Study: Atherton traffic at 'saturation level'


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.

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14 people like this
Posted by Traffic Warrior
a resident of another community
on Apr 24, 2019 at 12:57 pm

How is it that Atherton can reach a conclusion that their roads have reached their capacity to handle traffic and is looking for solutions while Palo Alto leadership pays lip service to addressing traffic issues but keeps supporting continued development? Even with Palo Alto's state-leading jobs/housing ratio, we have no plans to address our traffic woes. Atherton is at least looking at the problems head-on. Kudos to Atherton Leaders!

13 people like this
Posted by Ha!
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 24, 2019 at 1:24 pm

Atherton is just pulling this "Saturation" thing out of their hat. It's a way of saying "No" to any future development or request for additional housing by the State. "We're at saturation level" LOL

Don't think for one second that Atherton has some magic potion to suddenly come up with an idea on how to reduce traffic WITHOUT reducing the number of cars on the road. That's pure fantasy. Once a large enough percentage of drivers get out of their cars, poof, traffic will improve for those who are in their cars.

Anyone else notice how comparatively great traffic is during Spring breaks? The traffic issue gets solved each time something takes a chunk of drivers off the road. Nothing else improves traffic like that because removing cars from the road is the ONLY thing that will improve traffic.

4 people like this
Posted by Debbie R.
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 24, 2019 at 2:04 pm

We are at saturation level! Some hours of the day we are nearly housebound as we can’t turn onto Valparaiso from Emile or Elena as stated. Not listed but a horrible issue is turning onto El Camino from Alejandra Avenue. Long,backups on Alejandra vision is obscured and can’t turn right because of SUV’s in the Alejandra left turn lane, especially during school mornings and afternoons. Can’t turn left onto El Camino because the left-turn entry lane on El Camino is so dangerous with all of he fast El Camino traffic. Oftentimes 2 cars will be dangerously backed up in this lane nearly missing El Camino traffic. Many accidents and nest accidents. Most often I wait for many minutes before I am able to turn in any direction. With 3 schools, Menlo college, Menlo School, Sacred Heart preschool, elementary and Prep, construction traffic and cut-through traffic it has become impossible. Pedestrian light helps but doesn’t resolve issues for drivers.

2 people like this
Posted by Pipe Dream
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 25, 2019 at 5:57 am

Atherton's problem is trees. Heritage trees. They hide behind those heritage trees. I guarantee you that for many of these improvements, they will find a way to scuttle it because they need to preserve trees.

The other issue is Atherton's government has no money. They killed off their parcel tax. They have no other revenue than property tax. They are spending all of their reserves on a new building.

Atherton will need to pass the hat to build any of these improvements. Many of them are on the borders of other jurisdictions. Will Menlo Park or San Mateo County play nicely? Will the public schools pay up? Unlikely.

6 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 25, 2019 at 7:27 am

Maybe I missed it, but where was the Marsh Rd report -- talk about traffic.....

18 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 25, 2019 at 10:12 am

Atherton's problem with traffic is far from unique in this area. They need to work with neighboring cities like Menlo Park and Redwood City to come up with a better plan. If they decide to go the Palo Alto route which is to think only of themselves and try to push traffic onto other cities streets they will find it will backfire. If every city on the peninsula decides to take matters into their own hands what we will end up is traffic chaos and not one will be happy.

Like this comment
Posted by RanchGal
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 25, 2019 at 2:43 pm

RanchGal is a registered user.

I remember the days almost 40 years ago when there was no four-way stop on Alameda and Atherton Avenue. It was clear sailing and the traffic flowed well. Now because of that irritating stop sign on Alameda....after 3 PM I must cut over (going South) at the school to get to my house or face at least a 10 minute wait as everyone has to stop at that silly stop sign.
First remove the stop sign so traffic can flow again.
And then Menlo Park can add back that third lane that we had for many years before they reduced it to two lanes at Ravenswood (Southbound) to “reduce traffic” so they planted trees and made a median.
If you are a business from Ravenswood/Valparaiso to Middle / Safeway you’re chugging along with carbon omissions wafting into the businesses.

28 people like this
Posted by 40 Yrs ago?
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 26, 2019 at 8:54 am

So you think the placement of a stop sign, and not an increase in the number of cars using those roads compared to 40 yrs ago has caused the traffic issue? Interesting.

Like this comment
Posted by Jennifer
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 30, 2019 at 10:05 am

Saturation is an understatement...js...
- Jennifer Web Link

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