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March 03, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Middlefield residents unite Middlefield residents unite (March 03, 2004)

Traffic woes trigger formation of new association

by Jocelyn Dong

Feeling their concerns are unheard, Middlefield Road residents near downtown Palo Alto have jumped on the latest community-organizing bandwagon -- forming a neighborhood association.

The Middlefield North Traffic Advisory Association, chaired by resident John Guislin, represents about 50 properties between University Avenue and the border of Menlo Park. The group is squarely taking aim at traffic along its road, considered a residential arterial by the city.

Most recently, the group's frustrations have mounted as the volume of cars on Middlefield increased by about 5 percent as a result of the Downtown North traffic-management trial. The trial was designed to keep traffic from cutting through from Middlefield Road to Alma Street. Currently, about 16,000 cars a day traverse the block of Middlefield just before University.

"I've got neighbors who can't even get out of their driveways," said Dana De Nault, a five-year Middlefield Road resident. Although he acknowledged that living on a main thoroughfare comes with its burdens, he thinks the area is taking more than its fair share.

"We've already accepted we have higher traffic. We don't think we should take any more for the convenience of a neighborhood that's already a lot better (than ours)," De Nault said. "We represent a neighborhood too," including children and quality of life issues.

John Guislin, the new group's chair, worries the traffic barriers installed in the Downtown North neighborhood could interfere with the ability of emergency vehicles to reach Middlefield Road homes during a crisis.

"The barriers ... have the potential to cause life-threatening delays," he said in an e-mail.

In addition, he said, the process for implementing the trial was unfair.

"More than half of our members were not consulted about the project and were not allowed to participate in the neighborhood survey (that initiated the project)," he said.

Last week, the city's Planning and Transportation Commission recommended to the City Council that five out of seven road closures remain in Downtown North. Although the decision wasn't the only trigger for the new association's formation, it was a clarion call.

"Traffic decisions not inclusive of us have affected us in a negative way," De Nault said. "We recognize that the city only wants to deal with legitimate neighborhood associations. The handwriting was on the wall."

But Joe Kott, the city's chief transportation official, said the city always welcomes feedback from neighbors -- organized or not.

"I think we have open ears. We're always glad to discuss residents' concerns," he said.

Dan Lorimer, president of the Downtown North Neighborhood Association, which actually includes Middlefield residents, advocated for the road closures. He hoped the new association hadn't formed solely as a reaction to traffic increases stemming from the Downtown North trial.

"Statistics from traffic counts don't bear out that (justification)," he said. Lorimer said he was willing to meet with the new group to help them meet their goals.

"The best approach, instead of taking on your neighbors, is to work together to achieve common benefit," he said.

The Middlefield group plans to hold an organizing meeting in the next few weeks, according to De Nault. He added that, while the association is unrelated to a previously existing Middlefield Road residents' association, it would be contacting that group as well.

Assistant Editor Jocelyn Dong can be reached at

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