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Traffic from Sierra back to Bay Area?

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Traffic from Sierra back to Bay Area?

Postby oleander » Fri Jun 22, 2012 11:34 pm

Suppose it's a Sunday afternoon/evening on a typical summer weekend.

What is the WORST strategic time to return to the Bay Area? Let's say we're talking about the timing for hitting Tracy on the 580, or Richmond on the 880 - the points where traffic can slow down a lot on a really bad weekend. 3 pm? 5 pm? 7 pm? 9 pm? And which of those times is the *least* bad?

I realize it is not precisely the same every weekend. Looking for averages/patterns here.


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Re: Traffic from Sierra back to Bay Area?

Postby windknot » Sat Jun 23, 2012 12:03 am

I've found that westbound traffic coming back into the Bay Area on a Sunday evening is pretty uniformly minimal excepting accidents or roadwork on either 80 or 580, so I've never tried to time my returns from trips to the mountains (other than trying to coax every last bit of sunlight out of my hike). Not as many weekend warriors as there are weekend visitors to San Francisco.

Sorry this doesn't help much. My unresearched guess would be that mid-day or later evening (9pm or later) would be best simply due to less intra-city dinner traffic.
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Re: Traffic from Sierra back to Bay Area?

Postby tim » Sat Jun 23, 2012 7:17 am

My general (counter-intuitive) experience has been that traffic peaks earlier on a summer Sunday than in the winter. I'd guess that's because winter trips are strictly weekends only (skiing on Sunday) whereas summer trips are often longer (so you don't try to maximize what you do on Sunday). Generally I'd say 3-5pm would be worse than 7-9pm.
Usually I find 80 worse than 580 and Pacheco pass better than either (except if there's an accident). The pinch point I really hate is the 108/120 junction near Sonora (avoid at all costs on holiday weekends!). We spent 40 mins stuck there on the way back from Yosemite on Memorial Day.
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Re: Traffic from Sierra back to Bay Area?

Postby giantbrookie » Sat Jun 23, 2012 3:34 pm

I've been away from the Bay Area since 2005, in the course of many trips (1960's to 2005) I found pretty heavy traffic on Sunday evenings. I can't imagine things have improved since 2005. The westbound 80 return was the worst, probably because there is a big Reno component thrown into the Sierra (incl. Tahoe) component. Things would pinch around Vacaville and again around Fairfield, so by the late 90's I started to do this trick that got me into the Bay Area on Vasco Road---580 was/is far less of a problem than 80 (route was something like 5 S to Lodi to 12 W to Vasco Rd to 580). Whereas 580 itself tends to be flow pretty well, the 120 Manteca segment can be slow and 120 westbound going into Oakdale backs up so badly that in the late 90's I took to taking the LaGrange Road to 132 and 132 to 580 to avoid both Oakdale and the Manteca 120 section. The Manteca pinch point may have improved as they've now widened it since 2005, I believe, but I'll bet the Oakdale backup is still pretty bad. Additionally for folks approaching the Bay Area from 50, Placerville tends to back up fairly severely westbound (upstream of the traffic light section) on Sunday afternoon. I don't know much about incoming Pacheco Pass traffic on Sunday, given that living in Hayward always meant a return via either 80 or 580, but I imagine Sunday's westbound 152 isn't too bad, especially now that they've put in that improved 152/156 junction.

Overall I've found that if you make it back to the Bay Area somewhat earlier, say before 5 pm, you are probably ahead of the main crunch, but I never liked drastically shortening my Sunday in the Sierra to avoid a bit of traffic. Better to stay a bit longer in the high country and come back a bit later. In other words a return to the Bay Area after 9 pm would tend to find it lighter (ie arrivals in the 5-9 pm range may encounter heavy traffic, depending on the route).
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Re: Traffic from Sierra back to Bay Area?

Postby no2haven » Mon Jun 25, 2012 8:59 am

Honestly, ever since they finished constructing the 3rd lane on the 580/205 connection from Tracy to I5 I've never had a backup coming back to the bay on Sunday unless there was a bad accident. I'm usually in that area between 3-7pm depending on how remoteness of the trailhead (or the excellence of the skiing). The few times I've used I80 (typically in winter) has been worse, especially in the Davis -> Vallejo area.

The place I dread is the 108/120 junction (and driving through Yosemite of course...too few RV drivers actually use the turnouts to let people by). Sometimes there are 3 people queued for the left turn, sometimes 50. An alternate is to take the right on 49 to 108 - you get a light protected left onto 108 (with active construction this summer!) - however there's no way to tell in advance how bad the turn from 120 will be. Generally, though, if its backed up all the way to the hill, I'll turn around and go the other way.

If 120 is backed up in Oakdale with everyone turning left to go to Sonora/Yosemite, I just go straight through the light (the right lane is usually clear) and make a U-turn.
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