Fed up with the daily traffic gridlock on their neighborhood's streets, Crescent Park residents are banding together to get the city of Palo Alto's attention.
For hours each day, Crescent Park residents are plagued by the hundreds of vehicles that jam the streets within blocks of University Avenue, from Middlefield Road to East Crescent Drive. They say they battle just to get in and out of their driveways on weekday afternoons.
On so-called Carmageddon days, when there is total gridlock, drivers start making illegal — and dangerous — turns, drive in oncoming lanes and speed in search of a side street that might be less congested, they said.
Unfortunately, there aren't any.
About 40 residents met with Councilwomen Karen Holman and Lydia Kou on Nov. 19 at a meeting convened by Center Drive residents Greg Welch and Ann Lewnes.
"We can't have gridlock forever," Lewnes said, noting that on multiple occasions she could not get out of her driveway.
The issue for all is safety, the residents said. Holman, who lives near the corner of Forest Avenue and Middlefield Road, agreed. One day while at home "I heard two car wrecks in 1 1/2 hours," she said.
Residents at the meeting considered completely banning cut-through traffic during commute hours, similar to a program recently implemented in Menlo Park's Willows neighborhood; others suggested starting a campaign now to find residentialist City Council candidates to elect in 2018.
Kou cautioned against short-term approaches rather than those that address the root of the problem, which she said was ongoing development. Residents should also insist that the city develop a traffic-demand management program "that has teeth in it," she said.
But Holman said limiting development will no longer solve the traffic problem.
"We've already passed that point," she said.
Kou and Holman said that while residents should seek emergency and short-term solutions, they should also look to pressuring the council, Santa Clara County and other stakeholders such as businesses, the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce and Stanford University into solving the traffic problems.
Stanford University is currently seeking permission from the county to expand. Kou said the university could be asked to develop traffic solutions benefiting the surrounding community.
"They can expand their very well-run shuttle system," for example, she said.
Residents could also demand that the council revisit last year's proposed employee transportation tax, which was put on the council's back burner, Holman said. The ordinance would tax any business with more than four employees per 1,000 square feet of office space, and the funds could be used to pay for shuttle services or transportation infrastructure, she said.
Residents at the meeting said there should be an ordinance requiring the city to measure the congestion on roads. The council would not be able to approve a development unless there is a satisfactory traffic flow on surrounding streets or in a particular zone affected by the development, they said.
Some residents suggested that ballot measures could lead to solutions. But Holman cautioned that any proposed ballot measure should be narrowly focused.
"You can put something on the ballot, but write a single-issue item. It has to be crisp," she said.
Among the potential short-term solutions posed at the meeting was a traffic-calming approach, such as instituting turning restrictions on certain streets. But any proposed solutions need to be backed by data substantiating the problem, Holman said.
"You need to be able to explain when the problem is happening by block or street and to diagrammatically outline the problem," she said.
Some experienced neighborhood advocates who attended the meeting cautioned that getting the city's attention takes time.
John Guislin, a Crescent Park resident, petitioned City Hall for two-and-a-half years for traffic-calming and safety measures on Middlefield Road, north of University Avenue. He and neighbors finally achieved success after presenting multiple photographs of flipped-over vehicles and accident data to pinpoint the problem. They held meetings with city staff and showed up at council meetings.
Lenore Cymes, a Duveneck/St. Francis resident, and her neighbors also got city staff to resolve a traffic problem. Trucks delivering goods to Edgewood Shopping Center were parking in no-parking zones, causing daily hazards and late-night noise. After months of trying to work with city staff, the residents invited Kou to tour the area in September, and the city then largely resolved the problem. Cymes noted that even the best-developed plans won't necessarily make headway but for one crucial ingredient.
"You've got to be persistent. You can't give up. You've got to stay focused," she advised.