News


Gridlock frustrates local drivers and residents

Residents, city officials look to address worsening traffic

Carmageddon came to Palo Alto on Dec. 1, the worst traffic gridlock that residents and many commuters said they could recall. By 6 p.m. no one in north Palo Alto was moving along main streets or side streets.

In Crescent Park and Downtown North residents gave up trying to get out of their driveways, and frustrated drivers took extraordinary risks to try to get to their destinations, speeding down side streets and driving in oncoming lanes. The cause of the gridlock, California Highway Patrol said, was a truck breakdown on the Dumbarton Bridge, miles away from Palo Alto's borders.

Thursday's traffic nightmare was an extreme version of what many residents on Middlefield Road and feeder streets to University Avenue said happens every day, affecting both safety and their quality of life.

Now, they are taking action. Armed with cameras and software, they're counting the traffic volume to impress upon city leaders the problem's urgency. Gridlock is already here, they said -- it's not some future problem.

City officials acknowledge that traffic is terrible. But without billions of dollars and about 10 to 15 years, big fixes such as adding additional lanes or creating a more effective mass-transit system aren't going to materialize any time soon, they said. Instead, they are working collaboratively with other cities on smaller fixes on a local scale.

Traffic problems are hampering public safety, affecting fire and emergency personnel, Palo Alto and Menlo Park fire department officials said.

"We are seeing an impact to our response times, sometimes as much as 60 seconds. This is not only caused by an increase in traffic but also by construction and street configuration changes -- traffic calming devices, street closures and the like," Palo Alto Fire Deputy Chief Catherine Capriles said.

The department works with other city departments and local agencies to identify possible obstructions as fire vehicles roll out, she said.

The department is also using a new technology called HAAS Alert, which notifies nearby cars that use the system of the emergency vehicle is approaching.

Even off-peak traffic hours can be a problem, just not as severe, she said. "We anticipate that the situation will only continue to get worse and that we need to figure out a solution to the issue in how we respond to calls," she said.Menlo Park Fire has found Willow Road so congested during peak times that fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman developed a plan in 2015 for routing emergency units through Palo Alto when needed.

Most of the time, routing emergency vehicles through Palo Alto has worked. But one year later, Schapelhouman is still worried.

"Backups last longer and continue to challenge our response times, as does new technology like traffic-avoidance apps, which spread the problem everywhere in terms of cut-through traffic," he said.

"The road design on Willow needs to change -- and wait until they start the work on the (Willow Road) overpass" (over U.S. Highway 101), he said.

Schapelhouman said that transportation plans must -- but don't usually -- take the needs of first responders into account. He cited some of the area's most ambitious roadway redesigns as lacking public-safety components, including the El Camino Real Grand Boulevard Initiative, California Department of Transportation Complete Streets document and San Mateo County's Countywide Transportation Plan for 2040.

Palo Alto police said their hands are pretty much tied when gridlock occurs. Officers respond to incidents within the city's jurisdiction, but when something happens on a bridge or freeway, it falls into another law enforcement department's lap. It is also up to that law-enforcement agency to communicate about the problem, Palo Alto police spokesman Lt. Zach Perron said.

The city can only sit and wait for traffic to clear.

"When there is gridlock, including on streets adjacent to our city, there is simply nowhere for us to direct traffic to go, even if we had sufficient staffing to do so," Perron said.

The Palo Alto Police Department currently doesn't have a traffic team. The city used to have one sergeant and three officers who rode motorcycles around town and were dedicated only to traffic enforcement and collision investigations. But like many law-enforcement agencies, the department is short-staffed, Perron said. Palo Alto currently has 82 officer positions filled out of 92 that are authorized.

Consequently, the department put the traffic officers back into regular patrols last July.

"All traffic enforcement efforts by our department are now done by patrol officers," he said. "Since July 1, every traffic complaint that we've received has been assigned to a patrol officer and/or group of patrol officers to address."

City officials said they are trying to tackle the problem in whatever ways they can. At a Dec. 9 bi-weekly transportation-policy meeting, top departmental staff addressed no fewer than 10 items, from signal re-timing on Middlefield Road to a neighborhood traffic-safety study and a Valley Transportation Authority connectivity study. Upcoming meetings into the first quarter of 2017 include a dizzying array of 18 items, from biking to neighborhood residential permit-parking programs and the Palo Alto Free Shuttle.

In January and February, staff will be taking all kinds of traffic and transportation-related issues to the Palo Alto City Council, City Manager James Keene said.

But "folks have got to realize that most of this (traffic congestion) is not under our sole control," Keene added.

The cities of Mountain View and Redwood City have already built thousands of housing units, and all along the east side of the Bayshore Freeway, Google and Facebook are building the equivalent of an entire city. Those homes are not being built close to mass transit such as Caltrain, noted Joshuah Mello, Palo Alto's chief transportation official.

"There's 11 million square feet of office and commercial space along the 101 corridor all on the outside of Palo Alto and 20,000 housing units" to be built, he said, noting that those workers and residents will certainly contribute to gridlock.

But Mello is working with supervising police officers on a traffic hot-spot list that has thus far identified Crescent Park streets Center and Southwood drives and Hamilton Avenue. The city can begin to better focus their resources such as police patrols on these troublesome areas, he said.

Adjusting traffic-signal timing is another shorter-term solution that Mello said would help around town.

There's only so much Palo Alto can do on its own, though, because roads are often controlled by multiple agencies. From Palo Alto to the Dumbarton Bridge, for example, University Avenue traffic signals are under the control of three entities: Caltrans (at El Camino Real and the U.S. Highway 101 overpass), Palo Alto and the City of East Palo Alto. Synchronizing their traffic systems, including the logistics of feeder streets, could greatly improve traffic flow, but doing so is complex, Mello said.

"We as a region are going to be forced into an L.A. mindset," Mello said, noting cities should not see themselves as autonomous when it comes to transportation but as a region that must work together.

That thinking has begun. Palo Alto is part of the Joint Venture Silicon Valley Managers Mobility Partnership, a coalition that collaborates on transportation issues and meets at least monthly. The group includes city managers from Redwood City, Mountain View and Menlo Park, Stanford University's senior associate vice president and he nonprofit Joint Venture Silicon Valley. Keene represents Palo Alto.

The group is currently working on bicycle infrastructure across their communities, including expanding bike-sharing programs and creating a regional network of bicycle pathways; improving pedestrian corridors between the cities; boosting shuttles, car-sharing services and other forms of transit; improving traffic management on arterial roads; and advocating for additional Caltrain service, according to the group's website.

Both Keene and Mello are clear that addressing gridlock by changing the city's roadways would be costly, a long way away and would carry repercussions. If University Avenue were widened, all on-street parking would have to be eliminated, for example, Keene said. And it won't help if people keep driving cars. When Los Angeles widened the Interstate 405 to ease traffic congestion, it just filled up again, Mello said.

In March, Facebook contributed $1 million toward a feasibility study of the Dumbarton Corridor that could include bringing back the Dumbarton Rail from across the San Francisco Bay. There is talk of adding toll lanes on Highway 101 and dedicated rapid-transit bus lanes. But all of those options "are a lifetime away," Keene said.

But Keene said that although the outlook looks gloomy, city officials are not throwing up their hands. "Even though we're all confronted with this gargantuan regional systems problem, we're not going to be paralyzed by the scale of that," he said.

To help city officials understand the effects of traffic that's spilling over from main roads into neighborhoods, more than a dozen residents in both Palo Alto and Menlo Park are doing their own traffic surveys, using software and traffic-monitoring equipment to gather their data.

Alan Akin, a Professorville resident, has been studying the intersection in front of his home, at Waverley Street and Lincoln Avenue, since 2013. Akin, who has twin-10-year-old daughters who will soon be riding their bikes on their own around the neighborhood, was concerned for their safety, he said.

He set up a camera that can record traffic over the course of 24 hours and conducted studies on Dec. 3- 5, 2013; Jan. 7, 2014; Nov. 17-18, 2015, and May 25, 2016. He also recorded traffic when school was out for comparison data.

"I was surprised to find that on average 4,200 vehicles per day drove through the intersection by my house," he said of the initial 2013 findings. That number has continued to rise. In 2015, he recorded 5,124 vehicles passing his home per day. From 2013 to 2015, Akin found a 20 percent increase in traffic on Waverley and a 30 percent increase on Lincoln, he said.

Menlo Park residents are using monitoring equipment from New York-based Placemeter at Woodland Avenue in Menlo Park near the Chaucer Bridge. During the week of Nov. 28, the sensors showed peaks of more than 200 vehicles per hour during weekday morning commutes and peaks of more than 300 per hour during evening commutes , except for Dec. 1. On that evening, traffic peaked at about 600 vehicles per hour as more drivers sought to use that route when other streets were jammed. Monday through Friday, a total 12,802 vehicles pass that one spot. .

Palo Alto resident Neilson Buchanan said residents plan to also use the same equipment to monitor east-west traffic along University and Hamilton avenues and Willow, and along the Middlefield, which runs north to south.

On Dec. 7, from 4:27 p.m. to 6:13 p.m., Buchanan and Menlo Park resident Jim Wiley monitored how traffic-avoidance apps are spreading gridlock into residential areas.

"Eleven cars backed up on Everett. Most of them making illegal turns at 4:25 today onto Middlefield," Buchanan wrote in an email record he and Wiley shared with the Weekly.

"Even Google Maps knows to avoid that block!" Wiley wrote. In planning a route from the Palo Alto University Avenue Transit Center to Facebook in Menlo Park, Google Maps recommended cutting through on Everett Street and then cutting through the Willows neighborhood to save 15 minutes of sitting in Willow Road traffic, Wiley noted.

Google switched to recommending Hawthorne Avenue in Palo Alto and Middlefield to get to Woodland. When traffic backed up 0.5 mile on Woodland, Google went back to routing cars through the Willows , causing traffic to back up 0.5 mile on Central, Chester, Durham, O'Keefe and Laurel.

Wiley offered an update at 4:52 p.m.: "The Willows is in gridlock, so Google now sends traffic down Forest to Lincoln to Hamilton to West Crescent to University," he wrote. About 10 minutes later, the Willows and Crescent Park neighborhoods were in gridlock, he noted. And so it went on through the peak hours.

The problem isn't confined to streets near U.S. Highway 101. At the western end of town, Mark Nadim said he and his neighbors can't get out of their Palo Alto Hills neighborhood to shop because of traffic on Page Mill and Arastradero roads.

"We get stuck. I can't leave before 10 or 10:30 in the morning. Page Mill gets backed up. I have to come home by 2:30. And (Interstate) 280 both exits, north and south, are backed up a quarter mile until 10:30. We are being besieged by traffic around us," he said.

College Terrace residents, who live between Stanford University and El Camino Real and the Stanford Research Park, have been at the forefront of battling traffic congestion for at least 15 years. Stanford University's new 180-unit Mayfield junior-faculty-housing development on California Avenue has activated residents again.Led by scientist Ed Schmitt, they purchased their own traffic-monitoring equipment.

"Anyone leaving or entering the area must pass through one of two intersections: Hanover and California Avenue or Hanover and College Avenue. There could be gridlock problems," Schmitt said.

Residents maintain that the city didn't have sufficient traffic data in 2005 to substantiate the projected traffic impact claimed by Stanford's consultants, so the city used tables taken from a traffic-engineering handbook. Those tables favored the university's position and were based on data that didn't reflect the realities of Palo Alto traffic, Schmitt said.

Residents had similar concerns about traffic impacts on Yale Street and other streets near the El Camino and California Avenue below-market housing site and the soon-to-open College Terrace Centre, so they took action.

"Rather than go through the imaginary traffic-number-tossing game once again, the College Terrace Residents Association initiated a program in late 2014 to actually count the vehicular traffic on all of the streets in College Terrace each year before, during and after completion of projects. We purchased a traffic-counting system from Diamond Traffic and made over 100 measurements in almost two years. We had volunteers stretch out the pneumatic tubes, read the counter and move them to a new site.

"We have asked the city to make three measurements so that we could duplicate and validate our measuring system with the city's. The city did cooperate and we were able to reproduce their results to a high level of precision," he said.

"Now we can argue with facts generated in College Terrace rather than graphics acquired from a different part of the country. If the estimates were poorly gauged and mitigation is required in College Terrace, we will have actual traffic counts for all hours of the day or night of every street in the neighborhood to support our case."

Such data gathering can reap results.

Crescent Park resident John Guislin has a digital library of accident photos along his section of Middlefield Road. It's a frightening parade of cars on their sides, cars pushed onto sidewalks and front lawns, and cars that have gone into street signs or that have been T-boned by vehicles traveling on Middlefield after they illegally made left turns from Everett or Hawthorne avenues across four lanes of rush-hour traffic.

On July 14 Guislin and his neighbors video-recorded the intersection of Middlefield and Everett from 4:30-5:50 p.m.

"It was a low-traffic-volume day, but we counted/documented 30 turn violations in one hour. That's a turn violation every two minutes," the residents said in a report to the city.

Guislin and his neighbors have compiled accident data from the California Highway Patrol to compare accidents along four blocks of Middlefield starting at the intersection of University Avenue with four blocks of University beginning at the same intersection. In 2014-2015, the Middlefield section had 40 accidents compared to 23 for University Avenue. Broadside and sideswipe collisions accounted for 76 percent of the Middlefield accidents compared to 23 percent for University Avenue. Conversely, rear-end collisions accounted for 6 percent of accidents on Middlefield but 70 percent on University.

Three years of efforts by Guislin and his neighbors -- and many years longer for other neighbors, he said -- have finally produced dividends.

On Oct. 6, Mello held a workshop to review seven possible road configurations to improve safety and quality of life along Middlefield.

"This workshop left us with the most hopeful and positive feelings toward city government we've experienced in a long time," Guislin and residents Carolyn Godfrey, Tim Lindholm and Andrea Lichter wrote in an email to transportation department staff on Oct. 10.

But proposals remain only good ideas until they are implemented and the results are monitored, they wrote.

"We fully understand there are tradeoffs with any solution, and it is very important that we remain engaged in those decisions."

Guislin said on Dec. 7 that he is hopeful that what residents have achieved in a partnership with the city will continue to grow.

"I hope city leaders look at this as a model for how to engage with citizens," he said.

See Google map of traffic at 7 p.m. Dec. 1

Take a ride-along through traffic with the Menlo Park Fire Department. The video mounted on a fire truck shows the impediments that emergency responders face trying to get to the scene of an accident on the Dumbarton Bridge. View the video here.

---

Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Comments

52 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2016 at 8:15 am

My question is why on earth is it taking so long to do the work on highway 101? Why on earth hasn't this work been done 24/7? This highway had just been improved with an extra lane and within months it was reduced back down again.

I can't see anyone with any common sense being in charge on that one. Other work gets done overnight, but not this work. With 24/7 this work would have been completed in months rather than years.


17 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 16, 2016 at 8:29 am

[Post removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 16, 2016 at 8:38 am

I haven't read all the details above, but will post about "a truck breakdown on the Dumbarton" as the "cause."
My family member commutes back here to PA over the Dumbo, and did not comment about any truck breakdown (which may have occurred hours earlier, of course). Rather, he said the lights were out in Newark (NEAR the DUmbo, I guess) and there was already difficulty over there because of that. I think there must be more to the story (WAZE, anyone?)
He did comment about the horrific traffic ON Palo Alto city streets.


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 16, 2016 at 8:39 am

*traffic lights were out in Newark (Creating difficulty there for cars, naturally)


35 people like this
Posted by Hamzi
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 16, 2016 at 9:42 am

Moving here from Europe more than 20 years ago I never understood why communities in the Bay Area are not working together for better public transportation. That's the only way to improve traffic in the short term. How can we all help to make it happen?


2 people like this
Posted by Calvin
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2016 at 9:48 am

Curious as to why you wouldn't link to your own article: Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 16, 2016 at 9:48 am

Hamza -- its American Exceptionalism. We like the freedom of driving our own cars.


16 people like this
Posted by James Thurber
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 16, 2016 at 10:09 am

As my Dutch friend said, "I can solve the problem with one word: Bicycle"


67 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2016 at 10:18 am

They know there's a huge problem, but it doesn't seem to stop them from approving more and more and more dense housing...no doubt aspiring to the tax revenue.

short-sighted at best.


12 people like this
Posted by crazy
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 16, 2016 at 10:22 am

Everyone wants to add bike lanes to make it safer for bikes which is a good idea but with that we really need to pay attention to our emergency vehicles to get to a problem. Why aren't the police and fire dept included on all these new roadways
amy


42 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 16, 2016 at 10:41 am

1) Didn't we just spend several million dollars on a contract to synchronize light timing? If so, the work was lousy because sometimes you have absolutely no movement at 4-way intersections.

2) Maybe Mr. Mello could be less concerned about supervising the police and more concerned about saving them the hassle of responding to all the complaints about the new bottlenecks on Middlefield that he installed in August?

3) Absurd that residents have to educate the city about traffic accidents and problems by doing their own videos but symptomatic of many of the problems since our transportation dept does its studies of parking and traffic at the WRONG time of day, never in rush hour. This is a long-standing problem. Maybe we should start paying the residents?


5 people like this
Posted by SP
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2016 at 10:48 am

"There is talk of adding toll lanes on Highway 101 and dedicated rapid-transit bus lanes."

Both of these options would make the traffic worse, not better, except for the people willing to pay.

This is going to require a fundamental rethink of how we get from home to work and back again. Mass transit will not solve this.

For example, perhaps new vehicles that take less space, and lanes dedicated to their use? Vehicles that are designed for one passenger, protect the rider for safety and the elements, perhaps don't travel faster than 30 or 40 mph, but if given dedicated travel corridors would be able to transport commuters faster than the current system. Vehicles like this could even be given a way to ride a train, sort of like how the Chunnel works, to move them from San Francisco and outlying areas.

Scooters could be given access to freeway space, and/or dedicated motorcycle lanes on freeways so that the motorcycles don't have to weave in and out of traffic could help too.

We simply need to pack more people into a tighter space. There is no way around that. The current system with most people driving one person in a vehicle designed for 5 people is not working.


28 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2016 at 10:50 am

Annette is a registered user.

Kudos and Thanks to the residents who are measuring traffic on their own. I am reminded of the slide show Filseth showed at CC long before he was elected. It's clear that effective action happens once citizens get fed up enough to holler UNCLE. I am not categorically opposed to growth or change but we went fast forward on development for too long, w/o sufficient regard to cumulative impact or inadequate infrastructure. Decision makers may scoff at that but Dec. 1 stands as a glaring example of the fact that this city and others around it are saturated. A prudent approach would be to slow down on development for a while and focus on infrastructure and transportation so that we don't continually exacerbate the problem. Even in iconic Palo Alto, balloons pop when overinflated.


12 people like this
Posted by Amy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 16, 2016 at 10:56 am

Let's build a tunnel under university avenue to feed out to 101.


33 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2016 at 10:59 am

Here are some ideas to improve traffic within Palo Alto:

-underpasses, especially if train volume will increase
-expand shuttle service times (rush hour, commutes from schools)
-discourage 'choice' schools which increase traffic and decrease community cohesion
-discourage office building within the city.

It's time to make this a priority!


9 people like this
Posted by BG
a resident of Fairmeadow School
on Dec 16, 2016 at 11:10 am

The economy is good, everyone is working and most drive to their jobs, therefore traffic will continue to be a problem and will only get worst. Traffic here will be like the LA area in a few years with all the growth and the area being so desirable. Emergency services need to have substations to deal with gridlock situations.


23 people like this
Posted by Carson
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 16, 2016 at 11:11 am

I spent an hour and a half going from Palo Alto to San Mateo on 12/15 in the rain. I was supposed to be going to Oakland but gave up, turned around and got back home in twenty minutes. I have never given up getting somewhere in the 25years I have lived in the Bay Area. I was literally traveling 2-5 miles an hour. The East Bay is unreachable during commute hours which now start at 2 pm and end at 8 pm.


23 people like this
Posted by Markus
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 16, 2016 at 11:16 am

When this happened, it amazed me how many people complained about not being able to drive because other people were driving. The irony!

One person was trying to drive her car, then proceeded to walk to her destination in ten minutes instead. Again, the irony!

If you’re stuck in traffic, you are the traffic. You are part of the problem.


35 people like this
Posted by Emily Renzel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 16, 2016 at 11:22 am

For years Environmental Impact Reports on huge projects have concluded "no significant impact on traffic" and now we are experiencing what should have been obvious - that all new construction has some significant impact on traffic. Incrementally we have been experiencing traffic like the frog in the pot of cold water which gets brought to a boil & kills it. Sure, other communities are making the same mistakes, but that doesn't excuse our stupidity.

Recently I was (unfortunately) headed toward 101 on University Avenue after 3 p.m. and I saw a man drive his truck for an entire block in the bicycle lane in the opposite direction. At the next intersection, he made a "right" and immediately a left onto University to edge out the bumper to bumper folks waiting to get through that same signal. Folks are definitely taking desperate and dangerous steps to negotiate our gridlock.


10 people like this
Posted by sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 16, 2016 at 11:27 am

Traffic near rush hours on University and Embarcadero has been bad for more than twenty years. It's at a crawl because of the enforced 25 mph limit and many cars coming from or going to Dunbarton. At one time there was a train that crossed the Bay in that area. It has remained idle since. A train that connects to Caltrain on the PA/MP side and to both BART and Amtrak/Caltrain on the east side of the bay would make a big difference. If a train crossing the Bay does not connect directly (at the same station without too many steps) it will be useless.

I have been in PA area since 1964 and have always wondered why there are so many on grade crossings. It is long past time to fix this. The simple elevation of the trains through some cities north of PA/MP is an excellent idea. Stop insisting of your own idea of who to do it best--JUST DO IT!

And forget about traffic calming. It does nothing of the sort. It just increases the frustration of drivers so that they try illegal moves, such as left turns onto Middlefield.


12 people like this
Posted by Sylvia
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2016 at 11:27 am

I live in EPA and take public transportation from Redwood City. I often get stuck on Willow Road sometimes for an hour due the traffic I commute 5 days a week so it is not only that Palo Alto Residents suffer.


22 people like this
Posted by Mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 16, 2016 at 11:41 am

And sometimes we make things worse! The school district wants the area around Jordan to be safer for bicyclists -- agreed. But in the process those going north on Middlefield get stuck behind those turning left on to N. Calif Ave. and the traffic backs up and blocks Oregon. Need to fix this light!

And around JLS is no better. The traffic crossing guard lets any and all bicycles through, so no one can turn right from East Meadow to Middlefield. Kids who are not at the intersections when the light turns green should have to wait until the next cycle instead of racing through at the last minute to cross Middlefield.

Yes, it needs to be safe for cyclists, but our kids need to learn that bicycles can also be polite and let cars through.


44 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 16, 2016 at 11:47 am

mauricio is a registered user.

All the clever, and largely unworkable ideas on how to improve traffic will amount to nothing. The reason the gridlock is, and will remain increasingly terrible is that the Bay area, and Palo Alto are seriously overpopulated. Until the discussion pivots toward getting companies to move out of the Bay area to areas that actually need economic stimulation and relief, and toward how to discourage new companies from moving where there is no space and no housing, meaning Palo Alto and the Bay area, this will be a perpetual problem that is perpetually unresolved. Additional housing for Palo Alto is just as crazy as pouring boiling water on a third degree burns victim.


20 people like this
Posted by BG
a resident of Fairmeadow School
on Dec 16, 2016 at 11:56 am

Mutti,

I totally agree with you. The crossing guards at Meadow/Middlefield and at the Library stop traffic for the entire Cycle instead of stopping the kids when the light starts flashing red like he is supposed to. This gives no time for vehicles and causes major traffic during those times. They should be better trained..


13 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 16, 2016 at 12:02 pm

@Mutt, re the problem in front of Jordan, JLS decided the bike lane was too unsafe for the kids to use and sent memos home to that effect 4 months ago shortly after it was installed.

However. it's not light timing that's causing the backup at the N. California light; it's the 4-month-old UNUSED posts and bollards that NOW prevent cars from going around the turning traffic and push the traffic back to and into Oregon.

So there it sits, unused and causing dangerous gridlock. Getting an answer from PA Transportation on when this unwanted, unnecessary, unused expensive hazard will be removed is fruitless since complaints get bounced to the Police Dept., wasting their time and accomplishing nothing.


5 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Dec 16, 2016 at 12:12 pm

@Markus

Yes the people who are on the road are the source of all the traffic but I think you're missing a fundimental difference; our need to reach our destination is much more important than everyone elses.


9 people like this
Posted by Silly rabbit
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2016 at 12:15 pm

So people like maurucio , who no longer live here, want us to theirs people out of work and get rid of jobs? A very silly suggestion.


26 people like this
Posted by kathy
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 16, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Mauricio is absolutely right, there is no solution to gridlock. Massive apartment blocks are going up all along the 101 corridor as well as office buildings, and many of them are not even occupied yet. No amount of public transport, bike programs, hand wringing or focus groups are going to help this situation. It's way too late. All the highly compensated tech workers want to live in the SF Bay Area, nothing else will do. They can afford to live here, but now they are all miserable because they are stuck in traffic...it's a conundrum.


19 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2016 at 12:29 pm

Things that will make a difference.

Shuttles that cross City boundaries
Apps and signs that help parking (many drivers in downtown are circling looking for parking)
Apps that work for biking and walking (try using a drive app that ignores pedestrian tunnels and bridges when looking for a route while walking)
Shuttles designed for school use at all secondary schools
Shuttles that take students to Foothill College, Canada College.
Shuttles to places like Google from Palo Alto
Shuttles that go to SFO and SJC
Shuttles to Bart
Shuttles to Castro Street for light rail
Shuttle routes across the Dunbarton Bridge
Shuttles that go to Caltrain before the train and wait for the train to empty before leaving
Shuttles that are not free
Understanding that although many people arrive in Palo Alto for their jobs, there are a large number of PA residents trying to get out of town on all routes for their jobs.

Common sense remedies mean talking with our neighboring cities and towns about traffic issues and the same with county borders.


9 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 16, 2016 at 12:40 pm

"it's not light timing that's causing the backup at the N. California light; it's the 4-month-old UNUSED posts and bollards that NOW prevent cars from going around the turning traffic and push the traffic back to and into Oregon."

This fiasco was built and photographed by our traffic engineering department to apply for an award from a major bicyclist organization. Either they don't have the award yet, or they lack the money to remove their showpiece, or they forgot about it.


31 people like this
Posted by careful what you wish for
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2016 at 12:44 pm

Be careful what you wish for, Palo Alto removed traffic lanes (from two to one) in each direction on Arastradero in Palo Alto to take care of speed. They did take care of the speed; due to the congestion, it can now take 20 minutes or more to go 1 mile; that is, if you can get out on the street from the neighborhoods (some of which have no other way to exit their neighborhood). This was a not a great solution to the increase in cars from the VM Ware and the VA Hospital.


18 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 16, 2016 at 1:03 pm

@Roger Overnaut says "This fiasco was built and photographed by our traffic engineering department to apply for an award from a major bicyclist organization. Either they don't have the award yet, or they lack the money to remove their showpiece, or they forgot about it."

Really?? Who'd give them an award for something deemed unsafe from the beginning when 70 residents and school reps complained before it was built and later when the school admins refused to let their kids use it after it was built??

I doubt that city's forgotten about it; they simply refuse to respond and waste the police's time bouncing all the complaints to them.

It couldn't be that expensive to remove plastic pipes that sit on the road surface and bollards that are also superficial! There are crews working in the area practically daily. Just do it already.


9 people like this
Posted by Pam
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 16, 2016 at 3:04 pm

Pam is a registered user.

Until the traffic challenges are considered an emergency situation requiring all stakeholders to work together for a solution, the problem will only worsen. The "brilliance" of rebuilding the Willow Road/101 interchange will continue the nightmare.

By deeming this an emergency safety issue, the approval and building processes will be fast forwarded.

Considering the following solutions:
1. Immediately refurbishing Dumbarton rail, then require shuttle service to all businesses.
2. Extend Embarcadero Road access to Dumbarton Bridge. Modifications to the original 1975 plans can met environmental concerns. Trade-off for eliminating Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park grid-lock is the loss of golf course and airport. But then this is probably too great a price.



8 people like this
Posted by kathryn Tyson
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Dec 16, 2016 at 3:09 pm

Palo Alto shouldn't complain about the gridlock now when the new Dumbarton bridge in the 1980's was built they refused to allow a freeway extensions from north 101 at Embarcadero to the Dumbarton bridge because they didn't want the traffic coming through their neighborhoods, now thee is gridlock and they want to whine


42 people like this
Posted by stuck
a resident of Mayfield
on Dec 16, 2016 at 3:45 pm

When a new development was going up near us and we didn't believe the traffic study, my husband did his own and proved to city council that the traffic study was false. They don't care. I love how the city says it's "trying" to solve this problem. STOP BUILDING and they will not come. Especially parking garages. Any dimwit can see that. The other annoying thing about being a resident is if you want to leave Palo Alto in the morning...even to go to a neighboring city like Mountain View of Menlo Park, it'll take 3 times as long to get back. Not to mention if you want to leave anytime starting at 2pm and beyond..like just heading over to Ikea or Home Depot...it really shouldn't take me more than 10-15 mins to get 4.5 miles. Like right now I just mapped it out and there's tons of red and it'll take me 25 mins. But by the time I get my kids in the car and pull out a gazillion more cars are on the road and 7-8 mins are added to that. Plus, outsiders don't car about our community and are constantly distracted and in a rush and don't look or care. Small college town forced to become a big city. I hate L.A. I don't live there for a reason. But this is becoming worse than L.A. 5 years ago when I'd go running at 5:30/6am there was no one on the road, now the roads are already bustling, Embarcadero and El Camino are already packed with cars. It used to be a nice quiet run for me to enjoy the town. It's not anymore.


28 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2016 at 3:47 pm

Elephant is unchecked office boom in Palo Alto. It bites back.


6 people like this
Posted by Cur Mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 16, 2016 at 3:48 pm

I have given up attending specialized classes that involve me leaving my house at commute times. 3 hour total drive for a one hour class? No. I miss my classes, but enough is enough.


21 people like this
Posted by telecommnute
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 16, 2016 at 3:52 pm

More companies should have telecommuting hubs in the east bay or let workers work from home more often.


28 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 16, 2016 at 4:05 pm

On the one hand, we can commend our neighbors for their good efforts in measuring and reporting the traffic situation.

On the other hand, it's just one more example of our city leaders failing to perform even their most basic responsibilities.

(Seriously, why can't they staff the Police department? We know they are offering the best salaries and benefits.)

Unfortunately, these same leaders are justifying the planned increase in housing using the same magical thinking they use to justify the increase in commercial development -- don't worry, people will walk, bike, and use public transportation!


41 people like this
Posted by The Solution
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 16, 2016 at 4:09 pm

It seems that the favorite solution of Menlo Park, Palo Alto, etc. to these problems is to add more housing. More, more, more. More low income housing. More granny units. More residential above downtown retail. Larger lot coverage. Taller buildings. More, MORE, MORE, MORE. If only they could stuff more people in our cities, then the traffic problems will magically go away.

I still haven't figured out the logic in all of this...


51 people like this
Posted by Stephen
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 16, 2016 at 4:17 pm

mauricio nailed it. 100%

Why, for the love of God, does Palo Alto, and surrounding cities keep bending over backwards to attract more large companies to locate here. There are FAR TOO MANY PEOPLE HERE ALREADY. City officials need to wake up. Realize that we are supersaturated and begin walking-back their pro-growth position. Protect what we have now and then fix and optimize the transportation issues. But please stop encouraging more people to come here -- either to work or to live (e.g. subsidized housing, rent controls).


16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2016 at 4:19 pm

These woes today stem from previous city councils, that pushed for growth while ignoring or else fancifully rationalizing away traffic impacts. But apparently a majority of us like it this way.


10 people like this
Posted by EPA Mom
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2016 at 4:35 pm

One of the causes of the daily afternoon Woodland/University back up is a new stop sign that was put up (without any traffic study) in East Palo Alto on East Bayshore just past the Chevron station. There are only so many cars that can make that left turn after the overpass and that is stopping up evening traffic on the overpass, down University, both sides of Woodland and the 101 off ramp. Take a look next time you pass by there. It's creating a big problem.


8 people like this
Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Dec 16, 2016 at 4:59 pm

The only solution to our traffic and parking woes: Improve Public Transportation (frequent and fast; north/south and east/west) and improve the bicycle routes -- especially between cities. Getting from Palo Alto to Mountain View is circuitous. Same for getting to Menlo Park on a bike. Mass transit and efficient bike routes are the only solution. Bring back the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) discussions. BRT works -- look at the communities where they've adopted it. Fast, efficient, and reasonably priced. What's not to like?


Like this comment
Posted by Dear Editor
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 16, 2016 at 5:20 pm

Editor -- the Menlo Fire Dept link is wrong. Try this: Web Link


54 people like this
Posted by Real Econ
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2016 at 6:55 pm

The idea that public transportation (or bikes) can solve our traffic problems is childlike magical thinking.

The Bay Area isn't Amsterdam, and it never will be. The city the Bay Area is quickly evolving into is Los Angeles. Saying the solution to the Bay Area's traffic problem is public transportation (or bikes) is as absurd as saying the solution to LA's traffic is public transportation (or bikes).

Never going to happen. It is not physically or economically feasible. Like Los Angeles, the Bay Area simply does not generate enough wealth to fund an extensive public transportation system on such a grand scale.

Trying to solve the traffic problem by building more capacity is like trying to drain water out of a boat by drilling a hole in the bottom. The additional capacity will only encourage more people to move here from other regions, and/or commute from increasingly distant outlying areas.

Local government's real reason for building public transportation is not to relieve traffic. The real reason local government wants to build public transportation is to supply their benefactors in the real-estate industry with new customers.


2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 16, 2016 at 7:03 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

My hope is that the new PA CC won't be so pro growth, at least growth that would only bring more workers into our city and exacerbate the problem. I am in favor of more dense housing, in the right areas, to reduce the number of people driving into our city. That might help. I don't know. Why anyone working in Redwood City or Menlo Park would detour into PA, onto our roads and streets, to avoid 101, just boggles my mind. It doesn't sound like it's working anyway. But I haven't been a working commuter for many years so I am really not in a position to comment. My dentist, on the corner of California Ave and Alma, lives in Half Moon Bay. She said it takes her 30-35 minutes to get to the office from the 280 Page Mill Road interchange. I'm guessing that is only a 4-5 mile trip. Crazy times. I just hunker down and pick my times to drive carefully to avoid all the congestion others are facing.


2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 16, 2016 at 7:26 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@The Solution, Stephen, and Resident

I haven't figured out the logic either, and it's obvious that our city leaders haven't either, altho they like us to believe they have the solutions to problems that are much bigger than just PA's...like regional problems that PA can really have a lot of control and influence over. Hogwash! It's the attitude that we are smarter, better educated, and thus can solve all the problems on our own. We can't, and there shouldn't be all the political posturing to tell us otherwise. I'm not a biker, and I'm not putting down those who are, but how many of our downtown workers bike to work? Real numbers and percentages please!


17 people like this
Posted by Ed
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 16, 2016 at 8:04 pm

VTA wants to basically pull out of Palo Alto, but of course keep collecting their tax cut. SAMTRANS only visits the downtown train station. Moving forward, unless you live/work near either Caltrain station in town, your mass transit options are bleak.

So long as there are separate dysfunctional, inefficient, poorly managed, etc., mass transit fiefdoms all over the SF Bay area, regional mass transit planning is doomed.


6 people like this
Posted by End of Cars
a resident of another community
on Dec 16, 2016 at 9:57 pm

The new philosophy is that we want to make driving/parking painful, in order to transition Palo Alto into a walking community. Everyone will live downtown and work and shop downtown, or take Caltrain to work in SF. Cars are no longer be needed.

New condos being proposed have less than 1 parking space per unit, because people no longer use cars in Palo Alto. They walk everywhere, or take transit. It works in Manhattan, so it will surely work here.


5 people like this
Posted by Pro Growth City Council
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2016 at 10:12 pm

The majority want growth -- we just elected 3 pro-growth councilmembers last month, out of 4. The slow/moderate-growth candidates finished 4th, 5th, 7th, and 8th -- not even close.

The new council will be 5 out of 9 pro-growth. In 2 years, 2 councilmembers "term out", but the number of members also drops from 9 to 7, so probably no change.


11 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 16, 2016 at 10:43 pm

"don't worry, people will walk, bike, and use public transportation!"

Yep. City planning by data-free solganeering. Our fair city hall has an invincible allergy to data. ("If you don't want the answer, don't ask the question.")

Maybe you can help residents get around that. Your avatar indicates you might live in that condo development directly across Alma from the train/bus station. If so, would you survey your neighbors and tell us what percentage of them commutes using transit?

Is anybody else living in a multifamily development close to transit willing to query their neighbors and report here?


22 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 17, 2016 at 11:00 am

mauricio is a registered user.

The pro development lobby will never conduct, or sanction a meaningful survey of the commuting habits of residents living near public transportation, because such a survey would disclose that the overwhelming majority, as evident from basic observations, still use their own cars to move around. Such a survey will demonstrate that the incessant drive to keep building and overpopulating Palo Alto is disastrous on every possible level.


3 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Dec 17, 2016 at 11:59 am

The purpose of building housing near transit isn't to force people out of their cars, it's to give them the option of avoiding traffic. It's a benefit to those who live there and utilize it, not for others who choose to drive.


5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 17, 2016 at 12:52 pm

"The purpose of building housing near transit [snip] is to give them the option of avoiding traffic."

But does it actually work out that way? We need real data. City hall won't collect it, so residents must.


1 person likes this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Dec 17, 2016 at 1:24 pm

@Curmudgeon

...do you really need a city hall study to tell you living next to Caltrain makes it more convenient to use?


7 people like this
Posted by kathy
a resident of another community
on Dec 17, 2016 at 1:26 pm

There are many great places to live, for example Boise Idaho has a bit of snow but it has affordable homes and a nice downtown,university and easy access to skiing, biking and hiking. Web Link I would advise anyone in their early 20's, 30's, who value quality of life to consider other parts of the USA. There is life beyond Silicon Valley.

What do you think this place would cost in Old Mountain View of Palo Alto? 350K in Boise! Web Link




11 people like this
Posted by New Council
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 17, 2016 at 1:31 pm

Re: Pro Growth City Council

Liz, Tanaka and Adrian ran on platforms of being sensitive to residents concerns. You are in effect stating they were not sincere about their platforms during their campaigns. Tanaka and Adrian at the last PTC meeting on ADUs definitely did not put resident concerns front and center. Tanaka stated that parking lifts / elevators were the solution to residential parking problems.


22 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 17, 2016 at 1:52 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Kathy is absolutely right. It's not about housing shortage, it's about vanity. Tech workers and others, as well as corporatists who could easily be based in other areas of the country in this day and age, will not compromise on anything short of a palo Alto or San Francisco zip code. This is a manufactured shortage. Palo Alto has no housing shortage unless your axiom is that every person who desires to live in Palo Alto should be enabled by existing residents to do so. Palo Alto isn't suited, and was never meant to be a dense, large city. It is a residential oriented suburb. It is outrageous that Palantir was allowed to circumvent all zoning regulation and settle downtown, gobbling up all available space. A classic way of creating a phony housing shortage.


12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2016 at 2:07 pm

@Gale Johnson

"I am in favor of more dense housing, in the right areas, to reduce the number of people driving into our city ... My dentist, on the corner of California Ave and Alma, lives in Half Moon Bay."


And if there's new dense housing in the right area of Palo Alto, will your dentist move here and into it?

That's what I thought.


Now wait, you say. The new housing is to supply new jobs, not existing jobs. Because the existing job-holders already have existing homes somewhere just like your dentist does; and they would have moved here already if they wanted to pay the price (unless you believe that the new condos and apartments will be significantly less expensive than the existing ones).

So suppose half those new homes (high) go to people with new jobs in Palo Alto. The other half go to people who commute out to jobs in other cities. So you still have more traffic than you started with: all the existing commuters, plus some new outbound ones, plus some new inbound ones to the other half of the new jobs here.

Bottom line: there may be reasons to add dense housing, but reducing traffic is not one of them. This is a myth created by people who want housing for other reasons, but they know you care about traffic.


37 people like this
Posted by The Golden Minute
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 17, 2016 at 2:26 pm

"We are seeing an impact to our response times, sometimes as much as 60 seconds. This is not only caused by an increase in traffic but also by construction and street configuration changes -- traffic calming devices, street closures and the like," Palo Alto Fire Deputy Chief Catherine Capriles said.

Capriles was investigated earlier this year, at a cost to the city, for diverting a fire engine into Mountain View for personal reasons. It seems pretty hypocritical to hear her now voice concerns over the impact of 60 seconds on response times. Where was her concern last year?


7 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 17, 2016 at 2:44 pm

Another reason gridlock reduction will never happen is that Palo Alto has been allowed to become a perpetual construction zone. Even with Western European style ultra modern mass transit, not that we will ever have anything close to it in Palo Alto, and even if all resident of near public transit dense housing were using public transit, another fantasy, traffic would be horrible, due to endless housing construction and road repair.


15 people like this
Posted by kathy
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 17, 2016 at 2:59 pm

To followup on Maurio's comment.... I don't know why the City of Palo Alto does not restrict downtown buildings to retail, restaurants and small businesses. The pervasive presence of Palantir is creepy, especially when you consider the nature of their business and their political affiliations Web Link

Mountain View has also permitted startups to take over ground level space on Castro Street and one block over; Quora (corner Church/Castro), Whatsapp 78,000 square feet on Bryant (one block over from Castro), same for 23andme (HQ right in downtown) there is another huge building towering over Chez TJ on Villa, I forget who is in there, but it's not open to the public, it's employee only building.

If the cities allowed ONLY restaurants, retail downtown, the landlord would be forced to offer reasonable rents, but it's a free for all, Sobrato cut a deal with the Diocese to build a huge building literally FEET from the 100+ year old Saint Joseph's Church, yet the pastor is still pleading for more money from parishioners as he does not have funds to run the parish. If anything the Sobrato project should be injecting funds into the parish operations, not the pockets of the diocese.

Sorry got off topic, but all of the above does contribute to gridlock and ruins the character of our downtown areas. Employees Only=Keep Out.


2 people like this
Posted by xPA
a resident of another community
on Dec 17, 2016 at 3:06 pm

The technical solutions are too expensive for Palo Alto or any of the other neighboring cities. No recent home purchasers will put up with paying the taxes for a bond measure that is large enough to solve the problem.

No significant progress will be made, only minor tweaks.
Market forces should help once people realize the traffic problem is not going away until the next recession.


24 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 17, 2016 at 3:39 pm

Curmudgeon --

That's right, my home is at the Abitare, directly across the street from the downtown train station. It could not possibly be more convenient to use public transportation.

While any type of meaningful survey would require authorization from our HOA, let me share an anecdote...

One recent Sunday morning, my next-door neighbor mentioned that her family was going to visit with cousins in San Francisco for the day.

I asked her if they were planning to drive or take the train.

She said they would be driving and explained that the train doesn't stop near her cousins' home. She noted that it takes too long; they would be late if they used the train. Finally, she said that if they took the train, they would need to buy tickets for everyone, where they had already paid for the car and the gas.

I thought to myself that my neighbor should summarize the shortcomings of our public transportation at the next City Council meeting. But then I realized it would be way past her bedtime. She is six years old.

Of course, some of my neighbors use the train; others bike to Stanford for their work or studies. But there is no question that the vast majority of trips are made by car.

Because we have only one parking spot allocated for each residence, several neighbors rent space in nearby garages for a second car.

Before permitting more development based on magical thinking, the city's Planning and Transportation people would be wise to conduct research on actual travel patterns of current downtown residents.


1 person likes this
Posted by Supply & Demand
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 17, 2016 at 3:54 pm

We as a city lost our focus on priorities:

TRAFFIC - need to open up clogs like build railroad overpass/underpass

SAFETY - install more Security Cameras in public places/street corners and have more
police bike/foot patrols during school/commute time.


Like this comment
Posted by Supply & Demand
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 17, 2016 at 3:58 pm

We as a city lost our focus on priorities:

TRAFFIC - need to open up clogs like build railroad overpass/underpass

SAFETY - install more Security Cameras in public places&street corners and have more
police bike/foot patrols during school/commute time.Blinking light crossings


4 people like this
Posted by Patrick Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 17, 2016 at 7:56 pm

Patrick Burt is a registered user.

Here is the link to the 2016 mode share survey by our Downtown Transportation Management Association (TMA), Web Link. Its results are very similar to the 2015 survey.
Earlier this fall, at the request of the City Council, the TMA presented a plan to eliminate 1600 parked cars and round trips per day that are planned to be removed from adjacent neighborhoods over the next eight years at a pace of 200 per year as required by the Downtown Residential Permit Parking (RPP) program. The plan broke down the number of trips to be eliminated through each Transportation Demand Management (TDM) measure. These included bus and rail transit passes, car pool apps, increased biking and other measures. The cost to achieve this level of success is around $1.5 million per year which would need to be funded by some combination of employer payments, paid parking downtown and/or a business license tax.


14 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 17, 2016 at 8:13 pm

Mayor Burt -- Thanks for being here.

PLEASE find out what it takes to get the unused mess at Jordan removed.
We can't get a response from Mr. Mello. It's been more than 4 months.


---- Re reducing / eliminating traffic, please start with eliminating the free parking and subsidized commuting for all city employees, officials, contractors etc. before asking us to pay $1,500,000 to make our lives more miserable. Let them practice what they preach.

I'm really tired of seeing and paying for all the empty shuttle buses that could be used to take the kids to/from school and that would reduce traffic dramatically.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2016 at 9:48 pm

On a recent weekend day, I carpooled in a friend's car to a joint event in San Francisco. As the friend had a second commitment in the same area, I returned by Caltrain. The train was busy with shoppers, tourists, sports fans (on their way to a Sharks game) and others getting on and off at each station. My homeward trip was just as efficient as the outward trip with one exception, the need to get from the station to where I could obtain a prearranged ride home.

For a single rider, Caltrain works well even at weekend provided the first and last mile is close by. For a group of Sharks (or Giants) fans it may work better than private car. For a family it would not have worked well. Caltrain needs to make better pricing for weekends for families and probably off peak rates for trips that start after 10.00 am. They could also make parking cheaper at weekends and after 3.00 pm to attract more non commuter riders. Caltrain could do a lot better to get more cars off the road.


9 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2016 at 12:38 am

The last cost estimate to underground the rail line in town is more than 2 years old. Anyone have an uodate to this?
Web Link

I often wonder what could happen if all the Peninsula's train right-of-way was put underground making the land above available for other uses. What would be the value of the rail land then? Has Palo Alto set a price to do eminent domain on the surface train tracks? What would developers pay to get their hands on that ground?

How could the tracks' owner be persuaded to sell its ground rights for both private and public uses? If all its tracks were undergrounded it would not have to worry about train noise anymore. It could run more superfast express trains. More freight trains. How about getting the first section of a hyperloop train right here in Palo Alto?

How many Dumbarton commuters would use a hyerloop train if it got them from the East Bay to University Avenue in minutes?

One day Palo Alto's surface train tracks (and all of Alma, too) will be dug up and that land reused. We can do it or or maybe our great grandkids will.

Or will we all just contine to be stuck in traffic and taxed for less services while our City Council gets free parking downtown and we all wait for driverless cars and Jetson flying cars to solve these traffic messes?


6 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 18, 2016 at 3:10 am

Regarding emergency response times, I think it was Friday Dec 2 around 4:30pm I was returning from the baylands westbound on Embarcadero across 101, when I saw a fire engine with red lights blazing, stymied in the eastbound lanes of the overpass. I'm sure they were impacted much more than 60 seconds. I halfway expected the driver to hop the median and scatter oncoming traffic until reaching that bottleneck intersection at East Bayshore, where he could have proceded in any direction he was headed. I didn't stick around to see the resolution, but have been curious ever since. No incidents were reported in the press. Can some official advise us what to do when an emergency vehicle comes up behind and there is absolutely nowhere to go?


8 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2016 at 9:35 am

Speaking about the money required to fund the City's traffic reduction program, the Mayor says, "The cost to achieve this level of success is around $1.5 million per year which would need to be funded by some combination of employer payments, paid parking downtown and/or a business license tax."

Is there nothing in the current bloated city budget that the Mayor thinks could be cut to fund the traffic reduction program? Is there any sense of priorities at City Hall?

Seeing this kind of nonsense from city leaders make it very easy to understand why the city faces a budget deficit at a time when the economy is booming and money is flooding into city coffers.

Is there anybody at City Hall with a sense of fiscal responsibility?


20 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2016 at 10:55 am

They will NEVER solve the traffic problem as long as they think the answer is to build bicycle and public transit infrastructure.

Because this is what they've done -- in an attempt to "discourage" driving. The TMA thinks they can magically make people in Palo Alto drive their cars less.

So without any evidence, they proceed with half-baked projects such as 2 carpool lanes on 101, the never-ending bridge construction (its ok if we close a lane until 2017, people will just take the train instead!), lane reductions and underused extra bike lanes everywhere.

Surprise surprise! After investing so much in these projects... people still drive their cars!

Its shocking, isn't it, when people would rather sit in hours of traffic (cranking up the heater/radio, playing on their phone or whatnot) then completely upend their lives and schedules so that bicycles and shuttles become their chosen mode of transportation.

We now have: unused bicycle lanes, empty shuttles & buses, and big stretches of inexplicably unused asphalt with double yellow lines where a much-needed previously existing lane would provide congestion relief (look at Charleston).

The disastrous traffic gridlock isn't a coincidence. It was DELIBERATELY created by bureaucrats with no commuting experience who were convinced that bicycles & buses can replace cars. It didn't happen. And now we have extreme, deadly, gridlock.

It's happened as a result of the government having TOO MUCH MONEY. If they didn't spend money to repaint roads and cruelly take away lanes i.e. "environmental spending" (oh it'll reduce the carbon footprint!!), then we wouldn't have all this gridlock.

None of this had to happen. Shrink government and shrink it fast.


12 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 18, 2016 at 12:02 pm

The latest TMA mode-share survey suffers from the same problems as the first one. It covers a tiny fraction of downtown employees (and 30% fewer than the first one!), examines just one week's worth of behavior (during the time of year when alternative transit would be most heavily used), and provides no information about margin of error (so we have no idea how confident we can be about the results).

All that aside, it shows that during the past year single-occupancy-vehicle use has gone up, Caltrain use has gone down, walking has gone down, and remote work has gone down. There were not-quite-offsetting increases in carpooling and "Other Transit". The most generous interpretation possible is that there has been no improvement over the past year.

What really strikes me as odd is the special section that emphasizes getting service workers to use alternative transit. There are 84% more "Light Office" workers than "Service" workers, light office workers are receiving fewer transit benefits than service workers, and light office workers drive at very nearly the same rate as service workers. In total, light office is responsible for 70% more solo drivers than the service sector. The light office workers appear to be the group that should be targeted, yet the survey goes for the service workers instead. Why?


20 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 18, 2016 at 12:26 pm

"@Curmudgeon: ...do you really need a city hall study to tell you living next to Caltrain makes it more convenient to use?"

In other words: proximity = use. That is our city hall's fallacy in a nutshell.

I want to know how true that presumption is. So should city hall. But about a year ago a councilmember asked our planning director about surveying transit use in multifamily developments near transit hubs. The reply was that the available sample size was too small to be statistically solid.

So our fair city prefers to do its planning with no data at all if it cannot have a solid 24-karat database.

I admit it's easier and more convenient to work without data. Especially when the outcome could be embarrassing to a pro-development bias.

When this topic came before the council about a decade ago, a resident of a large multifamily development very near the CalAve station reported on a private survey. Transit commute usage was 5%. That's one commuter in twenty using transit. Definitely not a welcome result.

So I understand why city hall is leery of doing a more comprehensive study. If you don't want the answer, don't ask the question.

But we need that answer to do real city planning. "Planning" based on wishful thinking which is very likely to be wrong will be profitable for developers, but disastrous for residents.


13 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 18, 2016 at 12:43 pm

Why conduct surveys like that? Because most of the time he can get away with it, knowing that his bosses and the City Council will ignore it.

When he tried sneak through a plan to ban parking on Middlefield at a meeting that was never announced to the residents, we caught him basing his conclusions on parking "surveys" taken at 10-11AM which is outside commute hours, outside school pickup/dropoff hours and outside the time when residents were parked and home for the night --ie the LIGHTEST parking times of day.

70+ residents adamantly and publicly rejected his conclusions based on these ridiculous "surveys." Mayor Burt was at that meeting so he couldn't claim community support or fudge results. He got his revenge by sneaking through the Jordan fiasco and has gotten away with not responding to any of our complaints for months.

It's beyond absurd that residents have to do our own traffic /parking surveys and run around the neighborhoods notifying each other about secret meetings. We should get paid for our services, not the arrogant functionaries who can be bothered to respond to us peons.

It's about time we demand real accountability.


3 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Dec 18, 2016 at 1:14 pm

@Curmudgeon

Again, you're interpreting the purpose of building housing next to transit as a means for getting other people out of their cars and not contributing to traffic. It's not; what it does provide is an alternative to not sit in traffic for those who actually use it, that's where the traffic relief comes in. If there's an expectation that others are not going to drive simply to make your commute easier, you're going to be constantly disappointed.


26 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 18, 2016 at 2:00 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Claiming that building dense housing near public transit means that those residents will use public transit is like saying that if you have a swimming pool in your backyard you will be very suntanned. It is no accident that we don't have even one reliable survey proving that major pro density claim. What we know for certain is that adding more population to Palo Alto, near public transport or away from it, will worsen the gridlock. The gridlock is already unmanageable with the present levels of overpopulation, imagine how bad it will get if we keep building housing.


3 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2016 at 3:02 pm

Resident, You are so right, The underlying solution is to shrink the government. The less money and staff it has the more efficient it must become.

Consider North Dakota, a state which routinely has budgets in the black. It's capitol legislature meets for just 80 days every other year and sessions always end in April. What a concept! No one can make a living just being a voter in the capitol. They all must have other jobs. It's no wonder when spring thaw happens in April the majority of legislators who are farmers leave to get their crops planted. They have an iron clad work schedule:
Web Link

Compare how North Dakota v. California certify their votes in the Electoral College for which State is run more efficiently.
Web Link

Note in the California link excessive use of paper (each page with a tiny union-approved mark), excessive use of gold foil on every page, an absence of three electors (one planned, one not), and numerous superfluous and paid functionaries to do the simple paperwork. Meanwhile, North Dakota used what looks like a McWhorter's fancy-form border one-pager and didn't use a foil seal, instead it just made a simple impression with its Great Seal.



Like this comment
Posted by Oldst
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2016 at 3:20 pm

Oops, North Dakota did have a golf foil their seal and California only had gold foil on 5 of the 7 pages of our Electoral College cert.

Wouldn't it be amazing if Palo Alto's City Council had such a tight schedule as the North Dakota legislation had? Population of Nodak is about 7640,000. Palo Alto is about 67,000.


24 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 18, 2016 at 4:13 pm

Suppose we build dense transit-oriented housing close to downtown, and people relocate into it from outlying areas. Less traffic, right? Great! But if job growth has outpaced housing construction, most new arrivals will have no choice but to live in those same old outlying areas and commute. Net traffic from those areas doesn't change. Meanwhile, people who live in the new housing still need to drive occasionally (in their own cars or by using ride-sharing). As the young people marry and have kids, their need to drive increases. Since jobs are widely distributed, when people in the new housing change jobs the odds are high that their next job won't be as convenient, and some will have to drive. In both the short run and the long run there's a net increase in traffic. If nothing else changes, it's simple: More people means more traffic.

Half-measures like granny units and modest increases in building heights solve none of these problems. So long as unbounded job growth continues, housing has to increase without limit. And as Stewart Carl observed during the last election, it takes a lot more space to house a person than it does to employ one. Every new office you see requires several times more land or airspace in the form of housing. (Web Link)

We have relatively low-density, widely-distributed communities here because of conscious design decisions made after World War II. (See Margaret O'Mara's book "Cities of Knowledge" for a good short history.) Undoing that infrastructure and replacing it with high-density urban infrastructure, including mass transit, is possible, but mind-bogglingly expensive. And it would require replacing most of the built environment that exists here today.

Improving the transit systems we already have, and making more effective use of them, will help. Near-future technology like dynamically-scheduled (possibly driverless) shuttles might help. Encouraging companies to expand in places where it's more affordable to build the necessary infrastructure would help a lot. But so long as unbounded job growth continues, even lots of high-density housing won't improve traffic.


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 18, 2016 at 7:39 pm

"@Curmudgeon: Again, you're interpreting the purpose of building housing next to transit as a means for getting other people out of their cars and not contributing to traffic."

That's exactly what it is in this town, buddy.


Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 15, 2017 at 8:38 am

Save our neighborhoods! Castilleja school wants to add an underground garage in an R1 zone, and add 130,parking spaces, and massive concrete structures. Go to pnqlnow.org to learn more.

Build it and they will come. 130+ more cars on Embarcadero and neighborhood streets at peak commute hours. 6-9 years of construction. Please help us and let the City Council know how you feel.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 15, 2017 at 9:05 am

Parking lots should be built at freeway onramps. I was recently talking to someone who has just been working in Europe for the past six months. One of their comments from life over there was that people walked and used buses of all types - while waiting at a bus stop for their own bus, it was the park and ride buses (from the out of town parking lots) which were the most plentiful. There was minimal parking in town even for employees or visitors.

If you build the parking lots and put in a good shuttle service that is faster than driving, they will be used.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

California Democrats seek to revive the Republican Party; Republicans expected to resist
By Douglas Moran | 28 comments | 2,698 views

Chocolate + Tahini Ice Box Pie
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 1,130 views

Love is a Verb
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 701 views

Oh, My Aching Knees
By Max Greenberg | 14 comments | 638 views

 

Save $5 when you register by Monday, July 24

Registration is now open for the 33rd annual Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run and Walk. This family-friendly event which benefits local nonprofits serving kids and families will take place on Friday, Oct. 6 at the Palo Alto Baylands.

Register Here