Friday’s Off-Ramp: Laurel Street Etiquette.

June 12, 2009

Laurel Street.

As a long-time resident of San Carlos, I'm thrilled to see the ongoing success of Laurel Street.   The downtown district of San Carlos ranks right up there with our outstanding school district as reasons why people want to live in San Carlos.   Needless to say, the continued success of Laurel Street and the successful transformation of the southern stretch of Laurel are key to the fiscal vitality of San Carlos.   But that success comes with a price…

“Let's be careful out there.”

Remember that tag line from the old “Hill Street Blues” TV series?   OK, I'm dating myself a bit here.. but sometimes it seems that this slogan is more appropriate for Laurel Street than is “The City of Good Living.”  If you've tried to navigate Laurel Street during the mid-day, whether it's in your car or as a pedestrian, you know it can sometimes be a white-knuckle experience.   The most common danger points that I see on a daily basis are:

  • Olive and Cherry Street stop signs.    Both Olive and Cherry Streets intersect Laurel in the most popular section of downtown San Carlos, so you can always expect lots of traffic at these intersections.   But for some reason, many drivers on Olive and Cherry seem to treat these intersections as 4-way stop signs, which they're not.  This leads to near-collisions almost on a daily basis, as drivers on both streets mistakenly assume they have the right-of-way.  I almost got tagged twice (on the same trip) at both intersections just this week.
  • Pedestrian crossing.   California's Vehicle Code mandates that drivers must yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.  This is great in theory, but if you're a pedestrian in one of the crosswalks, don't assume that drivers either a) see you, or b) are going to stop for you.  With all the traffic, and parking and hunting for shops, there are lots of things that can distract drivers on Laurel — so if you're in a crosswalk, make sure your head is on a swivel.
  • U-turns. Murphy's Law of Laurel Street states that the only available parking spots will be on the other side of the street.  (I swear this is true.)  So it's tempting to flip a U-turn across the double-yellow to grab that elusive parking spot.  It's another danger point, and it also tends to enrage drivers coming the other way, since the U-turn often becomes a 16-point Y-turn that backs up traffic the other way. (What? Road rage in San Carlos?)

What's your take?

Am I off base here, or are you seeing the same thing?  What about other issues with Laurel traffic?  Feel free to chime in below with a comment….

Happy Friday!


(The Friday Off-Ramp series is just an occasional editorial about stuff that happens in San Carlos.)


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  1. Bill on June 13, 2009 at 2:36 am

    Good post. Here are my additions/gripes about Laurel: 1) the oversize ground-level plant pots around the crosswalks actually make for a more dangerous situation, impairing the visibility of crossing pedestrians to drivers; 2) older drivers who back out of the diagonal spaces without looking behind them, hoping the other drivers will stop in time. Although I admit, backing out when you’re parked next to a big SUV is a roll of the dice…

  2. Chuck on June 13, 2009 at 4:05 pm


    Good points. Backing out of those diagonal spots is definitely an art form — inch by inch. I absolutely sympathize with our older residents who try to drive down Laurel today — it must be really difficult with so much going on.

    One easy solution to avoid many of these near-misses would to make the Olive/Laurel and Cherry/Laurel intersections 4-way stops. This would eliminate 99% of the confusion, and would make it much safer for pedestrians trying to cross at these corners.

    Thanks for your comments.


  3. Michael on June 14, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Chuck, I think these two intersections need to remain 2 way stops otherwise we will surely have gridlock downtown if we have to stop at every corner. AMEN to those U-turn parkers as well; I have yet to see someone get a ticket for that…talk about dangerous! They should be shot (well symbolically). It’s also unfair to those approaching that spot legally that would park there.

    As far as pedestrians at these two intersections go, it is nice that drivers like to stop for people standing on the corner waiting to cross. However, when I am waiting to cross, I am “waiting my turn to cross”.

    Didn’t Mom and Dad always tell you to stand on the corner, wait until it is clear, then cross? It is almost maddening when I am standing there, in no way motioning that I need to cross the street at that moment, and someone decides they are going to stop for me, thus creating a potential rearend collision for them.

    Note to drivers, yield the right of way when you must yield, otherwise accept your right of way when approaching these intersections and proceed through. It’s not a crime to actually drive through an intersection that is not marked with a stop or yield sign (unless of course a pedestrian is crossing).

    By the same token, those pedestrians that barely break stride when approaching corners, whether 4-way stop or not, PLEASE STOP and wait for traffic to notice you, then take your turn.

    And those with children, pleaase move them through the intersection WITH YOU safely. How many times have you seen children treating these intersections as playgrounds while Mom and/or Dad sips their coffee while talking on the phone? Not the best way to teach safety to your children…

    As they say, you are in the right when in a crosswalk at an intersection, but do you really want to be “dead right”?

    I think if everyone acknowledges both pedestrians’ as well as drivers’ right of way in downtown, there would be less rage and we would ALL be much safer.

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