LETTERS | December 5, 2007 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



Viewpoint - December 5, 2007


Bad timing at Alameda, Sharon Road signal


I am very concerned about the new signal timing at the intersection of Sharon Road and Alameda de las Pulgas in Menlo Park.

I understand the signal timing was changed in an effort to keep the traffic on the Alameda moving through the commercial area by the Dutch Goose.

I have lived very close to this intersection for over 20 years. Traffic has never backed up on the Alameda at this intersection. The previous signal timing allowed Sharon Road traffic to quickly move through the intersection, and the light timing was quick enough to allow the Alameda traffic to keep moving through with just a brief stop, not long enough to create any more than a four- or five-car backup, even during commute time.

Sharon Road is busy. La Entrada Middle School is just two blocks from the Alameda on Sharon Road. Over 550 students attend school there. Many are dropped off by parents and many walk, bike or use a scooter. There are hundreds of apartments along Sharon Road, as well as the Safeway and Longs Drugs at the Sharon Heights Shopping Center. Sharon Road is also a shortcut for commuters on their way to Interstate 280.

With the new signal timing, I have seen traffic on Sharon Road backed up all the way to the parking lot entrance to La Entrada. This in turn backs up all the school traffic, as well as any other traffic trying to get through the area.

My biggest concern is for the students trying to get to school. My son has seen students crossing the Alameda on red lights, and I have seen many pedestrians cross on red lights since the timing was changed. I have also seen impatient drivers go through the intersection on red lights after they have stopped and waited, but since it takes so long for the light to change and there is no traffic on the Alameda, they just go.

I have repeatedly called the county to explain what impacts the signal timing change has had. I still have not seen it improve. I hope the county reconsiders the change to the signal timing. It has worked very well for the last 20 years. Please change it back.

Kristin Smith

Sharon Road, Menlo Park

Bring back the buses


The Almanac's support of local classroom climate change efforts (cover story Nov. 14) was commendable, but ironic.

To quote Dena Belzer of Strategic Economics (Menlo Park speaker series, Nov. 14), there is no larger issue in global warming than transportation. And according to local traffic studies, the largest single component to Menlo Park's morning traffic is mom and dad's private taxi service to local schools. Older kids are already training to be commuters with their own cars at M-A.

Where is the iconic school bus? Buses were removed from school district budgets because no one thought they were important enough to fight for, but designer performing arts centers are worth any effort in fundraising. And the district wonders why communities don't see the schools as a good neighbor.

The Nov. 14 article was about schools leading by example. The return of the big yellow bus might make that real.

Henry Riggs

Callie Lane, Menlo Park


Posted by Anna, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Dec 6, 2007 at 11:04 am

In response to the second letter in this queue (from Henry Riggs): I couldn't agree more. The dreadful traffic problem during school commute times will never be solved until buses are part of the equation. Wake up, MP school district. This should be a priority.

Posted by MPworkingMom, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 6, 2007 at 11:33 am

I'd suggest that both buses and on-site afterschool care at Menlo Park city schools would reduce traffic congestion and vehicle trips, but any mention of daycare brings down the wrath of God from the militant stay-at-home mom cabal.

Posted by Richard, a resident of another community
on Dec 6, 2007 at 12:20 pm

I don't know about Menlo Park, but in Palo Alto the school buses were abandoned in the early 90's because the school district wanted to save money. They dumped the cost of school transportation onto others. The result has been mass congestion at school sites, resulting in bad driver behavior, injured children, and needless pollution. The police department has had to hire many crossing guards to improve safety for pedestrians and bikers, basically picking up the cost that the school district cut. It is unfortunate that our planning and decision making is so fragmented, with organizations looking only at their own small part of the picture and making decisions that benefit them while harming the community as a whole.

Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Dec 6, 2007 at 12:23 pm

Regarding school traffic: What do you think of the possibility of using our city shuttle vans to drive kids to and from school? The parents could pay a fee to cover the costs, making it cost-neutral for the city.

There could be additional bus routes, with clearly marked stops throughout the residential areas where most of the kids live for a particular school. That way, parents wouldn't drive their cars in and around schools, increasing school access safety for walkers and bikers. fewer idling cars, fewer cars on our city streets.

Yes, the yellow school buses should be used, but apparently the school districts don't want to or can't pay for them. Instead of just complaining about it, let's try this out for a school year and see if we can make it work. Call it proof-of-concept. Please don't tell us it can't work. Instead, tell us how you are going to help make it work.

Posted by Jan, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Dec 6, 2007 at 2:16 pm

I love the idea of bringing back buses or doing a trial run with the city's shuttles (though I wonder if there wouldn't be a time conflict with the shuttles if they're now used for commuters). But one argument I've heard is that many parents would continue to pick their kids up from school because of hyperscheduling that requires them to be taxied to dance class or soccer or piano lessons or you name it. I don't have kids in the schools, but I'm wondering what local parents of school-aged kids have to say about the idea of buses or shuttles. Would you let your kids use them?

Posted by another mom, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 6, 2007 at 2:54 pm

It seems to me that a lot of our kids are within walking or biking distance of school but few walk or bike because of safety concerns. The other posts here seem to propose solving a safety issue with motor vehicles. Those motor vehicles, whether cars, shuttles, or buses are causing a lot of the safety problem. Sure, there would be fewer of them but it would be interesting to see if we could be focused more on the root problems of inadequate safety for young pedestrians and bikers.

I'm all for trying things for short periods. Cheaper solutions might be carpools, crossing guards, bike brigades, lower speed limits during school commute hours. Maybe even try some 1-way streets to allow wider bike lanes. Probably there are other, better ideas. I'm just trying to promote some innovative thinking by tossing these into the mix.

Posted by Sheila E., a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 6, 2007 at 3:15 pm

When school districts are strapped for cash and need funding for innovative programs, where do they turn? School foundations.

Maybe the need for buses is something that parents should encourage their local school foundations to take up.

Posted by Eileen, a resident of another community
on Dec 6, 2007 at 5:19 pm

We have moved all over the country and been exposed to many school districts. Contrary to what the people on the peninsula are exposed to, most school districts in this country have school bus service. This service generally paid for by the school district. The number one reason that is stated is for safety. Having several children on one bus versus several carpools drastically reduces accidents and injuries. Not to mention the children that are on their own getting to and from school due to parents' work schedules.

It amazes me that school districts (Palo Alto & Menlo Park) in one of the RICHEST areas of the country claims that they can't afford a bus transportation system for its residents who pay an tremendous amount in taxes.

Posted by Eileen, a resident of another community
on Dec 6, 2007 at 5:36 pm

a few national statistics on school bus service:
from: Web Link

Unequaled safety record. There is no safer way to transport a child than in a school bus. Fatal crashes involving occupants are extremely rare events, even though school buses serve daily in every community - a remarkable 8.8 billion student trips annually. Every school day, some 440,000 yellow school buses transport more than 24 million children to and from schools and school-related activities. Said another way to give perspective to the huge magnitude of pupil transportation, the equivalent of the populations of Florida, Massachusetts and Oregon ride on a school bus twice every day - almost always without a serious incident.

Safety Statistics. Last year, 45 states had not a single child killed as a school bus occupant - an incredible safety record. Between 1990 and 2000, an average of just six children each year died as school bus passengers. These tragedies typically involved unavoidable, severe circumstances.

Trust the school bus for the best safety for your child. The Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences estimates that every year more than 800 school-aged children are killed as passengers in other motor vehicles, or walking or riding bicycles, during "normal school transportation hours." Most of these deaths could be prevented if children rode in school buses. Parents need to know that driving a child to school is not a safety smart decision - hands down, the school bus is the safest way to and from school. Even worse, allowing a child to drive themselves to school, or riding with other teenagers to school, increases the risk of fatality by 10 percent.

Pedestrian fatalities. Over the past 10 years, an average of 29 children were killed in school bus-related pedestrian accidents - struck while getting on or off a school bus.

School buses are the largest mass transit program in the U.S. School buses provide approximately 8.8 billion student trips per year. In contrast, transit buses provide only about 5.2 billion unlinked passenger trips each year in the U.S. (i.e. getting to a destination by using a single bus instead of multiple connections).

Posted by another mom, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 6, 2007 at 5:48 pm

I realize buses may be the safest motor vehicular transportation, but we are blessed with an amazing climate that allows other means to get to school. Maybe traffic has to get worse still before alternatives are evaluated.

Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Dec 6, 2007 at 7:48 pm

I gather that the idea is to get all those cars off the streets, especially around and near schools. Yes, if possible, kids should walk or ride their bikes. Yes,if possible, kids should ride school buses rather than be driven, one car at a time, by 'rents.' The school district, I am told, does not want to pay for school buses. Now what?

There may be no one solution, but there are a number that merit exploration. Kid carpools? Shared vans? PTA sponsored school buses paid for by parent fees? Worth a try. The city shuttle, which carries commuting adults, could also carry school bound kids, also paid by parent fees. Also worth a try. It's a win-win; fewer cars means safer streets, less carbon energy consumption.

Any other ideas?

Posted by parent of 4, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Dec 6, 2007 at 10:57 pm

The district argues that parents would not be willing to pay for school buses, but in fact dozens and dozens of kids take public transit to Encinal and Hillview--regular SamTrans buses. It's not an ideal option (which is the reason more people don't use it) but it's a reasonably popular alternative to other modes of transportation.

Posted by Curious, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Dec 7, 2007 at 7:24 am

Parent of 4, why do you think so many parents don't view Samtrans as a good option? Is it a scheduling problem?

Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of another community
on Dec 7, 2007 at 8:57 am

Our government schooling system is not about education. It is about indoctrination and control. It is about the de facto institutionalization of 90% of our school age children. It is about government subsidized childcare. It is about the separation of child and parent. It is about Hillary’s village. It is about the unbridled power of the NEA and their affiliated unions.

It is a system which, by monopolizing education dollars, has used the People’s government to extract taxes from families and individuals who might otherwise have chosen to support alternative education. It is a system in which parents have been brainwashed into thinking that the education of their children is beyond their comprehension, and must be left up to elitist educrats under government sponsorship. It is a system which has unfairly suppressed the normal evolution of quality education alternatives. It is anti-family and anti-life. And, to use a word you have popularized, in my opinion it is "evil".

Why has education, a natural event in the life of individuals, become such an expensive, ineffective boondoggle, delegated to these government operatives? Why are some in government "hell bent" on separating children from their parents? Why are these "evil doers" allowed to attack the institution of "family"?

Creating tax burdens to support the government schooling monopoly, whether by bonded indebtedness, parcel taxes, utility taxes, etc., forces parents to work extra hours to balance their budget. Parents lose time with their children and educrat/indoctrinators gain more control. And, childless taxpayers lose discretionary use of their education dollars.

We have hidden taxes, collected on our phone bills, which provide $billions in subsidies for internet wiring to facilitate computer use in government schools. Most homes are already wired. Computers in the home, a better idea, would allow parents and children to learn together. We should look for policies which would facilitate a greater occupancy rate for family homes, by family members. Empty homes attract burglars.

Government schools have become day care centers and virtual prisons in the eyes of many taxpayers, parents and students. Government schools serve as distribution centers for drug dealers who thrive on the "big money" in the black market created by the disastrous "war on drugs". Meanwhile, government schools have introduced the joys of Ritalin to parents and their children. Our jails and prisons are full of others who have experimented with drugs. It is a sorry state of affairs.

Parents of school age children, who are effectively forced to turn their children over to the indoctrinators, deserve a choice. Unfortunately, many have grown fond of free babysitting, an entitlement bestowed upon them by a benevolent government. Childless taxpayers, forced to support the government schooling monopoly, deserve a choice in where the would spend their education dollars.

There is something about an arbitrary use of force which seems inappropriate in a free society. This is especially true in the halls of education. It is time to Let Freedom Ring, so that we might all say "Thank God, free at last", from the chains of an ill-founded compulsory education system!

Our Libertarian Party Members pledge not to initiate force. Is it unreasonable to ask that our government do likewise?

Posted by another mom, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 7, 2007 at 10:14 am

One reason kids don't use SamTrans is that the bus schedules are inflexible and do not match well the public school hours, what with minimum days. Some are weekly and the rest are predictable (for parent-teacher conferences, teacher inservice, etc.)

The various school levels have different issues (e.g., high school kids often have sports or clubs with different hours). I can't answer for its routes and how convenient they are for various schools, but that could be an issue for many.

Posted by Katie Ferrick, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Dec 8, 2007 at 5:12 pm

I am in favor of buses and have two kids, one at Laurel currently. I would happily send my kids on the bus to any of the Menlo Park schools and much prefer this option to the potential I face of sending kids on Samtrans buses.

Last year, the MPCSD Board had a consultant conduct a study of busing, compared costs between carriers, and concluded that the cost would be approximately $11,000+- per route, with about 22 routes needed handle the current student population living outside a .75 mile radius of the school.(these figures are from memory, so if someone has the 2007 school district report handy to refer to, please correct me).
At the school board meeting it was noted that many school districts in California abondoned school buses in the years following prop 13 due to state funding issues. Basically, if we have buses and the same amount of state funding, it would be neccessary to elimiate teaching positions, increase class size, etc. They weren't just dumped to save money, but rather spending the newly limited resources on classrooms were prioritized over buses. (districts like ours used to get proportionally more funding due to a larger property tax base, but now we don't.)
This left me disappointed that we don't have buses, but understanding of the priorities that were chosen at the time.

However, times have changed dramatically since buses were eliminated in Menlo Park. The large increase in student population at all the schools is the biggest factor. With half the student population, the traffic and safety issues we face now weren't such a big deal in the 1980's. I would like to see buses be available from the school district and funded partly by families who use them, and partly through the MPCSD or perhaps the school Foundation. I don't believe families who use the buses should be the only ones to pay because EVERYONE would benefit if buses were in use. (including the non-school community!)

Although I would love to see the return of the yellow school bus, I don't want to sacrafice the enriched curriculum (art, music, technology) and small class sizes we benefit from.
We should review expenditures by the school district and foundation to see how much busing we can afford and how much supplemental fees would need to be assessed to make it a reality. There must be some creative ways we can find to help this problem, and I like several of the ones offered here such as city shuttles, etc.

I'm glad the school board has taken this up as an issue and has some research started on it so that decisions and action can begin this year.

Posted by odd geezer, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 10, 2007 at 8:38 pm

Face it, you have an unimaginative, political Super (he sounds like my old H.S. English teacher) who panders to the "all powerful" board and the "all powerful MPAEF", collects his paycheck and retires to REdwood Shores, Parents with a sense of entitlement that driving the kids in their monster SUV's is their "we've made it big time" statement because "we don't care about fuel economy, that's for the masses" and "I wouldn't let my kids ride on a bus with those kind of people" attitude on their way to get their morning latte and off to some serious Draeger's run (Costco might get a nod and a wink), but never caught dead in TJ's (it's too hippyish!) Saw this speeding dinosaur with "BoxCar1" plates, strikes us as the manifestation of what's become so rotten with this town. Don't seem to care about their "neighbors", let alone the local traffic/ environmental crisis.
They'll just write a bigger check, since it's year end tax time, to some eco group, and feel better about their carbon footprint.
Betcha if you got some Al Gore VC buddies to "fund" some eco friendly hydropower shuttles like Marguerites with adverts for the donors it might become socially correct, (forget PC, that's for politicians, not financiers). Hey, my kid rides to school on the KPCB, etc. Partners eco friendly shuttle, what's the problem with your socially inept kids. Gotta start with the power centers before you can get 'em out of their tanks.

Posted by Richard, a resident of another community
on Dec 11, 2007 at 12:04 pm

One of the reasons that school buses are so safe is because there are many special rules that apply only to them. Not only is traffic supposed to stop for their flashing lights, but the drivers undergo special training. School bus drivers receive more training (including First Aid) than any other driver, and they have their backgrounds checked. The buses themselves must meet special safety standards that are higher than those for regular buses. Any other kind of shuttle or bus will not qualify for those requirements and will not be as safe. They may still be good enough, but I just want people to know that there are many special regulations that apply to school buses and you should think very carefully before substituting a different kind of bus.

Posted by Megan, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 12, 2007 at 4:30 pm

If Las Lomitas can manage to run school buses, why can't Menlo Park?

Posted by Sally, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 13, 2007 at 2:25 pm

Different funding.

Posted by Megan, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 13, 2007 at 2:49 pm

Sally: Different how? Can you explain more about your comment on the funding differences between Las Lomitas and MPSD?

Posted by esperanto, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 13, 2007 at 9:01 pm

It's called Spanglish. Las Lomitas has no ESL burden like MP district. So it has extra funds for basic things like bussing.
Menlo district is directionless because it's trying to be the catch all district at the expense of quality education, and transportation is brushed aside. Just attend a board mtg. sometime and you will come away with the same disgusted attitude that the board is too politically correct, has some noblesse oblige mantra, and you will understand why ambitious parents with gifted kids try their best to transition into the Menlo School/Castilleja/Sacred Heart private school options so their kids have a better shot at competitive colleges.

Posted by j, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 13, 2007 at 11:59 pm

Las Lomitas gets state funding for school buses that is not available to the Menlo Park district. Las Lomitas also has higher funding per child from their local property taxes and also from the very significant funds they collect from renting out their school-owned properties to the private Phillips Brooks and Woodland schools.

Posted by Gauratbob, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 25, 2008 at 1:07 am

Hmmm... I like the way you react to my fireworks gathering Oh, good joke) Did you hear that Miss Muffet and Saddam Hussein got together for a meeting last week to discuss their common problem? They both have Kurds in their whey. I want to have a good time, Lets speack about something interesting people!