The Library Commission's recent conclusion that about one-third of drivers hoping to stop at either the main Menlo Park Library or the new gym in the Civic Center have trouble finding a parking spot, leads to a couple of questions: How big a problem is it, and what can be done?
It turns out that when there's a tournament happening -- particularly after school hours -- parking is an exercise in frustration for about 31 percent of visitors, according to the commission in a Feb. 2 memo. During 10 months of spot checks, commissioners said they witnessed illegal parking, unsafe drop-offs of children, and drivers leaving without finding a space.
Community Services Director Cherise Brandell said that parking is mainly a problem when the basketball league is playing. Transportation staff will take a look at the situation in about six weeks, after construction of the new gymnastics center finishes, which will free an additional 40 spaces, she said.
Some community members suggested unlocking the side doors of the gym to provide easier access to other lots. According to Ms. Brandell, the side doors are locked only when there's a single staffer on duty, as a safety precaution.
Transportation Commissioner Ray Mueller wondered whether congestion was necessarily all bad. "It underscores a great opportunity for cross-marketing. It would be great to see the library marketing itself to patrons of the gym," he said.
"A gym that is effectively drawing more families to the vicinity of the library, I believe is a fantastic opportunity, even if it does create congestion in the parking lot."
Some community grumbling pointed a finger at the planning process for the new Arrillaga Family Gymnasium, but Councilman Rich Cline called the project well thought out.
"We had this discussion in detail when the Friends of the Library and the commission cautioned against a full parking lot. I remember staff committing to check-ins and to being open to modifications if needed," he said, recalling that everyone knew the parking situation would need review.
Once the city assesses the situation, Mr. Cline commented, it may be time to sit down and consider potential changes. "It is great to have folks take time to show where the city may need to make improvements."
The Library Commission suggested several fixes, including better coordination of program schedules between both facilities, improved signs and directions for sports league participants, and more traffic mitigation by the transportation department. It also asked for increased parking enforcement.