Spare a moment to consider the road conditions for residents of Stanford Weekend Acres.
"We suffer every day," said resident Neil Scott. "You've got to stare these guys down to stop for you."
"You have to rely on the kindness of strangers," said resident Gunter Steffen.
The men were commenting on the difficulties caused by heavy traffic on Alpine Road, the access road for their neighborhood bordered by San Francisquito Creek, the Stanford University golf course, and the wilds around Stanford's Dish satellite antenna.
Alpine was once a two-lane curving byway. It's still two lanes and curving, but basically an expressway, with 25,000 vehicles speeding by on weekdays, making life miserable for Weekend Acres residents who want to enter or leave their neighborhood.
While there is a turn pocket at Stowe Lane, you can't get to it, Mr. Scott said. The "occasional polite individual" will let you in, he said. "It's dangerous. You're taking your life in your hands."
"If I try to get out of my driveway at 9 o'clock, forget it," said Mr. Steffen, who lives on Alpine Road. "I have to wait until 10." In any case, he added, Alpine's blind curves require good timing. He may have four seconds to shoot out into traffic, or just two and a half, depending on traffic volume.
About 100 people, mostly residents of Weekend Acres and Ladera, attended an orchestrated 90-minute meeting on May 9 in Ladera. The host for this second of three such meetings was the San Mateo County Public Works Department, assisted by an engineering consultant and a moderator.
Ladera residents have similar entry issues on Alpine Road, particularly at La Mesa and La Cuesta drives. Entering the neighborhood is not an issue, but the traffic can make it daunting to leave via Alpine. Windows of opportunity can be few and narrow.
The county is mid-way in a process of sounding out these communities on ways to reduce congestion and improve safety, including traffic signals, roundabouts, flashing warning lights, new signs and pavement stripes, and better bike lanes.
Restriping pavement, signs and warning lights are cheaper solutions. Traffic signals and roundabouts are expensive and time-consuming -- three to four years for a traffic light -- and require consultation with the California Department of Transportation, said Joe Lo Coco, the county's deputy director of road services.
What to do?
Traffic engineers said that a traffic signal where Alpine Road meets Interstate 280, with timing to create gaps in traffic, could relieve stress at intersections in Weekend Acres and Ladera.
The I-280 interchange and the intersections at La Mesa and La Cuesta are eligible for signals, as is the intersection at the Dish parking lot at Piers Lane, the county's report says.
They're also eligible for roundabouts, the engineers said. Roundabouts tend to slow traffic, increase safety, and add aesthetic touches with plantings, but they require more space, the report says. Alpine Road is "greatly constrained" along its sides by steep slopes, limited right-of-way and the presence of creeks, the report says.
Go to tinyurl-com-Corridor5y to see the report and related links.
Rules of engagement
A mailer to residents from the Public Works Department called the May 9 event a community meeting, but it had the pace of a tag-team auction.
Presenting the report was Adam Dankberg of the engineering firm Kimley-Horn, who, in an accelerated delivery, presented 42 densely-packed slides in about as many minutes.
Questions were not welcome unless the questioner wanted a term defined, said moderator Eileen Goodwin of Apex Strategies. After a few forays across this red line, residents interrupted Mr. Dankberg with questions anyway.
After he had finished, Ms. Goodwin told residents they had 13 minutes for Q-and-A. She did not allow follow-up questions and on occasion would tell a resident that he or she "did not have the floor."
Topics included questions on lower speeds, speed bumps, unintended consequences related to the parallel Sand Hill Road corridor, a focus on vehicles at the expense of cyclists, and how long the wait will be for any change.
Then residents each carrying sheets of colored dots were dispatched to talk among themselves or with the hosts and to visit upright maps of the corridor and paste dots to indicate their opinions red to reject a concept, green to endorse it, and yellow to be noncommittal. The meeting ended on schedule.
The meeting didn't work for Mr. Steffen because the county had not prepared the residents. "There wasn't really enough time to consider all the aspects of the proposal that people were asked to decide about," he said. The moderator "was being rude" and there wasn't enough time to ask questions, he said. "They have our email addresses. Why not give us prior notice so we could think about it?" he said. "It was just poorly done."
"We're willing to give them the time that they need, but we don't have four hours to meet," Mr. Lo Coco said. People have "limited attention spans" and "start to zone out," he said, adding that the upright maps "open their eyes."
Public Works Director Jim Porter said a meeting with the community in 2015 allowed more audience participation, and that subsequent meetings are intended to refine concepts. "I think we got good feedback," he said. "The report is going to yield options."
"Everybody had a chance to speak once," he said of the May 9 meeting. "We try to be respectful of people's time."
Asked whether the audience could have benefited from a briefing on the standards and regulations involved in road design, Mr. Porter replied: "It's really tough to explain that to people in a broad general discussion." Requests for speed bumps on a street with a speed limit too high to accommodate them are an example, he said.
Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman attended the meeting. The chief has expressed concerns recently about congestion and its effect on responding to emergencies.
"The elephant in the room that's not in the room is a lot of this traffic goes to Stanford (University)," he said. "I'm very empathetic toward the people of Stanford Weekend Acres. Do I think it's fair? No. Do I think it's geographical? Yes. There are ways to do things and improve things that aren't on the table (and) all the players are not there."
When asked to elaborate, he said he was talking about a new road across Stanford lands.
A supervisor or someone from the supervisor's office should have been there, he added. "This is a big deal."
In a emailed comment, Supervisor Don Horsley said he expects that the exercise "will result in some traffic calming," adding that he hasn't found that the presence of an elected official helps the process.
Ladera resident Lennie Roberts said she thought the topic too complex for the amount of time given it. "The ability for the public to actually respond was very limited," she said. "I think it was frustrating to many people because of that."
"People aren't really well informed enough to make intelligent comments on what's possible," she said. "This is just a method of going through the motions, looking like they're taking pubic input, but they're not."