Almanac

News - August 20, 2014

Woodside School safety gets boost with upgraded crosswalks, path

by Dave Boyce

The safety of students getting to and from Woodside Elementary School has taken a giant step forward.

When school begins on Aug. 27, students will have a dedicated path along Woodside Road instead of having to mix it up with adult cyclists and drivers on a busy state highway. Lanes are narrower, to push drivers into slowing down. Bright pedestrian crossing lights now flash above the road, where drivers may have a harder time missing or ignoring them. The pavement is painted to warn drivers that they're approaching crosswalks.

Funding for the upgrades came from county and federal grants (a combined $215,000) and from the town's road fund (estimated at $205,000). The upgrades were recommended in an audit of school-route safety that the town commissioned. Plans for more safety-related improvements are in the works.

The new warning lights at the crosswalks in front of the school are on upright signs activated by pedestrian push-buttons. The lights have an "irregular flash pattern" similar to emergency flashers on police vehicles, according to a description by the Federal Highway Administration. "The novelty and unique nature of the stutter flash may elicit a greater response from drivers than traditional methods," the FHWA says.

A resident who lives near one of the crosswalks spoke positively of the change. "I must say that cars stopped to let me cross the street, which never happened before."

The lights that had been embedded in the road had been covered by paint at least once, Deputy Town Engineer Dong Nguyen told the Almanac.

The crosswalk signs at Albion Avenue have additional push-buttons to activate the warning lights, but higher up on the sign post for mounted equestrians, Mr. Nguyen said.

Other changes to the crosswalks include:

• More warnings for drivers. So-called shark's teeth — a row of white triangles painted on the pavement 20 feet to 30 feet ahead of a crosswalk — now alert traffic in both directions that there's a crosswalk ahead.

• Tighter lanes. At 11 feet wide, the two traffic lanes are now narrower by one foot in front of the school, Mr. Nguyen said. Drivers respond to narrower lanes by moving more slowly, traffic authorities say. The lanes were shifted to the south.

• North-side path. The two feet acquired by shifting and narrowing the traffic lanes were used to create a paved pedestrian walkway on the north side of Woodside Road, to the right of the bike lane.

• Less standing water. The crosswalks now have grates in the road to channel rainwater; they should be less prone to winter flooding.

• South-side path. Along the south side of the road between the crosswalks in front of the school — a distance of about 250 feet — is a new asphalt curb-like barrier that creates a protected walkway. Vehicle parking had been crowding out pedestrians.

More changes are ahead, including another crosswalk with beacons at the wooden fish sculpture across from the Roberts Market parking lot, and a path on the south side of Woodside Road between Roberts and the school, with a surface suitable for horses and strollers and with connections to school routes.

To pay for these additional improvements, the town has applied for $904,000 in federal funding.

Late start

The upgrades to the crosswalks in front of the school had been scheduled for the start of the 2013-14 school year, but the town was late in submitting the plan to the California Department of Transportation, which led to a year's delay. In the interim, the town modified its already approved plans to incorporate ideas from the school-route safety audit, such as the narrower traffic lanes.

The possibility that design changes would again delay the upgrades angered Mayor Dave Burow. "If this doesn't get done this year, I think we should all resign," he said in a March council meeting.

Some council members spoke of going it alone, but since Woodside Road is a state highway, the state's approval was essential. Federal reimbursement of up to $194,000 would be at stake, Public Works Director Mr. Nagengast said at the time.

The modified plan did get approved in time, in part because town staff asked Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, to intercede on Woodside's behalf.

"Rich Gordon's office helped us work with CalTrans to make sure we were able to get the project completed before school starts," Town Manager Kevin Bryant said in an email.

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