The broadsiding of a sedan that pushed the vehicle through a plate-glass window on March 15 is just the latest accident that residents and workers say happens with frequency on Park Boulevard in Palo Alto. And the city's plans to turn the California Avenue area into a densely inhabited tech hub will only increase the problem, they said.
The street is a busy conduit to the California Avenue retail district and Oregon Expressway. The planned new tech corridor along the boulevard parallels the Caltrain tracks and is already home to Groupon, AOL and other tech companies.
But some residents and employees said the busy street is already dangerous, and they are hoping the city will address the issue soon rather than piecemeal as the area is redeveloped.
The city's California Avenue Area Concept Plan has earmarked Park Boulevard for offices and multiple-story housing. The city would encourage this growth by pushing allowances for intense development to the maximum, according to the concept plan.
Some residents said they accept that denser development will come. But blind spots, speeding and a lack of crosswalks present accidents waiting to happen, and injury accidents are already happening, they said.
Police traffic records show there were seven accidents along a five-block stretch between Sherman and Olive avenues between January 2013 and March 21, 2014. Five resulted in injuries, two of which involved bicyclists. Three of the accidents occurred near Sherman Avenue, according to the Palo Alto Police Department.
But Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System data does not show a higher rate of collisions than in other parts of town, the city maintained in the concept plan. Residents said that data doesn't record the number of near-misses. On March 17, two days after the collision that injured the driver whose car ended up in the plate-glass window, an almost identical incident nearly occurred at that location. As a pedestrian watched, a driver turning left from Sherman Avenue almost collided with a pickup truck driving south on Park. The sedan had turned in front of the truck without hesitating.
Todd Burke, president of the homeowners association for the nearby Palo Alto Central condominium complex, said such close calls are routine. Residents of the 141-unit complex use Sherman on the east side of Park Boulevard to exit the complex, but for whatever reason, northbound traffic on Park often speeds, he said. There is often a blind spot on the corner when a vehicle parks there, he said.
"If there is a truck parked on Sherman and there's a bicyclist or a speeding car and I can't see them coming, it's a bit of a leap of faith," he said.
From Page Mill Road to California Avenue, "there's nothing slowing traffic down," he said.
Alice Jacobs, a mother who lives nearby on Sherman Avenue, was home when the March 15 accident occurred. She and her husband heard the loud crash between 9:30 and 10 p.m.
"Someone was going south on Park and was crossing the intersection, and they T-boned a person crossing from Sherman. The car was thrown into the law building. It makes me nervous walking around. We stand on that corner. If someone was walking there when that accident occurred, they could have been wiped out if it occurred during the day," she said.
Jacobs' husband witnessed a collision between a car and a bicyclist on Oct. 30 just north of the same intersection, she said.
"The cyclist was heading southbound on Park Boulevard, and a parked driver opened his car door across the bike lane without looking first. The cyclist was seriously injured and needed medical attention," she said.
Burke said the street is dangerous for pedestrians.
"Have you ever seen how many people are walking on that street when people are getting off the train to go to the AOL building? There is significant traffic," he said.
Several employees at tech firms said they are fearful of crossing the street, which has only one crosswalk at Page Mill Road.
"I wish there were more crosswalks. It's a death trap for pedestrians," a Groupon employee said on his way to lunch.
The city has made some improvements, Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez said. It resurfaced Park Boulevard south of California Avenue last summer and added wider bicycle lanes with green bike-lane markings and intersection improvements at Page Mill Road, he said.
The City Council approved additional studies as part of the Park Boulevard Bicycle Boulevard project on March 17. The improvements would be decided upon after the traffic studies and bicycle/pedestrian counts and community outreach, he said.
Burke said his vision for a safer boulevard would include additional crosswalks and speed-reduction devices -- perhaps in the form of raised crosswalks and flashing beacons to alert drivers when pedestrians are crossing, he said. He wouldn't mind a speed hump or two, although that would be controversial, he said.
A study by Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants for planning and preliminary environmental assessments is scheduled to take 18 months, with public outreach in about one year, according to a Planning Department report.