Motorists tend to find paths of least resistance, those combinations of streets and intersections that make for the most efficient travel between point A and point B.
Take Corte Madera Road in Portola Valley, as some people apparently do even though they don't live in that neighborhood. The road is narrow but offers a quiet street to transport students to and from Corte Madera and Ormondale schools. The route bypasses the major intersection at Alpine and Portola roads, the primary route between these schools.
Parents who live along Corte Madera Road don't like this cutting through, and the Town Council heard from them at its March 12 meeting. They implored the council to take steps to slow or stop this traffic. The road has no sidewalks and students walk the road twice a day. The parents recounted their efforts to caution motorists, some of whom react heedlessly despite many encounters, including conversations with sheriff's deputies, parents said.
Staff presented an alternative view of the situation. Traffic data collected by the Bicycle, Pedestrian & Traffic Safety Committee shows "low volume and low speeds" on Corte Madera Road. The report, a year in the making, did recommend increasing traffic enforcement, trimming vegetation in the right-of-way, re-striping the roadway, discouraging roadside parking, and temporary signs. A roadside trail would be complicated by property lines and funding.
"Staff strongly supports the BPTS Committee's recommendations and suggestions," Town Manager Nick Pegueros said in a report to the council.
Faced with seemingly credible arguments from both sides, the council said it would need more data. A consensus seemed to form on commissioning a professional traffic study -- an option to be included in an upcoming staff report. Three council members -- Jeff Aalfs, Craig Hughes and John Richards -- also expressed support for an interim step: signs on Alpine and Portola roads where they intersect with Corte Madera Road prohibiting right turns onto Corte Madera. The restrictions would be in effect twice a day for brief periods at the start and end of the school day.
Mr. Aalfs asked Public Works Director Howard Young whether the town could restrict traffic on Corte Madera Road.
Public streets should be accessible to all, Mr. Young replied. "At this point, what does closing the street solve?" he asked. Would it compound the problem? Would it set a precedent for other neighborhoods? What about enforcement? "It's going to be very hard to enforce," he said. "Certainly those streets serve the entire community, not just the neighborhood."
Mr. Pegueros elaborated in an email. "We can't have a deputy stationed at every sign," he said. "If the four (or) five drivers that are problematic haven't responded to outreach by the Sheriff's Office and pleas from parents as reported by the Corte Madera residents, I suspect that they will risk getting caught for violating no-turn signs if it meant they could get to wherever they're going just a little faster."
A discussion on traffic calming may be called for, he added.
Residents were looking for any remedial action, including signs restricting right turns on Corte Madera Road.
Andy Byrne took issue with putting quantitative data ahead of qualitative. "I'd hate for us to be thinking, 'Let's wait for the quantitative data' and a kid gets hurt."
The committee's conclusions are "not helpful," Andy Hutchinson said. "Over the last couple of years, speeding and bad driving have just gotten so bad, I'm driving my kids or walking (with) them," she said. "It's not just that speeds are too fast. It's that speeds are too fast for that area."
Resident Cathy Carlson told the council that if her daughter gives herself fewer than 20 minutes to walk to school, she isn't allowed to walk. Parents who drive should also give themselves adequate time, she said. "It is way too dangerous between 7 and 8 a.m.," she said. "Literally, these parents are not responsible and we need to do something."
Neighbors watch in particular for a black vehicle, she said. Asked later to elaborate, Ms. Hutchinson called out three vehicles: two Mercedes Benzes, one black and one light blue, and a dark blue van.
If and when the council takes action, members Jeff Aalfs and John Richards would likely recuse themselves because they live in the neighborhood. Councilwoman Maryann Moise Derwin was not present for the March 12 meeting.