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Walnut Creek Mayor's Message

Aug 29, 2016 10:41AM ● Published by Loella Haskew

Loella Haskew, Mayor of Walnut Creek

Summer recreation and vacations are over. September is when people return to their regular lives.  That means traffic also returns to its regular, congested, frustrating levels. So, it is only logical that this month’s report focuses on how Walnut Creek deals with its traffic issues.  With Walnut Creek at the crossroads of Contra Costa County, that’s a big job.  Traffic generated by a population of 67,000 plus pass-through drivers makes the job nearly impossible.  For example, Walnut Creek sees some 120,000 cars pass daily through its two main east-west roads, Treat Boulevard and Ygnacio Valley Road. The count is 12,000 cars at peak hours. Thanks to technology and teamwork, we are up to the challenge.

Rafat Raie (winner of the Institute of Transportation, San Francisco Region’s 2016 Professional of the Year award) mans the helm and oversees a high-tech system that keeps traffic moving. He uses tools such as the Intelligent Transportation System, composed of a grid of computers that orchestrates 100 traffic signals in and around Walnut Creek. The synchronized lights can adapt to changing demand in real time to maximize traffic flow and reduce backups. Our team of traffic signal technicians supports this process by making sure all those traffic signals work properly.

The city is at the forefront of using web apps to fight the clog. Walnut Creek is busy building its “smart city” infrastructure, which sends information about parking availability to mobile phones—and ultimately directly to cars—to eliminate the need to circle endlessly for a parking spot. Walnut Creek is the first Bay Area city to adopt the EnLighten app, which alerts drivers when the closest light is about to change. Cameras along our main arterials are constantly sending information about traffic flow to our Traffic Signal Master at City Hall. From this room, traffic professionals can see when backups happen and make adjustments to signal timing to get traffic moving again.  Information from the sensors can be used to develop new ways of safely managing traffic. Imagine a world where cars no longer run red lights because the car and the traffic signal talk to each other using these new technologies.

Planning for safe neighborhood streets is very important to us. This year, we have been working with parents and faculty at Walnut Acres Elementary School and Foothill Middle School to make changes that will keep kids safe as they walk and bike to school. 

The real challenge is to convince people to drive less. That’s where widening bike lanes and creating pedestrian-friendly crosswalks and boulevards come into play. “It’s a societal thing,” Raie says. “We’re gradually normalizing other modes of travel.”  Given that he’s the city’s traffic guru, does Raie have any secret shortcuts he uses to get to work? “Most days,” he says with a grin, “I walk.”

Safety Tip:  Speaking of traffic lights, a yellow traffic signal light means caution, the red traffic signal light is about to appear. When you see the yellow traffic signal light, stop if you can do so safely. If you cannot stop safely, cross the intersection cautiously.  Pedestrians legally can only cross when the green walk figure is on.  Entering the intersection after the countdown is started is jaywalking.  

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