West Menlo residents press county to tackle road hazards

County is studying Santa Cruz/Alameda between Sand Hill Road and Avy Avenue

More than 120 people gathered at Oak Knoll School's auditorium on Aug. 28 to discuss problems on the Santa Cruz Avenue/Alameda de las Pulgas corridor that bisects their West Menlo Park neighborhood. (Photo by Robert Most.)

More than 100 people showed up Monday night (Aug. 28) to let San Mateo County know about problems with the busy Santa Cruz Avenue/Alameda de las Pulgas roadway that bisects their West Menlo Park neighborhood. They told of seniors and school children afraid to cross the street, of cars slamming through fences and walls, and of people unwilling to walk dogs, push strollers or ride bikes in the area.

The public meeting was part of a San Mateo County study looking at a relatively short stretch of road that starts out as Santa Cruz Avenue at Sand Hill Road and then becomes Alameda de las Pulgas at the Y-intersection where Santa Cruz splits off. The study area ends at Avy Avenue. Some of the areas bordering the roadway are in Menlo Park, but San Mateo County controls the entire roadway, residents were told at the meeting.

Many area residents have joined a group called Santa Cruz/Alameda for Everyone, or SAFE, that has been gathering comments about problems in the study area. They put that information in a 38-page document presented at the meeting, listing 17 issues, plus a range of possible solutions and complicating factors for each.

Many solutions make problems worse for other road users, but the SAFE group has tried to involve representatives of all groups that use the roadway including nearby residents, cyclists, parents of students and seniors.

Who do streets serve?

Cheryl Phan said the group has documented 19 collisions in the study area in the past nine months. (The county's consultants said they found fewer collisions, but the SAFE group says that is because not all accidents are reported.)

"The question before us is how to make this the neighborhood the residents want it to be," Ms. Phan said. "What are the values of our community? For whom and what purposes do our streets serve?"

Gwen Leonard, a resident of Menlo Commons, a condominium complex for those 55 and older with 170 residents off Santa Cruz Avenue, said speeding is the biggest issue. She, and many others, asked to have the speed limit reduced from 35 to 30 miles per hour.

Crosswalks are another danger, Ms. Leonard said. Some of the study area's six crosswalks – four at signals and two without signals – are simply ignored by drivers, she said.

Some parents drive their children short distances to the several nearby schools, and many local residents -- including Menlo-Atherton High School students -- have a hard time getting to the bus stop at Palo Alto Way, because it's so dangerous to use the crosswalk there, speakers said.

Nine lane crosswalk

SAFE organizer Ron Snow said that the design of many of the crosswalks is the problem, with one set at an angle that makes it the equivalent of nine lanes across. In many, walkers are hidden from the view of drivers by vehicles in other lanes, he said.

The SAFE report, and Ms. Leonard, suggested a pedestrian-activated stoplight for the crosswalk. Such traffic lights are dark until activated. The relatively new technology was recently installed on El Camino Real in Atherton.

Safe sidewalks are another need, Ms. Leonard said, "to reach area stores and a post office."

One change she and other residents did not want to see is the elimination of a central left turn lane. "Please do not consider eliminating the center lane," she said because it is "too valuable for all the residents of the area."

Bill Kirsch, who said he is on Menlo Park's Complete Streets Commission but was speaking as an individual, said: "We all know it's dangerous to bike and walk on this corridor."

"We want everyone to be able to move safely through this corridor," Mr. Kirsch said. If biking and walking are safe alternatives, "we can get some people out of their cars," he said.

The section of roadway being studied has no bike lanes, but is used by many cyclists because it connects to other bikeways.

Molly Glennen talked about the difficulties for students and parents crossing Santa Cruz and Alameda to get to La Entrada and Philips Brooks schools or the three neighborhood preschools. "We have major traffic coming through, and they're coming really fast," she said.

"Kids tell their parents when they're scared," she said. "I hear it every day."

"We need to work together across jurisdictions," she said, to find ways to get kids to schools, and get able-bodied and disabled people across streets and sidewalks. The goal, she said, "is to get from here to there without getting in cars."

Crashing through walls

Ms. Glennen also told about a 2:50 a.m. vehicle crash through the wall in front of her house.

Another resident said she also had a car come through her wall. "People use Santa Cruz Avenue thinking it's an expressway," she said. She asked that the corridor be made to appear more like a residential street with islands and trees.

Menlo Park Fire Protection District board member Virginia Chang-Kiraly asked the group to also think about the need for fire vehicles to use the road, which she said is a primary response route for the fire district. "We've got to have some space to get out," she said.

SAFE members said they have met with fire district officials as well as law enforcement, and Menlo Park and county officials.

It's unanimous

While it was obvious those at the meeting did not agree on solutions, on one topic they appeared unanimous.

"How many people think the speed limit's too high?" asked SAFE organizer Ron Snow. Almost every hand in the room was raised high.

The other top issue raised by neighbors is the redesign of the Y-intersection where Santa Cruz veers off into Menlo Park and the roadway becomes Alameda. Mr. Snow said residents have complained about 15 or 20 different issues with that area alone.

County officials at the meeting and a representative of the consultants they've hired to study the area had planned to have attendees vote on a set of possible alternatives for the road, but the group refused to do the planned exercise and instead asked lots of questions.

They asked the county and its consultants to work closely with SAFE representatives before they come back for another community meeting with possible solutions.

San Mateo County has a web page about the study, including a survey asking for residents' priorities for the study.

SAFE has its study posted online and lists each issue with a form to collect input.

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