Charleston Road safer, better after lane changes, council agrees | May 14, 2008 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 14, 2008

Charleston Road safer, better after lane changes, council agrees

Arastradero Road phase of project next, widening Gunn High School driveway

by Becky Trout

Charleston Road's slim-down "diet" was a success, the Palo Alto City Council agreed Monday night — giving a green light to a slew of other improvements designed to make the road safer, more attractive and more functional for bikers, pedestrians and drivers.

Between Fabian Way and Alma Street in south Palo Alto, Charleston slimmed from four to three lanes in 2006 on a trial basis as part of the community-based Charleston-Arastradero Corridor project.

Two years later, neighborhood and school groups, a team of traffic consultants, city planners, and now the council have endorsed the trial, calling for its extension west of El Camino Real and the addition of long-term safety features and landscaping. The extra features had been delayed to see if the traffic-flow worked with the fewer lanes.

The council unanimously approved the ongoing project Monday, with Councilman John Barton abstaining because he lives on Charleston.

"I just want to let you know how happy I am," Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto said. "I think it's really going to be a transformation of south Palo Alto from a 1960s auto-based layout to a much more walkable, bikable area."

At least seven supporters of the project waited until past 11 p.m. Monday to encourage the council to approve the project.

Philip Melese, an Arastradero Road resident, said he commutes by bike to Menlo Park each day and his children traveled to Terman Middle School and now to Gunn High School.

"I see Arastradero Road every day. I'm here to support the plan," Melese said. "I'm really glad Palo Alto is going in this direction."

The council action makes the current three-lane configuration from Fabian to Alma permanent with medians and small turning "pockets" at intersections.

The road broadens to four lanes between Alma and El Camino Real.

The changes increased the amount of time to travel between Fabian Way and Alma Road by 11 percent in the morning, but shaved seconds from the evening commute, TJKM Transportation Consultants found.

Improvements to Arastradero were planned for 2008, but were pushed back to 2009 to coincide with utilities work in the area, according to a staff report.

Yet a similar three-lane strategy — which is intended to slow vehicles, improve biking safety and make it easier to cross the street — won't work on Arastradero unless the morning traffic jam at Gunn High School is resolved, the consultants reported.

Currently, Gunn-bound drivers clog up westbound Arastradero every weekday morning. The jam, already up to a half-mile some days, would reach all the way to El Camino Real if the roadway were reduced to one lane each direction, TJKM found.

The problem is Gunn's entrance driveway, which loses its second lane only 150 feet into the campus, according to a city report.

If two lanes were extended 500 feet, Arastradero could be converted into a three-lane road, TJKM concluded.

Gunn administrators agreed to make the change this summer. Traffic planners will review the campus and roadway traffic this fall, before making a final recommendation whether to proceed with three or four lanes on Arastradero, according to a city staff report.

The city also plans to add a crosswalk near Briones Park and continue to finesse the timing and coordination of signals, which can improve the efficiency of the road by as much as 30 percent, according to the report.

The Charleston-Arastradero Corridor extends about 2.5 miles, from San Antonio Road to Foothill Expressway. It carries as many as 18,300 vehicles a day and connects 11 schools and several community, residential and commercial areas.

Residents expressed concerns about traffic speeds, unsafe crossing and other issues, leading to the launch of the corridor study in 2003.

City staff members pledged to return with a report on the roadway's functioning in December.

The Charleston-Arastradero Corridor Plan is available on the city's Web site,, by searching for "Charleston-Arastradero Corridor."

Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at


Posted by Bikes to work, a resident of Ventura
on May 13, 2008 at 8:49 am

More kids will bike to Gunn and Terman if traffic makes driving take longer!

I suggest running extra shuttles on rainy days since that is when some families drive their kids who normally bike to school.

Charleston is much safer now for cyclists! Narrower auto lanes mean more cars driving 25 MPH.

Everyone please try biking this THURSDAY, May 15- it won't rain and should be a lovely day.

Posted by Driver, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2008 at 8:55 am

Of course its safer and quicker - most people driving around town know to avoid Charleston and use residential or other streets. Anyone done a study on these other roads and seen an increase in traffic?

Posted by Charleston Driver, a resident of The Greenhouse
on May 13, 2008 at 9:58 am

I drive down Charleston almost everyday at around 4-5PM. Traffic is not that bad, but I do not see that many bikers and hardly any pedestrians, so not sure about CW Kishimoto's quote. But I guess she is into getting rid of auto traffic in PA, so anything must be trumpted as achieving that goal.
Agree that studies should be done to look at potential increases in traffic on other streets--if that is the case then narrowing Charleston did not really accomplish anything

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2008 at 12:34 pm

Charleston Road is much safer now that people are driving more slowly. I wonder what will happen when the Center for Jewish Life and the other large developments near Charleston Road come on line? Perhaps these new people will decide not to use a school commute corridor when they are in a hurry and avoid Charleston Road. We're lucky to have had the choice to make changes along this corridor. What will North Palo Alto do when the larger hospital/shopping center goes on line?

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 13, 2008 at 12:58 pm

They actually checked other roads like San Antonio and it does not look like traffic has shifted. The key is not that it is a "slower" road in terms of time it gets from "A" to "B", but slower and steadier paced. Turtle vs Hare. In the past you would go faster but then get stuck behind someone making a turn. With dedicated turn lanes, you can keep moving.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 13, 2008 at 1:48 pm

It's confusing when you merge from two lanes into one on certain parts of Charleston, like the place near Middlefield intersection, hard to see the reason for this (yes, I know the overall "reason" for making a new plan for the lanes on Charleston)...I would strongly prefer Charleston/Arastradero remain a normal road, two-lanes in each direction.

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on May 13, 2008 at 7:25 pm

Charleston with two lanes in each direction was like Arastradero is now---a lot of road capacity that is wasted for 23 hours and 30 minutes of every day. Building a wide 4 lane road (a "normal" road, according to anonymous) to accomodate a very short-lived peak is extremely wasteful and invites speeding when traffic is light. The "road diet" trial on Charleston proved that you can move the same amount of traffic in the same amount of time with fewer lanes and more safety. There may have been some confusion at first about the merges, but that has long since gone.

Posted by Phil, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 14, 2008 at 5:34 am

I am very happy with the changes to Charleston, so far, and look forward to further changes there: especially with regards to bike safety for the child commuters.

My family lives in the "Circles", and I haven't noticed any additional spill-over from Charleston here.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 14, 2008 at 6:34 am

Charleston is OK so long as you don't use it during the morning commute. With cars backed up at Fabian Way all the way to Middlefield, we can't get out of our side streets, "Keep Clear" signs must be put on Charleston at Sutherland and Montrose. I suppose it was the city's long range plan to lock us into our neighborhoods - please let us out!!!

Posted by Driver, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2008 at 7:57 am

Turned from Middlefield on to Charleston last night at about 6.00 p.m. I had to stop for the tailback by Hoover school. Many cars were trying to get out of Hoover (end of baseball practice?) and turn both ways, but it was mainly the lights and the trains at Alma that held us up. I lost count of the number of red lights we had before we crossed, but we had to stop for two trains. This journey with no traffic would have taken a couple of minutes. Instead it took nearly 20. With two lanes of traffic it would definitely have halved the delay as so many of the cars were actually queueing to turn rather than go straight on.

Bring it back to normal.

Posted by Driver, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2008 at 7:58 am

I mean that many of the cars queueing were turning into driveways or sidestreets, not turning on Alma (although of course some were).

Posted by Lets make a fools of ourselves, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 14, 2008 at 8:43 am

I suggest we implement the same thing with Oregon Expressway. Slow the traffic to a crawl. Like someone said - slow but steady flow.

AKA Turtle vs Hare.

And while we are at it - may we include 101 and 280 as well.

Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 14, 2008 at 3:58 pm


Posted by Penny, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 14, 2008 at 5:28 pm

As a mom who travels Charleston with children multiple times every day on foot, on bike and by car (I live here. It's the way out of my neighborhood.)to travel to school, the parks, the libary, the community center, the shopping center...I am very pleased with the reduced speeds. It is much safer to cross. Anecdotally, I have observed an increase in bicyclists and pedestrians. Further, when I drive, my point-to-point travel times are about the same. The data in the study shows this to be true.

Charleston/Arastradero serves eleven schools. People formerly were driving at high speeds all times of day in the school crossing zones, creating an unsafe environment. I personally know six people who were hit by cars on this street before the trial. One of them was my husband who was hit twice (I'm only counting him once). Crash data is being studied as part of this project.

I am looking forward to implementation of the traffic adaptive signal system. It should improve intersection efficiency.

I'm also looking forward to the installation of the new landscaped medians. These will provide pedestrian refuges at crossing points. Further, studies show trees and landscaping closer to drivers' field of vision cause them to drive as though they are on a residential street, managing their own speed and scanning for pedestrians and bicyclists. This will be a good thing on a school corridor...and it will beautify the area. The former streetscape felt like an expressway to drivers. They responded to it as such, by stepping on the accelerator. This created a dangerous environment for people who walk and bike.

I am grateful for the Charleston/Arastradero improvements and I am looking forward to seeing the next phases of the plan implemented.

Aside from engineering safe streets, I'd like to hear a discussion about the civic issues related to sharing the road safely. A friend just sent me a great article from the Orlando Sentinel that talks about this. I thought there was a lot of truth in it. If you are interested, you can read it here Web Link .

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2008 at 5:45 pm


There are some good points in your post and also in the article.

A great deal of this comes down to educating road users. If we educate our children to be good cyclists, when they become drivers they will see things differently than if they had never used their bikes on the roads. I would definitely advocate a cycling proficiency scheme whereby kids could get some reward from the community if they have proved that they are good riders and by this I mean a real test on roads, not doing a simulation in a school everybody does it project.

I would also advocate getting more kids to use safer routes to school e.g. using Mitchell Park instead of Middlefield/Meadow, and Bryant. I know that many do, but there is often a group that insist that they don't need to.

But, when I see families out cycling and not one of them stopping and giving way to me as a pedestrian when crossing at a stop sign, I do worry. Bad adult cyclists are teaching bad habits to their kids and we need to find ways to stop this.

Posted by Penny, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 15, 2008 at 11:54 am

The PTA Traffic Safety Committee in a Safe Routes to School Partnership with City of Palo alto and PAUSD works to reduce trips to PAUSD schools. The goal of the Safe Routes to School partnership is to reduce risk to students en route to and from school and to encourage more families to use alternatives to solo driving more often. (Given the limited availability of school bus service, this is especially important at school sites where student population is increasing or many students do not live close enough to walk or bike to school.

We focus on 5 E's: education (teaching kids skills they need to be safe bicyclists and pedestrians), transportation engineering (creating safer streets and connections for all users of the road), working with PAPD on enforcement issues, fun events to encourage behavior change, and evaluation (measuring program performance).

2007-8 Accomplishments:
-Recruited and trained Traffic Safety Representatives (TSR's) at 14 of 17 PAUSD school sites.

-Provided ongoing training and support through SaferCommutesPTA YahooGroup

-Kicked off school year with school commute safety tips letter for all PAUSD parents from PAPD

- Provided template for traffic safety section of parent handbook

-Worked with CPA Transportation Division, PAFD, PAPD and PAUSD Administration, and parent volunteers to deliver the following traffic safety education programs to elementary and middle schools:
-K-2 Safe Moves (developmentally appropriate pedestrian skills at each grade level) w/ related parent ed. flyers
-3rd Grade Bike Rodeo and related parent education material
-5th Grade Bike Safety Program and letter to parents about middle school commute options and safety
-6th Grade “Drive Your Bike” bike safety education assemblies ­tie-ins with Amgen race
-Middle School Bike Skills Class (for parents and children)
-Bringing Up Bicyclists (parent ed.program on how to teach your child to be a safe bicyclist)

-Successfully worked with CPA Transportation Staff, Valley Transportation Authority and PAUSD to reduce proposed cuts to public bus routes that serve Palo Alto middle and high schools. As part of that process, successfully advocated for bus route and schedule changes, and reduced fares that will serve this student population better. New schedules will go into effect in July 2008.

-Organized two district-wide events to encourage more families to use alternative transportation modes for their school commutes through fun community events that also educated about the health, safety and environmental benefits of alternative choices.
- October: Palo Alto Walks & Rolls
- April: Earth Day Event: “Cool School Commutes”

- Participated in outreach efforts linked to Amgen Tour of California Prologue

-Outreach to schools, tie-in to fitness and green commute choices
-February family friendly Lifestyle Fair
-Community Bike Ride from Mitchell Park to Downtown

-Mitchell Park teen event on Feb. 13 after school
-Educational pamphlet on bike safety and Amgen Tour distributed to all grade 5-6 students.

- Developed and ran ad in PTA newsletters (in English and Spanish) for Child Passenger Safety Week publicizing CA law and recent study data re: use of child safety seats.

- Conducted annual school commute transportation mode survey and bike counts

-Recently recruited volunteer webmaster to update and maintain PA PTAC Safe Routes to School web site:

-Supported development of pilot carpool matching programs by volunteers at Escondido and Ohlone. We hope that these pilots will provide information about the most effective way to roll out carpool matching district-wide.


- Worked with CPA Transportation Division, PAPD and PAUSD Administration on the following enforcement and engineering projects via City/School Traffic Safety Committee and City/School Liaison Committee (several of these projects are ongoing):

- El Carmelo Elementary School traffic circulation redesign: new drop zones, with signs and new striping in two locations and crossing guard study
- Duveneck Elementary public street improvements, signal and signage
- Gunn HS driveway restriping for improved efficiency
- Charleston/Arastradero Plan
- Completion of Maybell/Donald Bike Boulevard
- Palo Verde mid-block crossing and handicap ramp improvements
- Hoover Elem. signal timing to facilitate vehicle exits, improved sight lines at exit for all users.
- Palo Alto HS­/Embarcadero changes related to Trader Joe’s development near school entrance/exit
- Palo Alto HS­: new bike racks donated by Google
- Oregon Expressway­work with county and CPA plans to improve ped/bike safety at school route intersections
- California Avenue: restriping for safer bike/ped movement
- Escondido Elem. study possible school commute safety effects of moving gate to accommodate playground redesign
- Addison Elem. recent request to study impacts on parking, ped/bike safety of increasing enrollment, and X-ing guard issues.

A lot was accomplished this year. As you aptly point out, there is more to do...and our resources are limited. Our most important resource is motivated volunteers. If you are interested in working on creating a walkable, bikable community and helping to teach children and families how to use alternative modes safely, we would love to have your help! Please join us.

Contact Penny Ellson at for more information about Safe Routes to School.

Thank you.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 18, 2008 at 2:57 pm

Topic: "Charleston Road safer, better after lane changes, council agrees". I was following these comments and read a comment from a Palo Alto man surprised at the size of the development going up on the corner of San Antonio Road and East Charleston Road - the Campus for Jewish Life. He said this project seems more like a housing development than a center for Jewish Life. I can no longer find his post. I'm wondering if now that people see the size of the project, they would be willing to write to the City Council asking for noise regulation of the development's outside events and rules restricting event parking in nearby neighborhoods. I believe a project this large should not have been approved because, among other issues, we don't have enough water or roadways to support it.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 18, 2008 at 4:44 pm

Resident, Meadow Park Neighborhood. The City Council is well aware there will be huge parking problems with events taking place at the 400 seat theater on the Campus for Jewish Life in the evenings. There will be almost no parking available at the site because residents will be using their parking spaces in the evening. They refused to do anything about it because they said it was pretty impossible to estimate the overflow parking problems ahead of time.

Posted by Saul, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 21, 2008 at 7:49 am

There have been more accidents at the intersection of Carlson and East Charleston than ever before. As it turns out, the police will not investigate unless the cars are disabled, or there is an injury.

So, there are no official statistics to prove the accidents; people are claiming it is "safer".

Typical Palo Alto.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields


Save $5 when you register by Monday, July 24

Registration is now open for the 33rd annual Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run and Walk. This family-friendly event which benefits local nonprofits serving kids and families will take place on Friday, Oct. 6 at the Palo Alto Baylands.

Register Here