News


Menlo wants to stop traffic at Santa Cruz and Elder

$291,000 in traffic signal changes coming to intersection near school

The Menlo Park City School District and the city will each chip in $120,000 to add a new traffic light at the intersection of Santa Cruz Avenue and Elder Avenue, and take away a pedestrian signal in front of Hillview Middle School at that intersection.

The lighted, in-pavement pedestrian signal will shift to the corner of Santa Cruz Avenue and Olive Street.

The city will spend an additional $15,000 for staff time and $35,000 to create a right hand turn lane from Elder Avenue to Santa Cruz Avenue.

First things first, though. At the request of the City Council at its Feb. 15 meeting, Menlo Park will also spend $1,000 to create a "keep clear" zone in front of Atkinson Lane, a residential street that intersects Santa Cruz Avenue about a block from the school.

During the meeting, three Atkinson Lane residents expressed concern about traffic problems worsening if the city installs the traffic signal, saying it's already hard to pull in and out of their driveways.

"I do know that if we want to get into our driveway on Atkinson we're stopping all the traffic behind us and we can't go, because the cars are in front of our street," Anny Levin told the council. "Traffic is much more dangerous at that particular intersection than where it is now (on Seymour Lane)."

The residents asked the city to postpone the changes until it knows whether there truly is a problem with the current arrangement.

Data provided by the Menlo Park police department shows five accidents occurred at intersections around Hillview Middle School during the past two years. Three happened at the juncture of Santa Cruz Avenue and Olive Street, while Elder Avenue and Atkinson Lane had one each where those streets joined Santa Cruz Avenue.

Engineering services manager Chip Taylor told the council existing traffic issues would already benefit, and that waiting could make the problems worse. "The student population is going to slowly increase over the next four to five years," he said. "It takes time to get a signal in place, so if you wait until you see the problem, it could be six to eight months before you can get the signal installed."

The school district would like to see the changes made sooner rather than later since it plans to use bond money to pay for its half of the costs, Mr. Taylor said, and hopes to have construction start by May 2012.

The council unanimously approved the changes, as well as creating a "keep clear" zone as soon as possible.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by MP resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 22, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Dear reporter - HILLVIEW MIDDLE SCHOOL - NOT HILLCREST MIDDLE SCHOOL.
Please check your maps or phone directories before writing articles regarding Menlo Park.

Good news, long awaited safety measures for cars and students on Santa Cruz. I am sorry about the potential added inconvenience for Atkinson residents. Hopefully this cure will be better than the one our Engineering Services professionals attempted along Santa Cruz a few years ago.

Neighbors, keep an eye on the design.


Like this comment
Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 22, 2011 at 1:20 pm

The second reference to the school has been fixed. Thanks.


Like this comment
Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 22, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Almost $300k for traffic signal changes???!!??

I think before we start worrying about adding to city revenue, we should worry about waste at every level. From our city manager's shamefully high salary on down to traffic signals.

Someone is making out like a bandit... at OUR expense!


Like this comment
Posted by backsliding
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 22, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Lest we forget, the Hillview School expansion EIR traffic analysis dictated three (3) new traffic signals, at Elder/Olive/Avy intersections with Santa Cruz.
Typical fashion, city staff capitulated to the district's bullying tactics and ended up putting up half the tab for what should have been the district's legal responsibility per CEQA, payable in full from its substantial bond money reserve.
Just shows that council has little resolve to make developers pay for their increased traffic generation.


Like this comment
Posted by Sybille
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Feb 23, 2011 at 10:11 am

[Both my kids (now 15 and 21) went to Hillview.] This was long overdue.


Like this comment
Posted by spencer Shanson
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 23, 2011 at 10:43 am

I endorse Joanna's comment. How can anyone justify a cost of $300k for a new traffic signal? That doesn't even include the cost of powering and maintaining the lights. Though the signal may be necessary to improve safety, one has to question the cost of the system and the process involved where it is deemed "OK" to just pay the bill without asking questions about how the price is arrived at.

If it takes 5 work crew 5 days of 8 working hours to complete the work, and each crew member is paid a (generous!!) $100/hr, that's still only $20k in labor costs. Where does the extra cost come from?

Maybe we would be better off using a roundabout instead of a traffic light. It will cost less to install a roundabout, and a roundabout doesn't require electricity.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 23, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Spencer:

I suggest you have several contractors give you bids on the work involved in installing the traffic signals. Make sure they figure their labor at "prevailing wage" and you will have your answer. If it really costs that much the contractors should all be in the same ball park price wise. By the way, that's how public works contracts such as these are let.


Like this comment
Posted by Downtown business owner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 23, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Can a whole intersection of lights cost $240,000? Time for a review of how these items are bid, and who signed off on that cost?


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 23, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Downtown:

if that's what the bids came in at, yes, that's what it costs.


Like this comment
Posted by Spencer Shanson
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 23, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Menlo Voter:

If that's what the bids are, then you have to ask the question, Is it worth it? Are we really getting value for money here?

Can we really not find someone else to do the job at a more reasonable cost? It's not like the city is flush with cash.

When we simply say "OK, that's what it costs" then we end up with spiraling cost increases. Ever wonder why our health care costs keep going up as much as they do? It's because we keep saying "well, that's the price so we have to pay it".


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 24, 2011 at 6:57 am

Spencer:

I'm sorry, but you just don't know what you're talking about. The construction industry is seriously depressed. Construction companies are bidding work at next to no margin just to try to stay in business. Any one doing construction today is getting value like no other time in recent history. Beleive me, whatever prices they finally end up with for these signals it will be the best pricing we will see for a long time. Commercial construction is actually up right now as large companies see that they can get things done cheaply now. Safeway, for example, has at least five new stores under construction and at least that many more being renovated in the bay area. It's attributable to the depressed costs and low bids they are receiving.


Like this comment
Posted by Spencer Shanson
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 24, 2011 at 10:41 am

Menlo Voter:

Sorry, but I just don't see how $300k is a "low bid" for a traffic light. Can anyone provide a breakdown of those costs?

And even if that were the lowest possible, most reasonable bid the city could possibly get, then is that the most important thing to be spending city money on today? I just don't see it.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 24, 2011 at 11:00 am

Spencer:

I think if you had a child attending Hillview you would probably feel spending the $300,000 was very worthwhile.


Like this comment
Posted by afdsafsda
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 24, 2011 at 1:44 pm

they should just remove the crosswalk so people don't aren't tempted to cross such a major traffic artery


Like this comment
Posted by school parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I do have a child at Hillview and I think this is a ridiculous amount of money. (Maybe I should get into the traffic signal business myself?) Apart from the light, how does it cost $35k to paint a right turn lane on Elder?

I seem to recall that the design for the new school includes a dropoff/pickup detour that may serve to relieve the traffic on Santa Cruz. Why not wait to see how well that works? Seems like the money is burning a hole in someone's pocket.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 24, 2011 at 6:44 pm

School Parent:

maybe you should go into the construciton business. Then you would find out those of us in the business aren't "rolling in it." We are barely staying alive.


Like this comment
Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 24, 2011 at 6:52 pm

There should be oversight into wasteful spending.


Like this comment
Posted by Spencer Shanson
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 24, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Menlo Voter: You imply that you are in the construction business.

I'm sorry your business is hurting. Lots of businesses are hurting. But without a breakdown of those costs it looks to me like this bid is making up for slow business at the taxpayer's expense. So I'll tell you what. I'd also like to make some extra $$ for my business so I will offer to cut your lawn for $10k. Does that seem like a fair bid to you?

Of course not, because you can find a lower bid from someone else who will be willing to do the work for less. And that's my point. If the construction business is really hurting as you say it is, then it shouldn't be hard to find a lower offer from someone else who is more hungry.


Like this comment
Posted by MP resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2011 at 12:50 am

I wonder if the parents of the children attending Hillview have considered the additional air pollution their children will be subjected to by the constant stopping, idling and starting of the traffic with a 24/7 signal light.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 25, 2011 at 6:49 am

Spencer:

you just don't get it. When this is put out to bid I will guarantee at least ten bidders minimum. They will all be bidding the same plans and specifications. They will be required to provide exactly what is in the plans and specifications that they are bidding on. Now if it comes in at $300,000 do you think there is collusion amongst these ten starving bidders? No, they will all be giving their best, lowest, most competetive bid based upon the cost of labor and materials. The city is not talking about just giving the job to someone for $300,000. They are guessing that is what it will cost based upon past experience. I'm betting, in this economy, when it actually goes out to bid it will come in lower.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2011 at 7:01 am

As backsliding asks - why isn't the School District paying the full cost? That is what the city would require of any private entity.


Like this comment
Posted by much_maligned
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Peter,

Apparently you don't appreciate the silly, pathetic, social cliques that dominate Menlo Park politics. It's laughable. All the self-annointed prom kings and queens of local lore get together and run for various leadership positions on the school board and city council. Whenever criticism is raised, the following refrains are voiced:

1) "We are unpaid volunteers!"
2) "Do it for the kids!"
3) "Damn NIMBYS don't want anything done! How dare they express concern about their property rights? Down with the NIMBYS!"

School bonds to make public schools rival private posh facilities, more compensation without performance standards, insisting that good outcomes in our schools are a product of "expert management" and judicious oversight rather than parental socioeconomic status and parental involvement (the 2 major statistical correlates).

The list goes on.


Like this comment
Posted by A concerned parent
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Hmmm, schools can often get parents or other volunteers to be "crossing guards". Such an approach would have zero cost to the community, and be the ultimate "on demand" system. That is, when kids trying to cross queue up at that intersection, the crossing guard stops traffic and holds it until the kids get through safely. Most of the school crossing happens at predictable times, the crossing guard can be scheduled appropriately, and then not impede traffic when kids aren't present. A "push the button" on demand system can also supplement the crossing guard, for times when the crossing guard is not present but kids are (like for after school sports, summertime playground useage, etc.).

A low tech and low cost idea for the community to consider.


Like this comment
Posted by tortious interference
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 25, 2011 at 2:31 pm

For liability reasons, volunteer crossing guards are prohibited


Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Palo Alto has crossing guards but they are paid for and trained by the police.

The biggest cost of a traffic light is not in the labor or in the bulbs and wiring. A lot of the cost is in the controller. These are basically computers these days, and they must meet a whole host of safety certifications. They have to be absolutely fail-safe and never, ever do something like give greens in conflicting directions at the same time. They must monitor themselves and have a safe failure mode when something goes wrong. Any reputable contractor must use equipment that meets the same specs. This makes the equipment expensive, but the consequences of using shoddy traffic light controllers are more expensive in the long run. This is not a place to cut corners and skimp on quality.


Like this comment
Posted by Cast of 1000's
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 25, 2011 at 9:22 pm

The school board decided to make Hillview the only middle school in the district, with expected enrollment exceeding 1000 in short order.
The campus expansion project EIR deemed that 3 signals on Santa Cruz (Elder.Olive,Avy-Orange) would be needed to manage the safe and efficient vehicle, bus, pedestrian and bicycle access to and from the campus. Don't even think adolescent middle school students would be caught dead riding a "school bus" to and from Hillview. That's why increased auto traffic will make the Hillview area a nightmare as time goes on.

The Encinal Elementary campus expansion required a new signal at Encinal/Middlefield. The district paid the cost of that signal at Atherton's insistence as is standard in most development agreements.

What's missing in the article is how MP city staff misled council into capitulating to the district's crying poor and footing half of the bill for just ONE signal, when State Law would normally have required the district to pay for all 3 signals as required mitigation under the California Environmnetal Quality Act. See (City of Marina vs. CSU, the defining Supreme Court Case that dictates school district payments for offsite traffic improvements as a result of campus expansion projects). Staff reports demonstrate once again how weak our staff was in negotiating a better deal for the City 2 years ago when they had the chance.
That's what "civil servant" job security gives city taxpayers. Dig deep 'till it hurts 'cause it's not out of city staff pockets.
While we're on the subject of increased traffic from new development, anyone know why MP is not holding council hearings on the Stanford Med Center expansion project that will flood our streets with spillover traffic? Is city staff once again asleep at the switch?


Like this comment
Posted by Just Me
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Mar 18, 2011 at 12:29 am

One dumb question - So taxpayers don't pay for the light/intersection if the school district pays for it, but the taxpayers do pay if the city funds ? OK maybe the district would pay out of bond proceeds, but that is still taxpayer funded, so that whole argument of who pays seems moot.

On costs, 300K seems like a lot, but then again, the new Highway 101 / 85 interchange cost 200M$ with half the costs attributable to having to keep the highways open while building.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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