West Menlo residents petition county for a safer Santa Cruz Avenue

Vehicles approach the West Menlo Park crosswalk across Santa Cruz Avenue at Palo Alto Way, where a woman was accidentally struck and killed in 2004. (Photo by Kate Bradshaw.)

A coalition of residents in West Menlo Park has petitioned San Mateo County for a series of road changes to improve safety on the chaotic northbound stretch of Santa Cruz Avenue between Sand Hill Road and where it goes through a "Y" split with Alameda de las Pulgas.

According to Ron Snow, one of the primary organizers of the neighborhood's safety advocacy group, two petitions have been circulated through the neighborhood. The first calls for a set of changes to Santa Cruz Avenue between Sand Hill Road and where it splits with Alameda de las Pulgas. That received support from 97 percent of the more than 200 area residents who were asked about the proposed changes. The second petition proposes to add a pedestrian-activated signal for the crosswalk at Santa Cruz Avenue and Palo Alto Way, and received support from 98 percent of the more than 200 residents asked.

The corridor has long been considered dangerous, especially by local commuters and residents who walk or ride their bikes around there and have seen traffic congestion increase in recent years.

San Mateo County staff is working with a consultant, Kimley-Horn, to do a technical analysis of the area and develop a plan to improve safety and connectivity for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. Last year, a public meeting attended by county officials, representatives from Kimley-Horn and concerned residents led to the formation of a 28-person task force to develop a plan to address the traffic and safety problems in the area.

San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley, whose district includes unincorporated West Menlo Park, said that plans are in the works to request an additional $245,000 from the county budget to continue the task force and develop a plan for the road and the Y intersection, which he said could be completed in as soon as three to six months.

After the plan is released, the county will go through steps to collect public feedback on it, and it ultimately would have to get approved by the county's Board of Supervisors. Only then could funding be set aside for any of the recommended infrastructure improvements, which might take time since the county is on a two-year budget cycle, Horsley explained.

In the interim, he noted that the county has already made improvements to Santa Cruz Avenue, including adding "sharrows" (painted markings on the road to remind drivers to share the road with cyclists) and putting up radar signals that tell drivers how fast they're going compared to the speed limit. However, Horsley added, he feels that the Y intersection needs to be reconfigured, especially to make the pedestrian crossing there perpendicular. (Currently, the pedestrian crossing is an extra-long diagonal walk across traffic lanes.) Just how to reconfigure the intersection, though, he plans to leave up to the traffic engineers with whom the county is working.

Some feel, however, that the county hasn't responded fast enough to address the safety problems. Snow said he felt that the task force's progress has been rather slow and bureaucratic so far. He has continued to meet with neighbors and developed the proposals in the two petitions as first steps to addressing the area's safety problems. But more needs be done to calm traffic along this stretch of the road, he said.

Carin Pacifico, a West Menlo Park resident, said that there are several groups of advocates pushing for safety improvements, each with different priorities. As she explained it, cyclists want bike lanes added on Santa Cruz Avenue between Sand Hill Road and the Y split, but the bike lanes are opposed by residents along that street who do not want to give up their parking. She said households with kids, meanwhile, are pushing for improved sidewalks (the ones along Alameda de las Pulgas are narrow and uneven), and seniors who live at Menlo Commons are seeking traffic relief so that it will be easier to get out of the driveway.

During peak commute times, Pacifico said, there's a constant stream of vehicles headed into Menlo Park along Santa Cruz Avenue, residents who live on Santa Cruz Avenue after the Y split face major difficulties getting out of their driveways. Snow has recommended that the traffic signal turn red more often for drivers staying on Santa Cruz Avenue through the Y during peak commute hours so that residents get enough reprieve to pull out of their driveways, and so that pedestrians can cross at the Y split.

One of the petitions that Snow and other neighborhood safety advocates circulated proposes three changes along Santa Cruz Avenue: to remove the third northbound lane; to change the traffic signal timing at the Y so that motorists continuing along the northeast section of Santa Cruz Avenue stop more often; and to add paint along the right lane so that motorists know the boundaries of the lane. The petitioners also requested that the county make these changes before the new school year starts.

Some supporters of the petition offered anonymous comments.

One endorsed the proposal as cheap, fast, and easy to reverse if things don't work out as planned, and also easy to make permanent.

"My children and I are forced to risk our lives daily to cross this intersection as pedestrians," someone wrote. "Cars often continue down Santa Cruz on the red against clearly marked signs. Cars often drive through the crosswalk and stop so that I have to push my stroller into traffic to get around them."

"This intersection is a mess. Try getting through there with a wheelchair! Ha!" another added.

Crosswalk like 'Frogger'

Another safety proposal that nearby residents overwhelmingly support, Snow said, is to add a pedestrian-activated light across Santa Cruz Avenue at Palo Alto Way.

The crosswalk there was the site of a fatality in January 2004, when Atefeh "Amy" Bijan, 75, was accidentally struck and killed by a vehicle driven by 84-year-old Atherton resident Adele Elliott. In the aftermath of Bijan's death, there was discussion of upgrading the crosswalk to add warning lights, or removing the crosswalk. But the crosswalk there remains, and no warning lights have been added.

An anonymous resident wrote in response to the petitions that he or she was a witness to Bijan's death. "I know firsthand the dangers of this intersection and will not allow my children to cross here until safety measures are in place. The county should be ashamed to have let so much time pass without a resolution."

Another respondent compared the crosswalk to the video game Frogger. "My 11 year old daughter uses this 4+ lane crosswalk on occasion," he or she wrote. "Cars just don't see her. … it's just a matter of time until someone gets hit."

Roberta Morris, who calls herself a "militant pedestrian," said that the safety problems these changes aim to mitigate have been in existence for at least as long as she's lived in the neighborhood, since 2006. But she's optimistic that the next county manager, Mike Callagy, can help.

"It's possibly going to be the reason that things happen now," she said.


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5 people like this
Posted by Peter Wood
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Aug 16, 2018 at 2:07 pm

I wonder why we're not making use of roundabouts to solve the Y-intersection. It seems to work in other cities and states... It would also slow down the fast-moving traffic (that tends to significantly increase in speed to make the Y-turn lights).

8 people like this
Posted by My2Bits
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 17, 2018 at 10:13 am

May I add - the modifications to downtown - the Santa Cruz stretch between El Camino and University - has become a nightmare to navigate. The restaurants have been allowed to progressively impede visibility to the point where drivers can't see people in crosswalks. Jaywalkers pop out from behind those seating areas and hop across the medians. There too it's just a matter of time...

7 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Aug 17, 2018 at 11:39 am

We keep seeing proposals to introduce all sorts of obstacles into major roads. With the enormous increase in development going on, don't we need to keep some relatively free flowing arterial streets?

20 people like this
Posted by Maybe 30 yrs ago
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 17, 2018 at 12:20 pm

Free flowing one way = slowed/blocked cross streets.
Also, the idea of "free flow" sounds nice, but the reality of free flow is already shown on 101 every day. When there are too many cars there will never be "free flowing" traffic.

3 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 17, 2018 at 7:50 pm

Notice how “Free flow” isn’t a problem in towns like Portola Valley, Woodside, Los Altos Hills, etc. Same with parts of 280. I agree too many people=too many cars which jam up the roads. The only way to solve this is by limiting the housing supply even further to prevent overcrowding in the area, yet this always gets pushback from people complaining about being priced out. Unfortunately, they want to have their cake and eat it too.

22 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 17, 2018 at 10:30 pm

Limiting housing just means more people commuting from out-of-town, thus putting more traffic on the roads leading to the freeways, right? Commuter traffic is caused by job growth, not housing growth.

3 people like this
Posted by Julian
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 18, 2018 at 3:01 pm

Dear Observer,

Would you be ok with Stanford putting their new developments in Ladera then? You have not been subjected to the out-of-control job growth of us folks down here.

4 people like this
Posted by Sam Sinnott
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 18, 2018 at 4:05 pm

My2bits is right. The stretch of Santa Cruz between University and El Camino is an obstacle course. Although aggravated by the outdoor restaurant seating, the real problem is on street parked cars lining the streets. They cramp all circulation, making the street dangerous for everyone, and create traffic jams. About 3/4 of the cars on the street should be relocated to parking garages. As a resident and business owner in the downtown I strongly support any candidate in favor of building parking structures large enough to handle most of the on street parking in the the downtown area.

9 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 18, 2018 at 8:18 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Close Santa Cruz Ave between University and ECR. Make it a pedestrian plaza like the Pearl St. Mall in Boulder. Build parking structures to make up for the lost parking. It won't take much. The Santa Cruz mall will become a go to location.

Like this comment
Posted by county resident
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 18, 2018 at 8:27 pm

I also don't really like the restaurant encroachment, because walking on the sidewalk is difficult dodging waitstaff. If the sidewalk was rerouted, that might help. (i.e. pull the "porch" seating adjacent to the restaurant and run the sidewalk around the protected area.) I agree that allowing patio seating makes for a more vivacious downtown... But, I could see other stores being aggravated at the unequal treatment of available space.

I believe that what also contributes to the traffic problem is the installation of FOUR stop signs in an 8 block stretch. It's clear that the agenda to move Santa Cruz Ave. to pedestrian only is at play. But that simply forces traffic to side streets which inconveniences those residents.

Regarding the traffic between Sand Hill and the Y, people simply need to be alert while they drive and not so aggressive.

1 person likes this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 18, 2018 at 10:26 pm

I have to travel through Menlo Park with great regularity so unfortunately I too am inconvenienced by the traffic. It is so bad we avoid downtown and simply eat elsewhere, like at Ladera shopper or the Rosewood. I do agree that here in Portola Valley Stanford impact isn’t as bad, however it’s somsthjng that affects us too and therefore we should have a say. As a matter of fact, Stanford owns a large chunk of land west of 280 in Portola Valley, however this is undeveloped for the time being.

Like this comment
Posted by George fisher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 20, 2018 at 6:14 am

George fisher is a registered user.

Assuming the sharrows mean bicyclists may use full lane, they really help between sand hill and the Y. The previous sign stating both share same lane and accompanying diagram implied sharing side by side which is very dangerous. Further understanding of sharrows would be helpful, so everyone is on same page.

1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 20, 2018 at 7:15 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Follow Follow @CA_DMV

Sharrows are used to indicate lanes that bicyclists are lawfully allowed to occupy.


"Motorists must be aware that a shared lane marking means that bicyclists may use the full travel lane. When approaching a bicyclist, the motorist should slow down and keep a safe distance. The motorist should not attempt to pass in the same lane, unless it is safe to do so and there is enough room. In general, a motorist should wait for a safe opportunity to move entirely into an adjacent lane."

Web Link

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