News - July 28, 2010

Traffic signal may be installed near Hillview Middle School

by Renee Batti

A traffic light could be in the future at Santa Cruz and Elder avenues, in front of Hillview Middle School, after the Menlo Park City Council directed city staff to begin talks with the school district about funding a signal there.

In taking the step at its July 20 meeting, the council emphasized that it expects the Menlo Park City School District to share the estimated $240,000 cost of the signal, which would be installed to help mitigate the traffic impacts of the school's campus expansion, which is in progress, and enrollment increase to about 975 students in 2016 from the current 682.

The council heard from residents who live near the school and oppose the traffic signal. They said it will make the already difficult situation of accessing Santa Cruz Avenue from their driveways or side streets even worse. A number of those residents sent e-mails to the council and spoke at the meeting, urging the council to consider alternative measures to deal with the expected increase in traffic.

Some residents advocate banning left turns from Elder onto Santa Cruz during school pick-up and drop-off hours, and not allowing left turns from the school driveway on Elder toward Santa Cruz, installing curbing at that location if necessary.

Chip Taylor, the city's transportation manager, opposed the left-turn bans, however, and told the council that they "would merely shift the (traffic) impact" to Valparaiso Avenue and Politzer Drive.

Mr. Taylor said the proposed signal would improve traffic flow on the busy street; it would "create traffic platoons and provide gaps in traffic along Santa Cruz Avenue, allowing easier movements out of the side streets," according to the staff report.

The intersection timing would be operated by video traffic-detection controls, he said, and would be adjusted for the school's schedule.

Councilman Heyward Robinson acknowledged nearby residents' concerns, but said, "If we do this project correctly, we can make it better" for the school's neighbors.

Councilman John Boyle joined the council majority in authorizing the staff to negotiate with the school district, but said that his final vote on installing the signal "will be contingent on an equitable split (in costs) with the school district."

District Superintendent Ken Ranella said that the school board has made no commitment of funds, but "there's been discussion about some level of contribution" the district would consider making toward the cost of the signal. "If we're causing a problem (with the campus expansion project), we want to contribute and be good neighbors," he said.

The city is also recommending that the existing signal-controlled pedestrian crosswalk in front of the school be removed, and that a new, in-pavement-lighted crosswalk be installed at the Santa Cruz Avenue-Olive Street intersection. The estimated $30,000 cost of the crosswalk could be funded through a Safe Routes to School grant, according to the staff report.

The council approved pursuing the matter with the school district on a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Andy Cohen opposed.


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