By Diana Diamond
Sure, the traffic mess in town is a complicated problem, but I want a solutionUploaded: Dec 10, 2019
Wow! Palo Alto’s new Office of Transportation will have 15.5 employees to solve all our traffic problems in our city – that’s a lot of people to think about our auto problems. Or is this simply another Band-Aid approach to convince the public that the city is actually “doing something” by hiring several newbies to find an answer to resolve the dense traffic jams, one of the biggest problems in Palo Alto? Is this the way efficiency in government works?
We all know what the problems are – crowded roadways everywhere, increased traffic on arterial east-west streets, some of which have been scaled down from four- to two-lane roadways to allow for “safe roads to schools,” half-hour-long crawls along University Avenue to get to 101 in late afternoon, a 4-minute wait to get out of Piazza’s parking lot onto Charleston because of continuous line of one-lane traffic, a 45-minute bus ride because of traffic to get from El Camino and Charleston to Midtown, etc. Traffic is getting worse, with no relief in sight.
Last week, Palo Alto’s new Chief Transportation Official, Philip Kamhi, talked to the Palo Alto Rotary Club (of which I am a member) and detailed his priorities: bicycling and more walking opportunities, safe routes to school, more residential parking permit areas in order to reduce or eliminate nonresidential parking (like Caltrain users), expansion of the Palo Alto shuttle routes, more community engagement on traffic issues, more data collection and traffic calming.
So this is the new department’s list for the next year or two? But what about traffic? What are their plans to better control or reduce traffic or make roads more car-friendly to use? Nothing, I say. Traffic itself just doesn’t seem to be a priority, although the council has insistently said it is for the past six years.
How will the city make it easier to get to 101 faster? Or to eliminate the commuter traffic crush at El Camino and Charleston daily? Or to coordinate the daily traffic light tie-up at ECR and Embarcadero? I wonder how many of those 15.5 employees will drive around town during commute time and noon to actually encounter the traffic problems we deal with daily?
When I asked Kamhi what about traffic, and what will the city do to make things better for cars, he responded, “Well that’s complicated.” But isn’t that his job – more so than safer routes to schools?
And then he said the problem at ECR and Embarcadero is complicated because the city needs to discuss a solution with Stanford, Caltran, the city and the state before any action is taken. I heard the exact same answer nine years ago from former city traffic engineer Jaime Rodriguez, who consistently told me it, takes time for all these authorities to meet and agree on a revised traffic light solution. Nine years????
Kamhi outlined his priorities of the year, which is working again on grade separations for Caltrain crossings (talks have been going on for four years), reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips (five years of trying to make that work), promoting more safe routes to school, providing residential parking permits so employees and commuters using public transit don’t park in front of residents’ houses, getting the community more engaged in talking about our problems, and getting more data collection to see whether new road improvements actually work. Case in point: Ross Road. The city has hired consultants to find out whether the newly bedecked bulbouts, median strips, bike lanes and street furniture are working, and that report will come in December. (Most residents say Ross Road is now a mess.)
Another woman asked about the speeds on Homer Avenue, where she lives, between Webster and Waverley. The chief transportation officer said she should call “311” which answers questions like that, and the city will have to do a study about traffic flow in that area to see if there is a possible solution (like a new stop sign?). Her response: “I don’t want to call 311, I am asking you for an answer.” (Note: the 311 systems primarily answer questions on code enforcement, graffiti, broken sidewalks and illegal dumping.)
Folks, I think we have a big transportation mess in town, and I think the city council and city manager must get on top of it immediately. Solving the intense traffic is the biggest problem for drivers who live and commute here -- not residential parking or safe routes to school, which are important, but not a solution. Hiring more and more people to hire more consultants is also not the solution. Either the city manager needs to reprioritize the direction of its new department, or the council must step in and take charge.
I am tired of talks and community discussions and promises and telling us how complicated everything is. Just get to work and solve some of the daily traffic jams in town, please.