Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the El Camino Real Caltrans Demonstration Grant project all about?
Forty years ago, when the current street layout was designed and constructed, El Camino Real played a very different role in the regional highway system than it does today. The Caltrans Demonstration Grant Program is a response to new federal and state mandates that transportation infrastructure will be safe, convenient, accessible, and attractive to motorized and nonmotorized users alike, while complementing and enhancing community values and objectives.
This feasibility study will result in a master plan for the Caltrans right of way on El Camino Real in Palo Alto. The revised street design will continue to convey current and projected increases in vehicle traffic; improve the safety and comfort of people who walk, bike or take the bus on El Camino Real; provide more space for large canopy trees for improved appearance and environmental benefits; and support reinvestment in private development along the street. The Master Plan will guide applications for future road construction projects, landscape improvements and minor street improvements.
2. Will this project reduce the capacity of the street for motor vehicles?
Caltrans would not permit, nor is the city seeking, changes to El Camino Real that would reduce its capacity to satisfactorily convey motor vehicles, including buses and trucks. At the City Council Study Session on July 15, 2002, Council members expressed a consensus for no traffic diversion from El Camino Real onto other city streets. A detailed traffic analysis is part of this study to determine the potential impacts of any changes being considered. Two of the standards that any proposed changes to the road would need to meet are, 1) no diversion of traffic to other city streets; and 2) maintain current average speed along the corridor (15-20 miles per hour).
3. Why is the city studying the possibility of reducing some sections of El Camino Real from six travel lanes to four? Won't that cause a traffic "bottleneck"?
El Camino Real will continue to have six travel lanes (plus turn lanes) around all major signalized intersections, and on all other parts of the road where six lanes are needed to convey current and future projected increases in traffic.
The ability of the road to carry traffic is determined at the major signalized intersections (especially at the El Camino Real intersections with Embarcadero and Oregon/Page Mill, and also at Alma and Charleston). At these intersections, many travel lanes are needed because traffic is brought to a stop to allow for large volumes of cross traffic and for turn movements. The same amount of roadway is not needed away from these intersections where traffic is moving and there are no major cross streets delivering additional traffic to the street
Current traffic flow shows a "spiking" pattern, with speeding occurring along the stretches between major intersections and then traffic bunching up at the intersections. The appearance of lots of open space on the road encourages speeding. The high speed areas have higher than average accident rates, especially for speed related accidents such as rear end collisions. A more even flow of traffic would be safer, while conveying the same number of cars in approximately the same travel time.
It is possible that at one or more locations away from major intersections traffic can move satisfactorily with four travel lanes. The reason for studying this possibility is that a four lane street in these areas would be significantly more attractive, comfortable, and safe for all travel modes, by discouraging speeding and providing more generous amenities such as wide sidewalks and medians, safer pedestrian crossings, and more large canopy trees.
4. Why doesn't the city just plant large canopy trees in the medians now without waiting for completion of this study?
Only about one-third of the medians on El Camino Real in Palo Alto are wide enough to meet current Caltrans standards for large canopy trees. Even though Caltrans is expected to have new somewhat more lenient standards by early next year, many of the medians would still need to be widened. Widening the medians requires slightly narrowing the travel lanes and other related changes to street design, which will require Exceptions from Caltrans. This study is helping to lay the groundwork for approval of Exceptions. If the city proceeded now to plant trees in the existing narrow medians the tree species would be limited to small shrub-like trees such as bottle brush, crepe myrtle or oleander.
5. Are there really people walking, riding bicycles, or taking the bus on El Camino Real?
Traffic counts show that over 200 people, possibly many more, ride bicycles daily on El Camino Real. Students at three elementary schools and two middle schools, and at the city's two high schools, must cross the street to get and from school. In some neighborhoods, the public library and child care are within walking distance but require crossing El Camino Real. In recent years, housing and neighborhood serving uses have increased along some parts of the street, resulting in more young people and others walking to and from these destinations, and this trend is expected to continue, especially if the street becomes more welcoming to pedestrians. The Valley Transit Authority's Line #22 on El Camino Real is the most heavily used bus line in Santa Clara County, and an upgraded Bus Rapid Transit service is planned for this route.
6. Is the road work now underway on El Camino Real at Adobe Creek part of this project?No, the current road work at Adobe Creek is part of a Santa Clara Valley Water District project to replace the culvert under El Camino Real. The road will be returned to its original alignment after the construction project is completed.
7. What are the next steps, and when will the El Camino Real Caltrans Demonstration Grant Project be completed?
August-September, 2002: After additional traffic analysis and meetings with Caltrans in August, revised alternatives will be prepared. These will be presented for review and comment by the public at a Community Open House on Saturday, September 28 from 9:30 to 1:00 pm at Mitchell Park Community Center.
October- December, 2002: Based on input from the Community Open House, a draft final set of possible changes to the street will be prepared for public review by the Planning Commission, Architectural Review Board and the City Council.
Since this project is a feasibility study and not a proposed construction project, the City Council's action will be to determine which, if any, of the proposed changes to the street should be pursued by seeking grant funding for further analysis and preparation of more detailed design plans.
January- December, 2003: Begin planting large canopy trees along sidewalks and in medians on El Camino Real that meet Caltrans current or expected new standards. An initial prototype tree planting can be installed in these areas beginning in January, with additional planting to follow as medians are modified to meet Caltrans' requirements or Exceptions to the standards are obtained.