After facing a backlash for suggesting that the community's traffic concerns are "exaggerated," Mayor Liz Kniss issued a public apology on Monday night and announced that the city will hold a town meeting in October focused on the topic.
Kniss said she has heard from "all over the community" in the two weeks since she made her comments at the July 30 meeting. At that time, Kniss suggested that some local streets -- including Channing Avenue and Alma Street -- aren't as congested as some residents have maintained. She also noted that when she drives to or from City Hall, she seldom encounters "real traffic."
"If you're willing to try alternate routes, not go your normal route, I think you'll find that traffic is not as overwhelming as you might think," Kniss said at the July meeting.
Many in town don't share her assessment. The city's annual citizens survey shows increasing concerns about traffic flow, with only 42 percent of the respondents giving the city positive reviews when asked about "ease of travel by car." A decade ago, the proportion was 65 percent, according to the National Citizen Survey.
In Crescent Park, which has been struggling with traffic issues, particularly along and around Middlefield Road, her comments were met with shock and disappointment. John Guislin, a Middlefield Road resident who has long lobbied officials for safety improvements along the prominent artery (the city last year approved road redesigns aimed at improving safety), and Greg Welch, a member of a recently formed citizens group aimed at addressing traffic, issued a statement on the neighborhood's message board criticizing her comment.
"We listened carefully to the recording of Mayor Kniss at Council on Monday night where she essentially denied that we have traffic problems in Palo Alto. Astounding!" Guislin and Welch wrote. "This appears to be willful ignorance of the many issues residents live with due to congested traffic.
"Her view might be considered a part of her support for commercial interests who want to continue growing commercial activity in and around downtown."
They encouraged others to email Kniss to inform them about their traffic concerns. On Monday, Kniss indicated that she has received the message and apologized to residents "about misjudging the complexity and intensity of our traffic."
"I heard from all over this community about the trouble with traffic, the traffic jams and the traffic difficulties," Kniss said.
Kniss said the special meeting on traffic will take place on Oct. 22 at City Hall.