Council ponders big changes after slew of car-pedestrian collisions


Council members finally weighed in on the community's discussion of bike and pedestrian safety last week, with some members pushing for big changes, including narrower streets and 15 mile-per-hour speed limits near schools.

Council members made the comments in a Nov. 20 study session following months of community-wide discussion after three children were hit on the four-lane road in front of Graham Middle School in recent months, and three pedestrians were struck and killed by cars on California Street and Shoreline Boulevard earlier this year.

The most impassioned remarks came from council member Ronit Bryant.

"We have lots of great plans, the time has come to move forward and do it," Bryant said. "I would really like to see the schools and public works and the city and the neighborhood all working together. Studies are great, but let's put stuff on the ground and let's see how it works."

Collisions at Graham spur action

Graham Principal Kim Thompson said she was motivated to speak in front of the council because three of her students were hit on the four-lane stretch of Castro Street in front of her school, a road seen by many as wide enough to encourage unsafe speeds.

"I've never experienced anything quite like this," Thompson told the council. "I was behind the car that hit one of my students, so I saw it happen. It's a very short (stretch of road) between Castro (downtown) and Graham, and yet it's like a speedway."

The stretch of four-lane road in front of Graham is on a list of streets that could lose lanes to make room for protected bike lanes, also known as a "road diet," in a draft of the city's Pedestrian Master Plan which may be approved by the City Council in December.

Council members Laura Macias and Ronit Bryant expressed some support for protected bike lanes or road diets. Similarly, Mayor Mike Kasperzak said he hoped to see "lots of green paint in our future," referring the brightly painted bike lanes that have sprung up in other cities.

Macias presented pictures of separated bike lanes on a city street in Long Beach to show what might be possible.

"We might want to do a separated bike lane just for that area to Graham from El Camino," Macias said.

Castro Street in front of Graham is "one of the streets where a road diet makes sense," said Jarrett Mullen, a bike advocate behind the Rengstorff Great Streets Initiative, which is calling for road diets to reduce car speeds and make room for bike lanes.

'Speed matters'

When a car hits a person at 40 miles per hour, "80 percent of pedestrians die," Mullen said, "At 30 miles per hour, 40 percent die. Just by reducing speed from 40 miles per hour to 30 miles per hour, you've cut deaths in half. At 20 miles per hour, only 5 percent die. That is why speed matters. It impacts stopping distance."

The reduction from four lanes to three on Arastradero Road in Palo Alto "reduced the number of cars going over 37 miles per hour by 50 percent," said Menlo Park bike advocate Adina Levin, adding that it reduced chances of death and injury. The change is also cited as a factor behind the higher rates of students biking to Gunn High School compared to Mountain View High School.

Council member Margaret Abe-Koga, who said her daughter just started at Graham, raised the possibility of reducing speed limits in front of Graham and other schools in the city. All have 25 mile-per-hour limits. City staff members said it was possible to go as low as 15 miles per hour and would increase safety if police could enforce it, said police Chief Scott Vermeer.

But to those advocating for road diets, lower speed limits aren't enough.

"If it feels comfortable to be doing 40 miles per hour then we need to change the street, that's it," Bryant said. "We need to decide how quickly we want people to drive here and design the street accordingly. I want to see pilot projects in place this coming year," she said, referring to street narrowing. "If it doesn't work, we'll take it out and try something else."

Bryant said a road diet may costs as little as $100,000 per mile if San Francisco's experience is any indication.

"We're gathering a committee to figure out what our next moves are," Thompson said. "We know something needs to be done, whether it is lowering the speed, narrowing the road or flashy lights, we don't know. We don't want a knee-jerk reaction, but what is best for our kids and the community."

Increasing student population

Thompson said the problem is "not going to go away," as the number of students at Graham is projected to reach 900 kids soon after going from 600 to 800 in the past three years. "More people are coming on foot, which is exciting. I just want them safe."

Students at Graham are receiving lessons and daily reminders on traffic safety and thanked police for stepping up enforcement in the area, Thompson said.

"It's still an issue," said one of several traffic officers who have been out there for the last month on a daily basis.

With kids, "you don't know what they are gonna do," said council member Jac Siegel. "If there's a way to make a mistake, they'll do it. That's what they do. It is up to the adults to take care of them."

Michael McTighe of Greentown Los Altos shared some lessons from efforts in Los Altos and Palo Alto where there's been increased biking and walking to school. He noted slower street traffic and parent involvement as key factors.

"Ninety percent of traffic at a school is because of parents dropping students off," McTighe said. "There's just a lot more traffic coming through there than needs to be. Look at Arastradero Road (in Palo Alto). It's a great example of a road diet that's worked."

How far will council go?

Kasperzak complained that the city has been behind in terms of bike and pedestrian safety and noted some resistance among city staff members to simply painting streets with shared lane arrows. The markings are used in more and more cities to alert drivers to bike routes on streets where there's no room for bike lanes. "Everybody is doing sharrows and we're not doing them yet," Kasperzak said. "We were told they weren't approved."

"I would like to see Mountain View out in front of this, rather than behind," Kasperzak said.

After the meeting, bike advocates expressed some excitement that at least some of the council appeared to support significant changes to the city's roads.

"I was hearing a lot of acknowledgment for complete street design," Levin said, referring to the idea that streets should be designed for bicyclists and pedestrians as well as cars. "That is really exciting to hear."

The council may also make new street infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians a top goal in January if Bryant has her way.

"I am definitely planning to put this as my goal for council goals so we will move forward this," Bryant said.

The council will be taking up the issue of bike and pedestrian safety more and more, possibly with regular updates on the city's efforts to reduce collisions. Police say a new system will make it easier to track data on bike and pedestrian collisions, which will be used to see what works and what doesn't, police officer Tony Lopez told the council.

Options include narrowing the city's most dangerous streets. In the city's Pedestrian Master Plan draft, candidates for "road diet" studies are Castro Street in front of Graham, Middlefield Road, California Street, Miramonte Avenue, Charleston Road east of Highway 101, Showers Drive and Cuesta Drive east of Miramonte Avenue. While the Rengstorff Great Streets Initiative has called for narrowing the six-lane portions of Shoreline Boulevard near downtown, it is not on the list.


Like this comment
Posted by The Walrus was Paul
a resident of Gemello
on Nov 29, 2012 at 11:25 am

I like the photo's recreation of Abbey Road.

Like this comment
Posted by Safe
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Nov 29, 2012 at 11:32 am

The answer really is to slow traffic down. It may actually improve traffic flow.
Just like we're told that running for an exit in a fire is counter to everyone getting out safely, drivers rushing about trying to be first or get ahead/stay ahead is counter to public safety as well as the flow of traffic. Aggressive driving creates stopping/starting of other drivers around them which impacts traffic flow.
If we remove the opportunity for aggressive drivers to become aggressive, it will benefit the greater population of drivers.

What did they do when traffic started jamming 101 on the on-ramps?
They installed metering lights forcing cars to slow/stop. Traffic flow improved greatly on 101 at these old choke points.

The time has come...Too many lives lost and too much blood has been spilled on our roads, some of it our children's blood.
Glad to hear the council is ready to act. We're on the right path.
Way to go MV!

Like this comment
Posted by slow down and pay attention
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 29, 2012 at 11:39 am

Don't wait for the city to take action. You can slow down your car right now. There is no reason to drive faster than 15mph in a school zone.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm

I think you mean a "slough".

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm

"I like the photo's recreation of Abbey Road."

The photo shows kids not paying attention. That's half the recipe for an accident.

Like this comment
Posted by EggMan
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Nov 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Well said "sdapa". Unfortunately the people who would heed your advice are already doing it. I'm very excited to see the what the proposed changes finally bring.

*City Council, pleeease do not drag your feet and waste money on endless studies for this one. Planning well does not need to take 3 years. Lets show the surrounding cities what MV is capable of...much more than just leading the way on the SC trail construction.
Lets get moving MV :)

Like this comment
Posted by Reaching
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Nov 29, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Oh please Steve. A split-second snapshot showing people talking while in an active school zone crosswalk, with zero cars on the road down to El Camino and you've decided they would be 50% responsible if they got hit? Nope, not buying that one at all.

They already paid attention and crossed when it was safe. That's my take.
Anyway, these kids are 100% safe because there are no speeding cars on the road. Despite the fact that their eyes were not fixed up road for the entire crossing.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Nov 29, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Whatever actions are taken... will they represent the wishes of the majority of Mtn View citizens, or will they be taken to placate the vocal activists? Does the majority really want traffic dammed up as proposed?

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 29, 2012 at 2:56 pm

@Reaching -

"They already paid attention and crossed when it was safe. That's my take."


Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 29, 2012 at 3:19 pm

The local police could actually DO THEIR JOBS and give citations to people who USE THEIR CELLPHONES AND TURN THEIR CARS INTO 4,000 LB. KILLING MACHINES! ... as it is, the police don't think it's worth their time to write citations because so little $$$ comes back to the city as a result of the citation. Both PEDESTRIANS and DRIVERS are SO wrapped up in their cellphones that the rest of us are put IN DANGER of injury or worse. RAISE THE 1ST TIME OFFENSE CITATION FOR USING A CELLPHONE WHILE DRIVING TO $1,000 + 6 MO. SUSPENDED LICENSE and no exceptions for driving to work or school. THAT will get people's attention, and if it doesn't, at least the police feel that their important time is spent usefully. HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE TO BE MOWED DOWN BY IGNORANT AND ARROGANT DRIVERS USING THEIR CELLPHONES BEFORE SOMETHING IS DONE TO PROTECT THE REST OF US???

Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 29, 2012 at 3:24 pm

WAKE UP PEOPLE! Being in a crosswalk doesn't make you invincible. If a car hits you, you STILL might be dead. LOOK BOTH WAYS! Those that disregard common sense (or have none to begin with) could be our next examples of Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of The Crossings
on Nov 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm

The slow way is the fastest way sometimes. I agree that changes are needed in the roads. Its time...enough dead and enough bleeding children in front of their schools...actually looking back now, change is overdue.

Like this comment
Posted by Slow down
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Nov 29, 2012 at 6:14 pm

Let's not kill the baby with the bath water. The high volume time at Graham lasts for about 20 minutes in the morning. After that stretch, children are in school and parent drivers have left.

Slow the limits, and have safety solutions during that time period. How about no parking or drop offs along the curb from 7:30 - 8:00? That would leave more room for bikes and would take out the unpredictability of sudden and unexpected car movements. Add in crossing guards everyday. Ticket drivers breaking the the law...which includes unsafe driving even if at or below the speed limit.

Those actions would be sufficient. Again, the congestion is for a short and well identified period of time.

Like this comment
Posted by be careful what you wish for
a resident of another community
on Nov 29, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Michael McTighe of Greentown Los Altos “Look at Arastradero Road (in Palo Alto). It's a great example of a road diet that's worked."

Worked for whom? McTighe should talk to residents on Maybell and other neighbothood streets that are bearing the brunt of the Arastradero "road diet."

“... traffic volume rose in three areas within the Barron Park neighborhood: Maybell Avenue and Maybell Court; Maybell Avenue and Pena Court; and Matadero Avenue at Josina Court. The traffic count at Maybell and Pena rose significantly from 2,700 vehicles to 3,348 daily since the trial changes, according to the study. … Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez admitted a speed survey had not been done along the cut-through routes."
Web Link

That’s a 24% increase on just one of the neighborhood streets which frustrated drivers – and bicyclists – are using to avoid the traffic jams on Arastradero.

Be aware of unintended consequences.

Like this comment
Posted by 1 car = 10 bike/peds
a resident of another community
on Nov 29, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Schools generate enormous amounts of traffic - with two journeys (in & out) per student concentrated into a short time period.
Has anyone seen this bit of Castro jammed busy at any other time of day ?

The kids, parents and infrastructure would all benefit if it was safe for them to power themselves to school. No need to take a large steel box along for the ride.

Drivers in Los Altos report that it's a whole lot saner around the schools. No clogging side streets because each student walking eliminates 4 car trips and takes a tenth of the space.

Finally what a great opportunity to teach our youngest citizens to be responsible safe road users. Kudos to the Police dept and City for sponsoring traffic safety training.

Like this comment
Posted by Formernative
a resident of another community
on Nov 29, 2012 at 10:45 pm

I was born and raised in Mountain View in the 60's-70's. Funny how there were FAR fewer problems with traffic and the city wasn't 90% "international people" who aren't good drivers. Then, you add all the high-stressed workers not thinking about driving - more like texting, talking on the phone.

So glad I moved to Brentwood where people are cautious, better schools, way better people, and most people aren't starring down at their stupid computers all day.

I never in all the years at Bubb, Graham, and Awalt (Now Mt. View High) did we have any kids get hit by a car.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 30, 2012 at 9:53 am

@Formernative -

The only downside about moving to Brentwood is that you have to live there.

> never in all the years at Bubb, Graham, and Awalt (Now Mt. View High) did we have any kids get hit by a car.

You might want to research your facts instead of make them up.

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

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