calif. Ave. only 2 lanes -- those of us who shop there now will avoid it. NOT helpful to the economy of the street or to the city. And trying to make the aging part of the population leave their cars and walk to/from shopping while carrying packages is the opposite of common sense. It also will be putting obstacles in the way of the handicapped. And the additional pollution is something to be considered too. All in all a bad decision.


Like this comment
Posted by Hooray!
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 29, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Yay! Most of the people I know in my area (College Terrace, Evergreen Park, Professorville) support the lane reduction. And, I know several long-time merchants on Cal Ave that support the lane change. This is nothing more than a power play by someone who has always been slightly out-of-step with the status quo (Jack Morton), and a few retailers who have actually threatened to shut down changes that they didn't like, through lawsuits. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Another thing: note that the people who sued don't seem to get that other 2-lane projects in the region have been smashing successes!

Good job, City Council!!


Like this comment
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 29, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Ronna,

I don't believe CAADA was specifically referred to last night, and the webcast is not yet posted on the Media Center's web site in order to check. However, Bob Hayes, the man you described as the new president, also speak at the Oct 17 council meeting on Cal Ave and referred to himself as "representing the California Avenue Business Association." If don't if he meant CAADA or if a new organization has been formed.


Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2011 at 12:39 pm


" ... other 2-lane projects in the region have been smashing successes!"

Like Arastradero/Charleston?


Like this comment
Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 29, 2011 at 12:43 pm

"Another thing: note that the people who sued don't seem to get that other 2-lane projects in the region have been smashing successes!"

Hooray must be part of the "cars are evil, bikes are good and everyone should bike everywhere no matter what their situation is" coalition.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2011 at 12:46 pm

If I need to go to downtown, I avoid University and park on a lot on a side street. The number of lanes is irrelevant to my use of downtown.

If I need to go to Cal Ave, I avoid Cal Ave and park on a lot on a side street. The number of lanes is irrelevant to my use of Cal Ave.


Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I think the City is always trying to make changes to anything that already works just fine.
This is why, when looking for a property to lease, we looked over there, found an ideal location, but decided against it due to the very possible street changes. Oh well, hopefully they won't make changes to El Camino...EVER!


Like this comment
Posted by Jim Mayer
a resident of University South
on Nov 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm

If you think University Avenue is bad now, just wait until the new hospital complex at Stanford starts construction. I am pretty sure we will experience grid lock from dawn to dusk. The one lane theory just doesn't make sense. The people on University are either trying to get to Stanford or Stanford Industrial Park in the morning and to 101 in the afternoon. They aren't shopping.

California Avenue: If you were pouring water down one lane you could only pour half as much as if you were pouring water down two lanes. Same for automobiles.

And for heaven's sake leave El Camino Real alone. It works just fine.


Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2011 at 3:07 pm


“… hopefully they won't make changes to El Camino...EVER!”

They city just finished making chages to El Camino at Stanford Ave. -- to make it safer for bicycles and pedestrians.

And that's just the beginning.

From Web Link
El Camino Real could undergo a major transformation over the next five years.

The VTA plans to “…remove two lanes of traffic and turn them into bus-only lanes running down the middle of the road for 10 miles -- from Lafayette Street in Santa Clara to Showers Drive in Mountain View.”

Cities along El Camino in Santa Clara County all must endorse narrowing plans by summer. If that happens, then the VTA will go to Caltrans and seek the state's blessing.


Like this comment
Posted by finally?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2011 at 4:29 pm

If our model is Castro, then we are doing the right thing (finally!) and critics will shut up as that district comes into its own after the same kinds of improvements. But the Castro improvements weren't for the purpose of slowing traffic (in fact, I'd say traffic is about the same as before, in fact safer going onto Castro from Alma because of improvements there), the Castro improvements were for the sake of making the street a welcome place for people to stroll, congregate, dine outdoors and otherwise hang out. In order to do that, they had to take out a lane of traffic and reduce parking, but it worked.

If the model is Arastradero, it won't work obviously, because CA Ave isn't a thoroughfare, the GOAL isn't to slow traffice, the GOAL is to make the street more walkable/liveable. Or it should be. Is it?


Like this comment
Posted by Eva
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 29, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Cal Av is not Arastradero or El Camino. It's a 4 block dead end. I frequent Cal Av now and generally don't even bother driving down Cal Av as there is no parking. I park on the side streets and will continue to do so with the change.

And reading many opinions that no one goes to University Av anymore because it's too congested reminded me of Yogi Berra's quote:
"Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded." I'm sure the businesses on Cal Av will welcome this "problem" if it comes to that.


Like this comment
Posted by Polly Wanacraker
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 29, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Nobody goes downtown, all the parking spots are taken.


Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2011 at 6:42 pm

University Avenue is frenetic and has a rushed, unwelcoming feeling to me. Going to the Apple Store is always arduous. One has to walk several blocks after finding parking and one has to navigate through the crowds on the sidewalks going to the franchises like Renovation Hardware, Chicos, or Cheesecake Factory.

I like the slower pace of California Avenue with its one of a kind stores and its FOUR lanes. With the exception of Books, Inc., Castro Street is where one goes for ethnic food and performances -- not to shop and run up a sales tax.

Redwood City has a wonderful balance and draws me, especially in the summer for its Friday night concerts.


Like this comment
Posted by Floyd
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 29, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Try Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park if you want an example of 2 lanes.
Like when the bus driver just in front of me stopped and went to the Bank of California ATM. One wide bus on one lane is impossible to get around.
Our grand officials will do it no matter what you want.


Like this comment
Posted by Adrienne Mayor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 29, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Please don't ruin the neighborhood feeling of California Avenue, and leave it as it is. Let University Avenue be the congested "vital" downtown street. We not only avoid driving and walking on University because of the hassle and crowds and slow traffic, but also avoid Santa Cruz in Menlo Park and Castro in Mountain View for the very same reasons.


Like this comment
Posted by Eric
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 30, 2011 at 12:51 am

I'm against switching to two lanes on Cal Ave.

I often hear "safety benefits" for cyclists and pedestrians touted as a reason for the lane reduction. As an experienced cyclist, all I can say is that today riding on Cal. Ave. is a breeze compared with riding on University. University is scary in that you have to choose between riding all the way out in traffic, or riding near the parked cars and risking someone backing into you. With the current 4 lanes on Cal. Ave, you can easily ride well away from the parked cars, and yet not worry about holding up traffic behind since they can always pass in the other lane if they're in a hurry. Perhaps this will be solved with a dedicated bike lane? But it needs to have enough room (or be on the curb side of the parked cars like Amsterdam!) or you're asking for accidents involving bikes and car doors.

The other thing I'll share is that around 10-15 years ago they redid Castro Street in Mt. View in a similar fashion, but someone goofed on the paving. The parking spaces were initially about a half inch higher than the asphalt. Trying to ride a bike at the edge of the lane was about as scary as trying to ride on the VTA tracks (not recommended by the way). I actually saw a woman sprain her ankle while crossing the street I beleve due to the mismatch in height. In the end they ended up grinding down the curbs to fix it. If we have to have two lanes, please let's at least not repeat a mistake like that one!


Like this comment
Posted by Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 30, 2011 at 8:10 am

Well, I'm a pedestrian and I have gone + still do go on California Avenue. I couldn't care less about the reduction of a lane, it won't affect me at all. Hence, it's a bad idea to do something with no positive effect that is 1) expensive and 2) will increase traffic. If this is anything like the opening of the bike lane/bigger sidewalk on El Camino, which I thought was a waste of time, money, and caused more problems, I'm totally against it.
And as for slow traffic adding to vitality, yeah right. The vitality comes from the fact everyone walks downtown - if everyone drove and tried to park outside, it'd be a nightmare.


Like this comment
Posted by jd
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 30, 2011 at 11:40 am

This is great news. The anachronistic car-centric design of streets like Cal Ave must change in order to adapt to the new reality that we want our cities to be for *people* and not cars. Having 4 lanes on such a small, non-thoroughfare street which is trying to develop into a major pedestrian/cyclist hub is poor design. This road diet will be a huge improvement.

I have to say, I hear a lot of arguments that try to appropriate the "lessening of our environmental footprint" cause by saying that reducing the lanes will cause more traffic and hence more pollution so there this road diet is bad. The reality is, there is almost nothing better for reducing our community's environmental footprint than getting people out of cars, and the more car-friendly you make an area, the more people will drive there. On the other hand, the more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly you make an area, the more people will cycle or walk there and hence not need to drive in the first place (so you reduce demand for the road). To try to say that keeping 4 lanes of traffic on such a small road which in turn encourages car usage is the exact opposite of being green. In fact, this line of reasoning is greenwashing.

And the comparison to University Ave blows me away. People notice all the congestion there and go: see, that's what will happen to Cal Ave, so we need 4 lanes. No, the correct response to University Ave would be: wow, we need to get people out of their cars and to stop them from driving directly down University (I think University, or at least most of it, should be made into a pedestrian-only street). People need to get out of their cars and start walking, cycling, or taking public transit (and Caltrain stop directly on both Cal Ave and University). And for god's sake, if you need to drive downtown, don't drive right down University and instead take one of the parallel streets.

Regardless, the solution is certainly not to have 4 lanes on University, just like it's not the solution for Cal Ave. People just need to get out of the cars and we need to start providing the infrastructure for them to do that.


Like this comment
Posted by Alan
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2011 at 12:10 pm

jd wrote the truth: ".....keeping 4 lanes of traffic on such a small road.... encourages car usage. "

What is unspoken is that reducing it to two lanes would probably "discourage" some car usage, which clearly is the objective of many of the advocates of the change to two lanes including jd.

Personally, I see both sides. Many merchants fear that potential customers would be discouraged from coming to California Avenue if driving their cars were made difficult. And they are probably correct and, in this economy, that is something to take seriously.

On the other hand, I feel the perfect long term solution would be eliminating cars from most of California Avenue, at least on warm weather weekends, and making it a temporary pedestrian mall (see many European cities for examples, or visit Santana Row). My guess is that such a "mall" would be an attraction in and of itself and would actually improve business in the long run. I think California Avenue would be a great place to experiment as it not a through street and is only a few blocks long.


Like this comment
Posted by Better at math now....
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 30, 2011 at 12:36 pm

People comparing California Avenue to University Avenue and Castro Street in Mountain View need to review what they were taught in elementary school math class.

Even I know a scant 3 block district with side streets and alleyways cannot be compared to 12 longer blocks with side streets that are further apart, and with no easy way to get off a main street.

Because of the length of the longer districts, 15,000+ cars a day come there, and with more frequency. California Avenue has 5,000 cars a day, and with less frequency, but all day there are numerous pedestrians in crosswalks at the same time, and many bicyclists on this main street, on their way to stores + the train station.

Good thing council members have a handle on this district, and have asked appropriate questions before making their wise decision, because some comments on this post, protesting the lane reduction, make no sense.


Like this comment
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 30, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Just read all this stuff; it's pretty ugly to include snipey comments about individuals. I don't know if Hooray! is known for that sort of writing on Town Square but disparaging remarks of the sort written do not enhance the forum - or whatever argument the writer is making. I'd like to see that one removed if that is possible.


Like this comment
Posted by California Kid
a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 30, 2011 at 2:39 pm

I swear, some people won't be happy until their entire lives can be lived inside their car. They feel they MUST drive EVERYWHERE they need to be...drive right to it and park right in front of it. Perish any thought about actually getting out of your car and walking 2 blocks.
Calif Ave is COMPLETELY unappealing in its current state. This opportunity to make it a lovely "boutique" type street should not be squandered. Its going to be a huge win for the businesses as well as the people who will be drawn to it. I can see it being an especially big draw during the holidays. The comparison to Castro St in MV is a perfect one. Castro is a HUGE draw for people all over the area. Only a complete fool would not want the same for CA Ave.


Like this comment
Posted by Ca Ave fan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Well said, CA kid.


Like this comment
Posted by point
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I'd like to point out that when CA Ave is TOTALLY blocked off with no parking at all there during farmer's market, plus vendor trucks parked in the area, the market is still plenty busy. Vendors know it's one of the best markets (for selling) in the region. CA Ave will not suffer for losing a few parking spaces on the street IF the purpose is to increase the walkability and comfort of BEING there.


Like this comment
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 30, 2011 at 4:05 pm

This plan is just plain crazy. Palo Alto never cares what its citizens want. Why isn't Cal Ave safe for pedestrians? I've never had any problem either as a driver of a walker. I think the acronym SNAFU applies to this PA City planners' brilliant idea.


Like this comment
Posted by xSIpar
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 30, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Interesting arguments both pro and con.
One thing I don't understand is the bike-friendly argument. As indicated by Eric above, you take your life in your hands if you try to bike down University or Castro (or neighboring streets). As California Ave is a major bike thoroughfare to/from the Cal Train tunnel, would the bike design be much different than those streets? The fiasco regarding the Alma Street/PAMF tunnel comes to mind. Also from personal experience, it is much harder to see pedestrians crossing Castro because of the design (trees right next to the driving lanes) than for California Ave as it currently is.


Like this comment
Posted by pares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2011 at 9:27 am

Sure looks to me like JD's point that we should all get out of our cars is what's driving (pardon the pun) all these lane reductions, no matter what the majority of tax payers want. Our leaders want lane reductions, whatever the cost. I hope next election we get some people willing to run on this issue (as well as others, of course!) and get Arastradero back to it's four lanes!

Just wondering, what if JD and like-minded extreme green got their wish, and we all stopped using our cars. What would be next?


Like this comment
Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 1, 2011 at 9:57 am

Please leave Arastradero the way it is. Two lanes have improved it - i.e., made it safer of everyone. The backups at rush hour are no worse than they were when it was 4 lane.


Like this comment
Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 1, 2011 at 9:58 am

Please leave Arastradero the way it is. Two lanes have improved it - i.e., made it safer FOR everyone. The backups at rush hour are no worse than they were when it was 4 lane.


Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Castro in Mountain View would be a good model. However Palo Alto rental rates are too high to support the kinds of businesses that make Castro so appealing so maybe it wouldn't translate well here.

Arastradero is a disaster and has made the problems along there much worse.

California is nothing like University as it has very little through traffic to move. Wider sidewalks would make it a better place to visit, although, parking is already very limited, especially at lunch time.


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

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