On Traffic Calming In The Almond Grove

Updates

September, 2014; The Town withdraws the traffic calming aspects of the Almond Grove Street Resurfacing Project. Please see the Update area near the end of this posting.

Eight years on, I’ll now edit the summary a bit.

Summary

The Town of Los Gatos, California, needs to repave some concrete streets and sidewalks in its residential Almond Grove district a couple of blocks from downtown. Rather than simply resurfacing the sidewalks and streets, the Town proposes “traffic calming” measures including:

  • narrowing the streets from 40 feet wide to 34 feet
  • installing traffic obstacles called bulb-outs (concrete islands bulging into the road to intentionally narrow the traffic space) narrowing the road to 22 feet in intersections
  • installing speed tables in intersections

The Town has not established the need for traffic calming, presumably a measure that would slow traffic, make speeding more difficult, and thus improve safety. The traffic calming measures would make traffic more dangerous on the streets for all vehicles including bicycles and will unnecessarily cost much more than simply resurfacing. If speeding is a problem (and it has not been established that it is) then less expense, less intrusive measures should be used to enforce the law. For example, photo radar could be used to penalize speeders but not force lawful drivers to bounce over speed tables and negotiate a narrow keyhole through the bulb-outs. Demand that your Town Council drop their plans to modify your behavior through “traffic calming”.

Background

The streets in the Almond Grove district include Tait Avenue, Massol Avenue, Broadway, and others. They were made decades ago using concrete and now have many cracks and potholes. In many places the sidewalk has cracked and lifted leaving a jagged edge that is a trip and fall hazard unless periodically planed to reduce the hazard. The sidewalks and streets are in need of resurfacing and have been for some time.

The Town made a public announcement inviting people to come to Town Hall on May 20th, 2014, to learn about the proposed resurfacing project. A Town engineer introduced a consultant at that meeting who pointed to detailed drawings of Tait, Bachman, and Broadway and described the project. The consultant said that, in addition to resurfacing the streets and sidewalks, the project would implement traffic calming measures. These measures are intended, as the name implies, to slow traffic thereby making it safer for all concerned.

The Town’s Proposal

The Town’s proposal, delivered to the meeting orally by the consultant, did not contain any written material other than the approximately ten foot long drawings of the streets as they would look after narrowing and with the bulb-outs and speed tables. There was no written statement about the need for traffic calming or the alternatives considered or the process that led to the solution. The consultant did mention that the traffic calming would encourage walking and bicycling.

The traffic calming measures are uncalled for and will increase danger to motorists and bicyclists. A nice wide and safe street like Tait Avenue should not be mutilated by narrowing it.

Here’s a photo of a bulb-out.

Bulb-Out

As a bicyclist for sixty years now, I can attest that a cyclist approaching the bulb-out will have to squeeze back more into the car traffic path as they, and the car, approach the intersection with a bulb-out. This dangerously puts the cyclist into closer proximity to the car leaving less room for maneuver. If the car and the bicyclist arrive at the intersection at the same time and the car decides to turn right, there is reduced time for the cyclist to react to that development. Additionally, the bicyclist and the car must look for pedestrians while the bicyclist changes course slightly to avoid the bulb-out. This solution increases the piloting workload on the bicyclist and motorist increasing risk and increasing the Town’s liability for traffic engineering.

Here’s a photo of a speed table shown as an example. Unlike a speed bump, there is a flat surface on the top.

photo-speed-table2

Traffic calming is the use of physical design and physical features incorporated into street or road design to slow or reduce traffic. San Francisco’s Lombard Street has demonstrated traffic calming for around a century.

lombard-street-252x300

How Did This Come About?

Throughout the state, towns must comply with state laws including the Complete Streets Act, some of which is quoted here.

The California Complete Streets Act (AB 1358)
On September 30, 2008 Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 1358, the California Complete Streets Act.
The Act states: “In order to fulfill the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, make the most efficient use of urban land and transportation infrastructure, and improve public health by encouraging physical activity, transportation planners must find innovative ways to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and to shift from short trips in the automobile to biking, walking and use of public transit.”

If towns can show that they have taken measures to calm traffic they demonstrate making progress in complying with AB 1358 and gain political favor with agencies such as the Valley Transit Authority (VTA), CalTrans, and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) who want us using motor vehicles less and walking, bicycling, and using mass transit more.

But wait, the residents of Almond Grove are quite community minded already and enjoy bicycling and being close enough to town to walk the few blocks to get downtown. The Almond Grove community doesn’t need to be coerced into driving less and walking and bicycling more.

Traffic calming is a roundabout and expensive way of dealing with speeders. If there is a problem with speeding it should be dealt with in a more direct and simple manner, possibly using photo radar to punish only those who break the law and not everyone else who complies.

Don’t Be Calmed

Don’t fall for this unnecessary intrusion into your life.

Don’t go backwards turning a nice, wide street into a narrow, dangerous one.

Don’t let your Town Council increase the danger to motor vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians by installing unnecessary traffic obstacles.

Demand that your Town Council drop their proposed traffic calming measures from this project. Please do this immediately. The saved money could be used elsewhere. Additionally, some neighbors are planning a neighborhood meeting to set a course of action agreeable to our community. Please come back to this site to learn about that meeting and participate in it.

References

The following exhibits are detailed drawings of what the streets would like like if traffic calming is implemented. The drawings can be downloaded and examined in detail. Zooming in can better shown the details and dimensions. The drawings show the narrowing of the streets, the speed tables, and the bulb-outs.

Exhibit – Bachman Long – Aerial

Exhibit – Broadway Long – Aerial

Exhibit – Tait Long – Aerial

Los Gatos Town Policy
This is the policy of the Town of Los Gatos. It discusses ways of asking for traffic calming as well as ways to stop the implementation of traffic calming.
http://www.losgatosca.gov/161/Traffic-Calming

State of California Policy and Law
This describes laws and policy that mention traffic calming as one possible element in creating “complete” streets:
http://opr.ca.gov/docs/Update_GP_Guidelines_Complete_Streets.pdf

The Town’s consultant mentioned NACTO, the National Association of City Transportation Officials. Here is a document from their site:

http://nacto.org/docs/usdg/residential_street_standards_benjoseph.pdf

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a study that seems to encourage the use of automated speed enforcement (photo radar) to calm speeders:

Click to access HS810764.pdf

A Wikipedia overview of traffic calming is here.

Update

May, 2015

While the Los Gatos Town government has said the traffic calming aspects of the Almond Grove street resurfacing project would be removed, the street narrowing is still on the agenda. The “reasoning” is that the planter strips need to be wider to project the trees so that means narrowing the streets.

This is shown on the agenda for the Town Council meeting of 19 May 2015:  http://losgatos.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=2&event_id=401

Will the safety of trees prevail over the safety of citizens and vehicle traffic? We’ll know after the Council vote on May 19th?

By the way, traffic calming is coming under increasing criticism for causing more problems than it cures; for example, creating pollution because vehicles have to brake for obstacles then accelerate which causes more pollution than operating at a more steady throttle setting. Here is the “Conclusion” of the report, “Problems Associated with Traffic Calming Devices ” by Kathleen Calongne:

http://www.users.qwest.net/~erinard/Conclusion1.htm

September, 2014
The Los Gatos Town government has issued an update stating they will “eliminate the traffic calming components of the (Almond Grove street resurfacing) project.” This is in the August 8th, 2014 update here…
http://www.losgatosca.gov/AlmondGroveProject

However, “…expansion of substandard planter strip areas…” might be done to protect street trees, according to the Frequently Asked Questions about the project. The seemingly obvious direction in which planter strips might be expanded would be into the street, not into private property on which homes are located, so this could have the effect of narrowing the streets which is one method of traffic calming.

This leads to the question of what sorts of trees and flora are appropriate for the approximately 18 inch wide planter strips. In past decades people planted all sorts of trees, bushes, and ground cover including completely inappropriate Eucalyptus with at least one growing so large it broke up the curb and sidewalk as it grew into maturity and now poses a risk to vehicles and pedestrians. Those big, old branches will come down someday and let’s hope not injuring anyone.

Should we regulate what can go into these planter strips? Or just strive for some common sense in the community?

Let’s continue to pay attention to this project.

Menlo Park’s Traffic Calming Experience

At a party recently in Menlo Park I mentioned traffic calming and heads turned like some obnoxious gas had been forcefully released.
Traffic calming was foisted upon the citizens of Menlo Park in the course of street resurfacing in the spring of 2002, just as is proposed for Los Gatos, and the natives resisted mightily as the following newspaper account will show.
Party attendees who are Menlo Park residents told me they experienced the ordeal personally. They talked with the contractor putting in what I am told were concrete planters and, as opposition rose, the contractor hurried his work so he could be paid before the work was cancelled. As the situation worsened, I was told by the residents, the town hired another contractor to work behind the first one and remove the traffic calming devices (obstacles) almost as soon as they were put in. What a waste.

The news article says, in part,…

“It was advertised as a resurfacing project. There’s a lot more out there than new surface,” said Father Patrick Michaels of St. Raymond Church.

http://www.almanacnews.com/morgue/2002/2002_05_29.mpcruz.html

It’s a sad commentary on our government.