Residents miffed by lane changes near Mitchell Park library | April 13, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 13, 2012

Residents miffed by lane changes near Mitchell Park library

Palo Alto officials rush to restore lanes to original setup after protests from Middlefield Road residents

by Gennady Sheyner

City of Palo Alto employees are scrambling to restore driving lanes around the new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center to their original configuration after an uproar from residents.

This story contains 663 words.

If you are a paid subscriber, check to make sure you have logged in. Otherwise our system cannot recognize you as having full free access to our site.

If you are a paid print subscriber and haven't yet set up an online account, click here to get your online account activated.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


Posted by JLS Parent, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 10, 2012 at 8:30 am

This intersection is one of the main and previously safe methods for JLS (and other) students to get to and from school. In the morning there could be upwards of 20 bikes waiting to cross at each light change and there was a crossing guard. At present, many of these bikes are using Meadow, but this is on the PAUSD safe routes to school for Gunn and JLS students as well as Hoover and Fairmeadow.

Narrowing the bike lane is a bad idea. In fact, making more space for bikes to wait to cross would make more sense.

Posted by PA Neighbor, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2012 at 9:33 am

The big question here is: "Is a turning lane for cars more important than retaining a sufficiently wide bicycle lane?"

At this location with all the students riding their bikes through Mitchell Park to JLS, a sufficiently wide bicycle lane is more important.

Unfortunately, the Transportation Department has decided to put left hand turn pockets for cars everywhere in the City without considering who will be using a particular intersection the most bicycles, pedestrians, or cars.

Like California Avenue it is another example of the Transportation Department getting an idea into it's collective head. It cannot be adaptable to providing something different for each individual intersection.

Welcome to California Avenue South!!!!

Posted by Al, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 10, 2012 at 10:01 am

One would think with all the smart people in Palo Alto the city could hire some. The city does the dumbest stuff all the time .like let's just cut down all the trees on cal ave . Then they all get big fat retirement bennies come out of the bubble

Posted by Let'em-Eat-Cake!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2012 at 10:23 am

One would like to believe that some sort of work order was generated that included, or referenced, an Traffic Engineering Department “design” for the street reconfiguration. It is difficult to understand why, in this day and age, that some portion, if not all, of these documents, could not be posted on the City’s web site, and if notification emailed to the local papers, and neighborhood groups, at the very least. (Why the City could not email them to residents that are directly affected, or at least mail a post card to those residences, defies the imagination.)

The only saving grace in this situation is that the City didn’t take out a lane or two--without telling anyone.

Posted by Cur Mudgeon, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 10, 2012 at 11:07 am

Just like so many other high-handed actions on the part of our NON RESIDENT city employees, who could care less because they do not live here, but suck off the bennies and pension and only want to make their jobs easy for themselves. That attitude cuts across all departments.
Staff vs. PA taxpayers. They see us as the enemy, annoying residents that we are.

Posted by Bike commuter, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 10, 2012 at 11:49 am

It is a good thing that bikes can fly! Riding on Middlefield Road you have to be able to fly since the bike lanes just vanish and you have to SHARE the road with eternally speeding cars.
Palo Alto bike friendly? What a joke.

Posted by FrankF, a resident of Ventura
on Apr 10, 2012 at 11:58 am

FrankF is a registered user.

Hold on a second - "Cur Mudgeon" suggests that our "city employees ... only want to make their jobs easy for themselves". If that was true there would be no changes either here or Cal Ave or Arastradero Ave. If all you want to do is "suck the cities benefits" and don't care isn't it much easier to do nothing?

The city staff has access to much more traffic data, they have (or should have) considerable expertise and should be recommending true improvements in all of these cases. The fact that some residents don't think these changes are improvement poses a valid question - one which this article does not address (nor does any of the other articles that I've seen).

Because these issues have been so contentious I would love to see an independent review of these design changes by a qualified traffic engineer (NOT someone hired by one of these groups opposed to any changes). I suspect in general the independent voice will support the City traffic engineer but let's see.

Posted by FrankF, a resident of Ventura
on Apr 10, 2012 at 12:08 pm

FrankF is a registered user.

PA Neighbor said > The big question here is: "Is a turning lane for cars more important than retaining a sufficiently wide bicycle lane?"

But read the article carefully - It seems that Ms. Tashbook is upset because there is no longer on street parking in front of her home. The useable part of the bike lane is the same as the wider bike lane with a car parked in it.

Posted by Common Sense II, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 10, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Bike Commuter:

You have to be smarter than the asphaut you are riding on. ALL streets aren't designed for bicycles, get used to it. Palo Alto has bike routes through town that you can take. I don't ride up narrow sections of Middlefield because I know they weren't meant for bike traffic. Here's a link to the routes you can tae:
Web Link

Posted by Jay Chesavage, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 10, 2012 at 12:39 pm

to FrankF:
I presented last night. The actual trouble is that the city commissioned three traffic studies for Mayview/Mitchell Park Library. Each separate study found that no turning lane was required, and in the 2008 outreach, a report was published which included a map of what residents should expect - it showed no turning lane, and specifically concluded traffic movement would be unimpeded without them. I suppose a fourth study could be commissioned if the previous three concluding the same thing weren't enough for you. You can see the those studies with the traffic sections excerpted as copied from the PA libraries at No "cherry picking" of data was done - the studies and maps are those as presented with the summary recommendations by the PA's outside traffic consultant. You can also download the presentation given to city council last night.

Posted by Jay Chesavage, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 10, 2012 at 12:49 pm

For the full picture (with pictures), see
Web Link

Posted by Frequently drive there, a resident of Stanford
on Apr 10, 2012 at 1:23 pm

So who is the city blaming for the fact that no notifications were given to residents for this newest Public Works project? Volunteers at the Midtown Resident's Association?

Posted by Bill, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 10, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Since Jaime Rodriguez was hired, he has been the leader in any changes to traffic patterns in the City. These include retaining Arastradero/Charleston from 4 lanes to 2; California Ave, 4 lanes to 2; Middlefield/Mayview restriping, etc. In the latter two cases, there seems to have been little or no consideration given to citizen input.

He is supposed to be the City's expert on traffic (remember Joe Kott?), but tries to make one size fit all in this diverse City without input from others.

If/when he leaves his City job, residents, not he, will suffer the consequences of the changes.

Posted by Arastradero Driver, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Apr 10, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Bill is totally right. The re-striping/lane projects he mentions were created by the City's Jaime Rodriquez and staff. The Arastradero "improvements" made two years ago supposedly as a "temporay test" are dysfuntionally permanent despite resident complaints and review hearings. Middlefield residents should understand their complaints will go unheeded unless backed up by a LAWSUIT against the City. Anything else will be politely ignored by the City.

Posted by Let'em-Eat-Cake!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2012 at 2:24 pm

> unless backed up by a LAWSUIT against the City

While this situation is annoying, to be sure, it is not really all that dangerous, and easily correctable. There is no need to even consider a lawsuit.

There is a terrible process problem in this City. The Council is generally at fault, for any number of reasons.

Rodriguez is pretty arrogant—and does not even remotely consider himself to be subject to the pubic records laws. However, this idea of lane reduce goes back to 1995 (as can be seen in the Weekly’s Archive). Various people, calling themselves community leaders (such as Yuriko Kishimoto), have endorsed lane reductions for all of Middlefield, Charleston/Arastradero, Embarcadero and El Camino. Additionally, East Meadow underwent a lane reduction back in the mid-1980s.

It’s more than time to consider a Charter Amendment that forces the issues, and raises the bar as to who, and when, lanes can be removed from our streets.

Posted by Let'em-Eat-Cake!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Maybe it's time to press the Council to help Mr. Rodriguez find a job elsewhere, even if it means buying out his contract.

Posted by KP, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2012 at 2:45 pm

They need to put it back the way it was but with only one signal at Mayview and no turn signals. Yes, just like the light at the Cubberly intersection - one traffic signal allowing the cross traffic to come out onto Middlefield is enough.
This was such a waste of money and time on this intersection.

Come on City of Palo Alto - Use some common sense, listen to the neighbors of the area and do what is right.

Posted by anonymus, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 10, 2012 at 3:54 pm

There is a case to be made for that left turn lane, particularly into the library area. Have you ever traveled north on Middlefield from Charleston in the late afternoon and early evening? Traffic is constantly backed up behind cars waiting to turn left into the library (as well as other organizations on that block). Having this left turn lane would relieve some of that congestion once the library reopens.

Posted by hey commenters, read to the end of the article, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2012 at 5:07 pm

1. If you read to the end of the article, it actually shows you can fight City Hall. Presentation by Mr. Chesavage was documented, he did his homework, and clearly had conveyed the process issue in time for the City Manager to make clear at the meeting that concerns had been heard. Just in case going back to the article is too much trouble, I'll make it easy by pasting in the last 5 paragraphs at the end of my comments.

2. Finally, "anonymus" from Adobe Meadows points out some of the safety issues that are created without a left turn pocket on a busy arterial street like Middlefield at peak hours. Thank you!

3. Other commenters hiding behind fake names who do not have basic facts straight, generalize from unsubstantiated accusations about other projects and/or sling personal attack mud on individual city employees should be given zero credence. Will the Weekly provide balanced, informed coverage of safety issues or allow the self-appointed experts with an ax to grind go unchallenged?

Process issues are a definite problem in this town, but there is lots of evidence that our city actually is committed to safety for all road users. Let's see what comes from City Manager Keene's proposed correction.

Quoting from last paragraphs of actual article that these comments are supposedly responding to:

<begin quote>
Keene said staff has been directed to fix the problem and restore the lanes.

"I want to apologize to the residents affected by the work," Keene said. "Public Works staff are correcting the situation over the next week or so by restoring on-street parking and a preexisting bike lane."

Public Works Director Michael Sartor told the Weekly on Tuesday that his staff has been working with the planning department to determine how the restriping plan became adopted without community notification. He said he understands the residents' concerns and frustrations.

"There's been lots of public outreach about the entire project but they are correct, there's been no public outreach on this particular change," Sartor said. "I directed our crews to put things back the way they were as soon as possible."

Sartor said he expects the restoration to be completed in a few days.

Keene said the city will also be working with residents in the coming months to create a suitable striping design before the grand opening of the new facilities. The library and community center are scheduled to open this fall.
<end quote>

Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2012 at 5:17 pm

> but there is lots of evidence that our city actually
> is committed to safety

And what evidence might that be? Care to cite some sources? Care to show any data that proves your point?

Posted by Michele, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 10, 2012 at 5:27 pm

I'm glad they took out that superfluous extra traffic light there.

Posted by Clearly frustrated, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2012 at 8:51 pm

This lane screw up is part of the library construction mismanagement!
When is someone going to be held accountable for the mismanagement, oversights and cost overruns? This traffic planning should have been detailed, approved and reviewed with the site plans for the library. Accommodations could have been made on the library side of the street before the eternal sidewalk and bus stop portion of the project were implemented.
Likely the same bungling site review that approved the driveways into the new alma plaza development that basically require a right angle turn into and out next to the sidewalk crowding eyesore of a building!
Someone at palo alto planning needs to awaken from their haze and do their job...

Posted by Tom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 10, 2012 at 10:08 pm

Does this sound all too familiar like the trees of California Ave? Just do it then deal with the consequences of it. However, once it is done then it's too late for opposition! Not so, City staff has done this too many times. Until there is a lawsuit against the City, they won't listen. Look at what's happening on California Ave now. The merchants and residents are finally being heard because there is a LAWSUIT.

Posted by Sally, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2012 at 11:21 pm

While a turn-lane is a nice idea, in this situation its just not practical. The new library turn lane can only fit about two to three cars so doesn't really alleviate traffic build ups. The Cubberly backups in the evening can be about 10 cars and I anticipate the library backup after school when parents pick up their kids would be about 10 cars too.

Posted by Agree with Clearly, a resident of The Greenhouse
on Apr 10, 2012 at 11:23 pm

Clearly said it right:
>This lane screw up is part of the library construction mismanagement!
>When is someone going to be held accountable for the >mismanagement, oversights and cost overruns?
That monster structure along Middlefield is awful. The library administration focused on pictures of smiley children and how happy they will be in a new big building. Actually it is more of a childcare center with a library added on.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2012 at 12:46 am

Although they have much competition, the Palo Alto Traffic Department is the most inept group in city government.

Posted by PAL, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2012 at 8:17 am

We agree with others above:

Only need a left turn lane into new library (northbound on Middlefield)

Lack of left turn into Cubberly is a disaster at rush hour!

Should be plenty of room to maintain bike lane width AND add ONE left turn lane INTO the library. Let's be novel and compromise...

From a northbound driver AND bike rider on Middlefield

Posted by Clearly Frustrated, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2012 at 8:46 am

I drove by this morning. Clearly if this had been addressed in the site plan the sidewalk could have been moved into the library site. Then getting to the library could have been easier than paying for it.
Again, where is accountability at City Hall? Perhaps the City Manager can comment? Or is he ready to retire and draw a ridiculous pension as the last fellow did? In Palo Alto city government when the going gets tough the tough retire on our nickel.

Posted by Time-To-Clean-House, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2012 at 10:31 am

> Again, where is accountability at City Hall?

People who end up in government are not there for "accountability". They believe that they should be able to do anything that they want, and the public be damned!

Given the problems with the P/W Department, one would have thought that an honest City Manager, or an engaged City Council, would have called for a full operational, and financial, audit of the P/W Department. However, that didn't happen. Instead, an "insider" was hired to continue "business as usual" .. with no thought of reviewing the goings on in that department over the past decade, or so.

Over time, small things grow in to big things. When those small things are "bad" to begin with, the "big" things get to be a lot worse.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 11, 2012 at 11:23 am

Memo to city staff: Time to take look at best practices performed by other city governments and private companies. The smartest thing you could do is to develop a "Play Book" which prescribes the processes and checklists that must be followed when developing and/or implementing public works projects that affect residents or businesses.

Besides outlining the steps required, the play book would also include timelines (e.g., 9-weeks before xyz) so that the work and/or notices are thoroughly communicated and planned well.

Not that tough to do.

Posted by PA Neighbor, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2012 at 11:40 am

One thing that does surprise me is the complaint of Lynn Tashbook and her neighbors about painting of their curbs on Middlefield Road red for "no parking."

I bet there are thousands of PA residents who'd love the curb in front of their house painted red for "no parking". I'm fed up with students parking in front of my house to party across the street in a student hang out and starting up their cars at 4:00 AM. Jaime Rodriguez please paint the curb in front of my house red, I don't want all these strangers parking there and banging car doors at 4:00 AM!!!!

If they remove the red painted curb you can bet many library patrons and users of the coffee shop will park on Middlefield by those houses. Once the red paint is removed you'll never get it back. Things are going to change in that area and you must anticipate those changes.

Posted by Mr. Clean, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I agree with Time-to-Clean-House. Notice that the finger pointing - and backside covering - from the insider Public Works Director started immeidately.

Posted by Andrew Boone, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2012 at 1:57 am

Palo Alto staff are clearly prioritizing vehicle transportation over bicycle transportation - in violation of the city's General Plan. In this case, bicycle lanes were narrowed so that left turn lanes for vehicles could be added.

On top of that, the bicycle lanes were narrowed so much that they are in violation of state law - the California Highway Design Manual requires that bicycle lanes include at least 3 usable feet of space, meaning non-gutter space. The new super narrow bicycle lanes are less than two feet wide.

It's bad enough that Palo Alto does extremely little to improve traffic safety for bicyclists and pedestrians - there are still absolutely NO signs or bike lanes or sharrows or ANYTHING to improve safety on El Camino, Alma St, or Embarcadero Rd - after these street have been there for over 100 YEARS.

On top of that, now Palo Alto is narrowing bike lanes. I agree with Bike commuter:

"Palo Alto: bike friendly? What a joke."

Posted by Mr. Clean, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2012 at 9:49 am

Andrew Boone is right. Has the Palo Alto Public Works Director forgotten about Palo Alto children and adults who bicycle? Does he even bicycle himself? Or ever get out of his office at City Hall to see what the community is actually like?

Posted by Wilson, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2012 at 10:05 am

> Does he even bicycle himself?

Most people do not cycle, because it is not a viable means of transportation for people having to travel great distances. Only about 20% of the population of Palo Alto actually works in Palo Alto. Certainly bikes make sense for kids going to school, once they are old enough to understand personal safety (10-11 years old). But otherwise--cycling is something that may appeal to people in their 20s-30s, but it's not something that should be the predominate mode of transportation, from the City's planning point-of-view.

> Or ever get out of his office
> at City Hall to see what the community is actually like?

A good point, but if he did, he wouldn't see a lot of adults on bicycles.

Posted by Andrew Boone, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Thank you, Mr Clean.

I don't know if the Public Works Director bicycles in Palo Alto, but I know for sure that most city staff do very little bicycling here, since very few of them live nearby. Most city staff DO, however, do a significant amount of driving in Palo Alto - for most it is their main mode of transportation to and from work.

The result is that few city staff really understand what challenges and hazards Palo Alto bicyclists face. Our City Council members understand bicycling in Palo Alto far better.

Why is this a problem? Because bicycling is an important mode of transportation for Palo Altans. For myself and many others, it is our ONLY mode of transportation. No, it's not the #1 most popular mode of transportation, but that doesn't mean it's unimportant. It's true, Wilson, that most Palo Altans do not bicycle every day, but 8.5% do bicycle to get to work, and 40 - 50% do to get to school. Those are big enough numbers that we should be very concerned about safety - and we should definitely NOT be making intersections less safe when it's totally unnecessary (as in the Middlefield & Mayview case).

I think that we should be able to schedule somewhat regular bike rides for city staff. Jaime Rodriguez helped lead a tour of bicycle boulevards last year with then-Mayor Sid Espinosa. Over 60 residents joined in - myself among them - and were very glad to see a key city staff person trying to do something to improve a mode of transportation that's important to Palo Altans.

We need more of this. More bike rides with city staff, council members, and commissioners.

Who'd like to help me organize this?

Posted by Mr. Clean, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Andrew Boone, get the Public Works Director out of his office an on a bicycle!

Posted by Andrew Boone, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Mr Clean,

Great idea! Would you like to help me organize a bike ride?

Do you know Public Works Director Mike Sartor? (I don't) I do know assistant director Phil Bobel, though.

Posted by Clearly frustrated, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2012 at 9:27 pm

So they spent a bunch of our money to stripe the street and paint the curb. They screwed up.
Then they spent a bunch of our money to grind the stripes off the street and sandblast the curbs. They screwed up again!
Now the street is full of grinder divots wherever stripes had been. So we started with a reasonably nice street and ended with a patch of street that needs maintenance. I wonder who gets to pay for that?
Is anyone in the public works department listening?
If so, the favor of a reply is requested.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields