Traffic complaints to result in ‘No through traffic’ signs in Willows

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

Daily Post Staff Writer

Menlo Park officials, in response to an onslaught of complaints about traffic in the Willows neighborhood, plan to add “no through traffic” signs to certain streets and improve stoplight synchronization. But they admit traffic will only improve slightly in the short term.

The problems stem from construction of the Willow Road-Highway 101 overpass by Caltrans, which has 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. 140, Willows residents said the city needed to act now to reduce the congestion.

Brian Gilmer, a lifelong resident of the Willows, pointed out that traffic in his neighborhood is not a new issue, but things have gotten significantly worse.

“Occasionally it would be bad if there was a bad accident, but in the past week there’s been back ups every single day,” Gilmer said.

Aside from the traffic that typically plagues the Willows, there has been an issue with the stoplight timing at the intersections of Willow Road and Highway 101.

Stoplight timing

Angela Obeso, the city’s senior transportation engineer, said Caltrans and the city will be working on getting the timing right at the highway intersections and at Newbridge Street and Bay Road in order to get more cars through.

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

Back ups have also been occurring because the entrances to the on-ramps have been shifted. If you’re headed east on Willow and want to get on Highway 101, the on-ramp, which used to be in the right lane, is now in the left lane. That’s causing some confusion, and Obeso said the city and Caltrans will put up signs to tell drivers about the change.

In addition, council voted 4-0 to put white “No Thru Traffic” signs up near the entrances of the neighborhood. Where exactly these signs will be located is to be determined. Council delegated the job of finding the locations to Obeso, Assistant City Manager Chip Taylor and Assistant Public Works Director Nikki Nagaya.

Police Cmdr. Dave Bertini cautioned the council that his officers can’t enforce these signs. He said that publicly funded streets must be accessible to either everyone or no one. But Bertini said there will be an increase in officers and trained volunteers patrolling the area during commute times.

Defeating Waze

While the signs are not enforceable, Taylor pointed out they may mean that Waze will take the streets off of the apps routes. In Los Altos Hills, the town installed “No Thru Traffic” signs in May at Fremont, Purissima and Arastradero roads, and that caused Waze to eliminate the streets from its maps. Drivers use Waze to avoid bottlenecks, but the routes suggested by the app often put cars in residential neighborhoods.

Bertini said he was concerned that some residents may think the signs mean the police can enforce them.

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

The council requested that Obeso, Taylor and Nagaya come back soon with more solutions for the traffic in the Willows. Council on Tuesday was only able act on the signs because that was the only fix 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 start of next, the signal timing should be fixed, more signs will be added to the area to alert drivers of the on-ramp shift, and the “no through traffic” signs will be put up.