News

Parents concerned over Walter Hays traffic safety

Improvements push children onto Middlefield and Embarcadero roads

Children are crowded onto the corner as an adult guides them through the intersection of Embarcadero and Middlefield roads. Photo courtesy of Amy Darling.

Watch Weekly journalists discuss this story on an episode of "Behind the Headlines."

Changes to a traffic signal and curbs at a busy intersection near Walter Hays Elementary School in Palo Alto have prompted parents to bring concerns for their children's safety to city and school officials.

The parents, who noticed the changes on April 23, delivered a petition with nearly 100 signatures to the Palo Alto City Council on Monday night claiming the Embarcadero Road and Middlefield Road intersection has become dangerous.

Children waiting to cross the street either on foot or by bike now find themselves crowded at the corners and on the narrow sidewalks or spilling out onto the roadway, parents said.

As one of Palo Alto's traffic-operations projects, the city added dedicated left-turn lanes in both directions on Middlefield Road as well as new traffic signals to accommodate them. In addition, new concrete structures on the corners, designed to prevent traffic from cutting into the pedestrian waiting area, were installed.

Previously, the intersection was governed by a four-way, all-stop signal, which allowed children to cross the intersection diagonally if they needed to. Now they must cross two streets, waiting on a street corner mid-journey.

"Our students are not safe crossing the streets with this change. It's only a matter of time with the current set up before a child is harmed," parent Amy Darling, who started the petition, wrote last week to the Safe Routes to School staff, city planners and Palo Alto Unified School District administration.

The petition asks city officials to return to the single four-way signal during school drop-off times and after school. Alternatively, the city should provide crossing guards at each corner to ensure the elementary students' safety, the petition states.

City officials said they were initially caught off guard by the magnitude of concern, but they plan to address the issue. The signal light was changed so that traffic won't back up on Middlefield or Embarcadero Road, according to information Chief Transportation Official Joshuah Mello provided to a resident. The intersection remodel, part of the city's Middlefield Road Resurfacing Project, also added space for pedestrians and bikes while they wait for the light.

But parents on the online social network Nextdoor.com said they've personally had to shield young children from passing cars. One saw a driver swerve to avoid a child who was on the side of the street.

"The other day when I walked my daughter to school, I noticed that cars on Embarcadero waiting to turn right onto Middlefield were behaving terribly. Some would try to beat the kids by turning right while they could before the kids got to the middle, others would try to squeeze through any gap they could find or make," parent Tim Roper said in an email to the Weekly. "I literally had to stand in front of the cars trying to turn right to stop them from inching forward towards the kids."

Parent David Shen submitted an analysis of the problem to the City Council on Monday. Previously, the intersection's four-way light stopped all cars and allowed the students to cross diagonally between Walter Hays and the end of Coleridge Avenue, at the southwest corner at Middlefield (a popular route for students living in the Old Palo Alto neighborhood).

The new bike and pedestrian spaces where they wait are actually narrowed by a low concrete island, he said. He has seen trucks drive over the island onto the bike/pedestrian waiting area as drivers make right turns.

"Given that the corners in the northwest and southeast are smaller in size than the Coleridge and Hays corners, it is very bad that the lights now force large groups of cyclists and pedestrians onto those tiny spaces. When there are many, we often see them spilling onto the road when they wait for the lights to change," he said.

And although the northeast corner of the intersection, in front of the school, is wide, the new curbs there funnel the foot and bike traffic in such a way that it is harder to get in and out, he said.

Darling said parents want to work collaboratively with the city. Shen told the Weekly he doesn't want to skewer city staff over the project.

"The best laid plans are only (plans). You look at them on paper and then you need to try them. However, we also need to realize when ... the results are not what we wanted," Shen said. "We need to be OK with that and make the appropriate changes to remedy whatever is not working, even when we thought they would."

City Manager James Keene, in his remarks to the council, said the intersection changes are designed to "offer protection to cyclists at intersections, regardless of whether they're turning left, right or continuing straight."

But "while the new signal timing has resulted in much less delay for motorists traveling along both streets, we have heard a significant number of concerns from parents and students. ... While there is now less delay for everyone, during the heaviest 30-minute period, the corners of the intersection fill up with bikers and walkers and can be uncomfortable."

He said the city would add a second crossing guard and monitor the situation for the next two weeks, as the construction on the project is completed.

"We will reintroduce the all-red pedestrian-scramble phase during the busiest hours if needed, but knowing that it will substantially increase the total delay at the intersection during the peak periods," Keene said.

Shen urged the city to come up with a speedy solution.

"Given that children use that intersection every day, and twice daily, we need to make that change as soon as possible because every day we wait is another day we put our children, cyclists and pedestrians at risk," he said.

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Comments

55 people like this
Posted by Thomas Paine IV
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 1, 2018 at 9:45 am

[Post removed.]


25 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 1, 2018 at 10:09 am

Car drivers who want to speed through town should use 101 or Alma instead. Change this intersection back to maximize child safety! Auto speed should be the lowest priority.


56 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 1, 2018 at 10:56 am

"City officials were initially caught off guard by the magnitude of concern"

Of course they were. They care more about bicycles than children.

[Portion removed.]


23 people like this
Posted by Chetzi
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 1, 2018 at 11:21 am

Chetzi is a registered user.

Another potential solution for this intersection and many others in Palo Alto would be to have pedestrian crossings with all traffic stopped - no turns, no vehicle movement when pedestrians cross. This concepts works well in other cities and actually improves traffic flow as vehicles and pedestrians don't have to mix at the intersections.


15 people like this
Posted by Zayda
a resident of Barron Park
on May 1, 2018 at 11:36 am

Zayda is a registered user.

@Chetzi
What you are suggesting is known as a 'Barnes dance'. All traffic signals red and no right turns on red. Pedestrians can cross in ANY direction, including the diagonal. Bicycles need to walk across. Works well in San Francisco.


46 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 1, 2018 at 11:43 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Actually Keene is wrong about the new traffic signals; they were still working on them Monday afternoon.

Re the city being "caught off guard" by the public's reaction to the Middlefield changes, that's not surprising since Mr. Mello, his boss Ms. Gittelman and all the either city officials copied on our complaints have ignored us since we initially opposed the restriping when it was proposed years ago.


41 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 1, 2018 at 11:47 am

Samuel L. is a registered user.

Brought to you by the same people in charge of figuring out how to configure the city's intersections for Caltrain.


42 people like this
Posted by dtn north
a resident of Downtown North
on May 1, 2018 at 11:56 am

I disagree that traffic moves better, it was 6:40 and the traffic backed up heading southbound because their is a bustop right there and no one can get around it because of the new NB left turn only. Really the last things Mello has done has been a disaster. Stop his madness. Also somebody said they should make all lights go red at one time, we did have that and that seemed to work.


21 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 1, 2018 at 12:05 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Dtn, it's also worse since the city eliminated the southbound right-on-red dedicated turn lane and combined it with the through lane.

Samuel L's point bears repeating since having Mr. Mello chair this is so ludicrous:

Brought to you by the same people in charge of figuring out how to configure the city's intersections for Caltrain.


17 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 1, 2018 at 12:36 pm

[Post removed.]


18 people like this
Posted by A Realistic Parent
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 1, 2018 at 12:49 pm

Can we address the actual problem? The remodel isn't forcing these kids to spill out onto the street (like an overflowing bathtub). They're consciously stepping into the street. Don't they know not to move into the street unless they're crossing? Teach them that their feet and their bike wheels are to be on the sidewalk. Teach them that if there's not enough room for everyone then they need to move back. This is common sense.


10 people like this
Posted by moi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2018 at 1:15 pm

I notice that Ms. Amy Darling, a parent who started the petition, provided your photograph. To prevent any perceived or actual conflict of interest, you should have sent your own photographer to the intersection. Perhaps you could do so now, and replace the current photo provided by Ms. Darling.


5 people like this
Posted by Concerned Observer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 1, 2018 at 3:47 pm

[Post removed.]


46 people like this
Posted by Fed up
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2018 at 4:10 pm

Dear Palo Alto Weekly: Please take a big-picture view of all the complaints around town, this, Ross Road, Barron Park, put it all together. Joshua Mello and a few other staffers need to be fired. It's just unacceptable that in situation after situation, they are causing hazards around town. We need people who can truly put safety first [portion removed.]


28 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 1, 2018 at 4:24 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

I totally agree with Fed Up. It's SO wrong for Mr. Mello and all the other staffers to remain unresponsive to our comments and complaints. They seem to forget that they're not dictators and that WE pay their salaries.

They should remember that when they next ask for a tax hike and let them stop bundling idiotic projects like this, Ross etc etc. with regular road maintenance when surveying residents to give the illusion that they have our support.

Today (Tuesday) the huge work crew continued their work on the intersection all day -- including during school pickup time -- with lots of trucks. no diagonal cross walks and only one through lane each way again causing huge backups.

This work started bright and early Saturday morning. How much does 3 solid days of work including Sat. over-time cost?


4 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on May 1, 2018 at 4:25 pm

How is this more of a problem than the daily disaster at the intersection of El Camino and Charleston/Arastradero? The streets at our intersections are much wider with left turn lanes in all directions. The Palo Alto Police Department refuses to come out and help because PAPD says "it's a chronic condition".

I can't help but notice the lack of ethnic diversity of the students in Ms Darlig's pictures of the Walter Hayes students. Or, is this a noteworthy crisis that James Keene is willing to solve simply because it's in North Palo Alto?


2 people like this
Posted by Glenn
a resident of another community
on May 1, 2018 at 4:26 pm

What happened to crossing guards. I graduated from Walter Hays (many many years ago) and we had both adult and students (I remember you had to be a 6th grader) serve as crossing guards. We were issued really cool (at least back then) hats and sweaters. Adult crossing guards were always there as well.....is this another thing of the past?


27 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 1, 2018 at 4:33 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Bill, ALL of the intersections mentioned above -- plus Jordan/N. Cal Ave --are "daily disasters." The city continues to ignore all of us regardless of our neighborhoods including Ross Road where the petition had more than 918 signatures.

The work being done doesn't seem to reflect the parents' complaints.

And who says James Keene is willing to "solve" the Middlefield problem? He let the crazy, costly and dangerous restriping and intersection redesign proceed regardless of our complaints [portion removed.]


23 people like this
Posted by ANother Disaster
a resident of Midtown
on May 1, 2018 at 5:44 pm

And they are creating further disaster along Louis Rd. at Amarillo and Moreno in Midtown! They're narrowing the road so much that two cars barely fit and forcing bikes into the road. There are nice, wide bike lanes on Louis (going both directions) until this new CHOKEPOINT. They are doing this for the bike blvd and it's very near Ohlone school. It's so narrow two cars can barely fit. Just what you need to do is force elementary kids INTO the lane of cars at school drop off and pick up. Ohlone is a commuter school, not a neighborhood school, and has much more traffic as many families are not able to bike or walk. PA traffic safety is a nightmare.


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 1, 2018 at 8:40 pm

So, are cyclists now prohibited on Embarcadero Road? Or can "non-students" still ride in the traffic lanes without risking a citation? (Includes coming to a complete stop in the traffic lane while waiting at the red light, whether for a left turn or as through traffic.) I presume it remains unlawful to cycle on the pedestrian sidewalks.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 1, 2018 at 9:29 pm

[Post removed.]


12 people like this
Posted by Bicycle Lobby needs to go
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 1, 2018 at 11:00 pm

The road design debacles of Josh Mello, Transportation Director, will hopefully cost our failed PA city council members their future political careers. [Portion removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by When all is lost blame some "enemy" group
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 2, 2018 at 6:00 am

[Post removed.]


16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2018 at 8:34 am

I completely disagree with the last poster who calls himself a totally logical poster.

I put the problem (not wanting to lay blame) completely in the arrogance of all road users who consider their uses are more important than anyone else.

The drivers who try to beat a light because they were caught at the last one and that's not fair, those who justify their arrogance for any reason.

The bikers who argue that they are saving one car from the road as they arrogantly ride at 15 mph and assume that because they can do it all other road users including the children and seniors should be able to do the same thing. And while they are at it, they can't possibly dismount and walk their bikes over a bridge, or through a tunnel as posted instructions inform them because it means they have to unclip their feet from their pedals and they can't walk in their special shoes.

The pedestrians who think that they have the right to act unpredictably and decide to cross after waiting at a corner chatting to a friend since they have right of way and all traffic must stop for them, or the ones that have their heads buried in their phone and earbuds in their ears as they walk out of the shadows oblivious to the fact that they are hard to see to drivers staring into the sun.

In other words, there are arrogant road users of all types who have very little common sense, very few manners to other road users, and will always lay the blame on someone other than themselves.

Not one of us are perfect in our road use. We all try our best. But there are times we all make mistakes or do something we shouldn't have done. Usually these lapses don't cause any collisions due to others paying attention but they don't help other road users stress levels.

All of us have to be careful on the streets. We all have to remember that we are all sharing the same space. We all have to remember that ultimately we are in charge of our own safety. A few manners, smiles, waves, and an acknowledgement that we are all in this together would go a long way to causing less strife for all while out on the streets.


1 person likes this
Posted by @Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 2, 2018 at 9:29 am

[Post removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of University South
on May 2, 2018 at 10:04 am

If your idea of a “disaster” or “nightmare” is waiting 10 seconds while someone turns left or right in front of you, you have much bigger problems.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2018 at 11:42 am

Yes, of course I recognize sarcasm. But I believe the point being made was that it was always someone else's fault and never me.

The reason I totally disagree is because everyone is willing to blame others and think they themselves are totally in the right because of XYZ.

Why I disagree is that to me it is not total logic to blame everyone else because there are always those out there who sometimes occasionally and sometimes more often are arrogant enough to put their concerns before others. I feel sure that there have been times I may have driven a little too fast, the light may have changed why I was paying attention to a potential hazard, or I may have been lost in thought as I crossed a street or decided at the last minute to turn instead of cross. As a biker I am slow and nervous, particularly when there is fast traffic, and the idea of coming away from the curb to overtake a parked vehicle makes me look over my shoulder and signal before doing so. I also know that a car which has just stopped to park more than likely has a driver about to get out so I give it a much wider berth than one that I think has been parked for a while. I have also been hit as a pedestrian when a car pulls up beside me and a young child opens the passenger door without checking (my kids always had a child lock on the door to prevent that type of thing and I got out and opened the door for them).

My point is that we can all be at fault at times. We have to give as much as we take. We are sharing space even at quieter times of the day. Someone always ready to blame someone else is a big problem instead of understanding that all of us at times can be the cause of confusion on the roads. We must act predictably and we must all take responsibility for our own safety as well as the safety of other road users.

Sarcasm aside, arrogance won't get us anywhere and won't make us any friends.


4 people like this
Posted by @Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 2, 2018 at 12:50 pm

"Yes, of course I recognize sarcasm. But I believe the point being made was that it was always someone else's fault and never me."

Mmm, yah, not sure you got it though. He was mocking the people who blame everyone else. You two are on the exact same page.


9 people like this
Posted by Go PA
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 2, 2018 at 3:11 pm

Who are the yahoos who DESIGNED, IMPLEMENTED, and APPROVED this egregious mess? Clearly those who were a part of the committee did not see how dangerous this is for children, bikers, and pedestrians.

Here's an IDEA... [portion removed] In Davis, California, there are several major roads that:
a.) have a painted diagonal line designated for bikers/pedestrians
AND
b.) has all 4 corners STOPPED for bikers/pedestrians to get to the other side of the road (aka NO cars are moving).

You would think that that kind of design adopted by Davis would cross the minds of traffic/community development "experts."


11 people like this
Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on May 2, 2018 at 11:30 pm

The photo was taken in the afternoon, after school. About a dozen people, some w/ bikes have crossed Embarcadero from the school and are waiting to cross Middlefield. The corner is overflowing with people and bikes, and those who crossed last have to push through the crowd. The best solution is to restore the all-way crossing for bikes and peds during the critical am and pm peaks. This is exactly why the all-way was implemented in the first place, so maybe there could also be plaque installed that explains it to future city traffic engineers.

I was also a crossing guard in the early '60s at that corner. Then, we did it without adults, and we were trained by the police. Many things have changed: MANY more cars, MANY more bikes, NO school buses, and kids traveling to elementary schools from all over town instead of just the neighborhood. Still, our role was to help everyone stay safe by seeing problems and taking charge, including sorting out messes like the one in the picture. I think there's still a need for that.

Finally, work on school xings should never be done during the school year.


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 3, 2018 at 3:45 am

@Mike -- ah, wistful memories of Traffic Patrol and Officer Mashinski.


6 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on May 3, 2018 at 9:23 am

eileen is a registered user.

Hi, here is a novel idea.
How about implementing the crossing guard program that all the schools had years ago?

Parent volunteers and the older school children helped at the crossing corners before and after school. The older kids signed up and had cute little vests and felt important! The adults helped control the bunching of kids on bikes and overspill into the street. The adults and children helped to bring some order to the crossing process and control the cars!

Also, what about flashing lights in the road like they have in Mt View? Why can't we have this at the school crosswalk to
alert drivers when kids are trying to cross?

I think the city should spend money on this proven program before spending millions on useless road work.


8 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 3, 2018 at 10:07 am

Online Name is a registered user.

If they did that, the city couldn't award all those costly contracts. Too sensible.


22 people like this
Posted by Ideal vs. Actual Behavior
a resident of Community Center
on May 3, 2018 at 10:08 am

The problem with a lot of these new City roadway designs is they assume ideal behavior by cars, pedestrians and bicycles. This was the fundamental design flaw with Ross Road. They assume that drivers won't be talking on their cell phones drinking coffee in the rain while students bike completely predictably. Good road design will robustly handle poor behavior. Sounds like a similar situation here at the Embarcadero / Middlefield intersection. I think this is where Josh and crew in the City's Transportation department are coming up short. Josh is not a good listener and most of these problems were brought up previously and ignored by city staff. Design for real use and behavior, not ideal. While I think Josh Mello is a smart guy, I think he's demonstrated that his projects endanger the safety of the children in Palo Alto and we need someone in his job who is much more focused on ensuring designs make their use of roadways safer and not more dangerous.


23 people like this
Posted by Shocking
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 3, 2018 at 12:22 pm

Roads were designed with laws in mind. Lets quit playing wet nurse to these scofflaw drivers. If they're breaking laws and thereby endangering people we need them of the roads. Period.


1 person likes this
Posted by read the article before going ballistic, please
a resident of Escondido School
on May 3, 2018 at 1:53 pm

read the article before going ballistic, please is a registered user.

"We will reintroduce the all-red pedestrian-scramble phase during the busiest hours if needed, but knowing that it will substantially increase the total delay at the intersection during the peak periods"


4 people like this
Posted by read the article before going ballistic, please
a resident of Escondido School
on May 3, 2018 at 2:39 pm

read the article before going ballistic, please is a registered user.

Sorry for accidentally sending previous comment before completing message! Why did the Weekly story bury the good news from Jim Keene Monday night way down at end? Here it is: "We will reintroduce the all-red pedestrian-scramble phase during the busiest hours if needed, but knowing that it will substantially increase the total delay at the intersection during the peak periods". Meanwhile, there will be an extra crossing guard or PAPD person on hand.
Kudos to the Walter Hays parents who presented their concerns clearly on Monday night -- and remained civil while expressing urgency. Definitely looks like whoever programmed the traffic signal controller to eliminate the longstanding "all ways cross" phase which stopped motor vehicles in all directions for dedicated pedestrian and bicycle crossing phase at Emb/Mid intersection didn't understand the 15-20 minute peak related to school start and dismissal times.
What's not okay is the number of posters above who didn't read to the end of the article before repeating personal attacks and allegations whose tone is definitely are beyond the PAonline guidelines for being respectful in comments. Disagreeing without being disagreeable is never a bad choice in life!


4 people like this
Posted by MomS
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 3, 2018 at 9:34 pm

I'm sure the new lights are less safe -- morning commuters are terrible drivers and children don't follow rules very reliably (although is it possible the reason kids are spilling into the streets is that they used to be allowed to cross anywhere in that intersection and haven't adjusted yet?). I do find it funny how quickly a Walter Hays traffic complaint makes it into the Daily and gets action -- traffic change implemented April 23 and article dated May 1 reporting on an already-enacted plan to install a second crossing guard? Took years for Ohlone to get new crosswalks (without lights!), and they still desperately need a crossing guard at Colorado and Louis...


7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 8, 2018 at 3:29 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

I walked by the Middlefield and Embarcadero intersection twice today. Not surprisingly, bicyclists -- kids and adults -0 were using the garish yellow striped pedestrian crosswalks while the kids walking were using the bike sharrow lanes.

Watching the crossing guard's reaction when northbound bicyclists zipped through on the yellow walk trying to avoid the kids, it was obvious he'd given up trying to redirect them. And today is only Tuesday.

Your tax dollars at work.


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

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