To: Planning and Transportation Commission, City of Palo Alto
Subject: First-year review of Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program,
Recommendation #1: Increase strictness of qualifying criteria
From: Douglas Moran
790 Matadero Avenue, Palo Alto
Date: June 10, 2002

The recommendation to tighten the qualifying criteria seems to be partly based on faulty assumptions. They ignore that some streets are being used in ways for which they were not designed and that traffic calming can be the best tool to mitigate subsequent problems on such streets.

Five of the 30 applications for traffic calming involve streets in Barron Park. Many of our streets do not have sidewalks, as you well know, and pedestrian safety is a significant part of each of these requests. Each of these is near to an elementary school and/or a preschool, or on a major route to one. Under the recommended changes, hazardous situations would no longer count, only accidents: 6 children hit in a 3-year period, or one killed, would be the threshold. And this would satisfy only one of the two required criteria. Clearly this is not what is intended.

To illustrate the importance of special circumstances in evaluating candidates, let me use Matadero, the street I live on, as an example, but many of the same problems apply to other streets in Barron Park.

The design of Matadero is that of a "local" street, but it has been legitimately forced into the role of a "collector" street, and is officially classified as such. Its traffic volume significantly exceeds the threshold for traffic calming on a "local" street, but falls short for a "collector." In determining whether traffic volume is a potential problem, isn't it the design of the street that is important, not its classification?

Similarly, the criteria for speeding being a problem should allow for special circumstances. On the typical collector street, side streets moderate the speed of through traffic, both by their presence and the slower speeds of the entering and exiting vehicles. Matadero has a 2000 foot stretch with no such interruptions, all but encouraging through traffic to accelerate to well above the speed that the street was designed to handle safely. It ends in a tight narrow blind curve. A speed cushion that was tuned to the speed limit would do much to reduce this problem, but under the recommended criteria, it is unlikely to qualify for such.

Matadero has not been resurfaced since long before we joined the City, and that was 26 years ago. Resurfacing of the western segment is scheduled for this summer, and based on experience, we expect speeds to increase. One would like the process to be proactive in such situations, but it has so many built in delays that it would be hard to classify it as even being reactive.

The original criteria related to pedestrian safety were easily measured ones ("1000 feet from ..."), but were not good measures of actual problems. Continuing with the example of Matadero, it carries far more than just vehicles:

All this occurs on a street that will have two 10-foot traffic lanes between valley gutters with NO parking strip and of course no sidewalks. Yet this will NOT be a factor in determining what magnitude of speeding warrants traffic calming.

The criteria should allow for including other impacts, especially ones related to the Comprehensive Plan and other City policies, even though this makes ranking competing projects more difficult. The section of Matadero from El Camino to Josina was scheduled for resurfacing this year, but that had to be postponed because the right-of-way is so narrow and complex that, within the available time, staff could not produce a plan that provided for pedestrian and bicyclist safety. The traffic light on El Camino makes this the prime crossing point for children from the northern Ventura neighborhood going to the Elementary School, and it was part of the plans from Safe Routes to Schools. Yet, as you can see in the staff report, this segment fails to qualify for traffic calming under even the original, looser criteria.

And it is not just children: many adult residents report being uncomfortable walking this segment. Note that these are not timid souls: a City Utilities worker told me that this is one of the most dangerous places he works, and that he is always prepared to "scamper" to avoid being hit. So residents use their cars to go shopping. And since parking is often difficult at the nearby stretch of El Camino, they wind up going to more distant merchants. So traffic problems beget more traffic. Ripple effects such as these should be part of the considerations of where traffic calming is needed and how it is prioritized.

I recognize that there is a need to bring the number of applications into better balance with the available budget, but a reduced set of easily measured criteria is NOT the answer.