Traffic complaints will result in ‘No Driving’ signs in Willows – Palo Alto Daily Post

Above, vehicles clog streets near Arnold Way and Durham St. in Menlo Park. Photo by Ana Uribe Ruiz.

BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Editor

Menlo Park officials, in response to a flurry of traffic complaints in the Willows neighborhood, plan to add “no traffic” signs on some streets and improve the timing of red lights. But they admit that traffic will only improve slightly in the short term.

The problems stem from the construction of the Willow Road-Highway 101 overpass by Caltrans, which resulted in backups on Willow Road and the Willows neighborhood, which borders East Palo Alto and Palo Alto.

At a city council meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 14, Willows residents said the city must act now to ease congestion.

Brian Gilmer, a longtime Willows resident, said traffic in his neighborhood isn’t a new problem, but things have gotten significantly worse.

“Once in a while it would be bad if there was a bad crash, but last week there were backups every day,” Gilmer said.

Aside from the traffic that typically plagues Willows, there was an issue with the timing of red lights at the intersections of Willow Road and the 101 Freeway.

Stop light delay

Angela Obeso, the city’s senior transportation engineer, said Caltrans and the city will work to get the timing right at freeway intersections and at Newbridge Street and Bay Road to get more cars through.

Resident Ana Uribe Ruiz noted how difficult it is to walk down Willow Road, saying you’d get a green light, hit two red lights in a row, then get another green, meaning no one can really cross the road.

Backups have also occurred because ramp entrances have moved. If you are heading east on Willow and wish to take Hwy 101, the on-ramp, which was previously in the right lane, is now in the left lane. This is causing some confusion, and Obeso said the city and Caltrans will be installing signs to notify drivers of the change.

Additionally, the council voted 4-0 to put white “No Thru Traffic” signs near neighborhood entrances. The exact location of these panels remains to be determined. The council delegated the task of finding the locations to Obeso, Deputy City Manager Chip Taylor and Deputy Director of Public Works Nikki Nagaya.

Police Commander. Dave Bertini warned the council that his officers cannot enforce these signs. He said publicly funded streets must be accessible to everyone or no one. But Bertini said there will be an increase in the number of officers and trained volunteers patrolling the area during travel times.

Defeat Waze

While the signs aren’t enforceable, Taylor pointed out that they could mean Waze will remove streets from app directions. In Los Altos Hills, the city installed “No Thru Traffic” signs in May on Fremont, Purissima and Arastradero roads, causing Waze to eliminate the streets from its maps. Drivers use Waze to avoid traffic jams, but the app’s suggested routes often place cars in residential neighborhoods.

Bertini said he’s worried some residents will think the signs mean police can enforce them.

But the council was also willing to risk the lack of enforceability, with Vice Mayor Peter Ohtaki saying even a reduction in traffic in the neighborhood would help.

The council asked Obeso, Taylor and Nagaya to come back soon with more solutions for traffic in the Willows. Tuesday’s council could only act on the signs because it was the only solution on its agenda. And the signs were added to the agenda at the last minute.

Obeso said that between the end of this week and the beginning of next, the timing of the signal should be fixed, more signs will be added to the area to alert drivers to the change on the ramp, and “traffic prohibited” will be put at the top.

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