LAH tests 'no turn' signs to curb cut-throughs

During Los Altos Hills’ ongoing crusade against cut-through commuter traffic, the town has tried installing new street signs, ramping up law enforcement and even appealing to reps from the navigation apps that suggest local streets as shortcuts.

No turn signs
Courtesy of the town of Los Altos Hills
A map shows where Los Altos Hills officials plan to install new “no turn” signs to combat afternoon cut-through commuter traffic.

None of those measures, however, has effectively stemmed the tide of vehicles – at least not to residents’ satisfaction. It’s time to advance one step further, Los Altos Hills City Council members decided. They voted unanimously at Thursday’s council meeting to test new signs explicitly restricting turns at key commuter intersections during peak traffic hours.

“We’re not sure it’s going to work or not, but our obligation to the residents is just to make a good-faith attempt to try to do something here,” Mayor John Radford said. “And if everybody tells us, ‘You’re crazy, this isn’t going to work, and it’s causing huge problems,’ then we’ll stop it.”

Southbound commuters want to avoid the daily afternoon bottleneck on Interstate 280 caused by the reduction of traffic lanes from four to three between the El Monte and Magdalena avenue exits. Many abandon the highway at Page Mill Road and make a circuitous trek through town: Arastradero Road to Purissima Road to Robleda Road to Elena Road to Moody/El Monte Road. From El Monte, drivers pass under I-280, turn right on Summerhill Avenue and then right again onto Magdalena, where they take up I-280 again.

The new signs, which restrict left or right turns on weekdays between the hours of 4 and 8 p.m., will be erected at the intersections of Purissima and Robleda roads and Robleda and Elena roads.

Signs erected in December preventing right turns during red lights at the intersections of El Monte and Summerhill avenues and at El Monte and dead-end Voorhees Drive (where some impatient drivers make a series of right turns to avoid waiting for the light) will remain.

Public Works Director Allen Chen will also continue working with county traffic engineers to adjust the timing of the light signal that shepherds southwest-traveling El Monte drivers left onto Summerhill.

“I think it’s worth trying some of these things,” Councilman Roger Spreen said. “Even if we find that there are some negative effects, we’ve got to try to give people a disincentive to using these roads.”

Changing behavior

Councilwoman Courtenay C. Corrigan cast a reluctant vote. She said she is eager to resolve the town’s traffic problems but worries about doing so at the expense of locals.

“I remain concerned that the people most impacted by this will be our own residents,” Corrigan said. “I think you will have behavioral changes – eventually – but I think you’re going to have residents who are suddenly swept up into tickets or otherwise being warned, ‘You can’t turn right on the street you’ve always turned right on.’”

The new signs should prove more “enforceable” than existing “No Thru Traffic” ones erected in May at Arastradero, Fremont and Purissima roads; it proved difficult for Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office deputies to identify and ticket violators of the older signs unless they followed drivers across town to determine whether they ultimately pulled into their own driveways or kept cruising through.

Council members described their latest traffic-calming attempt as a “pilot project” that will endure as long as residents tolerate it. They directed town staff to provide their constituents with notice of the change via mailers and/or social media posts, and it’s likely sheriff’s deputies will exercise a grace period of a few weeks during which they’ll educate rather than ticket drivers.

“If we start doing it and within the first month we have 200 residents that are saying, ‘You guys don’t know what the heck you’re doing,’ then we’ll stop it,” Radford said.

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