After an accident in the beginning of May involving a cyclist at the intersection of Churchill Avenue and Castilleja Avenue, the need for a comprehensive solution to the hazardous traffic situation in that area has arisen. The Campanile believes that a traffic light or stop sign at the intersection would make the crossing of bikers and drivers safer and decrease the risk of an accident.
Although the addition of traffic lights to the Embarcadero intersection in 2010 improved the safety of students crossing from that direction, there is still no protection offered to cyclists and pedestrians commuting from the other side of campus. Putting traffic lights or stop signs at the intersection of Churchill and Castilleja Avenue would guarantee that students coming from the opposite side of Palo Alto would have time to cross the street without worrying about whether or not oncoming traffic will respect the yield sign that is currently in place.
The intersection is made especially hazardous by the unpredictability of traffic at the crossing of Castilleja Avenue and Churchill Avenue. A large number of drivers turn into the Paly parking lot from both directions, giving pedestrians and cyclists opportunities to cross. However, the line of drivers making the turn into the lot can sometimes extend as far up as the intersections at El Camino and the railroad crossing from the other direction. In addition the intersection is dangerous due to the contrast between the busy stretch of Churchill that runs from Alma to El Camino and the quiet neighborhood that Castilleja Avenue runs through.
Many students walking and cycling through the area have an almost unobstructed commute up until the intersection and as a result cannot determine how heavily congested the intersection at Churchill will be.
Furthermore, the train tracks create a bottleneck, which exacerbates the prevalent morning and afternoon congestion of school and work commuters. The bottleneck around the train causes a backup in the left and right turn lanes of the Alma and Churchill intersection, often causing drivers to try and rush through the lights. This sense of urgency adds to the pressure on drivers to drive and turn quickly into the lot in order to create room for cars to cross the tracks.
The pressure and congestion creates an unsafe environment for pedestrians and cyclists, as drivers often do not yield at the crosswalk or check both ways. We understand that it is impossible to change the location of the train tracks and the hazard they cause, but something else still needs to be done to alleviate the pressure in that area.
The main concern truly is the right turn into the parking lot. Many cars attempt to bolt through the turn before student bikers reach the intersection, as the bikers make it practically impossible for cars to turn safely into the right-hand lane.
However, in doing so, drivers tend not to focus their attention on bikers and pedestrians who are in the crosswalk or bike lane. Putting up a stop sign or traffic lights at the intersection of Churchill Avenue and Castilleja Avenue and recalibrating the timing of the Alma and Churchill traffic light would resolve the conflict between the interests of drivers on Churchill, and both groups would be able to act with full confidence that their decision would not lead to injuries.
In conclusion, the Churchill and Castilleja intersection is a bundle of confusion resulting in risky moves on the part of both drivers and pedestrians or cyclists, especially in the minutes before school commences. Adding a traffic light and timing it to match the left turn light of the Alma intersection would reduce the danger of another accident involving a cyclist or a pedestrian.