Signal failure causes heavy congestion Thursday afternoon

Heavy backups in parts of Palo Alto and Menlo Park after light goes out near Dumbarton Bridge

A malfunctioning signal near the foot of Dumbarton Bridge caused massive traffic jams in parts of Palo Alto and Menlo Park at the start of the afternoon commute Thursday and continued into the evening.

According to Menlo Park police, the signal light at Bayfront Expressway and University Avenue went out shortly before 4 p.m. In a news alert, police said the problem was caused by a "PG&E issue" that was later identified as a power outage. Officials estimated the problem will be resolved by 8 p.m.

Menlo Park police later sent a message after 6:30 p.m. that signals are functioning again, but motorists were advised to expect continued traffic delays until traffic clears out.

The problem significantly worsened what was already a congested commute, with residents reporting significant backups along Middlefield Road. Traffic maps showed red lines -- connoting severe jams -- along major arterials and freeways -- including Middlefield and University Avenue, Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road, El Camino Real through Menlo Park and East Palo Alto.

Palo Alto police also sent out a traffic advisory, reporting "heavy delays throughout Palo Alto" due to the signal malfunction.


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14 people like this
Posted by Local
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 28, 2017 at 8:08 pm

Amazing that a signal outage can cause this much havoc. Thanks for the explanation. Were police on the scene able to direct traffic or was it just being treated as a four way stop?

1 person likes this
Posted by Shoreline
a resident of another community
on Sep 28, 2017 at 10:41 pm

Could any of the backup be attributed to the concert at Shoreline tonight?

6 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 29, 2017 at 1:29 am

Alma and El Camino northbound were awful; I had to cancel my appointment. The only positive was that it was after work hours rather than in the morning commute.

7 people like this
Posted by craig kirkwood
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 29, 2017 at 5:41 am

Wow,you must be kidding...a traffic light caused that mess.
Then the police must have directed traffic and completed the mess.
Kudos to none.

6 people like this
Posted by Commuter
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 29, 2017 at 6:26 am

Yes it was Armageddon in Palo Alto. How difficult is it for a police officer to emulate a red light by directing traffic ? I guess the problem was an East Palo Alto problem, so we probably should not blame our PA law enforcement force who tried their best. The intersection of Willow and Middlefield was true pandemonium.

19 people like this
Posted by worse
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 29, 2017 at 8:08 am

the traffic is only going to get worse with the stupidity of our city council and housing commission officials. When are they going to stop. it is too bad that they don't get a red light on their incessantly destructive decision making of trying to make this area the next New York City. Quality of life will be 0--no matter how much money you might have. Willow and Middlefield is ALWAYS a standstill at rush hour. it is unconscionable what they put our citizens through because of their greed and need to destroy this neighborhood. Heed the red light and STOP!!

10 people like this
Posted by Sensible
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 29, 2017 at 8:41 am

There is only one solution to this mess. Bicycles. The kids seem to get it, but their parents continue to spew exhaust fumes all over the bay while fattening for the slaughter.

7 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Sep 29, 2017 at 9:52 am

I live off of Woodland Ave and couldn't even get to my apartment because of gridlock traffic at 6:45. I parked about a mile away from home and had to walk. This is the second time this happened. Last time I heard it was because of a truck breaking down on the bridge. I wonder how many people will want to live in the area if they don't do something about the traffic. It's the reason I didn't choose to live in Los Anegeles. Sort it out PA!!!

9 people like this
Posted by bemused
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2017 at 10:34 am

Commuter, the 84/University intersection is not in East Palo Alto. Check your facts before blaming EPA, please. EPA residents, like PA residents, were extremely impacted by the event. It took me 1.5 hours to drive my children home from M-A high school yesterday afternoon.

9 people like this
Posted by lvshoez
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 29, 2017 at 11:09 am

That mess was absolutely uncalled yesterday!!! How hard would it have been for a police officer(s) to direct traffic through the signal malfunction???? Instead, my commute was almost 2 hours to go from Constitution Drive in Menlo Park at 4:30 pm. to Fremont. The only excuse for that kind of congestion is a fatality accident or a turned-over big rig....none of which were the reasons!!! Unbelievable to not have had police officers allowing for the flow of traffic on to the bridge from University and Bayfront Expressway. NO EXCUSE WHATSOEVER!!!!!!!

5 people like this
Posted by Babylon
a resident of another community
on Sep 29, 2017 at 12:00 pm

It took me 1 hr to drive from seaport drive to marsh road (using haven - usually takes 10mins). At that time, they announced on PBS radio that the lights were out. So I thought, let me get onto 101, use university since 101 was still flowing. Big mistake! Getting on to University was impossible. Got to the point where I was turning the car off cuz we were not moving. I hr later (it's now 6pm), we'd moved maybe 10 feet. I was running out of gas, so I turned into a parking lot, made some calls, put my seat down and went to sleep. I woke up at just before 8:00. And I was shocked to see there was still traffic! Anyway, I slowly crawled to the bridge, breathed a sigh of relief, got onto 880 and it was a parking lot!! I finally made it home at 9:30. Lesson learned: sleep longer :-)

6 people like this
Posted by Commuter EC
a resident of another community
on Sep 29, 2017 at 12:08 pm

I took me 3.5 hours (!!!) to get from San Francisco Mission Bay to Fremont. I agree with lvshoez, where was the police to direct the traffic? I have not seen any on any of the intersections getting of from 101 on Marsh Road until University/highway 84. They could help big time with this mess.

11 people like this
Posted by sensible 2
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 29, 2017 at 1:40 pm

bicycles is mantra by those who don't have to actually work in palo alto. possibly bicycles are a nice sunny day, is a pleasant ride. But, it is not a viable means of transportation for most. People work because they work. suit, tie, nice clothes. kids bike in school clothes--totally different than people actually going to the office. and, there are many people who are situated in one location from 8 to 5, they have several work areas--they can't keep jumping on their bike to go from PA to Menlo Park, to Los Altos, etc. Bikes are NOT the answer. Sensible, wise decisions in what direction to take palo alto is the answer. WE DO NOT HAVE THAT PRESENTLY!!

8 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 29, 2017 at 2:06 pm

Re biking to work: Sadly, as mentioned above, our City Council is aiming for a NYC atmosphere. I'm guessing developers are paying officials because why else would they want to ruin our former family town? It's no longer safe to ride a bike here during the weekdays. I drive my children due to all the irresponsible drivers cutting through our residential areas from Waze.

Back in the 80s, we rode and skateboarded all over town without a care. There weren't any traffic signals on Embarcadero Road at Paly (while there are two now). If we wanted to cross the street, we just walked to the triangle island in the middle, waited for 1-2 cars to pass, then proceeded. Of course, they were all offices besides The Cheese House. Likewise, barely a car on Middlefield Road.

Eminent domain on Willow Road!

5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2017 at 2:21 pm

I am not sure why the electronic signs that are now installed at many intersections along the peninsula were not activated to help with the traffic flow and keep vehicles off from the Dumbarton corridor. I guess it was a "good" reminder to submit comments about the Dumbarton/Willow/University/Bayfront Expressway corridor study ( Web Link ) at: Web Link or to: before the end of the month.
The more we are to provide feedback/comments/suggestions, the better chances we have to influence the regional transit that affect our communities!

5 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 29, 2017 at 2:43 pm

@Commuter & Bemused: Since you are pointing fingers . . .

From Palo Alto Police Dept: "Traffic Advisory: There are heavy traffic delays throughout Palo Alto right now during the afternoon/evening commute. Per the Menlo Park PD, there is a signal light that is malfunctioning in their city at the intersection of University Avenue and Bayfront Expressway (right at the foot of the Dumbarton Bridge). This is the cause of our delays.

Per the Menlo Park Police Department, the current estimated time for PG&E to fix the problem is 8:00 p.m. For updates on this situation, please see the Menlo Park Police Department's Twitter page."

I do agree that there should have been an officer replicating the traffic signals. Anyone have feedback on that?

7 people like this
Posted by EPA resident
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2017 at 3:16 pm

Welcome to our world. EVERY DAY we are impacted by the traffic coming out of both Palo Alto and Menlo Park employees.
Neither city is concerned as they continue to allow more and more office development. How about building some HOUSING for those folks? Hey, I have an idea how about making some of the jobs available to our residents. It would cut down on those crossing the bridge. Can you imagine what it will be like when Facebook 2 opens? They anticipate over 6,000 more employees.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob Sled
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2017 at 3:30 pm

It always takes me a long time to get where I am to where I want to be. This just made it take longer to get there.

6 people like this
Posted by Pam
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 29, 2017 at 7:29 pm

Pam is a registered user.

Power outages began around 11:30 am and continued intermittently. I wonder why we are not being told the whole story. By the way, no alerts where sent to my neighborhood in Menlo Park.

8 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 29, 2017 at 9:33 pm

"I wonder how many people will want to live in the area if they don't do something about the traffic."

The traffic problem is the result of too many people living in the area. It will solve itself as people get disgusted with the traffic and leave.

"How about building some HOUSING for those folks?"

Why build housing HERE for folks who work out THERE? Half of the Palo Alto working populace now commutes to jobs elsewhere. Hosting more commuters here is only gonna make the traffic problem worse.

And forget the mantra of building housing near transit. Yesterday's problem was caused by east-west traffic impediments. Except for the very few DB buses which are themselves prone to such impediments, transit here runs north-south.

3 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 30, 2017 at 8:22 pm

Let's do this every day so we can get the rail bridge rebuilt.

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 1, 2017 at 7:46 pm

Isn't Hwy 84 a state highway? CHP?

I ride a bike most days. But seriously... you expect a person to bike commute from a Peninsula location to the East Bay and beyond?

Like this comment
Posted by East Bayer
a resident of another community
on Oct 1, 2017 at 7:53 pm

You people are unbelievable. This was an emergency power failure. Get a life! Isht happens. Did you die?

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2017 at 1:35 am

The problem with traffic all over the Bay Area is that we depend on every single major roadway every single day. It doesn't matter where or why the delay is caused, shootings, power failure for lights, major accident, whatever, when something happens it causes gridlock because we have so few alternatives and those alternatives cannot take the added strain of extra traffic due to a snarl-up somewhere for something.

I expect that there will be more delays in our area again due to something or other. We just have to look on it as a consequence of living in such a highly developed area with more growth expected. Unfortunately, the infrastructure is lacking behind the reality of life.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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