Seeking to persuade the Palo Alto City Council to take traffic congestion seriously, Crescent Park residents have conducted their own survey to gauge feelings, identify the problems and to offer some potential solutions.
The 36-page survey found that 94 percent of respondents in the besieged neighborhood think the city isn't doing enough.
The report, compiled by neighborhood resident John Guislin, is a response to a comment made by Mayor Liz Kniss during a July 30 council meeting, when Kniss said "traffic is not as overwhelming as you might think."
The comment baffled and angered some residents, particularly in Crescent Park, which is sandwiched between the city's downtown core and commuter conduits University Avenue and U.S. Highway 101. Crescent Park routinely experiences heavy traffic backups and unsafe driving from cut-through commuter traffic on residential streets. Residents cannot access their homes and fume from idling vehicles polluting their homes.
"The goal of the survey is to help clarify the issue and the parameters so you understand it a little deeper. Our community should be engaging and building solutions," Guislin said.
He and a group of Crescent Park residents who are active in traffic issues put together nine questions through online-survey tool Survey Monkey. The survey link reached approximately 850 residents who belong to the Crescent Park Neighborhood Association.
Guislin said 189 residents, or 22 percent, responded. The response is comparable to a wider 2017 National Citizens' Survey conducted by the city of Palo Alto, which received a 20 percent response rate from residents throughout the city. That survey found that 37.16 percent rated the ease of travel by car as "poor" and 45.36 percent rated it "fair."
In the Crescent Park survey, respondents indicated multiple times of the day when traffic is bad, as opposed to choosing only one time when it is most problematic. Weekday evenings are the peak time, 74 percent of the residents said. But weekday afternoons and mornings are also an issue by high percentages: 65 percent of respondents experience heavy traffic on their street during the afternoon and 48 percent in the morning. During weekends, only 11 percent described traffic as a problem, with 5 percent saying it is rarely an issue.
More than 60 percent of respondents "strongly agree" that traffic negatively impacts their quality of life, and more than 60 percent rated traffic overall as a major or moderate concern.
The top vexations involved the time required to reach freeways (91 percent); time required for short-distance trips (85 percent); feeling unsafe as a bicyclist (84 percent); and impeded access for emergency vehicles (76 percent). More than 60 percent rated air and noise pollution, feeling unsafe as a motorist or pedestrian and having difficulty exiting the driveway as major or moderate concerns.
When asked what they consider the primary cause of traffic congestion, a majority of respondents listed backup from commuter traffic from U.S. Highway 101, unsynchronized traffic signals that contribute to backups on University Avenue, cut-through traffic into neighborhoods, excessive office development in downtown and commuters from large companies such as Facebook and Google.
A whopping 94 percent of respondents said the city government wasn't doing enough to address traffic problems. Some said the city has exacerbated the problem by adding more office and commercial development while reducing parking spaces; others said they have no clear sense of what the city is doing at all. Still, others pointed to poor planning that has failed to create viable mass transit connections.
"I see nothing they have done to correct the problem except place pots on the streets and the plants are dying. There are too many people trying to get out of town at the same time," one resident wrote, noting recent transportation office efforts to make some streets appear more as gateways to a residential neighborhood than as arterial streets for commuter traffic.
The survey asked residents for two or three actions they would like the city to take. The most common recommendation was to freeze development. Other top recommendations included enforcing existing traffic laws; adding cameras on traffic signals; adding public transit and shuttles; stopping cut-through traffic; having a greater police presence and ticketing; fixing traffic-light timing; and installing traffic-calming measures.
"All responsible governmental bodies and city governments should work together to address this issue. We need to seriously look at new public transportation options and, possibly, incentivize the private sector to come up with solutions. Growth can't, and shouldn't, be stopped in a healthy economy, so changing the way people commute is the only healthy option," one resident wrote.
Others suggested remote parking with shuttles for commercial organizations with more than a certain threshold of employees. Another suggestion was to have employees vary their start and end times to alleviate traffic clogs.
Many concerns and solutions focused on an individual resident's needs. Guislin said that it could be a challenge to get residents to see the problem beyond their own driveway or street. The problem must be fixed holistically so it isn't pushed somewhere else.
Guislin said he realized the survey has limitations. The Crescent Park survey was not randomized, for example. But it provides a picture from which a greater conversation can take place with city leaders. The first problem is building the political will to affect meaningful changes, he said.
"It wasn't perfect; it's our first time. We'll do it again and we'll make it better," he said.
Guislin plans to distribute the survey to the Palo Alto City Council this Monday, Oct. 22 at its upcoming Transportation Town Hall, which begins at 5 p.m. at Council Chamber at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.
View the Crescent Park Neighborhood Association traffic survey, courtesy of John Guislin.
• Watch "Behind the Headlines" to hear what Palo Alto Assistant City Manager Ed Shikada says city officials are doing to improve transportation.