A strategy to get traffic moving on University Avenue and off Crescent Park residential streets in Palo Alto could include traffic-light upgrades along the Dumbarton Bridge corridor and green-light synchronization.
Palo Alto Chief Transportation Official Joshuah Mello laid out potential traffic-mitigation strategies on Tuesday night during a community meeting for Crescent Park residents at the Palo Alto Art Center Auditorium. Traffic Safety Engineer Ruchika Aggarwal, Deputy City Manager Rob de Geus and police Capt. Zach Perron also attended.
Neighborhood-based Crescent Park Traffic Committee members previously met with city officials on March 26 to flesh out proposals for speed management and traffic-volume management.
Tuesday night's meeting defined the proposed strategies, which included synchronizing green traffic lights; prioritizing passage through traffic lights for buses; eliminating the incentive for drivers to cut around backed-up traffic; adding dedicated left-turn lanes and signals at some locations; adding speed bumps along some residential streets; and partially closing some streets in one direction to force traffic out of the neighborhood.
• View maps, statistics and photos showing examples of the potential strategies discussed Tuesday in a presentation provided by the city of Palo Alto's Transportation Division here.
Get traffic flowing on University Avenue
Palo Alto, along with Union City, Fremont, Menlo Park and Stanford have received an Innovative Deployments to Enhance Arterials (IDEA) grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to upgrade 36 traffic signals from Union City to Stanford, including the Dumbarton Bridge corridor that runs along state Highway 84 and Willow Road. The signals would also have a green-light priority for buses that would allow SamTrans buses to communicate with the signals if bus-route traffic starts falling behind schedule. If buses move faster than other traffic, it could encourage more mass-transit ridership, Mello said.
East Palo Alto and Palo Alto are also applying for a Program for Arterial System Synchronization (PASS) grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to study synchronizing 18 signals along the University Avenue corridor from Middlefield Road to O'Brien Drive in Menlo Park, and including along sections of Donohoe Street and East Bayshore Road. The California Department of Transportation, which also has a signal in East Palo Alto, would also participate in the study.
Eliminate the incentive to 'cut the line'
Traffic snarls in part on University Avenue because motorists turning right on neighborhood streets -- particularly on East Crescent Drive -- and others along University Avenue use the bike lane to cut around eastbound traffic, effectively creating a second lane. The city could add curb extensions and bollards at the corners of Crescent, East Crescent, West Crescent and Center drives to keep traffic from entering the bike lane while still allowing for bicyclists to pass through, Mello said.
Adding left-turn lanes at the traffic signals along University at Guinda and Chaucer streets and Lincoln Avenue would help keep traffic flowing. The turning lanes would require eliminating about five to six parking spots along University at each intersection, however, Mello noted.
The city could also improve directional signage to U.S. Highway 101 from downtown to help people find their way to the freeway along University Avenue.
Redesign local streets to reduce cut-through traffic
The city could add gateway signage at the entrances of Hamilton and Forest avenues at Middlefield Road that would say "Welcome to Crescent Park" or "entering a residential area" to define for motorists that they are not on a commuter route. The city would add temporary rubber speed humps on Hamilton Avenue between Middlefield Road and Fulton Street to test if traffic slows down.
To redirect traffic from going onto the residential streets, the city could split the light signal phasing for the Hamilton Avenue at Middlefield Road intersection to make left turns easier and give drivers heading east two lanes to turn left onto Middlefield, provided there is enough room to turn.
The city could also partially close Hamilton Avenue by blocking the eastbound lane at Middlefield. The city would have a short pilot project to test the effectiveness of the closure, he said. A similar set of measures could be used at Hamilton and Lincoln.
Mello said the five-way intersection at Hamilton, Center and Southwood Drive should be reconfigured. In the short term, it could be accomplished with lane striping, curb extensions and planters. The curb extensions would redirect the entrance of Southwood to intersect Center at a right angle. Traffic wanting to drive eastward from Hamilton to Southwood would need to first make a left onto Center and then a right onto Southwood. The intersection of East Crescent and Southwood would also need similar reconfiguration.
Traffic volume reduction
The city could add diagonal diverters on Hamilton at Guinda and Lincoln to discourage through-traffic flow. Some segments of Hamilton between Fulton and Middlefield might turn into one-way traffic traveling west, he said.
Mello said that adding enforcement measures such as "no left turn" signs and additional stop signs are ineffective in reducing traffic flow. Such signage at a certain point might contribute to speeding by frustrated drivers and rolling through stop signs. Street and lane closures are proven and effective ways to reduce through traffic with minimal inconvenience to the neighborhood's residents, he said.
The city will now create a pilot program based on the feedback it received at Tuesday's meeting. Staff will collect traffic data prior to the pilot program to create a baseline and will present the plan to the City Council.
Mello said the pilot traffic-calming program could begin this fall. After six months, the city would collect additional traffic data in the middle of the pilot program to see whether the changes have an impact. The city would make necessary tweaks based on the mid-pilot data and would continue the pilot until fall 2019. A final report would be presented to the City Council for approval before any changes are made permanent.