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Opinion: Palo Alto needs a road safety policy

Original post made on Jan 20, 2023

Palo Alto does better on road safety than many U.S. cities; however, anyone who has walked or bicycled in the city can understand there is plenty of room for safety improvement.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, January 20, 2023, 6:50 AM

Comments (20)

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2023 at 9:42 am

Bystander is a registered user.

One of the simplest protocols might be to get bike traffic lights. I have seen them recently on San Antonio in Los Altos and they work very well. With many of our intersections over run with bikes as well as pedestrians in school commute times, e.g. Churchill/Alma, Loma Verde/Middlefield, getting a safe time for bikes to cross without any vehicles moving as well as a time for vehicles without bikes, would make it safer for everyone.


Posted by rob ruskin
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 20, 2023 at 10:40 am

rob ruskin is a registered user.

I have been supprised by electronic bikes racing thru stop signs silently. Sometimes hard to see in dark or dusk. How can we enforce traffic rules for them?


Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Jan 20, 2023 at 10:50 am

Rose is a registered user.

We should also get some equipment for intersections that capture a photo of speeders and red light runners and then a ticket with a considerable fine is issued and your car insurance goes up. The ticket includes a photo of the car and driver. They have these in San Francisco and they definitely encourage drivers to obey the law and be careful — I know!


Posted by Arty
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 20, 2023 at 11:03 am

Arty is a registered user.

I am surprised that their is no mention of speeding in this article. The average speeds of cars on Middlefield and Arastradero are above 35 mph with many cars going above 40. Although the existing speed limit of 25 is completely unrealistic, the high speeds on these roads is the cause of many accidents and is very unsafe.


Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2023 at 11:50 am

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Very well said, Mr. Boehlens. A Safe Systems Approach has been adopted by federal and state governments and by many developed nations where the results have been excellent. I wonder what is Palo Alto waiting for?

The city should design for in-town speeds and road user behavior we want. Fellow drivers, we have some responsibility here. Post pandemic, traffic levels are down, so we have more road capacity than usual. The open roads seem to invite speeding. Please don't. Cars are not alone on these roads.

Imagine how your life would change if you hit someone and maimed or killed them while speeding. You would have to live with the legal repercussions and guilt for your carelessness for the rest of your life. I know someone who did this. He woke up with nightmares constantly most nights from dreams reliving the experience. It changed his life for decades until he died. I consider this possibility every time I drive, and so I am very careful. We all should think about this. Driving a multi-ton vehicle on a public street is a privilege (not a right) and an awesome responsibility.

Speeding 10mph over a 25MPH speed limit (which, by the way, is absolutely the right speed for a residential arterial like Middlefield or Arastradero which both serve homes and schools, parks, libraries. There are lots of people of all ages and abilities on these streets on bikes and on foot also with walkers and wheelchairs, visual impairments and other disabilities. Please consider the vulnerability of others.

City of Palo Alto, it is time to get with the program. Safe Systems is the direction the world has moved because it works. it keeps all road users, including drivers, safer. Even the slow-moving, Byzantine bureaucracy of the U.S. federal government has managed to adopt it. It's time to catch up.


Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2023 at 12:00 pm

felix is a registered user.

Early yesterday eve I nearly injured or killed a teen bicyclist, had not another car passed, it’s lights revealing him. The biker, without any lights, was entirely invisible just before crossing in front of me as I started to pull out of a public driveway in my car.
I was stunned, realizing as he sailed by, that there but for fortune, tragedy was averted.
Aside from suggestions here, this ridiculous carelessness by teen and adult bikers must stop. I want to safely share the road with you. I don’t want to hurt you and I don’t want you to put that on me. Stop being stupid.


Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2023 at 12:22 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

The law requires bicyclists to use a headlight and a rear reflector after sundown and before sunrise. Lighting up at night is legal and smart. In that hypothetical crash, because the bicyclist was not compliant with the law, he would have been legally at fault. Bicyclists, it is smart to always have a light and reflector on your bike, in case you are caught out after dark or in a rain storm. Be safe. Be seen.

However, this article is about Safe Systems which puts systems in place that encourage better behavior by all road users. You can visit the federal government's web page to for a one-page summary of their approved Safe Systems Approach. Web Link


Posted by Knows Stanford Labor
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 20, 2023 at 12:24 pm

Knows Stanford Labor is a registered user.

Opportunistic speeding on Middlefield occurs most often when drivers can accelerate in less traffic, under conditions of unimpeded stretches of road and fewer vehicles. Speeds of 50+ are common, especially during early evening and at night. Absent policing, could the City place speed bumps? This aggravation might spare people who frequent the many schools and community buildings, including parents opening strollers and drivers simply trying to exit their parked cars.


Posted by Old PA Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2023 at 1:07 pm

Old PA Resident is a registered user.

One continuing frustration is Churchill where it dead ends into El Camino. There is no pedestrian / bike lane if you want cross El Camino (on the PALY side). Cars are forced to wait in line for blocks for a green light because there is not enough room for them to turn right. It causes huge traffic jams while being unsafe for all. I know we can do better.


Posted by Deborah
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 20, 2023 at 3:55 pm

Deborah is a registered user.

I'm not sure that readers understand that NONE of their complaints - about speeding, bikes without lights, Ebikes running stop signs, etc... - can be addressed unless there is coherent, specific policy adopted. That's why "The Safe Systems Approach" was developed. If council adopts "The Safe Systems Approach," ALL of your complaints can and will be addressed. I do think whoever named that policy format should have gotten the opinion of an ad man/woman. It's a name that makes sense to "policy wonks," but not the general public and that's a mistake.


Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 20, 2023 at 10:40 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

Seems like a good first step would be to separate bikes from cars just as pedestrians are already separated from cars by having sidewalks. Trying to squeeze in bike lanes on major arterials (or worse, "sharing the lane") is a system that promotes collisions rather than preventing them.

Setting up bike lanes on quieter streets parallel to arterials provides cyclists with fairly direct routes while keeping them away from most cars. We can preserve traffic throughput while reducing the interactions that lead to accidents.


Posted by M
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 21, 2023 at 1:57 am

M is a registered user.


One of the pictures in this article was from the tragic accident at El Camino and California Avenue. Yet, in spite of this, the Palo Alto City Council directed city staff to not have a bike bath, which has long exited, through the California Avenue shopping district. The reason for this appeared to be pressure from restaurant owners whole tables extended well into the street.

What was frustrating is that by directing staff to not provide bike lanes in their plans for Cal. Avenue, they were taking away an exiting official bike path. Moreover, they didn’t also direct staff to designate an alternative path, if they didn’t want bikes to continue to use the California path. So California Avenue became one more Palo Alto bike path with a gap — this one around the dangerously El Camino crossing — for bike commuters to fined their own way around the gap. (Some Council members felt that bike riders should walk their bikes in the shopping area, which they never would ask car commenters to do.)

Hopefully this can be remedied, as it just doesn’t make sense for the California Avenue bike path to disappear at the shopping district and the dangerous El Camino crossing.






Posted by Bruce
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 21, 2023 at 10:59 am

Bruce is a registered user.

Thank you for writing this Arnout. I want to see our City Council to direct the Transportation Department to make all future projects safer for pedestrians, bikers, and drivers.


Posted by TimR
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 22, 2023 at 10:04 pm

TimR is a registered user.

How about figuring out a way to fix the light at Churchill and El Camino first, and then maybe move on to more ambitious projects?


Posted by jguislin
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 23, 2023 at 10:27 am

jguislin is a registered user.

Before you rate Palo Alto "better than many US Cities," look at the date from the Cal Office of Traffic Safety. Compared with other cities of the same size, Palo Alto is in the top 10 (worst) for accidents with bicyclists <15, Pedestrians <15, pedestrians >65, motorcycles, and drinking drivers 21-34.
Also, it is a fact that many small crashed go unreported. When my neighbors and I photographed every crash we saw for 2 weeks and compared the count with the SWITERS data (Statewide Integrated Traffic System) we found more than 4x the number of crashes compared with those reported. Even when police are called to the scene, that is no guarantee the accident will be reported.
Addressing traffic and safety should be a top priority but those efforts would be helped greatly with good data.


Posted by 4good
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 23, 2023 at 3:48 pm

4good is a registered user.

Agreed - every decision should be about all users -- not just about what is best for autos. I've see a couple of comments about Churchill -- there has been a project in the works for 10(!) years to make improvements. Expected completion is now Summer 2024. Web Link


Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2023 at 4:16 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Mr. Guislin, Raw crash data is not adjusted to take into account the much higher volume of bicycle trips in Palo Alto than most of the other cities you reference. For comparison, it is important to look at collision RATES, not just total number of collisions.

Nonetheless, we still have important work to do to make our roads safer for all users.


Posted by Asha W. Agrawal
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 24, 2023 at 4:37 pm

Asha W. Agrawal is a registered user.

This important piece lays out both the traffic safety crisis in Palo Alto and the feasible Safe Systems approach that the city can adopt.

And the benefits of a safe systems approach go beyond saving lives. Imagine a Palo Alto where nobody gets injured from crashes, vehicle drivers are spared the headaches and expense of repairing major crash damage, parents feel it is safe to let younger kids walk or cycle alone to school, and more people start to bicycle because they are no longer afraid of traffic.

I very much hope our council members will embrace such a vision and the steps needed to realize it.


Posted by Fr0hickey
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2023 at 1:26 pm

Fr0hickey is a registered user.

I propose that for every bicycle fatality, the City is mandated to build one mile of protected bike lane on the street where the fatality occurred. If there is already a protected bike lane, then one mile is added to it.


Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
16 hours ago

Rose is a registered user.

I agree with others here that Cal Ave is one of our few east/west arteries and needs to be open, safe and direct — to and from the Caltrain Station. Closing it early during COVID made sense but it should be reopened to traffic and BIKES ASAP given its already awkward egress and ingress.


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