Sure, the traffic mess in town is a complicated problem, but I want a solution | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Palo Alto Online |

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By Diana Diamond

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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Sure, the traffic mess in town is a complicated problem, but I want a solution

Uploaded: Dec 10, 2019
Wow! Palo Alto’s new Office of Transportation will have 15.5 employees to solve all our traffic problems in our city – that’s a lot of people to think about our auto problems. Or is this simply another Band-Aid approach to convince the public that the city is actually “doing something” by hiring several newbies to find an answer to resolve the dense traffic jams, one of the biggest problems in Palo Alto? Is this the way efficiency in government works?

We all know what the problems are – crowded roadways everywhere, increased traffic on arterial east-west streets, some of which have been scaled down from four- to two-lane roadways to allow for “safe roads to schools,” half-hour-long crawls along University Avenue to get to 101 in late afternoon, a 4-minute wait to get out of Piazza’s parking lot onto Charleston because of continuous line of one-lane traffic, a 45-minute bus ride because of traffic to get from El Camino and Charleston to Midtown, etc. Traffic is getting worse, with no relief in sight.

Last week, Palo Alto’s new Chief Transportation Official, Philip Kamhi, talked to the Palo Alto Rotary Club (of which I am a member) and detailed his priorities: bicycling and more walking opportunities, safe routes to school, more residential parking permit areas in order to reduce or eliminate nonresidential parking (like Caltrain users), expansion of the Palo Alto shuttle routes, more community engagement on traffic issues, more data collection and traffic calming.

So this is the new department’s list for the next year or two? But what about traffic? What are their plans to better control or reduce traffic or make roads more car-friendly to use? Nothing, I say. Traffic itself just doesn’t seem to be a priority, although the council has insistently said it is for the past six years.

How will the city make it easier to get to 101 faster? Or to eliminate the commuter traffic crush at El Camino and Charleston daily? Or to coordinate the daily traffic light tie-up at ECR and Embarcadero? I wonder how many of those 15.5 employees will drive around town during commute time and noon to actually encounter the traffic problems we deal with daily?

When I asked Kamhi what about traffic, and what will the city do to make things better for cars, he responded, “Well that’s complicated.” But isn’t that his job – more so than safer routes to schools?

And then he said the problem at ECR and Embarcadero is complicated because the city needs to discuss a solution with Stanford, Caltran, the city and the state before any action is taken. I heard the exact same answer nine years ago from former city traffic engineer Jaime Rodriguez, who consistently told me it, takes time for all these authorities to meet and agree on a revised traffic light solution. Nine years????

Kamhi outlined his priorities of the year, which is working again on grade separations for Caltrain crossings (talks have been going on for four years), reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips (five years of trying to make that work), promoting more safe routes to school, providing residential parking permits so employees and commuters using public transit don’t park in front of residents’ houses, getting the community more engaged in talking about our problems, and getting more data collection to see whether new road improvements actually work. Case in point: Ross Road. The city has hired consultants to find out whether the newly bedecked bulbouts, median strips, bike lanes and street furniture are working, and that report will come in December. (Most residents say Ross Road is now a mess.)

Another woman asked about the speeds on Homer Avenue, where she lives, between Webster and Waverley. The chief transportation officer said she should call “311” which answers questions like that, and the city will have to do a study about traffic flow in that area to see if there is a possible solution (like a new stop sign?). Her response: “I don’t want to call 311, I am asking you for an answer.” (Note: the 311 systems primarily answer questions on code enforcement, graffiti, broken sidewalks and illegal dumping.)

Folks, I think we have a big transportation mess in town, and I think the city council and city manager must get on top of it immediately. Solving the intense traffic is the biggest problem for drivers who live and commute here -- not residential parking or safe routes to school, which are important, but not a solution. Hiring more and more people to hire more consultants is also not the solution. Either the city manager needs to reprioritize the direction of its new department, or the council must step in and take charge.

I am tired of talks and community discussions and promises and telling us how complicated everything is. Just get to work and solve some of the daily traffic jams in town, please.
We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?

Comments

 +   23 people like this
Posted by Los Altos Neighbor, a resident of Los Altos,
on Dec 10, 2019 at 4:01 pm

They could improve the traffic and parking by firing 14 of those 15.5 employees... and probably not notice any decline in serving the public.


 +   13 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 10, 2019 at 4:44 pm

There is no simple solution but there are many small things that can be done and many small things can make a big difference.

1. Improve local public transit. School shuttles, bus routes across city and county boundaries, bus shuttles to airports, shuttles from parking lots at highway ramps, shuttles to and from Caltrain stations that wait for trains shuttles that get people where they want to go as alternatives to driving. Don't depend on VTA, they are not interested in north county. Get someone from say Google who knows how to run bus services.

2. Get Caltrain to sort out its pricing, off peak fares, family fares for weekends, free parking after 3 pm to encourage evening use, sort out the zones, Redwood City is 2 zones, Sunnyvale is 1 zone, etc.

3. Make parking easier so that we don't get people driving around looking for parking at lunch time, etc. More 30 minute spots. Electric signs at garages with light system to show where the empty spots are.

4. Smart payment system for those who do need to park for more than 3 hours, meters, garage parking, etc. We should be able to pay by phone.

5. Get rid of bottlenecks that cause traffic to back up. Make traffic flow efficient and a priority.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by DIana Diamond, a resident of Midtown,
on Dec 10, 2019 at 4:59 pm

DIana Diamond is a registered user.

Good ideas! These would be a great start. Like having public garages post the # of empty spaces, as San Jose has been doing for years, while PA talked about it years ago but nothing has been done. A shuttle or bus directly to the airport would be wonderful! Coordinate the two traffic lights on Embarcadero by Paly so we don't have to wait for two lights to separately change while traffic continues to back up.

Other ides?


 +   12 people like this
Posted by Keri, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Dec 11, 2019 at 1:21 am

Keri is a registered user.

Diana, you noted that it takes "a 45-minute bus ride because of traffic to get from El Camino and Charleston to Midtown." Well VTA just eliminated the 88 bus route, replacing it with service that provides school start/end runs only. I can bike from Wilkie Way/Charleston Ave to midtown in 15 minutes. Not everyone can bike. Not everyone can bike in bad weather. The problem is not simply traffic and road capacity, the problem is the lack of viable alternatives to driving. We need a regional solution, Palo Alto cannot solve this itself.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 11, 2019 at 9:03 am

Keri is completely right.

VTA is not providing solutions and in fact taking away possible alternatives.

In fact VTA should be prevented from operating in its present capacity because it is failing completely. We need regional transit not several different ones that stop at what are basically artificial borders. People live in one county and work in another. People live on one side of the Bay and work/party/visit the other side of the Bay. People may choose to one location because it is close to their job but they change jobs without moving home, or their spouse works somewhere else. People are in need of alternative methods of getting to work but there are no alternatives that are efficient. VTA seems to think they are providing a service for people who have hours to do what they could do in 15 minutes by car. They seem to think that snaking around neighborhoods will get more passengers when in fact that is exactly what slows the route so much that nobody wants to use it. They seem to think that they are attempting to get lower income passengers to have a bus, rather than thinking of how to provide an efficient alternative method to getting somewhere.

Google, Facebook, Apple, Stanford, et al, manage to understand the concept of transporting people by way of bus, so why can't the hoi poloi have similar service?

Diana, it is people like you who can start the ball rolling on this one. Please continue.


 +   16 people like this
Posted by Rick, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Dec 11, 2019 at 5:18 pm

Not another bicycle advocate! Someone finally hit the stupid center "planter" at Ross and Louis destroying the plantings and leaving their bumper behind. I've been saying for months that those obstructions are dangerous. Put our nice safe, wide roads back and fire everyone in the Department of (non) transportation!


 +   20 people like this
Posted by Traffic is here to stay, a resident of Esther Clark Park,
on Dec 11, 2019 at 7:59 pm

The city has not been able to deal with the issues at embaracdero and el Camino for years. Do we really think that they can deal with all the major traffic issues facing the city. This is especially relevant when the mindset of the city is “let's narrow the roads and traffic will magically disappear". Doesn't matter who is on the council- they will not be able to deal with the matter.


 +   12 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 11, 2019 at 9:12 pm

So it seems the council will put traffic on their priority list for 2020 once again. Really?

They are not even trying to solve the problems. They are not even putting band aids on the problem. What they are doing is trying to be seen to be doing something, a very real difference. Every idea they have is in their heads. Getting consultants or more employees is not solving any type of problem. They need some action. They need to make some real changes. They are not prepared to do that. They are not showing that they really do want to make any headway. They are still too much in the mindset of banning anything and everything be it cars idling, or vaping materials. Instead they should be acting.

Next year we will have to make sure that anybody who wants to be on City council has real motivation and real ideas to work this issue out.

Diana, will you consider the job?


 +   9 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Dec 11, 2019 at 10:28 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

The city needs to deal with traffic and parking issues reasonably and practically.

I am guessing that the city's suggestions for alternative modes of transportation (largely biking and public transit) are impractical for many people.
-- the best estimate I can find is that the average commute is 23 miles for citizens of Palo Alto. It is crazy to think that many people will find this possible.
-- many people who try public transit find it much too time consuming as well as expensive

The city needs to study these alternatives, as they currently exist, to see how many people can be expected to adopt them.

The city needs to cease its efforts to make traffic worse than it needs to be.
-- too many office buildings approved
-- too many modifications to streets in the name of traffic reduction which really just inconvenience people who need to drive
-- too much reluctance to providing parking.

Alternatives that might actually work need to be explored more. Telecommuting and better public transit options (more shuttles for example). This is not just a Palo Alto issue, the entire conurbation of the Bay Area is intimately linked together.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Anneke Dempsey, a resident of Professorville,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 9:46 am

Thank you, Diana, for this article.

I believe we need the following:

1. Fewer cars. Looking for other means of transportation, i.e., "An Abundant, Reliable and Quality Public Transportation System." Comment from "Earth+" in the comments section.
2. Better used technology to manage traffic and parking, so cars do not have to drive around and around to find a parking space.
3. If biking is so important to Palo Alto, then make Bryant Street a true Bicycle Street. Right now it is not. During commuting time Bryant Street is full of cars, making it difficult and hazardous for bikers. Why not install a traffic sign on Embarcadero turning into Bryant that prohibits cars from entering from 7:00 A.M. - 10:00 A.M. and from 4:00 P.M. -7:00 P.M.
4. There are some excellent plans on the internet that show how some cities have approached their traffic problems.
5. By accident I found a link that includes a former Palo Alto mayor discussing "Smart Cities: Solving Urban Problems Using Technology." Web Link
5A. Great talk, but now we have to "walk the talk."


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Independent, a resident of Esther Clark Park,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 11:24 am

Transit and biking is fine for other people, but when it comes to transportation for us, we know we need our cars. Get real.

Churchill Avenue should not be closed; that will make our traffic even worse by removing a vital artery in town. It's also possible they may try to close the grade crossing at Palo Alto avenue, which would also make traffic terrible. And they want to ask us to fork over $500 million or more for the privilege of making traffic worse.

Why help Caltrain run more frequent trains by us paying for expensive grade separations and creating more traffic problems? It's not electrification that is the over riding factor that leads to more frequent train service - it is one factor, and expensive grade separations are a more necessary one.


 +   23 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Southgate,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 11:35 am

I think the ONLY solution to this is to STOP all office building and development. Discourage new AND existing tech companies from expanding by imposing a huge business tax (not on retail but on tech companies).

Our traffic and housing “crisis" is more appropriately called an office development expansion crisis.

Oh, and council members who receive campaign funding from developers and then vote pro-growth should NOT be re-elected. Very few people pay attention to campaign funding and thus pro-growth council member majority (Kniss, Fine, Tanaka, Cormack)

You get what you vote for


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Independent, a resident of Esther Clark Park,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 11:38 am

15 people? That seems excessive...think of the cost and the pensions...and what has been produced...


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 11:43 am

If Churchill is closed, it will not only add to congestion but also cause all those Paly students and teachers to park on residential streets and walk the bridge/tunnel instead of parking on campus. Probably Stanford people too.


 +   19 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Southgate,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 11:43 am

Oh, and building more dense housing as senate bill 50 would mandate to force more residents into Palo Alto isn't the answer easier. My crazy unproven theory is there is a direct correlation between the number of people living or working in an area and the number of cars on the road.

Any office space vacancy created by a business tax or economic downturn should be replaced ONLY with affordable housing


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Judith Wasserman, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 12:02 pm

Judith Wasserman is a registered user.

Just FYI, work on grade separations has been going on for more than 20 years, not 5.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Traffic is here to stay , a resident of Esther Clark Park,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 12:20 pm

Judith- and they are nowhere near resolving the issue.
But this is how things work- discuss, hire consultants, appoint blue ribbon panels, stakeholder groups,talk some more, more consultants and on and on it goes
Palo Alto,has not gotten anywhere near the amount of housing they should have built decades ago.
And the list of,projects that have languished is endless: the library, grade separation, alma plaza, bike bridge over 101 etc.
So if anyone thinks that the city will address the issue of traffic actually believes that the city council is competent.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Can't get out of my driveway, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 12:53 pm

RIGHT ON, DIANA!!! You hit the bulls eye. But the City continues to work the outer circles. Wring their hands. Do a study. I say: PICK ONE HIGH PRIORITY "MESS" AND FIX IT. Push hard and do whatever it takes. Then do a second, then a third. Also LISTEN to your customers--us, we residents--who are impacted by this every day of our lives. We know alot about what is broken and as other comments show, we know alot about how to fix these messes. Stop studying and doing the "nice to have", easy stuff.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of South of Midtown,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 1:00 pm

It seems to me that the theme from the department is to "try to get..."

As we all know, change can only be made to oneself and through one's actions.

The notion of aspiring to cut down traffic around town with such techniques as "reducing single occupancy trips" is such a joke. We are generally a conscious population with a mindfulness of the environment and our effect. If such coordination is possible, it's already happening.

We are also a population of entrepreneurs and families with complicated schedules made much more so with the narrowing of the roads in conjunction with an increase in high density housing, and public transit that cannot create an effective flow through town and to destinations.

When did Palo Alto buy into the gaslighting theme of D.C.? This all seems to be designed to create chaos and frustration, while having a great time spending tax payer money on ill conceived projects.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 1:16 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Thank you, Diana. Maybe you can get the new transportation guy and former Mayor Kniss who's chairing yet another transportation commission while denying we have traffic problems together with the residents who are tired of seeing OUR money being spent to make us more miserable, to leave us stuck in trsffic BECAUSE we've reduced / eliminated so many traffic lanes AND seeing our council members continue to approve more offices, hotels etc. that continue to be severely under-parked.

Get them in/on here and let's get some answers. I'm SO tired of writing letters to the city council and wasting my time sitting in meetings like the "oh, there's no traffic problem" fact-finding mission that get us NO WHERE.

At that "no traffic problem here" meeting I asked Ms. Kniss where copies of the resident-compiled handouts detail traffic problems was. She said, "That's not OUR study" and I still regret not having asked her why it wasn't.

Why should the residents have to do the jobs of our highly paid bureaucrats and their consultants??


 +   14 people like this
Posted by Jane, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 2:11 pm

The traffic lights on Embarcadero at Town and County are a terrible problem, causing a backup on both El Camino and Embarcadero. There is no reason these can not be coordinated to run in sequence == the Paly students can wait for a few more seconds to cross.


 +   18 people like this
Posted by Over-development is the issue, a resident of Downtown North,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 2:16 pm

This isn't just a Palo Alto traffic issue, it is a bay area traffic issue and until politicians start saying NO to new office development and encourage some of them and the jobs to move away traffic will continue to be a mess.

It is called over- population. We have more people here than there is room for and it is destroying our quality of life.

So don't just complain about the traffic. Tell you local and county and state representatives to stop allowing job growth when there is no place to put the people and their cars. Fight for your quality of life and tell the "growthers" to leave our towns and area alone, they have caused enough problems.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Robert Cronin, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 2:17 pm

It seems to me that those who complain about congestion because they are caught in traffic should first admit that they are part of the problem and not the solution.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Family Friendly, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 3:09 pm

A population of 60,000 which swells to 3 1/2 times that during the day, with both numbers growing each year.

"If you find yourself trapped in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging."


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Fairmeadow Dad, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 3:19 pm

I was in that Charleston gridlock (between Middlefield and Alma) heading West last week when the police were trying to get through and it would have been funny if it wasn't so scary that because of the new traffic calming effort which includes that large, curbed planter box set up down the middle of the road, the police couldn't move either... he had his sirens on and lights flashing and was using his speaker to tell cars "Moved out of the way!!" "Move aside - get out of the way!"

Thing is, there's nowhere for the cars to go. Everyone was just stuck until the light eventually turned. Thankfully it wasn't during those moments when you get the double train crossing fence come down which holds you up even longer.

Poor police car was stuck while everyone else was stressed out because they couldn't get out of the way.

This isn't getting better for anyone.


 +   17 people like this
Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 3:31 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

There is absolutely nothing anyone can do about a problem caused by over-population and excessive commercial development short of eliminating those triggers of congested traffic.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 3:43 pm

Posted by Rick, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,

>> Someone finally hit the stupid center "planter" at Ross and Louis destroying the plantings and leaving their bumper behind. I've been saying for months that those obstructions are dangerous. Put our nice safe, wide roads back and fire everyone in the Department of (non) transportation!

So, someone drove too fast (basic speed law) and hit something and your solution is to make it easier to drive faster? No thanks. Are the circumstances of the accident known? Chances are, the driver was looking at his cell phone, OR, speeding, OR, was driving while intoxicated. Which was it? Anyway, better a planter than a person.

-

Back on topic: the reason it is "complicated" is obvious -- there are way too many commuters on city streets, but, the Palo Alto City Council won't admit that the city has permitted development of too much office space. And, there is more space going up in neighboring cities, so, it is going to get worse.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 4:40 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Fairmeadow Dad, maybe the police could have called Ms. Kniss who so helpfully denied there were traffic problems and advised us to just take alternate routes. That's what got so many people outraged and showing up at meetings that -- as usual -- accomplished nothing.

Perhaps Ms Kniss and our other council people could comment?

The problems at El Camino and Embarcadero date back to the days of Jaime Rodriquez who was going to get "input" from "stakeholders" so he could act real soon and then advise his successor Josh Mello. Tick tock tick tock.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by limbo, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 5:15 pm

Palo Alto is like an entitled tween with parents who care more about their kid's appearance than their kid's actions.

At some point,rather than paying lip service to the traffic issues, a benevolent dictator has to come in and actually do something. This will most likely anger the extremely vocal minority in the process, but hopefully whatever actions are taken work toward a solution that is beneficial for the majority.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by HousingMattersToo, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Dec 12, 2019 at 10:43 pm

How about add housing too. Call it the City of Palo Alto Office of Housing and Transportation. Seems like 15 employees might get some movement on both fronts.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 13, 2019 at 12:26 pm

Posted by Family Friendly, a resident of Old Palo Alto,

>> A population of 60,000 which swells to 3 1/2 times that during the day, with both numbers growing each year.

>> "If you find yourself trapped in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging."

I agree with your sentiment, but, 210,000 sounds high, even adding in Stanford employees not within the city limits. The city estimates (which could be wrong) are:

Daytime Population including Stanford University: 160,775 (2019)
Daytime Population: 132,112 (2019)

Web Link

Is the city undercounting by 50,000? In any case, too many cars for the amount of car-space we have, and they keep adding more cars.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 13, 2019 at 1:04 pm

Does daytime population take into account all those who live in Palo Alto and travel outside for work? Or is it just adding the number of outside workers to those of us who reside here?

From my observations, there are plenty of people getting on Caltrain each morning, and driving to the on ramps of our highways for the am commute.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Dec 13, 2019 at 2:57 pm

>> From my observations, there are plenty of people getting on Caltrain each morning, and driving to the on ramps of our highways for the am commute.

Proof there are not enough jobs in Palo Alto. Or maybe these people enjoy traffic.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 13, 2019 at 4:53 pm

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,

>> Proof there are not enough jobs in Palo Alto.

LOL. You must be Liz Kniss' traffic advisor. As I sit in -2 PM- rush hour traffic, I like to ponder how it is that City council members don't seem to understand why geometrically, it just doesn't work to stuff 10 pounds of lawn fertilizer in a 5 pound sack. Too many cars to stuff onto ECR, Embarcadero, Oregon/Page Mill. And, they keep telling us not to drive. But, Palo Alto residents are less than 1/3 of the rush hour problem. Or, are they telling us that we shouldn't drive so that even more people can commute into here because "there are not enough jobs in Palo Alto". I must be crazy, because, I keep expecting the City Council to change, and, "get it".


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Gnar, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Dec 13, 2019 at 10:15 pm

Maybe it's time to stop making our roads look like go kart courses in the mindless, imbalanced pursuit of bicycle safety. Just count how many times you have to shift laterally the next time you're driving Middlefield to Alma along Charleston. It's looney.

Palo Alto complains about overpopulation, then removes traffic lanes. We throttle 4-lane roads like Middlefield to 25 mph, then can't legally enforce that speed limit, because it's objectively unreasonable. Residential 4-lane roads in MV and SV are 35mph, and it works perfectly.

This city needs to stop basing civil engineering decisions on the knee-jerk emotional reactions of overprotective parents. Please stop screwing up our roads.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Rick, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Dec 14, 2019 at 6:57 am

Let me offer a more plausible alternative to Anon's venom filled screed above:

It's a holiday! Your grandmother is driving from (John?) Galt in the Central Valley, where she is now forced to live in a studio apartment since Palo Alto has become too expensive for the likes of her. She is excited to see her new granddaughter over Christmas. A special gift is in the back seat. Granny is perfectly safe driving according to the DMV, but perhaps has a touch of trouble seeing in the dark these days. She turns down Ross road, fondly remembering the wide, leafy streets of her youth. It's raining. There is no moon. It is dark. She is looking ahead for traffic, as one is supposed to do. Suddenly and unexpectedly she strikes a low lying, practically invisible, obstruction in the once safe street! She starts to cry, knowing she cannot afford to repair the car. Her Christmas has been ruined.

A bicyclist rides by but doesn't call 911 thinking it will do the cager good to walk two blocks in the rain to the fire station to report the accident. Granny painfully extracts her walker from her back seat and slowly begins that trek.


 +   11 people like this
Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Dec 14, 2019 at 12:05 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Palo Alto politicians in their pro development, pro growth frenzy keep inviting people to drive into town, but also want them people to stop driving. This is the same crazy logic as telling people to stay out of the sun in order to prevent melanoma,thent encourage them to go to the beach. So no, under the present mentality of perpetual development commercial development and more housing and more granny units, there is no possible solution.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by mjh, a resident of College Terrace,
on Dec 14, 2019 at 9:20 pm

mjh is a registered user.

I'd be curious to know what percentage of jobs are in the Stanford Research Park, which has really become an office park, and they contribute to the 3/1 housing imbalance that we keep being blamed for.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 15, 2019 at 10:04 am

Posted by Rick, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,

>> Let me offer a more plausible alternative to Anon's venom filled screed above:

Venom-filled? You mean this? "Chances are, the driver was looking at his cell phone, OR, speeding, OR, was driving while intoxicated. Which was it? Anyway, better a planter than a person."

>> She turns down Ross road, fondly remembering the wide, leafy streets of her youth. It's raining. There is no moon. It is dark. She is looking ahead for traffic, as one is supposed to do. Suddenly and unexpectedly she strikes a low lying, practically invisible, obstruction in the once safe street!

Yeah, I saw her! Her headlight covers were oxidized and the light from her headlights was very poor. She was glancing down at her cell phone. Then, when she got out of her car, I saw that she had the day/night tinted eyeglasses. Probably should have had clear, although the glare at night with the rain is probably a problem, too. She really shouldn't be driving at night, especially in the rain, with her eyesight.

>> She starts to cry, knowing she cannot afford to repair the car. Her Christmas has been ruined.

>> A bicyclist rides by but doesn't call 911 thinking it will do the cager good to walk two blocks in the rain to the fire station to report the accident. Granny painfully extracts her walker from her back seat and slowly begins that trek.

That was me! Filled with venom, I stopped a little ways ahead and played on "the world's smallest violin." But, she didn't see me. -We seniors- can be so nasty sometimes. ;-)


 +   4 people like this
Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Dec 15, 2019 at 11:22 am

Ok, I finally figured it out and stand corrected. The thousands of people who commute out of Palo Alto in the morning and return in the evening all have night jobs here.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Dec 15, 2019 at 4:01 pm

There is a reason they call roads arteries ... the blood-body analogy. The problem is
that Palo Alto's "body" is all built up and there is no way to increase the size or add
more arteries, so someone is thinking there is some way using musical traffic control
methods to push more of us through the same capillaries; or even smaller now in some
cases were two lanes have become on. Not gonna work.

Also, Palo Alto may seem big, but if you shaved off some of the housing to make
roads bigger you would make the housing problem worse and be affects a huge
proportion of residents and their neighbors.

It doesn't help that land prices are so high that all the new buildings are build right
out to the sidewalks all over town so there is no way to add lanes or rationalize
traffic. At the same time driver behavior is more and more unintelligent. I see
drivers now regularly blowing through stop signs and lights. Usually when no one
is around. There are also people who just weave in and out of traffic to get one
car ahead and slow everyone else down.

Lights are not synchronized so that keeps traffic stuck longer than it needs to be.

I don't see mass transit as being a solution for Palo Alto either. Like now, who wants
to wait in the cold and rain for a bus? I was attacked at a bus stop years ago by
some lunatic, and lucky that he was a cowardly and weak lunatic that ran off when
confronted, but who wants to deal with that. Not to mention mass anything are
not that great in this coming age of incurable super-bugs.

Grumbling about on traffic roundabouts almost seems silly when the problems
are systemic and geometrical.

Maybe the roundabouts need some kind of blinking lights so people can see in
any conditions that there is something in the road ahead of them.

I think we have to try to live as gracefully as we can under this pressure. When
I drive I just assume it is going to take a long time and turn on a podcast or
audiobook and try the best I can not to get annoyed.

Maybe PAO could post a list of people's perceived traffic hot spots and see
if anyone has any ideas about how to reduce them?


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 15, 2019 at 5:15 pm

I like the idea of traffic gridlock hotspots.

I will start a list.

Alma at ECR and Sand Hill. Why I have to do a U turn on ECR to get on Sand Hill is very annoying.

T & C at Embarcadero, all exits/entrances

All the stop lights on Middlefield in Midtown

Middlefield/Loma Verde - dedicated left turns needed

San Antonio/Charleston (I believe this is being worked on but with the tunnel under 101 not opening next summer, I think it is going to be even more of a problem for bikes)

Loma Verde/Alma - are traffic lights needed? Left turn difficult and cars waiting to turn left block traffic from turning right.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by DIana Diamond, a resident of Midtown,
on Dec 16, 2019 at 12:22 pm

DIana Diamond is a registered user.

Resident who listed traffic grid hotspots --

I love your list! Maybe it will help convince the city staff that a lot of us suffer through these same hot spots (I do!). And maybe we can add to your list!

I would include University Avenue going east during evening commute hours
and
Arastradeo Road a.m. and p.m., including the ECR intersection.

Diana


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Posted by WilliamR, a resident of another community,
on Dec 16, 2019 at 3:15 pm

As I recall from living in Palo Alto several years ago, the Alma/El Camino/Sand Hill intersection was deliberately changed to that configuration to discourage drivers from cutting through downtown to get to Sand Hill. The city wanted drivers to use Embarcadero and Oregon to get to El Camino, then turn on Sand Hill.

Regarding Loma Verde and Alma, a traffic signal there and another at California (? - the street by Bowden Park) would be a great help, and would keep Alma from being too much of a speedway. Also, a light at Loma Verde could eventually be tied into a bike/ped tunnel under the tracks to connect to the Ventura neighborhood, similar to the Homer Avenue tunnel.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by mjh, a resident of College Terrace,
on Dec 16, 2019 at 5:41 pm

mjh is a registered user.

It's not just the traffic that is mess. It is also the commercial parking. This department should be called Traffic AND Parking because some of these new appointments are to overhaul management of the city's public parking and various commercial and neighborhood parking permit programs.

This division became badly neglected due to an almost, if not complete, exit of employees over the last year or two. As far as I can tell the parking division and parking permit programs need to be rebooted pretty much from the ground up.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 16, 2019 at 6:06 pm

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,

>> I like the idea of traffic gridlock hotspots.

The only location that I traverse regularly that sometimes suffers from "true gridlock" is the T&C/Embarcadero/ECR complex. The others on your list qualify mainly as "delay", and in some cases, the delay is caused by an actual intersection throughput overload ("offered load exceeds capacity" for an extended period of time), i.e., "congestion".

I will start a list.

>> T & C at Embarcadero, all exits/entrances

I hope that "they" are looking at ways to re-engineer this.

>> All the stop lights on Middlefield in Midtown [etc] . [Middlefield/Loma Verde - dedicated left turns needed]

Be careful what you wish for here. Many changes might actually reduce throughput and increase delay. If you have to wait a minute for an opening in traffic, "fixing" it might result in longer average delay through the intersection.

>> San Antonio/Charleston (I believe this is being worked on but with the tunnel under 101 not opening next summer, I think it is going to be even more of a problem for bikes)

Agreed. Significant congestion at times.

>> Loma Verde/Alma - are traffic lights needed? Left turn difficult and cars waiting to turn left block traffic from turning right.

Again, addressing this might actually cause a reduction in throughput and increased delay.

To the congestion list, I would add Arastradero at Foothill and Page Mill at Foothill and ECR. I don't see much hope for significant improvements, because almost anything you might want to do would require widening/real estate.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Dec 17, 2019 at 8:30 am

>a 4-minute wait to get out of Piazza's parking lot onto Charleston because of continuous line of one-lane traffic

I'd have to disagree with that one. The more traffic the slower it goes, and the slower it goes the easier it is to inch out into traffic from the parking lot. Unless you are looking to cut across all lanes to make a left on Middlefield towards downtown.

The one thing here, and most applicable all over the city is be nice. Even with the terrible traffic I am usually, about 90%, always looking or opportunities to allow people to come in from driveways. Traffic would move at an acceptable, not fast, rate in Palo Alto if people would just being being ... you know whats. It's about 20% of drivers that make it miserable and slow for everyone else.

The place on Charleston that is a real problem is the 3-way intersection, that is not really an intersection at Charleston and Louis. Cars come around that turn from San Antonio and they mean business which makes is near impossible for drivers taking a left from Charleston onto Louis, and hopeless if there is any traffic at all trying to make a left from Louis onto Charleston towards San Antonio. A light here might be worth it.

ALSO ... in addition to a list, a short description of what is wrong with the intersection and maybe a guess at how to fix it would be nice.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 17, 2019 at 9:13 am

Interesting what was said for the rationale behind the decision to make Alma/ECR/Sand Hill such a problem.

Alma goes through downtown. Trying to keep Alma traffic out of downtown must be misplaced. Alma is basically the continuation of Central Expressway and any traffic trying to get from Central to Sand Hill should stay on Alma, it makes sense. Now any of that traffic plus any traffic from south Palo Alto is forced to make timely detours from the common sense route. Traffic must either turn at Charleston, Meadow, or Churchill, or use the Oregon or University underpasses, or continue to ECR and do a U turn. My preferred route is Churchill or the U turn - depending on time of day.

Whichever route is chosen, it puts extra traffic on ECR and more pressure on track crossings as well as the feeder ramp to Oregon. I suggest that opening the Alma/Sand Hill crossing would make for easier passage across the tracks all through Palo Alto.

In fact, I tend to think it might make people less likely to use residential neighborhood streets and keep to Alma.

As for adding lights at various spots, it is true that this would slow through traffic, but it would enable turning traffic an easier route and once again I think it might cut down some of the cut through traffic looking for an easier left turn through residential streets.

Arteries are supposed to take the through traffic not divert traffic onto residential streets. When it is hard to turn left onto an artery, traffic will find an alternative way to flow and those alternatives are what cause traffic speeding through neighborhooods they don't belong.

Another idea, would be to make some of our lights peak time only and they could be turned off when the traffic is light or for reverse commutes. Similarly, although it wouldn't help daytime busy traffic, is to turn many of these red lights to flashing red at night so that we don't have to wait 2 minutes at midnight to go when there is no traffic.

Our lights could be used much more "smart" than their present 24/7 configuration.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 17, 2019 at 11:29 am

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,

>> The place on Charleston that is a real problem is the 3-way intersection, that is not really an intersection at Charleston and Louis. Cars come around that turn from San Antonio and they mean business which makes is near impossible for drivers taking a left from Charleston onto Louis, and hopeless if there is any traffic at all trying to make a left from Louis onto Charleston towards San Antonio. A light here might be worth it.

Agree that it should have a light. But, if they put in a light that is not coordinated with the lights at Fabian Way and San Antonio, it will just make things worse. I'm not sure why Palo Alto has such a problem with coordinated lights. Set properly, they discourage speeding during light traffic and optimize throughput during heavy congestion. Some other cities have their whole traffic light grids coordinated this way. Web Link . Of course, when there are too many cars, you still get congestion. But, the system can still maximize throughput and minimize delay.

>> ALSO ... in addition to a list, a short description of what is wrong with the intersection and maybe a guess at how to fix it would be nice.

Before working on anything else, Palo Alto should address the ECR/Embarcadero/T&C lights and see if anything can be done to improve the situation.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,

>> Our lights could be used much more "smart" than their present 24/7 configuration.

Agreed. I fail to understand why we can't have a citywide smart system that discourages speeding, maximizes throughput, and minimizes delay. Other cities have them. They don't perform miracles, but, they do reduce accidents, and reduce driver frustration.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 17, 2019 at 12:35 pm

Louis/Charleston would be a good candidate for a full size European style roundabout, not the mini roadblocks we have. Of course Palo Alto could not do it right, so I would be wary about it, but roundabouts are designed for traffic flow not slowing traffic.

On a second note, I was stuck in traffic mid morning due to tree trimmers on Alma. I have started checking PAPD twitter feed before I leave the house as they often tweet about accidents and various other road slowdowns. I think the City could do similar with their routine lane closures for tree maintenance, etc. It would help them too as less traffic makes it less dangerous for their workers as well as the rest of us choosing an alternate route.


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Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Dec 17, 2019 at 12:55 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

I guess I live in a hot spot of traffic problems because I have to deal daily with the Charleston/Louis Rd intersection...and Ross Rd, the 'bikes only welcome' boulevard. I go downtown just often enough to experience the problems there also. Someone from that end of town should offer a ride along to Liz Kniss during peak traffic hours and drive her down to my end of town to see what's going on down here. I was involved in the big speed bump experiment on Ross Rd many years ago and was interviewed by a TV street reporter, actually on the sidewalk next to the street. I saw myself on network TV that evening. I gave my opinion on the subject and described how people were handling the situation...driving up on sidewalks to get around them, then blowing through the stop sign on my corner (Roas and Louis) because they had been slowed down so much by speed bumps installed between Charleston and my corner.

It blows my mind that we are now spending money to pay consultants to study the results of the Ross Rd project. If the people responsible for it and our CC at the time had listened to the residents and users of Ross Rd there wouldn't need to be a study. We were bilked by the bike lobby. Worst case use of Ross...I saw a car move over to get his tires into the bike lanes to avoid the bumps. I've seen tire marks on several project installations and I was yelled at by a cyclist who came to the round about after I entered it because he felt he had the right of way over cars. Grrr!


 +   4 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Dec 17, 2019 at 1:18 pm

> Louis/Charleston would be a good candidate for a full size European style roundabout, not the mini roadblocks we have. Of course Palo Alto could not do it right, so I would be wary about it, but roundabouts are designed for traffic flow not slowing traffic.

That is not a bad idea except for the people who just hate the ideas of roundabouts and would be up in arms over it. I think the roundabouts are OK and I don't mind the "traffic calming" things really.

The one danger I can think of would be people barreling around that curve from San Antonio and not thinking about a backup around the corner. Maybe that is not a big deal. I think the roundabout in general has to be a larger than would be standard for Palo Alto residential intersections. Small size means the turns have to be sharper and take more effort.

I get the discomfort with roundabouts when I think that normally to make a turn one must just turn your car in one direction. However, with a roundabout you have to first turn right, and then turn left and traverse an arc, and then turn back right again ... it is 3 times the effort and wear on your car and tires.


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Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Dec 17, 2019 at 1:28 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Bay Area traffic in general. Bad! Bad! Bad! Although I'm retired, and don't commute anymore, in the morning when I ask Alexa for NPR news she gives me KQED, and as an added feature, they give me what is described as their frequent traffic report update. It is really a crash report and there are some areas that are most often mentioned. Of course Highway 17, but locally our on/off exchanges with 101 make the news. That scramble for the correct lane at Embarcadero/Oregon is mentioned often and the next exit, the San Antonio Rd/Rengstorff mishmash has problems also. I must be getting old because I remember when we didn't have any of these problems...and Bayshore Freeway (101) had a stop light at Lawrence Rd...and one more...the San Antonio overpass was just being built.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Dec 17, 2019 at 1:29 pm

I came up with an idea years ago - it might be a good idea to disallow traffic on University downtown, and beef up as much as possible a ring around it consisting of Lytton and Hamilton turning then into one-way streets.

Put new parking structures and access to old ones from the ring so people can find parking easily.

Downtown could even be covered so people could stroll in the rain, and they could use those transparent solar cells to do it and generate power to power the streetlights, parking structures, security cameras and IT necessary to drive it. Even bring back cheap food stands in the middle of University to give regular people a place to eat that they can afford.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Robert Cronin, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Dec 17, 2019 at 5:21 pm

Solution: How about not driving everywhere? If you leave the car in the driveway, it's not contributing to traffic congestion.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by concerned citizen, a resident of Downtown North,
on Dec 17, 2019 at 7:42 pm

concerned citizen is a registered user.

Something is very wrong getting on to 101 from Palo Alto via Willow. It took two hours one evening driving to work.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 18, 2019 at 10:55 am

Here we are discussing traffic yet again. From this thread and many others on Town Square over recent months and years, we, those who live here and drive here, have many suggestions and possible solutions. Nowhere do I see anything about making more bike lanes or adding more street furniture. Instead I see thoughtful discussion by experienced Palo Alto road users.

We don't need any more experts, studies, research, about what works in other cities, states or even other countries. What we need is some action. We have a great many suggestions that are not even discussed by the city council. I am not saying all will work or be possible, but at least we can try to do something more possible than being told to get on a bike or walk.

I for one walk when I can. I also do my best to drive outside commute hours. I also do my best for consolidating errands and doing errands on my way to or from something that is fixed in time.

I see many of my neighbors driving out of town for their jobs, they are as unlikely to move nearer their job as anyone working in Palo Alto is likely to move here. I see some couples where one drives north and another drives south.

Our traffic is not going to disappear and all the talk about closing arteries such as Churchill worries me immensely as that will move traffic to already busy streets and cause parking problems for those who live near Churchill as students and staff park on the streets instead of campus.

We seem to have no sane and sensible person in charge of transportation, not only in Palo Alto, but in the region as a whole. I see signs on bus stops saying how VTA is improving the service my making buses more frequent and more interchanges between connections. Unfortunately what they fail to mention is that this is not the case in Palo Alto and our service will be less user friendly.

Diana please can we have a citizens/residents panel on traffic and parking. Can we make it a non-City of Palo Alto committee, but a panel that can make some common sense suggestions with the power of the residents behind it. Can we put some sensible suggestions with signatures. Can we have some meetings and get Palo Alto Weekly and Post reporters to attend. Can we get some real feedback on how we Palo Altans really feel about the nightmare that is now fact about driving and parking in Palo Alto.

Thank you.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 19, 2019 at 4:37 pm

I don't know if anyone is still reading this thread, but can we start a residents' traffic committee.

Palo Altans for sensible traffic and parking PASTAP?

Palo Altans for sensible driving in town PASDIT?

Palo Alto Residents Unite PARU?


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