News

University Avenue traffic signals to be synchronized

Project expected to improve traffic flow from Middlefield Road to the Dumbarton Bridge

A new plan to synchronize 14 traffic signals along University Avenue in Palo Alto and East Palo Alto could cut the amount of time commuters spend in traffic jams between Middlefield Road and the Dumbarton Bridge by 20 percent to 40 percent, according to the city of Palo Alto.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission gave the project the green light in the form of a $81,130 grant on July 13; Palo Alto, which initiated the project, will contribute an additional $15,470.

The project will be implemented in the next few months, according to Palo Alto Chief Transportation Official Joshuah Mello, and will pay for signal improvements at the 14 intersections, plus four intersections on Donohoe Street in East Palo Alto.

Greg Welch, a Crescent Park resident who has headed the neighborhood campaign to reduce traffic on besieged residential streets, lauded the news.

"This is a great development for the residents of Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, and commuters alike. Hopefully by smoothing traffic flow along the University Avenue corridor, it will ease the impact of overflow traffic spilling into adjacent residential neighborhoods," he said in an email this week.

The situation has gotten so bad during morning and afternoon commutes that some drivers are engaging in hazardous behavior -- crossing into opposing traffic lanes to bypass the congestion -- residents in both cities have said.

The traffic problems prompted East Palo Alto City Councilman Larry Moody to publicly call for coordination between Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park to help resolve the situation by synchronizing signals and potentially adding a park-and-ride lot and shuttles near the Dumbarton Bridge, among other plans.

East Palo Alto Public Works Director Kamal Fallaha, whose agency participated in the proposal, said it makes sense to coordinate the signals as a way to improve traffic flow. The signals will have updated green, yellow and red light minimum times so that traffic can clear the intersections.

"Hopefully it will help the whole system," he said, noting that the changes are expected to also increase safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The project will start with traffic counts and proceed to the signal-timing upgrades. East Palo Alto and California Department of Transportation lights have similar signal-timing programs, but they differ from Palo Alto's, so new programming would be added to the East Palo Alto signal-control boxes, Fallaha said.

The work will not impede traffic. The primary task will be reprogramming signal controllers, which does not require lane closures or setting the signals into flash mode, Mello said in an email.

"We believe that significant benefits will accrue to the city of Palo Alto after the project is completed and that the project is well worth the cost," he said.

John Goodwin, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said the agency's project team will meet with Palo Alto's transportation officials this month to begin the study and work. The final report will be due in June 2019, but Goodwin said the synchronization would be working much sooner. The June deadline relates to a signoff after all reports are finalized.

The MTC program that's funding the project aims to improve travel time and reliability along main thoroughfares or arterial streets. It seeks to improve vehicle, bike, pedestrian and transit-rider safety and, potentially, air quality by decreasing vehicle emissions and fuel consumption, according to the agency.

The Palo Alto/East Palo Alto improvements are expected to reduce carbon emissions and fuel consumption by 20 to 40 percent, according to the project application.

In addition to the signal synchronizations, Mello said his department will help reduce cut-through traffic in Crescent Park by adding six large planters at the entrances of Hamilton, Forest and Lincoln avenues east of Middlefield Road. The planters, along with signage, are intended to calm traffic by making motorists aware they are driving into a residential neighborhood.

Transportation staff also plan to work with consultants this fall on details of test programs to address traffic issues and potential solutions that Crescent Park residents submitted to the city in spring, including diagonal diverters to reduce traffic volume, adding curb extensions and bollards on some streets and installing left-turn lanes on University Avenue at some intersections.

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Comments

18 people like this
Posted by XDM
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 1, 2018 at 10:32 am

About time. This segment of university is horrible.


27 people like this
Posted by Kenny
a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2018 at 11:18 am

This is obviously new technology and this synchronization could not possibly have been done several years ago, right?!


30 people like this
Posted by Mark Dinan
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 1, 2018 at 11:24 am

Mark Dinan is a registered user.

Great to see this happening! That being said, this seems to be the lowest hanging of fruit, why was this not done 10 years ago? Each day thousands of people waste hours on this stretch.


23 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 1, 2018 at 11:58 am

Online Name is a registered user.

About 4 years ago when PA's former head of transportation left, he was awarded a contract for millions of dollars to fix traffic light timing. I vaguely remember the figure of $3,000,000.

We all continue to waste hours all around town at poorly timed lights where absolutely nothing moves; this is just one of the problem areas.


19 people like this
Posted by Concerned Observer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 1, 2018 at 12:09 pm

Concerned Observer is a registered user.

Now if they would only fix Oregon Expressway. It's been horrible ever since they replaced the lights two years ago. It may be Santa Clara County responsibility, not sure, but it's backed up to Page Mill going east at 2 PM nearly every day because of poor synchronization.


23 people like this
Posted by Gary Gridlock
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2018 at 12:41 pm

The tech hub of the Universe and P.A. is JUST getting around to syncing traffic signals. Sometimes you wonder?


19 people like this
Posted by Joe Meyers
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 1, 2018 at 1:09 pm

Montreal had synchronized lights in the 1950s! Here we are in the "heart" of high-tech land and we're finally getting to this! I hope the idea spreads to Sand Hill Road, Page Mill Road, and our other main arteries.

Also, why not synchronize Lytton lights for travel toward the southwest, and Hamilton for travel toward the northeast? This gets around businesses' objections to one-way streets but would speed alternative ways of getting through downtown.


18 people like this
Posted by Michael H
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 1, 2018 at 1:21 pm

Michael H is a registered user.

While they're at it why not synchronize the lights on Embarcadero between Trader Joe's and El Camino Real as well? This problem seems to be getting worse and starting earlier by the week!


Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2018 at 2:10 pm

Next up: prohibit all tall ship traffic south of Dumbarton Bridge; build two (2) new Dumbarton spans -- one east-bound; the other west-bound -- each with five (5) lanes; tear down the old Dumbarton bridge. The current Dumbarton bridge, in my opinion, is the biggest traffic problem at present for East Palo Alto, East Menlo Park, and several nearby or adjoining areas. Several off-ramps on Highway 101 are quite jam-packed at present; to boot, Dumbarton is an eye-sore. I suggest a new, low, flat, and wide bridge consisting of two spans, one in each direction.


Like this comment
Posted by Simple Alternatives
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 1, 2018 at 2:20 pm

Better yet...require all cars traveling along this route to be transported via those car carriers that you see delivering automobiles to car dealerships. A land-based car ferry service.

Then once drivers get to the Dumbarton Bridge, they have a choice of either crossing the SF bay via the existing bridge OR being transported across the bay by another ferry service.

The last option is to eventually construct an underwater 'tube' for additional car lanes and/or directional traffic to and from EPA/Newark.


10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2018 at 3:48 pm

Having traveled a fair amount, I can say that traffic lights here are way behind the times. Those who say that for the heart of Silicon Valley to not have synchronized lights is unbelievable.

I have seen lights work where the lights have sensors to see where the traffic is signalling to proceed and amends the light sequence as well as sensing when pedestrians are still in a crosswalk and do not change until the pedestrian has done crossing - no more countdowns. We don't even turn our traffic lights to flashing mode late at night so we have to stop and wait for the sequence at past midnight!

It is about time we caught up with the rest of the world.


13 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 1, 2018 at 4:16 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"While they're at it why not synchronize the lights on Embarcadero between Trader Joe's and El Camino Real as well? This problem seems to be getting worse and starting earlier by the week!"

The former transportation czar had that task on his plate for about 8 years and for 8 years we all had to sit there at red lights even when Paly wasn't in session -- summers, weekends, late at night... and the city praised him for his "contributions" and awarded him that multi-million-dollar contract to work on light timing.

But as our Mayor says, we don't have a traffic/congestion problem and to take alternate routes. Too bad there are so few alternate routes to Embarcadero.


8 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 1, 2018 at 5:19 pm

"The traffic problems prompted East Palo Alto City Councilman Larry Moody to publicly call for coordination between Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park to help resolve the situation..."

Coordination? Among city bureaucracies?? And across a county line too??? That's grossly unnatural!!!


5 people like this
Posted by Irene Lopez
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 1, 2018 at 6:36 pm

About time! Not sure why this isn’t happening sooner. I live on Cooley Ave there are days where I can’t even get out of my driveway because of traffic.


2 people like this
Posted by Rob
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 1, 2018 at 8:18 pm

@SimpleAlternatives : I really hope you're kidding.


2 people like this
Posted by R. Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2018 at 9:55 pm

All that's really needed are those nifty devices that extend the yellow light just long enough to enable a car to clear the intersection prior to the red 'stop' light.

The 552 VTA 'Rapid' busses have them installed to ensure a continuous run & the only time the bus actually has to stop is to pick-up/drop-off passengers or in the event it is situated several cars behind at a 'red' intersection.

A continuous flow of heavily congested traffic via synchronized signals is only going to offer an illusion of getting somewhere faster. Instead of cars speeding up & slowing down, you will have something more along the lines of a controlled crawl. Besides, synchronized green lights will always be hindered by left turn light signals as someone always has to stop somewhere in the traffic equation.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 2, 2018 at 12:03 am

How 'bout y'all Google [traffic signal synchronization green wave palo alto] and look at the history before complaining that the signal synchronization is behind the times. All the traffic signal controllers were replaced years ago with ones that would support various adaptive signal schemes.


9 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 2, 2018 at 12:32 am

Online Name is a registered user.

@resident, ok. I did and retrieved some 2016 articles where the critical point seems to be they "plan" to synchronize the lights -- as in the FUTURE tense -- which doesn't at all negate our criticism of the fact that it still hasn't happened.

Remember the old joke about the Company X marketing manager whose wife was still a virgin? Why? Because he kept telling her how great it was going to be.

Web Link
Palo Alto seeks to make 'waves' with traffic lights
City plans to roll out time-of-day signals, adaptive technologies


5 people like this
Posted by Rational
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 2, 2018 at 6:17 am

I really like the Park & Ride idea. Commuters will go for it because the Park & Ride lot will be cheaper. Send a bus to downtown and a bus to Stanford.


3 people like this
Posted by Speeder
a resident of University South
on Aug 2, 2018 at 6:51 am

I look forward to the day I can speed down University Ave at 50 mph.


5 people like this
Posted by David Grossman
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 2, 2018 at 4:59 pm

The article cites expected performance improvement but fails to mention any simulation studies that yielded these predictions. I would hope that simulations are done before changes are implemented, because otherwise it's quite possible that the proposed changes may actually make matters worse.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 2, 2018 at 5:39 pm

Yes, please improve traffic flow on University Ave in PA and EPA; this will be a significant improvement to the region if a successful project and it’s a needed project, in my opinion and experience.
Also hope 101 and Willow to be completed soon....?


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

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