News

Palo Alto looks to lower speed limit near schools

City Council plans to drop posted speed limit from 25 mph to 20 mph near every public school

Update The City Council voted 8-0, with Tom DuBois absent, on Nov. 7 to support a plan for raising the speed limit on Deer Creek and East Bayshore roads and for lowering it near local schools.

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In an effort to improve traffic safety near schools, Palo Alto officials are preparing to lower speed limits near 17 schools, even as it looks to raise it at two "collector" streets near busy arterials.

The shift, which the City Council is scheduled to approve on Tuesday, is part of a broader effort to readjust local speed limits to better reflect conditions on the ground and to make certain road segments eligible for radar enforcement.

The proposal also includes raising the speed limit from 35 mph to 40 mph on segments of Deer Creek Road and East Bayshore Road. Both roadways are classified as "collectors," which means they connect local streets to heavily traveled "arterials."

The change at Deer Creek and East Bayshore roads was sparked by recent traffic surveys that showed most commuters traveling at faster speeds here than the posted speed limit. To make them eligible for radar enforcement, the actual traveling speed would have to be increased to better match reality -- in this case, 40 mph.

The two roadways are among 14 segments throughout Palo Alto where actual traffic flow significantly deviates from the posted speed limit. However, many of the other segments are located near residential areas and the council showed little appetite last year for raising the speed limit in these areas.

Rather, it directed staff to create new "target speeds" for each segment -- goals that would be based on factors such as residential density, land uses and bike amenities. Rather than use radars and tinker with the speed limit, the city would try to get drivers to travel at target speeds through a combination of signs and design elements such as median islands and curb extensions, according to a new report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment.

Deer Creek and East Bayshore would be an exception to the rule. According to staff, each has an average daily traffic of about 5,000 vehicles and each is characterized by few driveways and cross streets. Planning staff is recommending increasing the speed limit to 40 mph at Deer Creek, between Arastradero Road and the city's western border, and on East Bayshore, between the Embarcadero Road overpass and Adobe Creek.

The new report points to studies showing that "most motorists will travel at a speed at which they feel comfortable, given the context and conditions."

"They will ignore a Posted Speed Limit that is set unrealistically low or high, leading to enforcement difficulty," the report states. "A Posted Speed Limit that matches the context and conditions is generally obeyed by a majority of motorists."

It's important to set realistic speed limits, the report states, to reduce the speed differential between motor vehicles.

"The accident rate is lower when the majority of motor vehicles are traveling at about the same speed and it improves overall compliance with traffic control devices."

While the speed limit on the two collector streets would go up, the reverse would be true near local schools. Currently, the city has a 25-mph speed limit within 500 feet of schools; the new proposal would stretch the radius to 1,000 feet.

At the same time, there would be a new 20 mph speed limit within 500 feet of school grounds on all residential streets that currently have speed limits of 30 mph or less, according to staff. Areas that would be affected by this change include Churchill Avenue and Embarcadero Road, near Palo Alto High School; Arastradero Road near Gunn High School; California Avenue and Middlefield Road, near Jordan Middle School; and East Meadow Drive, near JLS Middle School, as well as near the each of the city's 12 elementary schools.

The proposal somewhat deviates from the recommendation in a 2012 study that the city commissioned and that recommended a 15-mph speed limit within 500 feet of schools. The city's traffic engineers subsequently determined that a 20-mph speed limit "is more likely to achieving compliance, while still achieving the same safety benefits as a 15-mile-per-hour posted speed limit," the report states.

The 20-mph speed limit would only be in effect on school days, according to staff.

The plan does not include reduced speed limits near Palo Alto's private schools, that may change based on council feedback, according to the new staff report.

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Comments

38 people like this
Posted by Embarcadero
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2017 at 2:35 pm

Palo Alto needs to have the police department enforce the 25mph speed limit on Embarcadero.


11 people like this
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2017 at 2:53 pm

It's about time we lowered the speed limit in school zones. Mt View lowered theirs to 15 mph a couple of years ago, as soon as the new law allowed it. i don't understand why Palo Alto took so long, considering how much importance is attached to school commute safety.


23 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2017 at 3:12 pm

Before we lower the speed limit, how about we enforce the existing speed limits? What does the speed limit have to be, to get people to actually drive < 25 mph?


18 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 6, 2017 at 3:21 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@anon - I agree, the problem isn't that people are driving 25mph on Middlefield and Embarcadero, it is that they are driving 40-50mph. If everyone was even driving 35mph, it would be a huge improvement and a non-issue. So try some enforcement first.

Ultimately, this is a band aid on the real problem which is too much commuter traffic rushing across the city. People are using Middlefield to California to Newell as a shortcut to get the freeway or to the bridge.


19 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2017 at 3:39 pm

Agree that the police need to aggressively enforce the speed limits (as well as crosswalk right-of-way) near schools. This means every school day, not just one day a year. When streets get more dangerous, parents will drive their kids to school more, which makes the streets even more dangerous.


5 people like this
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 6, 2017 at 3:47 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

Coordinate the stoplights to limit speed to the desired range. Post signs that advise the optimum speed. Limit left turns that block traffic. BTW, the lights through Menlo Park are coordinated to about 15 mph or lower, leading to dozens of vehicles idling at every light. Drivers should NEVER see the next light turn red just as they get a green. Traffic planners should be required to drive local roads during rush hours and record their average mph. Raises based on average mph improvement.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2017 at 3:57 pm

"Coordinate the stoplights to limit speed to the desired range. Post signs that advise the optimum speed. Limit left turns that block traffic. BTW, the lights through Menlo Park are coordinated to about 15 mph or lower, leading to dozens of vehicles idling at every light. Drivers should NEVER see the next light turn red just as they get a green."

Coordinated lights work well-- if they are designed well. The optimal behavior depends heavily on load, though-- just setting the "rolling" speed at the desired speed breaks down at rush hour. Therefore, the lights need to be coordinated carefully over long stretches, with sensors determining the number of vehicles present. Apparently, between the lights, the system, and the maintenance, it all can get quite surprisingly expensive. Maybe some Silicon Valley startup can figure out how to do this much more cost effectively?


14 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2017 at 4:44 pm

From my perspective, when school is opening or dismissing, traffic is at a crawl outside schools. When school is not in session, during the evening or whatever, there is no reason for a 15 mph limit.

We have too many obstacles to efficient traffic flow in Palo Alto. Putting in lower speed limits 24/7 is not going to help traffic get where it needs to go.

Traffic calming measures continue to slow the time it takes us to get to where we need to go.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 6, 2017 at 7:29 pm

Another bait and switch!

They are not just lowering the speed limit around schools. They are raising the speed limits everywhere else, they are doing this so the police can use radar. Just another way to generate more revenue. How does it make it more safer by raising the speed limits? Here is a link for the info, then make your own decision. You folks are smarter than this! Go into City council on Tuesday and tell them not to raise the speed limit in other parts of the city!!!!


Web Link


6 people like this
Posted by zap
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2017 at 12:13 am

Agreed with the above who say enforce what he have now. You'll see plenty of people turning right on red from Middlefield to California when Jordan gets out--and in defiance of the signs that say you can't do so when school gets out.

What you won't see is PAPD doing anything about it.


14 people like this
Posted by out of control
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2017 at 8:30 am

The narrowness of the lanes at Jordan for right and left turns at Cal Ave onto and off of Middlefield, along with the visual distraction from the bollards,with the increased congestion, creates a very dangerous set of conditions.

Most of what the City staff is doing all over the streets of Palo Alto has nothing to do with safety,accepted traffic engineering practices, respect for neighborhoods to say the least, or even common sense. The City staff is out of control plain and simple. Everything already in place and proposed all over the streets and neighborhoods needs to be scrutinized from that standpoint while a rollback of much of what has been done is undertaken as we begin to try to clean up the mess with a coherent, functional, consistent set of standards and practices. Consistency is an important aspect of safety. Drivers need to be conditioned as to what to expect as they drive through the City and not turn driving into a video game not knowing what to expect at the next street, the next intersection trying to figure it out with all the sign clutter,paint. Drive through other cities and see the difference We need to make the staff accountable and pull back from the uninformed notion that more paint,more signs,more bollards in a sort of random deployment is always better as a preference, an alternative to more police enforcement. This is the path, the "trip" the City staff is on, their agenda and it goes unchallenged by the City Council. We are in a state of crisis in Palo Alto.





Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2017 at 9:53 am

The report does reference higher speed limits that would allow radar enforcement, but, the context isn't clear (to me). However, I frequently see drivers going 35-40 when the speed limit is 25, so, paradoxically, raising the speed limit could result in people slowing down if it meant better enforcement. Also, there is more to it than speed -- some states discourage -aggressive driving- which has become a major problem around here, also. We encourage people to ride bicycles, but, bicycle safety and -aggressive driving- don't go together.


8 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 7, 2017 at 12:27 pm

38 year resident is a registered user.

Already at a crawl on Middlefield and N. California as traffic going north is backed up to Oregon Expressway everyday because of the bolsters put in by the "do anything to eliminate cars" city council and transportation department.


9 people like this
Posted by Giraffe
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 7, 2017 at 12:50 pm

Giraffe is a registered user.

The report says this about the proposed school speed limit:
Staff believes that a Posted Speed Limit of 20
miles per hour is more likely to encourage compliance,
while still achieving the same safety
benefits as a 15-mile-per-hour Posted Speed Limit

Questions:
- Where is the data to back up that 'belief'? Is there any data that says 25 mph isn't as safe as 20mph?
- Say for the last 10 years, how many children/pedestrians have been struck by cars in school zones during the times when the new limit would be in effect? If the answer is 0, then why change the limit? If the answer is a few, then a debate is needed.

The report also proposes to add distractions and obstacles to try to slow traffic down to unreasonably slow limits, eg. 25 mph on Embarcadero. But the report also says that people drive at speeds they think are safe, and the report says:
It's important to set realistic speed limits, to reduce the speed
differential between motor vehicles.

So obviously, 25 mph is not a realistic speed limit for Embarcadero, nor for many other roads. Why does the 'staff' think they know better than the 100s/1000s of people who drive on Embarcadero every day at speeds over 30 mph?



3 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 7, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Go ahead and blast me if you like, but an easy way to slow down traffic on Embarcadero is to add speed bumps. There are speed bumps on Channing that work very nicely.


11 people like this
Posted by taxpayer
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 7, 2017 at 2:00 pm

Oh my. This town is determined to become molasses for the average driver.
Arastradero from 4 lanes to 2lanes.
Bump outs.
Traffic furniture.
Poorly timed, unintelligent red lights.
Now even lower speed limits.

Are lower speed limits really solving something?
What's the actual data on fatalities or even accidents near schools?
I'll tell you something I notice: kids speeding on bikes, disregarding traffic laws, all while helmets are dangerously dangling from their handlebars. How about let's address some shared responsibility before saying to the world,
avoid Palo Alto, don't come spend your money here.


7 people like this
Posted by neighborhood
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 7, 2017 at 2:02 pm

Could we look into code enforcement for safety: corner houses whose hedges are way above regulation and blocking visibility of bikers and cars.


6 people like this
Posted by Look at all the wet drivers
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 7, 2017 at 2:21 pm

peeing themselves because they can't drive faster in school zones. Good grief.
This is why we need rigorous enforcement of these drivers. they simply don't care about anything or anyone else if it means they have to use the brake pedal.

In a few years we can prohibit human driven cars from many roads. Once driver-less/ego-less cars are the norm, the uncontrollable drivers can be kept away from us. We'll all be safer, but until then: ticket, ticket, TICKET these losers.


6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 7, 2017 at 3:10 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@38 year Resident, thank you for echoing my complaint about "Already at a crawl on Middlefield and N. California as traffic going north is backed up to Oregon Expressway everyday because of the bolsters put in by the "do anything to eliminate cars" city council and transportation department."

Question re the giant Botts Dots at about 5 Middlefield intersections between Embarcadero & Oregon: Why are they all surrounded by orange cones? Is the city finally getting rid of them?

I sure hope so since the new road painting at Lowell & Middlefield makes me worry they're going to add them there, too. If so, expect Middlefield traffic to back up INTO the Embarcadero intersection, too, when someone tries to turn into their driveway and the cars can no longer go around them.


1 person likes this
Posted by casey
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2017 at 3:16 pm

casey is a registered user.

The key to safety is predictability, not imposing one-off solutions that create chaos.


9 people like this
Posted by Walker
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2017 at 3:53 pm

When you see what is happening on Ross Road you have to ask yourself whether the monkeys are really in charge!

I walk Ross to get to the Y. I have seen bikes and cars traveling in both directions causing problems to each other. I can see that in future Ross will become another street to avoid, except for those who want to get to the Y as there is no alternative.


2 people like this
Posted by Roger
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 7, 2017 at 4:09 pm

Having a 25 mph speed limit on our streets and a 25 mph limit for schools makes no sense, so yes the school zone Speed needs to be reduced,if for no other reason than driver awareness. The current school zone speed limit refers to “when children are present” so if you see kids in the school zone you are mandated to slow down. At present that is from 25 to 25, and that’s pretty dumb. Speeding fines should also be doubled in school zones,let’s try to keep our kids safe,or at least safer.


7 people like this
Posted by Roger
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 7, 2017 at 4:13 pm

The biggest issue with the “bike lane” in front of Jordan is the kids don’t use it, it’s totally counter to their direction of travel.
As for the big white dots,I can only see less units similar to potholes in the cities future,since the seem to just put them at locations for no obvious reason.


1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 7, 2017 at 6:58 pm

"Are lower speed limits really solving something?"

They might if they had any actual meaning. They likely don't, so ... no. Post and forget.

Ever tried doing 25 on Embarcadero, per the speed limit? Even the cop cars fly by you. So much for enforcement.


"As for the big white dots,I can only see less units similar to potholes in the cities future,since the seem to just put them at locations for no obvious reason."

Apparently they are trip-ups for unwary bikers and pedestrians. I have no idea why anybody above age 13 would want to trip unwary bikers and pedestrians.


3 people like this
Posted by out of control
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2017 at 9:29 pm

@CPD - "speed bumps on Channing work very nicely"
No. There are near accidents and close calls at Channing and Lincoln all the time from cars on Lincoln jumping the gun and crossing ahead of cars coming down Channing. Why? My guess is that the speed bump the City installed just east of Lincoln on Channing is ill-placed, close to the intersection - very unusual to place a speed bump practically on top of an intersection as was done
here,another mistake by the transportation staff. The result is that those on Lincoln who approach the intersection cannot gauge the speed of the cars and varying responses of the drivers to the speed bump and the result is a dangerous intersection.
That speed bump should be removed.


6 people like this
Posted by Shirley
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 8, 2017 at 8:01 am

25 is too slow on Embarcadero to begin with. And besides why are we trying to make even traffic worse than it is by slowing everyone down?


3 people like this
Posted by FAST DRIVER
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2017 at 9:42 am

plz dont lower it i like going fast :(


7 people like this
Posted by StarSpring
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 8, 2017 at 11:07 am

@FAST DRIVER and, if you don't have one of those snowflake electric/hybrid vehicles you can drive right over the giant Bots Dots as if they are not even there. :)

On a more serious note, what's up with the new center dividers the City just put in at Corina and Ross? Instead of a nice wide street with room to pass, traffic is now compressed into two narrow passageways - a veritable killing field for bicycles that now have to squeeze in and share space with multi-ton hunks of moving metal.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2017 at 12:47 pm

I agree with the last poster. Ross Road has become an obstacle course which will push traffic onto Louis past Loma Verde school.

Wackamole again.


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2017 at 9:07 am

Fast Driver: Please express yourself in the left lane of a freeway somewhere, not on neighborhood streets. Neighborhood streets are a shared resource with people of all ages including pedestrians, people on bicycles, schoolchildren generally, etc.

Speed bumps are a cheap alternative to putting a patrol vehicle on every block. Speed bumps would not be necessary if people drove less aggressively.

Oh, and another thing -- do a little algebra. Even if you drive infinitely fast on, say, Arastradero, you will only save a few minutes at rush hour-- most of the traffic is waiting to get through congested intersections such as at Alma, El Camino, and Foothill.


1 person likes this
Posted by StarSpring
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 9, 2017 at 9:23 am

@Anon: Neighborhood streets are for their neighborhoods. Council decisions on traffic have pushed drivers off the through routes and into our neighborhoods. Additional "road diets" combined with recent decisions to further increase housing once again is only going to accelerate the coming gridlock - especially after additional CalTrain frequency further divides the community.

Put too many rats in a cage and they become aggressive. The Palo Alto City Council is too fond of rats. . .


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2017 at 12:08 pm

StarSpring: Yes, neighborhood streets are for the neighborhood. And, neighborhoods are full of kids on bicycles, scooters -- the kind disabled people use -- and other slow-moving, erratic vehicles. Not a place where people should drive aggressively, even on days when they feel like caged rats.


1 person likes this
Posted by StarSpring
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 9, 2017 at 12:21 pm

Agreed, but the point i’m making is that the blame for this situation is decades of poor decision making from the CC and their continued head-in-the-ground attitude that persists today. You can’t cram more and more people into a restricted space and expect community bliss to emerge.


2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 10, 2017 at 3:38 pm

That speed bump is a bit more than it should be compared to the other two that run between Center and Lincoln. If that speed was the same as the other two, the problem would go away. However, as a person who rides his bike on Channing (or drives if the weather is poor) --- my personal observation is that the people (mostly driving from the Forest Ave. direction towards Middlefield) tend to 1) Not stop behind the stop sign line on the pavement and/or 2) roll the intersection if they can.


Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2017 at 12:32 am

Add those electronic signs that display the speed of vehicles. They slow down almost all drivers. The others should be ticketed.


Like this comment
Posted by StarSpring
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 11, 2017 at 8:43 am

Someone already showed their disdain for the City's median mistake on Ross. On our morning walk we discovered that someone had repeatedly driven over the two earthen mounds with what looked like a truck or large SUV, apparently spinning their wheels at one point. This was just last night.

@David: Those electronic speed signs slow down no one. Certainly not on Alma/Central. Unless you mean people use them to make sure they are not going more than 50 MPH. ;)


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 11, 2017 at 9:03 am

All the traffic Calming is all about the city making money... I would like to see how much of that 20 million actually goes into the construction, versus management. This is not about safety nor going green, this is about fleecing the taxpayers.


3 people like this
Posted by So
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2017 at 2:20 pm

Here's my observation on automobile traffic around the schools. I live near an elementry and I commonly see cars speeding, cars making illegal u-turns, cars using the bike lanes to pass a car on the right when stuck behind that car making a left, cars failing to stop at stop signs, cars parked in red zones, drivers talking and holding cell phones, failures to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, etc. Since there is no traffic enforcement deployed for these issues, why would a 20 MPH speed limit make a difference? Why wouldn't it get ignored like all the other traffic laws are in town?


Like this comment
Posted by enforce the current laws
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 12, 2017 at 3:07 pm

enforce the current laws is a registered user.

We need more traffic enforcement of current laws, not new ones. The biggest deterrent to any kind of crime is the risk of getting caught. If we have police enforcing traffic laws around schools, school routes, road where there are frequent speeders, people going the wrong way, etc. we would have safer streets. All the barriers and rules in the world don't work if people ignore them because they know there are no consequences.

@online name - the cones were near the white dots because they added the white posts at the corners to prevent people from driving over the dots (like the ones in front of Jordan).

BTW - I live near Jordan and at least once a week I see a car turn left from N. California into the separated bike lane on Middlefield. Occasionally people pull out of the Jordan circle on N. California heading east into the separated bike lane. And most of the bikes on Middlefield still ride on the sidewalk, going the wrong way as often as not.


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