Los Gatos businesses complain about too much traffic

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.

local traffic only sign

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.


  1. “[T]raffic calming measures would make traffic more dangerous on the streets for all vehicles including bicycles”

    Really? I would really love to know where that got that from.

  2. The fine for violating the sign would be $234 and 1 DMR point. The problems is enforcement, since how would you get reasonable suspicion. They would probably need to use stops for equipment violations, then add it on.

    Some cities like Fremont are now putting in photo plate readers at all major entrance and exit points of the city. A comparison of time stamps for the plates entering and exiting the city at certain points could be used to determine vehicles which got off the freeway, drove through the city without stopping (based on time stamps and travel time), then got back on the freeway going the same direction, thus providing reasonable suspicion. Or the system could be automated similar to red light cameras.
    ( http://www.mercurynews.com/fremont/ci_28494190/fremont-install-license-plate-reading-cameras )

    Another tactic some police department are now using is to enter fake reports of traffic patrol spotting on Waze. Local residents on cut through streets could enter this fake data also. Waze allows users to enter the location of police conducting traffic stops, so user know to watch out. There are calls for this to be made illegal since its a safety issue for police to be tracked. In the meantime, its only a win win for police to enter strategically located fake data into Waze, whether people believe the data or not. If users believe the data, they may avoid cutting through or at least drive safer when they do. If users stop believing the data because they think too much of it is fake, that’s also good because then police can conduct their jobs without being tracked. Either way, the fake data is a win-win for the police safety and the residents safety. An interesting controlled study would be to monitor cut through traffic volumes vs a Waze counter intelligence program.

    V C Section 21461 Obedience by Driver to Official Traffic Control Devices

    Obedience by Driver to Official Traffic Control Devices

    21461. (a) It is unlawful for a driver of a vehicle to fail to obey a sign or signal defined as regulatory in the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, or a Department of Transportation approved supplement to that manual of a regulatory nature erected or maintained to enhance traffic safety and operations or to indicate and carry out the provisions of this code or a local traffic ordinance or resolution adopted pursuant to a local traffic ordinance, or to fail to obey a device erected or maintained by lawful authority of a public body or official.

  3. The town plans to meet with Waze representatives about the cut-through issue. That should be an interesting meeting, since creating cut-through traffic is the basis for their whole business model.

    Just see the image on itunes, which shows the app recommending to cut through a quite side street to avoid traffic.

    The image for the android version shows the app diverting traffic to a road that has a school for the deaf.

    Continued Town Action on Cut-Through Traffic

    During the first weekend in August, the Town of Los Gatos began implementing pilot measures in an attempt to mitigate the effects of cut-through beach traffic.

    Electronic signs were posted at key intersections and traffic enforcement measures were taken to keep drivers from blocking intersections.

    This weekend and continued through Labor Day the Town will continue these measures, add traffic control at intersections that were found to be particularly impacted, and assess the effects of all traffic control measures in order to seek long-term solutions to the downtown bottleneck created by cut-through traffic.

    In addition, Town officials will be meeting with representatives of Caltrans and Waze to encourage their assistance in creating a partnership to alleviate local and regional traffic issues created by congestion on Highway 17. The Town Council will also be receiving regular reports regarding the success of any traffic mitigation measures undertaken and may adjust those measures as warranted.

    Los Gatos continues to welcome visitors to its beautiful downtown, and is undertaking these efforts to make sure that visitors and residents alike can enjoy the Town to its fullest, rather than experience the frustration of sitting in traffic.

  4. Agree with you regarding their meeting with Waze. Other cities have met with them with no effect.

    Have you heard that Waze traffic seems to be affecting Stanford U’s trip caps? They’re studying this now, I’m told. This will have a very real monetary impact on the Stanford campus, since they pay a fine whenever traffic to and from the campus exceeds the trip limitation imposed on them by the county.

  5. When will people learn that traffic is caused, quite simply, by too many people in cars trying to occupy the same streets at the same time. Send them in whichever direction you choose, but cities invite traffic by attracting people and businesses in order to increase their tax bases. Big surprise: more people = more cars = more traffic… not really an Einstein-level equation. The solution? NIMBYism! 🙂

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