Bumper-to-bumper traffic on Arastradero Road – which runs through Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto – is common during the morning rush hour, especially when school is in session. Having only one official drop-off location for students attending Gunn High School on Arastradero didn’t help the situation.
“It’s pretty hectic when we’re looking at 8:25 a.m.,” said James Lubbe, dean of students at Gunn, of the scene on campus. “We tell students, ‘If you’re planning on coming up Arastradero Road from El Camino Real (approximately 1 mile), you need to start coming up the street at least 20 minutes early.’”
Traffic congestion should ease, however, with this month’s opening of a drop-off location on Miranda Avenue, which is just off Foothill Expressway in Palo Alto.
The new drop-off runs parallel to Miranda, where illegal drop-offs were the norm in previous years. It offers drivers the ability to pull onto campus and allow students to exit on sidewalks that surround a 400-foot, two-lane traffic loop that includes a turnaround. The project includes an additional 32 staff parking spaces and room to accommodate emergency vehicles, which were previously unable to access the area. The county is expected to install a traffic light in the fall.
Vehicles exiting the drop-off are required to turn right on Miranda to prevent congestion.
The $2 million Miranda project – funded by the $378 million Strong Schools Bond passed by Palo Alto Unified School District voters in 2008 – also funded construction of a bridge at Bol Park that enables pedestrians and cyclists to cross safely onto campus from pathways feeding from Miranda and Arastradero. Officials envision less traffic congestion before bell time and safer transportation options for the school’s 1,900 students.
According to Los Altos Hills resident Duncan MacMillan a parent of several Gunn High graduates, the idea for a second official vehicle drop-off emerged in response to failed efforts to reduce the concentration of vehicles using the campus’ main entrance drop-off. When the school collaborated with the Valley Transportation Authority to allow bus stops to double as “10-second” carpool drop-offs when buses were not present, vehicles instead camped out at the stops, ending the collaboration. MacMillan noted that traffic research during the bond process revealed that there was no way to move all queued-up vehicles through the main drop-off by bell time, leading to the inclusion of plans for the Miranda drop-off and other safety enhancements in the bond measure.
Construction crews broke ground in December and are scheduled to complete a majority of the project elements in time for the first day of school Monday.
Penny Ellson, Gunn High School traffic safety chairwoman, reported that the school is working to encourage alternatives that ease congestion, including carpooling and cycling. Features of the Miranda project are designed to strengthen their efforts, like the new U-shaped bike racks that can host an additional 30 bikes that were installed between the school’s Science and World Languages buildings.
While car traffic to Gunn remains high at approximately 250 drop-offs daily, according to a 2012 traffic survey at the school, cycling and walking are growing in popularity. Palo Alto’s investment in Safe Routes to Schools programs and “Pedal for Prizes” initiatives at district middle schools and Gunn appears to be paying off. From 2003 to 2013, the number of students pedaling bikes to campus more than tripled from 240 to 836.
“I think the kids are getting it,” Ellson said of the increase in student cyclists. “The encouragement programs in middle school are working and empowering them to think that they can do something.”
Cycling is becoming so popular on campus that Gunn student Ian Cramer installed a “Bike Fixtation” near the music building over the summer that will be available to assist students with repairs. With tutorials that can be accessed via smartphone, users will have step-by-step tire repair guides at their fingertips.
For more information, visit gunn.pausd.org/transportation?destination=node/1135.