The Absence of Traffic Control, or Building Concrete Experiments in Production

If you read the fine print in the city council’s report awarding the construction contract to Granite Construction, you will find that they underbid the sole competitor on traffic control (flag-people). Granite bid $350,123 and O’Grady bid $1,000,000.

If you have driven through the construction, you probably have noticed that there are rarely flag-people onsite. Lots of cones, lots of plastic sawhorse barricades, but no people. Walking up Moreno today to see how the new mini-roundabout concrete experiment is coming along, I noticed that everyone (joggers, walkers, dog-walkers) was forced out into the middle of the street by Granite Construction trucks parked on the sidewalk with gear completely blocking the sidewalk.

How odd, I thought! This is quite dangerous. So I went home and did a little research on the company to which Granite Construction outsourced traffic control and … lo and behold … they have been sued for creating dangerous construction zone situations in the past. Here’s a link (I did not search very hard, I suspect there are more):

September 14, 2017

BATS Involved in $6M Injury Settlement

  1. TIME: 8:30 CASE#: MSC16-01550





MCH Electric’s motion for good faith settlement is granted. The settling parties, MCH Electric (“MCH”), the City of Walnut Creek (“the City”), Whiting-Turner, and Plaintiffs, have shown a settlement exists, and thus it is BATS’ burden to show the settlement was not made in good faith. (See Code of Civil Procedure (“CCP”) § 877.6(d).) BATS has failed to carry that burden. Landrus Pfeffinger (“Dr. Pfeffinger”) and his wife, Noel, sued Whiting-Turner, the City, MCH, and Bay Area Traffic Solutions (“BATS”) for failure to provide safe passage through a construction site, resulting in catastrophic injuries. Whiting-Turner was the general contractor that applied for encroachment permits to the City for the project, but did not perform any excavation or work at the site prior to the accident. MCH was the subcontractor conducting the excavation, and the one responsible for creating a traffic control plan (“TCP”) subject to the City’s approval. The City approved MCH’s TCP after a few modifications. MCH contracted Bay Area Traffic Solutions (“BATS”) to implement the TCP throughout the period construction.

After discovery and analysis, Plaintiffs, MCH, the City, and Whiting-Turner settled for $6,000,000 in exchange for a release of claims. (Philipp Decl. ¶ 5.) BATS did not take part in the settlement. On August 11, 2017, MCH filed a Motion for Determination of Good Faith Settlement. BATS opposed, and all four of the settling parties filed declarations in response.

Video of What I Truly Fear

In a nutshell, this is what scares the c**p out of me as a parent. Adults may laugh about the NIMBY fear of change, and can celebrate “chasing” cars off of Ross Road, but my kids have to ride through this gauntlet twice a day. I am NOT crazy, and I am not even fearful of the world (they have been riding alone to school for years, and they are now 11 and 13). But I know how irate I get at the *TERRIBLE* drivers in Palo Alto who blow through stop signs, drive 40 MPH in front of the elementary school, and who are texting or reading email when in charge of 2,000 pounds of dangerous steel. WATCH THE VIDEO … this could be your kid.

Headline, not too far off: “Timmy Treadon was caught in the wheelwell of a large Chevy Suburban driven by a distracted driver and dragged for two blocks before his bike finally popped the tire in the intersection of East Meadow and Middlefield. Timmy was lucky, and the car behind stopped in time.”

What a RoundAbout is Supposed to Be

Roundabouts can be a great improvement to stop lights or four-way stop signs, eliminating the need to stop and greatly reducing the chances of a head-on collision. Roundabouts typically replace two lanes crossing each other with one shared lane. They are most successful when:

  1. Traffic from all directions has clear visibility to “the competition”, cars entering from either side;
  2. There is little “mixed” traffic (either mostly cars or mostly bikes);
  3. Pedestrian traffic is discouraged.

Here are a couple notable examples:


This is Highway 89, just south of Highway 80. Cars have plenty of space to turn in the tighter inner circle, where it is clear that they have the right of way. Traffic separators force cars entering to come in at an obliqueangle, ensuring that at worst they will be pushed to the outside.

CastroStRoundabout.pngThis is Castro Street in Mountain View. Note the very wide islands, where a pedestrian can actually feel protected from traffic. Note how small the actual roundabout is, in relation to the width of the streets. The sidewalks do NOT force bikes into the street, and indeed are lower and rounder. Bikes are NOT encouraged to join the flow of traffic, but are indeed safe when they continue along the road because there is room for a bike and car to share the space.


Here is East Meadow at Ross before the changes. Wide lanes, bikes could go straight through, pedestrians had clearly marked (straight) crosswalks.EastMeadowRossAfter.jpg

Here is Ross Road after … akin to three rounds of bad plastic surgery.

  1. First the roundabout, so wide that a fire truck has to slow to one mile per hour to get around it;
  2. Then the “bulb-out” extensions to the sidewalks, to ensure that bikes cannot simply avoid traffic; and
  3. Last, the lane separators to ensure that cars CANNOT make room for the bike, since the driver can barely fit the car itself through the chute at an angle.

And sadly, the predictable result is that bikes are getting squeezed into the bulbouts. Video of a little girl getting squeezed into traffic is in another post on this blog.

Here are two pictures from March 11th. The bulbouts are already dinged up where vehicles have struck the raised curbs. There is a growing pile of hubcap debris on the southeast corner of the intersection where cars cannot navigate through the fifteen-foot wide lanes without striking the curb.

A proponent of the bike boulevard shared this link, which is informative.

In my effort to continue to learn more about roundabouts, and about what is being proposed in many more Palo Alto intersections, I welcome this type of education. Here’s what I just posted on NextDoor based on this article:

Below are direct quotes from the article. Clearly others know more than I do about roundabouts, but the analyses cited are based on much bigger intersections without foliage (and not a single example given in the 26 pages is in a residential neighborhood). Quotes:

  1. “mini-roundabouts are typically not suitable for use on higher-volume (greater than 6,000 AADT) state routes.”
  2. “a compact roundabout …has a completely mountable center island”
  3. “All curbing within a roundabout should be rolled”
  4. “The length of the splitter island will vary (typical lengths: 30 ft to 350 ft)”
  5. “Try to maximize the splitter island width adjacent to the circulating roadway”
  6. “The Inscribed Circle Diameter (ICD), that is, the overall outside diameter of a roundabout”
  7. “The offset left alignment is preferred.”
  8. “angle values … usually between 20 and 40 degrees.”
  9. intersection sight distance should be 100 feet for 15mph traffic (p 19)
  10. “Design the splitter island pass through a minimum of 5 feet wide, or the width of the sidewalk, whichever is greater.” (ours are 3 feet)

Taken together, here are a few conclusions (based on THESE FACTS alone):

  1. What was built is the smallest option, a “mini-roundabout” with an inscribed circle diameter of 64 feet in the narrow direction (and 15-foot lanes on the narrow axis);
  2. What was built is NOT suitable in this intersection, which clearly has more than 6,000 average annual daily traffic (with a peak of close to 1,000 in each of two twenty-minute windows).
  3. The raised curbs violate any guidelines I can find anywhere (watch the video of a young girl on a bike forced by the raised curb into traffic here):
  4. The “entry width” is N/A for a mini-roundabout because they should not have islands! The recommended speed for a roundabout with a radius of 32 feet is somewhere under 10 mph (chart, page 14).
  5. The intersection sight distance is something closer to 10 feet due to foliage on three of the four corners, when it should be 100 feet even for 15 mph traffic.

Stop signs are the right traffic calming measure for this intersection, without question. Here is another good summary of the tradeoffs to a roundabout; note that LANDSCAPING is a real issue for us:

One-lane slow point.

One-lane slow points restrict traffic flow to one lane. This lane must accommodate motor traffic in both travel directions. Passage through the slow point can be either straight through or angled.


  • Vehicle speed reduced.
  • Most effective when used in a series.
  • Imposes minimal inconvenience to local traffic.
  • Pedestrians have a reduced crossing distance, greater safety.


  • Reduced sight distances if landscaping is not low and trimmed.
  • Contrary to driver expectations of unobstructed flow.
  • Can be hazardous for drivers and bicyclists if not designed and maintained properly. Opposing drivers arriving simultaneously can create confrontation.


Great Objectives, Awful Execution

We all want to provide safer biking lanes. We all wish more people would bike to school, to work, to recreational facilities. But it is clear that these objectives are NOT being met by the current destruction of a safe road with room for all. What has been a shared bike / car road for sixty years has been transformed into a war zone, with child soldiers conscripted to fight against 2,000-pound vehicles. I for one do NOT want my eleven-year-old daughter forced into traffic repeatedly to “slow” cars down. I think the city will be liable for the injury or death of a bicyclist who is unwittingly forced into conflict with a bad driver, and I think it will happen soon and often. The advocates of these changes point to studies in adult urban areas; none of them cite elementary school kids on bikes as a priority (guess what, in Portland kids are not riding through the cool parts of town twice a day trying to get to school; those bike boulevards in New York City are completely segregated from traffic).

Look at the bike lane in this picture. It used to run through the intersection, and bikes were safe there. Extending the sidewalk six feet out, where the foliage on the corner house hides lurking danger, creates a “turkey chute” — cars behind you (heading east) will run you into the sidewalk, and if you make it into the intersection cars from the north will hit you from the right.RossChute.jpg

East Meadow and Ross Road Intersection is a Death Trap

The reason that I created the petition to stop the traffic calming “investments” on Ross Road is really because my children feel truly threatened by the changes at the intersection of East Meadow and Ross Road. Two of the other concerned voters that joined me for a meeting with the city councilman were troubled that emergency vehicles (like fire trucks) were no longer able to reach them by the shortest route. My personal objection is that 8-year-old children are forced into the flow of traffic, confronting cars which may or may not see them. Foliage on the corner prevents bike riders from seeing oncoming traffic, and the collective application of three different disruptions (the roundabout, the lane separators, the engorged sidewalks) ensures that bikes are going to be shoved into traffic brusquely and with little visibility into cars coming either way on Ross Road (north or south).IntersectionFromSouth.jpgIntersection2.jpgInstersectionFromEast.jpg

YMCA Parking Lot Entrance

One of the main reasons given for tearing up Ross Road is to slow down traffic headed to the YMCA. As a couple of Ross Road homeowners have said, cars sometimes drive 40-50 mph to rush to the YMCA when they are late for their classes (odd that they are stressed about getting to their mindfulness classes on time, but whatever). They may stop at the stop sign at East Meadow, but they may be travelling at 40 mph six houses later. Tearing up Ross Road is one attempt to slow them down. The entrance to the YMCA now juts out six feet, and is narrow — so cars coming south on Ross have to swing over into the other lane to enter, and cars heading north on Ross have to block traffic completely if there is any southbound traffic. Since parking is often tight at the YMCA, cars park on the street at the entrance … making matters even worse.


Bulbouts Force Bikes Into Traffic

In the interest of slowing cars down, the city has invested in “bulbouts”. These concrete structures, which have high curbs that *force* bikes into the street, have been installed in four different places along Ross Road. The bulbouts eliminate parking spaces, force bikes to enter the main travel lane, and create a moment of conflict when a bike and a car both arrive at the same place at the same time. Two cars passing side-by-side COMPLETELY block the street, leaving nowhere for a bike to ride. The bulbouts also enclose a HUGE multi-part speed bump that is a real challenge for the elderly on their tricycles and for well-meaning parents with a child trailer on the back of their bike.Bulbouts4.jpgBulbouts2.jpgBulbouts.jpg