Understanding Silicon Valley Traffic

Traffic JamSilicon Valley has many, many positives and only a few negatives. Among those less-than-desirable aspects are the high cost of housing, the urban sprawl, and the inevitable traffic.

Most Silicon Valley home buyers want a commute of 30 minutes or less.  Due to the high cost of residential real estate, though, the majority of home buyers end up living much further from their work places than they’d like.

Here are a few tidbits for understanding the freeway and road traffic patterns in Santa Clara County, San Mateo County, and the Peninsula / South Bay Area as a whole:

  1. If it takes 15-20 minutes outside of rush hour, unless you are going “against the traffic”, it will take at least double that “in traffic”, and perhaps 3 times as long. Recently I went to Sunnyvale from my home in East Los Gatos for a 9am appointment- a distance that should have been 18 minutes in no traffic. I took back roads, hit every imaginable red light, and it took me an hour and 10 minutes.
  2. If there’s an accident or some road construction, estimate triple the time coming or going. It’s worth it to have a website or social media aid for checking traffic.
  3. The morning commute is easier than the evening commute. I cannot explain it – it just is.
  4. Some of the biggest problems happen where the freeways narrow.  In some cases the number of lanes may remain the same, but suddenly there’s a carpool or HOV lane, so regular traffic is a bit more constricted.
  5. Things also tend to snarl at major freeway intersections. (If you’re from L.A., it is not nearly as bad as where the San Diego Freeway meets the Santa Monica Freeway, aka The 405 and The 10 – which, by the way, we would call 405 and 10 here in NorCal (no “the” before the number).
  6. One of the worst “choke points” in Silicon Valley is Highway 85 between Hwy 280 and Hwy 101.  It’s gridlock in the morning. Whatever you do, don’t go there.
  7. If you can take 280 instead of 101 between Los Altos and San Francisco, do it.   It’s wider, it’s less stressful, it’s prettier.
  8. If you take 280 between Los Altos and San Francisco at night, realize that you are mostly in rural areas, away from gas stations.  Further, you have to watch out for deer deciding that the best time to cross the road is when you are driving on it. (Seriously: it’s bad in mating season both on 280 as well as highway 17 going over “The Hill” to Santa Cruz.)
  9. The traffic is not only bad on freeways. Beware El Camino Real, which is over-stuffed. Also word has it that the road into Google is quick thick with traffic in the mornings. If you are in bike commuting distance, you may love your ride in to work.
  10. Speaking of bicycles – bike lanes are popping up in downtown San Jose and all over. If you want to commute to work on human power, you’re in luck: things are looking up for cyclists all over.

One last comment for those who fear congested roads:  the areas closest to the major high tech work places (Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Cupertino) have the priciest real estate.  You know it’s bad before you even begin to house-hunt, but you don’t really know until you are in the thick of real estate negotiations.  Many homes in these highly in-demand regions are selling well over list price, in some cases, as much as 25-30% over list price.  (It’s not for the faint of heart.) But be strong: many employees, especially at Google and Apple, have buses where you can have a nearly stress-free commute.  It won’t be short, but you won’t have your hands locked to the steering wheel, either!

 

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