July 7, 2003

 

Today several neighborhood leaders met with Police Chief Lynne Johnson and other Police Department representatives to discuss the opening of IKEA, our concerns about traffic problems that will result, and what steps the City of Palo Alto can take to prepare.  Chief Johnson will present department findings and action plans to Council at its August 4 meeting.

 

IKEA is expected to open on August 27, roughly coinciding with the start of the new school year and the opening of Stanford’s football season.  Relative to IKEA, Palo Alto Police believe that University Avenue and Bayshore will be major areas of concern, with Embarcadero and East Bayshore roads also impacted.  Preliminary traffic counts have been taken on University, Embarcadero and Channing.  Police will monitor traffic at these locations for new impacts as the store opens.  Neighborhood representatives asked that traffic counts be conducted on Oregon and that it be monitored, as well.

 

Delivery trucks of seven tons will likely be used to service IKEA.  We asked that per Comprehensive Plan goal, three tons be the maximum permitted on Palo Alto streets.  Chief Johnson stressed that a feasibility study, which could lead to implementing this policy, would be costly and demanding of staff time.  Consequently, we should not expect this in the near term.  But delivery trucks will be prohibited on University and Embarcadero.

 

Since IKEA’s distribution warehouse is located on Highway 5 in southern California, one can anticipate that deliveries will be made via the East Bay.

 

Palo Alto Police have contacted Emeryville (IKEA) and Milpitas (Great Mall of America) to learn what traffic plans were made to accommodate traffic when these centers were opened.  Emeryville reports that the first six weeks following IKEA’s opening were marked by extremely heavy traffic backups, with these diminishing somewhat after the store had been opened longer.  But traffic continues to back up during IKEA’s twice-yearly sales events.  Milpitas had problems for the first 3 – 4 weeks after the Great Mall’s opening.  But they had accomplished major work to widen roads and freeway entrances in preparation.

 

In all cases, freeway backups are within the CHP’s jurisdiction.  CHP policy is to let backups occur without agency intervention.

 

The City of East Palo Alto has not yet started a major traffic contingency plan for IKEA.  The IKEA Environmental Impact Report stated that traffic in Palo Alto would not be significantly impacted.  But Palo Alto Police plan meetings to facilitate communication about traffic issues.  Further, Palo Alto Police have asked East Palo Alto to hold a public meeting for residents of both cities, to discuss traffic concerns related to the opening of the store.  East Palo Alto will experience problems with traffic arriving east-bound to that city, especially since traffic exiting Highway 101 will first encounter a signal that does not permit a right turn (to IKEA) on red. 

 

IKEA will have one parking garage on the site, accommodating 700 cars.  The garage will have a single entrance, a single exit.  IKEA staff will direct traffic on site.  Store policy (and presumably a maximum occupancy figure) limits the number of customers in the store at any one time, presenting another potential cause for traffic backups.

 

Palo Alto’s plan for the first few weeks following the opening is to monitor traffic, observe problem areas, and meet with East Palo Alto officials to discuss ways to mitigate problems.  At a minimum, Palo Alto Police can adjust the timing of traffic lights at impacted intersections so traffic can flow at maximum capacity.

 

During football season, PAPD will work to direct traffic to Oregon Expressway.  Staff will also look to establish secondary travel routes for emergency vehicles, should primary routes be gridlocked.  Further, the City will maintain traffic information and advisories on the City web site for both Transportation and Police departments.  Alternate routes for traffic entering and exiting Highway 101 include Whipple Road, now that the Bayfront Expressway is complete.

 

Lighted signs (Amber Alerts) maintained by CalTrans can be used to alert motorists to backups ahead.  CalTrans also updates local radio stations about traffic problems.  Motorists can phone 511 to report traffic alerts.

 

Neighborhood attendees:

 

Betsy Allyn, Annette Ashton, George Browning, JudyAnn Edwards, Elaine Meyer, Carol Mullen, Glenna Violette, Karen White, Kerry Yarkin