Council ponders big changes after slew of car-pedestrian collisions | November 30, 2012 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - November 30, 2012

Council ponders big changes after slew of car-pedestrian collisions

by Daniel DeBolt

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."

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

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 will 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 may 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.

Email Daniel DeBolt at


Posted by Concerned, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Nov 29, 2012 at 9:27 pm

I witnessed the last pedestrian accident on Castro leading to Graham. It was very traumatic and could easily have been prevented had the crosswalks been flashing so the student was more visible. Reducing speed to 20mph would help tremendously also, but another problem is drivers crisscrossing and making sudden lane changes- It's scary the way some people drive, but many do drive safely. I think narrowing it to one lane will create a parking lot and frustration for parents, who in turn may feel more rushed?

Posted by tod ford, a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 30, 2012 at 7:59 am

Great to hear the part about less studies more action. Also great to hear Kasperzak pushing bike upgrades. flashing crosswalks seem important. we cross shoreline a lot on our bikes as a family. shoreline west has a great system of smaller roads than california like mercy and latham, but they have a weird system of some uncontrolled intersections, 2 way stops, and then mostly 4 way stops to speed the cars through there. all of them should be 4 way. when you get to shoreline cars are unsure whether to stop for pedestrians trying to cross in the crosswalk. some do then some don't. we always wait because it is unsafe. flashing lights like those on rengstorff would be awesome. making big streets for cars and lesser streets for bikes is key. Palo Alto's bryant bike street is a good example. so road dieting should be used selectively when there is a school. separated bike lanes when the two cross are a necessity.

Posted by Cuesta Resident, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Nov 30, 2012 at 2:11 pm

The tradeoffs here are far more complex than discussed.

For Graham. the simple answer is to get adult crossing guards near the school just before/after classes. Combine that with continued traffic EDUCATION for the kids, which will help keep them safe at ALL locations, not just by school.

Don't screw up traffic patterns at Graham for the 22 hours a day that it's fine already.

And it's good to ADD bike lanes to streets, but do NOT reduce/slow existing car traffic lanes - which will cause more traffic jams, increase pollution (from idling cars), and delay people further. Get rid of on-street parking or widen the lanes.

Slowing traffic and reducing lanes has lots of unintended side-effects. That's why you need LOTS of analysis before hand, and even then the analysis overlooks likely consequences. Don't make things worse!

Posted by registered user, Garrett83, a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2012 at 11:37 am

I think being a lousy driver can be open to all persons who have a license or not. The thing is that Castro St has a school, slow down or get a ticket. Improvements are needed, slower speeds, better crossings and maybe improve the way you drop and pick up areas. Airports have better unloading, loading and traffic planning.

Posted by DC, a resident of Sylvan Park
on Dec 2, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Flashing yellow and Pedestrian signs create a problem. Drivers know there are people around. The signs and lights just give the walkers a false sense of security. "If I walk I am safe since the sign is there", wrong. Cars still need to see you and be aware of your intention. The price you pay is getting hit. Anyone else blinded by the signs at night? They glow and thus prevent drivers from seeing pedestrian seem to like wearing all dark clothes

Posted by registered user, AC, a resident of another community
on Dec 3, 2012 at 2:24 pm

I comment periodically on how it seems to me to not make sense to diet roads which are freeway connections.

But I know the section of Castro in front of Graham, and it does indeed seem like a very sensible place to choke down and make more bike/pedestrian friendly. I can't think of any need for that piece of road to be wide or fast.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Ban cars on all streets but el camino and central expressway unless they have an official mountain view resident tag. Then institute a 10% of registration fees tax on all cars owned by Mountain View residents - unless the resident is a rich 1%er in which case tax them 30% and take away one of their cars.

In the case of el camino and central expressway: Install access toll booths to generate money to pay for the public works union pension fund.