There is a better way to design our streetsFaced with ever more intense discussions and demands to improve the safety of pedestrians and cyclists on some of the city's most heavily traveled streets, the City Council appears to be getting the message, especially Ronit Bryant, who at a recent meeting said, "We have lots of great plans. The time has come to move forward and do it."
The linchpin in moving the council toward a solution likely was a spate of three accidents involving students crossing Castro Street at Graham Middle School. None were hurt seriously, but testimony by Graham Principal Kim Thompson at the Nov. 20 council study session brought into graphic detail the danger her students face coming to school or going home.
"I've never experienced anything quite like this," she 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 more like a speedway."
And vehicle speed, enhanced by Castro Street's four lanes as it heads to Graham from El Camino Real, tends to creep up despite signs warning of a school zone ahead. All the children hit were in the crosswalk, but they may not have been paying attention to speeding cars coming their way.
We are encouraged by the council's interest in bringing down speed limits and designing some busy arterial streets with dedicated bike lanes using a design known as a "road diet," that has been successful in Palo Alto and other communities grappling with a conflict between bikes, cars and pedestrians.
The city already has identified a handful of major "speedways," including California Street, where resident William Ware was killed in June by a speeding, out-of-control car while he was waiting for a bus. In most cases, the plan advises fewer car lanes and more space dedicated to bike lanes. This is an encouraging step and should move briskly with support from Bryant and some of her colleagues, who also signaled their support at the meeting.
Bike advocate Jarrett Mullen is seeking to reduce car lanes and speed and add bike lanes on Renstorff Avenue, one of the streets cited for such work in the city's Pedestrian Master Plan. Others include some of the city's most heavily traveled arteries — Middlefield Road, California Street, Miramonte Avenue, Charleston Road east of Highway 101, Showers Drive and Cuesta Drive east of Miramonte Avenue. The six-lane portions of Shoreline Boulevard near downtown, which should be a serious candidate for accommodating bike lanes, is so far not on the list.
Bryant and Mayor Mike Kasperzak seem eager to put lane reduction projects on the fast track. Kasperzak said that the city is behind on bike and pedestrian safety and could easily get started by simply painting streets with shared lane arrows, known as sharrows.
"I would like to see Mountain View out in front on this, rather than behind," the mayor said.
Bryant said the city needs to decide how fast people should drive, and then design the streets accordingly.
"If it doesn't work, we'll take it out and try something else," she said.
There is little doubt that the city is moving in the right direction. It is no secret that speed is a factor in fatal pedestrian/automobile accidents. Mullen explains when a car hits a person at 40 miles per hour, "80 percent of pedestrians die. At 30 miles per hour, 40 percent die. Just by reducing speed from 40 to 30 miles per hour, you've cut the number of deaths in half. At 20 miles per hour, only 5 percent die. That is why speed matters. It impacts the stopping distance."
Clearly the most urgent problem for the city is protecting Graham students while they cross busy, four-lane Castro Street on their way school. A speed limit reduction, strongly enforced, would be a good first step. Another solution might be flashing lights installed in the street that would alert motorists that there are pedestrians in the crosswalk. This is a case where the council should not draw out the debate. It is time to protect the students at Graham.