News

Motorists ignoring new Middlefield turning restrictions

Palo Alto police will ticket, but nearby residents fear accidents will continue

New signs to prohibit left-hand turns from Everett and Hawthorne avenues onto busy Middlefield Road in Palo Alto's Downtown North neighborhood are supposed to help reduce accidents, but drivers seem to be ignoring the law in droves, according to residents who live along Middlefield.

The signs, which ban cars from turning left onto Middlefield and also from crossing it from 7 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. during weekdays were installed about two weeks ago. The Palo Alto police traffic team has issued about 100 warnings to violators during a break-in period, but scofflaws will soon have to shell out $200 or more in fines, police Lt. Zach Perron said.

But some residents said the turning restrictions won't be effective enough, and they want changes made to Middlefield.

Traffic backups and accidents along the heavily congested stretch of road have resulted in cars landing on residents' front lawns and careening onto sidewalks. The area is a hodgepodge of buses and trucks that are too wide, bicyclists zipping by and pedestrians trying to cross four lanes of traffic, residents said. Vehicles speed during non-peak times and crawl during rush hour. Amid all of that mess, cars from Everett and Hawthorne nose out onto Middlefield and risk being broadsided by northbound or southbound traffic.

From 2002 through 2014, there were 219 reported accidents on Middlefield, between University and Palo Alto avenues, according to California Highway Patrol data. One-third of the accidents occurred during commute hours.

"The stretch of Middlefield north from University to Menlo Park has really turned into a nightmare," said Tim Lindholm, a resident who has taken to biking to work because he cannot get out of his driveway due to the stopped cars. "In the morning it turns into a parking lot."

At other times, cars come blasting through from the side streets and sometimes seem to view the intersection at Middlefield as just another stop sign. Lindholm said he has seen many crashes on weekends when the turn restrictions are not in effect.

"We want to be very clear in our opinion. This is just duct tape," he said of the new turning restrictions.

Perron said that police plan on continuing enforcement in the area.

"At this point, many drivers are still regularly disregarding the (new) signs. Our hope is that as time goes on and drivers continue to see active enforcement in the area, their behavior will change and we will start to see more compliance with the law. There is always a break-in period with any new signage as drivers get used to them and change their driving habits accordingly," he wrote in an email.

Hal Prince, who lives on Middlefield, has stood on the corner at Everett during rush hour several times and noted the compliance with the new signs.

"It is pretty minimal, less than 50 percent. Perhaps this is because the signs are new, but I do wonder if the current wording is as clear as it could be. It has a right arrow, then the word 'only' below it, then some times below that. 'Only' is on the sign with the right arrow, and the times are on a separate sign, though the signs are abutting. If you have a few seconds to think about it, of course you arrive at the correct interpretation, but some distracted drivers may think, 'I don't want to turn right, so that sign doesn't apply to me,'" he said.

The signs might be more effective if they showed the usual red circle with a slash and then the restricted times, he said.

"This is the strategy used on the signs at the other end of Everett, at Alma. I am guessing that most people would find this sign clearer," he said.

Resident John Guislin has also monitored the cars. In a 15-minute period, he watched 19 drivers break the law and turn left into four lanes of traffic, he said.

Guislin and other residents have serious doubts about the effectiveness of the turning restrictions, and their fears could be borne out when considering similiar restrictions elsewhere.

Left-turn restrictions have been in place since 2004 at Alma Street and Hawthorne and Everett, as have right-turn restrictions from Middlefield as part of Downtown North traffic-calming measures.

On Thursday morning, two traffic officers pulled over one motorist after another as they made illegal turns from Middlefield onto Hawthorne. One officer said that some motorists continue to violate the turn restrictions from Alma and from Middlefield and then rocket down the residential streets, and that it is highly dangerous, despite other traffic-calming measures in place, such as traffic circles.

While police stopped the right-turning scofflaws, a block away on Everett it was business as usual for many of the left-turners, who ignored the new signs.

Guislin and Lindholm are calling for a reconfiguration of the traffic lanes on the section of Middlefield from University Avenue to Willow Road. Changing to three lanes could create better traffic flow, better sighting for turns and, potentially, room for dedicated bike lanes, they said. The three-lane alternative could have two southbound lanes and one going northbound, since the street already narrows into a single lane near the Menlo Park border. There also could be a center turn lane on Middlefield that would help move turning traffic through rather than backing up.

Driven by their doubts about the new signs' effectiveness, residents said they will continue to work on the city for road changes.

"I wonder how many accidents we will have before we decide to do something effective?" Prince said. "Do we have to wait for someone to get killed?"

Comments

2 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 10, 2015 at 8:07 am

The restrictions on Churchill at Alma to stop traffic going straight or turning right don't stop drivers ignoring the signs either.


42 people like this
Posted by notatrafficexpert
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 10, 2015 at 8:32 am

(1) A large part of the problem on Middlefield has been the decision to prohibit right-turn-on-red at the big intersection of Middlefield and Willow. This significantly increases congestion on Middlefield during the evening rush hour northbound. Were there ever an intersection where right-on-red made sense, it would be this one. Who on earth made this terrible decision, and why?

(2) The signs restricting right turns onto Middlefield are badly designed and badly placed. One of them was comically placed behind a small tree - which rendered it useless. The signs should look like all the other signs restricting turns: a white slash across a black turn arrow in the restricted direction.


7 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 10, 2015 at 8:59 am

SteveU is a registered user.

Why only a warning? These are dangerous, inattentive drivers who are either incapable of reacting to changes in traffic conditions.

A new sign is just another NEW TRAFFIC CONDITION.

Or, are these folk simply scofflaws?


9 people like this
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 10, 2015 at 9:09 am

Chris Zaharias is a registered user.

When I get back from vacation, I'm switching to bicycle, can't take the traffic anymore.


87 people like this
Posted by Dave Hoffman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 10, 2015 at 9:15 am

Drivers ignoring rules of the road and posted signage? You mean the way drivers constantly roll through stop signs all over Palo Alto? Shocking!

We need consistent enforcement of traffic regulations (including the cell-phone restrictions -- holding a cell phone in your hand and talking on speaker is NOT hands-free use!) throughout the city. I feel as though I take my life in my hands every day when I walk my dog, go for a run, or take my bike out for a training ride. It's gotten really bad.


14 people like this
Posted by unsafe town
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 10, 2015 at 9:45 am

I second everything what @Dave Hoffman said. He is spot on.


21 people like this
Posted by OneDaysObservation
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 10, 2015 at 10:04 am

Maybe a general crackdown on some of these flagrant violators on the city streets might not be such a bad thing.

In the past 24 hours I witnessed the following:

1) A driver decided to use the solid white line bike lane as a personal lane for his car for an entire block on Shoreline Blvd., evidently in order to be the first through the light at Evelyn so he zoom onto Central Expressway. Entitled Jerk.

2) A driver going S. on El Camino Real decided he wanted to turn left onto Page Mill and made and additional left hand turn lane out of a the through/straight lane of traffic, stopping in the middle of the intersection in order to avoid hitting a car making a signaled (legal) left turn off of ECR onto Page Mill going the other direction. Needless to say, this idiot driver nearly caused numerous collisions.

3) Again on El Camino Real, traveling south at Embarcadero, a driver suddenly decided he wanted to make a left on Embarcadero but was in the through lane which had a green light, so instead of going through the green light and driving on down the road to where he could make a legal u-turn and then make a right onto Embarcadero, the driver simply stopped dead in the lane and waited until the left hand arrow turned green and he could try to pull into the solid line of cars in the left hand turn lane and turn left...all the while stopping ALL the traffic behind him and causing all kinds of chaos as cars tried to pull into the other lanes to move around him. Entitled jerk.

This is not atypical for the types of things I witness daily during my travels around Mountain View & Palo Alto.


40 people like this
Posted by johns
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 10, 2015 at 10:19 am

Although I live in the downtown North neighborhood I abide by the rule that I can't turn onto Hawthorne or Everett off of Alma during the hours of 3-6pm. Even though I want to and my home is very close to the sign I abide and take the long way home going down Lytton. As I pass by the turn restriction signs I see SO many people ignoring the signs and shooting down Hawthorne and Everett as a cut through to Middlefield. It is quite frustrating. People just don't care and think that they are not going to be cited. I hope that the $200 fine will be implemented soon, as I'm sure this will curb the behavior.


15 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 10, 2015 at 10:46 am

I agree completely that without enforcement, self-important drivers will continue to flaunt traffic laws at will.

There are endless examples, but one of particular relevance to this discussion concerns the light at Alma and Homer by the pedestrian / bicyclist under-crossing.

When the Walk sign is lit, it is illegal for drivers to make a right on red from Homer onto Alma.

A few weeks ago, they changed the all text instructions to a right arrow superimposed with the circle-and-slash "No" symbol. The new sign is large and lighted.

Hopefully, the new sign will help, but at present, I see drivers making the forbidden right on red. Alas, I have never seen an officer patrolling the intersection and citing violators.

It's a curious thing, why Palo Alto does not take road safety more seriously.

A few months ago, Council Member Liz Kniss suggested the use of red-light traffic cameras for catching offenders.

Council Member Pat Burt said he would not back the proposal if it generated revenue for the city.

See Web Link

Why is it wrong to increase safety and revenue at the same time? These people are breaking the law and the funds could be used for unmet needs.


15 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 10, 2015 at 10:57 am

Drivers constantly blow off the no left turn restriction at the corner of W. Bayshore and Embarcadero (next to the Shell Station).

Drivers also blow off the (plain-as-day) Yield Sign when exiting from southbound 101 onto westbound Embarcadero.


3 people like this
Posted by Hawthorne
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 10, 2015 at 11:22 am

Then at all other times, Hawthorne is THE major connection to Willow from EC.
It could really benefit from many more speed bumps. So many cars and motorcycles floor it from one stop sign trying to set records getting to the next one.


27 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 10, 2015 at 11:26 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

These problems start with overbuilding and too much traffic. Gridlock pushes cars into side streets, delays create angry frustrated drivers. Not excusing the stupid and selfish people who ignore the law, but more signs and enforcement are just band-aids. More office space and denser housing will inevitably increase the traffic and law breaking problem.


22 people like this
Posted by I Second That!
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 10, 2015 at 11:58 am



"notatrafficexper" is right on the money:

(1) A large part of the problem on Middlefield has been the decision to prohibit right-turn-on-red at the big intersection of Middlefield and Willow. This significantly increases congestion on Middlefield during the evening rush hour northbound. Were there ever an intersection where right-on-red made sense, it would be this one. Who on earth made this terrible decision, and why?

This sign was added a few months back and it is the primary cause that things have gotten so bad recently. I wrote to the Menlo Park staff people back when it first went in but nothing has changed. I think they installed the no right turn on red to basically meter the traffic coming from Palo Alto down Willow to 101 and 84. This is pass through traffic from Palo Alto so with this new sign, preference is given to motorists coming from within Menlo Park and pass-through motorists from Palo Alto be damned!


9 people like this
Posted by MarkB
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 10, 2015 at 12:00 pm

In the last year my morning commute route out of Menlo Park has had three restrictions placed on it: 1) at Middlefield & Willow - Yield to full stop, 2) at Ravenswood and Alma - No left turn EVER, and 3) Hawthorne & Willow - No left turn during peak hours. All of these are but band-aids on the serious problem of too much traffic. Maybe what is needed is a bunch of CEQA lawsuits against any new building development during the EIR process because the environmental quality of life in this area is being seriously negatively affected by all the traffic. If new development is to occur, then the money should be found to address the real problem and add new or beef up existing traffic arteries by widening roads (like Willow to 4 lanes), timing traffic lights, etc. and NOT more restrictions which just make a bad situation worse.


8 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 10, 2015 at 12:24 pm

I was not aware of any statistical problem with turning on those streets that would justify this restriction.

In general I do not like these kind of laws as they just make driving harder, and people do not expect them or notice them or often take the time to read them. Driving is something that needs to take minimal effort, and even at that most people cannot seem to manage it. If every time I stop at an intersection I need to scan it, and then read and compute whether I can do what and when it's just too much.

Yes, there probably are occasions where a sign is a solution, but the one that others have pointed to and that I think is a bad example of this is Churchill at Alma. There needs to be a better solution to possible problems ( first they need to prove that there is a problem ) than trying to engage people's brains in driving, because in general they are too lazy to do it.


8 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 10, 2015 at 12:37 pm

CPD >> Drivers also blow off the (plain-as-day) Yield Sign when exiting from southbound 101 onto westbound Embarcadero.

Yes, most drivers these days never learned or just do not even know how to drive, and lots of others think it is a game or something. I think a lot of foreign drivers just do not get the idea of sharing a common resource not to mention courtesy.

Almost every time I am a stoplight now, there is at least one person who is busy on their cellphone or distracted and wastes the little time there is to get through the light causing others to have to go through two or more cycles of red light.

I do not even know if people know what yield is or means.

Also, for some shy people or confused or non-aggressive or fearful they are really scared in certain situations and simply will not go when they can do. The examples I am thinking are:

- Going west on San Antonia onto Alma where the merge is actually quite easy if you simply keep going at traffic speed with your blinker on merge into traffic.

- Going through that merge onto Page Mill from South on Park/Page Mill on-ramp.

- Going from Alma South to Page Mill in the underpass, where you have to look behind you and estimate traffic timing at the same time.

Another thing that really bugs me is how annoying some Palo Alto drivers can be. When you are approaching downtown from the far side of Alma going north and closing in on the Embarcadero overpass people seem to always try to pass on the right just be a jerks and make everyone else tense and anxious. I wish they would come up with a fix for that, like putting right turn only signs much earlier, or ticketing people. Maybe a camera or something.

Driving in Palo Alto is already complex, then when you add in the crummy drivers AND the complex signs it doesn't help anything.


3 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 10, 2015 at 1:24 pm

But what if it is clear both ways? In this situation, it would be irrational not to turn left. Just like its usually irrational not to drive in the carpool lane. A lot of laws have no direct cause + effect and can be broken with no consequence... other than paying an extraneous fine.
"No right on red when children are present." What is that supposed to mean?

My point is the signs are not making anyone safer and are just a symptom of a big government that does too much.
Actually, their goal is to make every remaining intersection in this city traversable for cyclists.
They want to make driving as difficult as possible in order to "encourage" people to ride bikes instead.
Even in places where you never see any cyclists... lets spend a ton of cash blow up the roads repave and repaint everything just in case a cyclist might need to come through, once in a blue moon.
Forget anyone who drives a car that needs to be somewhere on time... they're clearly evil.

A law that most people do not obey should not be a law.

But no lets blame all those "terrible drivers" that happen to be anyone but you.


15 people like this
Posted by predictable
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2015 at 1:25 pm

The increasing traffic and safety problems overwhelming the City from the
uncontrolled development are like an avalanche as it rumbles down a
mountain and grows in size and intensity. And the effects of massive
office construction projects underway Downtown are not even felt yet.
This was all predictable, and ignored. The Council had its own agenda.




9 people like this
Posted by Tim Lindholm
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 10, 2015 at 2:07 pm

CrescentParkAnon said >> I was not aware of any statistical problem with turning on those streets that would justify this restriction. [...] ( first they need to prove that there is a problem ).

PAPD data spanning Jan 2011-June 2014 shows a yearly average accident rate for Middlefield and Everett to be 5.6, seemingly the highest in PA, or at least a higher rate than at any intersection in PA given CHP data from 1991-2005. This rate has been accelerating. There were 7 accidents at the intersection in 2013, and at the time residents compiled this data, in July 2014, there had been already been 7 accidents there.


5 people like this
Posted by pedestrian
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 10, 2015 at 2:10 pm

Car drivers love to blame pedestrians when they get hit by cars, but we all know who the real road terrorists are.


2 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2015 at 2:32 pm

@predictable

I'll be sure to use that excuse if I ever get a ticket on Middlefield...
"It's not my fault! I had no choice because of the uncontrolled development!"


17 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 10, 2015 at 2:38 pm

I totally agree with I Second That and notatraffic expert. The traffic on Middlefield, esp. northbound, has gotten much worse in the last few weeks, with it often backed up almost to Oregon. Getting out of the driveway near Embcaracedro aftre 4:30 is perilous.

The new Dumbarton Express Buses are now on Middlefield to avoid the `101 mess. While regular card rivers will yield to let you back out of your driveway since they're stuck at the Embarcadero light anyway, the bus drivers NEVER will.

Disgusted drivers not used to these backups are making U-turns in the middle of Middlefield and heading off onto any residential street they can find. Accidents just WAITING to happen.

So to repeat in the hopes that someone will again allow right turns at Willow to eliminate the backups all the way to Oregon:


"notatrafficexper" is right on the money:

(1) A large part of the problem on Middlefield has been the decision to prohibit right-turn-on-red at the big intersection of Middlefield and Willow. This significantly increases congestion on Middlefield during the evening rush hour northbound. Were there ever an intersection where right-on-red made sense, it would be this one. Who on earth made this terrible decision, and why?

This sign was added a few months back and it is the primary cause that things have gotten so bad recently. I wrote to the Menlo Park staff people back when it first went in but nothing has changed. I think they installed the no right turn on red to basically meter the traffic coming from Palo Alto down Willow to 101 and 84. This is pass through traffic from Palo Alto so with this new sign, preference is given to motorists coming from within Menlo Park and pass-through motorists from Palo Alto be damned!


2 people like this
Posted by ambiguous
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 10, 2015 at 2:55 pm

Of course they are ignoring the sign. It's ambiguous, as I have stated on nextdoor.com before. A simple NO LEFT OR STRAIGHT DURING COMMUTE HOURS would have been much clearer. And actually, I think it is only the left turns onto Middlefield that are the problematic ones; going straight across Middlefield on Everett is much more rare. So, the signs could be even simpler. And for the first few weeks, station a police car across Middlefield on Everett.


6 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 10, 2015 at 3:34 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@ambiguous - the signs are not ambiguous. People turn left because they ignore the signs, or they may be used to turning left there so they are blind to them. But there is no interpretation of the signs other than, right turn only during the posted hours.

Maybe this will clear up a bit in three years after the 101 construction is complete?


2 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Forward
a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2015 at 4:43 pm

More offices and housing units are needed.


12 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 10, 2015 at 5:00 pm

The new NO-right-turn-on-red sign at the intersection of Middlefield and Willow has created a traffic nightmare!!! Menlo Park should remove it; this sign has created the traffic that backs up to University Ave. Ridiculous!!!


4 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2015 at 5:23 pm

Too many commuters on Middlefield. So put in turning restrictions (there's no through traffic on those streets) and fine residents for getting in and out of their neighborhoods. Thank you, city staff!


2 people like this
Posted by ambiguous
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 10, 2015 at 5:57 pm

@Slowdown, indeed, the sign *is* ambiguous. It can easily be read as Only Turn Right During Commute Hours, Otherwise, Turning Right Is Not Allowed, with no reference to left or straight. This is why, in general, direction restriction signs tell you what not to do, instead of what to do.


4 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 10, 2015 at 6:30 pm

While the city certainly spends a lot of money on consultants, they never seem to contract an actual designer when it comes to signage.

My top-of-the-head recommendation...

Use a large light-able sign showing the red circle / slash "do not" symbol superimposed over a white left-pointing arrow. No text is necessary. (These signs already appear around town.)


Automatically turn on the light during the hours when left-turns are forbidden. (Technology!)

Automatically turn off the light when left turns are permitted. (Technology!)

If the sign is still not sufficiently salient to drivers, consider slowly blinking when activated.

Note. The sign of this variety already on the streets seems to be a mosaic of smaller LED (?) lights. When the LEDs are on, they are very bright. When the LEDs are off, it's just a black square. It's tacky, but presumably off-the-shelf.


1 person likes this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 10, 2015 at 6:52 pm

> I was unaware of any statistical …

A few years back I compiled the following list of accidents, by intersection, here in Palo Alto:

Web Link

This data stops at 2009, so it’s a bit out-of-date. At the time, Middlefield/Hamilton seemed to exhibit the highest number of accidents per year.

This data is available from the CHP, so anyone can download the raw data and make their own lists. But, so could the City (either police/traffic/both), and post this information on the City’s web-site, or on its opendata webpage.

There is a lot of information generated by the City that never seems to see much in the way of public distribution. Hard to believe that this Council will do much to change that, even though they promised that they would.


Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 10, 2015 at 6:56 pm

>> Tim Lindholm a resident of Downtown North
>> CrescentParkAnon said I was not aware of any statistical problem with turning on those
>> streets that would justify this restriction. [...] ( first they need to prove that there is a problem ).

> PAPD data spanning Jan 2011-June 2014 shows a yearly average accident rate for Middlefield
> and Everett to be 5.6, seemingly the highest in PA, or at least a higher rate than at any
> intersection in PA given CHP data from 1991-2005. This rate has been accelerating. There were
> 7 accidents at the intersection in 2013, and at the time residents compiled this data, in July 2014,
> there had been already been 7 accidents there.

Tim, thanks for the information. Do you know if they go by just accident frequency and not the
actual outcome of the accident, as in injuries or fatalities?

If there was a problem I would have guessed it would have been at the California left turn towards
Midtown. That is the one that always drives me crazy.

It seems to me that it would make sense to put a traffic light somewhere along that section of
Middlefield to enable those who want to make those left turns to go to some place where they
do not have to take their lives in their hands, and not rely on people following those signs.

If I wanted to make a left turn around there I would just find another street to do it on, and then
that one will have the same problem. Guess we will find out.


6 people like this
Posted by predictable
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2015 at 8:07 pm

@Abitarian
"While the city certainly spends a lot of money on consultants,they never
seem to contract an actual designer when it comes to signage". Let me
add crosswalks as well. And the streetscapes look like it. The city is
in desperate need of a landscape architect.


Like this comment
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 10, 2015 at 8:17 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@ ambiguous - you are right, it could be construed that way, but I don't think people are misunderstanding, they just don't want to be stuck going the wrong direction on Middlefield. It would be more clear if it was a "No Left or straight between x hours" sign.


2 people like this
Posted by ambiguous
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 10, 2015 at 9:10 pm

@Slow Down: Absolutely. A simple, small, common graphic with a circle and a slash through an arrow pointing straight and one pointing left would work just fine. I've certainly seen a similar sign disallowing a combination u-turn/left turn, so it is certainly feasible.

@Abitarian: Sure, what you suggest would work, but remember, the larger and more complicated a project is (and lit signs based on time is certainly more complicated than a statically painted sign), the more likely that it will grow out of budget and never get done.

This city seems to do significant changes to neighborhoods in a vacuum. The Downtown North RPP parking fiasco is a great example, where they didn't consider the pricing of the permits to make them less desirable than a city garage, and the fact that their "enforcement" contractor doesn't know how they are going to read the license plates because the cars will be parked too close together. Incredible.


16 people like this
Posted by Neighborhood Logic
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 10, 2015 at 10:57 pm

Two suggestions:
1) Wouldn't much of this problem solved if the traffic lights along Lytton (and for that matter Hamilton) weren't purposely out of sync so badly that they make taking Hawthorne and Everett attractive as short cuts? If it takes 5-7 minutes to drive down Lytton with no traffic and 3 to drive down Everett (and that's roughly right sometimes) - can you blame people for taking the short cut?
Lytton is a commercial street. It is mystifying to me why Palo Alto residents don't push for synchronized lights down both Hamilton and Lytton. It would keep the traffic on those streets and away from residential streets.

2) Menlo Park should prohibit cars driving down Willlow towards Palo Alto from making a left onto Middlefield (and limit cars in the willows to residents only). That would make Middlefield much safer (and would make the Woodland/Middlefield intersection safer). It would drive Palo Alto destined traffic from 101 away from Willow (and out of Menlo Park) onto University and Embarcadero. It would prevent accidents and traffic on Middlefield.

I know there are a bunch of NIMBYs who will object to these two ideas. But they're logical. Especially the first one.


5 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 11, 2015 at 6:21 am

@ N. Logic:

Re: your suggestions about Willow Rd.

Both University Ave and Embarcadero Rd are already bumper to bumper each morning and night. Closing Willow access would be insane. Drivers would go down side streets like Hawthorne and then parade down streets like Palo Alto Ave, Hamilton, Forest, Woodland, etc to get around the grid lock. In fact, that is already happening on Hamilton, Woodland and others. Willow Road is a major link to the Bayfront Expressway (as is University) and the Dumbarton Bridge.


16 people like this
Posted by Neighborhood Logic
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 11, 2015 at 8:17 am

@Crescent Park Dad:
I hear you on that.
Again, though, the reason traffic is so bad on Embarcadero and University (and that short cuts are being taken everywhere along those streets) is that the speed limits and stop lights and other traffic flow devices on those streets are designed to slow traffic to 25mph or less (which is the posted speed limit). Palo Alto intentionally (I assume) pushes the traffic to as slow as possible on those streets. That has the effect of pushing all the drivers off those streets onto side streets. You can blame too many cars if you want but that's not productive. Even when there is zero traffic on University and Embarcadero they can take a very long time to drive down due to the intentionally slow traffic flow design. We simply have too many cars and without mass transit options and high density housing that issue is not going to get better. It will get worse. So...if you're suffering from drivers cutting through side streets the real solution is to make the main streets more attractive to drive on by increasing the traffic flow and speed of traffic on University and Embarcadero.

Willow is a little different. Virtually all the traffic coming down Willow turning left onto Middlefield is cut through traffic itself of drivers going from somewhere else THROUGH Menlo Park into Palo Alto. Menlo Park differs greatly from Palo Alto in its traffic flow management and Willow road (unlike University and Embarcadero) is already maximized for traffic speeds and flows. The reason so much traffic takes Willow is that it is faster to get to Palo Alto from 101 by short cutting through Menlo Park than it is to get to Palo Alto through Palo Alto itself -- again due to the intentionally slow traffic flows down University and Embarcadero (and the reasonable traffic flows down Willow). If you're Menlo Park (put yourself outside your back yard for a minute) and you see that Palo Alto has intentionally diverted traffic down your street that neither starts in nor finishes in Menlo Park - why wouldn't you want to push it back to Palo Alto?

That's besides the point though - my ultimate point is that this article is complaining about traffic accidents and hazards along Middlefield on Everett and Hawthorne. Changing the ability of cut through traffic to get onto Middlefield from Willow would make those intersections much safer and help those residents.

And again, the reason traffic is diverted off of Lytton/Hamilton onto surrounding Everett/Hawthorne and other streets has more to do with how slowly those streets unsynched traffic lights operate than anything else. Why not just fix those lights and optimize traffic flow on those streets? (They are comically out of sync - it's feels like a set up for a candid camera show every time you drive down those streets.)

Why would anyone take a 25 mph residential side street with several slowing obstacles stop signs and turn abouts over a commercial street at 35 mph? Because it is faster to take the short cut. Solution? Make it faster to take the Main Street. (Or in this case just make it normally fast to take the main streets and not comically slow.) Just eliminate the intentionally slow street traffic flow on Hamilton, Lytton, University and Embarcadero and short cutting will get better.

And of course work hard on promoting carpooling, mass transit and walkable high density housing near Caltrain.


15 people like this
Posted by Synergy
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 11, 2015 at 11:22 am

@Neighborhood Logic is right. We can't just blame the drivers when the road and signal systems are so dysfunctional. In every traffic article about Palo Alto, the tendency is to draw these simplistic lines: drivers are all bad, selfish lawbreakers, and bicyclists and pedestrians are all saints. The truth is that this city is overpopulated and not built to handle the modern lifestyle going on here. There are so many small, narrow tree-lined streets with confusing stop sign sequences (4-way, then 2/way, then no right turn if kids are present, etc, etc). Throw in an epidemic of distracted device-addicted drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists (yes, I see bicyclists on cell phones just as often as drivers. Then there are the runners with ear buds who dash around in their own headspace). It's ridiculous and it's not simply a traffic issue. It's a community issue. People in this city seem to want to move about it as if no one else exists around them. Maybe the city should start a campaign called "Situational Awareness, don't leave home without it" (or something to that effect so Amex won't sue).


1 person likes this
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 11, 2015 at 2:28 pm

@Synergy wrote:

"We can't just blame the drivers when the road and signal systems are so dysfunctional."

Sure we can. The solution is to fix the roads and signals, not to ignore laws we don't like. I constantly see motorists rolling stops signs, or simply ignoring them and driving right on through without slowing down one bit. I have even seen them drive right on through red lights. Those drivers know what stop signs and red lights are for and what they should do. Some of them even know what a one-way sign and two way stops signs mean. Palo Alto's road and signal systems might have problems in some places, but it is the out-to-lunch drivers that are dysfunctional. Not that the bicyclists and jaywalking pedestrians are any better. A lot of it is attitude. Folks in Palo Alto seem to view laws as mere suggestions, rules that apply to the hoi polloi, but not to themselves. Ignoring traffic signals and signs is quite dangerous, though. Claiming that a traffic control should not be there doesn't change that one bit.

I agree that the city streets and traffic controls could use upgrading. Improvements on our city streets won't have much beneficial effect if the new traffic controls are routinely disregarded, however.


3 people like this
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 11, 2015 at 2:51 pm

ChrisC is a registered user.

Palymom: the signs at Churchill and Alma are also really confusing. I've got it now. To those posters you keep denegeatung Pali Alto drivers as jerks and entitled, it's not just Palo Alto by any means. This stuff is happening all over our area. People either do not know how to drive or just plain don't care about other people.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 11, 2015 at 5:15 pm

"It is mystifying to me why Palo Alto residents don't push for synchronized lights down both Hamilton and Lytton. It would keep the traffic on those streets and away from residential streets."

Those lights were desynchronized decades ago in a campaign to reduce driving by making it as burdensome as possible. Today their status is considered a hallowed untouchable tradition.

"Menlo Park should prohibit cars driving down Willlow towards Palo Alto from making a left onto Middlefield..."

Dream on. Menlo wants to push those cars into Palo Alto ASAP. Even their knuckleheaded traffic engineers who killed right turns on red onto Willow can anticipate that cars would just turn right onto M'field and then pull a U at Homewood or Ringwood so they point at Palo Alto.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 11, 2015 at 7:14 pm

Which direction should traffic signals be synchronized on Lytton or Hamilton? Synchronized for 25mph? How about one avenue for one direction and the other avenue the other direction? Or reverse the direction between morning and afternoon commutes? Does anyone think it's possible to sync both directions at the same time on a given street?

Synchronizing lights doesn't help if too many drivers are looking for parking, checking their text messages, or otherwise not paying attention.


2 people like this
Posted by I'm glad
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2015 at 10:17 pm

I'glad you folks finally get that car drivers don't follow the rules of the road. ;-)


2 people like this
Posted by Hawthorne Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 11, 2015 at 10:28 pm

First, +1 regarding the comments regarding the no-right-on-red restrictions at the corner of Middlefield and Willow. It seems to only increase backup down Middlefield. Additionally, the ability for cars to turn right onto Willow from the second/middle lane on Middlefield, is awkward. There is less than 100ft for the two lanes to merge, and unless the turners from the dedicated right turning lane are familiar with the intersection and know that cars to their left might also be turning onto Willow, accidents will ensue.

As a Hawthorne resident who commutes up Willow to 101N, I have never seen backup off Hawthorne or any sort of dangerous turning in the morning. (I admit have very little experience with the evening situation as I get home after the restricted hours). I abide by the law, but it is annoying to have to drive 5 blocks out of my way to get to work and I can't imagine that my neighbors on Webster or Byron (where signs are posted about the restrictions) appreciate the additional traffic on their streets. Also, I imagine that the intersections at Webster and Byron at Lytton are messy these days.

I want for drivers not to cut through my neighborhood on their way from/to the 101, but that should be managed by the restrictions of not turning ON to Hawthorne or Everett not off it. Further it is easier to cite scofflaws turning onto Hawthorne rather those turning onto an already busy Middlefield. (I admit to a bit of schadenfreude on my way to work when scofflaws are caught when they ignore the sign on Middlefield restricting turns onto Hawthorne between 7-10 am)




1 person likes this
Posted by JoeM
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 12, 2015 at 10:49 am

I'm guessing that the No Right Turn on Red onto Willow is partly because of the second lane that offers the option to turn right. With so little space to merge (as someone pointed out), it's not much use. The least MPk can do is have a right arrow active while Willow Rd left onto Middlefield is active.

I live on Middlefield right at the narrowing to three lanes at Palo Alto Ave. When will PA, MPk and the counties ever get together and fix that impossible dirt path (poison oak, half-buried lamppost base, busted fence, tree, trash, weeds, impossible for bicyclists), widen Middlefield to four lanes, paint crosswalks and embed flashing lights in the pavement, radar-enforce the speed limit, and synchronize the lights? Why all these band-aids? Do some coordination and planning and get it right.


7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 12, 2015 at 10:58 am

You want Palo Alto to take the lead in synchronizing lights??? How many years have they been working on synchronzing the Town & Country lights? And they haven't even started on the El Camino/Embarcadero light problem?

By the way, isn't our former Transportation director Jaime Rodrodriquez currently consulting on a $3,000,000 project to synchronize ALL the traffic lights in Palo ALto? How's that working out? Any progress to report?


9 people like this
Posted by Neighborhood Logic
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 12, 2015 at 11:06 am

Interesting discussion.

Really it seems clear that Palo Alto intentionally makes traffic on its major arteries in the North (Lytton, University, Hamilton, Embarcadero, etc) difficult and slow to traverse. As a result cars start taking short cuts all over the place (sometimes whether or not they are legally permissible). That short cut behavior is a direct result of the unsynchronized lights, the 25 mph speed limits and the overall comically slow to traverse main arteries.

If one starts with the proposition that the number of cars won't ever be reduced unless a major massive effort is made to increase mass transit (high density housing near Caltrain, burying Caltrain, other similar things) over a long period...one quickly concludes that it will be decades or longer before the number of cars are materially reduced. If you conclude that, and your concern is stopping short-cuts...there's only one way to do it:

Make the major arteries easier to traverse.

I know that is unpopular for many NIMBYs. But for the majority of Palo Altans, that's the right approach. Make it easier to get around the City via the already congested major arteries.

Two unrelated side notes:
The reason Menlo Park made a no right turn on red onto Willow from Northbound Middlefield is that someone was going to get killed at that intersection if they didn't. It simply wasn't safe. Virtually all of the traffic on Northbound Middefield turning right onto Willow is Palo Alto traffic avoiding University because it is too slow. Fix University and Willow won't back up Middlefield.

The reason I suggested (above) making no left turn onto Middlefield from Westbound Willow is this: almost all of that traffic is Palo Alto bound traffic taking a short cut from 101 to Palo Alto by going down Willow through Menlo Park. If Menlo Park made that turn illegal (and prohibited and enforced no thru traffic in the Willows), it would cause those cars to go down University and Embarcadero, avoiding short cuts down Everett and Hawthorne to Alma. That I think would force Palo Alto to deal with its traffic problems instead of constantly pushing them off onto neighboring streets, communities and cities.


10 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2015 at 11:55 am

I mostly agree with N. Logic. Our current city council is on a holy crusade to fight the scourge of single-occupant vehicles by making driving difficult and tedious. It's why we're seeing ugly green lanes and pictures of bicycles. Because this will make people who need to drive to work suddenly want to ride a bike. Backwards thinking at its finest.

No money should be spent on "improving mass transit". The good citizens of Palo Alto will not give up driving their Audi's and Tesla's to crowd into the back of a shuttle with vagrants and strangers. I know I wouldn't. The privacy and efficiency of driving one's own vehicle is an essential part of our quality of life. Government initiatives to coerce us to do otherwise smells like communism.

And cycling is more of a sporting/leisurely activity, not a substitute for driving a car.


2 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jul 12, 2015 at 12:13 pm

[Post removed.]


20 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 12, 2015 at 12:13 pm

Totally agree that the city's done an excellent job of making driving difficult and tedious. I'd add frustrating and dangerous because people are doing anything possible to avoid the gridlock: forming their own lanes, u-turns in the middle of the street, roaring around someone daring to yield to let someone through to avoid backups in the other lane...

I suspect the reason all the bus windows are blacked out is so you can't see how few passengers they actually have. From my second floor window, I can sometimes see into the buses and they're usually empty.

I used to welcome summer vacation because I had a shot at backing out of my driveway without scheduling it around school hours but that's a thing of the past. I dread thinking how much worse it will be when the Mommy School Shuttles start up again to compete with the ever-increasing commuter traffic and those trying to avoid 101 for the next 2 or 3 years.

If that new panel ignores traffic in their push for more high-density housing and more offices which require more houses, we're really in trouble.

Great job, Palo Alto.


10 people like this
Posted by No problem
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 12, 2015 at 12:50 pm

PA FORWARD has the solution:

1. Build still more density downtown.

2. Everyone will ride a bike and take the train.

Problem solved. (right)


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 12, 2015 at 5:37 pm

"2. Everyone will ride a bike and take the train.

Problem solved. (right)"


That was the promise when the city council desynched the lights and installed a raft of stop signs in the 1970s. Everybody will just give up driving, and instead they'll ...

Likewise when later city councils permitted underparked business developments. Everyone knew that, if people can't park where they work, they won't drive their cars to work.


7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 12, 2015 at 10:33 pm

Are you saying the city INTENTIONALLY dysynched the lights, the lights we've been complaining about for years and years and years?

And that we're now spending $3,000,000 for our former traffic czar to resynch all the lights?

(Not that I have high hopes that anything will get resynched given the pathetic track record to date! Maybe the can start pumping tranquilizers into our water supply so we won't care about the absurdity and/or the years of agita and wasted time and gas taking detours!)


4 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Jul 13, 2015 at 6:43 am

Isn't much of this traffic those getting to/from Stanford University?


2 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 13, 2015 at 8:44 am

SteveU is a registered user.

I suspect the Stanford Hospital and Children's Hospital account for a lot of trips.
Isn't there a very big shopping center there also?


4 people like this
Posted by Old timer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 13, 2015 at 10:29 am

I seem to remember in the 1980s a lot of discussions about deliberately desynchronizing the lights so that Palo Alto would have less traffic. I guess the theory was that people would get frustrated and find routes that took them through Mountain View or Menlo Park instead. We can see how well that's worked out.

No one seems to be giving any thought to how to move ever-increasing numbers of vehicles through town, and Middlefield is going to get much worse very soon thanks to new and huge developments on El Camino in Menlo Park. The right-turn prohibition is a bandaid solution, and we're going to be seeing a lot more of those, along with worsening traffic, over the next few years, or until self-driving cars take over the roads.


4 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 13, 2015 at 10:50 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@SteveU - Last I read, a little over 11,000 people commute to the just Stanford campus every day, not counting the shopping center or businesses to the south.


4 people like this
Posted by Onlihne Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 13, 2015 at 11:25 am

But, but ..... we're constantly told that Stanford commuters won't have the slightest impact on Palo Alto traffic. They even poll us to see how convincing their arguments to that effect are.

And the city in turn responds by holding up traffic improvements by waiting very very patiently for Stanford's "input" before fixing -- sorry -- planning -- the Embarcadero/El Camino mess.


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Posted by Karen Marincovich
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 13, 2015 at 2:11 pm

Wow; the neighborhoods are really weighing in, and I compliment those with so many worthwhile suggestions while also stating the failings. We are inundated with all the signs; I see more and more of them, and you worry whether you're
catching all of them or if you miss one will you be next in line for a ticket.
Talk about 'fix-it' tickets, no more are the days when you just signed off on
a failing car part you had no idea was needing to be remedied. Now 'greed' is
on the table. The court now requires $25.00 for 'processing' as they call it,
even though you are signed off. If the police dept. wasn't forced into system
entry, nothing would be 'processed' and this ridiculous fee wouldn't exist!
Let's talk ugly - why are the rounds at Fulton & Lytton/Addison & Bryant with landscape, and the others farther north are left looking so barren?


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

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