News

Palo Alto looks to modify traffic signals on Embarcadero Road

Planning commission to consider near- and long-term solutions for congested stretch near Paly

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.

Comments

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Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 10:01 am

> The city also plans to issue a request for proposals to consider even
> more substantial changes, including the widening of Embarcadero Road

Wow! Given the almost religious devotion of downsizing roads in Palo Alto by this, and previous Traffic Engineers, widening a road much have been a traumatic decision.

Wonder if those involved are going to claim PTSD because of the stress sustained in coming to any decisions involving change at this intersection?


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Posted by Roundabout
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 22, 2014 at 10:17 am

Why do we need so many traffic lights to begin with? Use roundabouts - the proper way (without stop signs!) and you'll find that the traffic will flow better - and retain the "traffic calming" aspect that some think is the only reason to have a roundabout! Not to mention, you reduce the amount of pollution from all the stopping one does now.

Seems everywhere else uses them with great success, why can't we?


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Posted by Rega Wood
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 22, 2014 at 10:46 am

This decision seems like bad news to me. Paly students will jaywalk, or cars will find it difficult to exit from Town & Country. There are perfectly sound reasons for both lights.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 22, 2014 at 10:49 am

I will be very grateful for improvements here - this is a terrible, unnecessary bottleneck on Embarcadero owing to the traffic signals.
I have one more comment, although it relates to driving internally within the Town and Country Shopping Center and not on city streets, I mention it as the driveway of T&C is noted in this article. I do realize city streets are different from private parking lots, but this is all one thing from the viewpoint of the drivers in this crowded area.
My issue concerns when one enters T&C from Embarcadero Road and then intends to make a left hand turn into the left hand side parking lot. There is no stop sign when one enters the center, one has the right of way. By contrast, those in the center driving in the opposite way by the coffee shop DO have a stop sign but most do not stop nor give way to those entering the center and wishing to bear left. This creates confusion and hesitation and while I have not been in a collision there is certainly that possibility. I drive a small car and often have large SUVs roar across the stop sign and since I am trying to turn left I don't want to get hit and must stop/pause and risk someone rear ending me - someone who fully expects to be able to move forward. They really ought to start enforcement at that stop sign, I am tired of this confusion, and the driver turning into the center in my scenario does have the right of way but is forced to proceed at risk of collision from ahead or behind.


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Posted by John Roberts
a resident of Nixon School
on Aug 22, 2014 at 11:04 am

Why on earth did the traffic engineers ever think two uncoordinated lights a hundred feet apart was a good design?


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 22, 2014 at 11:17 am

This "planning" is 9 -- NINE years -- in the making and while it's good news they're FINALLY going to eliminate one traffic light, it is sheer idiocy to worry more about traffic INTO Paly than through traffic. You can already get into Paly from the left turn lane.

This plan is NO different than the one I was sent by Ms. Gittelman and Mr. Rodriquez more than a year ago when I wrote them to complain. What have they been doing for the last year to say nothing of the last 8 years that we've been facing gridlock?

Here's another clue for Mr. Rodriquez: the kids aren't in school at 2AM and it's truly ludicrous to have had to deal with red lights when school isn't in session for the past MANY years.

Mr. Rodriquez is now lane-marking happy. He should worry more about the traffic backed up trying to get onto El Camino South which clogs up through traffic since it's often backed up to the Town & Country driveway.




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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 22, 2014 at 11:21 am

Perhaps I was too harsh.

Great work on eliminating the ridiculous crossing light even if it took our city 9 -- NINE -- years to PLAN to shut it off as early as next month.

Progress is our most important product, right?


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Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 22, 2014 at 11:24 am

It's high time they recognized the disastrous mess of Embarcadero/El Camino/T&C/Paly. There are SO many people coming and going through there, I'm stunned there haven't been more accidents or injuries. As convenient as it is for me, I only go to T&C by bike and now choose Churchill over Embarcadero whenever I can.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 11:39 am

This does not address the dangerous exit near Scott's, particularly to SB El Camino traffic planning to turn left on Embarcadero mixing with traffic turning and arriving from said exit.

What about all the palm trees?

Love the idea of a roundabout at the Paly/T&C intersection. Unfortunately, nobody around here understands how to use them.


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 22, 2014 at 11:52 am

Read the last paragraph of the article! That's exactly where they were a year ago -- PLANNING to get input, PLANNING to coordinate the El Camino traffic lights with the other traffic light.

The ECR left turn traffic's already backed up to the T&C driveway!

"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."


Traffic light coordination must really be rocket science. And that's before any construction even starts!


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Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2014 at 12:12 pm

City Manager Keene is concerned about the upcoming city council election, and has told his reports in no uncertain terms to be proactive about issues that have been on the back burner for the past decade.

I even saw Transportation Director Jaime Rodriguez at the traffic light intersection at Town & Country on the 1st day of school.


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Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 22, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Moving to one signal is a good start. I hope they also extend or go to two lanes for the left turn lane onto El Camino. Even during non peak traffic, it will fill up, and start to block traffic back into the intersection. It is one of the primary issues creating congestion in that spot. The right lane is backed up from people turning into T&C, and the left lane is blocked because the left turn lane is full all the way up to El Camino.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Does this finally mean that we're no longer pretending that Embarcadero Road is a residential street? Given the volume and speed of traffic along the entire length of Embarcadero Road, maybe it's time to recognize that it's a major commute route between the busiest freeway on the Peninsula and the top three employers in Palo Alto.

Remember that crazy idea from the 1998 Comprehensive Plan update? Embarcadero road was going to be downsized to one lane in each direction and the traffic signals were going to be replaced by roundabouts! Let's replace those old inefficient houses along Embarcadero with high density condos.

Oh wait, we only do that kind of stuff in south Palo Alto.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 22, 2014 at 1:00 pm

So we should just ignore all of the homes along Embarcadero from Alma all the way down to Francis?

I feel bad for those people who live on Embarcadero (I know, it was their choice). But there's no reason to think that Embarcadero should become a 35mph thoroughfare. Besides Paly, you have Castilleja, Walter Hays, Rinconada Park, the Art Center...plus all of the homes.

If anything, the city should install speed bumps from one end to the other.


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 22, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Joe, what year was that?

Anyone else remember the equally brilliant plan to turn Middlefield into a bike boulevard and eliminate the turn lanes at intersections like Middlefield and Embarcadero? That was sometime in the 90s.

Of course the city didn't kill the dumb plan; they simply said "we're tabling it."

The expensive consultant's plan got tabled after a massive protest correctly noting that A) biking on such a busy road might be dangerous, especially for the kids trying to get to school, and B) that traffic just might back up if you eliminated the turn lanes.

Drivers are so impatient with the traffic backups, the screwy light timing and the waits to get into turn lanes that they are creating their own traffic lanes. I personally have narrowly avoided head-on collisions when turning left from Middlefield onto Embarcedero only to find some jerk has created his own lane. Cue screeching brakes!

Fulton Street residents have their own SLOW DOWN cartoon characters in the street for those drivers too impatient to wait for the Middlefield/ Embarcedero turn signal with the very short turn lane.

And the city's brilliant answer to the Middlefield problem is to put up tons of flashing SLOW DOWN lights at the same time they put an entrance to Philz coffee FROM Middlefield at intersection rather than from the side street where it's safer and less disruptive.

Cue more screeching brakes since people forget to signal.


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Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2014 at 1:52 pm

What about another lane under the railroad tracks, whoever thought 3 lanes was a good idea? How about getting the developers to pay for it??? Fix the roads and then you get to build!


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Posted by No Roundabouts
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 22, 2014 at 1:56 pm

I am curious about people advocating for roundabouts. There is one in front of my house, and there are several near accidents there every day. Roundabouts seem very dangerous for bicyclists and pedestrians as the cars circle around and veer over the crosswalks. This is on a designated bicycle route.

Also, this roundabout has a 2-way stop and some people don't stop, and then there is a problem when someone is turning left because by the time you go 3/4 of the way around the circle you are contending with a driver without a stop sign who wasn't there when you initiated your turn.


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 22, 2014 at 2:09 pm

I call roundabouts $80,000 flowerpots. That's what they cost when they put them on quieter streets in Palo Alto or Menlo Park years ago.

To put them in a major traffic corridor or at the already-jammed Town & Country intersection seems like one of the worst ideas going. And that's saying a lot.


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Posted by election time
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 22, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Getting busy ahead of the elections?


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 3:02 pm

No Roundabouts

There should be no stop signs on roundabouts. That's the problem then with that particular roundabout. The universal rule for roundabouts is yield to traffic already on the roundabout. It seems that it is universal except in Palo Alto.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Here's a mythbusters segment about 4 way stops v roundabouts. It is about 10 minutes long, but worth watching.

Web Link

It does not include bikes and pedestrians, but shows that traffic flows 20% faster on a roundabout.

A bike is a vehicle and would follow the same rules as the cars.

Unfortunately, bikes tend to ignore the fact that they are vehicles and would slow efficiency down.

However at somewhere like the T & C/Paly/Embarcadero intersection, with bike entrances separate from car entrances, this roundabout idea would be hindered by traffic backing up from the light at El Camino. Now, if we could just get a roundabout on ECR also....


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Posted by Roundabout
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 22, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Thank you Resident for the information regarding roundabouts. As for Silly and No Roundabouts - I"m sorry you've only seen the crazy roundabouts that Palo Alto has built - with stop signs! No wonder everyone is confused. However, it's just a matter of teaching people how to use them correctly that will make all the difference. Perhaps driving schools can incorporate this in their lessons and the DMV drive test should include it. Once people become accustomed to the system - it will work beautifully. They're all over the USA and I fear the great Silicon Valley is falling behind.

It's high time everyone follow the rules of the road and pay attention to how a roundabout really works and most definitely cyclists...they're in their own world - the nether land of moving vehicle and pedestrian.

Funny, Resident, when I originally mentioned roundabouts...I was speaking of ECR too! Great minds think alike.


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 22, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Election time, you're funny!

9 years to plan to shut off one absurdly problematic traffic light after 9 years of constant community complaints is "getting busy"?

Planning to request proposals and get input for another study on how to retime a second traffic light (ECR) is "getting busy" when that "plan" to get input and RFPs " has been well-documented documented for a few years?

Let's say Mr. Rodriquez makes $175,000 a year. That's $1,575.000 for such productive hard-working busyiness.

The poor man must be exhausted and obviously deserves a raise. As do his managers.


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Posted by About Roundabouts
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 3:53 pm

I grew up in a place with roundabouts, and they work great at the right intersections. The Paly/Embarcadero/T&C intersection is NOT one of those. Think about it - pedestrians would have the right of way, and there would be nothing to stop them from crossing. So at noon, when all the kids go to T&C for lunch, there would be a continual stream of people crossing Embarcadero, and traffic wouldn't flow at all. No thanks.


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Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 22, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

As I read the staff report, there is scant attention toward cycling and pedestrian passage through this congested area. The primary beneficiaries of the improvements are drivers. The thesis seems to be "if we can just get rid of those bikes and pedestrians, then the cars could sure move quickly."

I believe that having more bikes and pedestrians passing through this area safely can be part of the solution. The plan appears to hinder bike and pedestrian use by encouraging folks not to use the existing crosswalk.

The current access to Paly and Town & Country is very hazardous to bikers and pedestrians. The hazards exist on the north and south sides of Alma. Bikes and pedestrians are fodder in the various on ramps and off ramps of Embarcadero as folks proceed either at a crawl or at high speed. The surface we use is substandard, poor maintained, slopes to the roadway, and poorly marked. Now that many drivers are on cell phones while they wait in the traffic, the attention to bikes and pedestrians is at an all time low.

What is so frustrating is the City is posed to spend likely tens of thousands of dollars to focus on cars, but the attention to the bikes and pedestrians does not get a dime of improvement. If they look at these issues, it is relegated to study and committees - no real action. There are so many simple improvements that could be taken, but this does not seem to be Transportation mission these days.

I will be working to highlight the bike and pedestrian hazards, and try to get the City to attend to some improvements in the next few weeks. By communicating into the neighborhoods, I know there is a other community members that share a sentiment for increased attention to bike and pedestrian safety. The pedestrians and bikers - aka our children - are the most precious cargo, and I would burden drivers if we could also form improvement that placed a higher priority on their safety.




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Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Roundabouts take more room than a simple intersection, and that is a problem in many places. They work better than stop signs when traffic is light to moderate, but they fail when traffic is heavy in one direction. Since you must yield to anyone who was in the roundabout before you, heavy traffic on Embarcadero would constantly fill the roundabout and drivers leaving T&C or Paly would never have an opportunity to enter.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 5:13 pm

The problem with the pedestrian effect at T & C is that it surrounds the Paly bell schedule, particularly lunchtime.

Much of the traffic on Embarcadero/ECR is there due to the fact that there is no through traffic at Sand Hill/Alma and Embarcadero and Churchill are obvious alternates. Allowing through traffic at Alma/Sandhill would remove some of the through traffic (i.e. non Paly, Stanford and T & C traffic) at this intersection.

Problem with traffic calming measures is the assumption that blocking access will remove traffic altogether. The reality is that it just sends it another way.

It is about time the SandHill/Alma/ECR intersection was open to all way traffic.


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 22, 2014 at 6:34 pm

Resident is exactly right that one of the reasons Embarcedero is such a mess is that Sand Hill/Alma don't go through and there's no other access from 101. Is anyone even thinking big picture like that??

Then you throw in the 9-year-old mess around Town & Country and the added commute traffic and you've got the current disaster.

Bob writes:

"What is so frustrating is the City is posed to spend likely tens of thousands of dollars to focus on cars, but the attention to the bikes and pedestrians does not get a dime of improvement."

The intersection is hazardous to everyone -- bikes, cars and pedestrians and NO ONE has seen a dime of improvement from 9 years of planning. Can't the bikes and pedestrians use the same crossings as they do at other intersections?

Mr. Rodriquez's salary alone for that period is more than $1.5 million dollars. Then there's the cost of tother staff time, big bucks for current and planned consultants, benefits, lost sales tax revenue etc.

What's so frustrating is we're talking millions, not tens of thousands, to plan to change one traffic light. Not to do it, just to plan it.

Gives new meaning the old joke "How many XXX and how many millions of dollars does it take to change a light?



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Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 22, 2014 at 7:27 pm

Too many people don't know that when turning right, the driver should pull into the bike lane when the line breaks up, then turn right. Drivers often drive up to the corner, then turn right. Police should focus on tickets for that error instead of giving student tickets for no helmets. Our drivers could never handle a roundabout, especially with many ESL people.

Another issue is back-up on Churchill/El Camino at the PAUSD Main Office. There is a huge chunk of land on the corner which should be cut off and developed into right turn access so drivers turning right don't have to wait in line until the light turns green.


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Posted by nac
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 23, 2014 at 1:14 pm

it seems traffic in and out of town and country was much better before they added the traffic signals which was just a few years ago. it didn't get anywhere near as jammed up when there was no light there. maybe just taking the entrance light out again would help?


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Posted by Libby Parisi
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 23, 2014 at 2:36 pm

@Crescent Park Dad: @Joe simply wants us to accept the obvious. It's wishful thinking that posting 25 mph speed limit signs along Embarcadero between Alma and 101 will make drivers on that section of roadway conform to residential neighborhood driving patterns. They haven't ever done so, and they won't start anytime soon.

While I'm far from a driving saint, I almost always stick to driving 25 mph on that road when I'm on it, which is at least twice a day. Naturally, plenty of drivers get right up on my rear bumper for hundreds of feet before swinging out into the other lane and zooming past me. Some even show me what appears to be their ring finger, perhaps assuming I have an interest in their marital status.

I have zero desire to antagonize these drivers, and I'm no slowpoke myself when driving in other parts of the Bay Area, but I recognize how difficult it is for people who live there to have to accomodate excessive speeds right outside of their driveway, so I stick to the limit.

But here's the big thing: I see plenty of people who live in that area (off of streets like Bryant, Cowper, Guinda, Louis, and plenty others) turn onto Embarcadero, and then zoom to 101 at 40-45 mph. If the people who live there can't abide by the posted limit, what hope can there be for the twice-a-day commuters?

Here's the other big thing: I've never seen a PAPD cruiser on that stretch of road during drive time hours looking for speed violators. I've never seen a PAPD speed trap set up there. There aren't even the newish radar-assisted speed limit indicators that brightly flash their red LED's and warn drivers to "Slow Down" when the radar identifies them as going over the speed limit.

That's why @Joe's point is just asking us to concede to reality.


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Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 23, 2014 at 4:45 pm

@Libby - I think that there aren't speed traps on Embarcadero because of the California's anti-speed-trap law, which says that to be enforced by radar, speed limits should be set within 5 mph of the observed critical speed of 85 percent of drivers. So if the actual, observed speed on Embarcadero is close to 40 (which I would easily guess it is most of the time), the police can't use radar to enforce the 25 mile an hour speed limit. Its a goofy law.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 23, 2014 at 5:35 pm

I doubt there are any rules precluding PAPD from issuing warnings to speeding drivers. I'd imagine the effect on traffic speed would be similar to issuing actual citations, without the hassle of court dates and testimony, or accusations of padding somebody's pockets.


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Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Aug 23, 2014 at 5:46 pm

@Gennady Sheyner: Please clarify. Will the Paly crosswalk signal be removed completely? Or, will it stay, and its control be combined with control of the Paly/T&C driveway signal? These are very different solutions, and the article isn't really clear about which is in play.

And yes, what can we do about those silly palm trees?


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Posted by Lemons to Lemonade
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 23, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Get on your bikes -- reduce traffic, noise, air pollution and your waistline. You can always lock up to a no parking signpost if the bike racks are full. It's a fun door-to-door effort. You'll be hooked before you know it.


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Posted by realist
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2014 at 7:37 pm

The volume of traffic is overwhelming the circulation network. That is
the reality. That is what happens when you have no land use planning and control. Embarcadero has been turned into a heavy volume arterial. At this point we need more traffic law enforcement, i.e more cops to deal with the situation we are in from a safety standpoint. If you see some people getting tickets, it sends the message to all drivers that when you come into Palo Alto you must obey the law. That works. Right now things are spinning out of control here as the total situation gets worse and worse.

Secondly there is no mention in these consultant studies and staff work of
aesthetic values as playing any role at all in what is done here. In contrast, in San Diego when they reconfigured La Jolla Blvd they stressed from the beginning that landscaping,as well as attention to the visual effects of signage,street markings, when integrated into the plan has a calming effect and maintains the character of the area. The consultants
we are hiring here- what projects did they work on?


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Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 23, 2014 at 9:50 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Having recently returned from almost three months of driving in the UK and France, with lots of roundabouts, I am not in favor of roundabouts. They were much more nerve-wracking than driving on the left. Busy roundabouts add traffic lights which make them even more confusing but without them, you would never be able to enter some heavily trafficked roundabouts.

Roundabouts seemed to work well in Australia, where the roundabouts were designed into the road structure along with the roads. Retrofitting them into existing traffic would be a nightmare. Our existing small roundabouts are mostly annoying and I would gladly see them replaced by 4-way stop signs, which work well as long as drivers follow the rules of give way to the driver (or bicycle) on the right. They are so much more orderly than roundabouts.

Coordinating the lights at Embarcadero and T&C makes so much sense that I can't understand why it has taken 9 years to make such an obvious solution.


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 23, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Lots of good points above but it seems like a combination of sensible planning and traffic enforcement makes sense.

We spoke to a cop after an accident at Middlefield and Embarcadero about frustrated drivers forming their own lanes during backups. He and the PD we well aware of the problem but that Traffic and Planning don't want any input from the cops about observed problem points.

Also, I doubt you'd catch many speeders on Embarcadero --during "prime time" and especially the closer you get to the El Camino end -- because traffic is solidly backed up with people unable get through a light or even get into the turn lanes for several lights.

So you get angry frustrated drivers, a natural outgrowth of the gridlock.


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Posted by +1 Roundabout
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 24, 2014 at 4:11 am

People forget that roundabouts have been a retrofit just about everywhere they have been put in outside the US except newer suburbs.

Anything can be adapted.

Would be lovely to see a roundabout solution, as a peg in a longer term strategy of catching up the US to things that work much better in other countries... but similar to things like chip & pin, metric, we are late to the party and we have some stubbornness to do things better.


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Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 24, 2014 at 9:56 am

Because of the construction, Paly has new designated routes for the students to get onto campus which DON'T use the pedestrian light at Paly. They are supposed to use the path along the Caltrain tracks to get to and from the T&C side of Embarcadero. From the Paly website.

"Access via the north sidewalk under the Embarcadero underpass: Both bicyclists and pedestrians should make a U-turn and take the path from Town and Country to the multi-use path along the Caltrain tracks. Turn right and cross the bridge over Embarcadero. This will take you directly to the rear gate that will get you closer to most classrooms quickly and safely. It also provides easy access to the new bike parking area adjacent to the new Media Arts building. (See the solid green line on the Access and Circulation map above.)

Access via the south sidewalk under the Embarcadero underpass: Students using this route to walk to Paly are encouraged to enter the campus via the path just outside the construction fence at the main Paly driveway. Bicyclists should get off their bikes and become pedestrians if using this route. (See the dashed green line on the Access and Circulation Map.)"

Web Link


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Posted by boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 24, 2014 at 10:06 am

It's not going to make any noticeable difference. The core problem is that a small town has been terribly over urbanized and now we are doomed to live in permanent gridlock.


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Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 24, 2014 at 11:30 am

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

To wax philosophically on this circumstance - the Embarcadero intersection a tipping point that has now tipped.

While consultants may opine on signaling, an obvious conclusion is that the cars are well beyond the capacity of the roadway or parking. Furthermore, there is no place for the cars to go with diminished parking at Paly, and scarce parking at Town & Country. Signals or roundabouts can't address this.

This realization is why I have asked that we start to look toward enabling more bike and pedestrian friendly and safe routes to this location. At least the citizenry that are smart to ride a bike or walk could do it more efficiently. Throwing money at traffic signals, roundabouts or extra lanes will be good money after bad. Palo Alto should bravely embrace and enhance bike a pedestrian access to this area - but my hunch is we are not quite that brave yet.



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Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 24, 2014 at 11:43 am

@Bob - good points. As a Paly Parent and Stanford fan, I've spent lots of time in that intersection, on foot, on bike and in a car. I totally agree that the sidewalks are dangerous, its difficult to ride a bike when there are pedestrians and tough to hear bikes coming due to traffic and train noise. Kids jump out of cars onto Embarcadero into (usually stopped) traffic. They also often disregard whether the pedestrian light is green or red and cross en mass.

We need a safe way to get from the east to west side of Caltrain for bikes and pedestrians. One quick fix that would at least improve the safety would be to extend the existing railings on both sides along the sidewalks for the whole underpass (from High all the way to the current pedestrian light). That would at least keep pedestrians and bikes off of Embarcadero at that spot.


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Posted by Paly Native
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 24, 2014 at 2:36 pm

@Bob: Most of the cars are commuters - there is absolutely no way people are going to ditch their cars and bike - it's not even worth a split-second thought.

I've driven my children to Paly (both entrances on Churchill and Embarcadero) and I know the cars are cutting through both streets because they are commuting. There are 1000 students who ride their bikes to school and few being driven to Paly. Spend a morning looking at how many cars turn into the Paly parking lots, and you'll see it's not the Paly people backing up our streets, it's the non-residents for the most part.

I remember when I attended Paly in the 80s, here were three green light/red light boxes posted on the overpass above each lane at Embarcadero, which was for traffic congestion prior or after Stanford football games. Before the game, the lights would keep the two lanes of traffic flowing as it is now, but when the game was over, the lights would direct two lanes of traffic towards Embarcadero (instead of the one lane). It was actually quite dangerous if a driver had never experienced it before. And there was no traffic light for T&C or pedestrians because there was so little traffic [sigh].


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Posted by resident too
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 24, 2014 at 3:22 pm

to one of the "palo alto resident"s above:
You're missing part of the speed trap law (which I just studied intensively for, um, another issue). It provides for the city to do a traffic study to justify a speed limit. They do not automatically have to go with how the crowd is driving. So once again it's city staff inertia.


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Posted by boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 24, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Biking and walking is great, I do both whenever possible, but they will not solve or even mitigate the fundamental problem. Palo Alto has been urbanized and developed too much, the population density is too great and too many out of town commuters drive on infrastructure that has never been designed for such traffic volume and is beyond capacity. Now we are living with one of the worse consequences of making a deal with the devil:permanent gridlock. Enjoy.


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 24, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Do people understand what the terms " permanent" and " gridlock" actually mean?


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Posted by voter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 24, 2014 at 3:46 pm

"Do people understand what the terms " permanent" and " gridlock" actually mean?"

permanent is when something doesn't go away

gridlock is when you are stuck


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 24, 2014 at 4:00 pm

And " permanent gridlock" means traffic never moves. But that not what is happening all over Palo Alto.
But about time the city addressed the T&c intersection. I guess Jaime was thinking that the extra traffic would go away if they put those 3 stop lights one after another.


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Posted by History Buff
a resident of another community
on Aug 24, 2014 at 4:02 pm

> "Why on earth did the traffic engineers ever think two uncoordinated lights a hundred feet apart was a good design?"

According to the Daily Post (August 22), the city spent $250,000 to install an additional light when Trader Joe's opened in 2009. It was supposed to be synchronized with the El Camino/Embarcadero light 100 YARDS away. At the time, traffic engineer Sam Pieris said the new light would "reduce congestion and be very convenient."

> "…brilliant plan to turn Middlefield into a bike boulevard and eliminate the turn lanes at intersections like Middlefield and Embarcadero?"

In 2004 former Palo Alto transportation manager Joe Kott thought it would be a good idea to narrow Middlefield Road from 4 lanes to 2. He did a trial run, setting up cones, created a huge traffic jam and gave up the idea.

> "The consultants we are hiring here- what projects did they work on?"

TJKM is the same consulting group that gave us the Charleston Arastradero plan.

> "Coordinating the lights at Embarcadero and T&C makes so much sense that I can't understand why it has taken 9 years to make such an obvious solution."

You're too logical. The city works on theories and wishful thinking.

> "At least the citizenry that are smart to ride a bike or walk could do it more efficiently."

As opposed to the dumb citizens who drive cars? Why do bicyclists have to be so sanctimonious? It makes it hard to have rational discussions about problems that affect us all.


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Posted by Paly Native
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 24, 2014 at 4:11 pm

History Buff, great posting! Where's the "Like" button?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Kyle
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 24, 2014 at 9:13 pm

Is this the same group in City Hall that is handling the disastrous Mitchell Park Library remodel?


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 24, 2014 at 9:51 pm

The new lights at Greer/Oregon, Greer/Embarcadero take forever to change!

Just one more reason not to go downtown.

Thanks for saving us from overpriced mediocre restaurants.

However, crossing Greer/Oregon is safer.


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Posted by Too funny
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 25, 2014 at 4:31 am

....and so it goes. Palo Altans can't agree on anything without numerous studies and endless procrastination. Nothing will happen on Embarcadero and yet another step forward to enter the 21st century will be shelved. Politicians and city management thrive on the hand wringing indecisive residents as it only makes their job of doing nothing that much easier. So much for living in a retirement community where nothing gets accomplished (and yet we pay our city manager a yearly salary more than the President of the United States earns). Oh Well....


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 25, 2014 at 6:21 am

The new lights at Greer/Oregon, Greer/Embarcadero take forever to change!
Just one more reason not to go downtown.
Thanks for saving us from overpriced mediocre restaurants.
However, crossing Greer/Oregon is safer.

The contradictions in these statements are hilarious. Greer intersections are nowhere near downtown. But it's safer!

I don't want slower signals but I want it safer!


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Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 25, 2014 at 7:51 am

"Coordinating the lights at Embarcadero and T&C makes so much sense that I can't understand why it has taken 9 years to make such an obvious solution."

You obviously haven't worked with Caltrans!!


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 25, 2014 at 11:05 am

Didn't there used to be a sort of walkway, maybe information across the Embarcadero overpass from the Paly side to the T&C side? Is that too far out of the way to cross over.

I think the light where it is is a good idea, pain in the neck that is it, cars go much faster these days and can pop up out of that underpass too fast for people to react in some cases.

Embarcadero is a real problem as a major town artery of traffic, which it is no matter what we want. The 25 mph speed limit, the lights, to no good way to turn ... it's a mess.

I think it needs to be hardened with traffic barriers and the speed limit raised with left-turn lanes. How do you simulate something like that though to be sure to do the right thing?

The best thing would be to add 2 lanes in each direction, but that would impinge on too many people.

Palo Alto does not work as a large town, it just doesn't.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 25, 2014 at 11:14 am

"Palo Alto does not work as a large town, it just doesn't."

Yet there are people out there that are bent on ignoring your correct observation. They are going to try to force it upon us by "smart growthing" us to death.


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Posted by Its a miracle!
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 25, 2014 at 11:23 am

Does anyone REALLY think traffic in this area will get noticeably different because of tweaking the roads? Pipe dreamers one and all! Too many cars and not enough area are the problem. We cannot make more area, so until we reduce the number of cars we'll only have these false hopes of improved traffic flows. This is a fact of living in Palo Alto: You'll be delayed in traffic if you drive a car.


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Posted by Rosa Verde
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 25, 2014 at 11:26 am

"The new lights at Greer/Oregon, Greer/Embarcadero take forever to change!"

I bet the people with the exceptionally long green lights have no complaints. If one light is red, another is green. Interestingly, you're also complaining about the green lights being too long at this intersection.


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 25, 2014 at 12:00 pm

I'm still unclear why Jaime thinks we need a 3d lane from the T&C driveway into Paly. Kids aren't going to drive across the street to lunch.

It would seem the objective should be through traffic but I guess that's too sensible.

Anyone want to have a betting pool on how long it takes to fix the Embarcadero light at El Camino? Another 9 years? How many years to get "input" and RFPs? Who knew changing traffic light timing could be so tough.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 25, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Thanks, History Buff, for your wise comments.


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Posted by Logical Choice
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 25, 2014 at 2:50 pm

"> > "At least the citizenry that are smart to ride a bike or walk could do it more efficiently."

> As opposed to the dumb citizens who drive cars?"

If time is the factor we're using as a measurement of success, if I can jump on a bike and get across town in 5 minutes, but I choose to get in a car that takes 15 minutes, that is not what I would call the smarter decision.
I drive way more than I ride, for various but I understand that the car is not the fastest mode from point A to point B anymore for short in town trips.

That said, transportation mode choice and IQ have no direct correlation.


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Posted by boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 25, 2014 at 3:11 pm

This is about pretending that Palo Alto can be a large urban town. As if we can somehow create the non existent land that would allow us to build out, expand roads and build more of them in order to accommodate the ever growing traffic that each additional urbanization step is attracting. it's just as laughingly absurd as thinking that we could keep squeezing more and more passengers into an airplane in an endless process, just because millions of people want to fly in it.

Palo Alto is a small town. it is squeezed between the bay on the east and the foothills to the west. It cannot be built out to the north and south ike Los Angeles once could. the infrastructure is that of a small town. Tweaking a couple of lights or even squeezing a turning lane her or there are meaningless. We are past full capacity. Instead of playing silly make belief games, the politicians and residents must admit that we are at full capacity and beyond-too many residents, too many cars and not nearly enough space to accommodate them. Then we must start designing ways to reverse the over urbanization we so irresponsibly and foolishly allowed.


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 25, 2014 at 3:52 pm

There are so many good comments here. Write Rodriquez, Gittelman (Planning), the City Council and all relevant others over here. When Gittelman was new, I did and we had a decent interchange even though she doesn't seem to have shown up here.

and I even got to review the Embarcadero plan in PDF form about 2 years ago.


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Posted by TheContinental
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 25, 2014 at 6:41 pm

I support the roundabout idea! Drove in Europe over the summer and used roundabouts everywhere. Traffic flew through them nicely. You always have that second chance around to double check the signs too. They do require a more rule abiding community of drivers though. Hesitation and forcing the way can cause accidents on those things. I am not sure if Califorians would adapt well with the wide variety of driving styles out there.


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 25, 2014 at 8:33 pm

@ Crescent park dad

What I was trying to say is that it now takes a lot longer to travel to downtown, from south Palo Alto via Greer to Channing. The new red light on northbound Greer, crossing Oregon takes forever to change.The new light is a three way signal. So what used to be the easy way to get downtown is no longer easy.I retract the statement that it is now safer.

Also Daddy'O (Cresent Park DAD)
It is still the cities financial responsibility for the landscape median.



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Posted by easong
a resident of another community
on Aug 25, 2014 at 9:30 pm

I seriously doubt Palo Alto visitors can master the concept of a roundabout. Have you never seen them attempting 3-point turnarounds to nab a parking spot on downtown streets, while people honk and curse, and perstestrians duck and cover?


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Posted by sandy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2014 at 10:42 am

I'm astounded by the comment from "Silly" that the PA police department is well aware of problems but that "...Traffic and Planning don't want any input from the cops about observed problem points." For years I've felt that our traffic/planning people are operating out of pipe dreams and their college textbooks--and now I realize I've been correct. The situation is beyond absurd.
Incidentally, many bicycle advocates seem blissfully unaware that for some, riding a bicycle is not an option due to handicaps, illnesses, etc. Be realistic: for some people, a car is the only option.


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Posted by Yah, but we're selfish drivers
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 26, 2014 at 11:06 am

The average Palo Alto driver has a "Me first" mentality. Roundabouts need less selfish drivers to make them work without becoming a bigger problem. This eliminates Palo Alto drivers from qualification.
A fundamental shift in the average Palo Alto drivers' attitudes and expectations is needed before anything will improve traffic flow.


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Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 27, 2014 at 11:04 am

Put in a pedestrian bridge from Paly to T and C. Build a fence along the south side of Embarcadero to stop jay walking. Add a fourth lane under the tracks. Make egress from T and C only on El Camino Take out all the lights on Embarcadero. No left turns into T and C. Problem solved!


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Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 27, 2014 at 11:26 am

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

The following is a presentation I have been organizing for the discussion at the Planning Commission study session tonight (Wed 8/27) . This is a map, a few tables, and a short video I shot on my way to work this morning.

Web Link

My focus is not on the whole problem, rather a portion focused on bike/pedestrian access promoting safety and efficiency. In theory getting more folks onto bike and foot because they perceive this as efficient and safe would have a corollary benefit of reducing car trips - and therefore help the frustrated drivers as well.

I believe that the City Staff is now getting much more in tune, clever and focused on this area of need. Some of my hazard analysis may be off, but at least I am trying to carry my critique to a constructive level that can offer a basis to communicate.

I do know the City plans to add a new stop sign and crossing walk at Emerson where Kingsley passes through. This need is anticipated in the analysis, and now seems to be on its way.


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Posted by Worker
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 27, 2014 at 8:12 pm

Gee Bob, this is a great idea for all the workers in the tech industry,that only need a backpack , laptop and a bicycle to get to work. However there are still a bunch of folks in the service industry where riding a bike is just not practical. For example; gardeners,carpenters,Nanny's .So what is the option for these folks?

My neighbor and I kind of got a good chuckle out how Palo Alto was going to get us out of our cars and onto bicycles. His reply was," When they make a bicycle that can tow my 12,000 pound excavator I will be the first one on board!"

Remember Bob, there is a whole other world out there.





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Posted by Paly Native
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 27, 2014 at 10:45 pm

Agree with Midtown that a pedestrian bridge and blocking the exit/entrance to T&C on Embarcadero would be the best. Students are safe, superior traffic flow on Embarcadero. T&C has enough pull that customers will use the other entrance.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2014 at 10:17 pm

Just ban the left turns and rip out the lights would be a good start with a pedestrian bridge.


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Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 28, 2014 at 11:31 pm

9 years of planning. In less time, NASA planned and then put 2 humans on the Moon and got them home safe. A least in the last 9 years, our City Hall planned and got 2 new upholstry jobs for the seating in the City Council Hall. Whoppie! So proud of my town.


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