Hesitant to cross this hazardous Palo Alto intersection? Here's the city's plan to smooth out your ride. | News | Palo Alto Online |

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Hesitant to cross this hazardous Palo Alto intersection? Here's the city's plan to smooth out your ride.

New turn lanes, crosswalk planned for busy crossing of San Antonio and Charleston roads

Proposed improvements to the intersection of San Antonio Road and East Charleston Road in Palo Alto include the creation of new turn lanes on San Antonio, which would have a total of six lanes. Rendering courtesy of city of Palo Alto.

The most dangerous intersection in south Palo Alto is about to see some changes, including new turning lanes and a realigned crosswalk that will make it easier for drivers to see pedestrians.

The City Council unanimously approved on Monday night a plan to reconfigure the lanes on the often-congested intersection of San Antonio and East Charleston roads. According to the city's 2017 Traffic Operations and Safety Report, that intersection saw more collisions over the preceding five years than any other intersections but one: The intersection of Everett Avenue and Middlefield Road in Crescent Park, which has since seen its own modifications.

Palo Alto's transportation planners pointed to data from the California Highway Patrol, which showed that the intersection had about 25 reported collisions between January 2012 and December 2016. Transportation staff had determined that most collisions were likely caused by unsafe speed or improper turning and that the most common type of crash was either rear-ends or sideswipes, according to a report from Office of Transportation.

View an interactive map of the high-incident intersections in Palo Alto from January 2012 through December 2016 here.

Those who bike through the intersection find it particularly challenging, given the high volume of cars and the lack of biking amenities. Ken Joye, vice chair of the Palo Alto Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, urged the council on Monday to approve the proposed reconfiguration and to also add biking amenities. Joye noted that while the proposed changes are expected to relieve traffic congestion, they do little for bicyclists.

The city is, however, planning to add a bike lane to the area around the intersection as part of a different project, the multiyear effort to improve the Charleston-Arastradero corridor. Rafael Rius, the city's traffic engineering lead, said that project will include the creation of a bike lane on Charleston, through the San Antonio intersection.

"I can assure you, having gone through this intersection on my bicycle with extreme trepidation, it's challenging," Joye said. "So I look forward to the bicycle provisions for this intersection that will be in Phase 3 of the Charleston-Arastradero corridor plan."

The modifications that the council approved include adding a second left turn lane for southbound traffic on San Antonio and modifying the right-turn lanes at the intersection. Currently, San Antonio has one right-turn lane and another lane for both right turns and through traffic. The new configuration would create two right-turn lanes and a total of six lanes on this stretch of San Antonio (two for left turns, two for right turns and two for traveling straight).

The plan also calls for modifying the southwest corner of the intersection to shorten pedestrian crossings and improve sight lines, according to the report from transportation planners.

"The priority issues and goals are to get out of this project are to improve pedestrian safety, improve vehicle safety, and then, thirdly, to improve traffic operations and congestion issues that occur at this intersection," Rius said.

The council enthusiastically supported the plan, which was developed over nearly two years of community meetings and which has already been approved by the Planning and Transportation Commission. Vice Mayor Tom DuBois lauded the process, though he also said that improving traffic flow at the intersection is his top goal.

"It's unusual in the city that it's two major arterials intersect and for me, traffic congestion is a priority," DuBois said. "It's a place where we have to be really careful about gridlock."

Councilman Greg Tanaka, who routinely rides his bicycle to meetings, focused his comments on bike improvements and wondered why the addition of bike lanes isn't part of this project. Tanaka said he used to ride his bicycle through this intersection every weekday to get to work and he agreed with those who described the bike ride as "terrifying."

Rius assured him that the bike improvements are coming and that the Charleston-Arastradero project, which is now advancing, is expected to be completed before the road improvements on San Antonio and Charleston. His report also noted that the designs under consideration "are not anticipated to prevent a southbound buffered bike lane in the future."

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Comments

15 people like this
Posted by James Thurber
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 12, 2020 at 8:03 am

As a bicyclist (I don't own a car) I've found this intersection to be best avoided. As one approaches on Charleston headed south (towards REI and COSTCO) the traffic appears to be pay ZERO attention to bicycle riders.

Fortunately there are many alternatives to this route (on a bicycle anyway).

Should the intersection be "fixed?" Good question. Most of the time reducing the traffic flow tends to make an intersection safer. We usually focus on making everything bigger - egads, who'd a thought when Highway 101 was referred to as "Bloody Bayshore" and was a four lane, undivided road that it would become an up to twelve (12) lane behemoth.

Thanks for listening and remember - sometimes it is truly FASTER to pedal than to drive.


13 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2020 at 8:08 am

I hope that the city will put funds in reserve to "fix" the intersection when their ideas outlined here prove to make things worse and then they claim that there are no funds to correct the fix.

As has shown in the past, all the ideas to fix traffic do nothing but cause more backups and problems.

/marc


12 people like this
Posted by Reasonable
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 12, 2020 at 9:32 am

Palo Alto approaches this as a design issue, but if unsafe speed and improper turns are the problem, issuing tickets will do much to change habits. The city is woefully short of dedicated traffic officers, and does not understand that more patrols can be a feature instead of a bug.

Instead we will get some kind of traffic calming design that further slows the already slow Arastradero Charleston corridor. Today it sometimes takes as long to get the short distance from El Camino to the 101 as it does to get from the onramp to the 101 to San Jose Airport.

Human error, including poor driving habits, is the cause of most accidents. Let's correct behavior first, before trying to design an imaginary error-proof road system.


13 people like this
Posted by AY NON AMOS
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 12, 2020 at 10:12 am

In Stockbridge MA, according to the lore, they have PO-LEES officers like Obie, who respond in full force to littering, arresting the culprits and, in court, presenting in evidence 27 color glossy photos with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one.

In Palo Alto, we put up 27 glossy street signs at each intersection, calmly instructing bike riders, car drivers, Uber-Lyfters, peedestrians, buggies, Waymoz,Teslaz, joggers and potential litterers how to line up, keep clear, stand back, slow down, merge, turn here, double turn there, and proceed at a measured pace. These signs go well with the 22 calming, narrowing, and readjusting traffic barriers, deflectors, roundabouts, bulbouts, pullouts and roustabouts. And all of this fabbbbulous deezine wizardry is why it has taken the nation's incredibly intelligent AUTONOMOUS driving systems SOOOOO many years to learn to navigate, mitigate, concentrate and operate, while the loiterers, litterers, and texters just go about their business.


13 people like this
Posted by Midlander
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2020 at 11:45 am

I cycle through this junction most mornings. The proposed changes generally look like improvements to me.

One issue I've noticed is sometimes people come South down San Antonio and then use the left-most of the two right hand lanes to cross the junction and go into the 76 gas station. Right now that is legal, but it often seems to surprise other people when it happens! Another issue is people coming out of the 76 station and trying to turn left (West) onto Charleston across traffic. That can get messy. As far as I can tell, both these options will be blocked off under the new design. Good.

Another issue that isn't addressed is people coming South on San Antonio and using the rightmost turn lane onto Charleston find themselves being immediately herded into a right turn onto Fabian Way. That seems to catch some people by surprise and can lead to them making an awkward sudden merge left. Unfortunately that one is quite hard to fix. Maybe better signage making it clear that the rightmost lane is only for Fabian Way?


1 person likes this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2020 at 11:45 am

@AY NON AMOS You are dating yourself :^)

/marc


4 people like this
Posted by PA Driver
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2020 at 12:33 pm

It appears that the San Antonio/Charleston intersection changes will improve traffic and cycling, and I agree with the signage changes proposed by Midlander. However, these changes should be made at the same time as the proposed changes to Charleston and Fabian, particularly the traffic light and left turn lane changes. The changes at Fabian also include bicycling improvements as well as traffic improvements on Charleston.


6 people like this
Posted by Middtown
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 12, 2020 at 12:50 pm

There are three direct routes through Palo Alto between 208 AND 101, San Antonio Blvd., Page Mill Road, and Charleston/Arastradero. All of them are3 crowded. Calming traffic on Charleston/ Arastradero has simply moved it to the other two. Our traffic planners don't seem to get the news (reported in this paper and others) that auto sales are increasing, that Silicon Valley is building more office space for more employees, that our population is aging and fewer can bike, that Uber and Lyft cars are continually circling around the city (or use parking spaces), that the tire marks on the curbs of new islands are becoming more and more black, AND THAT IN CASE OF DISASTER (such as the San Andreas Fault breaking loose) THAT DOUBLES OR TRIPLES TRAFFIC BETWEEN 101 AND 280 THE TRAFFIC CALMING WILL WORSEN AND ESCAPE ROUTES. Can't we learn from the escape problems of California's recent fires?


10 people like this
Posted by SPEED
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 12, 2020 at 1:16 pm

This is fine insofar as it addresses the intersection. Timing of the lights will also be important.
However, something should ALSO be done to reduce the SPEED of the traffic coming off South(east) 101 onto South(west) San Antonio. I do not know where Palo Alto's street maintenance jurisdiction along San Antonio begins, but perhaps two or three sets of rumble strips could be installed. Something to get drivers' speed reduced as they approach the Charleston intersection.


1 person likes this
Posted by Carl Jones
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 12, 2020 at 1:24 pm

@Midlander and others
Here is a link to the whole Charleston corridor detailed plan. See page 7 for the section between San Antonio and the intersection with Fabian Way.
Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Edward
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 12, 2020 at 7:15 pm

None of this will help. With all the new construction on San Antonio the best we can hope for is to tread water. Google at Alma and by BoA, new multilevel on San Antonio itself.

It seems city planners up the capacity of a road and then immediately green light large scale developments which negate any expected imprpvements in congestion and safety.

It's kind'a like buying a larger size pair of pants to be a bit more comfortable and then rapidly gaining another thirty pounds.


4 people like this
Posted by A Confusing MESS
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2020 at 8:42 pm

Many thanks to Carl Jones for posting the web link.

What a confusing mess. Driving Charleston is like a trip through a cheap carnival ride. Looking at all the traffic separation bump outs covered with tire tread marks and inscrutable green paint and stripes only reinforces my opinion that all of the calming has resulted in an un-navigable mess of confusion.

Hint, if you have to post cute little signs explaining how to use a road, the design is an abject failure. There is a total loss of intuitive road conventions that will surely result in more accidents.

Take a trip to Amsterdam or Copenhagen and you will see the correct way to align pedestrian, bike, and auto traffic.

This Charleston corridor calming is a silly mess that needs to be ripped out and rationalized.

True case of a few loud voices crapping the city up for everyone else.


1 person likes this
Posted by Thank you “A Confusing...”
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 12, 2020 at 9:32 pm

Thank you Comfusing Mess”
E. Charleston isn’t just a mess - Which it is, it’s Cruel!
Stupid, and less safe, even more congested now. How foolish! How despicably Heartless.


9 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 12, 2020 at 9:33 pm

The terrible accident which occurred several months ago was caused by a speeder coming off the freeway running a red light at 65 MPH+. What in the new design would prevent that accident? We need speed bumps or some other means of enforcing the speed limit for cars getting off the freeway. Too many reckless drivers are treating city streets as an extension of the freeway.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2020 at 9:27 am

Posted by Reasonable, a resident of Green Acres

>> Palo Alto approaches this as a design issue, but if unsafe speed and improper turns are the problem, issuing tickets will do much to change habits.

>> Instead we will get some kind of traffic calming design that further slows the already slow Arastradero Charleston corridor.

I like most of the Arastradero/Charleston changes myself. Including, *as a driver*. But, otherwise, I agree with you 100%.

>> Human error, including poor driving habits, is the cause of most accidents. Let's correct behavior first, before trying to design an imaginary error-proof road system.

Agree 100%. Somebody in city government seems to think that if we have a perfect traffic design, enforcement will not be necessary. Yet, experience proves this wrong every single day. We need enforcement. If this city is as rich as the CC seems to think it is, why can't we afford traffic enforcement?


Like this comment
Posted by Scott Hess
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 13, 2020 at 11:29 am

The section of Charleston from the sharp curve Louis and Fabian through to around Commercial is terrible on a bike. I gave up on it when the JCC was put in, because it was clear they weren't leaving any room for modifications to the street layout. I could take the lane and keep up with traffic, but doing that with all those entrances and exits is asking for eventual trouble. Taking Sutherland to Leghorn through the apartment complex is much calmer and safer.

Making it like Arastradero so things are even more confusing won't improve the issue of being dangerous because of lack of space and confusion on how to use it.


2 people like this
Posted by Marco Schuffelen
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2020 at 11:41 am

I think the most dangerous spot for bicyclists is the inner corner of where Charleston going East makes a 90-degree turn to the South. About half of the cars in the right lane cross into the bike path here. Will all drivers notice bicyclists in the bike path? Have there been crashes here? I don't like riding my bike in the sidewalk, but here it feels the bike path is too risky.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2020 at 1:35 pm

The parts I think are worst for drivers are the merges.

To begin with, the merge on San Antonio between those coming over the bridge and those exiting 101 can be crazy as often most of the cars are merging or crossing lanes to get in the right lane before Charleston.

The other merges are the fact that between San Antonio and Fabian the right lane is a forced right on Fabian and cars from all 3 directions at the San Antonio/Charleston intersection are trying to get out of it. San Antonio has two left turn lanes and these force drivers who do not know to be in the wrong lane and have to move. Something should be done so that drivers know well in advance that the right lane will be a forced right turn before they get into the wrong lane.

In both of these cases, wise drivers or those who are familiar know which lane to be in. However, those depending on GPS will often migrate to the wrong lane and then need to leave it before they expect to.


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2020 at 9:04 am

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> The parts I think are worst for drivers are the merges.

Merges of two lanes to one are not usually a problem. It is the criss-cross that is troublesome. Add to that "right turn on red" in this case, and, the two right lanes from southbound San Antonio to Westbound Charleston with one lane to Fabian in a short block -- that is a real problem. Clear signage will help. So will getting rid of the entrance from eastbound Charleston/southbound San Antonio into the parking entrance in front of the gas station. I don't know what they were thinking back when this was set up.

>> To begin with, the merge on San Antonio between those coming over the bridge and those exiting 101 can be crazy as often most of the cars are merging or crossing lanes to get in the right lane before Charleston.

This is a long merge so it should be OK, except that cars coming off the freeway refuse to slow down. This should have been set up originally to force the southbound ramp exiters to be slower than people coming over the bridge. Now, it is awkward because the faster cars are on the right. I'm not sure how that can be improved without backing up traffic onto 101 which would not be safer.

>> The other merges are the fact that between San Antonio and Fabian the right lane is a forced right on Fabian and cars from all 3 directions at the San Antonio/Charleston intersection are trying to get out of it. San Antonio has two left turn lanes and these force drivers who do not know to be in the wrong lane and have to move. Something should be done so that drivers know well in advance that the right lane will be a forced right turn before they get into the wrong lane.

Signage, and, getting rid of the Charleston-side entrance to the parking/frontage will make this somewhat better.


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