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Los Altos council looking to fix traffic problems at Blach

Although police at the Dec. 11 Los Altos City Council meeting confirmed that the “No Stopping” signs on Carmel Terrace and Altamead Drive have not been enforced since 2010, council members decided the signs will remain until there’s a public meeting to discuss a better traffic-calming plan for the area around Blach Intermediate School. 

A pilot program enacted in 2009 has been temporarily tabled while the Los Altos School District pursues the purchase of a 10th campus, because city officials want to wait before evaluating patterns that could change as a result of the district’s plan, according to City Manager Chris Jordan.

For example, redrawing district lines could cause an influx or reduction in the number of students who attend Blach, consequently affecting how many parents are dropping off and picking up their children, as well as how many kids are walking or riding their bikes, Jordan said.

“Traffic safety, congestion and flow in the greater Blach neighborhood have been a concern for stakeholders dating back to 2001,” Los Altos city staff said in their report.

From meetings beginning in 2002 and spanning through 2009 via a Neighborhood Traffic Management Plan involving Carmel Terrace and Altamead, the Los Altos council at the time “acknowledged support of the neighborhood” and authorized staff to execute a one-year pilot program that would implement an experimental “No Drop-Off Zone” near Blach.

The council relied on sentiment from a majority of residents, ultimately canceling the plan due to a lack of consensus, according to city staff’s presentation Dec. 11.

As a result of the council’s motion, “No Stopping” signs were installed in 2009 near the back entrance of Blach with a 7-10 a.m. limit, exempting only those with residential permits. The permit program was new, administered by the Carmel Terrace-Altamead Drive Neighborhood Association.

A determination on the effectiveness of the program was set to be made at the end of the one-year period, but because of complaints from numerous residents, the trial program was extended until a final report was received. Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants presented their report to the council in January 2011, accompanied by recommendations for three tiers of mitigation projects.

Los Altos residents opposed some of the recommendations, such as a Class 1 bike path on Miramonte. The council recently requested the path project be redesigned, rejecting a $1 million federal grant from the Valley Transportation Authority in November.

Enforcement

City staff asked the council to provide direction on the matter, prompting the council to ask the Los Altos Police Department’s Sgt. Liz Checke to share her experiences handling traffic enforcement on Carmel Terrace and Altamead.

“There was some pushback that came, (with) a prior administration, that in dealing with some of the parking issues with residents and the designated permits given out, and the expiration of those permits … the direction was not to enforce back there,” Checke said.

Despite the lack of traffic violations, the “No Stopping” signs have created a divide between residents who live on the streets and those who reside on or around Covington Road. Closing off Carmel Terrace and Altamead has created more traffic on Covington, according to Covington-area residents.

“What we are really doing here is pitting one neighbor against another, which is horrible,” Loma Prieta Court resident Ed Saadi said. “It’s a tale of two cities, with two streets that have a great deal going down, and you are just shoving that traffic down someone else’s throat.”

But Carmel Terrace residents showed up by the dozen to argue that their road – with long, narrow driveways and limited curb space for parking – was never designed for school drop-offs. Resident Fred Linker alluded that accepting the belief that all parents will drive down his street more cautiously – keeping safety a priority more than other commuters who may fly down collector streets – is just as dangerous as assuming that preteens are experts at navigating the road.

“Even though the drivers are parents, they are a bag of mixed nuts,” Linker said, cuing laughter. “You see U-turns in the middle of the street ... and in the meantime students are biking in packs in the middle of the street to go to Blach in the morning, as well as pedestrians.”

After the public hearing, council members agreed that it would be best to have staff reach out to the school district to organize a meeting within the “next several months,” preferably at Blach, and include the Complete Streets Commission, with plenty of notice to neighbors impacted.

As the Los Altos council reviewed the signs on streets aimed at controlling the traffic flow, the Mountain View City Council considered whether to authorize funding and joint-use agreements between the city and the Los Altos School District to acquire a joint-use open space and recreational facility at the future school site. For more on their discussion, see the article on today’s front page.

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