Riled by daily traffic snarls on their residential streets, about 70 Crescent Park residents met with Palo Alto police and transportation officials on Jan. 18 to discuss how to end commuters' occupation of their neighborhood.
The meeting, just the latest movement in a wave of neighborhood activism, covered the expected discussion of pavement markings, traffic circles and stop signs — but also ventured into the realm of politics, with residents talking about potential candidates to support during this year's City Council election.
Resident Marlan Pinto said traffic lights are a big problem. It seems as though the city changed the light timing.
"The streets are now unusable for anyone" traveling through downtown, he said.
Joshuah Mello, the city's chief transportation official, said the city is working on changes.
"We're in the middle of doing massive signal re-timing throughout the city," he said, which would help traffic flow better. Some signals along University Avenue might be adjusted or be candidates for synchronization, he said.
"University Avenue is timed for 10 mph in the day; Hamilton and Lytton are timed at 20 mph," he said, giving examples.
Greg Welch, a Center Drive resident, spearheaded the neighborhood advocacy.
"As our next steps, we will have almost weekly meetings and will be coordinating (with the city)," he said, noting they plan to form a stakeholder group to develop a pilot traffic-management program. The group would work with Palo Alto's transportation department on creating the program.
Some residents suggested making certain streets one-way during peak hours, closing streets, adding right-turn-only lanes and adding electronic signage that would tell drivers which roads to avoid when there are backups.
Mello presented a slideshow of traffic-calming and diversion options the city has used at other traffic hot spots. He said his department has only 12 people who are already working on $47 million in capital improvements and $9.5 million in neighborhood traffic-calming projects.
"I'm willing to carve out time to work with a stakeholder group," he said, if neighbors can take on a little of the workload.
Quantifying the problem and identifying where the bottlenecks are occurring would be one of the first steps. Mello said he is looking at a service that examines every trip passing through a zone to understand traffic patterns. In some locations the city could add traffic cameras to gain data.
Residents said they could do some of the legwork for the city and gather data. Allen Akin, a Professorville resident, said he is looking for Crescent Park volunteers to add traffic cameras to their roofs so he can count cars on streets. He has added cameras to his home and has been keeping counts, he said.
Residents also called for increased traffic enforcement.
Palo Alto police Capt. Zach Perron, who also attended the meeting, said the city's elimination of its dedicated traffic division is the result of a lack of police recruits in the Bay Area. The six officers on patrol during each shift now do traffic patrols as part of their regular beats.
"I've committed swing-shift personnel to spend time doing high-visibility traffic enforcement," he said.
He has instructed his officers to park in the Crescent Park hotspots as visual deterrents when they are processing reports to cut down on some of "ridiculous driving," such as speeders and people driving the wrong way down residential streets to bypass lines of cars. When the police are on the street, there are an amazing amount of stellar drivers, he said.
Getting cars off the road, everyone agreed, is going to be the only real solution. To that end, creating more mass transit, including possible bus or HOV lanes during peak hours on University Avenue and other main routes, could move more people through, Mello said.
As for political action, Crescent Park Neighborhood Association President Norman Beamer said he plans to create a subcommittee for residents who want to vet the City Council candidates. Three council seats are up for re-election this fall.
"There are people on the council now who are not looking out for our interests," he said.
Three candidates who favor slow city growth won council seats in 2014, but the council now has a majority who are pro-growth. That growth, residents said, has exacerbated traffic and parking problems.
Others decried the perceived lack of initiative by the council and city management to address long-term traffic problems, which are only destined to become worse. Councilwoman Lydia Kou, who attended the meeting at Palo Alto Art Center's auditorium and holds slow-growth views, reinforced that sentiment.
"The city's Transportation Demand Management measure has no teeth in it," she said, referring to the concept that buildings can be developed with less parking if the building tenants are given incentives not to drive cars solo.
Kou said she planned to meet with East Palo Alto Mayor Ruben Abrica to discuss collaborating on solving some of the traffic issues along University Avenue, which might be improved by signal-light timing adjustments on the part of both cities.
Likewise, residents also talked about meeting with East Palo Alto leaders to discuss their mutual concerns, including signal changes to a light at Woodland and University avenues that is causing traffic to back up.