Options emerge for dealing with Alpine Road speed and congestion


About 70 local residents, most from Ladera and Stanford Weekend Acres, gathered Nov. 1 at Woodland School in Ladera for a third presentation, sponsored by the San Mateo County Public Works Department, on addressing congestion and speed problems on the two-mile stretch of Alpine Road that connects these two unincorporated communities.

Residents of Weekend Acres, nestled in a hollow bordered by Alpine Road and San Francisquito Creek and the Stanford golf course, face daunting traffic when trying to enter or leave their neighborhood. Imagine 150 households served by just two driveways Stowe Lane and Bishop Lane connecting to an arterial road that commuters and others jam bumper-to-bumper twice a day and the rest of the time travel at speeds consistent with an expressway, despite darkness and poor lines of sight.

A Weekend Acres resident told the Almanac earlier this year that he had between two and four seconds, depending on traffic volume, to join the flow when leaving the community on a typical morning. In Ladera, the problem is not as dire, but continuous traffic and poor sight lines complicate leaving the neighborhood.

Based on feedback from the meetings, county public works staff will prepare a report to serve as a reference for addressing the problems over the coming years.

At the meeting, traffic engineering consultant Adam Dankberg gave a presentation with 40 slides, followed by small-group discussions and a question-and-answer session.

Click here to download the presentation.

Signal or roundabout

During Phase 1 the next year or two the county could take low-cost and easily implemented steps such as reducing the speed limit to 35 mph throughout the corridor, installing digital speed-limit signs, using more green paint in bike lanes at places of potential conflict with vehicles, and adding "Keep clear" markings across the pavement at problematic intersections, Mr. Dankberg said.

The focus of Phase 2, he said, would be the major intersections and how to regulate them, whether with roundabouts or traffic signals -- big-ticket items that involve federal grants and careful analysis by the California Department of Transportation.

Ladera residents have shown they favor roundabouts at La Mesa and/or La Cuesta drives in Ladera over traffic signals, Mr. Dankberg said. While roundabouts take up more space and are more expensive to put in, they tend to slow traffic and reduce accidents, he said.

Roundabouts are not a bicyclist's best friend, and cyclists make heavy use of Alpine Road. The absence of bike lanes requires cyclists to enter a roundabout as if they were vehicles. Roundabouts in Ladera could accommodate cyclists uncomfortable with joining the flow of traffic with an alternative directing them to a crosswalk a short distance away, Mr. Dankberg said.

At the Interstate 280 interchange, roundabouts at the two off-ramps would be less viable, he said. For one thing, they would be two lanes, something potentially confusing since Bay Area drivers seldom encounter them, he said. A one-lane roundabout would be "total gridlock," he said.

Roundabouts at I-280 would be near their handling capacity in 20 years and begin to create backups, he said. They abet a continuous flow of traffic, a pattern unhelpful to Weekend Acres residents trying to get in and out of their neighborhood. And two-lane roundabouts run between $8 million and $12 million, Mr. Dankberg said.

Traffic signals at these intersections would cost between $1 and $2 million and not lose their effectiveness as time passed, he said. They also create platoons, creating breaks in traffic to allow Weekend Acres residents to have less of an adventure entering and leaving their neighborhood. Signals at I-280 would also include bike lanes.

On the downside, signals do not reduce vehicle speed and nor do they increase safety in the way that roundabouts do, he said.

No more tunnel

A traffic signal at the I-280 intersection closest to Ladera could include a benefit for cyclists coming from Ladera. As cyclists approach I-280, they cannot ignore vehicles approaching from behind headed to the southbound freeway, their speed increasing in anticipation of the on-ramp. There's green paint on the pavement, but that's no guarantee of safe passage.

With a signal, engineers could eliminate that anticipation on the part of drivers by removing the on-ramp and requiring them to stop and turn left to the southbound ramp on the other side of Alpine Road.

For cyclists as well as pedestrians, this change would create an uninterrupted path along Alpine between Ladera and the far side of the I-280 interchange. It would also eliminate the uninviting low-roofed pedestrian tunnel now under the southbound ramp, Mr. Dankberg said.

It's a tradeoff, he said. More safety for pedestrians and cyclists in exchange for some delay for vehicles by requiring a left turn to get to a southbound on-ramp.


Follow the Almanac on Twitter and Facebook for breaking news, local events and community news.

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


17 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 9, 2016 at 10:07 pm

Confusing two lane roundabouts with freeway-speed traffic sounds like a tragedy waiting to happen. Don't take the risk. Just put in standard stop lights that everyone understands.

1 person likes this
Posted by pvrez
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Nov 10, 2016 at 8:13 am

@resident - roundabouts are not confusing. a very like example is the two lane roundabout in Truckee at the 89 & 80 intersection - they work fantastic.

1 person likes this
Posted by ScottRAB
a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2016 at 11:26 am

Modern roundabouts are the safest form of intersection in the world (much more so than comparable signals). Visit Web Link for modern roundabout FAQs and safety facts. Modern roundabouts, and the pedestrian refuge islands approaching them, are two of nine proven safety measures identified by the FHWA, Web Link
The FHWA has a video about modern roundabouts on Youtube, or check out the IIHS video (iihs dot org).

Web Link
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Allen
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Nov 11, 2016 at 12:50 pm

I use Alpine Road to get to and leave the Stanford Dish at the Alpine Road entrance several times a week early in the morning when the Stanford gate is opened at 6:00 AM or 6:30 AM depending on the time of year. Entering and leaving Alpine Road is nearly always a challenge not unlike that met by Weekend Acres residents. A traffic signal at the I-280 intersection would be a great help in providing breaks in the traffic stream.

1 person likes this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Nov 11, 2016 at 2:15 pm

We need a roundabout at Alpine and Foothill Expressway. There appears to be sufficient room for that and it would speed and enable traffic to move better. Another at Sand Hill and Alameda de las Pulgas would also be an improvement. The lights often cause a major backup on Alpine headed East and that impacts those trying to exit from Weekend Acres.

Like this comment
Posted by Tom Turner
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Nov 11, 2016 at 3:37 pm

Tom Turner is a registered user.

Why don't we ask Good Old Stanford for help. They are the ones causing most of the oroblem

11 people like this
Posted by Rick V
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Nov 11, 2016 at 6:21 pm

A clarification:

In the article, the author states "A Weekend Acres resident told the Almanac earlier this year that he had between two and four SECONDS, depending on traffic volume, to join the flow when leaving the community on a typical morning."... of course the wait time had to be "... two and four

In my opinion, traffic lights at Aline and 280 are far superior (and should be used) instead of roundabouts for several reasons:

1. Lights meter the traffic flow creating much needed gaps allowing residents and others on side streets turns and access to Alpine Rd
2. Lights are safer for for bicyclists of which there are MANY on Alpine Rd
3. Roundabouts would create a trafic jam in the future and require the installation of lights
4. Lights are cheaper and easier to reconfigure with changing traffic patterns

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

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Downtown Palo Alto gets new Vietnamese eatery
By Elena Kadvany | 15 comments | 6,377 views

Composting Works
By Sherry Listgarten | 2 comments | 1,806 views

On Metaphor and Mortality
By Aldis Petriceks | 0 comments | 1,117 views

Premarital and Existing Couples: Marriage Rules: Yours, Mine, or Ours?
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 844 views

No sand toys, no problem
By Cheryl Bac | 2 comments | 346 views