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.

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Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at [email protected]


Like this comment
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.

Like this comment
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?

Like this comment
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

Like this comment
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?

Like this comment
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.

Like this comment
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.

Like this comment
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.

Like this comment
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.

Like this comment
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!!!

Like this comment
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.

Like this comment
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).

Like this comment
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.

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


Like this comment
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 .

Like this comment
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.

Like this comment
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 [email protected] for more information about Safe Routes to School.

Thank you.

Like this comment
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.

Like this comment
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.

Like this comment
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.

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