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Palm Drive scheduled for repaving, other enhancements
STANFORD -- Palm Drive, Stanford University's tree-lined welcome mat to the world, is scheduled for a long-anticipated facelift this summer.
The nearly mile-long road, which links the city of Palo Alto with the Oval and the Main Quad, is the first impression many visitors get of the university. For years, however, that impression has been less than favorable for some motorists.
It's difficult to savor the stunning vista of the red tile-roofed Quad, the mosaics of Memorial Church and the spreading foothills beyond when you're dodging potholes and trying to get around drivers waiting to make left turns off Palm.
But later this year, Palm Drive's surface should be new, smooth and sporting a proper drainage system. If the proposed schedule is adhered to, work should begin shortly after the final World Cup soccer match at Stanford Stadium on July 20.
One reason for the road's sorry state - conditions are worse in the winter when rainstorms cause mini-floods along sections of Palm Drive - is that it was never designed to carry modern automobile and truck traffic. The horse-and-carriage path, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted with input by university founder Leland Stanford has simply been patched over now and then.
But this time, when university officials decided to take on the task of rebuilding Palm Drive, they looked at the job as more than a simple repaving project.
According to Judy Chan of the Planning Office, during the months-long process of coming up with ideas for the new Palm Drive, "We kept in mind that Palm Drive is a ceremonial, as well as a symbolic, gateway to Stanford.
"But it also needed to be modernized; it just wasn't meant to handle modern forms of transportation," Chan said.
Many offices were involved in what was dubbed the Palm Drive Reconstruction Project - the Planning Office/Office of the University Architect; Facilities Operations; Transportation Programs; Public Safety; the University Committee on Land and Building Development; the Committee on Parking and Transportation; and the Historic Values Index group.
The cost of the project is estimated at $3 million and will come out of General Plant Improvement funds. During construction, sections of the road will be completely closed to traffic, to speed the work. Michael Kuntz, project manager with Facilities Operations, said access to the Medical Center/Emergency Room will be given top priority in designing detours. (Information on the work schedule and related detours will be widely publicized when details become available.)
Traffic changes planned
Currently, Palm Drive has two traffic lanes in each direction for the entire 3,750-foot-long stretch from the university gates at El Camino Real to the Oval. Lane design alternatives for the new road will be presented to senior administrators and deans in mid-May.
While configuration is still being worked out, planners agree that the roadway will remain its current width, 42 feet, with four lanes of traffic in at least the first segment from El Camino to Arboretum. According to Chan, that block of Palm is considered a regional artery and has the heaviest traffic of any of the three sections between El Camino and the Oval.
When Palm Drive is reopened to traffic, left turns onto Arboretum from either direction will be prohibited, said Kuntz. "We found that left turns at that intersection make up less than 1 percent of the total traffic, but they account for 80 percent of the accidents." The left turns, he added, also tend to hold up traffic.
Earlier in the process, several other ideas for the Arboretum- Palm intersection were tossed about, including one that would replace the standard four-way intersection with a modern roundabout. That idea was deferred for various reasons.
Another proposal was to allow drivers to make "protected" left turns, either from designated turn-only lanes or through letting one direction go alone on a green light. However, the extended masts needed to situate the signals over the lanes would have marred the view - not considered a worthwhile tradeoff for such a small percentage of the traffic. Adding left turn pockets, Kuntz said, also would have required the relocation of 16 palm trees.
In another change, drivers who use the Palo Road "shortcut" to the northeast corner of the Medical Center will notice a few differences.
Right turns from Palm to Palo will be permitted, but drivers coming back will no longer be able to turn left at Palm Drive.
Bicycle safety is being considered carefully in the project, Kuntz said. One factor that may lead to a two-lane traffic configuration between Campus Drive and the Oval is that it would permit bicycle lanes in the roadway, where bikers are more visible to motorists.
Studies have shown that bicyclists are nearly three times as likely to get into accidents when restricted to off-street pathways, Kuntz said, because their appearance at intersections comes as a surprise to some motorists.
For the four-lane section between Arboretum and El Camino, the width of the roadway cannot accommodate bike lanes, so new bicycle paths may be constructed parallel to the existing footpaths. These projects are in the late stages of design development; mock-ups of typical roadway sections are expected to be ready for review by May 1.
Physical improvements, landscaping
While the repaving project is scheduled to be completed over the summer, other enhancements will continue into the fall and winter and in years to come.
The new road will have a slotted drain and granite curb along the sides, and various shrubs will be planted to hide new bollards being installed to keep cars from driving off Palm into the arboretum. Landscape architect Tom Richman is currently working with the civil engineer, David Richwood of Brian Kangas Foulk, on the configuration of the bike paths, pedestrian paths and landscaping, which are intended to further enhance the overall nature of Palm Drive, creating a parkway about 16 feet wide on each side of the road.
The existing lighting fixtures will remain, but a new kind of bulb will be used that provides an oblong, rather than circular, "light spread," to maximize the number and placement of existing fixtures while increasing illumination at night.
The team is working with grounds manager Herb Fong on the maintenance of and future plans for the roughly 150 palm trees that line the avenue.
Down the road
By the turn of the century, Palm Drive may look quite different from today
Many of the majestic palm trees are in their mature years. In addition to treating and replacing trees as becomes necessary, officials are considering planting additional trees on the outside perimeter of the parkway, if funds allow.
Embarking on a tree-planting project this decade, Chan said, could give the next generations of planners the flexibility they may need to restore the tree-lined alley.
Many of the existing palms probably will die within the next 50 to 80 years, and if future planners decide to replace them, "They wouldn't have to go very far to get new mature, healthy trees," she said.
Another project under discussion is revamping the Campus Drive/Palm Drive intersection. Campus Drive currently intersects Palm twice, once each on westbound and eastbound segments. Richman has proposed having the two legs of Campus Drive converge at Palm, so that there is one four-way intersection, improving traffic flow and reducing unsafe conditions.
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