West Menlo residents petition county for a safer Santa Cruz Avenue | August 22, 2018 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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News - August 22, 2018

West Menlo residents petition county for a safer Santa Cruz Avenue

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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