Pacifica examines widening part of Hwy 1 to six lanes

Posted by on Wed, March 3, 2010

Open Street Map
The approximate area of the proposed widening.

The San Mateo County Transportation Authority (SMCTA) and the City of Pacifica, in partnership with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) held a "scoping" meeting tonight on widening Highway 1 near the quarry and Rockaway Beach, according to Pacifica Riptide.

The purpose of the project is to reduce congestion on the segment of Highway 1 within Pacifica, from approximately 2,300 feet north of Reina Del Mar Avenue to approximately 1,500 feet south of Fassler Avenue/Rockaway Beach [Google map] [...]

"The project scope may include widening from four lanes to six lanes (three through lanes in each direction) and improvements at the SR1/Reina Del Mar Avenue and SR 1/Fassler Avenue/Rockaway Beach Avenue intersections, including additional lane capacity and signal timing improvements," Hurley says.

The meeting is the first step to creating a Draft Environmental Impact Report.


I attended a scoping meeting in Pacifica on exactly this topic on April 29, 2004.  An EIR was prepared and made its way through some various governmental channels, and suddenly, here we are back at exactly the same place.

Can anyone explain what happened to the first EIR?  Is anyone benefiting from this other than EIR consultants?

Steve Lowens

I think TA and Pacifica need to update their assumptions, traffic studies and proposed solutions.  I-80, across the Sacramento River bypass between the bay area and Sacramento is 3 lanes in each direction. 

Unfortunately there was no staff report available at the meeting. 

With the stop lights at Crespi and Reina Del Mar set up the way they are this will be a very expensive way to add vehicular storage between 2 traffic lights - particularly as this will be just a wide spot between 2 sections of the 2 lane highway.

Why not look at a way to keep traffic moving while allowing cars from the eastern neighborhoods to merge.  roundabouts are safer for pedestrians and can handle high volumes of traffic.  A roundabout engineer should be commissioned to study this area.

I wonder how much of the traffic is due to parents taking kids to school, and picking them up from school.  I notice when school is out, it’s a faster drive through Pacifica. Maybe it would be more effective to re-instate the use of school busses.

I think Barbara Kossy’s observation is spot on; this is my daily commute and on non school mornings it’s not a problem but it can take over fifteen minutes to get through Pacifica during rush hour on school days.
Sometimes people ask me if the commute to SF from Moss Beach will be shorter after the tunnel (a common misperception from those that don’t live here) and the truth is that unless “the Slide” is closed the wait in traffic in Pacifica is the only major hang up in my commute.
A study on the impact of school bus use would be interesting especially if it could lead to the use of highway widening money being diverted to school bus funding. (No, I’m not really that naive; just wishful thinking)

Given the well-known effect of school traffic on traffic congestion from the midcoast through HMB, possible busing in Pacifica would seem worth studying. Vallemar School is a K-8 campus with a good record of achievement, and at least some parents in the elementary school district who prefer that scheme drive their kids there. At the other end, Fassler is a route for the kids heading to Terra Nova High from the north. I’m not sure state highway monies can be transferred to school districts for busing. Probably makes too much sense where it would lighten the load.

But never look at that particular stretch in Pacifica without keeping the quarry property (on the ocean side of the highway) in mind. Past objections to and votes against quarry overdevelopment in Pacifica have been partially based on the inevitable traffic clogs that extensive housing and commercial development there would exacerbate. More lanes there might well be a ploy to pre-empt such objections in the future (using everyone’s tax money rather than making it the developer’s expense), even though common experience tells anyone traffic with six lanes in that particular stretch and at those bookending intersections would still be a big mess due to the highway with fewer lanes at either end. There are also businesses on the east side of the stretch to be widened that will be damaged.

Another thing we can’t forget, however, is the long-term campaign to have a freeway through the rest of Pacifica. Continuing bad traffic in an interloping six-lane segment between the intersections would help promote extension of the freeway as an ensuing highway “solution.”

That particular stretch of Hwy 1 is particularly unpleasant and potentially dangerous for pedestrians, including the patrons of the businesses on the east side of the highway. Widening the highway will exacerbate the problem.

This will only seem like an improvement if you don’t live in the neighborhood, or if you never leave your car.

The meeting is the first step to creating a Draft Environmental Impact Report.

I’m curious if the draft EIR will include environmental impact of NOT widening the highway, given the pile of cars and trucks running on idle during the commute hours.

That particular stretch of Hwy 1 is particularly unpleasant and potentially dangerous for pedestrians, including the patrons of the businesses on the east side of the highway.

Unpleasant how? It’s like driving through Moss Beach, frankly. And yes it’s dangerous for pedestrians, because it’s a highway. Although, what pedestrians come from out of the weeds of the quarry to pick up lumber? or hit the Vets office? or get a mortgage refi? There’s ZERO need to cross in the middle of the highway. The only pedestrians are those coming from Rockaway Beach neighborhood, down to the beach area. And that has always appeared as a relatively efficient and safe crossing (much like Crespi).

Also, I don’t agree with the take that the merging again into two-lanes on the North end will just be the same ol’ same ol’. It becomes a freeway at that end, and frankly allows cars to merge and disperse at a free rate (limits observed of course). Coming south on the south end, there really is no “crush” on the return commute. The “crush” exists from Sharp Park through right about 1,500 ft after Fassler. So the proposal is spot on.

Three-lanes won’t solve every “commute crush” as once the 3 lanes are filled up, but you will “decongest” with roughly a 20-25% improvement rate.

No matter what, I’ve always felt there was opportunity at Reina del Mar northbound in the AM. Requiring locals to wait longer at the light, and/or a third lane only accessible off of Reina, and merging circa near the Police station. Thusly allow that light change to be even slower.

A few comments on the proposal to widen Highway 1 through Pacifica:

Personal qualifications for these comments:
  A) 47 years of experience as a traffic engineer; licensed since 1975.
  B) Attendance at a seminar in El Granada on March 13, 2010, presented by Ken Sides, a professional traffic engineer whose specialty is roundabouts.  The seminar presented the latest knowledge and design concepts for roundabouts.
  C) Review of current US Department of Transportation methodology for determining capacity of roundabouts.

Ken Sides presented a number of highly positive qualities of modern roundabouts, including reduced speeds, reduced crossing exposure for pedestrians, improved safety potential, and others.  In my personal professional opinion, they are an excellent solution for situations that involve low to moderate traffic volumes.  Ken mentioned that the maximum entry volume for modern roundabouts is usually 20,000 ADT, though volumes as high as 25,000 have been observed.  The highway capacity manual ( provides similar capacity limits.

According to Caltrans Traffic Volume Records for 2008 (the last year for which data is published -, the ADT on SR 1 at Reina del Mar was 48,000.  To this volume must be added the volume on Reina del Mar.  Clearly, the volumes at this location exceed what a modern roundabout can handle.

According to the same Caltrans website, volume on SR 1 at Reina del Mar has increased about 4% since the last EIR was started in 2004.  Volume on SR 1 at Linda Mar had decreased about 6% in the same time period.  In other words, traffic has not changed much since the last EIR was developed.

The issue of the school was brought up during the last EIR process.  I don’t have a specific source for this, but I recall an article in one of the local papers or websites where the Pacifica school district said, in effect, “It’s not OUR fault!”  Is this still the case?

The first question I asked at the April, 2004 scoping meeting was, “Is the funding for the project in place?”  The answer at that time was “yes.”  According to an article by Julia Scott in the San Mateo Times, this is no longer true.  There are three possible reasons for this: 1) The original answer was incorrect, 2) Funding has been diverted to other projects because of the 6-year delay, or 3) The cost of construction has exceeded the revenue stream.  If this project continues to drag out, the cost of construction will continue to exceed the revenue stream, making it even more difficult to construct a project.

On the question of why they are evaluating the alternative of not widening the highway, they are legally required by the statutes that define the EIR process to evaluate the “null,” or do-nothing alternative.

While school busing would undoubtedly help the situation, the issue is: Where would the funds for busing come from?  Unfortunately, fund for roads are not transferrable to funding school busing, regardless of how practical that solution might be.

From my personal observations, I believe that Caltrans has timed the traffic signals to maximize the capacity of the section of SR1 between Linda Mar and Reina del Mar.  There is little more, if anything, that can be done with the signals to increase traffic throughput.

I also believe that the Reina del Mar intersection is not the only capacity constraint.  I believe that the intersection at SR1/Fassler is also a bottleneck.  While there is some backing up through the intersection in the morning that reduces throughput, this intersection also operates at near capacity.

With current traffic volumes, I believe that the problem is most severe in the mornings.  This led me to suggest, at the 2004 scoping meeting, a solution that would add one lane only in the northbound direction, approximately from the bowling alley to the police station.  I still think this is a good idea!

The question for the community remains: Is the AM traffic problem big enough to require a widening solution?  That is a value judgement and policy decision.  For those residents of the Midcoast and Linda Mar communities who spend 15-20 minutes getting through Pacifica in the morning and who think the problem should be solved, the unfortunate fact is that the decision will be made by the Pacifica decision-makers listening to Pacifica voters who oppose the project, unless those people in favor of the project make a LOT of noise.

Personally, I’m indifferent - I stopped driving in the AM commute hours 5 years ago.  I hope the facts and observations I’ve presented will lead to an intelligent decision.

Stephen Lowens
Montara, CA

We use the vet on that stretch of Hwy 1.  A couple of years ago, we took Fireball to the vet. Julia was six and as soon as she got out of the car, she put her hands on her ears. I don’t blame her.

I’ve been keeping track of sound levels in my day-to-day life, so I have some point of reference.  At Vallemar, the measured sound level was about the same as the advertising in the movie theaters in Daly City or the Sea Bowl in a relatively quiet moment.

A couple more lanes would definitely increase the din.

Like I said, it’s just fine if you don’t get out of your car. Maybe that was my mistake.

No, Route 1 does not become a freeway north of Reina del Mar in Pacifica. There is side traffic from the police station, the orchid nursery/GGNRA trailhead, Mori Point Road, and, especially, the dangerous intersection of Westport after RdM. Then the highway becomes the freeway that created high noise levels in places, disrupted communities, and killed a fair amount of business in the northern half of the city.

The 2008 traffic figures add some real numbers to the mix. Though trips to Vallemar School and the high schools undoubtedly increase the congestion, they are most likely not more than a thousand given the enrollment of the schools involved and the use of SAMTRANS buses by some students. This would not begin to get the numbers down to the approximate roundabout levels quoted by Stephen Lowens.

The often-mentioned “low hanging fruit” is reduction of the number of cars going through the Fassler and Reina del Mar intersections during peak times. True, the evening commute backups are not usually as bad as the morning ones; but they, too, are unacceptable—especially at Reina del Mar.

How will the 6 lane plan effect Rockaway Beach businesses and the Pacifica Farmers Market?  What is the reaction from Rockaway Beach businesses?

Has the City of Pacifica and SMCTA studied/considered a 2 lane modern roundabout at this intersection as an alternative to a short 6 lane segment of Highway 1?  If so please publish a link to the study.

Have a look at the numbers in the Lowens message and 2008 link above. The intersections at either end of the possible widened section in Pacifica are already way beyond roundabout possibilities, it would seem.

And it looks like Capistrano numbers (El Granada/Princeton) are already pushing the limit. What I don’t get out of the link Stephen provided are hourly numbers, which would seem to be the most critical for the kinds of heavy periods we have when traffic backs up the worst.

While an old-style traffic circle certainly can’t handle the traffic loads on SR 1, a two-lane modern roundabout can handle upwards of 20,000 cars/day, if I recall correctly from the most recent presentation. 
I don’t know what the traffic load is in Pacifica but that’s certainly more than sufficient for Capistrano.  On the worst days now, traffic moves much slower than what even a single-lane modern roundabout can accommodate.  So for the intersections which currently serve one lane in each direction of SR 1 (ignoring storage lanes), a modern roundabout will be an improvement over a traffic signal.

Looking at the overhead photos, I estimate that a modern one-lane roundabout requires about 120’.  CalTrans owns 150’ of right-of-way most of the way from S.F. to S.C.  There’s easily room to do this at Capistrano.

Again, look at the numbers in the link for 2008 that Lowens gives. Pacifica numbers for either end of the proposed six-lane segment are well past double the 20,000 figure. Capistrano is pushing it and at that figure for a peak month.

But daily numbers are only a rough guide. For dealing with our local traffic backups, you need to know peak hours and peak days of the week. As we know, weekday trafic on the coastside occurs in pulses due to commuter and school traffic, not evenly distributed over the day. And we all know weekend traffic on nice days goes into multiples of what it is on not-nice days. With Capistrano numbers pushing the guideline on the more forgiving average daily numbers, one can reasonably ask whether or not the hourly and certain weekend figures might be considerably worse for a roundabout’s potential capacity. In other words, roundabout pushers are currently flying blind on the most critical midcoast traffic issues.

Given that a “modern” Capistrano roundabout would already be very busy according to the guideline provided by Lowens and that the crossing realities at Capistrano are being ignored, the very real possibility of a costly suburban-style white elephant comes to mind.

Charging ahead in the traditional manner of our urban county planners and with the overgrowth and urban mindset of many of our local environmentalists, might be par for the course hereabouts, but so would be the degradation of coastal features and values and community disruptions that so often go with taking a flyer at a rolling doughnut.

Stephen Lowens said -“With current traffic volumes, I believe that the problem is most severe in the mornings.  This led me to suggest, at the 2004 scoping meeting, a solution that would add one lane only in the northbound direction, approximately from the bowling alley to the police station.  I still think this is a good idea!”
  “The question for the community remains: Is the AM traffic problem big enough to require a widening solution?  That is a value judgement and policy decision.  For those residents of the Midcoast and Linda Mar communities who spend 15-20 minutes getting through Pacifica in the morning and who think the problem should be solved, the unfortunate fact is that the decision will be made by the Pacifica decision-makers listening to Pacifica voters who oppose the project, unless those people in favor of the project make a LOT of noise.”
As a REALTOR, and not just a commuter driving through on my way to a freeway, I give you this link. The satelite view shows just how many residences (and related trips per household) there are on the East side of Hwy One.(Linda Mar, Sun Valley & Park Pacifica all have but three entry points to Hwy One. Linda Mar Blvd., Crespi or Fassler.  Then there is the Rockaway neighborhood (on the east side -not to be confused with the Business district to the west) and the Vallemar neighborhood. The northbound Begin Hwy sign doesn’t start until after the Sharp Park exit, near the Clarendon exit.,+Pacifica,+CA+94044-3244&geocode=CWsUfqtvghYZFXDfPQId5tyy-CH04vdzxU4dZQ&ved=0CBQQ_wY&sa=X

That being said,  I find northbound traffic to be worse in the mornings when school is in session…starting in September when it especially seems to spike the first two weeks of school, before carpoolers are “hooked-up”.
Therefore, I’d like them to look into the school bus idea again. The Quarry developer just lost his financial interest in favor of an affiliate of the lender, so there may not be another development proposal for that parcel for awhile. A far larger threat is the extra traffic that might be generated if the BIG WAVE commercial Condo project gets approved, and 640 office parking spaces could be filled by commuters from San Francisco. Add that in the mornings to the “Moms” returning on that section of Hwy One after dropping their kids off safely at school, and you may have even more need for better traffic flow.  I think the developers with their eye on the MidCoast after The Tunnel is completed would like to see that stretch of Highway improved first. “If you build it…they will come”
So which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Highway 80 between Sacramento and the Bay Area is 3 lanes each direction.  The solution is not in expensive, outdated ways of thinking. 
The problem is not a lack of parking for those waiting to get through the stop lights - perhaps smarter use of the stop lights is one answer.  I found this article on

Networked Traffic Lights Could Save Time, Fuel, and Lives
by Michael Graham Richard, Ottawa, Canada on 03.18.10

Photo: Flickr, CC

Dumb Traffic Lights are so Passé
After smart grids, smart sewage and smart lights, here comes the smart traffic lights. To be fair, many lights already have some sensors and can adjust their cycles based on feedback from the road, but what I’m talking about here is on a whole other level. BMW and Siemens unveiled a system of networked traffic lights that can communicate with nearby cars to warn them about road conditions, help them better use anti-idling features, but that can also learn about traffic patterns from those cars and adjust cycling times to optimize traffic flow, saving time and fuel.

Photo: Flickr, CC

Dave, the Car Ahead is Warning Me About…
Such a system could also be expended to have cars talk directly to each other (“Car2Car” instead of “Car2Infrastructure”). This could mean that a car slipping on black ice could warn cars behind it about the traction conditions so they could know to slow down and be careful.

But back to the traffic lights: If a car is equipped with anti-idling technology (aka stop-start), the fuel-saving potential can be maximized by knowing about the light’s cycle.

The function presently switches the engine off as soon as the car is stationary and the driver releases the clutch, with the engine restarting when the clutch is depressed. If there are only a few seconds between stopping and starting, however, it is more energy efficient to let the engine run.
At the same time, vehicles could send back information to the traffic light, e.g. position, direction and speed of the car, which can be used to optimize the traffic flow and to adapt the cycle time of the traffic light.

Reducing Friction on the Road - It Adds Up
Making traffic flow more efficient by having traffic lights that are constantly adapting and talking to each other so that vehicles get as many green lights in a row as possible, that might sound like a small thing, but if you multiply the time and fuel saved for each car by the number of cars on the road, that’s pretty huge. Same for the number of lives saved by making cars and intersections safer.

If this gets combined with the kind of augmented reality windshields and onboard computers that automakers are working on (see here for example), all this information could be given to drivers in a very intuitive and non-intrusive way. You might not even have to take your eyes off the road.

Only a Small Part of the Solution
Of course all of this is just working on a symptom. The real way to save fuel and make roads safer is to rely a lot less on cars. Walkable cities, quality bike paths, fast rapid transit. All of these things are badly needed. But there’s no harm in also making car-related infrastructure more efficient and safer.

July 22 is the deadline for public comment to SMCTA re widening segment of Highway 1 in Pacifica:

Learn more, get contact info here:

Thanks for the update Mary!