BY ELAINE GOODMAN
Daily Post Correspondent
The city of Palo Alto is planning a makeover for the East Charleston-San Antonio road intersection, described by one city official as “terrifying” and the site of a three-vehicle crash in November that injured several school children.
The proposal would reconfigure the intersection for traffic heading south on San Antonio Road. It would add a second left-turn lane for southbound drivers to go east on Charleston Road.
Southbound drivers now have two right-turn lanes at the intersection, including one that allows drivers to head straight or turn right onto westbound Charleston. Under the proposal, that would be converted to a dedicated right-turn lane. The second right-turn-only lane and two through lanes for southbound traffic would remain.
The City Council will discuss the proposed reconfiguration tonight.
The redesign of the intersection is intended to improve traffic flow and safety at the intersection.
“Local residents, employees, and community center visitors have cited a history of collisions, pedestrian safety and congestion during peak hours as recurring issues at this intersection,” City Manager Ed Shikada said in a report to the council for tonight’s meeting.
About 4,000 cars and 20 bicycles pass through the intersection in one hour during the peak morning rush, according to the report. Traffic at the intersection includes cars headed to or from highway 101 via San Antonio Road, as well as drivers going to Space Systems/Loral, the Jewish Community Center, the Costco wholesale store in neighboring Mountain View, or residential neighborhoods.
Making the intersection more complex is a frontage road along the west side of San Antonio Road that connects to Fabian Way and provides access to a 76 gas station.
Cars flying off the freeway
It’s not just the number of cars at the intersection that makes it dangerous, but also how fast they’re going, said Carolyn Templeton, a member of the city’s Planning and Transportation Commission.
“Everybody’s coming right off the highway. And they’re not quite ready to stop and I think that’s one of the scariest things,” Templeton said during the commission’s discussion of the intersection on Nov. 13.
Making pedestrian crossings at the intersection safer is another piece of the plan. In addition, traffic signals would be modified so that southbound traffic on San Antonio would have a green arrow for right turns at the same time eastbound traffic on Charleston had a left-turn signal.
An earlier proposal for the intersection called for eliminating one of the two right-turn lanes and converting it into a “buffered” bicycle lane, with space blocked off on the side to protect bicyclists. That idea has been dropped for now, despite concerns for bicyclist safety.
“I’ve not only ridden this a lot in the car, I’ve also ridden it as a bicyclist and it was terrifying,” Templeton said during the Planning Commission meeting. “And I have driven past bicyclists and it was terrifying.”
School shuttle van accident
Another Planning Commission member, Michael Alchek, was checking out the intersection on Nov. 12 in preparation for the commission’s meeting when he witnessed a collision involving a school shuttle van.
According to police, a car slammed into a van carrying children to a private school in the 8 a.m. crash. The van overturned and a third vehicle hit the car.
Several children who suffered minor injuries were treated at the scene by paramedics and were released to their parents.
From 2012 through 2016, about 25 collisions were reported at the intersection. The most frequent accident types were rear-end and sideswipe collisions. There was one bike collision reported during that time, officials said.
The city hosted two community meetings on proposed changes to the intersection in 2018, and a third meeting in August. The city met with business representatives in February 2019.
If the council approves the intersection redesign tonight, the city expects to complete more detailed design and environmental analysis by this summer, with construction to follow.
Although Shikada’s report doesn’t give an exact cost for the project, it notes that $900,000 has been transferred from the San Antonio/West Bayshore Transportation Impact Fund “which is anticipated to cover costs of the San Antonio Road and East Charleston Road intersection improvement project.”