Traffic and the City Consultants

 

Residents in the vicinity of the proposed Maybell PC and all residents whose children attend Juana Briones Elementary School down the block are most correctly concerned about the traffic situation in the area.

I went to the site recently to observe during the morning school commute. It was unnerving. A two-lane residential street, backed up with cars in three directions at Amaranta Avenue, where I stood frozen as kids whizzed around me on bikes, while others on foot navigated the narrow or non-existent sidewalks and dangerous crosswalks. A huge semi-trailer truck edged down Maybell Avenue to the intersection waiting for its opportunity to make a very tight, right turn. An accident waiting to happen, and fortunately it did not.

No matter what the result in this election, this situation needs to be addressed.

To assess the traffic impact of the proposed Maybell PC on the neighboring streets, the city hired a transportation-consulting firm. Its conclusion was that there would be no significant impacts.

Those new to this aspect of the Palo Alto land use process may be surprised to learn that this result is hardly uncommon. In fact, you would be extremely hard pressed to find the last traffic analysis in this town that concluded there was a significant impact. Projects of all sizes and shapes come through the review process, undergo traffic analyses, usually from within a favored group of consultants, and the conclusions remain steadfast: no significant impacts.

How is this possible? Anyone who has lived here for a reasonable amount of time knows that traffic is getting worse and worse; development – residential, commercial, or mixed use – continues to proceed at a brisk pace; and that exceptions to zoning are commonplace.

In Palo Alto, we are supposed to be doing things better in our traffic studies than other “less enlightened” municipalities where the developer both chooses and pays the consultant. Here, at least in theory, the city selects the firm, instructs the developer to write a check to the city, gives direction to the consultant, and then pays the consultant upon satisfactory completion.

But is the relationship between the city and its traffic consultants more cozy than professional?

That question is implied in the lead article in the October 3 issue of the Palo Alto Daily Post. Via a public records request, the newspaper obtained a traffic report for developer Jay Paul Company’s proposed PC for 395 Page Mill Road, the AOL site, and a property across the street from it on Park Boulevard (currently Akins Body Shop) that would include the shell of a police building. A new police building is near the top of city’s list of wish list.

The article states that 2,791 additional car trips per day are to be generated “according to a report the city has sent back to its authors, traffic consultants Fehrs & Peers, for revisions, so the numbers could change.” (Italics for emphasis are mine.)

Why should the numbers change? Did the consultant make a mistake or leave something out? Or, perhaps, did the numbers not turn out the way the city wanted.

For the Maybell traffic analysis, the city hired Hexagon Transportation Consultants, a familiar face.

You may recall that Hexagon conducted the traffic analysis for the upcoming California Avenue Streetscape project, designed by the city and requiring grant money to proceed as planned. The traffic report concluded there would be no significant impacts.

And if you follow city news closely, you may also have noted that on July 19, the Palo Alto Weekly reported that two residents had filed public records requests for communications between the city and Hexagon with regard to that project. It revealed that Hexagon asked the city whether they should include a study of cumulative impacts as required by the California Environmental Quality Act. The city told Hexagon not to bother, and so the impacts of other nearby projects either in the pipeline or on the drawing board were not studied.

Many of us in College Terrace remember Hexagon from the 2005 Mayfield Development Agreement between the city and Stanford University that brought the soccer fields to the corner of El Camino Real and Page Mill right after project approval, but deferred development of 250 housing units to replace commercial space in Research Park adjacent to College Terrace.

In this case, we learned that the city instructed Hexagon as to which trip-generation tables to use to determine the effect on California Avenue, the shared street between College Terrace and Research Park. But apparently the city did not instruct Hexagon to conduct a study of traffic infusion into the neighborhood, as none was included. Residents complained; a report was quickly produced. Overall conclusion on both counts: no significant impacts.

Say no to the city’s coziness with its traffic-consultants.

 

Vote Against Measure D.

 

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