Two long-awaited reports on traffic in Atherton were presented to the City Council on April 17, but council members asked for a study session to look at the reports in detail and the possible options available to the town.
One study concentrated on the Alameda de las Pulgas corridor, while the second looked at the whole town, focusing on 12 intersections on three streets: Alameda, Middlefield Road and Valparaiso Avenue.
Not surprisingly, the studies found that traffic backs up significantly at eight of the 12 intersections. Some council members were surprised, however, to see that traffic counts have not increased much over those in earlier studies.
Shruti Shrivastava, the transportation project manager for the Alameda de las Pulgas study by Advanced Mobility Group, explained: "The amount of cars you can allow through a corridor is at its limit."
Ruta Jariwala, a principal at TJKM, the transportation consulting firm that did the townwide study, agreed. "We are at saturation level in the town of Atherton," she said. "There is no more capacity to take on any more demand."
One decision council members must make is whether they want to "move the traffic smoothly through town or discourage the traffic," Jariwala said.
She said that some of the consultants' recommendations, however, could have the effect of doing both. Adding traffic signals programmed to limit the number of cars allowed through each light cycle could, for example, make it harder to turn off onto side streets.
Traffic signals were recommended for Alameda de las Pulgas at Atherton Avenue, Stockbridge Avenue and Camino al Lago; on Middlefield Road at Fair Oaks Lane and Watkins Avenue; and on Valparaiso Avenue at Elena and Emilie avenues. Both studies say traffic signals would significantly reduce the time it takes to pass through those intersections during commute hours.
The townwide study found that an overwhelming majority of the traffic on Atherton's streets does not originate in Atherton. It measured pass-through traffic (vehicles starting and ending their journey through Atherton on one street) and cut-through traffic (vehicles that use more than one street to pass through town).
On Alameda de las Pulgas, with an average of 14,500 vehicles a day, 89% of southbound traffic is pass-through and 6% is cut-through. Northbound, 70% of traffic is pass-through and 20% is cut-through.
In both directions on Middlefield Road, with an average of 19,500 vehicles a day, 75% of traffic is pass-through and 20% cut-through.
A roundabout, an option favored by some residents and Transportation Commission members for the intersection of Alameda de las Pulgas and Atherton Avenue, was dismissed by the consultants because they said the town does not own enough right-of-way at the intersection for installation.
One option not mentioned in the townwide study, which did not examine any intersections on El Camino Real, was narrowing the road for safer bicycle and pedestrian use. "Personally, I'd like to make a road diet on El Camino," said council member Elizabeth Lewis.
Mayor Bill Widmer said he also supported narrowing El Camino. "All our roads are getting too dangerous," he said.