Sat12202014

News

City eyes traffic-light fixes at some intersections

Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
The intersection at Foothill Expressway and San Antonio Road in Los Altos frequently backs up during peak commute hours. The city is targeting mitigation measures.

The city is hoping to ease the stress – if only a little – for local commuters bogged down in traffic near Foothill Expressway.

A Los Altos Planning and Transportation Commission meeting March 6 revealed that city engineers are working to repair equipment that has led to faulty timing at some signalized intersections.

During an hour-plus discussion on traffic-light timing patterns for city intersections adjacent to Foothill Expressway, Los Altos Transportation Projects Manager Cedric Novenario noted that the city recently discovered three signalized intersections with faulty traffic detection equipment. The three intersections in question – San Antonio Road and First Street, Covington Road and El Monte Avenue, and Edith Avenue and First – should be aligned with the timing of the Santa Clara County-controlled traffic signals along Foothill.

Novenario identified a malfunctioning loop, a vehicle detection device used for signal timing, at the Covington-El Monte intersection, which caused the signal to use a default timing pattern in each direction, independent of traffic volume. The faulty device throws off the signal’s coordination with the county’s nearby light at El Monte and Foothill, which is especially noticeable during peak commute hours. The city is slated to replace the loop in coming weeks.

“Once that loop is replaced, we can reset the timing and it will have improved coordination with the county,” he told the Town Crier.

Novenario said the city also discovered a malfunctioning loop at the signalized intersection at Edith and First, which is coordinated with the county light at Foothill and Edith. The city is scheduled to address the problem next month when utility work for the private developments along First Street is completed.

A third intersection – at San Antonio and First – is also experiencing inconsistent signal alignment with the county’s light at Foothill. A city contractor is working to engineer a temporary fix for the outdated traffic detection equipment, scheduled for replacement later this year.

While the repairs won’t alleviate every traffic problem in Los Altos, Novenario said commuters should see some improvements overall.

“For those adjacent to the expressway, the (fixes) will make sure the coordination is more aligned,” he said.

A fourth intersection that experiences frequent traffic backups, First and Main streets, was included in his discussion with the commission. Novenario told commissioners that he’s planning to consult county engineers regarding the feasibility of employing either split phasing or adding a pedestrian-only phase at the intersection.

Split-phasing would allow only one direction at the intersection to move at a time – such as the northbound direction of First Street – instead of the current system that requires cars making left-hand turns at the intersection to yield to through traffic.

A pedestrian-only phase would add a cycle dedicated for pedestrians crossing streets at the intersection.

Novenario said county planners working on the 2040 County Expressway Plan, a long-range planning document for the county’s expressway system, have discussed adding a third turn lane from El Monte Avenue onto Foothill Expressway. In addition, they are exploring adding a third lane onto Foothill Expressway between San Antonio and El Monte to accommodate increasing traffic demands. The stretch of Foothill between San Antonio and El Monte, he noted, is currently operating at an F level of service at peak demand – the lowest rating issued by traffic engineers.

“It’s a consideration, but nothing is in action yet,” Novenario said.

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