News

Palo Alto nears completion on fixing Embarcadero traffic signals

New system aims to better coordinate lights, relieve jams

Responding to complaints from frustrated commuters, Palo Alto is in the midst of replacing and coordinating the traffic lights on Embarcadero Road, next to Palo Alto High School and Town & Country Village.

The project aims to address one of the city's most significant and persistent traffic snarls. But what makes this location different from other heavily congested corridors is the preponderance of traffic signals already at the site.

Currently, commuters heading east from El Camino Real have to navigate past three traffic lights all within 750 feet of each other: the light at El Camino and Embarcadero, the one near the Paly driveway and a third one near Trader Joe's.

People have complained for years about there being too many signals and the signals' poor coordination. The one on El Camino is operated by the state Department of Transportation while the other two, despite their proximity, operate independent of each other, according to a February report from the Palo Alto Department of Planning and Community Environment. During busy commute hours, the chain of lights often leaves cars lingering for five to 10 minutes between the school and the Stanford University campus.

To address the problems, the city analyzed alternatives and signed a $275,000 contract (which includes a $25,000 contingency budget) in February with the firm St. Francis Electric to make the needed fixes.

Now, instead of two separate systems controlling the Town & Country and Palo Alto High School signals, there will be one.

In addition, the traffic signal at the shopping-center exit near Trader Joe's, which currently directs when cars at the exit can turn right onto Embarcadero, will be removed. A stop sign will be installed, and cars exiting there will turn right when safe.

An existing crosswalk across Embarcadero, also at the Trader Joe's exit, will remain. Pedestrians will be able to signal that they're waiting to cross, and the newly synchronized signals at the Town & Country and Paly exits will halt the necessary traffic so that walkers and bicyclists can cross Embarcadero.

Additional problems that have been caused by poor roadway planning will be addressed by restriping. Among them, a portion of Embarcadero will be restriped to create a wider turning radius for cars exiting the Paly driveway and heading east on Embarcadero.

The work to synchronize the traffic signals has already caused some driving disruptions as contractors replaced the traffic poles, with some commuters reporting longer-than-usual delays on Embarcadero. More commuting hiccups are sure to come in the weeks ahead, as the new electronic equipment installed and the re-striping commences. This will mean shifts in lanes and sidewalk detours, according to the city.

Holly Boyd, senior engineer in the Public Works Department, said it will take about a day to install the new traffic-signal controller, the computer that contains the electronic equipment needed to operate the lights. During that day, the traffic signals will be turned off and temporarily replaced with stop signs. Boyd said the city is still working with St. Francis Electric to pin down the time when this work would be done to minimize disruptions.

The city plans to complete the project by mid-August and to have the new synchronized lights up and running before Aug. 17, the first day of the new school year.

"We want to be done with this before school starts," Boyd said.

Comments

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2015 at 9:58 am

This is about time and hopefully it will be finished before school.

I see no mention of what is being done about the entrance/exit on ECR near where Scotts used to be.

For SB traffic, this is an accident waiting to happen as SB turning traffic for both T & C as well as Embarcadero get confused as well as traffic merging from T & C.

IMO this entrance/exit should be for NB ECR only. The cut through for SB traffic should be blocked off.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2015 at 9:59 am

P.S. What's the difference between Around Town and Palo Alto Issues? I have posted this in Around Town, not sure if this is correct.


24 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 29, 2015 at 10:09 am

A study in FEBRUARY?? Of this year? The city responding to "frustrated commuters"??? What about frustrated RESIDENTS?

News flash: the problem has existed ALL day long, not just during commute hours.

When we the residents -- not just commuters -- have been complaining for years and years? When article after article appeared in the press over the years saying "change was imminent" and when city council members, esp. former Mayor Shepherd, campaigned on how change was coming

So now the contract is for $275,000, yet Jaime's 2 RFP's last December were for $85,000, the proposals I called "shovelware" since they contained NO project description and were simply boilerplate about working with the city.

Mr. Keene's praised him to the sky and gave him a multi-million dollar contract to coordinate ALL the city's traffic lights. In what world does that make sense?

Incredible. I await the the project completion with interest.


1 person likes this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 29, 2015 at 10:30 am

@Resident:

I think "Palo Alto issues" means "Problems and Issues in the city of Palo Alto," like bad traffic signal timing or decisions by the Architectural Review Board.

"Around Town" seems to be an open bucket for subjects that aren't specifically problems or issues, like a new ice cream parlor or nail salon.


2 people like this
Posted by realist
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2015 at 10:37 am

Is there a landscape architect involved in this project, otherwise
expect hideous outcome once again at a key focal point in the City.
Meanwhile the whole corridor is being overwhelmed with commute and resident
traffic, at higher speeds, more dangerous,I barely avoided an accident
myself the other day. The circulation around the Shell station at Bayshore
and Edgewood is very dangerous.The ECR/T&C debacle needs improvement
but on balance expect things to keep getting worse in Palo Alto- that's the
course we're on.


16 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 29, 2015 at 10:54 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

So, it sounds like they are going to sync the two lights by the entrance to T&C and Paly, but they won't be synced with the main signal at El Camino? As @Resident points out, southbound El Camino traffic turning left onto Embarcadero backs up badly creating traffic. Westbound Embarcadero traffic turning south on El Camino sometimes backs up all the way to the Paly entrance, blocking one lane. Unless all three signals are in sync, there will still be problems, especially at rush hour. But any improvements will be nice.


5 people like this
Posted by labarbe
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 29, 2015 at 11:00 am

Off topic, but an opening to ask about the light at Chaucer and University. The wait for green coming from Chaucer seems forever, regardless of conditions on University. Who controls that one? (And who do I ask....Mr Roadshow?)


8 people like this
Posted by long time resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 29, 2015 at 11:06 am

The section of Embarcadero Road near T & C is a disaster, as many have commented. The street was not made to accomodate as many cars as are now on the road. The days of zipping up to T & C and Stanford are long gone. It's terrible to drive there at any time of day. I do not know what can be done to make access easier at this point. Hopefully we will not end up like New York city.


21 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 29, 2015 at 11:12 am

Slow Down is exactly right.

Even on the rare occasions when both Embarcadero lights are green, traffic STILL doesn't move because of the backups FOR El Camino. The turn lane for El Camino South clogs the T&C intersection and prevents drivers from getting into the through center lane. Cars trying to exit T&C to get to ECR -- north or south -- can't even get through the intersection.

Embarcadero has been backed up past Middlefield and as far as Newell in NON-commute hours -- and that's before school starts up again.

Guess the city is still seeking "input" from Stanford and the state. How's THAT going? Any progress to report from all the years of "input-seeking" from "major stakeholders"?


15 people like this
Posted by ummmm
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 29, 2015 at 11:36 am

driving to (and from) T&C is just awful. I don't know why parking there is is difficult when it's impossible to get in to out of T&C with any logical and safe manner. That light at TJ exiting on to Embarcadero is confusing and ALWAYS red and it's not as if there was another light or lines to keep the area clear for merging cars onto Embarcadero. What was it's point? Trying to get onto ECR from the traderjoes exit is a complete shambles. I've exited by the old Scotts and then u turned at PAMF to get going the right direction. Am I the only one who doesn't understand how to get out to T&C ?


24 people like this
Posted by Unbelievable
a resident of University South
on Jul 29, 2015 at 11:39 am

173' from the pedestrian crosswalk between Paly and T&C is a completely safe and wide path on the overpass bridge next to the Caltrain track. Using this obvious path would have eliminated the crosswalk across Embarcadero, greatly reduced pedestrian risk, removed a $250,000 traffic light and all the synchronization to come. It would also have eliminated delays, delays, delays.

Taking this free advice would also have eliminated the consultant ($275,000 plus $25,000 contingent fee) recommended by City staff which Council voted for.

How is it the Palo Alto frequently fails to see the obvious? Unbelievable.


20 people like this
Posted by jean
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 29, 2015 at 11:50 am

I wish there were no student crosswalk across Embarcadero at Paly. There IS a crosswalk along the RR tracks and is a nice path there. But if Mr. Arrilaga has any money left over, he could build a bridge and we'll name it for him. And if there is the same crosswalk and light kept at Paly/TC, it shouldn't be operable late at night or during the night or on weekends or non school hours. I've come home at midnight and later from Stanford Hospital due to family emergencies, I'm the only one on the road any place, and the Paly light still is red.


38 people like this
Posted by Yeah, right
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2015 at 12:13 pm

After nearly seven years of lies and stalling, I'll believe this when I see it......

Better yet, as aforementioned, REMOVE the unnecessary light for Paly-- there are two other options for the students.


16 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 29, 2015 at 12:20 pm

While they're at it, they should fix the timing of the lights on Oregon Expressway. Since the lights were replaced, the timing is terrible. As an example, Bryant Street at Oregon....all cars stopped 4 ways with no movement east/west or north/south for what seems like forever. Traffic heading east toward 101 backed up to El Camino at 2 in the afternoon (I understand some of this may be due to construction on 101 and Oregon/Embarcadero), but c'mon.


7 people like this
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 29, 2015 at 12:38 pm

Maintaining the pedestrian crossing is appropriate for bike and pedestrians.

I am pleased that the signal project maintains that pedestrian crossing signal. Currently there is no way to cross Embarcadero from the Town&Country side to the Paly side and proceed to the Alma underpass. Sending bike/peds on the bridge in lieu of the crosswalk now directs them into the Paly campus and not to the sidewalk. As such the bridge only serves Paly, not the balance of our community.

Our drivers are quick to put impediments into bike and pedestrians so they might enjoy less congestion. The proper longer term view is to remove barriers to bike and pedestrians so that those that are able will shift to alternative transportation modes, and allow the vehicle traffic on Embarcadero to diminish.


1 person likes this
Posted by Frustrated Driver
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 29, 2015 at 1:19 pm

Why can't we revert to the way it was before the City installed a third traffic light. Answer: because the Paly students must have a light to cross Embacardero to get to T & C. They were incapable of walking a block to cross Embacardero at one of the two existing traffic lights. Its all about keeping the kids safe!!!


8 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 29, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Man, this has been a long haul to get an obvious, constant problem (hopefully) corrected. It shouldn't have been set up like this, even though the way-old-timey roadway needed some sort of improvement/upgrade from 1933 or whenever it was initially arranged, what they did was WORSE!. This "fix?" should have been a priority for City of Palo Alto. All these extra costs that come along as a result of the poor arrangement are an added insult to us taxpayers.


3 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Forward
a resident of another community
on Jul 29, 2015 at 2:49 pm

"The days of zipping up to T & C and Stanford are long gone. It's terrible to drive there at any time of day. I do not know what can be done to make access easier at this point."

Build more offices and housing.


9 people like this
Posted by Rob
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 29, 2015 at 3:05 pm

[Post removed due to inaccurate assertions.]


8 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 29, 2015 at 3:37 pm

[Post removed due to inaccurate information.]


13 people like this
Posted by t&C
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 29, 2015 at 3:54 pm

I also think the engineers who redid the parking at T & C should be fired. That parking lot is so dangerous there but Mayfield and Peets.


10 people like this
Posted by Perspectives
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2015 at 5:21 pm

Perspectives is a registered user.

What are they planning to do about the mixing bowl mess once you enter the T&C parking lot there at Embarcadero? Doesn't look like that's part of any plan. How is even legal to have all of those arteries vying aimlessly for right of way without stop signs or clearer traffic directions? In s town where "cutting edge" is so touted, I can't understand why the city can't get on top of this now-years-long problem.


12 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 29, 2015 at 6:10 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Unbelievable - It would have been an easy, cheap test to just turn off the pedestrian crosswalk light for a couple weeks while school was out to see if syncing the lights would even have any real impact without addressing the El Camino light.

@Perspectives - the traffic flow in the T&C parking lot has nothing to do with the city, it is a private shopping center. But feel free to call or email the management: Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 29, 2015 at 6:51 pm

...and all it cost was $275,000.


9 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 29, 2015 at 7:02 pm

[Post removed. Your assertions regarding the amount of Rodriguez' contract are not accurate.]


10 people like this
Posted by DoNotNeedThePedLight
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Jul 29, 2015 at 10:49 pm

The pedestrian light should be removed. Paly students and other pedestrians should be directed to the existing overpass near the train tracks. OR to the existing light and ped crossing at El Camino. The other one is REDUNDANT and is a major cause of the problems.
If there are problems for non paly students, i.e. no clear walkway towards El Camino on the Paly side, then let's fix that. It would have to be a lot less than we are going to spend keeping and synchronizing an UNNECESSARY pedestrian light.


6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 29, 2015 at 11:53 pm

[Post removed.]


9 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 30, 2015 at 7:12 am

The Paly ped crossing pre-exists the TC light by more than 20 years. It only became a problem when the TC lights were installed (improperly) and the traffic levels increased dramatically.

If the Paly light and the TC light are synced, that should make a huge difference. Part of the issue is the instant on demand priority that the Paly crossing currently receives. I would expect that with the synchronization, that the crossing will be "normalized" and should lessen the random chaos now imposed upon the intersection at all hours.


1 person likes this
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 31, 2015 at 5:12 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

...the easiest way to get to T&C from east of ECR is by bike. There is a nice walking/bike path from Churchill past Paly to a path over Embarcadero to TJ's and the rest of T&C. The path extends toward downtown to the track's underpass at Homer, and beyond to the Caltrain station. In addition, from Bryant Bike Blvd, a turn on Kingsley takes you to the underpass and easy access to T&C. The light and crosswalk are not needed, just fence off the access so pedestrians have to go via the overpass.
I hardly ever drive to T&C, as so many have pointed out, it's crazy!


3 people like this
Posted by Tom DuBois
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2015 at 4:48 pm

Tom DuBois is a registered user.

While it took far (far) longer than anyone wanted, I believe the new light synchronization work was completed before school started at Paly. How are the changes? Has anyone noticed? Is this stretch of Embarcadero working better for people now?




7 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 17, 2015 at 4:56 pm

Tom: There seems to be a pause when no cars are moving. The auto detection isn't working well.


7 people like this
Posted by Yeah, Right
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2015 at 5:44 pm

Something hasn't been done correctly, because I have yet to notice a difference. Due to the fact that I work at Stanford, I go that way daily.


4 people like this
Posted by Bob Strohecker
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 17, 2015 at 5:57 pm

I,too, have not noticed any change except for a period of time all four directions at the T&C entrance area were all stopped. Also, traffic wanting to go East on Embarcadero is backed up to El Camino starting in the late afternoon. As a consequence, the left turners from El Camino cannot proceed when they have the arrow.


3 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 17, 2015 at 7:15 pm

The long delays when NO cars are moving is still irritating. The backups continue, The new timing at Newell and Embarcadero that only lets 2 cars through is contributing to the backup because it effectively makes Embarcadero one through lane instead of two.


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

El Camino: Another scheme to increase congestion?
By Douglas Moran | 23 comments | 2,576 views

Trials of My Grandmother
By Aldis Petriceks | 2 comments | 1,177 views

Lakes and Larders (part 2)
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 930 views