Busy intersection raises safety concerns

Photo By: Town Crier File Photo
Photo Town Crier File Photo

Students line up to cross Foothill Expressway at Edith Avenue, a busy intersection that parents deem dangerous.

Navigating the intersection where Edith and University avenues converge near Foothill Expressway can be dangerous, according to some local parents who said they would rather buckle their children in the car than let them walk or ride their bikes a few blocks to Gardner Bullis School, Egan Junior High or Bullis Charter School.

“The crossing at Edith and University makes us very nervous as parents, and we always seem to be at the mercy of drivers who need to look for us and slow down,” said Steve Thomas, father of a Gardner Bullis School student.

Thomas, fellow parents and members of the Los Altos Hills Education Committee shared their concerns at the May 20 Los Altos Hills City Council meeting. Unsafe conditions created by blind free right turns to and from Foothill Expressway and Edith Avenue, as well as the abrupt end to the Safe Routes to School pathway at the border of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, topped the list of fears outlined by Education Committee Chairwoman Heather Rose.

“In some places, the visibility is very poor,” Rose noted, “so a car going at expressway speeds turns right onto West Edith as there is no stop and (drivers) cannot see students who are crossing at University, First Street or Foothill.”

The council took no action at the meeting after Los Altos Mayor Jarrett Fishpaw canceled a scheduled presentation, leaving Los Altos Hills advocates unsure of their next steps.

Who’s responsible?

Because the city of Los Altos and Santa Clara County each own portions of the intersection, major modifications would require a cooperative project.

The city of Los Altos stationed a crossing guard at the intersection in 2008, but city officials eliminated the position shortly thereafter when the volume of activity did not appear to warrant the coverage.

Although members of the Los Altos Hills Education Committee claim that more student commuters walk and bike through the intersection in 2013 than in 2008, a recent campaign advocating the hiring of a crossing guard failed.

When the Lincoln Park/Foothill Bike-to-School Group formed eight months ago, members met with Los Altos School District representatives to argue their case.

District Board of Trustees President Doug Smith said the district discussed the formal request for a crossing guard but eventually rejected the plea because “there weren’t enough students using the route to justify a crossing guard.”

Data collected over several days of the 2012-2013 school year recorded an average of 22 people commuting to school through the intersection daily. According to the California Manual on Uniformed Traffic Control Devices – the guide used to evaluate the need for crossing guards at particular locations – at least 40 school pedestrians must use an intersection daily to justify the need for a crossing guard.

Smith deemed the current situation “a chicken-and-egg problem.”

“Without a crossing guard, fewer parents are willing to let their children walk or bike to school via that route,” he said.

Taking matters into their own hands

Some local residents have taken unaddressed safety concerns into their own hands. Lucy Mangas and other parents have served as volunteer crossing guards during the morning commute since September.

Parents have noted an uptick in the number of students commuting on foot and via bicycle to Gardner Bullis School from Los Altos Avenue since the completion of Los Altos Hills’ $1.08 million Safe Routes to Schools project – a multiuse pathway along West Fremont Road between Concepcion Road and West Edith Avenue.

Although frustrated by the lack of a crossing guard, parents said they plan to continue their efforts to improve safety at the busy intersection.

“We fully support anything the cities can do in order to make these intersections safer and easier for our children to navigate,” Thomas said. “We know that a car can be taken off the road every morning if this intersection is improved.”

The Los Altos Hills Education Committee is scheduled to discuss safe routes for students commuting to school 7 p.m. today at town hall, 26379 W. Fremont Ave.

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