Trying to unknot the traffic snarls on the western end of Embarcadero Road while satisfying the myriad interests of pedestrians, drivers, bicyclists, students, transportation agencies and retail businesses, the City of Palo Alto convened its first public meeting Tuesday night on improving the busy corridor and making it safer.
Although sparsely attended, the meeting at Palo Alto High School drew a cluster of people who perhaps know the corridor best: residents who live along the road, bearing daily witness to dangerous conditions and competing to get out of their driveways.
Residents' concerns ranged from students who ignore traffic signals to the timing of signals, the traffic congestion, the noise from cars driving over joints in the cement-slab pavement, and the din inside the tunnel below the Caltrain overpass.
"An echo chamber of doom," one resident called it.
Callander Associates consultant Brian Fletcher told about a dozen residents that consulting teams were beginning the road-improvement process without any preconceived notions. The purpose of the first meeting was to learn about what the public needs from the corridor, which runs from El Camino Real past U.S. Highway 101. The project will specifically cover the stretch from El Camino to High Street.
The city recently synchronized two sets of traffic signals at Embarcadero and Town & Country Village, which automatically adjust to traffic volume. That change constituted Phase 1 of the two-part process. The Dec. 8 meeting kicked off Phase 2.
The corridor presents numerous challenges, particularly where traffic turns at El Camino Real and where traffic intersects with Town & Country Village Shopping Center and Palo Alto High School. But there are also less noticeable are problems, such as the dangers drivers face trying to get onto Embarcadero on the east side of the Caltrain overpass, and there could be new traffic problems when Paly's new, 582-seat performing arts center opens in April 2016.
An initial traffic survey by Hexagon Transportation Consultants did not include those potential traffic problems, nor did it look at traffic speeds. Those two requests by residents were duly noted Tuesday for study.
The current traffic study includes traffic counts to and from El Camino Real, in and out of Town & Country onto Embarcadero and exiting and entering Paly from Embarcadero, and pedestrian and bicycle movements and volumes.
The chart below shows the most significant traffic numbers and movements onto and from Embarcadero Road at the intersection of Palo Alto High School and Town & Country during peak commute hours and when school lets out. The traffic survey does not show any counts or flows for the lunch hour, when many students are crossing the busy roadway:
Westbound into Town & Country: 228 vehicles
Westbound from Town & Country: 75
Westbound into Paly: 134
Westbound to El Camino Real: 654
Eastbound into Town & Country: 33
Eastbound from Town & Country: 112
Eastbound from Paly: 114
Eastbound toward High St.: 546
Westbound into Town & Country: 167
Westbound from Town & Country: 119
Westbound into Paly: 27
Westbound to El Camino Real: 669
Eastbound into Town & Country: 71
Eastbound from Town & Country: 208
Eastbound from Paly: 46
Eastbound toward High St.: 741
Westbound into Town & Country: 178
Westbound from Town & Country: 108
Westbound into Paly: 64
Westbound to El Camino Real: 566
Eastbound into Town & Country: 112
Eastbound from Town & Country: 212
Eastbound from Paly: 43
Eastbound toward High St.: 829
At the pedestrian island at El Camino Real and Embarcadero, pedestrians and bicyclists must contend with 137 vehicles per hour in the morning; 229 per hour between 3 and 4 p.m. when school lets out; and 289 per hour in the evening -- all making a right turn onto Embarcadero.
These traffic numbers are not considered excessive for the area, however, Gary Black, president of Hexagon, said. The slowdowns are due to impediments, including driver indecision and lane changes, he said.
The project design will look at places for public transportation stops, bike lanes or sharrows, and study where people naturally want to go, such as a makeshift path currently being etched into an embankment by Paly students returning to campus.
Roberto Peon, a resident lives on the westbound side of Embarcadero, said that the traffic during Stanford football home games becomes frustrating and dangerous -- and prevents him from getting into or out of his own driveway.
Police make all traffic travel westbound at the end of the games, which makes it impossible for him to get home. His car has been struck twice as he exited his driveway, he said.
But kids on bikes have been the real danger, he said.
"I have had to get out of my car to tell them to stop so I can get out," he said.
An additional public concept meeting will be scheduled for winter 2016, with a refined design meeting in spring 2016. The City Council will review the design in two sessions, in spring and summer 2016. After an environmental review is conducted, the final design will go to the council for approval in the fall or winter of 2016, according to staff.