Menlo Park: Momentum builds for new stop signs in the Willows

Emergency responders deal with the aftermath of a bicycle and vehicle accident the night of June 15 at Central Avenue and Elm Street. (Photo by Tricia Barr.)

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.


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9 people like this
Posted by Illogical
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 9, 2018 at 7:49 pm

The statement that because the two cyclist ran their stop signs adding stop signs on Central is unlikely to correct the problem is totally illogical. The probability of a car which is starting from a dead stop being able to stop in time for a cyclist unlawfully running their stop sign is probably in the high nineties. In the event an accident still occurs, the velocity will be low enough that the probability of severe injury is also very low. Problem solved.

Conversely, the probability of a car being able to stop in time while traveling the typical 40mph on Central for the same cyclist driving unlawfully through their stop sign is much lower and the probability of severe injury to the cyclist is far higher due to the higher velocity of the car.

This is a neighborhood street, not an expressway. There's no valid reason not to install stop signs here (and please don't start with the start/stop environmental impact garbage). Slowing for the 25mph max that vehicles should be traveling to zero and accelerating back to 25 has a negligible impact on driving time.

20 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2018 at 12:39 pm

"The statement that because the two cyclist ran their stop signs adding stop signs on Central is unlikely to correct the problem is totally illogical."

Uh, it's completely logical. Playing out scenarios makes this clear:

* Scenario #1: bicyclists stop at stop signs (following the law) while motorists speed @40mph (breaking the law): bicyclist avoids collision.

* Scenario #2: bicyclists blow through stop signs (breaking the law) while a motorist doesn't speed (following the law): bicyclist is still in danger.

Clearly, the speeding on central should be cracked down; I completely support the Willows community's complaints about speeding and efforts to reduce speeding on Central.

But you're attempting to absolve the bicyclists of their responsibilities in operating their vehicle safely. Blowing through stop signs is at least as egregious an infraction as speeding, and it's the blowing through the stop signs that is the co-equal source of the danger at these intersections.

Putting up more stop signs just results in more stop signs being blown through by bicyclists.

51 people like this
Posted by Willows Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 10, 2018 at 2:03 pm

"Illogical" named him/herself correctly as "peninsula resident" points out. The fault of these accidents lies directly with the cyclists who ignored the stop signs that ARE there. More stop signs just leads to more people ignoring more stop signs.

The headline here is troubling as well. When this issue was discussed on Nextdoor a few weeks back the reality was rather more mixed than if fairly characterized as "momentum builds".

There are many of us who think that more stop signs are NOT the answer for a number of reasons. For example:

- Having cars repeatedly accelerate and decelerate wastes fuel, creates gas and noise pollution and produces irritated drivers who may not be as cooperative.

- Nobody has produced a study to support the "everybody speeds at 40mph" claim for Central. In fact if one looks at the data sets for the study that was done in the Marmona area earlier this year, NEARLY ALL of the measuring stations reported 85 percentile speeds BELOW the speed limit with limited outliers in the +5-10mph range. That is not 'everybody speeding'. That's the vast majority of drivers driving BELOW the limit. Yet the few outliers were used to justify a program to install 12 MORE speed bumps in a few blocks.

- Stop signs are not the only approach to slowing traffic and making intersections more safe.

- Plants/Foliage - The article mentions some increased enforcement on shrubbery in the sight lines. This is critically important. Elm/Central is one where safety can be improved a lot if code were enforced for corner shrubs. Walnut/Central is a bit trickier as the obstacles are the trees that make the neighborhood. But perhaps a no parking red curb back 50 feet from the corner would help. There are often cars parked right at the corner that cause poor visibility.

- Alternate traffic calming - Textured speed tables are proven to slow traffic and heighten focus/safety at intersections. If Elm and Walnut intersections with Central got that treatment along with the EXISTING stop signs on the cross streets (Elm/Walnut) I believe we'd solve the safety issue without making our neighborhood a nightmare of stop signs only observed by the ones who weren't the problem in the first place.

- Even if one wants more stop signs, that does not mean one is needed at every corner. If speed on Central really is an issue, every other intersection would have the same practical impact in slowing cars. If visibility is the issue, put some where visibility is the problem.

10 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 10, 2018 at 10:47 pm

As a resident of the Willows for a very long time I have seen more and more stop signs added to our intersections and they are not making them safer. Adding a stop sign because someone got in an accident while running an existing stop sign makes absolutely no sense. I passed that accident on May 7th just as the fire department was arriving. The car had barely entered the intersection and when I looked a couple hours later there were no skid marks so they were not speeding down Central.

There are studies that indicate that adding more stop signs actually causes people to either speed between them causing a higher risk, or they just start ignoring them.

Once people ignore the stop signs (and they do regularly if you stand and watch from the sidewalk) what is next, we ask the city to start installing stop lights? I don't think so.

17 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of another community
on Jul 11, 2018 at 10:35 am

"there were no skid marks so they were not speeding down Central."

Skidmarks are not an indicator of speeding. From personal experience...

In 1998, I was driving down a residential street 1 block from my home when a kid road his bicycle into the street literally right in front of me (they came from a driveway that had a vehicle in between me and my view of the driveway that obscured my vision; and the kid and bicycle were small, about the same height as the car that obscured my view. Impossible to see).

The paramedics arrived as well as the police. The police found my skidmarks, measured them and found they were 36 feet long.

It turns out a skidmark that length translates into a speed at/under 25MPH. In other words, I was in every way driving safely and legally.

There's (at least) 2 takeaways:

1: someone can create skidmarks from braking and still be within the speed limit.

2: a bicyclist blowing thru a stop sign 30 feet from a car DRIVING THE SPEED LIMIT risks getting hit and getting injured (or worse).

To reiterate, I support cracking down on speeders on Central. But bicyclists risk their own safety when blowing through stop signs as cars CANNOT stop as quickly as bicyclists wish/hope they could.

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

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