Changes planned for San Antonio and East Charleston roads

Proposal could add a bike lane and modify some traffic turns

A south Palo Alto intersection where 25 crashes occurred between 2012 and 2016 could receive a makeover within 12 to 18 months, according to city of Palo Alto transportation staff. City transportation staff unveiled proposed changes for the juncture of San Antonio and East Charleston roads at a community meeting on Sept. 5.

Residents have been raising concerns to the city about safety along the busy thoroughfares, particularly the corner where the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life is located. Pedestrians and bikes on East Charleston Road crossing San Antonio toward the campus are endangered by cars turning right onto East Charleston in two lanes from San Antonio. Cars in the second right-turn lane don't always yield to bicyclists, staff noted.

A consultant's traffic data from 2017 found this is particularly problematic during the afternoon commute. Between 4-5:45 p.m., 58.8 percent of bicycle traffic at the intersection rides west on Charleston Road across San Antonio.

In addition, the intersection as a whole saw 25 collisions between 2012 and 2016, according to the city. Of those, 36 percent were rear-end collisions, with the highest number on Charleston in the westbound lanes; 28 percent were sideswipes, with the most on San Antonio's southbound lanes and Charleston's eastbound lanes and were related to bikes and turns.

Another 24 percent were broadsides, with most by people violating right-of-way rules. About 8 percent were head-on crashes. Another 4 percent involved cars hitting an object, according to the data.

In addition to crashes, problems with traffic flow are being caused by signal lights that cause motorists to wait through more than one signal cycle.

City staff initially received community feedback in April, and on Sept. 5 they presented two revised concepts.

One proposal, called Idea C, removes one right-turn lane on southbound San Antonio at East Charleston and changes the traffic signal. A southbound bike lane on San Antonio would be added between the right-turn lane and the through lanes. The bike lane would cross East Charleston and direct bicyclists into an existing parking lot abutting the San Antonio. The parking lot would lose three spaces.

The pedestrian crosswalk across East Charleston, between the Taube Koret corner and a gas station, would be replaced. It's currently diagonal; the new crosswalk would be at a 90-degree angle, providing a shorter distance for pedestrians to walk as well as increased visibility to cars.

The plan would also add a second left-turn lane to southbound San Antonio for cars heading east on East Charleston.

Ruchika Aggarwal, the city's assistant engineer for the project, said the bike lane is unlikely to end up in the project because one of the main goals is to ease traffic congestion. The staff is committed to doing further evaluation, but they didn't do a traffic signal analysis regarding how adding right-turning light would work if a bike lane is added.

But "if the community really wants to push for the concept, we will be happy to take it to the City Council to decide," if it doesn't impede traffic movement significantly, she said.

The second concept, called Idea D, would also add the second left-turn lane to southbound San Antonio Road as well as the straightened crosswalk across East Charleston. It would evaluate the right-turn signal operations along southbound San Antonio, but it would not add a bike lane on San Antonio.

Residents who attended the meeting voiced several concerns while praising transportation staff efforts.

Robert Neff, a member of the Palo Alto Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, stated in an email: "I am really glad to see the pedestrian improvement proposed by city staff. The existing dual right-turn lanes are very dangerous for crossing pedestrians leaving the JCC/Moldaw Residences and crossing Charleston. We have had three pedestrian fatalities from crossing the street in the past few years (at other locations), and I'm glad to see this proactive safety project from the city."

But he urged the city to improve the bike route along San Antonio.

"San Antonio is a marked bike route from Middlefield to 101, and it is one of the most difficult, challenging, and stressful bike routes in the entire Santa Clara Valley. I think we should either fix the corridor by removing the parking, adding bike lanes and configure the intersections for safety, or take down all bike-route markings and sharrows. This bike route is an embarrassment to our city."

City Councilwoman Lydia Kou, who attended the meeting, said in an email that she is grateful staff acknowledged the intersection is dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists.

"Persons who live nearby, mostly those at the (Jewish Community Center), iterated that the traffic on San Antonio backs up into the freeway. The different plans presented did not tie in Charleston Road modifications nor Fabian Way leading to the future bike bridge. Also, I gathered that the staff preferred the plan that would have two right-hand turns from San Antonio onto Charleston with pedestrian crossings redrawn so it is more visible to oncoming vehicles," she said.

She noted that former city Planning and Transportation Commissioner Arthur Keller brought up that the JCC has a transportation-demand-management plan, but city staff did not appear to know about it and could not respond regarding its effectiveness nor if it has even been implemented.

Aggarwal said staff is aware of the JCC's traffic management plan, but they were not aware if it was monitored or not at the Sept. 5 meeting. But she said on Thursday that staff is working on getting that information, which will be included in the concept analysis.

Small businesses on Fabian Way also wanted staff to know that removing parking spaces is not acceptable to them.

"These modifications to mitigate traffic congestion are 'Band-aid' short-term solutions if city government continues to not acknowledge the developments they approve in locations that are problematic for incoming and outgoing traffic. It is poor backward planning," Kou said.

Aggarwal said staff will be making adjustments to the concept plans based on the meeting participants' feedback. The transportation department plans to have new data collection and analysis by this fall and will develop a recommendation for approval by the City Council. Pending the council's direction, the design could be implemented within 12 to 18 months, she said.

Information and updates about the project can be found at

Correction: An earlier verison of this story said that one goal of the project was to reduce traffic capacity. The goal is to ease traffic congestion.


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14 people like this
Posted by TorreyaMan
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 14, 2018 at 10:29 am

TorreyaMan is a registered user.

What about Charleston/Fabian Way? A horrid intersection where eastbound Charleston traffic is held up by traffic attempting to turn north month Fabian, among other horrors.

3 people like this
Posted by Robert Neff
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2018 at 10:38 am

The intersection at Charleston / Fabian is part of phase 3 of the Charleston Arastradero project. Planned, designed, should be funded next year. It includes a protected left turn phase from Charleston to Fabian. Also that plan includes narrowing the lanes on Charleston from Fabian to San Antonio to make room for bike lanes, creating continuous bike lanes on Charleston to Mountain View.

27 people like this
Posted by Traffic Calming
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 14, 2018 at 10:41 am

What I've noticed since Arastradero was modified: gridlock traffic making it impossible to use during much of the day, with associated pollution from idling cars; all ages engaged in a race car mentality as cars move from two to single lanes; once quiet neighborhood streets, used as alternatives, now resembling Le Mans circuit speedways. Thankfully, I can avoid the abomination as my kids are grown and don't need dropping off...I pity the working parents without this luxury.

15 people like this
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2018 at 11:00 am

We agree that red-light-running is very common at that intersection. Some car drivers think that a double-right-turn lane means they do not have to stop at red lights. Others just don't care and run the light anyway. I never see police here trying to enforce the most common sense traffic safety law. DO NOT RUN RED LIGHTS!

7 people like this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 14, 2018 at 11:20 am

For this to work it needs to include synchronizing the lights at Leghorn and at Fabian.

There should also be a left turn signal and lane from east-bound Charleston onto Fabian. Cars turning left there cause long backups on Charleston back towards Middlefield, which contributes to blocking cars coming out of Louis.

The bicycle route planning needs to consider the upcoming bridge at Adobe Creek, too.

53 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 14, 2018 at 11:26 am

You are putting a major bike lane on a major commuter street. Sorry - you do not make any sense at all. The people who are commuters are not using bikes - they are coming from a long way. You have a bike lane on East Meadow which is more appropriate for children and adults. Major Bike lanes do not belong on major commuter streets.

6 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2018 at 11:32 am

I was at this meeting. Lydia Kou seemed to be arguing against improving safety for the many seniors that live in the JCC in favor of moving out of town car commuters between 101 and Mountain View as fast as possible. She also seemed to be oddly focused on planning approvals, which have little to do with safety and collisions.

14 people like this
Posted by cur mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 14, 2018 at 12:00 pm

The entire stretch of Charleston, eastbound from Middlefield to San Antonio, is a nightmare. Funneling two lanes into one; then opening it up again and having the left lane stuck while unprotected left turns wait at Fabian; dangerous lane changes to avoid those waiting to turn left; then too short of a left turn lane on to northbound San Antonio, resulting in red light runners turning left.

Then, westbound off ramp from 101 on to San Antonio backing up at commute times. Much lane changing from left lane to right lane so drivers can turn left (eastbound) on Charleston, or right (westbound) on Charleston in a short congested distance. The poor visibility of pedestrian and cyclists at the intersection for those turning right (westbound) in the two lanes on to Charleston. I watch the pedestrians crossing in the crosswalk as I wait for the left arrow from Charleston, but often they are not paying attention to what is coming at them from the left in the right turn lanes. I'd be making eye contact with the drivers, but it's awkward. I fear that safety improvements will lead to even more congestion.

28 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2018 at 2:12 pm

I agree with cur mudgeon and others.

I hate driving Charleston from Middlefield to San Antonio Road. It isn't just the poor design either. Rather, it's the visibility issues. Bicyclists and pedestrians often are confused to the norms for safety. Other drivers often seem like they're unaware that the road merges or which lanes turn. I have seen several incidents that could have potentially turned deadly due to the design of this particular stretch of road.

I also wish that the state or city would permit bicycle restrictions on certain roads. There are many roads where trucks aren't permitted. Bicyclists on streets like Alma Street or Oregon Expressway not only endanger themselves, but they also endanger drivers (and create a traffic obstacle/funnel that makes bad traffic much worse).

Major thoroughfares should be off-limits to bicyclists who could easily use nearby or adjacent bike routes.

20 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2018 at 3:14 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

Show of hands. Anyone think our Planning and Transportation Department will get this right? The usual Bicycle Coalition people are in the front of the line, and we disgusting drivers of cars are shouted down.

7 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2018 at 4:53 pm

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown

>> Bicyclists and pedestrians often are confused to the norms for safety.

Agreed. Here is one that happens often: a bicyclist lines up, mounted on their bicycle, ready to enter a crosswalk, apparently expecting cars to stop as if they were a pedestrian. But, cars usually don't-- mounted, bicycles are expected to follow "the rules of the road". Some cars will stop, some won't-- dangerous confusion.

>> Other drivers often seem like they're unaware that the road merges or which lanes turn.

In Drivers Ed many decades ago, we were taught to treat merges "like a zipper". And, often, in California, people actually do. At least, if they didn't learn to drive somewhere that is very "right-of-way" oriented, like Virginia.

>> I also wish that the state or city would permit bicycle restrictions on certain roads.

I'm not sure about "any" roads, but, controlled access roads can exclude bicycles if there is a feasible bike route nearby. The problem often is, that, there isn't a route that is easily used nearby.

14 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 14, 2018 at 5:41 pm

Rick is a registered user.

Lydia Kou is one of the few (only?) voices of reason in the Palo Alto city council.

9 people like this
Posted by JCC Traffic and Dangers
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Sep 14, 2018 at 10:34 pm

JCC Traffic and Dangers is a registered user.

JCC does a lot to worsen traffic and decrease safety, especially during events. During events such as corporate meetings, JCC will not allow Uber or Lyft to drive in the JCC driveway and pick up and drop off passengers. Car services provide JCC a service, eliminating the number of cars parking on the site. JCC requires cars to take incredibly dangerous actions. JCC staff actually walk up to cars in the street driving on Fabian Way to prevent Uber and taxis from driving into JCC to drop off, and instead forcing passengers to get out of cars on Fabian, in the middle of traffic. This requires all the cars in back of the car dropping off to stop while someone is required to get out of the car in the middle of the street. It increases traffic congestion on Fabian, backs up traffic on Charleston up to San Antonio, Middlefield and the freeway. JCC is supposed to be for he community, but it makes it impossible for the seniors, disabled, and children to get in and out of campus safely during events so people who rent meeting space can attend.

Sometimes JCC decides Uber cars are not allowed to drive up the driveway to the safe, designated and labeled pick up and drop off spot, telling drivers instead to do a U turn in the middle of the driveway (you have to see it to believe it), then park in a traffic lane mid-driveway, often blocking the residence parking garage. Children and seniors must leave their safe pick up spot walk to get in a car parked in a live traffic lane.

JCC really hasn't done anything to address the demand for trips to JCC. It could lobby to get bus service to JCC, or help fund close by routes to be extended the few blocks to get to JCC. There are copious number of shuttles sponsored by Mountain View, Palo Alto, Caltrain and VTA all within blocks of the JCC campus. However, they stop at dangerous places too far and unsafe for most to cross. JCC needs to make an effort to get services to stop at JCC. The only servie is the 88 bus line, which comes maybe every 90 minutes. There is zero service to the facility on weekends or after 6pm. Driving is only option, preferably in a single occupancy vehicle parking in the garage.

3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2018 at 10:47 pm

Traffic does get backed up onto the freeway from both directions. Also where the two lots of traffic coming from the freeways merge there are cars trying to cross traffic to get in both the right and left turn lanes which makes this a very fraught section of roadway. I tend to think that reducing the two right turn lanes would make traffic even more fraught as it aligns itself for all the traffic getting into the turn lanes.

I was not aware that it was worse in the afternoon commute compared to the morning commute. Have accurate traffic counts been done on the right turn? Or is this just guestimating?

6 people like this
Posted by Cafe Hunk
a resident of Los Altos
on Sep 15, 2018 at 12:13 am

All the traffic on San Antonio is turning right on Charleston because there's no entrance to the southbound freeway from San Antonio. It would be much better to address that problem directly than to back up traffic on San Antonio by removing turning lanes. But no, they just sold off the parcel of land that such a freeway entrance would be built on for a song to developer. So, instead, you get yet another point source of traffic near this intersection instead of using it to make the existing roadways work better.

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 15, 2018 at 3:52 am

@Cafe, I believe all the right turns onto Charleston discussed above, with the problematic two right-turn lanes, are from southbound San Antonio into Palo Alto. There is so little northbound San Antonio traffic turning right on Charleston into Mountain View that there is not even one dedicated right-turn lane for them. They have earlier options toward southbound 101 by turning right onto Middlefield or onto Leghorn, and not having to deal with that messy crossover merge under the Rengstorff overpass.

Regarding those two right turn lanes from southbound San Antonio, I had to research
the DMV right-on-red rules. I had thought it was only legal from the rightmost lane
into the rightmost lane, same as leftmost to leftmost at a signalized intersection of
one-way streets. But apparently a right on red (after a full stop) is legal from any right turn lane.

6 people like this
Posted by Adena
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 15, 2018 at 9:53 am

The traffic at Middlefield and San Antonio is the real problem. Is anything going to be done about that intersection? I was driving at 3pm on Friday and it took a good 20 minutes to get from El Camino to 101. Once clearing Middlefield there was no traffic. The light at Middlefield only allows a small amount of cars to get through and the turn lane seems to make it worse. It is bad in rush hour as well. I'm glad I have the option to take 280, but it seems like the focus of traffic fixes should be that intersection instead of or at least in addition to Charleston.

9 people like this
Posted by Pro Cyclist
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 15, 2018 at 10:42 am

As a 59 year resident, I have never had any problems with this intersection. People should just relax and take it easy and all will be fine. If you do, you'll see that this intersection makes perfect sense.
I suggest driver road rage, speeding, and congestion are the sole cause of any perceived issues. This is under the control of, and easily remedied by, each individual. I see no reason to spend millions of dollars to change the configuration and signage simply to protect people from the consequences of their own bad behavior.
I oppose any changes.

2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 15, 2018 at 3:42 pm

We need a dedicated left hand turn lane on Charleston turning on to Fabian. That is just common sense. I do not understand why common sense goes by the wayside here. Is there some type of funding that they are trying to use up? There is some type of sense of how roadways work in the most effective manner to move traffic easily and we seem to be doing every opposite maneuver out there to thwart what is common knowledge regarding major throughways in the city. No one is happy with these road experiments so why doesn't the city just quit trying to double down on disruption.

4 people like this
Posted by Weekly reporting at its finest
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 16, 2018 at 2:29 pm

Bad reporting. So there have been 25 crashes. That number means nothing unless you tell us the traffic volume for the intersection.

1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2018 at 5:43 pm

Posted by Adena, a resident of Mountain View

>> The traffic at Middlefield and San Antonio is the real problem. Is anything going to be done about that intersection? I was driving at 3pm on Friday and it took a good 20 minutes to get from El Camino to 101.

The problem with that intersection is that there are too many cars for the throughput of the intersection. All the ways to significantly improve that require eating up quite a bit of real estate for more lanes to cross, or, an underpass for San Antonio. You could always lengthen the time the lights are green in each direction, which might help a little, but, that might not help your end-to-end travel time. As someone in these threads wrote, "it is a geometry problem". Of course, they didn't take that into consideration when they added all the new stuff in Mountain View in the Calfornia/San Antonio/ECR/Showers super-block.

But, speaking of San Antonio/Middlefield, am I the only person who cares about the cars speeding through the Summer Winds parking lot method of turning right on Middlefield from southbound San Antonio? "Back in the old days", that would have been an instant ticket, but, we seem to have no enforcement for stuff like that any more.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 16, 2018 at 5:58 pm

>> "Back in the old days", that would have been an instant ticket

Just curious, what section of the California Vehicle Code?

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2018 at 11:14 pm

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde

> >> "Back in the old days", that would have been an instant ticket

> Just curious, what section of the California Vehicle Code?

Good question. I can't find it in the online CVC. Someone I knew got a ticket and was warned about it specifically, but, I can't find it now.

"Comment withdrawn" for now. I guess they need speed bumps. ;-)

3 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 17, 2018 at 1:08 am

Is there any commonality in these crashes ... like where they coming from any particular directions, or trying to make any particular turns or maneuvers?

At this intersection the presence of the gas station adds too much complexity. Trying to go out of the Arco station either down Charleston either way is a problem. Cars rips around that corner and you are stuck in the gas station or the old OSH and cannot get out there is no lull in traffic.

one thing that might help is to disallow right turns on red in some of the directions here.

5 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 17, 2018 at 3:13 pm

Overall, reading the article, I detect a bias in favor of bikes.
In this situation, I object to that.
There are freeway access points there: on Charleston and on San Antonio.
C’mon, it isn’t about bike lanes.
We need smooth traffic flow of auto vehicle traffic onto/off these major entrances/exits.
Adding bike lanes between auto lanes/turning lanes as floated is a poor option.
Large vehicles transit through this intersection and access the freeway.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 18, 2018 at 9:45 am

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park, on Sep 17, 2018 at 1:08 am

>> Is there any commonality in these crashes ... like where they coming from any particular directions, or trying to make any particular turns or maneuvers?

Good question. In the past, sometimes the yellow phase going east was particularly short at times. If that was never fixed, it certainly could cause accidents.

11 people like this
Posted by Mtn View Is The Problem
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2018 at 2:58 pm

Lets start from the position that this intersection is a mess because it was designed when SSL/Sun Micorosystems were big employers. The morning and afternoon commutes to/from Fabian Way dominated.

Now that Sun is gone, and the SSL is on life support, we need to look at where all this traffic is moving to.

Mountain View and Los Altos. Over the past several years, within a few blocks of San Antonio Road and El Camino Real have exploded with multi-family apartment complexes. While sold as "transit centric", these apartment dwellers drive. Each apartment is worth a car or two.

On the horizon are two huge, high density, apartments nearing completion on San Antonio at CA Ave, across the street at the Carmel Apartments site, and soon to come on line at the old Safeway site. All told, there will be nearly 2000 new apartment units straddling San Antonio road in Mountain View.

These dwellers will not be using public transportation in any meaningful way. The vast majority will be heading up and down San Antonio Road to 101.

This needs to be considered when revising the intersection.

As far as bikes are concerned, for the last 10 years it has been worth your life to cross San Antonio Road on Charleston. Gave up riding from SPA to Orchard/REI/Costco on a bike. Just not worth the terror.

Maybe a pedestrian/bike tunnel/overpass is needed.

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

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