Because 27 collisions — 18 preventable — have occurred over five years at the intersection, which resulted in 14 injuries and one death, Caltrans is set to install a stoplight there and had even awarded a contract for its installation.
"It's the 27 accidents," said Nick Saleh of Caltrans, explaining Caltrans' push for the stoplight. "It's a safety issue and we need to take action."
But on Nov. 20, City Council members asked Caltrans to delay the stoplight so the city could gather more information on alternatives. The scrutiny came after outcry from residents of the neighborhood along Clark who said the light would increase traffic on side streets where there are already frustrations over speeding cars.
"If you make it easy (to make lefts onto Clark) by putting in a light, there's going to be an explosion in traffic," said resident Alan Limbach.
There are now 4,000 cars a day using Clark Avenue near El Camino Real, including trips to and from Almond Elementary School and Los Altos High School. Residents say Clark and streets connected to it, such as Marich Way, would be used even more heavily if a stoplight allowed left turns.
"I have kids and they are not allowed to play in the front yard because of traffic," said resident Paul Lesti of Marich Way. "If you make that left turn very easy (from El Camino onto Clark), Marich will just become a freeway and it's already bad."
Residents called for blocking unprotected left turns at the intersection. But Caltrans said that could hurt businesses along El Camino Real, including two adjacent shopping centers.
The idea of installing a stoplight came up in 2001 but neighborhood residents fought it off. It came up again this year with the proposal of a Chick-Fil-A at the intersection and may have been quietly approved without the resulting scrutiny.
According to a study of the 27 collisions at the intersection between Oct. 2001 and Sept. 2006, broadsides were the most common, with 15 cars getting hit by oncoming traffic while turning.
"When I sit on El Camino trying to make a left turn onto Clark, the traffic never stops," said council member Ronit Bryant.
A stoplight would cost the state $500,000.
"Spending a half million isn't going to help if we allow the left turns," said council member Tom Means. "We just need signs that say 'no left turns.' If this helps the state balance their budget by spending less, I'm also for that."
Council members wanted more detail about how the broadsides were occurring before deciding how to change the intersection. Ideas included a new traffic island preventing access across the middle of El Camino Real in certain directions. Mayor Mike Kasperzak suggested a porkchop-shaped median on Clark to prevent lefts onto El Camino Real.
"After driving this intersection 35 years, my guess is most of those broadsides are people turning left off of Clark onto El Camino," Kasperzak said. "You get four or five cars sitting out in the middle of the road, playing chicken."