Willows traffic plan gets thumbs down from Transportation Commission on a 3-2 vote

Vote split 3-2

Does the Willows neighborhood need traffic calming? No. Yes. Maybe, but not like this. The answer, as Menlo Park has discovered through 20 years of studying the issue, depends on whom you ask.

The Transportation Commission met on April 13 to discuss the latest study by consultants TJKM, which analyzed the traffic situation within an area bounded by U.S. 101, Willow Road, Middlefield Road, Woodland Avenue, and Manhattan Avenue, and that includes a swath of East Palo Alto.

Of the 554 residents who answered an online traffic survey, 80 respondents said they had no concerns, although 92 respondents were worried about speeding. However, the survey had only a 27 percent response rate.

Based on that meager feedback, the city forged ahead with the study, which identified three main areas of concern: speed, volume, and safety, particularly at intersections such as Gilbert Avenue and Willow Road.

Some residents thought the situation called for intense traffic calming; others for limited measures; and some didn't think anything needed to be done at all, according to the report.

One way, or another

The suggested traffic calming measures include speed feedback signs, speed bumps, and one-way traffic controls. Based on comments during the April 13 meeting, the proposal to convert a section of Woodland Avenue into a one-way street near its intersection with Euclid Avenue roused the most ire. One Oak Court resident estimated having to spend an extra one-and-a-half hours commuting every month as a result of having to detour around that section.

Vice Mayor Kirsten Keith, speaking as a private citizen, asked the commission to forget the one-way idea. "It just diverts us all the way around through Willows and it just doesn't make any sense," she said, and added that it would also force friends and services such as UPS to take the long way around. "I know you are common sense people, and that you will use your common sense when you evaluate this plan," Ms. Keith concluded.

Another Oak Court resident, Philippe Davis, questioned how such a change would impact East Palo Alto residents commuting along Woodland Avenue. "This isn't the first time there has been talk from residents about stopping Hispanics from coming into 'our' neighborhood either to commute, go to school or to use the local Mexican market on Menalto," he wrote in an email to the council and commission.

Mr. Davis told the Almanac that the "creepy, quiet undercurrent of racism" surfaced when residents criticized a local Mexican grocery store on Menalto for being targeted by robbers, instead of supporting the store's efforts to offer new items to the neighborhood. "Sadly, blocking cut-through traffic, as neutral as that label sounds, is motivated by some of that racism."

Deja vu

Twenty years ago, the city conducted its first traffic study of the Willows neighborhood. Fifteen years later, in 2007, it formed the Willows traffic task force. Now a proposal is once again making the rounds of the Transportation Commission and council. The April 13 vote suggested that, like its predecessors, the latest plan is off to an inauspicious start.

Before voting, Commissioner Katherine Strehl said she wondered why no one asked the Willows residents whether traffic-calming measures were needed before spending $120,000 on the study.

"So many people have come forward who live on Woodland, live on Oak, who don't want this one-way, and we'd be imposing it on them," said colleague Ray Mueller.

"The problem is if we take it out, I don't know what the plan is, because it's an amalgam, and I don't think it's responsible to recommend a plan for the council to go forward with when I don't know what it's going to be."

By a 3-2 vote, the commission opposed a proposal to recommend the plan to the City Council, with Commissioners Charlie Bourne and Robert Cronin dissenting. Chair Penelope Huang recused herself since she lives in the Willows, and Maurice Shiu was absent.

The City Council could still vote to take the next step by approving another survey. Fifty-one percent of Willows residents would have to vote in favor of the modifications for the plan to be implemented, according to city staff, who told the transportation commission they weren't sure yet how much the survey would cost.

Mr. Mueller said he thinks compromise is still possible. He, along with Willows residents, will meet with the Menlo Park police department to discuss signage and speed enforcement, and said another group is working on creating a community awareness program to encourage safe driving.

"So while the outcome is unclear, one thing is for certain, the process is working and neighbors are working together towards a solution," he said.

Note: An earlier version of this story reported survey results as "80 percent" and "92 percent." Those figures referred to the number of respondents, not the percent. The Almanac regrets the error.

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Like this comment
Posted by Gilbert Resident - no on the trafic plan!
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 19, 2011 at 12:26 pm

The proposed traffic plan will re-direct a large volume of traffic onto Gilbert - a significant impact to Gilbert residents, pedestrians, bicyclists and children who walk to Willow Oaks park, Footsteps preschool, Mardini's deli and the shops on Menalto. No one wants all of the Willows traffic routed down Gilbert during peak hours and no one wants the flashing neon speed feedback signs that go with it. The existing conditions in the neighborhood are not such that these drastic and costly changes are needed. The proposed traffic plan is not wanted and we shouldn't continue to waste resources and time on this. It's simply not a critical issue and there is no real problem to fix. Let's put this to rest, save the City and taxpayers some money, and move on.

Like this comment
Posted by Willow's Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 19, 2011 at 1:20 pm

[Post removed. This poster has the same IP address as Gilbert Resident.]

Like this comment
Posted by Brady Barksdale
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 19, 2011 at 3:32 pm

I applaud all the residents of the Willows neighborhood that came out in force and some case furry to help shut down this plan. As a Willow resident myself this plan made no sense diverting traffic or putting in more speed barriers and signs.

I would rather see the money go to improvements like sidewalks in the neighborhood (especially why are there no sidewalks all the way down O'Connor) on routes to and from the schools in the Willows neighborhood.

Like this comment
Posted by O'Connor Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 19, 2011 at 3:33 pm

The problem with this whole plan is it went beyond the scope that the residents wanted.

* There is *some* concern about so-called cut through (non-neighborhood commuter traffic) traffic (and not all of it is racially based even if some is).

* There is concern about traffic going too fast for a residential neighborhood in many areas. Although frankly, Woodland isn't the issue if you look at the data and experience the speed bumps

* There is concern about safe transit for school children (how many kids from three schools go down O'Connor with no continuous sidewalk?)

However, there was never strong, broad-based support for radical re-engineering of the neighborhood to improve one street(s) at the cost of others. It is this traffic shifting that has people so mad and opposed.

Can't we just get some of the simple things done without all this rigamarole?

* Full sidewalks on at least one side of major streets like O'Connor

* A couple of key intersections - with blind spots and speeding - adding stop signs (I hate to have more but...)

* A couple of spots to add some speed humps (please the 'old style' ones that don't beat up my car at normal speed not the 'new style' ones that were added to Woodland and other streets 6-7 yrs ago)

That's it. Simple, relatively inexpensive and should have little argument. Certainly doesn't require a whole new multi-year analysis

Like this comment
Posted by Woodland Resident
a resident of another community
on Apr 19, 2011 at 9:21 pm

I see "cut through" traffic from Menlo residents all the time on Woodland in EPA, on Univ Ave in EPA, where I live on the EPA west side. People, get used to it. The cut through excuse is largely bull pucky - and while it's not all racially based, much of it is socio-economic bias against EPA residents.

What many MP residents perceive as "cut through traffic" are folks going to work, spending MONEY in your town via going to restaurants, shopping, banking, visiting friends and family, etc.

BTW, FWIW, I'm a Menlo native, white and drop lot of my income in your town, as does my partner, who for years lived in MP. Whether I'm visiting family in Menlo, having coffee at Cafe Zoe, running into Mardini's, eating at Mike's or heading to ECR, I have a right to get there conveniently and safely, just as you do to the east bay, 101 south, The Four Seasons, Ikea or parts of Palo Alto whose route is most convenient via EPA.

I'm glad this was shot down and that Menlo is still full of smart, balanced people whose elitism doesn't get the best of them. I'm all for traffic calming that has people slow down and puts public safety first. But one way streets, blocking streets off? For that, move to a gated community or downtown Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by Woodland Resident
a resident of another community
on Apr 19, 2011 at 9:29 pm

I forgot to mention that O'Connor Resident's suggestions make good sense. Having lived in the Willows for decades before I moved to EPA, I saw traffic patterns grow and shift. There are a LOT of Willows residents who speed, talk on their cell phones, make incomplete stops, don't stop for pedestrians, etc. - it's pretty convenient to blame it on non-MP residents, but that would be lying. None of us like speed bumps and too many stop signs, but I sure prefer them to getting into an accident or scaring pedestrians.

Like this comment
Posted by C. Benjamin
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 20, 2011 at 1:02 pm

There really are only 3 options here:
1) Eliminate traffic by making it so inconvenient that people go elsewhere - unfortunately inconvenient for the residents as well, and unfair to neighbors and visitors to our neighborhood, not to mention our retailers, so NO.
2) Divert traffic - unfair to those on the newly-busy streets, not likely anyone will volunteer for more traffic or less safety, so NO.
3) Slow traffic - with more stop signs, traffic circles (on Gilbert, maybe?), speed bumps (have worked on Woodland), etc. - these have worked here and in nearby neighborhoods, so why not try a few more rather than spend more $ on "studies"? YES
Why is this so hard...?!

Like this comment
Posted by Willow resident
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm

If anyone who cares about traffic through the Willows works for Google, it would help all of us if they would work on Google Maps and change the programming so that the flow of traffic to Palo Alto currently using Willow Road is diverted to 101 and to University Avenue.
We have stop signs and/or speed bumps on Durham, OKeefe and Gilbert. If we had cops to monitor the speed more frequently, that would help also.

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