I was just riding along the other weekend in Los Gatos, CA when I noticed “no right turn” signs at Massol and Tait Avenues from Highway 9. I’ve heard that the town of Los Gatos now has signs at all of the town entries to discourage cut-through traffic.
Los Gatos in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains has a vibrant commercial district. Highway 17 passes through the town as a limited access highway. On warm summer weekends, traffic crawls at 15 MPH for those making the 20 mile trip to the beaches of Santa Cruz, with upwards of 70,000 vehicles passing through Los Gatos on Highway 17. This is double the weekday traffic.
The booming popularity of Waze has had a noticeable impact on traffic through the town of Los Gatos. I’ve tested this out, and Waze will direct me off of Highway 17 onto local roads through the town, taking me literally miles out of the way to get past some of the jam on the highway. Waze has directed me to Union Street and through the neighborhoods behind Good Sam Hospital to Los Gatos Boulevard. Another very typical route is either Massol Avenue or Tait Avenue, both of which are residential streets that parallel Santa Cruz Avenue and Highway 17.
It’s gotten so bad that businesses are now complaining about the cut-through traffic, according to the Mercury News:
“I went to get lunch and the cars on N. Santa Cruz barely moved,” said Kismet Boutique employee Kelly Kubo. “Customers are telling us they’re avoiding town. I hear a lot of screeching tires at crosswalks.”
Three things have become apparent throughout the summer: Emergency responders will be hamstrung by the traffic if they need to get somewhere fast, downtown merchants are losing money fast and residents can’t get around in a timely fashion to do simple things like get a haircut.
Businesses generally are in favor of more traffic, but sending cars through a business district 20 miles from the drivers’ destination seems to hurt more than it helps. In response to this bypass traffic through town, the town began erecting “Local Traffic Only” electronic signs on Winchester Road, Los Gatos Boulevard, Lark Avenue and Highway 9.
Waze also directs traffic through the residential neighborhood of Almond Grove. Those of you who race Cat’s Hill are familiar with the narrow streets and steep grades of this neighborhood.
Parks and public works director Matt Morley estimated that vehicles cutting through the Almond Grove neighborhood last weekend were approximately 400 feet deep on Tait Avenue and 200 feet deep on Massol Avenue.
(Matt Morley is, incidentally, the city staff liason to the town BPAC).
The residents are naturally fuming about this extra traffic on what are normally very quiet streets. Perhaps ironically, these very same residents firmly rejected a town proposal for traffic calming on Massol and Tait Avenues just last year, and the town gave up on the project last September. (If you’re not familiar with the usual collection of arguments against traffic calming, I encourage you to visit that “traffic calming in Los Gatos” site, it’s a real gem of misinformation and myth.)
In spite of the heavy traffic on narrow streets, biking through Los Gatos seems fairly popular and somewhat safe on these busy weekend days. The local police are serious about distracted driving, and car traffic is so painfully slow on the weekends the only sensible way to get around town is on foot or on bike.