Seeking to relieve traffic congestion and respond to years of residents' complaints, Palo Alto is preparing to remove a traffic light and consider widening Embarcadero Road near Town & Country Village and Palo Alto High School.
The well-used and heavily signalized corridor off El Camino Real has long frustrated motorists, prompting city planners to consider a range of near- and long-term improvements. According to a proposal that the Planning and Transportation Commission will consider Wednesday night, the most significant and immediate change would be the removal of one of three traffic signals on this short stretch of Embarcadero -- a traffic light near the entrance to Trader Joe's.
Under the staff proposal, which could take effect as early as next month, two existing Embarcadero Road traffic signals -- near the driveway into Town & Country and near a pedestrian crossing into Paly -- would be combined into one. By next spring, the city also plans to modify roadway markings to lengthen the westbound left-turn lane from Embarcadero into the Paly driveway. Despite their very close proximity, the two signals "operate independently from one another," according to report from Jaime Rodriguez, the city's chief transportation official,
"The traffic signal modification combines the two intersections through the use of one traffic signal controller, helping to improve coordination between the two intersections," Rodriguez writes in the report. "The new traffic signal controller will be placed adjacent to the existing Embarcadero Road and Paly and Town & Country intersection along the south side of the street. With the integration of the two signals, progression along Embarcadero Road will be improved as will egress movements exiting Town & Country across both intersections."
While these changes are being implemented, city planners are also considering making more significant streetscape improvements for this section of Embarcadero Road. Last fall, the city hired TJKM Transportation Consultants to identify possible design alternatives, including a new flashing yellow beacon for westbound traffic and a widening of the Town & Country driveway from one lane to three. One option would create a left-turn lane, a right-turn lane and a "through" lane in the driveway, allowing cars to go from the shopping center directly to Paly. Another alternative would create a left-turn lane, a "left-through" lane and a right-turn lane.
Rodriguez notes in the report that staff is just beginning discussions with the Town & Country owners about the prospect of widening the driveway, which currently has one lane and no striping. Whether or not the driveway's widening is feasible will be determined shortly, the report reads, but regardless of the decision, staff is recommending that the existing driveway be formally striped to two lanes to provide left-through and right-turn lane configuration.
The city also plans to issue a request for proposals to consider even more substantial changes, including the widening of Embarcadero Road and changes to the El Camino Real intersection to coordinate the El Camino traffic light with the one near Paly. The latter plan would require coordination with the state Department of Transportation (Caltrans), which operates the intersection, and with Stanford University, which owns property west of El Camino.