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Living in San Carlos March 16, 2016

Saint Francis Way Traffic Calming: Too Much of a Good Idea?

by Chuck Gillooley

Solving a Chronic Problem.

Traffic density and speeding on neighborhood streets have both been problematic issues in San Carlos for many years — it has certainly been that way for the 27 years that I have lived here, and very likely even longer. These problems stem from two main causes: The rapid growth that this city has encountered since it was first founded, and the design and layout of the streets that traverse city.

During the latter half of the past century, San Carlos grew by leaps and bounds as neighborhood subdivisions sprouted up on the west side of Alameda where once there were only farmland and pastures. Even the high school was razed in favor of more houses up on the hill. And most recently, the booming tech economy has effectively pushed the population of San Carlos to all-time highs.

But despite this huge increase in population, the streets of San Carlos remain largely unchanged from the way they were originally designed. This is especially true in the flats, where the majority of the traffic that travels across San Carlos ultimately goes down just a handful of streets.  San Carlos Avenue, Brittan Avenue, Howard Avenue, Saint Francis Way, and Eaton Avenues handle most of the traffic that runs toward downtown — while Elm Street, Cedar Street and Alameda de las Pulgas, and Crestview Drive are the main thoroughfares for traffic that runs parallel to El Camino.

If you happen to live on any one of these streets, then you already know that dealing with the sheer density of traffic and the accompanying speed is a daily challenge.

I know this firsthand — I have had two of my own cars plowed into while they were parked in front of my house. One of the cars suffered significant damage, the other was completely totaled (along with the other two cars involved in the “accident.”) Both mishaps were attributed to excessive speed. So I get the frustration, believe me.

Calming Measures.

During the years of budget deficit that eventually led up to the outsourcing of police services to the San Mateo Sheriff’s Department, traffic enforcement was cut to save money and headcount. But even with a fully staffed traffic enforcement department, monitoring these chronically busy and fast streets full time with live bodies was simply not practical, so the city began investigating other “passive” ways to slow down the traffic in residential neighborhoods.

Our neighborhood on the upper blocks of Howard Avenue became one of the first streets years ago to ask for and ultimately receive what the city refers to as “traffic calming measures”.  The first attempt at abating traffic was the installation of a roundabout at the intersection of Howard and Dayton Avenues. While the intent was good, the roundabout really only served to slow down fire trucks and ambulances as they navigated the street. The rest of the driving population quickly figured out how to whip around the circle without taking their foot off the gas. Eventually, after some organized public pressure, the department of public works capitulated and installed the 4-way stop sign that we asked for all along. While it hasn’t totally solved the problem, it has helped mitigate it somewhat.

The next calming measure was implemented at the intersection of Elm Street and Morse Avenue in Howard Park where a rather large roundabout was inserted in the road. This was followed by a series of speed bumps and “chokers” along the stretch of Cordilleras Avenue between Elizabeth and San Carlos Avenues. Chokers are places where the road in intentionally throttled, or “choked”, at a certain point to force traffic to slow down.

Fast forward to today, and another one of the main streets in San Carlos has said “enough” to speeding, and has asked the City for help:  Saint Francis Way.

The Perfect Storm.

Simply by its design, Saint Francis Way is a magnet for vehicular traffic…and ultimately speeders. After Brittan Avenue, it’s the straightest and widest shot between Alameda de las Pulgas and El Camino Real. It’s certainly easier to navigate than Eaton and Howard Avenues, and it doesn’t suffer from red-light congestion like Brittan and San Carlos Avenues do.

When you combine this inherent attractiveness to driving Saint Francis with the significant increase in vehicular traffic, you have created a not-so-perfect storm for homeowners along Saint Francis Way.

Unfortunately, the proposed calming solution solution doesn’t have everyone thrilled.

Speed Bumps and Circles and Chokers….

The City has installed a variety of temporary calming devices along Saint Francis Way to gauge the effectiveness of each in curbing the excessive rate of traffic.

Along the lower stretch of Saint Francis, there are two different speed calming installations. The very first is a set of chokers at the intersection of Saint Francis Way and Walnut Street:

Photo Mar 15, 9 08 14 AM

The second is a pair of temporary speed bumps in the stretch of Saint Francis between Elm and Cedar Streets:

Photo Mar 14, 9 46 30 AM

Further up in the middle section of Saint Francis, near the intersection of Park Avenue, there is a temporary choker that’s designed to essentially narrow the road at this critical juncture where speeding is especially noticeable:

Photo Mar 14, 9 45 15 AM

… and finally up near the top of the street near Alameda de Las Pulgas, there is a temporary roundabout.  From comments I have heard from neighbors, and opinions voiced on the regular social media sites, this is the most controversial of all of the Saint Francis measures:


Photo Mar 14, 9 43 57 AM

Too Much, or Not Enough?

From what I understand, the Public Works Department of San Carlos may hold another neighborhood meeting in mid-April to discuss the effectiveness of the traffic calming measures and to gather feedback from the residents along Saint Francis Way.

Until that time, what are your thoughts on the traffic calming measures on Saint Francis Way? Which of these do you like (or dislike?)  Should the City of San Carlos make these temporary measure permanent?  Should there be more measures, or less?

Register your vote in the poll below.  Also, feel free to voice your thoughts in the comment section at the end of this article.

What Do You Think of the Traffic Calming Measures on Saint Francis Way?

View Results

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Comments 3
  • We experience a tremendous amount of speeding on Colton Avenue which is a cut-through off of Eaton. Our block has 25ish younger kids who play outside and it’s frightening to think of what could happen one of these days due to the excessive speeding.

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  • I’m not a big fan of what’s become of St Francis Way. I am avoiding it altogether now, which perhaps was the City’s big idea. Those are hardly small speed bumps, and I am concerned about long-term damage to my car with them. I hope they are removed soon.

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    • Thanks for your comment. I believe there are a few other who feel the same way you do. I have heard from some residents on Eaton Avenue that traffic has increased on their street since the calming measures were put in place on Saint Francis, suggesting that people are choosing alternate routes rather than subjecting themselves to the speed bumps.

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