Fixes to dangerous intersection get green light | February 25, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 25, 2011

Fixes to dangerous intersection get green light

City to start reconstruction of Stanford Avenue at El Camino Real in March

by Sue Dremann

When the signal light turns green at El Camino Real and Stanford Avenue in Palo Alto, pedestrians step off the curb and into the most dangerous intersection along El Camino in Palo Alto.

Crossing west towards Stanford University, walkers and bicyclists must keep an eye on harried drivers turning right off of El Camino and on the signal lights that change while even brisk walkers are only a quarter of the way across the "Royal Road's" six lanes.

Pedestrians approach the narrow median strip and consider their options: Should they wait on the cement perch as cars whiz by or make a mad dash across the remaining lanes to reach the safety of the "pork chop" island?

Even the triangular island poses a dilemma: when to cross to the sidewalk, as car drivers — not regulated by a right-turn light — sometimes don't see pedestrians and bicyclists.

Between 1999 and 2009, 105 accidents occurred at the intersection; 38 people were injured, including six bicyclists and one pedestrian, according to police reports. The intersection is an important school route, according to the city, serving Stanford University and Escondido Elementary School students.

Next week, $1.3 million worth of safety improvements will begin, aimed at reining in the risk, city officials said.

Construction will include new lighting; shorter, straighter, colored crosswalks; pedestrian-controlled signaling and other features.

Crews are expected to break ground next week and temporary striping will be laid down, city Transportation Engineer Shahla Yazdy said. The work is planned to span seven months.

A contractor, Pavex Construction, will do the work, and the city has hired a construction manager to assist the Public Works department. City inspectors and engineers will oversee the project, she said.

The island and right-turn lane from Stanford to El Camino, considered the main reasons the intersection is so dangerous, will be altered, Yazdy said. The island will be removed and signal controllers for pedestrians crossing Stanford both directions will be added, she said.

The narrow El Camino median will be widened to an 8-foot-wide pedestrian safety refuge. Colored concrete bulb-outs will be added to each corner. Along with wider sidewalks, they will shorten the pedestrian crossings.

There will be new benches, bike racks, landscaping and trees to contribute to the feeling of a "grand boulevard" that's been planned for El Camino throughout the Peninsula.

Residents who frequent the intersection and some business employees said Wednesday they approve of the changes.

The current V-shaped crosswalk and pork-chop island don't afford a clear view for drivers, according to Jesus Zavala, an employee at The Bike Connection.

"Cars turning south onto El Camino have issues with not seeing pedestrians. Around December, a student on a bicycle was struck by a vehicle at Stanford Avenue. A customer ran out and took the kid out of the street before a second car hit him," he said.

Some patrons sipping lattes at Starbucks had a clear view of the intersection on Wednesday afternoon.

"I've always been confused why the crosswalk is a V," Stanford student Caleb Kruse said, noting that it is difficult for drivers to see pedestrians and bicyclists. And "coming north toward Stanford Avenue, there's no easy way to get across."

Lupe Garcia and his daughter, Illiana, were walking that section of El Camino late Wednesday afternoon. Since the 1990s, when Garcia was a Stanford University graduate student, he has been concerned about the idiosyncratic signal light at the west side of Stanford Avenue, he said.

"It doesn't seem like the light is in command. It changes colors at odd times. The light is not turned toward pedestrians or drivers," he said.

Yazdy said the signal poles will be replaced with pedestrian countdown signals during the construction phase, but Caltrans will maintain the current signaling for the time being.

According to the city's 2003 El Camino Master Plan study, intersection signals across El Camino at Stanford provide only 70 percent of the desired time to cross.

"After the project is completed, we will propose to Caltrans to change the signal timing," she said.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at


Posted by Traffic-Engineering==Institutional Fraud, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2011 at 10:03 am

> The goal is to slow traffic down and make the intersection
> safer and more attractive for pedestrians and bicyclists

Since this idea was first proposed, has anyone generated a list of accidents at this location? If not, then how is the $1.3M make this location "safer" without a valid historical baseline to work from?

Posted by Alice Smith, a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 22, 2011 at 10:26 am

Frankly, i would rather fix it than to have someone die, such as happened in Atherton, recently.

Another dangerous section of El Camino is at Arastradero Road where the bike lanes vanish, the crossing guards attend, but only during the two school times, though bikers cross this area 24/7. There are many children and elderly moving across these streets. I would rather err on the conserving side.

Posted by Izzy, a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2011 at 10:43 am

For those who don't know exactly where this is, here's a link to a map: Web Link

Posted by Busy intersection???, a resident of Stanford
on Feb 22, 2011 at 10:44 am

Another example of College Terrace getting whatever they want. Busiest and most dangerous?? I could think of plenty of intersections that are busier and just as dangerous. But I guess College Terrace has to get something after the "trauma" of the Facebook shuttles and the "beloved" JJ&Z leaving.

Posted by Gail, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2011 at 10:57 am

Traffic-fraud. I agree with your questions. After this another grant that will make California Ave. safer, etc... I didn't know there was an out pour of safety issues on these streets. Palo Alto wastes taxpayers dollars, just read POST's editorial last week.

Posted by Not a college Terrace resident, a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2011 at 10:59 am

Actually, the data supports the crash rate claim. This is a heavily used intersection for all modes of transportation--as is the Arastradero/El Camino intersection. They both are school and work commute routes that must serve all road users better. These intersections are also unsafe for motorists. The intersectios NEEDS this work. The project was supported by plenty of people outside of College Terrace neighborhood who use the intersection to get to school and to work. Did you go to the hearings? Did you read the staff report? Judging from your ill-informed comments, I'd bet not.

This is a terrific project...a long-time coming.

Posted by bicyclist, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 22, 2011 at 11:09 am

"The goal is to slow traffic down..."

El Camino is a thoroughfare. Slowing traffic down will lead to decreased throughput and frustrated drivers. Doesn't sound like a very safe combination.

Posted by Busy intersection???, a resident of Stanford
on Feb 22, 2011 at 11:13 am

"El Camino is a thoroughfare. Slowing traffic down will lead to decreased throughput and frustrated drivers."
Haven't you heard? The goal of the city is to frustrate drivers so that they will abandon their cars and walk, bike or take public transportation. that is why Arastradero is being narrowed, as well as California Avenue. You should know by now that there is "too much traffic in Palo Alto" and "even one additional car trip into the city is too many".

Posted by accidents, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 22, 2011 at 11:22 am

The Mercury-News had an article last year saying that Stanford Ave & El Camino had some of the highest numbers of car vs. pedestrian and car vs. bicycle crashes in all of Santa Clara County. Lots of cars run red lights here (in multiple directions) and the very wide street crossing leaves pedestrians vulnerable for a long period of time.

Posted by Member, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 22, 2011 at 11:24 am

forcing folks out of there cars but to where? not everyone can ride a bike or are close enough to destination points to walk. people would take public transportation if there was a good reliable pubic transport system... take a look at stanford, they have a great free transport system, the Marguerite, but you've got to get to it to use it. most likely this is irrelevant to the university. doesn't much matter how you get to campus as long as you just get close and don't drive on to it...

Posted by Busy intersection???, a resident of Stanford
on Feb 22, 2011 at 11:28 am

"Lots of cars run red lights here (in multiple directions) and the very wide street crossing leaves pedestrians vulnerable for a long period of time."
I drive by this intersection many times early in the AM (before 6AM) on El Camino. With no traffic or pedestrians waiting on Stanford Ave, the lights on El Camino will trun red and will sit there for 2-3 minutes waiting for the light to turn green again. This light has a very long cycle. One thing I did notice is that there is no dedicated turn arrow for cars coming on Stanford. Is this street really any wider than other part sof El Camino in Palo Alto?

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2011 at 11:59 am

I believe that the intent is primarily to slow down **turning** traffic, not traffic going straight on El Camino. The wide sweeping turns on the west side encourage unsafely fast turns at the moment.

This project began years ago, before Facebook moved from downtown to College Terrace.

Posted by Disappointed, a resident of Meadow Park
on Feb 22, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Just another perk for North Palo Alto and College Terrace. When is the City going to complete San Antonio Road so the trucks don't keep using Charleston to avoid the bumps and over-hanging trees on San Antonio.

Our City's administration has it's priorities all wrong.

Posted by Dan, a resident of Southgate
on Feb 22, 2011 at 12:41 pm

With the possibly insurmountable fiscal and infrastructure shortfalls the US faces, how does a Federal "transportation grant" end up as:

"...larger sidewalks, and new seats, trees, benches and lighting fixtures..."

Meanwhile....Caltrain can't afford to run their trains. Does anyone else realize that "grants" aren't actually free money? Maybe Palo Alto should consider doing something truly altruistic: stop applying for all these grants. We're not what they call a "disadvantaged community", so why do we apply for grants for this, Cal Ave train station beautification, LED streetlights, and neighborly comparison of electricity usage?

Posted by mj, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 22, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Gail, Busy Intersection, Donald,

Can one of you, or anyone else, please inform us what involvement College Terrace residents have had in the redesign of the El Camino/Stanford intersection?

I live in College Terrace and haven't heard anything about the College Terrace residents ever being consulted or having anything to do with this project at all. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Posted by robit noops, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 22, 2011 at 4:03 pm

I dont know where that picture is from, but it sure isnt from Stanford Avenue. Personally, I almost got hit by 2 cars crossing this street the day before yesterday, and people making left hand turns from Stanford ave to El Camino usually don't stop for through traffic. Starbucks also causes frequent traffic related problems.

As far as I am concerned this intersection is not a part of college terrace. They can stick to screwing up California Avenue.

Posted by robit noops, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 22, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Wow. I just looked at the attached blueprint, and this looks like a total waste of money. Doing absolutely nothing, but grabbing a transportation grant to do some landscaping for the new Stanford housing.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2011 at 4:14 pm

A prominent member of your community works in the Transportation Department.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Dan, you are absolutely right. The project, like California Ave., is the wrong way to spend scarce funds.

Without these projects and grants, would we really need so many people in the transportation department?

The 1998 transportation plan, which is part of the comp plan, says
“When constructing or modifying roadways, plan for usage of the roadway space by ALL users, including motor vehicles, transit vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians.”

BUT, then goes on to say: “Evaluate smoothing and SLOWING traffic flow in commercial areas by reducing through-traffic lanes and trading the area for improved turning lanes, landscaping, and bicycle lanes.” (My emphasis added).

It’s pretty clear that the city’s goal is to make drivers suffer, in spite of the fact that all the new housing and the Stanford expansion will create more car traffic.

The more drivers get frustrated on the choked arterials, the more they will take short cuts through residential streets.

Posted by Liberty, a resident of University South
on Feb 22, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Why does the United States federal government have an interest in the condition of the sidewalks of one intersection in Palo Alto? Why should people in Maine, Kentucky, and every other state pay for benches on our sidewalks? If this is worth $1.3M to us, we should reject the grant and pay for it ourselves.

Posted by busyjean, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 22, 2011 at 4:58 pm

This is such a busy intersection with children and adults crossing on foot and bicyclists galore, elementary through college. Adding to the frenzy are cars going west to east and east to west, some making left turns, others going straight, many not signaling their intent. On certain weekdays around 8:00 am, I make a left turn from Stanford Avenue onto El Camino headed south and there's too much activity to keep track of. I am so careful, yet I worry each time I make the left turn that I have missed someone or something.

I am so happy plans are underway to make this intersection safer.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 22, 2011 at 5:03 pm

I recently had to drive to an event in this neighborhood and used my GPS to find the address. Big Joke. The GPS tried to take me through street after street with barriers. I eventually found the address, but had an even harder time trying to find my way out. I needed to ask twice for direcetions.

This and other neighborhoods have no idea that most of the cars visiting them or their neighbors drive round far longer because of these barriers and the frustration they feel can make them less vigilant because they are too busy looking for a way out!

Posted by who cares, a resident of Triple El
on Feb 22, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Oh Well, it's only $1.3 million... Kinda funny nothing was mentioned about increased traffic (auto, bike, pedestrian)in the environmental impact report or traffic studies that made this "dangerous" intersection even more "dangerous" when Stanford built new housing on Stanford Ave. Guess the city could have required Stanford to ponie up money for the intersection improvement, but what the heck, let federal and state taxpayers fix problems created by incompetent local politicians and city management. What a pity.

Posted by Mark, a resident of University South
on Feb 22, 2011 at 7:17 pm

I'm also one of the people who is a little surprised to read that this was considered a particuarly dangerous intersection. I would have thought that the El Camino/Embarcadero-Galvez intersection was more dangerous.

Posted by accidents, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 22, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Would it be cheaper for the city to post a couple of cops at this intersection every day during rush hour to bust the red light runners? In the long run, maybe not. The city cannot keep the money from these citations. The city does have a responsibility to improve safety at known dangerous road locations. Unfortunately, in the vast majority of crashes at this intersection, the innocent person is the one getting hurt (i.e. the pedestrian in the crosswalk with the green light).

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2011 at 8:20 pm

I can't believe that people are complaining that the city is working to improve one of the most dangerous intersections in the whole county. The complaints should be about it taking so long.

Posted by Still laughing, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 22, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Donald, you have been listening to the college terrace/there is took much traffic in the city/cars are evil gang for too long. One of the "most dangerous intersections" in the county. Only in palo alto

Posted by, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Please also consider installing a traffic light at the intersection
of the south and north bound access ramps from Alma to Oregon Expressway going west. Getting on to Oregon Expressway going west is challenging and at least occasionally results in a low impact rear end accident between those coming off the Alma ramp and getting on Oregon Expressway going west. I have reported this intersection to the transportation folks at PA City Hall, but have not heard of any analysis or agreement that this intersection is not well designed and needs a traffic light.

Posted by What a joke, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 23, 2011 at 2:13 am

Really? Busiest/most dangerous intersection? If I didn't have a calendar right next to me, I'd swear it was April Fools Day.

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2011 at 7:11 am

From the San Jose Mercury News on March 19, 2008:

And a Mercury News analysis of more than 10 years of traffic data from the California Highway Patrol points out that 16 percent of crashes -- although not necessarily fatalities -- happen on six stretches of road, places where both drivers and riders need to play it safe. They are: El Camino Real near Stanford Avenue, Palo Alto, nine crashes...

Posted by Busy intersection???, a resident of Stanford
on Feb 23, 2011 at 8:11 am

Donald, please provide a link to the whole story.
Thanks, Pat, for your post. Many people do not realize that the city's goal is to frustrate drivers--yet they want shoppers and visitors--maybe they need to start a "Bike/Walk but do not drive to Palo Alto" campaign

Posted by Jon, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 23, 2011 at 8:41 am

Hey, if you have a 200-hp car that really accelerates, then it's no fair when streets are modified to slow traffic. Get those slowpokes off the road: don't they know I'm late for a super important meeting, yoga class, real estate deal, and a sale at Bloomie's?

Posted by katie, a resident of Stanford
on Feb 23, 2011 at 10:03 am

I use this intersection every day and every day I wish the city would put a stop sign at the Starbucks exit because people rocket out of that parking lot into busy traffic. This exit is right where Stanford Ave broadens a bit for cars making a right turn onto ECR. I never assume that I have the right of way at that intersection - actually driving on the road - because of the cars pulling out of Starbucks.

Posted by CJ, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 23, 2011 at 11:02 am

Whether this is the most dangerous intersection or the second most dangerous is really not the point. There are so many children on bikes crossing this intersection in both directions, and crazy drivers darting in and out of Starbucks and running the red lights. I have seen some very close calls, and I have also seen an ambulance tending bike riders down twice in the last six months. I would like everyone to slow down all along the El Camino corridor, especially when it means trying to race through a yellow or red light. El Camino and Embarcadero is also dangersous, as is Arastradero. Instead of arguing about whether it is really bad, can't we all do our best to make the whole section safer for the people travling on foot and bike?

Posted by Midtown Guy, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Another very dangerous intersection rivals this: in Midtown, the crossing of Middlefield and Colorado.

Cars and trucks RIP through this intersection at 40+ mph, and pedestrians standing at one of the four corners are literally a foot to 1 1/2 feet away from huge SUV's blasting by.

I've been afraid enough to stand in the middle of the sidewalk, away from the edge, yet I still feel unprotected. Kids with bicycles going to or coming from school (Jordan, El Carmelo); families going to Baskin Robbins; elderly going to Safeway; friends meeting at the corner Starbucks-- all desireable activity, but the Middlefield "Expressway" is a dozen accidents waiting to happen.

Posted by FocusedDriver, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Seems to me that this money would be better spent on training drivers how to operate their vehicles and enforcing safe driving laws. Why must the government spend oodles iof money to idiot-proof every interesection while drivers are allowed to sail around town, chatting on cell phones, sipping Starbucks at the wheel. Eliminating the lackadaisical style of driving would be a better investment for safety all over the city, not just at this location.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2011 at 1:52 pm

One of the reasons drivers run red lights is because (1) lights are so long, (2) traffic is congested and (3) they know they can get away with it.

The more frustrated they are, the more chances they'll take.

Why are there no traffic patrols handing out tickets and making money for the city? Nothing deters speeders and red-light runners more than knowing there's a high probability they'll get caught.

Posted by who cares, a resident of Triple El
on Feb 23, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Guess it doesn't matter what the public wants as discussed in the multiple posts above. The project moves forward with guaranteed federal funding and the federal budget goes $1.3 million more in debt. Oh well, it's only $1.3 million. Good luck to our kids to pay off our wish list projects. Thanks also to Stanford and city management for passing this debt along at no cost to themselves.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2011 at 3:59 pm

pat says: "Why are there no traffic patrols" due to budget cuts they've been discontinued. Also, challenge a speeding ticket in Traffic Court, and you'll be let off - just too hard to prove with the 85th percentile law.

Posted by Grantmethis, a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2011 at 12:11 am

California pays more to the Federal government than we get back. Money we don't get just goes to Texas or somewhere.

Posted by Louise, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 24, 2011 at 12:24 am

There's a key point that Pat and all the usual snide commenters who attack this project as evidence of the city's "goal to frustrate drivers" seem to be clueless about:

Since El Camino Real is a state highway, any proposed changes must go through Caltrans. If these safety improvements were to impact travel times for through drivers on El Camino Real, Caltrans would not have approved them. Period.

In fact, by straightening out the crosswalks and squaring the curbs, the minimum crossing times needed for pedestrians to get across El Camino Real is shorter. Which means that the green times for the six lanes of motor vehicles can be several seconds longer. Which means that more cars can get through each green, not fewer.

Some people believe that any safety improvements are a zero sum game where drivers lose and bicyclists and pedestrians win. That's just not true, no matter what those like Pat and other potshot takers keep repeating.

Yes, those drivers who are used to exiting from El Camino onto Stanford Avenue at 40 mph will now have to slow down, as they should when entering a two lane residential street. But that's just using engineering to get the results that traffic enforcement (even if there were funds, which there are not) would never be able to achieve.

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