City Looks to Ease Traffic on East Blithedale

Because of traffic signal malfunctions and light malfunctions, consistent backups have continued despite the end of the school year.

As the controversial Blithedale Terrace residential project has begun to in recent months, staunch opponents have rattled off a number of reasons why they think the city should reject it.

The most prevalent among those is traffic along East Blithedale Ave. from Elm Ave., where is, past the project site near Mesa Ave. and out to the Hwy. 101 interchange. But according to city officials and likely anyone who drives the narrow artery, traffic is pretty bad right now, regardless if the city approves a 20-unit residential development at the base of Kite Hill or something less than that.

“We know East Blithedale is just a major clog of a road right now,” said City Councilmember Stephanie Moulton-Peters.

City officials are realistic about what can done to improve traffic on the narrow roadway, which is hemmed in on both sides by homes. And though the city has $9 million in Measure A funding that has been allocated to the city’s overhauls of Miller and East Blithedale avenues, most of that money will go towards to over the next several years.

“We are simply not going to be able to widen most of East Blithedale,” Moulton-Peters said.

So what can be done in the meantime?

Two years after setting aside $25,000 in its capital improvement budget to study that question, city officials plan to find out. City Manager Jim McCann has given the go-ahead for the city to contract with a traffic consultant to see what sort of timing adjustments can be made to the four traffic signals along the backlogged section of East Blithedale: at Elm, Camino Alto, Lomita Dr. and Tower Drive.

“Blithedale traffic is going to be there one way or the other, and the signals are the low-hanging fruit,” said Councilmember Stephanie Moulton-Peters. “We have to see what can be done, if anything, with the timing of those lights, whether it’s improvements in technology or engineering to make traffic move through those intersections more quickly.”

In addition to the city’s efforts, local and county officials are hoping to make improvements to the Hwy. 101 interchange with East Blithedale and Tiburon Blvd. The Transportation Authority of Marin’s executive committee met earlier this month to , and a $200,000 study of the interchange to see what can be done to improve mobility through it for all, including bicyclists and pedestrians, is among them. The TAM board won’t formally approve the OBAG-funded projects until the fall, according to TAM Executive Director Diane Steinhauser.

That Hwy. 101 interchange, and specifically the traffic light at Tower Drive right before it, has been a pressure point of late, according to McCann. The signal’s malfunction several times in recent weeks have caused backups even worse than usual. Unlike the other the other four traffic signals within Mill Valley city limits, that signal is under the auspices of Caltrans, adding an extra bureaucratic step to getting it fixed or adjusted, McCann noted.

Moulton-Peters said there’s no magic bullet but that the city has to do what it can to ease the burden on commuters.

“Are we do everything we could be doing – that’s the questions,” she said.

London Tile June 27, 2012 at 02:01 PM
How about getting the Mill Valley police to control and direct traffic at the lights at El Camino, Lomita drive and further down by the freeway. They could direct traffic to use empty lanes, particularly those " emergency lanes". That could ease traffic onto 101 south and reduce traffic congestion behind on East Blithedale.... always a major cause of backup here, drivers would be ticketed if they were to encroach upon that empty lane.
Rico June 27, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Moulton-Peters said there's no magic bullet but that the city has to do what it can to ease the burden on commuters. She's right about there's no magic bullet. If they want to adjust the traffic signal controllers to give longer green times to E. Blithedale during the morning commute out, that would help a little. But remember, the opposing streets would have longer red times while waiting for the controller to max out before initiating the service call of the side streets. So, there is no magic bullet, something's got to give. Actually, other than widening E. Blithedale to four lanes all the way into downtown like Miller Ave. is, no traffic signal timing adjustments will help much because the traffic is thick on E. Blithedale all day in both directions. I can make a suggestion but it may not be very well received, people should use Miller Ave. to enter and exit Mill Valley. The commuters going south on 101 can go through Tam Junction, but those commuting north on 101 if they go through Tam junction will be going out of their way a bit and adding congestion to Tam Junction- not good, just transferring the problem off of E. Blithedale. I must add that in all the decades of living in Mill Valley, I have never once seen traffic backed up on Miller Ave., but E. Blithedale is backed up every day.
john seabern June 27, 2012 at 03:45 PM
How about a speed bump near Boyle Park to slow traffic down to posted speed limits before someone talking/texting on their phone kills a pedestrian in the crosswalk. Trying to figure out how to speed things up on E Blithedale is NOT the right answer.
Rachelle Sarosi June 27, 2012 at 04:33 PM
When evers there's a back up which is a lot recently I have called the police department their response "We know" then why dont you get out their and do something! I cant imagine they are all that busy.
John June 27, 2012 at 04:45 PM
We know that Caltrans can be difficult to work with, and the problem of traffic on Blithedale will be with us like death and taxes, but little things can be done here and there to improve the overall flow of traffic toward the freeway. For example, one minor fix would involve making a new lane out of the shoulder past Tower so that cars headed south on 101 would not have to wait in the queue with those headed north, and could just slide through on the right. Like they do now, but legally...
RD June 27, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Kudos to the city for looking into the problem. Thank you. The proposed Blithedale Project will make it irreversibly worse. Please sign the petition to help stop it. Let's not make things worse! www.ipetitions.com/petition/friendsofkitehill/ 
Daniel Archer June 27, 2012 at 04:55 PM
One easy improvement would be to change the East Blithedale and Elm traffic signal so it does not change automatically to 'red' even though there is no cross traffic (vehicles/pedestrians) waiting. We have witnessed the signal changing even very late at night or early morning for no apparent reason at all.
MV Resident June 27, 2012 at 05:12 PM
What are the police supposed to do about it exactly? This is a problem that the city should definitely be working on - but not something the police should be getting calls about. Please consider what those calls cost - both in terms of taking focus away from true emergencies and public safety, as well as to your fellow taxpayers.
MV Resident June 27, 2012 at 05:17 PM
I too would prefer not to see high density, out of character housing on that hill for asthetic purposes....although I'm not sure that 20 units is material to the traffic problem. Nor am I sure that my asthetic preference is really a material opinion in whether that housing should be built.
Rico June 27, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Daniel, That is a good idea, change the controller to be a fully traffic and pedestrian actuated controller. I am surprised that is not at this time. Remember that this at Park School, and there will still be PED XING there during the day. I don't think it would help much anyway during the day because the congestion originates down at the Camino Alto intersection and backs up to Park School in the morning and late afternoon
RD June 27, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Dear MV Resident. It is more than aesthetic. There is no way for traffic to exit the proposed Blithedale Development, and turn left onto E.Blithedale because of Keep Clear area at Ryan ave. & E. Blithedale - it is a moving violation to be in that keep clear area. That intersection will become a parking lot. Permanent gridlock.
Nan Paget June 27, 2012 at 05:58 PM
If you don't like the backup, here are some suggestions: Use Miller Ave. Leave ten minutes earlier. Commute by public transit. Commute by bicycle. Move to Shelter Hill, Shelter Bay or Enchanted Knolls. Exercise patience.
Alan Abrams June 27, 2012 at 06:06 PM
The article missed the point about the 20-unit Blithedale Terrace project. It will not make the intersection's traffic bad, it will make it worse. How could it not? More cars trying to enter Blithedale 100 yds from the intersection = worse. And the article is incorrect about traffic being the major problem. A worse problem is ingress and egress to the property that is going to make that very bad traffic situation into a dangerous bad traffic situation. Just read the traffic section of the draft EIR. It's spelled out right there for all to see.
George Gordon June 27, 2012 at 06:43 PM
I ran for city council in 2007 and 2009, I said then and I say now, widen E. Blithedale from the car wash to the Chevron station to two lanes each way. The city owns the right of way, has the plans completed, has the money to do it. That choke point accounts for 50% of the traffic flow problems at the Blithedale / Camino Alto interesection. Don't waste another $25,000 on a traffic study when anyone who gets out of his car and watches what happens can see the problem. Do something, act with some vision for a change, George Gordon Mill Valley
Beads of Marin June 27, 2012 at 07:42 PM
I believe that business owners at "Lower Miller Ave." would have no objections to see traffic directed to downtown through Miller Ave. as it will help business like it did when there was construction on EB and traffic was redirected via Miller.
Rico June 27, 2012 at 07:55 PM
I agree , that would solve most of the problems. It seems like anywhere that 2 lanes are reduced to one , dangerous conditions arise, and it brings out the worse in some inconsiderate or ignorant drivers=road rage. There are many accidents and near misses that don't get documented for the traffic studies. After so many years of putting up with these dangerous gores, it's about time the city of Mill Valley "cut loose" with the funding for this improvement. The city of Mill Valley has plenty of money, they are not like Stockton or Vallejo. Thank you George for your efforts and a great solution to a horrible problem. Now, all we need is for everyone to put pressure on the City Council to make this happen.
Nan Paget June 27, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Unfortunately, E. Blithedale runs alongside a steep hill with homes on top, and a steep drop with a creek at the bottom. To widen it would certainly endanger those homes, as well as the creek. Also, of course, to widen it toward downtown would mean taking many of those homes situated close to the street.
Margery Entwisle June 27, 2012 at 09:19 PM
I was at Phil Richardson's "chat" at the MV Community Center. What a joke. He ignored anything that was said about the ill-advised and dangerous situation that would be created by a Ryan Avenue extension. His response - the cars exiting his development would use the Keep Clear zone. Excuse me! He doesn't want to recognize what Keep Clear means and what that zone is used for. If his people use the Keep Clear zone it will no longer be clear and how will I make a left turn on to Ryan when I am going west on Blithedale. Plus, the traffic will be backed up through the Camino Alto intersection behind me.
George Gordon June 28, 2012 at 12:07 AM
To Nan Paget's comment on bogth the hill side homes and the creek side: There are noi homes on the hill side, there is a drainage ditch on one side and with a little common sense and lane cajsutment, it impacts neither the hill side or the creek. Take a look at it the next time you go through the section of roadway
RD June 28, 2012 at 02:02 AM
An additional solution, though small, is to add a lane (it is almost a lane now and people use it as such) on the right shoulder at the freeway entrance to get onto 101 to go to San Francisco. After going through traffic light at E. Blithedale & Kipling - an additional lane can be added for people for getting onto 101 headed towards SF. It would help traffic flow a little better. Every little bit can help.
Bob Silvestri June 28, 2012 at 03:02 AM
George has it right.
Rico June 28, 2012 at 03:12 AM
That's right, There are no houses on the south side of E. Blithedale on that section from the car wash to the Chevron station. No doubt that there would be some major excavation and retaining systems involved, but after seeing what has been done recently in Mill Valley, anything is possible. But, to widen E. Blithedale from Camino Alto to downtown would be cost prohibitive. The city would have to condemn through eminent domain all the houses on at least one side of E. Blithedale all the way into town, not going to happen. It's not like they are going to run the SMART train into Mill Valley, that will never happen either. As a matter of fact, southern Marin is a certified train free zone, there will never be any trains here. And the drainage can be covered, like they do everywhere. There are two creeks that run under 101 in central San Rafael, I have mapped out the conduits that were never properly documented for the city of San Rafael. Like I say, anything is possible (within financial reason) with modern engineering in today's world. Check out what former planning commissioner Chuck Utzman did. And the additional lane entering southbound 101 from E. Blithedale would also help a bit.
Cathy Rosekrans June 28, 2012 at 04:31 AM
I was told some time ago that one function of the Elm/East Blithedale light is to allow for enough pause in East Blithedale traffic to allow East Blithedale residents to get out of their driveways.
Cathy Rosekrans June 28, 2012 at 04:36 AM
How about relieving traffic on in-bound East Blithedale by carving out a bus pad into the Blithedale Terrace project area. Maybe add some commuter parking. Scale down the Richardson project. Food for thougth.
Cathy Rosekrans June 28, 2012 at 04:37 AM
Lee Kleinecke June 28, 2012 at 10:45 PM
Start at the source of the backup and fix the interchange with 101. When Tiburon / Strawberry bound traffic gets blocked at the light and backs up onto the overpass, it blocks the entrance to 101 North. As two lanes of eastbound traffic from Mill Valley generally try to merge together to take this ramp, the backup starts. More frequently, the action of cars merging together to take that ramp is enough to cause the backup that extends to Kipling and beyond.
Chuck Wong July 25, 2012 at 10:42 PM
How about opening up Hamilton Drive Southbound so that people that want to get to the freeway can use it?
Alan Abrams July 26, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Sorry, that's too easy a solution...


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