News

Palo Alto seeks to make 'waves' with traffic lights

City plans to roll out time-of-day signals, adaptive technologies

Seeking to create a more efficient ride for local drivers and bicyclists, Palo Alto plans to reprogram traffic lights along several major streets.

The new effort will roll out on major segments of Embarcadero Road, Bryant Street, University Avenue and San Antonio Road.

The most immediate change, according to the city, will take place along Embarcadero, between Bryant and Geng Road. The traffic signals along that segment will be reprogrammed from a "continuous loop" to a time-of-day system, with different timing loops operating at different hours, based on expected traffic flow.

"As the new timing is rolled out, City staff will be making adjustments in the field to ensure that the new programming is operating as efficiently as possible," the city's announcement stated.

A different type of adjustment will be made along San Antonio between East Charleston and Nita Avenue, as well as at the intersection of East Charleston and Fabian Way. Here, the city plans to install SynchroGreen software, which allows traffic signals to adapt automatically in real time based on traffic flow. The software has been used on Sand Hill Road since 2014, when the busy artery became the city's first corridor with adaptive signal timing.

Installing the new software on San Antonio will cost the city about $206,000, an expenditure that the City Council authorized last June when it approved a contract with the firm Trafficware, developer of SynchroGreen.

While the San Antonio traffic changes cater to all modes of transportation, the signal modifications that the city plans to make along Bryant and University would favor bicyclists. On both streets, the city plans to roll out "green waves," which will allow bicyclists to go through a series of green lights without stopping. According to the city, the signals will be timed to accommodate a traveling speed of 12 mph.

In addition, city officials plan to address later this summer the chronically frustrating intersection of El Camino Real and Embarcadero, which requires commuters traveling east to cross three traffic signals in close succession.

Because the El Camino intersection is operated by the California Department of Transportation, it follows its own timing plan and is not currently coordinated with nearby lights. However, city officials announced this week that they plan to install a new communication device at the traffic signal near Town & Country Village and Palo Alto High School that will allow the signal to run in coordination with the signal on El Camino.

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Comments

10 people like this
Posted by Exec
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jul 26, 2016 at 9:39 am

Engineers, you have ONE job...


30 people like this
Posted by BikesSmikes
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 26, 2016 at 10:34 am

Since when to bicyclists pay any attention to lights? The "green wave" will just bollix up the car traffic.


21 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 26, 2016 at 10:46 am

Why can't we have roundabouts that work for all! They reduce emissions, traffic and time.... no excuse not do it. However build them properly and remove the stop signs! It's time for people to learn how to drive once again


9 people like this
Posted by labarbe
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 26, 2016 at 10:50 am

Hallelujah. 30 years ago I tried suggesting "green wave" but was told by the traffic folks that it couldn't be done, especially with pedestrian cycles. Yikes. New York City and Sao Paulo Brazil have had green wave for at least 50 years. My idea at the time was to make Hamilton and Lytton "effectively" one way by making each one green wave in one direction, after the failed experiment to make them actually one way.


7 people like this
Posted by Nick
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 26, 2016 at 11:00 am

It's great that the City will look at the intersection of El Camino and Embarcadero, but the City should also look at the intersection of University Avenue and Woodland Avenue, where, every day, from 3 to 7 pm the traffic seems to inch along, at a very slow pace, with only a few cars making it through the light from Palo Alto toward 101 before the light changes to red again. This will be difficult to address, since the intersection probably involves Menlo Park as well as East Palo Alto, including the light closest to 101, but it seems that if the lights were better coordinated and allowed for more cars to pass with each light change, traffic would move a lot better.


24 people like this
Posted by RPH
a resident of another community
on Jul 26, 2016 at 11:17 am

I don't live in the area anymore, but it's taken THIS long to determine there's a problem that needs to be addressed? The ridiculousness of not having timed, smart traffic lights is such a basic necessity because it moves traffic, prevents cars from blocking intersections and reduces pollution/increases fuel efficiency. If you go to Manhattan and drive on 3rd avenue at a certain, reasonable speed, you can drive for miles without stopping. This is what timed lights can provide and it's been like that for decades. Now with advanced sensors and technology, the experience should be that much better. I remember how driving on San Antonio from the 101 to El Camino could sometimes take 20 minutes or more to go 2.5 miles. Every intersection's traffic light would turn red along the way. I could not help but think that I lived in the most technologically advanced place in the world but that the simplest of issues could not be reasonably addressed.


19 people like this
Posted by Finally...
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 26, 2016 at 11:19 am

... arriving in the 20th century - his has been around in Europe for decades. So, if implemented, we will only be lagging behind by one century...


33 people like this
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 26, 2016 at 11:20 am

GREAT, JUST GREAT! Ridiculous!
More bikes that can think they are cars...Now we have to deal with lights that change because of them! UUUUGGGHHH!!
I ride my bike and love it. But I follow BIKE rules. Use BIKE lanes and and curb cut-outs that were MADE FOR BIKES!
I can't stand bike riders that are in front of me at a left turn lane holding up a WHOLE LINE of CARS trying to turn. They think they can go 25 or 30 from standing still like a car??! All they do is become a "Road Boulder" (thanks Mr. Roadshow for that term-it fits)!


18 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 26, 2016 at 11:21 am

Pretty wacky that the title of this article says "green wave", but only the very last paragraph has anything to do with "green wave". The rest of the story is about standard red light controls and hoping that car drivers obey the red lights.


17 people like this
Posted by Here we go again
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 26, 2016 at 11:37 am

As a regular driver through this intersection during commute times, I now assume that I will have to stop for three traffic signals in 500 feet. So I was astonished to see that this issue is still alive! See the articles below, which promised a "solution" to the TC/Paly/pedestrian traffic light fiasco. I think that a number of the players at that time may be gone, so that could explain why nothing happened (!?!).

Web Link
Web Link


12 people like this
Posted by Middlefield Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 26, 2016 at 12:12 pm

The traffic light at Middlefield and Melville is timed to trigger relatively instantly for cars on Melville. It doesn't matter if only three or four cars got through the previous green for Middlefield. Thus becoming a "red wave" for Middlefield drivers with backups all the way to Lincoln at certain times of the day. This is a rather recent occurrence since the curb work was done on Middlefield. The Engineers should spend some time on existing traffic issues that need adjusting without major expense.


32 people like this
Posted by More Nonsense!
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 26, 2016 at 12:15 pm

More Nonsense! is a registered user.

What in the world is wrong with the " powers that be" in Palo Alto? Their only commitment, it seems, is to make life as miserable as possible for the residents!

What are they trying to do, make PaloAlto a miserable urban cityscape that no one wants to live in?

Or do they want to make life here so miserable that all the residents will leave, in order for them to tear down residences and build monstrous office buildings in their place?

Whatever, they're doing a pretty good job of it !


9 people like this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 26, 2016 at 1:08 pm

Bike speeds vary dramatically. A bike commuter may average 12mph but that is because they are stopping at red lights. Timing the lights for a recreational bike rider is a really dumb idea! Let's make everyone stop at every light. That will solve the city's traffic problems ... I don't think so.


14 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2016 at 1:18 pm

Many school commute areas have steady streams of bike riders at all speeds for 15 minutes or so. Does this mean that drivers will have to wait until the school commute is over before getting through certain intersections?


18 people like this
Posted by RDM
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jul 26, 2016 at 2:59 pm

Ultimately, the system that makes the most sense is one that detects the presence of actual traffic. Adjusting timing programs of lights is only a crude attempt to meet an average traffic load. Yes, many intersections have in-pavement traffic signal loops, but they're seldom placed to measure anything but a car that has already had to stop at a red light. We need real-time accurate traffic sensors that can adapt signaling in real-time.


13 people like this
Posted by Julius
a resident of Monroe Park
on Jul 26, 2016 at 3:14 pm

I nominate the light at El Camino and California for reprogramming. It is so bad that I usually approach it in the right lane so I can escape down California, modifying my route when it tries to trap me. Ditto for all the lights along El Camino that turn red for no reason late at night. Maybe the first step is to take them over from the California Department of Transportation. How can a state level department see to proper optimization of traffic lights at every intersection in every city in the state of California? Traffic lights should be locally controlled! I nominate Google for the programming. Come on, let's wake up and stop wasting time and resources sitting for no reason at badly programmed lights!


11 people like this
Posted by Anne
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 26, 2016 at 4:05 pm

It's about time. I'm disappointed that Oregon Expressway is not listed though.


10 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 26, 2016 at 4:13 pm

I live at the corner of Lincoln and Waverley. I'll be watching the results of the changes to signal timing on Bryant carefully. My expectation is that if Bryant becomes (even) less suitable for cars, the traffic currently on Bryant will simply move over to Waverley, thus making us the sacrifice zone.

Despite several attempts, I have never succeeded in persuading City Staff to make baseline traffic measurements in the neighborhood so that we can have solid data about the effects of various programs (RPPP, Middlefield changes, now Green Wave). I'll continue to make occasional measurements of my own, but it would be extremely valuable to have something the City would accept as valid.

FYI, Waverley's currently at 3400 vehicles/day, Lincoln at 1700. Both have gone up by about 10%/year for the past two years. These are hardly "residential" traffic levels by most people's standards, I'd guess.


16 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 26, 2016 at 4:30 pm

So glad we're going to make Embarcadero safer for all those bicycle commuters racing to 101. Are they NUTS? How about all the new CAR commuters we keep getting?? Since when did Embarcedero become a bike route?

Maybe if the city's going to stay so bike-obsessed it can start requiring ALL commuters to commute by bike. Make that a condition of granting permits.

----The most immediate change, according to the announcement, will take place along Embarcadero, between Bryant Street and Geng Road. The traffic signals along that segment will be reprogrammed from a continuous loop to a time-of-day system, with different timing loops for different times of the day, based on expected traffic flow. ----

Different times of the DAY?? Hello. How about just making it sensitive to whether cars are at the intersection like other locales have done for decades? Will we have to wait another 10 years for them to program the lights to reflect weekends, school vacations, etc.??

How many Saturday nights have we been stuck at the stupid lights waiting for no one, no students, no T&C shoppers, NO ONE to cross spewing fumes?


8 people like this
Posted by Nancy
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 26, 2016 at 4:52 pm

Please fix Lytton Ave lights. We have too much cut thru traffic in our residential neighborhood. Thank you.


9 people like this
Posted by NoMoPa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2016 at 5:32 pm

There are rarely cyclists on Embarcadero, except on sidewalks, because it is too dangerous. Too many cars, too fast, too narrow. There is nothing you can do with traffic lights to make it safer. Best case is mro cars going faster, which is even worse for bikes.

On the bright side, the changes to the signals at T&C made a noticeable improvement. More changes like that will help, but are only worth considering if the city works on less development and fewer cars.


7 people like this
Posted by SidePiles
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 26, 2016 at 6:40 pm

Does the flip side mean there will be more "red walls" blocking traffic coming out from the side streets? Long lines of cars piling up, fumes stinking up these neighborhoods?


8 people like this
Posted by andy
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 26, 2016 at 6:47 pm

We have sensors all over the place, and still can't manage traffic flow when there's no traffic. I'm not holding my breath that the city can figure this out. So many resources in this city, and so little ability to execute.


10 people like this
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 26, 2016 at 9:43 pm

Read the article more carefully before complaining! The timing for bikes is only on Bryant and University. Embarcadero will be timed for all modes, based on known time-of-day traffic patterns. San Antonio will adapt timing to real-time traffic conditions. Drivers should be cheering and celebrating over these upgrades, not complaining. I guess you just can't please some people.


Like this comment
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 26, 2016 at 9:43 pm

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 26, 2016 at 10:39 pm

There is some confusion about which lights the city controls. The city does NOT directly control these:
El Camino Real = State Route 82 = CalTrans District 4.
Web Link
Oregon Expressway / Page Mill Expressway = Santa Clara County Expressways
Web Link
University and Woodland Ave = East Palo Alto
Web Link

A one-way green wave on Lytton or Hamilton is an interesting idea, but with all the turning back-ups, esp. right turns waiting for pedestrians, I wonder if it could really work, especially on Hamilton.


11 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Jul 27, 2016 at 7:26 am

"The software has been used on Sand Hill Road since 2014, when the busy artery became the city's first corridor with adaptive signal timing."

Your software is broken. Try driving west on Sand Hill during the morning commute. You will be in a "red-wave" stopped at every intersection.


5 people like this
Posted by frustrated
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 27, 2016 at 8:47 am

re-adjust the left turn signal on San Antonio into Google!

When Google went in at the old Mayfield Mall/HP site, the light was reprogrammed. Now it often lets BARELY 1 car through even when there are others waiting.

For those of us who need to use this to get to our homes, this means waiting another full cycle.

Thanks!


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 27, 2016 at 12:27 pm

"I'll continue to make occasional measurements of my own, but it would be extremely valuable to have something the City would accept as valid."

Nothing a citizen provides qualifies, except for data supporting what the city plans to do no matter what. So, to save yourself much wasted effort, first make some queries in city hall, and then give them exactly the data they want.


5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 27, 2016 at 3:27 pm

"The software has been used on Sand Hill Road since 2014, when the busy artery became the city's first corridor with adaptive signal timing."

Well, why not turn that software on? Those lights still halt Sand Hill traffic whenever cross traffic arrives at the intersections, creating massive backups to move along a few crossing vehicles. That 1960s-era system seems designed to yield the maximum carbon footprint.


Like this comment
Posted by CCB
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 15, 2016 at 11:45 am

Hey KP and the 30+ others who apparently think the way you do:

I'm one of those cyclists that you call a "road boulder." Let me explain how this works: I sit in front, make eye contact with the car right behind me, and signal my intent to turn. Most of the time they smile and wave, although sometimes they are looking down at their phone and don't notice me until I ring my bell. When the light changes, I sprint as quickly as possible out of the way, taking the farthest right curve that enables me to turn left without interfering with other traffic lines. Trust me, I don't want to be in your way. My concern is being visible and not getting rear ended.

Yes, I might be a couple of seconds slower than a driver who is not looking at their phone and prepared to gun it out of the intersection. But most drivers I've encountered deal with it, just the way we deal with pedestrians crossing the street at crosswalks, buses stopping, and trains crossing and delaying us. It's the cost of doing business in a multi-modal world. And I don't think you'd actually enjoy driving more if all those pedestrians/train-and-bus-riders/cyclists were sitting in cars instead.

I don't actually think this–bikes sitting in front of cars to turn left–is an optimal solution for anyone. This isn't how it works in Denmark, for example–but then, Denmark has prioritized bike infrastructure to the point that the car lanes are almost empty. If you've got a better suggestion for turning left, I'm all ears. Maybe you can show up at the planning meetings and present your alternative for getting all modes of transportation safely through our clogged intersections.

In the meantime, an observation: driving makes people grumpy, you being a case in point. If you're able to, I'd encourage you to try biking everywhere for a day or a week. It will give you a different vantage point and might improve your mood as well.


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

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