Viewpoint - June 2, 2010

Editorial: Can Menlo Park live with hospital project?

We are disappointed that the designers of Stanford's $3.5-billion expansion of its medical facilities on Sand Hill Road did not include more "out-of-the-box" ideas to reduce the impact that 2,200 new employees will have on the areas surrounding the projects, particularly Menlo Park.

When built out, the 1.3 million-square-foot project will exacerbate already choked rush-hour traffic along the access corridors to Interstate 280 and add hundreds of trips by workers threading their way through Menlo Park surface streets, which do not provide a direct route to the hospital. When completed, the expansion will add 10,000 new vehicle trips a day to local areas that already are heavily congested during peak travel times.

The environmental impact report released May 19 breaks no new ground in its suggested mitigations for this massive project:

• Encourage workers to take public transportation;

• Contribute to building bike and pedestrian tunnels, including one at Middle Avenue in Menlo Park;

• Adjust signal timing, widen intersections and add turn lanes.

All of these are good ideas, and if modestly successful could provide some relief from the traffic deluge already omnipresent at Menlo Park's major intersections.

Over the many years of coping with Stanford's ever-expanding campus, and with virtually no leverage in the Palo Alto-controlled process, Menlo Park often is left with few options. For example, past complaints about the Sand Hill/El Camino Real intersection have been ignored, although in 2006 the university did pay to install two left turn lanes in each direction at Sand Hill and Santa Cruz Avenue and to widen Menlo Park's portion of the road to four lanes.

But we are thinking of more exotic ideas. For example Stanford could:

• Build dedicated ramps from Interstate 280 that would take commuters directly to the campus, which would take hundreds of motorists off major access roads like Sand Hill and Page Mill.

• Widen Sand Hill from Quarry Road to El Camino Real, and pressure Palo Alto to open access to the Alma intersection. Also, traffic leaving North Palo Alto via Alma should be permitted to turn left on El Camino, instead of being forced into Menlo Park, where motorists now make a u-turn at Cambridge Avenue to return to Palo Alto or Stanford Shopping Center.

• Establish parking areas along U.S. 101 in east Menlo Park for Stanford employees, who could then reach their jobs by shuttle bus or by a lightweight and easy-to-install tram system, such as Sky Tran, which recently was demonstrated at NASA-Ames in Mountain View and could be built for $15 million a mile or less.

Given the size of the hospital projects, plus Menlo Gateway and the possibility that Cargill's plan to convert Redwood City salt ponds to a community of up to 30,000 people will become a reality, it is clear that traffic pressure on Menlo Park's streets and roadways will be stretched beyond capacity in the next 10 years.

City Council member Heyward Robinson spoke up for Menlo Park during a public hearing on the hospital's impact report at the Palo Alto City Council last week. And the city is now preparing its official response to the projects.

In order to receive approval for its project, Stanford already is prepared to pay hefty impact fees to Palo Alto, which is asking for millions of dollars. Unfortunately, despite the expected impacts cited in the environmental report, Menlo Park must go it alone on this development, without any support from Stanford or Palo Alto.


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