Screeching brakes, blaring horns and crumpling metal are still a continual occurrence at one dangerous Palo Alto intersection, despite nearby residents having complained to the city for more than a decade. And the situation is only getting worse, they say.
The intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Middlefield Road, which children and their parents use to get to Addison Elementary School, was supposed to be fixed in 2018 when the city instituted measures such as adding bollards, banning parking along some corners and painting lines. But lines of sight onto Middlefield from the side street remain obscured by signage, trees and parked cars, forcing drivers on Lincoln to pull out into the busy Middlefield intersection to see oncoming traffic.
"It's more dangerous than ever," Laura Sturino, a parent who, with her two children, was struck by a minivan in December 2011 at the intersection. "I hear near-misses daily. I've seen all kinds of accidents."
The nature of the accidents has gotten more severe, she added.
"There's just much more traffic and it goes much faster. It's the nature of everything: the trees, the sight lines, people who don't know where they are going — I think there are a lot of Uber drivers — and people don't see the dip on the west side, the Addison Elementary School side. There's this tension between kids, walking, cars, bikes all happening at the same time. It's truly terrifying," she said.
During a recent stretch, there was one accident after another — a massive uptick that began as the COVID-19 pandemic waned. One weekend, Sturino said, there were three accidents and several people were hauled off in ambulances.
Residents feel their pleas to the city have gone nowhere.
"We've been talking about it forever," she said.
A May 15 request for data from the police department on the number of crashes at the intersection since 2018, when the Palo Alto Weekly last wrote about the Lincoln and Middlefield intersection, hasn't yet been received, but some residents said such data won't be accurate anyway. There are far more near-misses and minor crashes that go unreported.
"I hear several times a day blaring horns or screeching brakes. On weekdays, there's not a day that passes where it doesn't happen one to 10 times a day," resident Jeffrey Brown said.
When drivers on Lincoln are forced to “nose” out into traffic before they can proceed, it increases the likelihood of a driver failing to notice a nearby bicyclist or pedestrian, he said.
What's more, the large radii of the intersection's corners "invite" drivers who are making right-hand turns to speed into and through those turns, often only looking left for other vehicles while failing to check to their right for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Also, because of obscured views, approaching drivers are less likely to regulate their speed when coming near the intersection because they aren't aware it is there, he said.
But hope may be coming.
Philip Kamhi, the city's chief transportation official, wrote in a May 3 email to Brown that based on the history of events and requests from residents of the area, staff conducted an initial evaluation in 2022. Staff then hired a traffic consultant and began a broader evaluation of potential traffic improvements. The evaluation will be shared publicly within the next few weeks.
Brown, a retired NASA research engineer, said the solution doesn't rely on forever studying the situation. There are simple answers that could be implemented now. He sent Kamhi a slide deck of photographs that show the problem and how it could potentially be fixed by removing some of the sight-line obstacles.
Just three blocks to the south, at Middlefield and Kellogg Avenue, the city has already constructed bulb-outs and marked four-way crosswalks. A similar design could possibly alleviate the entire problem at Lincoln, he said.
The contoured curbs narrow and sharpen the turning radii at all entrances to the intersection; reflective signage and well-marked and brightly painted crosswalks would bring the same safety advantages to the four-way Lincoln/Middlefield crossing, he said.
Kamhi said the city would be holding a community meeting regarding the intersection. As part of the evaluation, staff will be looking into additional parking restrictions.
"We intend to make both short-term improvements as well as take options for longer-term improvements to our City Council for further direction and consideration," Kamhi said.