Caltrans is less certain a new traffic light is needed

Posted by on Tue, June 6, 2006

Caltrans is less certain a new traffic light is needed

Caltrans is less certain that a traffic light is needed for commuters turning from northbound Highway 1 onto Highway 92.  Caltrans Deputy District Director for Operations Sean Nozarri presented the results of its traffic study to the Half Moon Bay City Council Tuesday night.  Apparently, the decrease in traffic in the past few weeks has diminished the need for the light.

At the conclusion of the presentation, city council member Jim Grady asked, "Your recommendation is not to turn those lights on?" Nozarri replied "Yes."

For one hour of peak commute time, from 6am to 7am, the light would decrease the wait time for southbound commuters from 31 minutes to about 7 minutes.  From 7am to 8am, the delay would be reduced from 12 minutes to about 8.

Nozarri said that the combination of measures to improve traffic flow and adaptations by commuters have significantly reduced the traffic problems at the intersection.  They said that the light was "Recommended, but not currently critical". If the traffic conditions from early May returned, Caltrans said the light would be "Highly recommended".

CalTrans traffic study confirms exactly what the data from the 511 website has been saying for the last week: a new stoplight from northbound Hwy 1 onto Hwy 92 is not needed. When school lets out in a couple weeks, that argument becomes even stronger.

At least CalTrans had the integrity to admit that their initial conclusion was wrong. I just hope that we can get them to eventually remove those three useless pieces of industrial metal which are now sticking out of the ground. They are a blight on the rural coastal landscape.

Comment 2
Tue, June 6, 2006 11:07pm
All my comments

That traffic data was based on light Memorial Day holiday traffic - which Caltrans also stated. But you are right, now that HMB has succeeded in wasting three weeks of precious time with bureaucratic nonsense - during at least two weeks of the school rush hour of which those lights would have done a world of good—the point has become moot.

I find it ironic that you cite the correspondence between school traffic and the need for these lights when Councilman Gorn asserted essentially the reverse at the last council meeting.

I think Caltrans has bent over backwards to try and keep the peace with HMB (too much politicking in my opinion), but this Mid-Coaster will remember the obvious way in which HMB officials mispresented and bullied their selfish views to the exclusion of their neighbors. We Mid-Coasters are at a distinct disadvantage because HMB officials are much better organized with the direct ear of Caltrans through their City Manager.

I was very disappointed to see no representation of Mid-Coast views directly to the HMB Council tonight. I did my best to represent Mid-Coast concerns to the Caltrans folks directly. But I am no elected official, so other Mid-Coasters must contact them and let our collective voices be heard. And members of the MCCC, please speak up on our behalf against these HMB assertions of inherent ownership over the SR1/SR92 exchange.

While I think Caltrans is trying to build consensus and not be drawn into local wars (and thus allowed themselves to swayed), I have learned HMB’s assertions about Caltrans lack of power to unilaterally impose traffic mitigations on state roads is completely false. They have the emergency CDP they need already and absolutely have the authority to enable those lights and other traffic mitigations if and when they see fit. No permits of any kind from HMB or any other local authority are necessary. It is obvious to me that they are trying to be inclusive and seek public input (as they wisely and ethically should) - but they are in no way legally obligated to be beholding to the one-sided and biased interests of HMB or any other specific group.

I heard some notes of neighborly sympathy and a sense of fairness from at least one of the podium speakers, but so far nothing from any HMB officals with any power. That is sad.

Brian Dantes
El Granada

“For one hour of peak commute time, from 6am to 7am, the light would decrease the wait time for southbound commuters from 31 minutes to about 7 minutes. [...] Apparently, the decrease in traffic in the past few weeks has diminished the need for the light.”

“Diminished” is not “eliminated”.  And cutting 24 minutes (77%) off of the northerner’s commute time is substantial.  Why is that being brushed off?  Never mind… Brian Dantes explained it quite well.


Perhaps there was no mid-coast representation at HMB city council as 99.99% of mid-coaster’s realize traffic has gotten better, that the light is not needed and they have moved on to other issues and not simmerred in sour grapes.  As I was not at meeting not sure where caltrans got the numbers, but I have not seen anything close to 31 minutes from Montara to HMB on the org.511 site. At 6:30am this morning it said 12 minutes.

Wait there has to be a misprint.  How does estimated commute go from 31 to 7 minutes between 6am and 7am and then decrease to 8 minutes from 12 minutes between 7am and 8am? At 7am something majic happens where without light current commute magically drops from 31 to 12 minutes?  Numbers make no sense at all, is calrans publishing the report?

Unfortunately the 511 site is at times inaccurate. For example, Monday it took 55 minutes from EG to the high school starting at 7:30 a.m. On my way back, traffic was even worse than earlier. I checked the 511 site which said EG to HMB was 14 minutes. That would’ve been impossible as traffic was completely stopped in many places.

So while I agree that some days traffic is nearly non-existent at the exact time it had been awful the previous day or same day the previous week, there are still days when my son and another student we drive are late to high school classes because of the unavoidable creeping traffic.

As a side note, if you’re tempted to dismiss mid-coasters as complainers, just think about the traffic all of us face each night when we come home over 92, and consider that those of us living in Miramar and above often face that twice a day.

I went to the presentation and spoke with Mr. Nozarri and Mr. Moghbel outside after (Brian was also present).  There are several points that I feel need to be addressed to clarify the situation.

This issue of authority. 

Caltrans claims that they have complete authority to built and operate the metering lights.  This is based on a.) They have a emergency coastal permit and spoke to the Coastal Commission yesterday concerning this issue b.) The metering lights represent a modification of the existing signaling and therefore fit under the permit that was originally issued.  It is clearly a political issue which if you listen closely to the broadcast tonight of the meeting, you will hear Mr. Grady say that Caltrans should come to the Council before turning the lights on and Caltrans not commenting.  I would not interrupt their non-comment as an agreement.  This will be an issue come September.

The Numbers.

If you want the numbers from the study, then you need to copy down from the broadcast, because Caltrans has said they wouldn’t release a copy of the presentation.  I am amused that they would erect the lights first and then study the problem, but at least they did looked.  We can have an in-depth argument the lights might help, but they admitted that the travel times currently do not support the operation of the lights.  Caltrans had their engineers drive the route every morning during the hours studied to produce their data and it is consistent with the times being shown on  The biggest contribution to the decrease is the closing of Main Street and the traffic shift from the North to earlier hours.  Highway 92 appears to be running at its maximum capacity during the morning commute (roughly 1700 cars per hour.)

HMB Council.

Why would you expect that HMB Council to not take the side of HMB residents that elected them? (Ok, I agree that that is a stretch)  It was a public meeting which allows all people to express their opinions, yet not one person from the Mid Coast spoke.  I recall the last Caltrans update meeting was in Pacifica.


Mr. Nozarri said that the traffic is a zero sum game, i.e. that they can’t decrease the total travel time but rather shift it.  I disagree, in that the metering lights will act as friction on the system and result in a net increase in travel for all commuters.  The question of fairness becomes how do you determine who gets a priority at the intersection.  The numbers presented indicated that the totals from the North and South to be close in total vehicles, although now skewed to the North in the early morning.  Is it distance traveled, miles per hour, total wait time?  Or is it achieving maximum efficiency of Highway 92?  Or lowering total commute time?  What is “fair”?

I continue to lobby for a single lane of controlled traffic over Devils Slide during commute hours.  I hope CalTrans will reconsider this option.  With political leadership from Redwood City we would have that option in operaton now and would not need to be discussing the pros and cons of a new traffic light as it would not be needed. 

I believe, much like the bypass/tunnel discussion, CalTrans argues from the perspective of what ever is the most convenient engineering and operations solution for CalTrans.  We need political leadership to tell the engineers to arrange their equipment and schedules to give the residents of the midcoast equal consideration.

The Midcoast citizens are not represented by the HMB City Council.  We are represented in Redwood City by the Board of Supervisors.  Local representation is from the MidCoast Community Council - even though the Board of Supervisors doesn’t necessarily want to heed our advice. 

Perhaps if we want more direct control we need to be discussing incorporation.  I would be interested in reading a wide ranging discussion on that topic.  However, with the defeat of the parcel tax so desperately needed to improve our schools I am not optimistic that folks would vote to fund the expenses of incorporation, muchless pay the price to run a city.

CalTrans will be at the MCC meeting at 8 p.m. on June 14, seton Hospital, Moss Beach.  The meeting convenes at 7:30 - please come and express your views directly to CalTrans.

Comment 9
Wed, June 7, 2006 12:40pm
All my comments

Mr. Nelson,

It was nice meeting you last night.

I haven’t seen the recording of the meeting, but I thought I remembered Caltrans giving Councilman Grady some positive feedback on his query. I definitely feel that there was some overly fancy political footwork going on. I would much rather that Caltrans be blunt and state their authority as it is - but at the same time I can appreciate their position in wanting to preserve the spirit of cooperation until it just simply no longer works.

I didn’t realize that Caltrans was refusing to release copies of the study. That’s ludicrous.

The data for their study was during the holiday week - which even they admitted was skewed as a result. Mr. Moghbel made a presentation to the HMB Council at the same venue on May 16th. At that time, they said their traffic engineer had already established that the merge was chokepoint for the traffic and that they would be enabling the lights in a few days as a result. Why didn’t they do it? Why did they feel the need for more data? I’ve stated my belief on that score multiple times - HMB political bullies.

I remain convinced that those metering lights would have been quite helpful during the week of May 21st.

I deeply regret not speaking last night. I got there late (due to the backup on 92 ironically), and by the time I realized that there was no mid-coast representation, it was too late to turn in a green sheet. While I absolutely expect the HMB Council to represent their core constituents, alienating their neighbors doesn’t strike me as serving the overall needs of their community.

As far as fairness goes, I believe what Mr. Sean Nozzarri was trying to say (and I agree with this) is that traffic at the intersection should be balanced so that the total sum of cars approaching it from all directions never exceeds its maximum capacity. I recall that Mr. Nozzarri said that capacity was 1500 cars per hour, and even during the holiday week morning commute from 6am-8am, this capacity was exceeded. In the first of those hours, the southbound traffic *quadrupled* the northbound traffic (so clearly the metering lights would have helped) and in the next hour, the northbound traffic slightly exceeded the southbound (so the metering lights would have hindered).

I hope no one reading my posts has ever construed that I claim the metering lights are a panacea. I just take extreme issue with the facts that HMB resisted even the attempt to *try* a solution and continues to persist in this attitude of exclusive ownership over a shared critical artery. I agree that the metering lights have not seemed necessary in light of the recent traffic I have personally experienced - but I still think the 511 numbers are a bit wonky. I have had significantly longer wait times than that data sometimes indicates.

Going forward, I hope that Caltrans will be more direct in communicating and asserting their authority on serving the needs of the Coastside community as a whole on SR1 and SR92. I would still like to see Main Street closures in the afternoon commute as well - I think that would really help. (Perhaps with the announcement of Federal disaster aid money, HMB merchants will be a little more reasonable about this?) I would also like to see law enforcement out actually directing traffic—we wouldn’t need to rely on metering lights if they were doing that during the worst peak times.

Brian Dantes
El Granada

My goodness!  Much to do about very little it seems.

Oh well, we must be heard I suppose.

My question is:  How much of our taxpayer money was WASTED on these bleeping lights only to now realize it was a mistake?  Wonder what the actual cost really was.

Kinda like pumping more money into our shools using more tax payer money only to continue to turn out more iliterate (sic) “new members of society”?  Talk about throwing good money after bad. We are all so politically correct it is sickening.

Yes, why not use our trained police proffesionals to direct traffic?  Better yet, why not use some of the brilliant High School lads and lassies that have experience as “crosswalk Guards” instead, and let the Cops do what Cops are best trained to do…Law Enforcement!?

Brian Dantes writes “HMB resisted even the attempt to *try* a solution”.  Well of course they have to block the attempt to try it, because they know that it will in fact make a huge difference to the southbound commuters and then they’ll be in an even bigger pickle trying to block it after people see how much of an improvement it makes.

As to 92/Main during the evening commute, I just don’t understand the merchant’s issue.  The traffic signal should be set to be always red for Main St. traffic for something like 3pm-6pm while still allowing southbound left turns from westbound 92.  (In other words, the westbound 92 signal stays continuous green for that time period, so no EB->NB left turns there either.)  Doesn’t that address most of the problem, leaving only the fact that once downtown, people will need to exit via Kelly or south Main, both of which are reasonable solutions?  Someone please explain how this specific proposal isn’t a win-win.