Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 1, 2013

Residents debate Greer Road traffic-calming project

Some still want closed streets, say speed bumps do not reduce traffic volume

by Sue Dremann

The results of a neighborhood traffic-calming trial are in, but residents along Greer Road in Palo Alto are wondering what more, if anything, can be done.

The city installed two speed humps on Greer near Blair Court and Elsinore Drive as part of the one-year experiment, as well as signage and new road striping, city project engineer Ruchika Aggarwal said.

Evaluation of the project found that car speeds decreased from 32 mph to 25 mph between Oregon Avenue and North California Avenue. Speeds remained the same at 23 mph on Greer between North California and Embarcadero Road, which was not part of the trial.

Daily traffic increased between 16 and 25 percent — up to 590 cars per day — between Embarcadero Road and Oregon Avenue. But the increase is due to the start of construction on U.S. Highway 101, the report noted — and temporary in nature. City staff said that the amount of traffic will ease after the 101 project is completed this summer.

The city surveyed residents in December and last month to determine if the trial, which ran from August 2011 to August 2012, was successful. Out of 54 households surveyed, 28 responded favorably and one disapproved, Aggarwal said. The 52 percent approval allows the project to move toward permanent installation. A Planning and Transportation Commission review of the trial will take place in February, she said.

But some residents said the project does not go far enough. Speed is not the only issue plaguing the street but also traffic volume, the residents said.

Ed Monberg said traffic is a life-and-death matter, and he pointed to the Jan. 25 accident that killed a 75-year-old Palo Alto woman on Embarcadero Road. A half-hour later, his partner and their dog were struck in a crosswalk at North California Avenue and Louis Road. The woman received minor injuries; the driver did not stop at the scene, Palo Alto police said.

"What good is a 'bump' when 'cutting through' cars speed across them on North California?" Monberg said in an email to his neighbors.

Traffic is an issue in large part along Greer and North California because rush-hour drivers want to save time by avoiding the congested Highway 101 on and off ramps and backed-up traffic along Oregon Expressway. They use Greer and North California as cut-throughs to travel between Oregon and Embarcadero, he and other residents said.

A few have called for closing off roads entirely. The traffic problems will remain until the eastern end of North California is blocked to traffic, said one resident who requested anonymity.

Robert Smith, another Greer resident, said that city engineers never stated the speed bumps would cut down the amount of traffic. Staff pointed out that no alternative routes would reduce the current traffic.

"Their hope was that the speed bumps would slow the traffic down. I doubt that the speed bumps have actually made things safer on the street but would defer to the engineers on this point," he stated in an email.

Smith said he is opposed to street closures.

"The fact is that Greer is a significant part of the grid of roads in our city. The street dates back far before many houses were built on it and was the major way of going north and south in the eastern part of the city. ... Greer is the only street in Palo Alto east of Middlefield that goes north of Embarcadero and south of the expressway. Using Greer for getting to the expressway or south Palo Alto is not 'cutting through' as some have contended. It is using Greer in exactly the manner that is was designed to be used," he said.

"We should recognize that shutting down Greer would force traffic onto Louis, which is near to several schools. Making Greer safer by making Louis more dangerous would be unacceptable," he said.

Several residents said the speed bumps are only an incremental step but that they are better than no step at all.

Ami Knoefler, an original petitioner for the project, has lived on Greer for 10 years.

"My neighbors and I have worked with the city on this project for over 5 years, and it would be absolutely tragic if the bumps were removed and we had to start over," she wrote.

"The traffic-calming project to implement speed bumps is a critical step to slow down the increasing amount of traffic on Greer, which has been shown to consistently exceed limits, even as the community works with the city to better understand how and if the traffic flow may be reduced."

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

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