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December 16, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, December 16, 2005

Funding found for long-awaited traffic trial Funding found for long-awaited traffic trial (December 16, 2005)

Contruction on revamps to Charleston and Arastradero roads could begin in summer if council approves funding Monday night

by Bill D'Agostino

early two years after the Palo Alto City Council conceptually approved an innovative, if controversial, traffic plan for the city's Charleston and Arastradero roads, the council is set on Monday night to designate funding for a two-year trial.

Known officially as the "Charleston Arastradero Corridor Trial," the $965,000 project will modernize traffic lights, add turn lanes into the Gunn High School campus, add medians in the center of the roads and make other safety improvements. The corridor is defined as the area one-quarter mile on either side of the roads, covering 2.3 miles from Fabian Way to Miranda Road.

The most controversial part of the plan would reduce the number of traffic lanes from four -- two in each direction -- to three, which includes a central turning lane, for approximately half of the corridor's length. That would allow the city to build and expand bicycle lanes on the roads. It would also aid pedestrians.

"It's easier to cross two lanes of traffic than it is to cross four," Palo Alto Director of Planning and Community Environment Steve Emslie explained. "It's much safer."

If the council approves the proposed amendment to its budget, construction would begin in the summer. The city hopes the trial would be complete by the beginning of the 2006-2007 school year.

"We're going to need every second," Emslie said.

Funding for construction is planned to come primarily from fees charged to new real-estate development in the area and in the Stanford Research Park.

The council is being asked to temporarily borrow $300,000 from its reserves to pay for the project. That money will be repaid when anticipated developments, such as the housing project replacing the Rickey's Hyatt hotel on El Camino Real, get their building permits and pay the fee, Emslie said.

The city is saving money by constructing the project next summer because it was already planning to repave some of the streets during that time anyway, Emslie added.

If the trial is successful, the city will need to find approximately $7 million to make it permanent. However, some aspects of the trial -- such as the new turn lane into Gunn -- will be permanent fixtures regardless.

The council is holding the special meeting on Monday night solely to vote on the project's funding. By scheduling the meeting, the city hoped to give assurances to the Palo Alto school district the project is proceeding. This Tuesday night, the school board voted to move its high school's summer-school classes from Gunn to Palo Alto High School in 2006 to accommodate the construction.

The school board agreed to make the change once the city showed its commitment to the trial by placing it on Monday night's agenda. School board President Mandy Lowell said the district prefers to alternate the location of summer school between the two high schools, but reluctantly agreed to the one-year switch.

Midyear amendments to the city's budget require six council members' approval. Since Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell cannot vote due to a conflict of interest and Vice Mayor Judy Kleinberg and Councilwoman Hillary Freeman will be on vacation, the council's vote Monday night on the traffic plan will need to be unanimous.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

When the council conceptually approved the trial in January 2004, many who live in the area spoke in support. Charleston Meadows Neighborhood Association President Deborah Ju presented the council a petition with 925 signatures.

However, some worry the project would needlessly change the traffic flow.

"Reducing lanes is just going to create traffic jams where none existed," Gailen Avenue resident Peter Taskovich predicted this week.

Despite the lane reductions, Emslie argued traffic times are expected to stay the same because of new traffic-signal technology. The signals adapt to the conditions on the road, reducing wait times at red lights and allowing drivers who obey the speed limit to get more consecutive green lights.

The roads are vital commute routes for schoolchildren -- 11 public and private school are located on or near corridor. A city analysis found drivers were regularly speeding on the roads.

Staff Writer Bill D'Agostino can be e-mailed at

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