As traffic increases, concerns grow about student safety | News | Almanac Online |


As traffic increases, concerns grow about student safety


As local schools struggle to accommodate larger numbers of students than their campuses were designed for, roadways around those schools strain with high-volume traffic that the roads, too, weren't built for. It's a recipe for long-idling cars, nervous or frightened kids on bikes, and sometimes perilous maneuvers by impatient drivers. And in some cases, for road rage.

Officials in the Menlo Park City School District are working with other public agencies, including the county, the towns of Menlo Park and Atherton, and their police departments, to address growing concern over the ability of children to get to and from school safely.

Two recent community meetings -- one at Hillview Middle School focusing on routes to that school and Oak Knoll in Menlo Park, the other at Encinal to talk about safe routes to that school and Laurel, both in Atherton -- drew parent comments ranging from descriptions of daily commute headaches to suggestions about how to reduce the problems and increase safety.

Ahmad Sheikholeslami, the district's facilities and operations director, told parents attending the Jan. 23 meeting at Encinal that the district and other public agencies "want to hear your concerns and ideas, and go back to our respective agencies" to devise plans to improve conditions at each school.

Encinal has perhaps the most problematic traffic congestion of all four of the district's schools: Its driveways are off the narrow Encinal Avenue in Atherton, just west of Middlefield Road, a main thoroughfare that takes traffic from U.S. 101 and carries heavy traffic during commute hours. Parents at the Jan. 23 meeting noted that during morning drop-off and afternoon pickup times, traffic can back up on Middlefield all the way to Marsh Road. Encinal School traffic "creates a gridlock, and that creates road rage," one parent said.

Road rage was mentioned several times during the meeting; parents described the danger to kids on bikes and on foot when angry drivers pass around the queues of vehicles waiting to turn into the school parking lots, and driving onto the shoulders and bike lane.

Among those speaking at the meeting was Nikki Nagaya, a senior transportation engineer for the city of Menlo Park, who oversees the Safe Routes to Schools program, and Susannah Hill, the school district's traffic safety coordinator. Because Menlo Park is the lead agency of the Safe Routes program involving several jurisdictions, including Atherton, her department seeks and administers grants for projects such as bike lanes, signs and lighted crosswalks along designated routes to schools.

Diana Shu, the county's road operations manager, was also there to address concerns and hear ideas about solutions to problems involving safety along Laurel School routes; some of the streets in that area are in unincorporated territory, including Coleman Avenue, which parents said is a dangerous road to walk and bicycle because of cars parked along the sides.

Atherton Police Chief Ed Flint has also been involved in trying to improve safety along school routes, and told the Almanac after the meeting that, although his officers patrol areas around the schools every day, solutions must involve more than citations. "We need to look at the three 'E's' enforcement, education and engineering," he said. "We give out a lot of warnings, and sometimes we write citations, ... but all three (E's) need to be in play when you try to deal with this issue."

Mr. Sheikholeslami said after the meeting that with all agencies working to find solutions, he believes safety getting to and from the schools will improve, but it won't be all at once. "There's no one answer," he said. "It's about finding small solutions to add up to solve the bigger problem."

The district and others working on safety issues plan to discuss ideas from the two community meetings and other issues they've been studying over a longer period "to decide where to put our efforts next," he said.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 29, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Enough warnings already. Start handing out tickets for every infraction. Impound cars for multiple infractions. This is not a joke. Children's lives are at stake.

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Posted by Easy Solution
a resident of Encinal School
on Jan 29, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Here's the answer: NO LEFT TURN into the school for Encinal Avenue traffic. That would fix the problem of people blocking the roadway.

The school needs to build more facilities for vehicles on its campus. How about a perimeter road along the outside of the campus? Parents could stage and park there.

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Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 29, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

There are nearly 800 students at Encinal. A no left turn into the school would put ALL the cars queueing up on Middlefield- that's no solution.

Parents drive to pick up and drop off because there are no sidewalks. Atherton needs to get over its ridiculous notion of being "rural" and put in (or allow someone else to put in) some proper sidewalks along Middlefield. Lots of those people who drive only live a few blocks away, but feel it's unsafe for their kids, and I don't blame them.

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Posted by EEEzy does it
a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2014 at 5:21 pm

The police chief hit the nail on the head. There is no one thing that will solve this problem. You need Engineering (sidewalks, crosswalks, properly-designed dropoff zones, etc.), Enforcement (tickets) AND Education (teaching everyone how to behave and informing them of the consequences of disobeying). Engineering is expensive up front and, with limited space the options are limited, but long-term costs are low. Enforcement is very expensive because to be effective you need to do it regularly for a long time, and cops and their toys are costly. Education is cheap but very difficult because nobody really knows how to get the message through to the people who most need to hear it. You can't be successful doing just one or two of the above; you need to strike a decent balance with all three.

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Posted by George Fisher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 29, 2014 at 6:39 pm

Nobody seems to be connecting these traffic problems with the additional thousands of auto trips per day which will soon be added by the doubling of office density on El Camino Real. Stanford is planning 400,000 sf, 60 foot high office and residential buildings to augment its portfolio value. There will be no access other than El Camino Real, Middle Ave and Cambridge Ave. These buildings, along with additional projects increasing office space on El Camino Real, will draw more traffic from 101 and 280 to access El Camino Real through our neighborhoods. This additional traffic will directly affect all our schools, parks and senior centers, including, Encina, Oakknoll,, and Hillview schools big time. We must do what we can to not only to mitigate this onslaught, but to prevent any increase to the extent we can in further proceedings before city council, planning commission or otherwise.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jan 29, 2014 at 6:49 pm

The problem at Encinal began when the city caved to a few vocal residents of Felton Gables and installed "no parking" signs in that neighborhood.

The people in Felton Gables knew they were buying houses that abutted school property. Many of them use the Encinal fields for their own purposes. And yet they just couldn't bear to have parents parking in front of their houses -- on public streets!-- for 15 minutes a day. These selfish people are the ones who are responsible for endangering children.

I used to park in Felton Gables and walk in. It was a safe alternative, and many parents did the same. We weren't hanging out and causing trouble, though neighbors could be very hostile, for no reason. You'd think people were littering or smoking, which I never ever saw during my 12 years at Encinal.

Want to help solve the problem and let kids be safe again? Tell the Felton Gables neighbors to suck it up.

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Posted by Atherton Mom
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 29, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Why hasn't anyone considered school busses? If kids road the bus to school, there would be no need for all of those individual cars driving to campuses. Seems to be what works in nearly every other state.

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Posted by Atherton Mom
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 29, 2014 at 7:11 pm

Sorry, that should be "rode"

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 29, 2014 at 7:25 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

Here's a novel concept. How about kids actually walk to school? That's what we did. I know it will simply kill helicopter parents to relinquish control, but it would solve a whole bunch of problems.

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Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2014 at 9:46 pm

Most school districts abandoned buses in the early 90s to "save money", and now the cities have to deal with the traffic problems that result. This is a classic case of shifting costs from one group to another, with a net loss to society overall. Palo Alto has gradually been able to reverse this trend, and they now have a large percentage of kids walking and biking to school, but it has taken over a decade to get there. When traffic is bad and drivers are misbehaving parents don't want their kids to be on foot or on bikes, so they drive them and make the problem worse. If you can manage to get 10%-15% of the parents to buck this trend you will see congestion reduced and safety will increase, then you will get more parents willing to join in. It is difficult to reverse the momentum, but Palo Alto shows that it is possible to do.

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Posted by Commuter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 29, 2014 at 10:36 pm

Menlo Voter: I used to walk to school too, but that was about 50 years ago. Things are a bit more crowded now. Try taking a walk from Marsh Road to Encinal Ave along Middlefield between 7:30 & 8:30 in the morning. You will find yourself in good company - along with 750 kids going to Encinal, 2,000 to Menlo Atherton High, and commuters going to & from 101.

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Posted by Nancy
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 29, 2014 at 11:17 pm

All the traffic studies, cost of enforcement, and safety measures have got to cost more than buses. Seriously people. All the big tech firms use buses to shuttle workers all over the Bay Area. It is the most environmentally prudent thing to do. Perhaps all these new developments in Menlo Park could contribute fees for school buses.

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Posted by IALAC
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 29, 2014 at 11:29 pm

The communities that insist on being considered *rural* and park like have a right to want to preserve that, HOWEVER our life and times have changed dramatically and we all must be flexible. Right now the *rural* communities are forcing the hands of the others around them. As long as these communities continue to have bylaws that disallow parking, crosswalks, bike paths, and sidewalks they are putting our community children and their safety at risk. To sacrifice your *rural* nature from 7:30am-8:30am and again from 2:30-3:30pm Mon-Fri is a small price to pay for the future of our children. One of the reasons our property values are so high are the award winning public schools in our towns/cities. You knew that when you bought your home so very very close to these award winning schools. Let's see some flexibility two hours a day (during the week) from the school neighbors…it's about time.

Drive, walk, bike safely everyone!

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Posted by voltairesmistress
a resident of another community
on Jan 30, 2014 at 10:00 am

Build sidewalks and bike lanes for one mile in all directions around each school. For those parents who would continue to insist on driving their children, designate four different drop off points, each 3 blocks from the entrance and each with an older child crossing guard to assist groups. Only the disabled child needs an at school drop off point. I guarantee you most parents would start letting their children walk to school, if the car traffic decreased. For now, all parents driving their children are just part of this unhealthy practice and a danger to every other child on foot.

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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 12:48 pm

The problems are not only at and a result of Encinal, Hillview, Oak Knoll and Laurel. Just as large as factors if not more so are Menlo School, Sacred Heart Schools, St. Raymonds and Nativity. All of these schools get out at basically the same times.

The dangers from traffic are not only to the students but equally so to non-student pedestrians, bikers, vehicle drivers and neighbors trying to enter and exit their homes. Try crossing Santa Cruz or turning onto Santa Cruz in the vicinity of St. Raymonds when its school lets out - it's impossible. The same goes for trying to cross or turn onto Valpariso. Then of course there's the standstill if you're able to get on those two primary cross-town avenues.

These eight schools all contribute to a city wide traffic gridlock when they let out. Exasperating the problem is everyone who tries to avoid the problem areas by trying out alternate routes through the neighboring streets.

Any solution must also include the private schools.

Whatever happened to the days when we used to walk to school or take the school bus. Our parents never picked us up in their cars and trucks.

Carpooling systems should be established and required at all the schools to help alleviate the traffic and safety problems.

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Posted by GPD
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Menlo Park has always resisted any kind of transit, fighting BART in the 60's, light rail in the 80s and HSR now. This kind of congestion is the inevitable result of creating a car-oriented transit infrastructure.

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Posted by David Roise
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 6:19 pm

As a parent whose children have ridden their bikes to Oak Knoll Elementary School, Hillview Middle School, and now Menlo-Atherton High School for the last 12 years, I would love to see a "no drive/no park zone" for 3 or 4 blocks around each school. The more we enable parents to drop their kids off near the schools (because THEIR kids' safety is more important than YOUR kids' safety) the worse the traffic will get. The only real solution is to create a traffic-free buffer zone around the schools.

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Posted by Menlo Mom
a resident of another community
on Jan 30, 2014 at 8:26 pm

Menlo school is working very hard to reduce traffic. We have buses going to and from Palo Alto, Los Altos, San Mateo, Portola Valley, Menlo Park Train Station etc. mornings and after school. We are trying to get kids who live close by to walk/bike and those who live too far to bike but who aren't on a Menlo bus route to carpool as much as possible.

We have a sustainability director who is amazing and is open to suggestions - not just from Menlo families - but from the community. He will even go to a Menlo family house and ride his bike in with the kids to show them the safest route possible. Our new Headmaster (Than Healy) is out front many mornings encouraging families to be part of the solution.

I'm happy to say I've only driven into the school twice all year (mornings) and both times were unavoidable. Afternoons are trickier - kids staying for sports, etc. - but we're really, really trying!

I don't live in Menlo Park - but I respect the issues you're facing and I encourage respectful dialogue so everyone can be safe.

2 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Kaufman
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 31, 2014 at 6:57 am

In response to the vintage oaks parent who blames the City for caving in to a few selfish neighbors. Let's be very clear. If you bothered to look at the restriction it prohibits parking for approximately 6 houses on the east side of Felton Ave. and 2 houses on the west side during school drop off. The reason is to let people park and walk their children to Encinal. If you park in the restricted area you put pedestrians and cyclists at risk to those turning in off of Encinal Ave. When you park there, those on foot are forced to walk in the road and thus at risk to getting struck by those turning blindly on to this active neighborhood street. So, instead of laying blame to a neighborhood you took advantage of for 12 years, get off YOUR high horse and get educated about this restriction. Families can still park- just 6 houses down. This keeps ALL safer!

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Posted by Robert Cronin
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 31, 2014 at 12:40 pm

It is true, though unfortunate, that the private automobile has become the dominant mode of transportation in the U.S. Since we live in a democracy and are presumably in control of our environment, it must be that the majority wants it that way, but we have the power to change the situation. We can decide that other modes of transportation do not have to defer to the automobile. We don't have to trapped in our cars.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Perhaps it's time to stop having so many kids. That will at least help prevent future problems currently being faced.

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Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 1, 2014 at 4:21 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

Careful, the pope wouldn't like that.

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