City to rethink roundabouts, outside engineers asked to step in

This roundabout at Ross Road and E. Meadow Drive has come under fire, with some saying it creates dangerous interactions between cars and bicycles. Post photo.
This roundabout at Ross Road and E. Meadow Drive has come under fire, with some saying it creates dangerous interactions between cars and bicycles. Post photo.

BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto transportation planners are beginning to backpedal on a controversial set of road changes, including 11 roundabouts, according to a statement yesterday (March 30) from the city.

“We have heard the community loud and clear, and while traffic calming elements such as roundabouts are shown to achieve that goal, we recognize the community has concerns and questions,” Chief Transportation Official Josh Mello said in a statement. “We’re going to take the opportunity to modify the construction plan and ensure residents feel comfortable and informed about planned future elements.”

Mello said the city would ask outside engineering consultants to review the roundabout at Ross Road and E. Meadow Drive and make adjustments “if appropriate and feasible.”

Among the design factors for the consultants to review are how well the roundabout can allow large vehicles to pass through. The original construction on the roundabout is expected to finish this week (April 2-7).

Next will come a new roundabout at Ross Road and Moreno Avenue along with other changes along Moreno Avenue and Louis Road, which the city says will take two months to complete.

The changes are part of the $8.7 million, 7.1-mile Neighborhood Traffic Safety and Bike Boulevard Project, which started in September on Ross Road. It includes three raised crosswalks, five raised intersections and four intersection reconfigurations.

The city wants to make busy intersections safer for cyclists and pedestrians by slowing traffic.

A ‘challenging undertaking’

“We knew that expanding the bike network would be an ambitious and challenging undertaking,” City Manager Jim Keene said in a statement. “But both our community and the city’s comprehensive plan have
expressed a commitment to encouraging alternatives to car travel.”

More than 700 people have signed a petition calling for the city to stop the project, claiming that the large roundabouts create dangerous interactions between cars and bicycles and provide treacherous conditions
for emergency vehicles.

“This is dozens of neighbors trying to raise the alarm before an elementary school bike commuter is crushed by a minivan, before an ambulance is stranded on a concrete island, before another confrontation between two cars given no buffer passing each other in arbitrary constrictions,” petitioner George Jaquette wrote.

Driving through the gutter

Jan Aarts, an 82-year-old cyclist and retired realtor who lives on Channing Avenue, was pleased to hear the announcement. Aarts said that growing up in Europe, roundabouts worked because they were placed on wide boulevards. The roundabouts on Campus Drive at Stanford work because of the proportion of the road, he said. At Lytton Avenue and Guinda Street, Aarts said, there’s not enough room to drive.

“You have to drive through the gutter. It just doesn’t make any sense,” Aarts said. “If you look at Ross Road, it’s much more dangerous for the bikers now because they have to merge with the automobile traffic.”
Aarts said he thinks the city has more pressing financial needs, like resurfacing battered streets.

“I kind of have a thing in my mind that they’re paying these transportation executives too much money, so they have to prove their worth,” Aarts said. “It just seems like they have to show how good they are and
do all these fancy.”

What’s next for project?

On Amarillo Avenue, the city says construction will be phased to ensure that neighbors are kept in the loop.

First, temporary striping and plastic markers will outline a roundabout at Amarillo Avenue and Greer Road, as well as curb extensions between Louis and W. Bayshore roads.

“This will allow the community to acclimate to the changes and provide feedback to staff prior to concrete construction,” the city statement said.

City employees will also meet with groups of neighbors, step up their efforts on posting updated information and maps to the project website and knock on doors to talk with residents.

Earlier this month, city spokeswoman Claudia Keith told the Post that the roundabout at Ross Road and E. Meadow Drive would lose its temporary stop signs, which will be converted to yield signs when the intersection is finished.

The city plans to install 10 more roundabouts:

• Bryant Street at Poe Street and Palo Alto Avenue;

• Bryant and N. California Avenue;

• Bryant and Loma Verde Avenue;

• Bryant and Kingsley Avenue;

• Ross Road and Moreno Avenue;

• Ross and Louis Road;

• Louis Road and E. Meadow;

• E. Meadow Drive and E. Meadow Circle;

• Amarillo Avenue and Greer Road;

• Bryant and Addison Avenue (conversion from a “traffic circle” to a full-blown roundabout).

7 Comments

  1. “Mello said the city would ask outside engineering consultants to review the roundabout at Ross Road and E. Meadow Drive and make adjustments “if appropriate and feasible.”

    It is April 1st but seriously?? He wants to spend more money to discredit the opinions of 800+ concerned taxpayers and people who actually experience the problems as “inappropriate” and how it’s not “feasible” to fix even ONE of the many problems created by his roundabouts other traffic obstacles??

    Me need to review a city-wide punch list of ALL of the problems created by his “traffic calming” efforts and a plan to fix the worst of them. We all have our lists.

    While those lists are being “reviewed,” we need a moratorium on current projects.

  2. These roundabouts need to be put on hold until the problems with the one on Ross are fixed. The main problem is that the lane circling the intersection is too narrow, there’s no safe way for a car and bike to travel around the roundabout at the same time. Even without a bike, a car is forced to drive in the gutter, as Jan Aarts pointed out. I don’t how you fix this except by taking land from the homes on the four corners. Best thing would be to take it out, the intersection was safer before they put the roundabout in.

  3. I drive through this roundabout twice a day and I can’t help but wonder when a car is going to hit a bike because of how narrow the lanes are. This is an accident waiting to happen.

  4. This is a start. The next step should be to take a skip loader and remove the thing.

    That said, I do like the faux brickwork on the intersection of Ross and Mayview. We should have more of that – actual safety improvements!

    • Remove all of the “Palo Alto transportation planners” while you’re at it. A few dozen neighbors working together could devise something better and cheaper, without gouging tax payers like these “consultants” do.

  5. This should not be labeled as bicycle projects, No new bike lane, only adding parking packets on Ross. Round about is fine with cars. Bicycles are never in the actual designs, except the bicycle boulevard poles, and be careful not to hit them in the night.

  6. If council members really believe in this roundabout, they should hold a meeting at Ross Rd and Meadow, where each of the nine gets into a car and drives around the circle while another council member rides a bike in the circle at the same time. They’ll never do it because it’s too unsafe and they won’t want to injure one another.

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