Portola Valley's public works department received the go-ahead from the Town Council on Aug. 14 to proceed with a plan for a series of safety improvements to make its semi-rural streets and roads, which were mainly designed for cars, safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.
The recommendations for the improvements come from a study by San Mateo-based consultant Paul Krupka, which was based on input from three community meetings and a study session with council members over the past eight months, according to town Public Works Director Howard Young.
Because there are no traffic lights in town, vehicles can build up momentum, and drivers need more warning that a pedestrian crossing is ahead, accounting for the need for more visible crosswalks, signs and warning beacons, according to the study.
In many instances, pedestrian trails are used by schoolchildren to cross Alpine and Portola roads.
"The town was not built for traditional sidewalks," Young said.
The study recommends spending an estimated $285,000 on improvements at 15 locations, and sets three levels of urgency to help determine which projects should be completed first.
The council approved a budget of $295,000 for the project, and the town is applying for a grant from the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County to cover some or all of the costs, Young said.
One of the highest priority projects, and the most expensive at an estimated $92,000, is to relocate a crosswalk that is now on Portola Road near Brookside Drive and install road markings at the intersection of Portola and Corte Madera roads. The town would also install rapid-flashing warning beacons to alert drivers as they approach the new crosswalk.
A second high-priority project calls for installing a crosswalk sign, markings and flashing beacons at the intersection of Alpine Road and Golden Oak Drive at a cost of $55,000.
Other high priorities identified in the study include school signs and markings at Ormondale, Windmill, Woodside Priory and Corte Madera schools, which would cost a total of $28,000, and installing crosswalk signs and markings at the intersection of Portola and Alpine roads at a cost of $15,000.
Lower-priority items include vehicle speed monitors at the entrances to town on Portola and Alpine roads, and sets of crosswalk signs and markings where Portola Road intersects with Wyndham Drive, Farm Road, Westridge Drive and Grove Drive.
"The priorities were determined by the consultant from input from the (community) meetings," Young said. "The determination was systematic, with the schools being a priority."
Drivers routinely exceed the speed limit by an average of 5 miles per hour particularly on the main arteries of Alpine Road and Portola Road and the town had 43 collisions between 2014 and 2018, with 17 of them involving vehicles and bicycles, Krupka told the council.
There is limited advance notice or local visibility of crosswalks and traffic controls, according to the study.
Council members unanimously, though reluctantly, supported the need for flashing beacons at the two critical intersections of Portola, Brookside and Corte Madera, and at Alpine and Golden Oak.
"I don't like the flashing beacons, but they're needed," Mayor Ann Wengert said.
"I accept the flashing beacons, but they're a tough thing to swallow," added Councilman John Richards.
The council also agreed to use California Department of Transportation-approved signs, although they may not be the size and color the community might prefer to coordinate with the semi-rural landscape, according to the study.
The Caltrans signs are familiar to California drivers, making them easier to read and recognize. Familiarity with the signs might also reduce drivers' perception and reaction time, according to the study.
The town will finalize project plans and await word about whether it receives grant funding before moving forward with improvements.