Neighbors question proposed traffic signal at Alameda and Walsh

School district also wants to move entrance to line up with Walsh Road

This drawing shows the current plan for rebuilding the Las Lomitas Elementary School in Atherton. Student drop off and pick up would move from Camino al Lago (on the right edge of the drawing) to off Alameda de las Pulgas (at the bottom of the drawing). A traffic signal would be added at the intersection of Walsh Road and Alameda, at the new entrance. (Courtesy Las Lomitas Elementary School District)

A proposal to put a traffic signal at Alameda de las Pulgas and Walsh Road in Atherton, which the Las Lomitas School District says is needed to improve school safety, is being questioned by some neighbors who fear it would make it harder to get in and out of their neighborhood.

As part of a plan to rebuild much of the campus of the kindergarten to third grade Las Lomitas Elementary School at 299 Alameda de las Pulgas, the school wants to move its main entrance to line up with Walsh Road and have a four-way traffic signal installed there.

District officials say the changes would make it easier and safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles to get in and out of the school. The school also wants other improvements, including the removal of some crosswalks on Alameda and a new location for others.

"Especially on this campus, safety has been a really great concern," the district's bond projects director, Eric Holm, told about four dozen people who attended a public meeting on the proposed stoplight on Tuesday, March 6, at the school.

While plans for changes on school campuses don't need local planning or building approval, the stoplight and any other changes the district wants on local streets must be approved by Atherton. The Atherton City Council would have the final say on the project.

The district had asked the town to pre-approve the light, and to pay for it, as part of negotiations to put a town water capture facility on school grounds. Town officials said they couldn't approve the project without it going through the usual public approval process and the negotiations fell apart at that point. (The town also wanted to retain the ability to back out of the water capture project if its annual maintenance costs proved too high, which the district said it could not allow.)

Currently, parents drop off and pick up students on Camino al Lago, just south of the school. Because the amount of space for cars to wait on campus is limited, the waiting line now backs up on Camino al Lago.

A traffic study commissioned by the school found that traffic congestion at the Alameda/Camino al Lago intersection is at level F, the worst possible level of congestion, with 50 or more seconds of delay and jammed conditions during both morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up times.

"We have this nexus of congestion that is really problematic from a safety standpoint," said Mr. Holm. "We are fearful of a kid getting hurt."

Under the new plan, parents would enter to pick up or drop off students from Alameda directly across from Walsh Road. They would turn left from that same point or turn right from farther north near the edge of the campus.

But many of the speakers Tuesday questioned the need for the traffic signal. One neighbor, who said she had attended Las Lomitas Elementary School as a child and lives off Walsh Road, said the plan would "penalize the people who live on Walsh Road."

"In order to accommodate the 44 percent of parents who are still in their cars," many others would have to spend more time on Alameda de las Pulgas, she said, "so we can make it more convenient for parents to drop off and pick up their kids." The changes would make it harder for Walsh Road area residents to enter and leave their neighborhood, she said.

She also questioned putting a crosswalk across Walsh leading to another that would cross Alameda at the new school entrance. "This is a disaster to have that two-sided crosswalk at Walsh," she said. "That's an accident waiting to happen."

The school's traffic study predicts the light would actually make the wait time at the intersection slightly longer in the morning (from 21.1 seconds to 22.8 seconds) and shorter in the afternoons (from 24.5 seconds to 17.1 seconds).

It would dramatically improve the wait time at the intersection of Camino al Lago and Alameda, however, from 50.9 seconds in the morning to 26.6 seconds and from 59.3 seconds in the afternoon to 20.6 seconds, according to the study.

"I just think the plan needs to go back to the drawing board," said another speaker. "I think it really needs a more heartfelt look."

Other neighbors worried the new plan would just encourage parents to park and drive on neighboring streets. "We're going to see traffic shifting to our street," said one.

Atherton City Council member Rick DeGolia followed up on questions from neighbors who asked why the school is proposing having its entrance moved from a side street to busier Alameda. He asked if the school had carefully studied ways to keep the drop-off where it now is. "It needs to be on Camino al Lago if you can do it," Mr. DeGolia said.

Andrew Lee, an engineer from Parisi Transportation Consulting, which did the traffic study, said the district is still working on the plan. "This is not a final plan by any means," he said. The proposal, however, "should calm traffic down a whole lot," he said. "There would be fewer conflicts with students, especially with traffic control."

The next step for the plan is a presentation at a meeting of Atherton's Transportation Commission on Tuesday, March 13. The meeting is at 6 p.m. in the town's council chambers, 94 Ashfield Road.


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5 people like this
Posted by LL Parent
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 8, 2018 at 4:44 pm

Make it more difficult to come and go from Walsh Road? Are you kidding me??

Have any of you tried to turn northbound on Alameda from Walsh Road when it's busy? It is a crap shoot at best. I am surprised there are not more collisions there. I think most people get frustrated waiting to cross the Alameda, turn right, and head down Camino a Lago and then down Fairview.

This is a standard not in my back yard reaction. Right down to the objecting the drop off lane from the Camino a Lago side to the Alameda (the side that can fit considerably more cars, given the expansion).

8 people like this
Posted by LE Parent
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Mar 8, 2018 at 5:22 pm

There is a reason that Encinal, Laurel, Hillview and M-A all refuse to have their children's primary access from the busy arterial street - SAFETY. It is absolutely insane to have K-3 children's walk/ride along the Alameda, cross Walsh, cross the Alameda and then dodge cars in 2 pickup lanes to get to their school. No other school district would tolerate such an unsafe plan and I suspect Middlefield, Ringwood and Santa Cruz are less busy thoroughfares than the Alameda.

Now imagine the cars backing up on Alameda as they wait to turn into a new parking lot off of the Alameda for pickup. Do you really want to move the cars waiting for pickup from Camino Al Lago to Alameda. Insane!

Lastly, LL has not followed the rules they agreed to with the Town and the County when the first curb cut was permitted 15 years ago on the Alameda. Namely, it would only be used for right turns and only by school buses. The promises made by the district lack real credibility.

4 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 8, 2018 at 5:58 pm

Time to change state law regarding no local control of building and development on school campuses. Also perhaps LL district should have included room for drop off and pickup in their plans so as not to impact a major thoroughfare.

5 people like this
Posted by Peter F Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 8, 2018 at 7:02 pm

Encinal, Laurel, Hillview and M-A all have traffic lights.

Safety Trump's nibmy.

10 people like this
Posted by LE Parent
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Mar 8, 2018 at 7:57 pm

Encinal, Laurel, Hillview and MA don’t permit access from the busiest adjacent street for safety and traffic reasons.

3 people like this
Posted by Parent Too
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 8, 2018 at 7:59 pm

I do not think a school drop off on a busier street versus a less busy street makes sense. Also, the Camino a Lago entrance side has a longer “drive area” for cars to wait while dropping off and picking up children. Changing the drop off to Alameda will only amount in further congestion and safety issues.

Anyone who drives the Alameda both in the morning and in the evening after work, can attest to traffic jams both in the morning and the evening after work. Traffic on the Alameda heading North in the evening is horrendous and backs up from Atherton Avenue to Valparaiso due to each car having to stop individually at the Atherton Ave stop sign, rather than having a stop light, which would allow a quicker flow of traffic so congestion would not occur.

If you understand the traffic issue after work on Alameda and apply the logic that all the cars going North on Alameda at night, had been on the Alameda going South in the morning when school and work is starting, you can understand why we have traffic issues at Los Lomitas in the mornings. If you do not believe it, drive North on the Alameda towards Atherton Ave at 5:30. You can even see now that due to this congestion, cars going North, including mine, are turning right on Camino a Lago, then left on Fairview Ave to go to Atherton Ave and avoid the traffic on Alameda caused by the stop signs at Atherton and Alameda.

If they put a light at Atherton Ave it would ensure that traffic on Alameda flowed quickly both in the morning and evening. The traffic issues on Alameda has absolutely nothing to do with the few homes on the dead end street Walsh Road. Whoever came up with that solution is not driving Alameda every day both ways. As to the LL Parent, drive Alameda at night at 5:30 to see the real Atherton Ave issue and understand what the real issue is.

9 people like this
Posted by PeninsulaGirl
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Mar 8, 2018 at 9:06 pm

PeninsulaGirl is a registered user.

Thank you, "LE Parent." I tried to click on the "like this comment," but that function doesn't seem to be working at the moment. I think that you are absolutely right.

I was at the meeting, and many of us pointed out that HILLVIEW handled this issue well. Las Lomitas is handling it badly.
I do not understand why Las Lomitas has:
1) ignored the Hillview example--where they avoided having a school entrance on a major traffic artery (Santa Cruz Ave) AND separated cars from students walking/biking.
2) failed to involve anyone from Atherton earlier in the design process.

I would like to point out that I am the Walsh Road resident---who attended Las Lomitas and La Entrada in the '70s---whom the Almanac is misquoting.
This isn't just a Walsh Road issue, and WE DO WANT A LIGHT---AT THE CAMINO A LAGO INTERSECTION.
It is INSANE to make the school entrance on the Alameda, thereby clogging a major local traffic artery.

Re: the crosswalks, LL's proposed crosswalks at Walsh Road don't even include bike/pedestrian "walk/don't walk" signaling. They propose only 3 (not 4) crosswalks in a "C" shape instead of a square (just like the nightmare crosswalks at Atherton/El Camino), so anyone on a bike trying to turn left from Walsh and head north on Alameda will get hit.

Safety requires SEPARATING entry points for bikes/pedestrians and cars. That's straight out of "School Safety 101."
LL's plan shoves them all together, forcing students to cross over 4 lanes of cars (including the ridiculous wrap-around drop-off loop that will back up instantly whenever anyone backs out of a parking spot).

The Almanac has completely failed to accurately report that at least 5 people at the meeting brought up HILLVIEW as an example of how to do this WELL. Vehicles enter on ELDER, approximately 50 yards from the Elder/Santa Cruz light.
Las Lomitas could do a similar thing, with vehicles entering on the eastern end of the campus's Camino a Lago side (where the ancient kindergarten buildings and playground are).

8 people like this
Posted by PeninsulaGirl
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Mar 8, 2018 at 9:13 pm

PeninsulaGirl is a registered user.

Another thing about the Las Lomitas superintendent et al.:

Are they arrogant or stupid? Or both? I realize that "stupid" sounds mean-spirited, but basically, this is what the district's behavior is saying to Atherton and unincorporated Menlo Park:

"We don't care about your input, but we do want your money---now give us another $60million in bond money."
Arrogance and stupidity.

Good luck getting 55% of us to approve your upcoming bond.

11 people like this
Posted by Mppmom
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 9, 2018 at 6:45 am

As a parent in the district I want to point out that this is a ridiculous proposal and think that money and time would be better spent having parents put their children on the bus transportation that is already provided. We are the only district that offers this incredible free service and almost none of my kids friends take it because they don't want to either wait at the bus stop or have to sit on a bus. I understand picking your kid up for after school activities but most are in the car line just because they don't like the bus.

5 people like this
Posted by PeninsulaGirl
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Mar 9, 2018 at 10:55 am

PeninsulaGirl is a registered user.

Every parent driving a child to school is contributing to the problem, BUT they also have reasons to fear for their children's safety if allowing them to bike or walk to school. I understand this on a very person level. Last October, my 13-year-old son suffered a broken arm when he was hit by a car biking east on Selby Lane, toward El Camino. (He was biking 4.5 miles to Synapse School, and since there is a crossing guard in the morning at Selby and El Camino, it is the only safe spot to cross.)

It's a painful Catch-22: Every kid biking or walking to school means one less parent in a car clogging up the streets in the morning and afternoon. But there are so many cars---using a local road infrastructure that was never designed to handle this volume of traffic---every morning, driving angry (and sometimes on their phones, yikes) that cyclists and pedestrians are in jeopardy every day.

The bike lanes on the Alameda are woefully inadequate, and I think that part of the problem rests with the fact that much of that stretch is in the unincorporated section of Menlo Park---i.e., San Mateo County jurisdiction.

I wonder if part of Las Lomitas's reluctance to have a main entrance on Camino a Lago has to do with the fact that the north side of the street is in Atherton, and the south side is in unincorporated San Mateo County. If this is true, then their decision to put the entrance on Alameda has to do with EXPEDIENCY rather than GOOD DESIGN.

BUSES are indeed part of the solution, and parents should be taking advantage of the fact that the district is rich enough to keep buses, when most districts in the area can't afford them.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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