Palo Alto kicks off Embarcadero Road improvement project | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto kicks off Embarcadero Road improvement project

Public input sought for changes to car, bike and pedestrian routes

Trying to unknot the traffic snarls on the western end of Embarcadero Road while satisfying the myriad interests of pedestrians, drivers, bicyclists, students, transportation agencies and retail businesses, the City of Palo Alto convened its first public meeting Tuesday night on improving the busy corridor and making it safer.

Although sparsely attended, the meeting at Palo Alto High School drew a cluster of people who perhaps know the corridor best: residents who live along the road, bearing daily witness to dangerous conditions and competing to get out of their driveways.

Residents' concerns ranged from students who ignore traffic signals to the timing of signals, the traffic congestion, the noise from cars driving over joints in the cement-slab pavement, and the din inside the tunnel below the Caltrain overpass.

"An echo chamber of doom," one resident called it.

Callander Associates consultant Brian Fletcher told about a dozen residents that consulting teams were beginning the road-improvement process without any preconceived notions. The purpose of the first meeting was to learn about what the public needs from the corridor, which runs from El Camino Real past U.S. Highway 101. The project will specifically cover the stretch from El Camino to High Street.

The city recently synchronized two sets of traffic signals at Embarcadero and Town & Country Village, which automatically adjust to traffic volume. That change constituted Phase 1 of the two-part process. The Dec. 8 meeting kicked off Phase 2.

The corridor presents numerous challenges, particularly where traffic turns at El Camino Real and where traffic intersects with Town & Country Village Shopping Center and Palo Alto High School. But there are also less noticeable are problems, such as the dangers drivers face trying to get onto Embarcadero on the east side of the Caltrain overpass, and there could be new traffic problems when Paly's new, 582-seat performing arts center opens in April 2016.

An initial traffic survey by Hexagon Transportation Consultants did not include those potential traffic problems, nor did it look at traffic speeds. Those two requests by residents were duly noted Tuesday for study.

The current traffic study includes traffic counts to and from El Camino Real, in and out of Town & Country onto Embarcadero and exiting and entering Paly from Embarcadero, and pedestrian and bicycle movements and volumes.

The chart below shows the most significant traffic numbers and movements onto and from Embarcadero Road at the intersection of Palo Alto High School and Town & Country during peak commute hours and when school lets out. The traffic survey does not show any counts or flows for the lunch hour, when many students are crossing the busy roadway:

8-9 a.m.

Westbound into Town & Country: 228 vehicles

Westbound from Town & Country: 75

Westbound into Paly: 134

Westbound to El Camino Real: 654

Eastbound into Town & Country: 33

Eastbound from Town & Country: 112

Eastbound from Paly: 114

Eastbound toward High St.: 546

3-4 p.m.

Westbound into Town & Country: 167

Westbound from Town & Country: 119

Westbound into Paly: 27

Westbound to El Camino Real: 669

Eastbound into Town & Country: 71

Eastbound from Town & Country: 208

Eastbound from Paly: 46

Eastbound toward High St.: 741

5-6 p.m.

Westbound into Town & Country: 178

Westbound from Town & Country: 108

Westbound into Paly: 64

Westbound to El Camino Real: 566

Eastbound into Town & Country: 112

Eastbound from Town & Country: 212

Eastbound from Paly: 43

Eastbound toward High St.: 829

At the pedestrian island at El Camino Real and Embarcadero, pedestrians and bicyclists must contend with 137 vehicles per hour in the morning; 229 per hour between 3 and 4 p.m. when school lets out; and 289 per hour in the evening -- all making a right turn onto Embarcadero.

These traffic numbers are not considered excessive for the area, however, Gary Black, president of Hexagon, said. The slowdowns are due to impediments, including driver indecision and lane changes, he said.

The project design will look at places for public transportation stops, bike lanes or sharrows, and study where people naturally want to go, such as a makeshift path currently being etched into an embankment by Paly students returning to campus.

Roberto Peon, a resident lives on the westbound side of Embarcadero, said that the traffic during Stanford football home games becomes frustrating and dangerous -- and prevents him from getting into or out of his own driveway.

Police make all traffic travel westbound at the end of the games, which makes it impossible for him to get home. His car has been struck twice as he exited his driveway, he said.

But kids on bikes have been the real danger, he said.

"I have had to get out of my car to tell them to stop so I can get out," he said.

An additional public concept meeting will be scheduled for winter 2016, with a refined design meeting in spring 2016. The City Council will review the design in two sessions, in spring and summer 2016. After an environmental review is conducted, the final design will go to the council for approval in the fall or winter of 2016, according to staff.

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8 people like this
Posted by Craig
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 11, 2015 at 1:26 am

These traffic counts indicate locals should avoid Embarcadero near Town & Country between 8 to 8:30 AM, then 4 to 6 PM. I'm a local and find shopping at T & C easy during non-drive-time hours.

Surprising is the volume of traffic El Camino handles during Palo Alto drive-time, a 1,000+ cars per hour in the through lane going both ways. VTA's proposal to steal an El Camino lane each way 24/7/365 would create an El Camino horror show, it seems to me.

El Camino congestion is one reason I seldom venture to Menlo Park. El Camino stop lights through the Menlo Park downtown area are a joke, even outside drive-time.

Menlo Park El Camino is a good demonstration of what El Camino could become in Palo Alto if VTA gets away with highway robbery. It is a nightmare no one should experience.

10 people like this
Posted by Annie
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2015 at 8:08 am

For years I've been asking for a safer bike crossing from Galvez across El Camino onto Embarcadero. The city and Stanford both say it's a Caltrans jurisdiction, which it is. Caltrans says there's no problem!

But there is a problem. To bike east across El Camino, means trying to merge with speeding cars AND avoid the cars on El Camino trying to turn right onto Embarcadero. We need a bike lane fully across that intersection.

13 people like this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 11, 2015 at 10:18 am

Instead of synchronizing the traffic signals, simply eliminate the signal on Embarcadero between Town & Country and Palo Alto HS. Removing this signal would make travel smoother in both directions. Town & Country should get along with just a simple driveway there--right turn to enter, right turn to exit--just as almost every other commercial establishment would. It does not deserve its own signal. The same argument applies a little ways up El Camino at the Palo Alto Medical Clinic. Why do they have their own signal to disrupt traffic on El Camino? (Please do keep the pedestrian crossing signal at Town & Country. The high school students need it to cross safely, especially at lunchtime when many of them go to Town & Country to eat.)

10 people like this
Posted by sandyDR
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 11, 2015 at 10:49 am

The traffic growth on Embarcadero Rd is dangerous and frustrating. It has also added significant noise pollution in the area. Please consider closing 101 exit to Embarcadero West. Keep the exit to Oregon and Embarcadero East. That will distribute the traffic and reduce load on Emb West.

4 people like this
Posted by tired of bandaids
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 11, 2015 at 12:28 pm

The City should look at completely revamping Embarcadero. This street and the City of Palo Alto have never been able to mitigate this problem successfully. I do not blame MENLO PARK with the stoplights on El Camino. The traffic is so bad, we don't go there anymore. I think that since Page Mill and Embarcadero are the only ways to access Stanford from 101, the City needs to look at both terribly congested arterials.I know that an elevated roadway was once considered..............dust off the plans and present it again. Maybe widen Embarcadero East, so that you don't have to wait for 5 minutes to go left from El Camino to Embarcadero. Stanford is only going to grow and grow, Palo Alto has to provide the roadways into Stanford. If we wanted a dense, urban City, we would have moved to S.F., Oakland, L.A. BART has some elevated roadways in the East Bay that seem to work well and lots of barriers from traveling through neighborhood streets. Take a field trip there and see for yourself Neighborhoods should not have to bear the brunt of all the cut-through traffic, for motorists trying to avoid Page Mill and Embarcadero. The City needs to deal transparently with what they have created by over-development, Stanford too.

Seattle or Portland.

8 people like this
Posted by under the bus
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 11, 2015 at 5:25 pm

Only someone who has not had to drive on Oregon/Page Mill at rush hour would suggest closing the embarcadero west exit!! Oregon is already a parking lot for many hours in the morning. It cannot possibly absorb the embarcadero traffic. I hope no one is taking that idea seriously!

6 people like this
Posted by traffic studies
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2015 at 5:34 pm

<Hexagon Transportation Consultants did not include those potential traffic problems, nor did it look at traffic speeds>

Hexagon seems to leave out important data. When they looked at the traffic around the Maybell project they also left stuff out.(Didn't they measure traffic there when school was not in session?)

2 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 11, 2015 at 11:11 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

To give some credit to the city, the first phase of synchronizing the lights has helped quite a bit. Unfortunately, traffic in the left turn lane from west Embarcadero to south El Camino backs up all the way to the entrance of T&C and Paly blocking the #1 lane. If they could fix the light timing at El Camino, or create a double left turn lane, it would fix westbound Embarcadero traffic for most of the day.

4 people like this
Posted by Stu Berman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 12, 2015 at 11:51 am

Slow Down,
I agree with your comment about the left turn lane from westbound Embarcadero backing up. You may recall that only a couple years ago that was not a problem as westbound Embarcadero (from Palo Alto) and eastbound Galvez (from Stanford) took turns with a green light. That is, each had a green light for all of its traffic and then the other had a green light for all of its traffic. That system had been in place for as long as I can remember and it worked with no problems that I could discern.

The new system of having the left turn traffic from each street proceed simultaneously, followed by the straight ahead traffic proceeding simultaneously has been a disaster because of the left turn lane backup that you have described.

1 person likes this
Posted by Whatever
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 15, 2015 at 11:36 am

Eliminate the separate pedestrian light near the underpass. Direct pedestrians either ti (1) the light at El Camino, or (2) the existing pedestrian overpass adjacent to the train tracks. Fence off both sides of Embarcadaro along the high school so that there can be no attempts at crossing the street.
Note - I don't care if part of the land belongs to the High School. Create a pedestrian walkway to the train crossing, if for no other reason than the safety of the students.
Eliminate a left turn from Embarcadaro into T&C. Cars which turn there now should continue along El Camino and enter from there.

1 person likes this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 15, 2015 at 1:24 pm

@ Whatever - can't take the land from Paly. It's a fire lane that goes to the back of the campus, as well as access road to 2 car lots and 1 bike lot. Besides, you can't open up the property to public access for all of the obvious security reasons that are out there.

Agree on removing ped Xing/light --- but I think T&C would have a fit if eliminated altogether. Their weekday brunch, lunch and after-school business would definitely drop-off. The current crossing is on a straight line from the center of campus --- pushing T&C student access to the overpass or to ECR will take extra time and will be a disincentive to patronize T&C (especially when you consider brunch is only 15-min and lunch is only 40-min). Has nothing to do with students being lazy - everything to do about managing a small time interval.

Most likely solution would be move the X-walk to the new T&C/Paly intersection. T&C will have to reconfigure their Embarcadero entry for safe ped access. Paly would also need to provide expanded ped waiting space on their side of the street as well (plus a safe passage way from core campus, through parking lot to new crossing).

Good idea to put up a fence along Embarcadero sidewalks (between underpass and T&C) to prevent jaywalking/unsafe dashes across the road.

On southbound ECR, I would prohibit left turns into T&C during commute hours (3pm - 7pm weekdays) --- that way the lane can be extended for left turns onto Embarcadero during the heavy traffic hours.

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