West Menlo Park traffic: Parents fear for kids' safety

Town hall meeting Nov. 2 to discuss traffic and street safety

On Labor Day, Laurie Sobel was just minding her business. A resident of Altschul Avenue between Ashton and Gordon avenues, she had just parked after returning from a shopping trip. Her husband and older son, age 11, had gone inside, but her younger son, age 8, was still buckled in his seat.

Suddenly, while leaning into the car to unload a bag, a car hurtling down the street collided with her parked car with enough force to launch it 20 feet, she said. She got a concussion, but said her son was shaken but uninjured.

After the incident, she made a post on Nextdoor, in which she described what happened and encouraged others to be careful. "Luckily, it was not a school day – or there would have been kids on the street," she said.

The post, according to Ms. Sobel's neighbor, Nikki Sokol, was one of the most popular she's seen, with many residents chiming in with their own episodes of dangerously close calls.

To address concerns like Ms. Sobel's and many other parents in West Menlo Park, Menlo Park Councilman Ray Mueller and county Supervisor Don Horsley will host a town hall meeting to gather community feedback and discuss potential solutions to street safety problems. The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2, in Cano Hall at Las Lomitas School, 299 Alameda de las Pulgas in Atherton.

Representatives from the Menlo Park Police Department, the Menlo Park Transportation Department, the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, the county Public Works Department, California Highway Patrol, and Atherton Mayor Rick Degolia are expected to attend.

"It's a rare opportunity to have so many stakeholders together to listen to the public," Mr. Mueller said.

Like Ms. Sobel, Janelle Martin, says unsafe driving around the area gives her cause for concern, and that she often worries about the safety of her 11-year-old daughter, who walks to La Entrada Middle School every day. She says drivers often speed, get distracted by cellphones, lose visibility in the bright morning sun, and even run red lights.

"People driving through aren't treating it like they live here," she said.

Other parents say the problem is not just distracted or rushed drivers, but a lack of safe sidewalks, crosswalks, and continuous bike lanes. Ms. Sokol also has children who go to Las Lomitas and La Entrada schools. "There's no safe way for kids to walk back and forth to school," she said.

She worries in particular about the children who ride their bikes along Altschul Avenue and Sharon Road.

"Concerns have been building up for a long time," she said.

She said she'd like to see the city of Menlo Park coordinate with San Mateo County to ensure that sidewalks and bike lanes continue between city and unincorporated county areas, and that the sidewalks that do exist are adequately maintained.

Anya Hodges, mother of three children, ages 5, 8 and 9, says she's grateful for the bus that can transport her kids to and from school, but she's also trying to teach them that walking or biking to school can be a healthy form of exercise. Unfortunately, she said, "It is very unsafe to do that."

When they do walk to school, she said, they have to wander through side streets rather than take the direct route along Alameda de las Pulgas. Without crosswalks in many intersections, she said, getting from one side of the street to the other can be a nightmare. When she has tried to cross with her kids, she said, "We almost got run over by a car. Two times."

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2 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 26, 2015 at 8:55 am

A few stop signs and speed bumps wold be helpful on Altschul.

Perhaps for many main walking/bike riding routes no street parking during to and from school time periods. Would leave more room and visibility.

Many of the traffic problems and dangers are caused by some of the many driving parents who insist on rushing to drop off and pickup their school kids. We never waked through five miles of snow in the old days but we did walk upwards of mile in decent weather and often rode our bikes. Though I must admit I don't remember having to carry back bending over stuffed backpacks.

3 people like this
Posted by matt
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Oct 26, 2015 at 9:25 am

Amazes me that we live in such a sheltered community that "bad driving" is front page news. Accidents happen. Bad driving happens.

Maybe we should go back to horse and buggy? Or just put our kids inside giant bubbles?

14 people like this
Posted by Sir Topham Hatt
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Oct 26, 2015 at 9:53 am


Bad driving does not just "happen", and most accidents could be avoided if people paid attention to what they are doing. Far too many drivers treat the Alameda like another land of 280.

Like this comment
Posted by gentrification
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Oct 26, 2015 at 12:13 pm

All these gentrifiers moving into rural areas and expecting a safe suburban environment. Haven't you ever heard of the wild wild west? Reckless driving is the rule along Alameda de las Pulgas and westward. When was the last time you ever saw the speed limit enforced on Alameda? If you want safety for your kids, move back to the flatland part of Menlo Park.

4 people like this
Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 26, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Santa Cruz Ave for children going and leaving school puts them in as much danger as they'll probably ever see. During those times the speed limit should be 15mph and flashing lights would be in order, also. Not only could a car go out of control but the children are in groups, playing, etc and they can easily get in the path of a car. This reminds me of places in Mexico where there are no shoulders for the roads and people are on the road sometimes. We look like a Third World country.

7 people like this
Posted by Jenny
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 26, 2015 at 12:40 pm

I don't see how anyone could speed past the school on Santa Cruz. Any time I'm there the traffic is crawling along, especially when school gets out. I do see groups of kids on the sidewalks and I see kids on bikes riding 3 or 4 abreast in bike lanes and swerving in an out of bike lanes. I suggest the first step be that parents teach their kids pedestrian and bicycle safety. Reducing speed to 15 mph is not necessary. Even at that speed, pedestrians can get hurt. We all use the downtown streets and we all need to be watchful. Speeders can get ticketed; cyclist should also get ticketed. I do agree that on street parking should be eliminated in our residential areas because there is plenty unused parking in driveways. People are just too lazy to move one car so they can get an other car out of their garage.

4 people like this
Posted by Winds of change are blowing
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Oct 26, 2015 at 1:00 pm

As our suburban area fills to it's brim with new residents and multiple families live in single homes, and overcrowding becomes the norm, so does distraction. The success of the area has created some offshoot effects that must be managed! We cannot stick our heads in the sand and say "This is the way that is was and always should be and everyone should get used to it." There very definitely is a problem and you can put speed bumps or traffic signs, but you aren't solving the problem. I cannot control others, but I can certainly drive with my eyes on the road and travel at a manageable speed for the conditions, even if that means SLOWER than the speed limit when weather or an abundance of students are present.

10 people like this
Posted by Optimistic
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 26, 2015 at 1:45 pm

I am hopeful that the right solution will prevail to fix the concerns addressed here. I'm especially thankful for Supervisor Horsley and Councilman Mueller for putting together the meeting and being responsive to the safety concerns of the community.

7 people like this
Posted by Las Lomitas District Parent
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Oct 26, 2015 at 2:58 pm

I used to live on Altschul and experienced the same bad driving that drove us out of there: people speeding on the one-way road, people not slowing down when the sun is in their eyes, etc. Our cars were hit twice. The first time someone hit our car parked on the street and the person said it was because the sun was in her eyes. The second time was when I was driving toward Avy and I was rear-ended by a speeding and distracted driver. My car was totaled.

There are two problems at play on this road. First is that people use Altschul to avoid Alameda. Second is that the one way portion of Altschul creates a false sense of safety for drivers who think because they are not going to encounter oncoming traffic they are free to go forth at any speed (ironically I heard the reason for activation of the one-way control was due to the death of child by a car but I was never able to validate the rumor). To solve both problems, traffic calming gates or roundabouts could be installed, like in Palo Alto. Certainly enforcement could be better but this is county and not city.

I too thank Misters Mueller and Horsley for making the effort to hear the community.

4 people like this
Posted by Jim Long
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 26, 2015 at 3:24 pm

We lived a house from Altschul on Valparaiso back when they converted to one-way from two-way. (BTW, I do not think a child died to prompt that change) We moved to Sharon Heights later but I always wondered if having a one way street was safer. I'd suggest folks on Altschul should go door to door on the one-way segment and see who still lives there before/after and see what they think. I use the Avy Altschul intersection every morning at school time and think the drivers then/there are safe at least. The issue that concerns me is kids who cross 80-90% one direction and then cut toward the other direction. Please remind your kids to get to the corner on the sidewalk and pause first to be fully safe before crossing the 2nd street. Maybe let a car go to first, much safer and barely extra time.

Like this comment
Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 26, 2015 at 4:26 pm

The precipitating accident which changed part of Altschul to one-way was a vehicular collision @ Valparaiso & Altschul. One of the drivers was a teen. I don't remember whether alcohol was involved or the extent of the injuries incurred.

1 person likes this
Posted by Concerned mom
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Oct 26, 2015 at 4:38 pm

I'm always surprised to see parents and children trying to cross the Alameda at the intersection of Camino al Lago when there is a traffic light crossing one half block south. Much safer to cross at a traffic light than hoping cars will stop for the crosswalk.

6 people like this
Posted by Margo
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 26, 2015 at 4:44 pm

I think the flashing lights on crosswalks are a very good way to get drivers' attention. People may complain about the cost, but the life of even one child could not compare. I wonder whether a fun fund-raising activity for Menlo Park, which could include awareness raising, could help with the costs. A fun fair, perhaps in the spring (if we don't get rained out) might catch the attention of many.

I wonder how many drivers are commuters taking a short cut and how many are locals. Perhaps local residents could arrange for a traffic stop to make drivers aware---each driver gets a quick message about the children.

I also note with caution the signs that urge drivers to "drive like your children live here."

This is a complicated issue, needing multiple approaches. And those smart-mouth posters who posit that danger is part of our world should stop, look, think and consider a child they love and how they would feel if that child were the victim of a careless driver. Children are our legacy. We need to take care of them!

6 people like this
Posted by safe passageways overdue
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 26, 2015 at 4:48 pm

Sidewalks on busy streets and continuous, not segments, bike routes throughout Menlo Park are critical to safety. We simply do not have either.

Sidewalks on Santa Cruz have been discussed for a dozen years, plans ostensibly are in the works, but we citizens know nothing about when we will get them. The city is a horrid communicator. Updates, progress reports are important and valued.

Real, continuous, safe bike routes are long overdue and there aren't even plans to create these. Discontinuous segments and unsafe "shared" lanes are the best the city seems capable of creating.
Lives are at stake. Safety is not just an issue of drivers, but also an issue of safe passageways in the midst of vastly increased traffic. And enormous projects with lots more traffic aren't even occupied yet. It will get worse, so let's get these safety measures in place

2 people like this
Posted by Stephanie
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 26, 2015 at 6:13 pm

My children are all grown up and i am fully aware that each of the previous posts have very vald concerns. Increased population is truly here. I feel it is the citys responsiblity to provide the transportation. This could decrease the need for parents on the roads. Bike saftey should also be taught in school to the children but if parents dont let then ride because they are fearful, well we need alternatives to the growth impact.
Many a time i have seen adults who don't use the cross walks, or walk across a lane when they should not. When your riding a bike you need your hearing, not a head set. Problem here is to many chiefs and not enough indians. Input is great but ultimately if the rules are not taken seriouly you will continue to have mayhem. I think this is a great way for the city to give back to thier residences.
Growing up in the midwest you knew the car had the right of way or you got hit.

Like this comment
Posted by Ondine
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 27, 2015 at 11:48 am

What if we implemented a "walk in groups" approach, with adults taking turns to supervise? Redwood City tried this near Fair Oaks School, children walking in a group by 2's, often 10 in the group, to create a "here comes the bus" effect. In some areas with no sidewalks, residents could trim their shrubs and create more visibility for pedestrians. I often have to duck under overhanging limbs and step out toward the street due to shrubbery that is nearly to the street, impeding anyone walking. This was a major issue when I grew up in Woodside, so we students walked the horse trails instead.

Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 27, 2015 at 12:44 pm

I smell a Road Diet coming.

Like this comment
Posted by MPer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 28, 2015 at 3:48 pm

@gentrification - People moving into West MP IS NOT GENTRIFICATION!!!! It has always been populated by entitled white people. it has not been "the country" for 50 years.

2 people like this
Posted by MPer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 28, 2015 at 3:54 pm

One word -- SIDEWALKS

FYI - to all those who cite the hoards of people moving into MP. The city has added at most 6000 residents since 1960! That is 1000 per DECADE.

So lets get some sidewalks and all you ADULTS driving, maybe try tolook out for the kids. thanks

4 people like this
Posted by Rick Moen
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Mar 31, 2016 at 4:08 pm

I live next door to Laurie Sobel (on Altschul Ave. right at the corner of Gordon), and can confirm that speeding commuters using Altschul Ave. as a high-speed bypass for Alameda de las Pulgas are making it downright dangerous for children and other pedestrians, bicyclists, people walking their dogs, and pretty much everyone.

A couple of years ago, my young cat was run over and killed by a speeding commuter -- who of course did not stop. Or notice, probably.

Laurie and her children luckily escaped serious injury, by seconds and inches. Some day soon, someone, someone's child, someone's loved one, isn't going to be so lucky.

Rick Moen
(1105 Altschul Ave.)

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