A grassroots campaign for safer downtown Los Altos streets and intersections is underway, led by the high-profile co-founder of 23andMe.
Los Altos Hills resident Anne Wojcicki, through her Anne Wojcicki Foundation, has been spearheading outreach to Los Altos and Santa Clara County officials, chiefly over the problem intersection at Edith Avenue and Foothill Expressway. Her son was nearly hit by a passing vehicle at the intersection in July, prompting her to take action.
Wojcicki and foundation representatives hosted a meeting Sept. 21 at the former Bumble restaurant site on First Street to gather input from residents on various safety improvement options and to solicit additional ideas.
At issue is the right-turn “slip lane” from Edith onto Foothill. Drivers looking left to merge with Foothill traffic are at risk of not reacting quickly enough to a pedestrian crossing in the intersection in front of them.
Taylor Robinson, representing the foundation, told participants at the gathering that officials have been responsive and have acknowledged residents’ concerns about the intersection.
Robinson noted a city-sanctioned report that examined city intersections between 2015 and 2019 that showed multiple accidents at the Foothill-Main and Foothill-Edith intersections.
A Complete Streets Master Plan draft from last year lists 422 collisions involving at least one injury from 2015 to 2019; 90 involved bicyclists and 21 involved pedestrians, with 11 resulting in severe injury or death. Multiple collisions were recorded at the Foothill-Edith and Foothill-Main intersections, with one fatal collision at Foothill-Edith.
A quick poll of the 35 attendees at the meeting showed Foothill-Edith as the most concerning intersection, far and away.
Wojcicki’s Nextdoor post in July prompted the latest discussions.
“I’m so motivated by the Nextdoor response, and I really feel like we can get things done,” Wojcicki told the gathering.
She said she’s been thinking about the problem intersection since she was pregnant with her 13-year-old son.
“We’re super motivated to stick with it now and actually make something happen,” she said. “We’re full of resources and happy to make a difference, but we need community involvement.”
“The city and county are collaborating internally on short-term solutions which mostly involve pedestrian barriers,” the foundation stated in a Sept. 24 follow-up email to participants. “Edith-Foothill and Main-Foothill (intersections) are not currently on the city-county radar for long-term improvement plans. There is a modest plan to make cosmetic improvements at the Edith-Foothill intersection as part of the Safe Routes to School program.”
Marisa Lee, the city’s transportation services manager, differed in the assessment of city plans.
“There is a robust signage and striping plan for bicycle and pedestrian improvements at Edith/Foothill that will be implemented this fall as part of Los Altos’ citywide signage and striping program,” she said. “The upgrades are function and safety oriented, not cosmetic. They include signage and striping only because that is the scope of this year’s Safe Routes to Schools Capital Improvement Project.”
Lee said city and county transportation officials agree that the current crosswalk markings at the slip lane in the northwest of the Foothill-Edith intersection are in the correct location.
“If someone crosses in the crosswalk, they are visible to oncoming drivers,” she noted. “If pedestrians cut the corner, they are crossing in a location that is not visible to oncoming drivers. We ask that pedestrians cross in marked crosswalks and are aware of their surroundings, and that drivers drive slowly, patiently and carefully, at this location and everywhere. We all need to look out for each other, pay attention and follow the rules of the road.”
Short-term safety improvements for Foothill-Edith presented at the meeting included: adding blinking lights in the crosswalk; adding speed dots approaching turns; adding signage on approach; trimming landscaping to improve visibility; and better synchronizing traffic signals.
Suggested longer-term solutions included removing the slip lanes at the Edith and Main intersections and making vehicles stop before proceeding.
One idea involved undergrounding the expressway and creating a park above to extend Lincoln Park to the downtown.
Robinson said city and county officials plan to meet again next month to come up with a near-term solution “based on our community feedback.” She said the latest that a short-term solution could be installed at Edith-Foothill would be December or January.
For a long-term solution, officials would need to request a formal study of the intersections. City officials recommended seeking state and federal grants to fund the study.
Robinson acknowledged that a longer-term solution could still be a few years away.
“It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but I think we can all work together – remember, the government works for you,” she said.
Among the next steps is forming a committee and sharing the group’s findings with the city’s Complete Streets Commission, which doesn’t meet until late October.
I applaud Anne Wojcicki for getting involved in this. I'm sure she's a very busy woman. It's a good example of making small changes that make the community better for all of us.
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