It was crystal clear at the four-hour Planning Commission study session: Whatever projects get built, Menlo Park residents are demanding that El Camino traffic be addressed. Now.
Unlike many building project meetings, nearly all speakers across almost two hours offered constructive, considered commentary. Given the dominating concern for traffic gridlock and neighborhood impacts (cut-through traffic), it's worth noting that not one person asked for neighborhood speed bumps or stop signs; they asked that the source of the problem — El Camino traffic flow and the added traffic of a major project — be solved by our city.
Two observations seem inescapable:
• El Camino and related traffic has been a major resident complaint for a decade or more — and is one of the 12 visioning goals formally adopted by the council four years ago. This is not just the recent Caltrans signal-coordination problem, although that spotlights the importance of open traffic flow.
• Whoever rebuilds the derelict El Camino corridor — as residents have hoped for years — new buildings will bring more cars, even with aggressive alternative commute programs. Those cars must rely on El Camino as the arterial roadway — not the surrounding neighborhood streets.
We are fortunate that six large parcels are all being brought forward for development at once: If they had separate owners and were brought forward incrementally, we might continue to kick the can down the road. The city needs to have a clear, responsible plan to not only restore full function to El Camino but to prepare for greater traffic volume — remembering that the reality of "bad traffic" is not how many cars get through — it's how many sit and wait to do so. And we need to include improved bike and pedestrian crossing between the east and west halves of downtown.
To do this, the City Council must make clear choices about street parking, dedicated bus lanes, and the appropriateness of bicycles on an arterial with multiple commercial driveways and high-demand intersections. This discussion should be scheduled promptly.
Pending that, residents will rightly continue to doubt that Menlo Park has the roadway infrastructure to handle its current traffic, let alone that from a million square feet of new construction.
Please, let's begin.