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What is up with Palo Alto traffic ?

Original post made by Anon., Crescent Park, on Mar 10, 2012

I went downtown just now to get a bite to eat, and at Cowper and University in the space of 10 minutes two cars went right through the red light heading towards Stanford without hesitation, just drove right through the intersection on a red from a stop.

Considering that a person was killed by a bus down there a while back and it is a problem intersection maybe someone needs to be keeping an eye on it or a camera needs to be installed.

This was blatant and there are a lot of people walking around downtown as well.

Are other people seeing the same poor driving in Palo Alto because peolpe are really paying no attention to the rules of the road?

Comments (35)

Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Mar 10, 2012 at 11:33 pm

I've noticed this correlation. Have you?


The more liberal a community, the worse are it's drivers.





Posted by call 911
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 11, 2012 at 9:37 am

Running red lights is dangerous and reckless driving. Get their license plate numbers and call 911.


Posted by call 911
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 11, 2012 at 9:39 am

P.S. Regarding who is running red lights, a recent university study showed that richer people were much more likely to flaunt traffic laws than poorer people. Richer people tend to be more Republican.


Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Mar 11, 2012 at 11:06 am

>>"Richer people tend to be more Republican"

Actually, just the opposite in Palo Alto.


Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 11, 2012 at 12:03 pm


Forget the politics - unprovable either way. There are plenty of rich Democrats and Republicans and Independents.
More to the point, we have this problem on Embarcadero whereby cars get off 101 and race up to directly enter Stanford campus. It's a direct, speedy line.
Speed leads to lack of courtesy and sometimes running lights.
I have seen this for years and even been able to witness specific cars by leaving my home, driving up Embarcadero (then going off towards the shopping ctr. since I have no business on campus) and observing those cars proceed directly into campus - that's why I think this is a big problem directly attributable to Stanford-related traffic.
The idea that everyone transits to Stanford (or will) by riding the train is ludicrous.
The reverse applies when they want to go home and get the heck out of here - cars race down Embarcadero to the freeway. These are not locals who came from Middlefield Rd. or something.
I think we do need to drive cautiously in PA owing to other poor drivers, but there is a certain commute element that does not respect us residents.


Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 11, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Speed on Embarcadero westbound from 101 to El Camino M-F is scary from at least between 6:30 am. to 9:30 a.m. Radar cannot be used on Embarcadero between 101 and Middlefield. Years ago then Assembly-Member Ted Lempert tried to get that changed when he was in the Assembly ,but it was tacked onto another bill that would have hurt Southern California interests. Give the voting ratio in the Assembly then, it didn't have a chance. The speed is criminally dangerous. And yes, speeding in downtown is really bad. Would speed bumps work? Getting this radar problem changed should be priority of the Council.


Posted by Epidemic
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 11, 2012 at 9:39 pm

It's bad everywhere. I see it done (running red lights) on such streets as Oregon Expressway, Middlefield Road in South Palo Alto, Loma Verde... you name it.

It is very dangerous. You are right that in downtown it's particularly dangerous because of all the pedestrians. But there are pedestrians and bicycle riders everywhere and I find it very scary for them.

As to the reason why, I think it is simply the result of people feeling entitled (the road belongs to me) and who are always in a hurry because they have too many activites crammed in their lives.


Posted by double the fines
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 11, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Is it possible for the city to double the fines for speeding or red light running on residential streets? Those are the streets where pedestrians and children are most at risk. Many of the most dangerous streets in the city are lined with homes for most of their lengths (eg. Middlefield, Embarcadero, Loma Verde, which were all mentioned above). There is absolutely no excuse for speeding or running red lights on a residential street.


Posted by Silly Question
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2012 at 10:53 pm

Double the fines says: "Is it possible for the city to double the fines for speeding or red light running on residential streets?"

The City can't do anything because what you are asking for is governed by State law - dah!!!


Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2012 at 3:44 am

A car moving faster than the speed limit on roads like Middlefield are not necessarily speeding vehicles, they are just above the unrealistic limit of 25 for that road. It is almost impossible to drive at 25 safely on Middlefield because of two reasons, first a driver has to keep concentrating on 25 mph rather than going with the flow of traffic and the driver's concentration is more on speed than traffic/pedestrians, etc. Second a car moving at 25 is causing other traffic to change lanes to overtake more than would normally happen.

It is easier to drive 25 on streets like Loma Verde, Louis, Cowper, etc. than it is on Middlefield.

Sometimes, going over the limit is the safer option.


Posted by Adobe
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 12, 2012 at 9:03 am

In the residential areas here, I don't think I've seen more cautious, pedestrian-friendly drivers anywhere else. Drivers go slow, stop for pedestrians, and are very careful around children. I noticed this immediately after moving down here a few years ago from a mid-peninsula town, where you'd frequently get the the pickup truck or 20-something guy in some souped-up car trying to demonstrate their manhood by aggressively tailgating, peeling-out, etc. You simply get much less, if any, of that kind of knuckle-headed behavior here. It's all due to demographics, no doubt.


Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 12, 2012 at 10:00 am

Both pedestrian and car traffic downtown ignore traffic laws and common sense. Running red lights, walking in front of cars without looking, etc. happens all the time.

I cross Embarcadero at Newell frequently. At least 50% of the time (truly, I've kept track) a car runs the red light at Newell - usually heading west toward Stanford, occasionally heading east. Even if the police can't ticket for speeding, they can ticket for running red lights.


Posted by double the fines
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 12, 2012 at 10:09 am

If the city can't double the fines for speeding on residential streets, they should double the enforcement. Speeding on residential streets is terrorism. People who have a hard time driving 25mph on Middlefield Road are incompetent and/or reckless and need to be taken off the road.


Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 12, 2012 at 12:22 pm

The question of traffic on Embarcadero or Middlefield is part of the Palo Alto "reality distortion field" where people do have to get somewhere but the speed limit is low, BUT this is the heart of a residential area where people are biking and crossing and whatever. I think there is an unspoken impasse that people speed a little and do not get tickets unless they are doing it dangerously or have some other problem, no seat belt, cell phone, etc.

What I was talking about I saw another example of yesterday on Channing over by Newell - RIGHT BY THE SCHOOL ZONE - is either people too distracted to even be looking at the road or "entitled" to blast right through a stop sign because they see no traffic or police there - and I see it almost ever time I am driving, and that is about every day.


Posted by anon
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2012 at 10:17 pm

The city somehow needs to fund more police to patrol red-light and stop-sign runners. I've been seeing a lot more negligent drivers lately in PA and Mt View where I work. Google drivers are some of the worst.


Posted by Phil
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 13, 2012 at 12:32 am

The police department is currently operating under-staffed. The total number of police officers approved to work in Palo Alto is down 10% from 10-15 years ago. Several specialty assignments have been cut from the department entirely. All of this as part of budget cutting measures. Any thought of having additional officers assigned to working traffic enforcement can be forgotten. They do not have the staffing to allocate their resources to lower priority problems, nor do they have the funds or support to install red light cameras and the such. The police department cannot be expected to do more with less.


Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 13, 2012 at 6:50 am

Speeding and red light running are unrelated. Red light running is about selfishness, self absorption and disregard for others.


Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2012 at 9:18 am

@ Resident: You make a great point...especially if you consider a street like Alma. The speed limit is 35 mph. However, the average speed on Alma St. appears to be much higher. There are plenty of drivers who regularly push and exceed 50 mph.

The problem with driving is that the "laws" are only widely upheld if we expect others to widely uphold them. There must be a consistency in driving norms for those laws to be effective.

For instance, I am astonished by the number of Bay Area drivers (particular from Palo Alto to the South Bay) who change lanes without using the appropriate signal. I have to wonder how such drivers can regularly change lanes or make turns without giving thought to a turn signal.

This can be extremely dangerous. Not only are these bad drivers placing themselves and their passengers in real danger of having their vehicles clipped or rear-ended, they are also placing a great deal of responsibility to the driver immediately behind them.

This is compounded on roads that are already congested and where drivers are regularly driving over the speed limit (or the original driver who neglects using turn signals drives considerably UNDER the speed limit).

At first, my husband and I thought that it might be a cultural norm. We noticed that many of these drivers may have been international and may have brought the driving habits from foreign nations back here to the Bay Area. However, my husband has noticed plenty of American-born drivers who are just as demonstrative when it comes to neglecting to use a turn signal.

When I was in grad school, I worked on an assignment in a policy class. It dealt with the statistics in traffic fatalities.

We found that more than 90% of accidents were driver related. In addition, the number one cause of traffic fatalities was NOT from drunk driving but from driver negligence. This included drivers who were distracted by cell phones/text messages AND from drivers who simply failed to follow the most simple traffic laws. Speeding was actually the second largest cause of fatalities. Drunk driving was ranked third.

I really wish that someone could place signs up around the city or state that emphasizes the need to respect these much-neglected driving safety laws. We already have "DON'T DRIVE DRUNK" and "CLICK IT OR TICKET: WEAR YOUR SEAT BELT" signs/commercials. It would be great to see some "OBEY THE LAW: DON'T SPEED and USE YOUR TURN SIGNAL - IT MIGHT JUST SAVE LIVES (INCLUDING YOUR OWN)" signs or commercials.

If drivers in this area could just respect the laws regarding turn signals, speed limits (upper and lower limits) and proper stops at signs and lights, then the rate of accidents and driving-related stress could be much lower.


Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 13, 2012 at 10:01 am

"... without hesitation, just drove right through the intersection on a red from a stop."

Good thing they didn't drive LEFT through the intersection from a stop. Seriously, I'm a bit confused by the mutually exclusive "without hesitation" and "from a stop" parts. While alarming, this wording doesn't appear to indicate excessive speed or running a late yellow, or even total disregard for conflicting traffic, as no mention was made of ensuing rude gestures. I often see Middlefield and Embarcadero driven like expressways, but nobody tries to barrel through downtown University Avenue on a Saturday night at anything approaching 25 mph. I'm frequently out there people watching, and rarely see egregious misbehavior on the part of pedestrians or motorists. If Cowper is particularly a problem intersection, then so are many others all over the city. The unfortunate bus accident in late 2010 was at Webster with a green light and professional driver in the daytime.


Posted by Puzzled
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2012 at 11:16 am

What I've never understood is why the speed limit along University Ave in downtown Palo Alto is the same as the speed limit on Embarcardero east of 101. University Ave is one lane each direction with cars constantly pulling in and out of angle parking either side of the street, with many cyclists and pedestrians around. Embarcadero down by the golf course, on the other hand, is two lanes each way, has bicycle lanes, and is lightly used, even less used now the dump is closed. Seems like you could add 10mph to the speed limit on that section of Embarcadero and subtract it from Univ. Ave. Middlefield has similar discrepancies - it is 4 lanes with bike lanes in some places, and 2 lanes with cars parked either side making the road even more narrow in other places, yet the speed limit is the same. Doesn't make sense at all.


Posted by William
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 13, 2012 at 2:13 pm

The speeding vehicle issue on Embarcadero Rd has been an issue for the 30 years that I have lived here. Because of the California Basic Speed Law that helps to prevent unlawful speed traps at 25MPH, the cheaps and easy fix has always been to raise the speed limit to 35MPH so that radar can be used. See Shoreline in Mtn View. . .


Posted by double the fines
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 13, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Embarcadero Road between Alma and Hwy 101 is a residential street lined with homes and schools. Speeding and running stop lights there is dangerous and reckless and the cops really need to step up enforcement.

Shoreline in Mountain View is partially commercial and has wider lanes and fewer crosswalks. Higher speed limits may be appropriate there, but certainly not on Embarcadero.

If the city can't use radar on Embaradero right now, they should install more stop lights to slow traffic down to safe speeds.


Posted by Scholar
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 13, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Obey the laws. Don't exceed the speed limits. Use caution and make driving a full-time job while you are doing it. Accidents will decrease.


Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 13, 2012 at 5:54 pm

This is not directly related to red light running or speeding but to safety and negligence. I'm still socked by the very high percentage of drivers who don't turn their headlights on when the visibility is poor, due to heavy thick fog, rainy conditions or plain darkness. I often leave my house on wintery early morning when it's still very dark and many cars suddenly appear out of the darkness, no lights. The drivers seem totally unaware they need to turn their headlights on to be seen. I have also noticed a close correlation between the failure to turn on headlights and the use of cell phones while driving.


Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Mar 13, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Most of the traffic on University Avenue is cutting through Palo Alto to get to highway 101 & to the Dumbarton bridge. Close 101 & University and the traffic will go way down.


Posted by just add more speed humps
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Since drivers cant seem to obey the speed limit, maybe the city should just install more speed humps or rougher higher friction pavement. Both are very effective at slowing drivers down.


Posted by CautiouslyDrivingMom
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 13, 2012 at 11:29 pm

This afternoon, as I was going from Meadow to Charleston on Alma, I was horrified to see a BMW driving toward me. Fortunately, I was able to safely move to the right lane and avoid him. The driver crossed the double yellow lines so he can zoom past all the stopped cars(it was a long line) in order get to the left turn lane. What's the big deal if you miss this light cycle?


Posted by KT
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2012 at 7:57 am

I am glad that you brought up the poor driving situation. If you spent the day driving around inner city Philadelphia or NY you would come back and say that driving in Palo Alto is a breeze. But there are definitely issues with the way traffic flows around here and not only cars, but pedestrians, cyclists, motorcylcists, and even baby toting carriage pushers of the west. First, the highways around here are a mess. You have 100 feet to merge into traffic flowing at at least 70mph. You also have a four lane highway that opens up to 6 lanes with 2 that are high speed merges....really? Who thought of that? As for around town, especially downtown Palo Alto....ok, a light turns green, but you have 58 people wanting to cross the street....and most of them walk slower than a snail (on the phone, chatting, looking at the clouds). No wonder so many people blatently run traffic lights. It is a small zoo around there and I can see how people lose patience (they shouldn't, but I can see how it happens). The 25mph zones in the neighborhoods are legit, but on Middlefield? That is pretty darn slow and almost impossible to obey. I usually do just flow with traffic just to actually get somewhere in less than an hour. Cyclists, I thought, were supposed to follow the rules of the road...but that never happens! The other day I was headed down Charleston, right past Alma and this woman road her bike across the street directly in front of 3 moving vehicles...no helmet, she didn't even look. Was that a death wish? I don't know! They run stop signs, enter into the lane from the bike lane to pass etc, just assumming that a car will move over to avoid them. People have also come barrelling down on the wrong side of the road on Middlefield and, poor me, who was pulling out of Piazzas parking lot looking left almost creamed the guy coming down on the right. Why would I look right if the cars are coming from the left and I am turning right? We are not in England!!! Motor cyclists...really, do you have to speed up next to me on the divider? I know that they are trying to play safe, but if I don't see you and I perhaps sneeze, you are toast!! There are so many people who swerve in their lanes around here, it is often scary, but the motorcylcist and the cyclist will be the ones that pay the ultimate price! Also, those baby pushing caregivers. Yes, you hit the crosswalk sign....but then without even ensuring that the cars are stopping you step out into traffic, baby first, and assume that the people going 45mph down Arastradero are going to stop for you. Really? I just want to cringe when I see it.... There is something that is missing around here, there are a lot of highly educated people, but the majority of them lack common sense....something that is crucial for community living! Let's get it together Palo Alto!!!


Posted by AMRW
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2012 at 11:36 am

I stick by the George Carlin line "Anybody driving faster than you is a manaic, anybody driving slower than you is an idiot." We all think that we're great drivers but with all the nutso drivers out there, we can't all be great, can we?
I don't talk on my phone while driving, I turn on my lights in the rain, I let merging cars merge, etc etc, but I'm sure I do dumb stuff once in a while that causes others on the road to think "what a manaiac!"


Posted by Just add more speed humps
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2012 at 1:25 pm

The problem as I see it is that everyone thinks laws are for others to obey. Observe KT's post. He/she feels justified violating the speed limit because he/she has places to get to. Also everyone else is violating the speed limit law, so clearly that's also justification. Since KT observes that cyclists never observe the rule of the road, it should be noted then thats ok under KT's own rules. Every other cyclist is doing it, so it is no longer required of them.

Btw KT, you look to the right because legal traffic can approach you from the right. There is a sidewalk there and bikes and pedestrians can legally approach you from there. Mind you I think biking against traffic on the sidewalk is not well thought out because too many drivers make your mistake, even me sometimes, but it is legal.


Posted by JimmyJoe
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 14, 2012 at 4:07 pm

When was the last time you saw a cop downtown except the police station?


Posted by KT
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2012 at 9:54 pm

Just add more speed humps,
I agree. It is true that since most traffic goes over the speed limit, I too go over the speed limit or maybe because I go over the speed limit others do too??. Of course, when I know there is a spot where police officers run radar, I slow down, but doesn't everyone?? The bike situation, however, I completely disagree. I observe this rule always, and I observe these people just taking their lives for granted. I watch them take risks and know that, on a bike, I don't take such risks. As for the looking right, I learned my lesson. When the incident happened I had looked for pedestrians, but the guy on the bike came zooming down as I double checked to the left. I have a pretty good (ughh humm) response reflex so I was able to slam on the breaks and nothing happened, but it was definintely a wake-up call. I am not saying that everyone should break the rules and do what they like, but if everyone practices a little common sense on the road this environment would be much more pleasant to drive around!!! :)


Posted by new downtown
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 15, 2012 at 4:57 pm

KT says"If you spent the day driving around inner city Philadelphia or NY you would come back and say that driving in Palo Alto is a breeze". Well, I am a Center City Philadelphia driver and I think Philadelphia is easier because:
you can't turn right on red which greatly increases safety
and
a substantial numer of streets are one way only


Posted by Andrea
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 16, 2012 at 9:13 am

California Ave has gotten really bad. I see cars blow through the stop signs every day as well as speeders. The traffic around here has gotten ridiculous and the drivers have gotten worse as well.. rude and impatient. Not to mention not paying attention half the time. I don't feel safe walking littlelone riding a bike. I worry about my daughter riding hers to school. She's almost been hit once already. Something needs to be done.


Posted by Getting worse
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2012 at 11:37 pm

As long as the city keeps allowing big office buildings and other big developments the traffic situation will keep getting worse. They ignore the problems, because money rules the day. Until the people say enough, it will keep on.
Big office building going to go up on Alma and immense theater and commercial complex on University and El Camino. Money is talking very very loud, as long as the people don't pay attention.


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