Review of Comprehensive County Expressway Planning Study

Sheri Furman -- Traffic Chair, Midtown Residents Association
May 14, 2003

Oregon Expressway forms the northern border of our neighborhood association, which stretches from Alma to Highway 101, so any changes to Oregon have a direct impact on out neighborhood. Rather than analyze the study in great detail, let me express our primary concerns.

Oregon Expressway Usage

According to the survey conducted by the Evans/McDonough Company in December, 2001, of those surveyed who use Oregon Expressway:

  • 16% use it to get to work; 32% use it to go shopping
  • 42% use it during off-peak hours
  • 74% travel on it for under 10 minutes
  • 59% use it at least a few times a week
  • Those rating the following as Excellent/Good:
    Design of roadway
    Pedestrian Access
    Ease of Bicycle Use
    Overall Safety
It's not clear from these figures that Oregon Expressway is in need of major improvements.

Expressway is really a misnomer for this road. Situated in a primarily residential area and with a 35-mile per hour speed limit, it should more properly be thought of as a boulevard. Apart from the weekday morning and evening commute times, Oregon is primarily a local street used probably 80% of the time by residents living immediately north and south of it.

Median Closures

Traffic circulation the area south of Oregon is already a contentious issue that median closures would only exacerbate. The effect of closing Indian, Ross and Waverly would be an unfair shift of traffic from those streets the neighboring ones.

  • Closure of the median at Waverley would divert traffic onto Bryant and Cowper. Bryant is a designated bicycle path and additional traffic would pose a safety issue. Cowper is already heavily burdened from overflow traffic from Middlefield Road.

  • Closure of the median at Ross would divert traffic onto Louis and possibly Greer. Louis is already a school corridor and VTA bus route. Greer is being considered as a school commute bicycle boulevard.

  • Closure of the median at Indian would move traffic onto Greer. Indian has recently had speed humps and traffic circle installed, calming and somewhat reducing cut-through traffic.

  • A more serious problem is the drivers exiting from southbound 101 who want to turn left onto West Bayshore, cutting across 2 lanes of traffic in a very short distance.

Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety

Without closing or signalizing the intersections at Indian, Ross and Waverly, the following improvements (per the study's concept's in Pedestrian Element, page 6) could be made to all intersections along Oregon to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, particularly for those who are elderly or using a wheelchair:

  • Use electronic signs with flashers to highlight the presence of pedestrians for motorists.

  • Set pedestrian signal timing to allow enough time for crossing the full width of the expressways, especially near senior housing, senior services, or elementary schools.

  • Install pedestrian countdown timers to inform pedestrians of the time remaining to cross the street.

  • Install median signal push buttons where the median is wide enough to provide safe refuge for the pedestrian.

  • Install pedestrian ramps to the corners of the intersection.

Another issue concerns parallel pedestrian access along Oregon. While Oregon Avenue provides parallel travel on the north side of Oregon Expressway, the south side is an interrupted series of sidewalks and paths. Many people in the neighborhood walk on a regular basis and a continuous path along the south side would be quite useful, both for pedestrian and bicyclists.

Sound Walls

Although there has not yet been a specific discussion with the neighborhood on the issue of sound walls, it is also not an issue that has come up in traffic meetings. As previously stated, Oregon looks and behaves more like the residential street it is rather than a conventional expressway. Because of the low speed limit on Oregon, sound has not been a major problem. Sound walls would create a most unpleasant funnel effect whose purpose would seem to be simply to get people from Highway 101 to El Camino or 280 as quickly as possible.

Oregon has also become a dividing line between so-called north and south Palo Alto. The addition of
8-10 foot walls, especially in combination with median closures, would further isolate the two portions of the city from each other. The $5.7 million proposed for walls along Oregon would be much better spent either creating a pathway and upgrading the landscaping or improving the Alma/Page Mill underpass, currently a Tier-3 proposal.

Future Plans

While recognizing that the Comprehensive County Expressway Planning Study is meant to determine what needs to be done over the next 30 years, I'd like to ensure that any proposal concerning changes to Oregon Expressway is formally presented to the Midtown neighborhood at one of the Midtown Residents Association general meetings to gather community response.