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'Detection camera' to help ease traffic near Paly

Original post made on Jan 4, 2010

Installation of a "vehicle detection camera," possibly by next week, should ease snarls at the new traffic signal on Embarcadero Road between Palo Alto High School and Town & Country Village, a city traffic engineer said.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, January 4, 2010, 5:23 PM

Comments (31)

Posted by Stuck, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 4, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Gosh, I hope this works. I was stuck there today struggling to make a left from El Camino onto Embarcadero. The light changed and the cars backed up onto El Camino and blocked oncoming traffic That whole set up is horrendous!

Also, is there an easy way to make a left onto El Camino when you leave Trader Joe's? There was a long line of cars snaked back to the toy shop waiting on that one light. The exit near TJ's only lets you take a right. I ended up going all the way up near PF Changs at the mall to make U-turn so I could get back to Embarcadero eastbound. Really messy and inconvenient.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 4, 2010 at 8:49 pm

This is a very confusing article. Is the camera here? Is the rest of the equipment here? Is the camera going to be installed before the rest of the equipment? When the camera is put in is this the permanent fix or another temporary fix? Will we have to wait for the arrival of more equipment?

I have read the article several times and I am still confused.

Posted by Bobby, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 5, 2010 at 7:48 am

It all sounded clear to me. The article clearly states that the cameras have arrived, and the contractor has been asked to mount them this week. That puts them in place physically, but they can't do the job by themselves. The article says that the controller equipment needed to allow the cameras to control the lights isn't in yet. Once the controllers are installed this will be the permanent fix.

Posted by sarlat, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 5, 2010 at 7:52 am

This is a case in which everybody seemed to have acted with good intention and the right solution to the problem is being implemented. Having the new Trader Joe's open without a light would've caused numerous accidents and would've made left turns during rush hour just about impossible. The new detection camera should turn that light into a "smart" light and ease the traffic flow.

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2010 at 8:28 am

Put the pedestrian light (eastern light) back "on demand". The light turns red for no reason and prevents cars coming from the shopping center and going east from clearing the area.

Posted by Andrew, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2010 at 8:49 am

Why do we need two stop lights there? Including El Camino thats 3 within 1/4 mile. Why not move the pedestrian light down to the t&c entrance, and just have one?

Posted by Resident, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 5, 2010 at 9:29 am

Agree with Andrew - or have the crossing light only activate if someone actually presses the button.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 5, 2010 at 9:35 am

Once the system has been fully installed, the ped/Paly light will transition back to on-demand only.

The reason for the ped crossing location is that is where the students can access Embarcadero safely. The driveway locaton has no direct access - the students would have to walk through the middle of the parking lot, no sidewalks from campus, etc. The current location has direct access from campus and does not require weaving your way through the parking lot.

Once the crosswalk is back to on-demand, the issue should all go away - and the location will be moot.

Stuck: I agree - yesterday was probably the worst day I've seen since they turned on the lights. Let's hope there are no more delays!

Posted by Too Much Traffic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2010 at 9:38 am

It is clear to me that this new Trader Joe's is generating new net car trips in our city. This goes against city policy and has been a point that has been used to bash Stanford with. So one of two things has to happen--either we no longer hear about this "no new net car trips" nonsense again or else Trader Joes should be shut down and ANY and ALL new businesses in town (including hotels) must agree to not generate any new net car trips in Palo Alto

Posted by George, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2010 at 9:48 am

Let's shut down Town and Country. Perhaps we can turn it into green open space. We can ask for donations to offset the lost sales tax income :-).

Perhaps people leaving the shopping center should go out the other exit onto El Camino. I avoid that exit/entrance into the shopping center. Perhaps commuters should be using Oregon Expressway until they fix the light situation.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 5, 2010 at 11:30 am

Happy to see that someone is doing something about this. If they do it right with automatic traffic detection at the Paly/T&C entrance and "demand only" on the pedestrian crossing, it will be much better. I for one am delighted to see Trader Joes open but along with Mayfield and Calafia, the traffic has intensified at many popular times of day. Certainly they must have recognized this would happen.

Posted by Lewis, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 5, 2010 at 11:36 am

Glad to see this is being done. After a terrible experience trying to get home from Stanford shopping center last night, I was about to be complainer number 41. At about 6 p.m., it took more than 15 minutes to get from the El Camino entrance to T&C through the pedestrian light on Embarcadero, so it isn't just morning times that need to be monitored.

And that traffic had virtually nothing to do with Trader Joe's and everything to do with the bottleneck caused by the pedestrian crossing light giving people no place to go.

I will definitely be avoiding that intersection (and T&C) as much as I can until the fix is complete.

Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 5, 2010 at 11:37 am

I'm holding my breath that this will resolve the entire tangled mess.

I've found that transiting from Palo Alto to Menlo Park or vice versa is a nightmare.

El Camino always seemed a smoothly route than taking Alma since the transit on the upper end of Alma was so disfunctional with narrow lanes, traffic lights and left turn delays, antagonized by drivers who routinely treat it like a speedway.

Since TJs opened (I still mourn their corporate decision not to inhabit the Alma Plaza) I've found that it can take three and even four lights to cross Embarcadero on El Camino.

Posted by Too Much Traffic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2010 at 11:42 am

We can only hope that traffic backs up to the 200 block of Embarcadero Road

Posted by long-term PA resident, a resident of Ventura
on Jan 5, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Dear Too Much Traffic-
I don't see how opening TJ in T&C could possibly be adding new net trips into PA as both MP and MV have their very own TJs. But certainly good new restaurants might. In any case, I'm VERY glad to hear that they're taking steps to correct this as T&C traffic has gotten terrible (even before TJ opened) and the current set-up has only made matters worse. BTW, I love the straight-across from Paly to T&C - this is a major advance in my book - good work!!

Posted by moreball, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 5, 2010 at 12:17 pm

I think there is a fundamental design error. The exit from TJ's should of been an entrance. The exit only adds more traffic to the lights.
If I am not mistaken, one should divert traffic from the congestion (the lights) which an entrance would have done. Now, the exit is feeding traffic into the congested area. Also, they could route some TJ traffic with some signs behind TC to Encina Ave.

(City should hire more residents who care more if you ask me)

Posted by Too Much Traffic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Dear long-term PA resident

As the original story states:
"A new signal, lacking state-of-the art equipment, was rushed into service Nov. 24 to manage the increased traffic expected with the Dec. 4 opening of Trader Joe's at Town & Country."

Increased traffic means more car trips--it does not matter if these car trips are coming from within the city or from the outside--if the city mantra is going to be "no new net car trips" then it needs to be applied to any and all businesses institutions, large or small--retail, hotels, restaurants or Stanford.

Posted by In the Meantime, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2010 at 12:44 pm

All they need to do to ease the mess until the new equipment arrives is re-set the light at the Paly crosswalk to only turn red when it is activated by a it has always been. If there is no one wanting to cross, it should remain green, as always, instead of turning red when the newly installed light turns red. I have called twice in the past month to no avail.

Posted by Palo Alto Growth, a resident of University South
on Jan 5, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Too Much Traffic, are you willing for the city to double your taxes next year to pay for city services? If not, then perhaps increased businesses which are WANTED by some of us will help ease those expectations of increased taxes. We've got to give somewhere. Times change - you have to give a little...

Posted by George, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2010 at 1:58 pm

The observation on the exit needing to be turned into an entrance is spot on!!!

Posted by Too Much Traffic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Palo Alto Growth--I agree with you wholeheartedly about increasing wanted businesses and times changes. My comments have been very tongue -in-cheek. We constantly hear from our council about "too much traffic" and "no new net car trips"--the council has done their best to drive businesses from town and prevent new businesses from even wanting to come to town with their constant whining and the infamous Palo Alto Process. I think that there is also a certain hypocrisy in the council's actions--on the one hand Stanford is constantly harangued about traffic and housing, while the council ignores the contributions that Stanford makes to the city coffers (does the council really think that the Senior Games were held at Stanford because of what Palo Alto had to offer). The council also promotes actions that bring traffic to town (Senior Games, Tour of California, Destination Palo Alto), while whining about said traffic.
Now that three of the main stumbling blocks to the future of Palo Alto have departed the council, I am hopeful that we will have a council with a more realistic view of Palo Alto's future and what the citizens want.

Posted by Sylvia, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 5, 2010 at 2:15 pm

I stopped into Paly today around noon to buy a textbook for an Adult School class beginning this week. Yikes! When leaving I was trying to turn right onto Embarcadero and head home. The whole right lane was backed up to El Camino and the Paly kids were still in school, thus not contributing to the traffic jam. It took forever for me to get the green light and then I had to compete with people turning left out of T&C. I don't understand this intersection at all.

Posted by Chrisc, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 5, 2010 at 3:55 pm

I love the new Town and Country, but I'm afraid there is nothing that can fix the Embarcadero backup situation. It's just too many lights too close together, with one of them being a major intersection. And given that people will run the red light at the El Camino/Embarcadero intersection, it's going to always back up. Not sure what the Palo Alto planning and/or traffic commissions were thinking with this one.

Posted by John, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 5, 2010 at 4:49 pm

When all the proper equipment is installed do you suppose everyone will be happy?

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2010 at 6:01 pm

I chose to go to the Mountain View TJs rather than try to fight the T & C traffic. I would imagine others are doing the same.

Posted by Jim, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 5, 2010 at 9:38 pm

It is now two years after the announcement that Trader Joe's was coming to T&C. We all watched the construction for a long time and then suddenly "A new signal, lacking state-of-the art equipment, was rushed into service..."

Perhaps the person who is responsible for traffic lights and traffic flow should have planned a little over the last two years and then all this rushing to wait could have been avoided.

That said, the timing of the light at Newel and Embarcadero seems to be off as well...and I believe those parts have been installed for a long time.

Posted by Bobby, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 5, 2010 at 11:02 pm

What if some efficient employee purchased expensive controller equipment a year in advance, then due to some last-minute decision the plans were changed and the equipment was not needed? Can you imagine how much heat that City employee would take for wasting valuable funds that could have been used for something else? There is no way for an employee to win in this situation; if you try to get ahead of the game you will eventually guess wrong and be publicly skewered, with residents asking for your resignation. The safe and conservative thing to do is wait until you are sure the plans are final before ordering expensive equipment, with the risk being that it will not arrive in a timely manner.

Posted by John, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 6, 2010 at 11:16 am


I hope you don't work for the city. If you and city employees can't work to a project plan that is more precise than a year in advance or late, then we are in trouble.

This is nothing wrong with expecting more from our city employees. Always late conservative approaches have cost as well. Case in point the rush and then the fix it later approach to this job requires more work.

Posted by Millie, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 6, 2010 at 11:58 am

That pedestrian traffic light is so idiotic and is causing many of the problems since so few cars can fit between that at the Town & Country light.

The Town & Country parking lot was so backed up yesterday at around 4:30 that cars in the whole center aisle (Peet's and Mayfield Bakery) couldn't back out of their spaces. Traffic turning from El Camino onto Embarcadero was also backed up, jamming up there too.

I finally gave up hope of getting out via Embarcadero and or making a U turn on El Camino to get onto Embarcadero since that backed up and went via University.

The traffic lights supervisor has been totally unresponsive to calls about the poorly timed lights at Middlefield and Embcarcadeo and the latest snafu at Town & Country makes me wonder what kind of incompetents are in charge.

Posted by robit noops, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 6, 2010 at 1:21 pm

The traffic snarl is a little inconvenient, but its not a big deal. Just be considerate of other drivers. A big problem is that people pull into the intersection when traffic is backing up, then when the light changes people who have the right of way cannot drive through. Im guilty of driving to TJs, since it is currently butt cold outside, but once the days get longer and it heats up, Ill make a point of riding bike more. Too many people drive, I remember years ago when 101 used to back up for miles from commuter congestion.

The new TJs is great, and I am glad that more people are shopping at T&C. It was sad when that mall was mostly empty. Dont be sad because you have to wait for a light, be happy! :)

Posted by Mark, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 7, 2010 at 7:45 pm

I agree with Millie. There appears to be several questionable traffic lights that make one think that there are incompetents in charge.

Perhaps Chris Kenrick should post an update on all the traffic lights currently being worked on in the area.

Please start with Embarcadero/Middlefield and Embarcadero/Newell.

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