On May 7, a young girl riding her bike was hit by a car in Menlo Park's Willows neighborhood at the intersection of Central Avenue and Walnut Street. And only weeks later, on June 15, a woman riding her bike was hit by a car on the same street, just a block away, at Central Avenue and Elm Street.
In the aftermath of those two accidents, a small group of neighborhood residents has circulated a petition that as of June 29 had gathered 75 signatures; the petition requests that the city install stop signs on Central Avenue to make both of those intersections four-way stops.
"We urge the city to take action now and install stop signs along Central Ave. at one or both of these intersections, along with potentially – before another accident results in tragedy," the petition says.
The petition says that cars often speed along Central Avenue because there are no stop signs.
Former environmental quality commissioner Chris DeCardy said in an interview that those intersections have caused concern among neighbors for some time now. In his process of canvassing the neighborhood for signatures, he said, many residents shared anecdotes of near-misses they'd seen or experienced.
In an email to the City Council urging the installation of stop signs, Solomon Moshkevich, a new resident of Walnut Street, pointed out that many neighborhood children ride their bikes to get to nearby schools, while cars often speed down Central Avenue. "Our children would be much safer with extra stop signs on Central," he wrote.
In response to the rise in public concern about the safety at these intersections, Assistant Public Works Director Nikki Nagaya on June 27 told a group of residents via email that the city is already planning to install "cross traffic does not stop" signs at Elm and Walnut streets; to replace the stop sign on southbound Walnut Street at Central Avenue; to paint four new crosswalks at each intersection; and to add two new "yield to pedestrians" warning signs.
Nagaya explained in the email that an intersection has to meet certain state and federal criteria before stop signs can be installed. Those criteria are traffic volume, collision history, and other factors, such as how well people can see at the intersection.
She said that the traffic volume at those two intersections does not meet the requirements, and that because of the collision history – the two bicyclists who were struck allegedly did not stop at the stop signs at Walnut and Elm streets – the stop signs are unlikely to "correct" the problem that led to the collision in the first place.
As for visibility, she added, staff plans to remove vegetation impeding people's vision of the intersection at Elm Street and Central Avenue. In the next few weeks, she said, more follow-up work will be done to see if parking restrictions, or perhaps a stop sign, would be called for. Ultimately, the decision belongs to the City Council, she said.
City Council members Kirsten Keith and Ray Mueller told The Almanac they have requested that Mayor Peter Ohtaki add the matter to the agenda for the next City Council meeting in July. Mueller said he canvassed the neighborhood with residents. Keith said she emailed the letter to people who signed the petition, and that she and her family handed out copies of a letter containing Nagaya's explanation of the situation from the city's public works staff.
Update: A previous version of this story indicated that Keith sent out an email to residents explaining the situation. She later told The Almanac that she also printed and handed out paper copies of the letter to neighborhood residents.