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My nomination for the worst road in Palo Alto

Original post made by diana diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger, on Apr 28, 2008

Mayor Larry Klein said the other day that the city has built no new facilities for more than 30 years, other than some restrooms at Greer Park. That’s amazing, especially when compared to neighboring Mountain View, who in the last 20 years has built a new library, community center, city hall and redid their entire downtown on Castro Street.

Palo Alto hasn’t even taken care of its streets.

My nomination for the worst road in Palo Alto is Waverley Street in old Palo Alto, especially in front of Gamble Garden between Embarcadero Road and Churchill Avenue.

I say this because I travel over that road every day enroute to the downtown, and as I near Embarcadero the road is like a washboard (remember those?), full of patches and potholes. My car goes up and down as I bump along. For the past three years I have been wondering when it would get repaired, and I am still wondering.

Former City Auditor Sharon Erickson reported two years ago that Palo Alto was some $28 million behind in road repairs. A lot of the street money was diverted to other uses, she said. It’s time to divert money back to street repairs.

I know there are a lot of other roads around town that also need resurfacing. What are your problem roads? Send me your sanswers and I will take them directly to Public Works.

Our council’s priorities this year were building a new public safety building and getting voter approval on building a new library; environmental protection; civic engagement and economic health.

Wouldn’t it be nice if road repairs were a priority?

Comments (28)

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Posted by Bill
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 29, 2008 at 8:03 am

Right on, Diane. So let's start a "poll". Readers - name the five worst streets in Palo Alto with the worst being #1. This is a poll that will not cost the city a dime, no consultants needed, and somebody at City Hall can tabulate and maybe get started. I cringe when I go to Mountain View and see what it has and what it does. What is wrong in Palo Alto from the top down?

Here is my list: 1) Guinda from University to Homer, 2) the length of Lytton from Alma
to Tasso. 3) Hamilton - from Middlefield to Newell 4) Waverley - pick a spot 5) Parkinson where entire sections of asphalt are peeled off. And a bonus - Middlefield.
Did that paving contractor get paid and if so WHY? Should be sued.

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Posted by Dave M
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 29, 2008 at 9:52 am

The section of Waverly that Diana describes is indeed very bad. But as bad as it is, it doesn't compare to other Old Palo Alto streets. Tennyson Avenue, for example, is so full of patches, potholes, cracks and worn pavement that I go out of my way not to have to drive on it when I visit a friend in the area. I'm surprised someone hasn't sued the city for damage to their automobile suspension: it's very disconcerting do bottom out on a residential street when travelling at the speed limit.

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Posted by k
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 29, 2008 at 10:46 am

I have a new car, have to drive through Old Palo Alto, and really don't like it owing to the horrendous condition of the roads there. How about those of you who live right in this neighbourhood?

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Posted by Local Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 29, 2008 at 12:10 pm


If you don't like driving on Waverley Street from you home south of Oregon Expressway to your job north of Embarcadero Road, I suggest you use Middlefield Road or Alma Street.

They are both arterial streets that are designed for commuters like you.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 29, 2008 at 7:56 pm

The potholes would be reduced if our public utilities supervisors did their job of supervising and planning efficient operations. Observe the pothole repair crews in operation. They mostly stand around, talk and eat. Recently they repaired a few potholes on Hamilton near Middlefield, but didn't fill other potholes in the same block. So they had to come back a week later to fill the potholes they could have filled on the first trip. Most of the work day is spent moving the equipment from the Muncipal sevice yard to the work location and then returning to the yard.

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Posted by Bill
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 29, 2008 at 8:49 pm

It's a familiar site. One little stretch of pot hole or asphalt repair, one guy shoveling, one guy sweeping, two watching, and one sitting in a city truck watching all the rest of them.
I counted five one day, This is ridiculous, but the Union rules the town. Time for a change at City Hall, a get tough city manager and a mayor with some 'spine'.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 29, 2008 at 9:42 pm

If you want to see some real pot deep pot holes try experiencing the ones in Washington state.

They can cause serious accidents and damage to cars.

I once borrowed an orange cone and bought a can of filler and used it to fix a pothole in the street outside my home. It was an easy (albeit) temporary fix, but it held for at least three years.

Could people please try to use Middlefield or Alma to commute.
Our residential streets have many children, walkers, and bike riders, we often see people exceeding the 25 mph speed limit.

Contractors are also a problem.

Also, is there any correlation between the road damage and the rampant housing deconstruction which is going on in these areas?
The trucks and equipment are heavy.

I know in the Waverley/Lowell/Cowper/Tennyson area that there are quite a few home demolitions going on.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2008 at 10:49 pm

One reason many of us do not like to use Alma is that it is too difficult to turn left onto. I occasionally drive on Alma when I can turn right onto it, but use residential streets to avoid turning left until I reach a light. I suspect many people do the same. The suicide lane in the middle does not help much, it is still a long wait and very dangerous particularly if you are in a queue of cars waiting to turn left in front of you. Whereas I do not advocate more traffic lights, a better method of getting onto Alma for the section between Meadow and Churchill would make more people use it.

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Posted by Brian
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 30, 2008 at 9:26 am

Check this session out: Hamilton between Newell and Center. It is one of the worst!

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Posted by avoid the traffic
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 30, 2008 at 9:28 am

Yeah, too much traffic on Middlefield/Alma. Much faster to use the local roads. I never us University for the same reason.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2008 at 9:59 am

Many of us also avoid Charleston since it went down to two lanes and get stuck in traffic. Charleston, for different reasons, is one of the worst roads in Palo Alto and will get worse as Arastadero is reduced to two lanes. Drive neighborhood streets to avoid the tailbacks.

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Posted by flat tired
a resident of Ventura
on May 1, 2008 at 9:24 am

An abysmal stretch on Castilleja Ave. between Sequoia and Churchill (Southgate neighborhood).

It is the bike path connecting Park Blvd. and the bike path behind
Paly to PAMF.

They should look for missing children in those holes.

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Posted by Joseph
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 2, 2008 at 7:23 pm

> Mayor Larry Klein said the other day that the city
> has built no new facilities for more than 30 years,

Klein is just a shill for the construction industry. You build when you need to build. PA is doing just fine the way it is. And the roads are not all that PA hasn't taken care of.

Klein has no idea what he is doing .. other than trying to divert money to his buddies.

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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 5, 2008 at 3:46 am

The worst road in Palo Alto is definitely SAN ANTONIO ROAD. Given the fact that San Antonio Road is designated an "Arterial", and also a main truck route into Palo Alto, it is unbelievably bumpy caused by tree roots.

Truckers claim it is impossible to drive 18 wheelers safely. Also the overhanging trees hit their trucks; that is why they turn up Charleston. We have to repair San Antonio to get the trucks off Charleston.

Very soon construction will begin on nearly 500 units of housing opposite the San Antonio train station. Many construction vehicles will need to use San Antonio Road. Get this road fixed ASAP.

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Posted by John
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 3:57 am

With all due respect to those complaining about Waverley and Tennyson, they are designated "residential" streets. I don't think they are even "collector" streets. We need to get our main "arterials" fixed first so trucks can use them, instead of going into residential side streets to avoid bumpy roads.

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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 5, 2008 at 4:58 pm

Hamilton Middlefield (there is a permanent sinkhole right at this intersection) to Lincoln and again Center to Newell

Many of our streets appear to be as bad as they are because they have been opened up for water mains, gas mains, cable, etc and then very poorly repaired. Why do we allow that kind of shoddy workmanship by our contractors? Doesn't someone from the city inspect these before signing off for payment?

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Posted by Anne
a resident of Green Acres
on May 6, 2008 at 8:52 pm

Our neighbors in Mtn View notwithstanding, neglect of infrastructure has become of way of life in this country. Some years ago, I remember my Grandfather having a loud whispering conversation with my Mom while I drove them around what was considered a nice part of my hometown in another Bay Area city. My Grandfather - from Switzerland, where the roads are not just well-kept, they seem to have a beauty quotient - has visited this country over many decades and never had a comment like this. He asked my Mom: Why are the roads in such terrible condition? This is a rich country. I had to endure my Mom explaining to him in hushed tones that it wasn't really such a rich country. My Grandfather could not be convinced. He could not understand why this country was letting itself go to pot.

Before that conversation, I had stopped thinking about it much as everything decayed all around; I noticed, but I didn't. Kind of like the way coffee stains build up on the inside of a mug, it doesn't seem so gross if it's yours and you see it every day, but if you give it to a guest...

I hate to bring up yet another comparison with Europe these days, but when I was a kid, THIS country was well-kept and shiny and new, and European cities seemed decaying and in need of care. That began to change in the '80s. Now it's completely the opposite. I sometimes worry whether we will remain a first-world country in a hundred years (or less) if people don't stop taking things for granted: public health, infrastructure, education, etc.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2008 at 3:43 am


Good Post

When visiting Europe I am always amazed at the well kept infrastructure. It must be down to priorities. Europeans pay higher taxes and have a higher cost of living, but have higher expectations to go with it. The standards of freeways, public parks (all those wonderful flower beds so well maintained), and even services are so much better than the American counterparts. As one example, my sister in one European suburb has a choice of 3 companies she can choose to remove her trash. She can choose the service that suits her needs best and they have to remain competitive to survive. The only downside is that she has 3 trash days a week in her neighborhood and there are nearly always trash bins on the street every day.

If the US worried less about being the leaders of the free world (whatever that is supposed to mean) and more on keeping their residents in the most up todate and well maintained cities, the populace would be a lot more content.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 7, 2008 at 5:32 am

Our roads are wrecked from the heavy equipment used in tearing the homes down in our neighborhood. Cement trucks, lumber trucks, all heavy equipment trucks. The people doing this should repair the stretch of road outside their new homes.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2008 at 10:44 am

Anne: The minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.25 an hr, the minimum wage in Switzerland is $23.00 an hr. When I came to the U.S. 44 years ago, I couldn't believe how well off I was. Since then the U.S. standard of living has dropped while Europes has increased. I couldn't afford to live there anymore!!!

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Posted by another observer
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2008 at 9:43 pm

I see a habitual pattern forming....managers are hired who don't know how to manage budgets and no internal audits to hold them accountable for the work that never gets done only to be rewarded with yearly bonuses. And who is hiring these people based on what skills? BS in Communications skills?? It's enough to make you want to run to the Children's Theatre, buy a costume, braid your hair, paint your face, run on stage and do circle spins until you drop.

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Posted by nat
a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2008 at 2:03 pm

The "resurfaced" Middlefield Road in Midtown is very rough and hard on small cars as well as on tires on all cars. The City saved money by not adding the amount of asphalt needed for a smooth ride. Whereas most (not all) of Embarcadero was resurfaced properly and is smooth, Middlefield Rd., a major thoroughfare, was not and is very rough. I don't get why such a major street got such shoddy treatment.
I have to ride it every day and just hate it.

Like this comment
Posted by Ken Owicki
a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2008 at 10:37 pm

We should build more speedbumps.

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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 12, 2008 at 11:02 am

Re more speedbumps: maybe that is the city master plan-let potholes and rough surfaces create the same effect as speedbumps, while saving money by avoiding maintenance!

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Posted by Midtown Guy
a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2008 at 8:23 am

Combining two recent topics -- Bike to Work Day and Poor Road Surfaces in Palo Alto. Anyone biking, as I often do, down the "Bike Boulevard" of Bryant in Old Palo Alto will curse and dodge at the
immense cracks in the pavement, waiting to swalllow your skinny
bike tire. These are humongous cracks. In front of homes that look like they must pay property taxes of $30,000 a year (or more!).
If anything in Palo Alto underscores mismanagement (with suits from injuries waiting in the wings) this is it for me. Basics-- good schools, good public safety, good roads. Hiw many degrees in municipal management do you need to recognize the simple basics?
Sometimes I think Palo Alto is all about PR instead of reality.

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Posted by Lois
a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2008 at 5:50 am

"Let potholes and rough surfaces create the same effect as speed bumps" Mike you are right; in fact I have heard a previous transportation manager reject the idea of making road repairs because he said they only increase speeds and people complain about that. His answer don't repair the streets!!

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Posted by Dig Our Way Out
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 23, 2009 at 11:04 am

The folks in city hall (City Council, Mayor, etc.) just want to keep their jobs. The unions are very powerful, focused and organized. They ensure that they have representation. And they pay for that representation in campaign contribution dollars. The residents have day jobs and are mostly affluent so can't be bothered by little details like budgets. Palo Alto has one of the most generous employee benefit packages in the state. Even part time employees get health benefits (anyone remember the Union's campaign saying "Palo Alto's Dirty Little Secret" a few years back)? So that's where the road maintenance dollars are going.

As long as this status quo continues, the roads are not gonna be fixed. Sunnyvale is operated differently. They allocate more budgets to their most efficient departments. The roads in Sunnyvale are far better because of this.

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Posted by Sarah
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2009 at 11:35 am

Bryant Street is supposed to by the "Bicycle Boulevard" between north Palo Alto and south Palo Alto. I agree that the section of Bryant between Embarcadero and Oregon is in terrible shape. The potholes are causing a lot of bicycle crashes and flat tires. Please fix the road before someone gets killed.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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