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By Diana Diamond

Are city officials cluttering up our streets?

Uploaded: Aug 28, 2018

Do you know that Palo Alto has a “Complete Streets” program? Until last week, I hadn’t heard this term. But council members adopted this complete street policy back in 2015, and city staff is well on its way to cluttering up our roads in town.

Think of the newly installed street “furniture” on Ross Road. The onslaught of bulbouts, median strips, a roundabout, green painted sharrows, etc. are being replicated on other streets in town, most notably Arastradero Road.

According to Smart Growth America, “By adopting a Complete Streets policy, communities direct their transportation planners and engineers to routinely design and operate the entire right of way to enable safe access for all users …
“There is no singular design prescription for Complete Streets; each one is unique and responds to its community context. A complete street may include: sidewalks, bike lanes (or wide paved shoulders), special bus lanes, comfortable and accessible public transportation stops, frequent and safe crossing opportunities, median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, curb extensions, narrower travel lanes, roundabouts, and more.”

Sure seems like the transportation staff went overboard in planning its first complete street -- Ross Road. While Joshuah Mello, chief transportation official, declares Ross makes everyone safer and also accommodates buses, I’ve been told some people and buses are having trouble with the new $1 milllion-plus-plus redesign. All in all, enacting this complete streets policy will cost $10 million (2015 predictions).
And now comparable work has been started on Arastradero Road. Joe Hirsch, a Palo Alto resident who lives just off this east-west arterial, is alarmed at what he sees happening. He is most concerned about the bulbouts – those rounded sidewalk corner extensions that are there to slow traffic and to permit pedestrians to cross streets theoretically more safely. Seven will be constructed on Arastradero. Hirsch told the council, “They are large, they decrease the width of the entrances to each of those seven [side streets, forcing passing cars closer together, potentially leaving the rear end of a car out in Arastradero where rear-end collisions might happen.”

In other words, an accident waiting to happen.

I am certainly not against making our roads safer for everyone, including motorists. But Ross Road changes have their problems – like forcing bikes and cars into the same lane in places. Is the city going overboard in its zeal to design complete streets? Many people I’ve talked to wonder what is really being accomplished – and if cars are given as much consideration as bikes.

I asked Mello if there is any chance of changing the city’s mind, given resulting residential anger over Ross. He told me two surveys of residents will be conducted this fall, and then will be analyzed, with the results and staff recommendations going to the council afterward. Until the council decides anything, there will be no changes. By then, the Arastradero work will probably be all finished.

And next on the list? Mello said the city plans to put in bike lanes on Embarcadero Road between Bryant Street and El Camino. If can’t help wonder if bike lanes are going to fit in this area, including at the underpass. The street already has narrow lanes, and backups occur morning, noon and early evening.

While the idea of complete streets probably sounded perfectly fine to the council when first presented three years ago, concepts don’t always turn out perfectly in reality. This is one project that the council should closely follow, because the changes will dramatically affect a number of streets in our community for years to come.