City officials working on a new Pedestrian Master Plan proved open to new ideas by attending last week’s Community Conversations forum on “complete streets” principles. The forum, sponsored by the downtown advocacy group Los Altos Forward, featured recently uprooted Seattle urban planner Darby Watson. Watson, now living on the Peninsula, offered a wide range of ideas for improving downtown streets – many of which were inspiring.
Attendees included Los Altos City Councilwomen Jan Pepper and Jeannie Bruins and Public Workers Director Jim Gustafson.
Watson said she looks at two key factors in improving streets: safety and mobility. Obviously, safety is paramount. Watson showed the sizable gathering a slide from peds.org that recorded the survival factor of pedestrians in auto accidents in relation to miles per hour. If hit by a car traveling 20 mph, an estimated nine out of 10 pedestrians survive; at 30 mph, five out of 10 survive; and at 40 mph, only one out of 10 survives.
Slowing traffic becomes vital in any improvement project. Watson singled out one Seattle project that accomplished just that. She applied “a road diet” to Columbian Way, adding full sidewalks and bike lanes. Most importantly, she converted the four-lane road into two lanes and designated a middle lane for left turns.
“Reducing four lanes to three lanes reduced the top speeders, reduced collisions and (resulted in) enormous reductions in the severity of collisions,” she said.
The statistic that nine out of 10 pedestrians hit by vehicles moving at 40 mph do not survive? The “road diet” plan resulted in a 92 percent reduction in motorists traveling at 40 mph – down from 17 percent of the 16,000 daily trips on Columbian to 1.5 percent.
Other factors critical for ideal street design include “intelligently” synchronized traffic signals, roundabouts, raised sidewalks and, yes, painted intersections. With a majority of residents agreeing, neighborhoods have turned black pavement into artwork, which has proven to slow motorists for a better look.
Watson applauded Los Altos’ strategy of expanding the curbs and narrowing the intersections along Main and State streets. She commended the ongoing First Street streetscape project for being “gold-plated,” allowing “great separation” between pedestrians and moving vehicles.”
On the other hand, she characterized the intersection at Edith Avenue and San Antonio Road as “one of the toughest (to improve) intersections I’ve ever seen.”
Although the forum focused on downtown streets, the city’s pedestrian plan encompasses all of Los Altos. It strives to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety in a city with few bike lanes and residential areas that often lack sidewalks – while retaining the bucolic feel of Los Altos neighborhoods. In other words, it seeks to achieve the impossible.
I’m kidding. Nevertheless, the plan continues its goal of striking that balance, despite the challenges. We look forward to the suggestions harvested from this unprecedented effort.
In the meantime, city officials continue to solicit residents’ input on solutions. We recently reported that the city plans to schedule an outreach meeting in late November or early December. A draft of the plan won’t be available until next spring, with a target for council approval next summer.
Bruce Barton is editor-in-chief of the Town Crier.