Photo By: Ellie Van Houtee/Town Crier
The Los Altos City Council put up a red light to the installation of a traffic signal at Covington Road and Miramonte Avenue, unanimously voting to nix the project at last week’s meeting.
The council’s May 22 vote came after it originally approved the design of and construction support services for the proposed signal in February.
The project included other intersection improvements as well, such as built-out intersection corners and improved crosswalk markings. After shelving the plan, the council directed city staff to return with alternative safety measures for the intersection.
The decision pleased several nearby residents who argued before the council that a traffic light would make the intersection less safe and encourage dangerous behaviors from motorists, such as speeding to beat a red light at the intersection.
Several students at nearby Blach Intermediate School use the intersection on foot or on bicycles during peak morning and afternoon hours throughout the school year.
“Democracy worked perfectly,” said Andy Bajka, one of 13 residents who spoke to the council to voice his opposition to the signal. “The council was honest, receptive and they used good judgment. They just simply used good logic, and they were very focused on children’s safety.”
The council’s vote came despite a 2010 traffic study by Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants that recommended a signal at the intersection, among other improvements. The study cited traffic delays of 35 seconds or longer and queues of up to 41 cars during the intersection’s peak traffic periods as factors in its recommendation.
The study also included vehicle-on-vehicle collision data that showed 10 accidents – including five resulting in injuries – at the intersection during the study’s observation period (May through October 2010). More than 1,218 vehicles – including bicycles – pass through the intersection per hour during its peak morning use, according to a city staff report.
Los Altos Engineering Services Manager Jim Gustafson told the council the signal recommendation was based largely on traffic data.
“The warrants justifying a signal are based on traffic volumes, not on safety,” he said. “The accident history of that intersection is not unlike what you would expect at an intersection with those volumes.”
Bruce Yang, a resident living near the intersection, said the basis for the recommendation – traffic data – was a key point of contention for several residents opposed to the light.
“My speculation is that the original push for this was more for the (traffic) volume,” he said. “Over the course of our protest and voicing our concerns, I believe more councilmembers started to see that safety concerns needed to be balanced with the (traffic) volume.”
In the end, Los Altos Mayor Val Carpenter said public input from concerned neighbors was a key factor in the council’s vote.
“Oftentimes with issues of streets, there’s the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists – often children – versus (vehicle) throughput,” she said. “This council, and certainly me, have always sided on the side of let’s keep our schoolchildren, our pedestrians and bicyclists safe, even if it means that it takes you a little bit longer to get to (highways) 280 or 101.”