A Traffic Picture Worth a Thousand Words. | Deep Menlo | Stuart Soffer | Almanac Online |

Local Blogs

Deep Menlo

By Stuart Soffer

E-mail Stuart Soffer

About this blog: Growing up in Brooklyn, NY I lived in high-density housing and experienced transit-oriented services first hand. During high school and college summers I worked in Manhattan drafting tenant floor plans for high-rise office buildi...  (More)

View all posts from Stuart Soffer

A Traffic Picture Worth a Thousand Words.

Uploaded: Aug 25, 2015
The recent mitigations at Alma and Ravenswood ostensibly for safety reasons, one month of a 6 month trial, has predictable consequences in other key locations. Using Waze (now owned by Google), a real-time traffic monitoring application that provides a heads-up on blocked traffic, we can see the grand view of Menlo Park.

Before the traffic chefs entered the kitchen, eastbound traffic entered Willow from two feeders at the Willow/Middlefield intersection Now, one feeder and timing cycle is wasted.

The resulting elementary school science experiment at Alma/Ravenswood blocks eastbound Ravenswood from turning right onto Alma, has predictable results: the traffic is displaced elsewhere. The attached photo illustrated the current taken July 23 at 5:23 PM, the segment of Alma Street between Ravenswood and Willow no longer exists. That traffic does continue along Ravenswood and turns right onto Middlefield.

The problem created by the traffic chefs is that Willow (Middlefield to 101) traffic now only has one part of a timing cycle to enter Eastbound Willow. The cycle from Willow/Alma to Willow Middlefield is underutilized.

One might wonder whether easing traffic reviews in the M-2 zone is the proper approach. Looking at this photo, you can see the joy of congestion at Willow/101 and Bayfront.

The Waze application is a free download; you can run your own tests to see Menlo traffic.

This experiment should end; its time for the City Council to reopen the right turn onto Alma.

Update: A colleague informs me of this recent article about a Canadian startup called Miovision:
A small Canadian city tries to drag intersections into the 21st century.
(Not that I want you to leave the Almanac. Please open in a new tab.)


Posted by E, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks,
on Aug 25, 2015 at 7:48 pm

The closing of Alma also forces all traffic going to the library, city gym, etc. to have to make a right hand turn at Laurel. That makes making a left on Laurel from Ravenswood (heading towards El Camino) can only be done by ONE car per light... and sometimes even that car has a tough time safely clearing the intersection.

If the city leaves Alma closed (which as Stu notes-- has a other ripples), then a dedicated left hand arrow onto Laurel is needed. Now that school is back in session and school aged kids will be going to the rec pool, library, gym, etc., it is going to be chaos. This change was made in the summer when that traffic was not yet in full swing.

Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Aug 25, 2015 at 10:32 pm

You'd have to be a high priced traffic consultant or a city council member to think that closing that right turn was a good idea. The rest of us just have to put up with the mess.

Hopefully at some point, even our low-accountability public servants will get motivated enough to restore proper function.

Posted by No Easy Solutions, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Aug 25, 2015 at 11:19 pm

The joys of school traffic. With school back in session, the pedestrian crossing at Alma and Ravenswood adds more unpredictability to traffic. Witnessed it this morning with students biking to school.

Installing synchronized traffic lights at the intersection would probably work better, but cost more for the city.

Posted by Cmon, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Aug 27, 2015 at 5:34 am

Stuart: A bit if a silly post that confirms that there were changes as a result of this test! This is what tests are for. Remember some of the bad accidents at that rail crossing -- an issue that needed and needs attention. While the test does not take away all the risks, the goal should be to read the results of the test and adjust as needed, while being mindful of all the considerations, including ones you raise. If you are not suggesting a "do nothing" approach, perhaps you can share a well-considered alternative test.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Aug 27, 2015 at 4:17 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Also note the 2 mph on Marsh and 4 mph on Willow East of Middlefield.

It has become impossible for emergency vehicles to use either route during the ever lengthening periods of congestion.

Just pray that you don't need a fire engine or ambulance that has to transit 101 to Middlefield.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Aug 27, 2015 at 7:36 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here is an on-going emergency response to an accident on the Dumbarton Bridge :

8/27/2015 5:31:40 PM Click to listen to dispatch audio. (118 min)
FS2 Menlo Park Fire
Show icons for all incident types. Traffic accident pd request c3
BC1, E1, E77, PT1
Note that BC1, E1 and PT1 ALL had to get from Station on on Middlefield to the bridge - who knows how long it took them or if they gave up and went down University Ave in Palo Alto.

People will die if this keeps up. The City of Menlo Park has made Willow road impassable for emergency vehicles and Atheron has done the same for Marsh.

Note that this incident is still active after almost 2 hours !!

Posted by Aaron, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Aug 27, 2015 at 9:20 pm

Aaron is a registered user.

Traffic congestion east bound on Willow and Marsh is not all due to the closure of a right turn onto Alma. What's the solution? Perhaps Willow needs to be widened and made into an expressway like Oregon/Embarcadero? Willow is a mess and I feel sorry for those who need to turn onto it to get home. I will happily drive down Woodland Ave. (yes, even with the twisties and the speed bumps) to the University Ave 101 entrance just to avoid Willow.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Aug 27, 2015 at 9:23 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" What's the solution? Perhaps Willow needs to be widened "

Willows WAS a four lane road until the brilliant City Council decided to "reduce the amount of traffic" by making it a two lane road with obstacles that prevent cars from pulling over to allow emergency vehicles to pass.

Posted by Just asking, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks,
on Aug 29, 2015 at 2:41 pm

stu, did you check with the Linfeild Nimby activist before coming to conclusion that reopening Alma is part of the solution? What is needed is a grade separation so back ups on Ravenswood don't trap drivers on the track. The proposed second right turn lane on ECR to Ravenswood will add more cars than the single lane, that Ravenswood becomes, can handle.

The traffic has increased over the past 6-8 months. Why? When Stanford and 1300 ECR gets built, the traffic may be the gridlock people have warned us about.

First: get a grade separation in at Ravenswood and Oak Grove. Secondly, push Stanford and 1300 ECR developers to increase housing and reduce office. Then we will have done everything we can do. Silicon Valley businesses are calling the shots.

Posted by Cmon, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Aug 29, 2015 at 3:16 pm

While the congestion impact on emergency vehicles is very critical, I don't see how the Alma test impacts the traffic. If one is heading to Willow or Marsh and is one Ravenswood passing Alma, you still have to make a turn at Middlefield in order to get to Marsh or Willow. You will wind up there anyway so Ravenswood is not the issue for those two roads. If the argument is that Ravenswood becomes more congested due to restricted turning, I agree.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Aug 29, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Sorry, my comment was based on data shown in the superb picture of traffic congestion that Stu has provided and I was not attempting to link Willow and Marsh congestion to the changes at the Ravenswood train crossing.

Posted by excuuuse me, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Aug 29, 2015 at 4:33 pm

The traffic mess on Ravenswood is directly related to the closure. The problem going away from El Camino is not the RR tracks. The problem is not the pedestrian crosswalk on Ravenswood. The problem is the intersection with Laurel and the fact that many more cars need to turn right. They have to do that when there are bicyclists in the bike lane. Those bicyclists are horribly endangered because cars are not merging two lanes well where the poor damaged oak tree juts out. The cars create two lanes by driving in the bike lane squeezing out the bicyclists.

What is the evaluation criteria for this trial? I fear there weren't any pre-defined criteria. To me, the worsened traffic jam, the horrid aesthetics, and new dangers to bicyclists is enough to end the trial and declare it a failure.

I'm a frequent traveler from west Menlo to library and Burgess park, usually on bike or on foot and at a variety of times of day. I have rarely seen people in the crosswalk across Alma on the library side of the intersection with Ravenswood. At least restore the ability to turn right onto Alma towards library from Ravenswood.
That should ease the traffic jam towards and at Laurel
PS There IS a left turn signal from Laurel onto Ravenswood bound for El Camino. But it adds delays at this intersection.

Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Aug 29, 2015 at 10:47 pm

Keep in mind that this particular dish was concocted solely as a kneejerk response to a tragedy that occurred when a car stopped on the tracks. Apparently the consultants did not bother to consider the unintended consequences of shutting off right turns onto Alma. Eastbound Ravenswood is now much more congested than it used to be, thus increasing the likelihood that an eastbound vehicle will get caught on the tracks. (Note that the changes do not significantly affect westbound traffic, yet the driver in that accident was westbound).

This ill-conceived experiment also did not take into account the impact on Laurel Street north of Ravenswood and on streets parallel to Ravenswood, especially Oak Grove, which has seen an increase in traffic from cars that use to travel on Ravenswood. I suppose if there are no fatal accidents in the next few months, the experiment will be deemed a success and we will never again get to turn right onto Alma. Shortsighted and stupid.

At least drivers on Laurel Street finally got a left turn signal @ Ravenswood, a safety measure that should have been implemented many years ago. Maybe eventually our city will figure out that Ravenswood drivers also need a left turn signal onto Laurel.

As for traffic: we haven't seen anything yet. But since the bridge creates much of the backup (note the lines on 101 waiting to exit to Willow east?) even turning Willow into an expressway wouldn't fix those problems.

Posted by Cmon, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Aug 30, 2015 at 4:49 am

I think the variety of points are worthy of taking to City meetings, along with a request for data that comes from the test. There will not be a single, easy answer to these questions given increased congestion in the area, complicated by a railroad right down the middle. It is really an exercise in optimization, with a heavy dose of safety considerations for all road users, including emergency service vehicles.

Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.



Post a comment

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

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Almanac Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

(Updated 3:00 pm) The Bay Area votes to phase out sales of gas heaters
By Sherry Listgarten | 23 comments | 4,938 views

Ettan restaurateur Ayesha Thapar to open 'encore' eatery in Menlo Park
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 2,756 views

Travelin’ Solo: Elk and Mendocino County (part 2)
By Laura Stec | 3 comments | 2,090 views

Home Again: Couples and Caregiving
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,747 views

How well is City Manager Ed Shikada performing his job?
By Diana Diamond | 2 comments | 947 views