Palo Alto council backs lane cuts on Cal Ave | February 18, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 18, 2011

Palo Alto council backs lane cuts on Cal Ave

Council hears from dozens of residents, unanimously supports streetscape plan for busy commercial strip

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto's plan to transform California Avenue into a two-lane pedestrian-friendly boulevard sped ahead Monday night (Feb. 14) when the City Council unanimously backed the project despite a mixed reception from area merchants.

Local opinions at Monday's meeting ranged from anticipation and excitement to frustration and skepticism. While a clear majority of area residents and business owners spoke in favor of the streetscape project, some claimed the changes would disrupt traffic flow and hurt California Avenue businesses.

After hearing from both camps, the council approved the environmental study for the California Avenue Streetscape Project — a $1.7 million effort to renovate the popular commercial strip and to add a host of street improvements, including newsracks, benches, bulbouts, large trees and bicycle parking spots. The project would be funded largely with a $1.2 million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), with the city contributing an additional $550,000.

"I think this will be a fabulous improvement to California Avenue," said Councilman Greg Scharff, whose office is located near the busy strip and who regularly dines there.

Scharff urged his colleagues to support the plan,

"I pretty much live on California Avenue, and if I for a minute thought it would destroy the businesses and would have negative impacts, I wouldn't vote for it," he said. "I just don't see it."

By far the most contentious element of the project is the proposal to reduce the number of lanes from four to two. City officials say the lane reduction would make the street safer and more attractive to pedestrians and bicyclists. The city also hopes to enhance the street's sense of identity and make it more like Castro Street in Mountain View and Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park. Thomas Fehrenbach, Palo Alto's manager for economic development, told the council Monday that the California Avenue improvements would entice shoppers and diners to spend money in the commercial area.

But some business owners said they weren't so sure. Last Wednesday, a few of them attended the MTC meeting in Oakland and convinced the commission to pull the California Avenue project from the list of transportation improvements it approved at that meeting. After hearing from Palo Alto attorney William Ross and merchants, the commission decided to discuss the proposal further with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), the agency through which the commission disburses money to local jurisdictions.

Ross spoke about the project at numerous public hearings and repeatedly voiced his opposition to the lane reduction. He asked the council on Monday to delay its decision on the project.

"You're forcing us into a position of opposition," Ross told the council Monday night. "This is a unique situation — it does not fit Menlo Park, Mountain View or anything like that.

"That's why we went to the MTC — we weren't being heard."

Former Palo Alto Vice Mayor Jack Morton, whose accounting practice is based on California Avenue, warned the council that reducing the lanes on the street could reduce the vitality of the business district. Drivers, he said, rely largely on two lanes, with the other two serving as "support lanes."

"If we're wrong about the way traffic flows, we will destroy a business district," Morton said.

Jaime Rodriguez, Palo Alto's chief transportation official, said the city had completed an independent study on the project's traffic impacts, and the study concluded that the lane reduction would not increase congestion. He also said the streetscape plan would result in 17 new parking spaces on California Avenue, as well as 75 to 100 new bicycle-parking spaces.

Rodriguez's report also said the project would enhance the "overall aesthetic environment of California Avenue."

"Upgraded benches and tables, trash receptacles, paving treatment, plantings, artwork and other feature should create an improved sense of place and quality for employees, residents, and visitors," he wrote.

Dozens of speakers, many of them residents of the nearby College Terrace, Evergreen Park and Barron Park neighborhoods, praised the project and its promise of a safer passage for bicyclists and pedestrians. Stephen Godfrey, who lives in Evergreen Park, called for the council to "enthusiastically support" the project because it gives the city an opportunity to invest in the area. Robyn Duby, who lives in the College Terrace neighborhood, agreed.

"I'm really excited about it," Duby said. "It will be revitalizing for the area and increase our environmental resources."

The council also urged staff to explore widening the sidewalks on California Avenue as part of the project. Staff will return to the council at a future meeting with a workplan for the additional design work.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at


Posted by Nice work, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2011 at 1:42 am

This is a great win for the California Avenue neighborhood. Visitors, residents and businesses will all benefit. Apparently council members spoke with clarity regarding the potential positive outcomes of this project. Congrats to those who benefit. This is something to look forward to.

Posted by ongoing opposition?, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 15, 2011 at 1:51 am

i wonder if the lone opposing attorney and the small number of opposing businesses will continue to oppose this project when there was such an overwhelming vote in favor of the project from members of the community and the council. it sounds like the opposition didn't present a cogent reason to prevent the project. it's fair to be concerned with construction, but that one issue alone shouldn't stop the project. let's hope they drop the opposition and participate in the process.

Posted by Joseph Kott, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2011 at 6:38 am

Congratulations to the City of Palo Alto on approval of this innovative plan for California Avenue!

Posted by YIMBY, a resident of University South
on Feb 15, 2011 at 10:12 am

YIMBY is a registered user.

This was a HUGE win not just for the neighborhoods around Cal Av, but the entire city as well. It was disappointing seeing the opposition from merchants who clearly appeared more concerned with auto access to their stores than people access, but their opposition was overwhelmed by others who clearly understood the dinosaur of Cal Av and explained it well, noting that the 4-lane road is a remnant of when the avenue was the main access to HWY 101 before Oregon Expressway was constructed.
I think many Palo Altans and other neighbors will look forward to seeing the reconstructed shopping district, a delightful change after such a disturbing one that took place with almost not public input - the tree removal.

Posted by Well done, Council. Thank you!, a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 15, 2011 at 10:20 am

I love California Avenue and shop there regularly, either driving or bicycling from my south PA home. I am thrilled to see this plan moving forward. I promise, Cal Ave. businesses, I will continue to shop with you. Thank you, City Council, for a thoughtful decision based on the facts.

Cal. Ave. landlords, have you considered rent reductions during the construction months like those Town & Country provided for their tenants during their renovation? You will benefit enormously from this plan. Support your tenants through it (especially the low-margin tenants). This would be a great way for you to support the city's effort to revitalize Cal Ave. and turn it into a better DESTINATION!

Posted by I-Buy-On-the-Internet, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2011 at 10:25 am

The growth of e-commerce will continue to displace brick-n-mortar points-of-sale, like this small, and undistinguished three-block business area. If it were not for the need for people working in the nearby technology companies, this district would have disappeared long ago.

Internet based e-commerce is growing at growth rates that are increasing on a yearly basis. Concerns about EFT (Electronic Funds Transfers) have been put to bed for most people, and with the final advent of micro-transactions, there will be constant innovation by "technology" to provide ever newer ways to buy things on-line.

In time, we will see even more innovation in the sales applications that will link buyers and sellers, on-line, and across the world.

The idea that anyone would want to drive, or walk, to a third-rate store to buy something, just because it is "local" will not be in the thinking of people in the not-to-distant future. While the non-retail businesses that operate on California will no doubt remain, it's difficult to believe that it will ever be considered as "vibrant".

What's interesting about all of the commentary from supporters of this project, is than not one has committed to spending more money in the shops that comprise the California Avenue Business District. All the supporters seemed to do is endorse the never-ending spending of "other people's money".

Posted by Jeff Wilson, a resident of another community
on Feb 15, 2011 at 10:32 am

Go all the way and add a few ev charging stations, there money for that from the private sector.

Posted by James, a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 15, 2011 at 10:43 am

Sounds wonderful but aren't we living through really stressed financial times. Sure it's not much of our money, but 500,000 here and 500,000 there - pretty soon you're talking real money. Gentrification seems to me to be somewhere down the list from education, safety, fire protection, etc etc. Perhaps the MTC money might be better spent on the "train crisis" as well.

Posted by Carroll Harrington, a resident of Community Center
on Feb 15, 2011 at 10:46 am

It is sooooooooo great to see positive postings on Town Square! I often go to T&C and marvel at the "feeling" there. I think the same will happen to California Avenue. Congrats to the City staff and council for their thoughtful and professional work on this project.

Posted by our own Castro Street, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 15, 2011 at 10:59 am

The proposed changes are similar to what Mountain View did to Castro Street several years ago. Those changes were so successful that I quit visiting University Ave and started going to Castro Street instead. They have a great mix different types of shops and restaurants down there with tons of pedestrian traffic. Hopefully California Ave can see the same benefits.

And I hope the city can improve pedestrian access as well. How about building a pedestrian bridge over the Caltrain tracks from midtown to California Ave? The existing tunnel from Old Palo Alto is too far out of the way, as well as being too dark and narrow and steep (for wheelchairs). Look at the great pedestrian bridge that Mountain View built.

Posted by Nick, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 15, 2011 at 11:04 am

As others comment, this is a substantial expense And it comes at a time of tight money everywhere. I'd rather see the money go into a reserve toward a new police and fire department. This is more Palo Alto prettiness over substance.

Posted by Sally, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 15, 2011 at 11:12 am

Don't worry about the added expense or declining retail sales due to internet commerce.

Palo Alto will just keep raising the utility rates to cover the difference. We're already looking at a 12.5% in water rates. Too bad we didn't get enough rain this year.

Too bad Mr. Rodriguez can't do something useful like check out the traffic light timing. It's always so great to sit there spewing exhaust while waiting at all the red lights near Town & Country, waiting for the non-existent students to cross at their light at 10PM.
And it's wonderful getting to know your neighbors sitting through 5 lights trying to get out Town & Country onto Embarcadero while the whole shopping center backs up and no one can ever back out of their spots because it's jammed so solid.

Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 15, 2011 at 11:16 am

Can't help but think that the city council doesn't shop on Cal Ave. This will be a horror for traffic and I may well change banks and abandon Country Sun if it goes through.

I've had enough nightmares with that mess they made of Charleston. It only takes one hesitant or elderly person driving at 10 or 15 mph to make everyone else on the street crazy as everything bogs down.

Why is it that morons can only find employment in government where they can do the most damage?

Posted by Ronna Devincenzi, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2011 at 11:48 am

Regarding 'I buy on the Internet' who wrote: "If it were not for the need for people working in the nearby technology companies, this district would have disappeared long ago."

I respectfully disagree. Several speakers at the meeting last night came from Barron Park, a neighborhood composed of people that, for years, have considered Cal Ave "their" shopping district.

Thousands of people are in homes neighboring the California Avenue district: Evergreen, Southgate and College Terrace, not to mention the Stanford students that frequent Cal Ave shops and restaurants.
Hundreds of people live in condominiums & apartments WITHIN the California Avenue district.

If what you wrote were true, with most people shopping on the Internet, council would not have mentioned the existing need for some areas to have wider sidewalks, due to current foot traffic.

California Avenue is *the* most historic shopping district of Palo Alto, predating University Ave. It has always been active and a "go to" place, even when it had mostly saloons.

Not everyone likes to sit at a computer, forgoing healthy socialization and the outdoors. In fact, I'd bet more people prefer being downtown, and most particularly in groups.

I remember Cal Ave from when I was a child. I have many happy memories of being there with my family - a variety of businesses made that district special, and all throughout the year. Happy childhood memories is something sitting at a computer cannot provide.

Although "The Avenue" is considered Palo Alto's "second downtown" due to its smaller size, Palo Alto City Council deserves credit for recognizing the need to address it, putting resources into this area, and now.

A business organization cannot roll up its sleeves & repave a street. Council had to step to the plate for this.

Staff deserves recognition for carrying the Streetscape design to fruition and for its initiative in trying for a fourth time to get outside funding, in order to ensure a comprehensive project.

Council is to be commended for its wise & unanimous decision. Each member deserves kudos & support from everyone in the community they serve. Well done, Palo Alto City Hall! And thank you!

Posted by Joan, a resident of Community Center
on Feb 15, 2011 at 11:49 am

Great point about the traffic mess at Town & Country.

Someone should do a study on how much sales tax revenue has been lost from the Palo Alto Trader Joe's due to the traffic tie-ups at Town & Country. I'm back to driving to the one in Menlo Park to avoid the mess and I'll bet others go there or to the one in Mountain View.

Posted by Cal Ave. Customer, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 15, 2011 at 12:03 pm

I love this project. I read the traffic studies, and I agreee with the assessment that worries about congestion are unfounded.

Thank you, City Council! This is a very sensible decision.

Well done.

Posted by Jean, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 15, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Since I live in the neighborhood, I shop on California Avenue a lot. I also drive through the area at lunchtime on my way home from work. These are important improvements! The result will be a safer and more attractive California Avenue and businesses will benefit. So happy that Palo Alto's City Council made this decision!

Posted by YIMBY, a resident of University South
on Feb 15, 2011 at 12:59 pm

YIMBY is a registered user.

Interesting comments.
I divide them mostly into 2 columns: those who are predominantly oriented to viewing the district as a motorist, and those who view it more as simply an experience - enjoying the district.

Posted by member, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 15, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Widen the sidewalks, turn it into parallel parking, build a parking garage on Cal Ave,(so no one has to walk a half a block) and get rid of all those ugly buildings.

Posted by Eva, a resident of Ventura
on Feb 15, 2011 at 1:09 pm

I echo many of the previous comments and believe this will be a positive change for Cal Av. I do shop their regularly and will pledge to do so during the construction. Also I'm pleased to see so many positive comments on this Town Forum, a very pleasant change from the normal negative discourse.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 15, 2011 at 1:24 pm

"Upgraded benches and tables, trash receptacles, paving treatment, plantings, artwork and other feature should create an improved sense of place …” is NOT a good way to spend $1.7 million taxpayer dollars, especially when city, state and federal governments have huge deficits.

Palo Alto has a $500M infrastructure backlog, with no idea how to fund it. Caltrain is nearly bankrupt. Yet everyone is in raptures about the "overall aesthetic environment of California Avenue."

Doesn’t ANYONE understand budget priorities?

Will you still be thrilled about your “sense of place” when the city puts a bond measure on the ballot asking for MORE of your money to pay for potholes and a police building?

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 15, 2011 at 2:13 pm

If they are going to improve the California Avenue shopping district, they can start by getting rid of the tall bushes and stupid art pieces at the intersection of California Avenue and Birch Street. They put in this stupid spindle and tall bushes that obscure visibility of the crosswalk that is just beyond it. I am surprised nobody has been killed yet.

In fact, the Art Commission should just rent art so we aren't stuck with pieces we hate forever.

Posted by Fred, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I was there at the meeting last night. City of Palo Alto is a strange place. If you can do an email tree fast enough to get anyone to speak up for this project then you win. The half untold truths from studies, consultants..... does not matter in this City. A man name Herb and former Vice Mayor made interesting comment and warned caution. Council members should have at least explored these comments and at least delay for a week or a month.

Posted by Ralphc, a resident of The Greenhouse
on Feb 15, 2011 at 2:50 pm

I lived on North California for 20+ years and though I've moved I often shop on California Ave -- parking on the street or in a lot and walking the 3 short blocks of it from El Camino to Park and back. It seems quite pedestrian friendly to me as it is. It's easy to drive to, park on, walk along, shop or eat there now. Isn't University Avenue the main street that should be like Santa Cruz in M.P. and Castro in M.V.? If I need one or two things on California Ave., it's easy to get them and leave (or not). Maybe we don't need to have special "experiences" or "feelings like Town & Country Village" provided on every street. There's something nice about a well-stored, low-key, practical (more-than-a) neighborhood (attracts-lots-of-people) street like California Avenue. It's the mix of stores and other shops that make the area. Trees were cut down, it happened. New ones will grow. This transformation isn't needed. Palo Alto doesn't have the funds to complete half-finished projects they've promised (San Antonio to 101 for example). The library plans don't meet the goals promised in the bond measure we approved. I'm being positive here: I like pedestrian-friendly California Avenue the way it is -- it doesn't need this much fixing.

Posted by Miser, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm

This is such a waste of money. Either fix the infrastructure problems or reduce our utility rates.

Posted by HUTCH 7.62, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Why ruin something that already works the way it is. Why turn Cal ave. into another University ave. Most Palo Altans avoid University because it's too congested and attracts to many outsiders. I agree with the business owners. Palo Alto was such a better place 20 years ago I don't see how we managed to screw it up.

Posted by Adrienne Mayor, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm

How will just 2 lanes be safer for cars, pedestrians and bikes? Won't there be traffic jams and problems as cars attempt to back out of the 45-60 degree parking spaces into the only lane of traffic?
We avoid the congested traffic and new "aesthetic" improvements of Santa Cruz and Castro Streets, preferring the old neighborhood feel of Cal Ave. More tree would be nice, but these plans appear to be new ways to spend money by a city that is already in trouble financially. The recent decisions, from clear-cutting to a modern fountain and now this, make it seem like Palo Alto's future is decided by developers and real estate interests.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Elizabeth, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, writes:

"I've had enough nightmares with that mess they made of Charleston. It only takes one hesitant or elderly person driving at 10 or 15 mph to make everyone else on the street crazy as everything bogs down."

Elizabeth -- why is it that I suspect that you drive a little too fast? After this change is made, park your car a few blocks away and walk around the new California Ave. You might enjoy it!

Posted by rem, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 15, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Another street I'll stay away from nor have I been on University ave in years.

Them there is the Charleston and Fabian fiasco!!!!

Posted by Susan, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2011 at 8:29 pm

If you're going to reconfigure the roadway, then the City should definitely widen and make more attractive the sidewalks. If the toothpick trunked new trees have to be dug up in order to make the sidewalk modifications, just do it. Those pathetic new trees haven't even begun to grow yet. And yes, get rid of the freaky "public art" we can thank the Art Commission for purchasing. Please God, don't let them be involved in the new design of California Ave.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 15, 2011 at 10:41 pm

I wonder how many of the most adamant defenders of this project, work for the city and probably are traffic planners. Yes, the same geniuses who approved all the Town & Country bottlenecks and car-height stone walls where bad and/or stupid drivers just stop.
I just love the sound of squealing breaks when traffic entering from El Camino tries to avoid them. So pastoral.

And isn't just lovely they dismiss LEGITIMATE warnings about hesitant/elderly drivers by saying with personal "Elizabeth, I suspect you drive too fast" and "get out of your car and walk" as if that will make bad drivers younger or better drivers.

Drivers ARE getting older so barriers are being erected in front of store windows to keep these same drivers from crashing into them.

Just keep ignoring facts that conflict with your holier-than-thou anti-car, anti-merchant rant.

Posted by not a traffic engineer, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2011 at 12:43 am

Seems to me that one clear fact about California Avenue is being ignored by the opponents who keep ranting about traffic jams and throw in their beefs with completely non-comparable streets with 20,000 vehicles per day or even shopping centers as if they had any relevance to the project under discussion:

The fact is that actual peak period traffic counts on Cal Ave are 500 cars an hour MAX, 250 in each direction. That's 4 cars per minute going east, and 4 cars per minute going west.

Doesn't take a traffic engineer to recognize that you don't need 4 traffic lanes to deal with 8 cars per minute. Two lanes plus turn lanes at intersections will do just fine.

And in fact, all over the Bay Area where similar 4 lane dated streets have been replaced by the two lanes plus turn lanes design, it's the business people as well as nearby residents who are the biggest fans.

Thank goodness our City Council members did their homework and voted unanimously to support this project, after more than 50 years of non-investment in California Avenue.

Posted by Finally, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 16, 2011 at 2:26 am

Good move. Jack, go back to your office and breathe deep.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2011 at 9:39 am

Traffic on California – and everywhere else – is going to increase.

High density housing and office space for the California Avenue area is the stated goal of the planning department. They are working on changing the area's zoning to encourage high density housing and office space. This has been in the works for more than a year.

A new development on Birch Street (just off California Ave.) has already been approved. On November 22, 2010, the City Council approved a mixed use project on a ½ acre lot, currently addressed as 2640 and 2650 Birch Street, 305 Grant, and 306 and 320 Sheridan Avenue. The project comprises first floor office space with 8 residential units above on the second and third levels.

Yet the City's planning regulations only allow for CURRENT DATA on traffic flow to be taken into account on changing the street lanes.

That means the current plan does not, and will not, take into account any future traffic increases generated by the high density housing and offices around California Avenue.

Posted by alice m., a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 16, 2011 at 10:26 am

I can't believe I'm actually reading all these people who oppose this as I do. Where were you guys? The meeting consisted of people who support this project about 20 against few businesses. It really felt like an email tree was sent out and got a crowd in there to speak. (these same people are not eating or shopping on Cal. Ave. People who oppose were not there probably because they were having their Valentine's dinner on California Ave! What you supporters will find out is that you were used....wait until you see what developers are doing to your neighborhood! You guys don't get it until it's too late. You think this is about bicycle lanes. It's about higher $$ rent spaces and $$ homes. Those who oppose, please make a fuss and these supporters do. IT IS NOT TOO LATE!

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2011 at 11:20 am

alice m.: I sent several emails opposing the CA Ave. project to the city council and I know of many others who did the same.

For all it's hype about transparency, and Mayor Espinosa's pledges of openness and civic involvement, it's pretty clear that Council only cares about how many people show up at those endless council meetings.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 16, 2011 at 11:25 am

I feel like it's too much fiddling. While CA Avenue could use some sprucing up to make it more attractive, I disagree that taking away a lane each direction will "help" in any way. I feel sorry for concerned local merchants there. If there is too much lengthy disruption owing to this unnecessary remaking of the Avenue, then drivers will stay away. Will they return later....
I also agree with commenters who point out that Charleston has not been "helped" by having a lane suddenly merge/be removed, there are now traffic bottlenecks that seem unnecessary, and this IS a route to the freeway. We NEED to have traffic moving along. I sometimes encounter difficulties in off hours, when that never occurred previously.
I ALSO agree with commenters who mention that while Town & Country is definitely much beautified lately, and an asset to the community, it is weird that there are those stone walls and narrow lanes and such difficult egress from the center, along with NEW traffic challenges that are frustrating and lead nasty drivers to cut in front of others on Embarcadero or block ECR as they get stuck when a light changes and cars are backed up. The setup with the lights there encourages some to drive discourteously and this leads to more risk of incidents. I think SMOOTH FLOW of traffic and also accomodation of bikes/pedestrians should be the overall goal of all this "traffic planning" but what I see is increasing "choppiness" of the road traffic flow, traffic lights, and how is this an improvement?

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 16, 2011 at 11:34 am

Thank you for your always on the spot comments.

I guess some of us residents just avoid problem areas if/when we can.
I just don't understand certain city departments - that they need to concoct these plans that are un-needed and may unintentionally cause difficulties.

Do all cities spend time with these plans, apply for grants/funding, and devote their own limited monies to such things as this CA Avenue plan?

Meantime, there are glaring needs here, and known needs that may not involve safety but clearly should have resources devoted to them sooner rather than later: such as the terrible road surfaces on some of the "nicest" residential streets in this city (I don't live on these streets but can't believe when I travel on them -- what, certain stretches of Hamilton, for example, Lytton)
The VERY bad traffic situation that has been created at ECR/Town & Country/Paly should be addressed very soon.
Dreaming up an idea about subtracting lanes here and there seems much lower priority to me.

Posted by Cal Ave shopper, a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2011 at 11:39 am

The traffic study is crystal clear. There is plenty of rooom for auto volume growth of over 10,000 cars per day(which is HIGHLY unlikely to happen. No problem.

Relax, everyone!

Council, thank you for a well-informed, thoughful decision.

Posted by Evergreen Park Neighbor, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 16, 2011 at 11:41 am

@Elizabeth who complained about traffic on California. I live two blocks from california ave for 23 years. I shopped there alot. I drive through there alot. In my 23 years I have NEVER SEEN ANY SIGNIFICANT TRAFFIC PROBLEM on california avenue. Maybe I have a different standard for what is considered a traffic problem as I grew up in big cities. The biggest delays are the stop signs and the pedestrians, both good things.

To the doubters:

There are just so many examples of similar project elsewhere to think that this won't help the street. Look at all the interesting shopping areas in the Bay Area....they're all two lanes. Castro in Mountain View, Santa Cruz in Menlo Park, Los Gatos, Santa Cruz main street. The pattern plays out over and over and over again. Improving streetscape, giving people an opportunity to stroll and hang-out attracts people and business, lane reduction notwithstanding. I know of no counter example to this phenomenon in the area. History trumps second-guessing and conjecture.

As for the city council meeting:

People who show up and are passionate about what they want get heard. Get involved and show up to say your piece instead of complaining. Geez

Posted by alice m., a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Pat, thank you. I know of many others who did the same. I don't think it is too late. PLEASE I urge those who oppose to continue to show up at Council meetings and question why our voices/letters aren't heard. I believe until the roads are torn up, we still have time to change this. I don't understand why we do not focus this money on school education/services, elderly, etc.... Please share ideas on how we can change what happened on Monday night.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2011 at 1:10 pm

> “Council, thank you for a well-informed, thoughful decision.”

Your definition of well-informed and thoughtful must be different from mine, Cal Ave shopper.

After MONTHS of press about the CA Ave. project NOT including bike lanes or wider sidewalks, our esteemed council members approved the plan and THEN told staff to figure out how to widen the sidewalks. And today's Post reports that Mayor Espinosa "wanted to know if some type of bike lane could actually be folded into the design plan."

Do council members even read the local papers, let alone know what’s going on in the planning department?

And how are "sharrows" going to make bicyclists safer? They're just painted symbols on portions of the street, which can be used by bikes AND cars.

Posted by who cares, a resident of Triple El
on Feb 16, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Oh well, it's only $1.7 million. At least we now know the city deficit is under control and the local recession is over and are able to spend taxpayer money on important projects like this. Guess the city council and Keene will no longer be able to blame city employees for deficit budgets and only on their bizarre project lists. How does this project fit into the reduction of the infrastructure deficit and backlog? What a pity.

Posted by Evergreen Park Neighbor, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 16, 2011 at 1:16 pm

It's pretty clear to me. The traffic study pretty much showed little traffic impact. They actually went there and measure the speeds and number of vehicles for several days, then did some pretty sophisticated simulations of traffic flow, and then compared California avenue to similar streets in the area. I think it's pretty conclusive.

Opposers will need to come up with equally firm studies to refute the analysis instead of conjectures and anecdotes.

It's interesting to note that Castro and Santa Cruz have about 3 to 4 times the traffic of California avenue and they're two lanes. They also more pedestrians.

Posted by alice m., a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 16, 2011 at 1:44 pm

evergreen, please read traffic studyrefully. are't you at all suspicious as to why major intersections were NOT included in the study??? the intersections that matter and bring traffic onto to california ave. intersections like on el camino & page mill, el camino & stanford and so forth. these intersections are where it is important to have counts not once cars are on california! these major intersections are the way we communte throughout palo alto and they weren't in the study! guess.....why.....??? people who support talking about how traffic study is crystal clear, you do not get it! another study that is inaccurate!!!

Posted by alice m., a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 16, 2011 at 1:46 pm

typing too fast..."study carefully"

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2011 at 1:53 pm

I have mentioned this before, but I will do so again.

The biggest problem with Castro Street is the turn right/turn left arrows. I rarely drive it if I have to but because of the tracks there is occasionally a need.

For cars driving the full length of Castro Street there is a need to stop at lights many times. Sometimes to go straight you must stop in the right hand lane and at the next light you must stop in the left hand lane. This is confusing when you know it is going to happen, let alone when you are looking for a parking spot, a particular business or unfamiliar with the left/right need for lanes. On at least one occasion I was nearly hit by a car making a late lane switch, if I had been paying more attention to looking for a parking spot or a particular business I would have not been able to avoid it.

This idea of left and right turn lanes are confusing, dangerous and I question their need - particularly on a street like California which has so little traffic anyway.

Posted by Evergreen Park Neighbor, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 16, 2011 at 3:51 pm

@Alice I don't understand. Of course the traffic study included the intersection of El Camino. If a vehicle continued on el Camino past California avenue it shouldn't be counted. If it turned onto California then it was counted. What's the problem?


At monday's meeting the city council explicitly asked staff to study increasing the width of the sidewalks so it may still yet happen.

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2011 at 4:58 pm

How are bike lanes going to make bicyclists safer? They're just painted lines on portions of the street, which can be used by bikes AND cars.

What makes bicyclist safer is 1) having adequate width, no matter how it is painted 2) having fewer items that take driver's attention away from them (like other lanes of traffic).

Posted by alice m., a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 16, 2011 at 7:23 pm

evergreen, it does matter. it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that counts should be done at several core intersection. if someone drives on i.e. el camino (south) to turn onto california but has to wait for several lights changes because traffic is backed on el camino & stanford then the traffic study that was done is not complete.
in the paper today, bicyclists do not get a bike lane!, bicyclists were used for the city's goal. evergreen, wake up and smell the coffee!

Posted by Evergreen Park Neighbor, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 16, 2011 at 8:40 pm

OK I understand what you are saying.

City staff talked about the issue you mentioned on Monday night. They did study the El Camino intersection but did not give delay numbers for cars on El Camino. Specifically they recommended that the Cal ave section leading to and from El Camino should remain four lanes for a little distance to provide a buffer. I don't remember it as being very long though. Maybe a little bit pass where Izzy's bagel is now.

The delay of the cars waiting to transition from the four lane buffer to the two lane section would have been accounted for though in the study. They're talking seconds overall. I believe it will be longer because of pedestrians but more pedestrians is a good thing even if it means slowing down cars IMHO.

Posted by Evergreen Park Neighbor, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 16, 2011 at 8:44 pm


What makes a street safe for bikes is slower cars not necessary a bike lane. I commute regularly on my bike. There are roads with bike lanes I would not bike on and there are lots of roads w/o bike lanes where I would ride my bike.

Again the plan is not finalized. Bike lanes are still an option. If we get involved we could encourage their addition.

Posted by alice m., a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 16, 2011 at 9:38 pm

did anyone read the paper today? another lie, 500 bicyclists a day on california ave. evergreen, you must believe this, it's what the city said. if there were 500 bicyclists a day on then if at least half of cyclists stop to grab coffee, eat or other services then california ave should not need to be "revitalized". perhaps it's because the bicyclists do not stop and support the businesses but use california ave as a straight roadway to go to other places. why don't you did a survey with the residents and merchants and ask if 500 a day sounds right??

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2011 at 9:38 pm

> “Opposers will need to come up with equally firm studies to refute the analysis instead of conjectures and anecdotes.”

This opposer is opposed to spending money frivolously, regardless of what the studies show. There is no NEED for this project.

> “How are bike lanes going to make bicyclists safer? They're just painted lines on portions of the street, which can be used by bikes AND cars.”

Sharrows are NOT bike lanes. They can be used by bikes and cars. Real bike lanes are only for bicycles, except when cars use them to make a left turn 200 feet before a corner.

Evergreen Park neighbor wrote: “At monday's meeting the city council explicitly asked staff to study increasing the width of the sidewalks so it may still yet happen.”

You missed my point, which is why did the council wait until AFTER the plan was presented to tell staff to widen the sidewalks. In any case, the sidewalks don’t NEED to be widened. They are already wider than sidewalks on University.

> “…more pedestrians is a good thing even if it means slowing down cars IMHO.”

Who says there will be more pedestrians? How many people walk to CA Ave.? How many people drive, park and then walk? Data, please.

Posted by Evergreen Park Neighbor, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 16, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Actually 500 bicyclist is quite believable, considering all the people who ride through the tunnel. Sitting at Starbucks in the morning I could easily see one every couple of minutes. Then there are all those people who ride through the tunnel.

Lots of people walk from surrounding business and neighborhoods during lunch hours. There are some big companies across El Camino.

Posted by alice m., a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 16, 2011 at 11:07 pm

i find it kinda of funny that the agenda item immediately before california ave proposal authorized the hiring of ANOTHER consultant to inform the Council of the impact of all the transit reduction (buses & trains) and then approve the cal ave project to enhance the use of the reduced transit services. am i the only one who thinks this is bizarre!

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 17, 2011 at 7:40 am

Cars are required by law to merge into bike lanes when turning right, and they must cross them to get into and out of parking places. In an area with heavy parking and turnover the bike lanes would have lots of cars in them, so they would not provide much benefit. With diagonal parking, bicyclists should ride well away from the backs of the parked cars, and a painted bike lane would lead them to ride too close to the parked cars. A bike lane is not advisable in this situation, and the City engineers know this. Sharrows are a better choice.

Posted by Evergreen Park Neighbor, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 17, 2011 at 7:42 am


There is no substitute for actually being there. Actually the agenda item you mentioned was two items before Cal Ave discussion. The consultant is to be hired to work on a rail study corridor, in coordination with neighboring communities about development of the rail corridor. The possible reductions relates to the probable likelihood that HSR will not happen and caltrain budget woes. These are short term. Other transit modes will increase.

If one set the time horizon to one to three decades it's pretty clear car use will decrease and transit must increase. We will soon be on the backside of Hubbert's curve --- i.e. we are running out of oil. The oil companies are already betting on this. We owe our children and leave them nice amenities that are good for walking and biking.

Of course, most of us will be long gone so we could just ignore the problem.

Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Feb 17, 2011 at 9:43 am

I guess nobody in charge of this proposed project has ever been on streets like University Ave, etc. Traffic backs up often when somebody is waiting for a car to back out of a parking spot. Or when somebody see's somebody putting bags in their trunk and waits for them to get in their vehicle and back out to take that spot.
At least now people wanting to continue down Cal ave can move to lane on left and continue down cal ave.
People looking for address's also drive super slow while looking delaying normal traffic flow.
Cal ave is a access to a train station, ie buses use this street.
As much as some people want them to cars are not going away. reducing the number of traffic lanes will not reduce the number of cars. Population is going up not down last time I checked.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 17, 2011 at 12:32 pm

> “If one set the time horizon to one to three decades it's pretty clear car use will decrease and transit must increase…. we are running out of oil.

We already have electric cars, so it’s not at all “clear” that car use will decrease.

There will likely be an increase in car traffic based on the Stanford Hospital expansion, ABAG-driven dense housing units, cuts in Caltrain and VTA service, more kids and more schools.

Consider recent news items:

The San Mateo County Times reports a new study shows that 47-mile-long roadway could support 100,000 more homes and 250,000 more jobs in the coming decades.

Lennar Homes and Jeffrey Warmoth propose to redevelop the [Los Altos Nursery/Marie Callender] property, adding a 5,189-square-foot retail building … and 76 two- and three-story attached housing units.

The plan proposed for the northeast corner of El Camino and San Antonio Road includes 350 new multifamily residential units; nearly 10,000 square feet of retail or office space, including a new 65,000-square-foot Safeway and a 17,200-square-foot Rite Aid; underground parking; and a linear park.

The Mountain View City Council voted unanimously last Tuesday to allow two large apartment building projects to move through the city's planning process, potentially adding 535 homes to the city.

Girls' Middle School seeks move to Palo Alto

Caltrain announced that it may have to cut $30 million from its $100 million annual budget because of potentially huge cutbacks in subsidies from other transit agencies. That would mean "drastic" cuts in the Peninsula commute service, on top of existing cutbacks.

Posted by mj, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 18, 2011 at 1:06 pm

I hope all those bicycle and pedestrian supporters are willing to keep walking and biking down to California to support the merchants and restaurants now it is a typical wet winter's day. Or tonight when it is a typical wet winter's evening.

Posted by Agree with Jake, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Jake ~

I agree with your common sense observations.

Posted by Agree with mj, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2011 at 10:37 pm

mj ~

I also agree with you. No matter how much we want our town to be bike-friendly, bicycles cannot replace cars given poor weather and darkness of night.

But common sense does not drive many of the decisions in this town, it seems.

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