Almanac

News - December 18, 2013

Menlo Park to ban street parking on Laurel St. near Nativity School

by Sandy Brundage

A portion of Laurel Street between Oak Grove and Glenwood avenues will become a "no stopping" zone after the current school year ends.

The Menlo Park City Council voted 5-0 to approve the change during its Dec. 10 meeting.

The parking issue arose when a resident whose child attended Encinal Elementary School, located not far from Laurel Street, complained to the city that parents from Nativity School parked in the bike lanes.

Parents with children attending the private K-8 Nativity School at 1250 Laurel St., as well as school administrators, protested the loss of parking space.

City staff argued the removal makes bicycle travel along the street safer, and that the change is in line with Menlo Park's "complete streets policy," which states that the roads must serve all users, not just motorists.

On the other side of the debate, Nativity parents said it would make dropping off and picking up their children more dangerous. The school currently has a drop-off and pickup zone off Oak Grove Avenue that administrators said can't accommodate the flow of parents for the school's current 275 students, in part because students from Menlo-Atherton High School illegally park in the private school's lots.

In the end, though, it turned out to be about working together to find a solution rather than making the strongest argument. Transportation staff collaborated with parents and school administrators to figure out how to reconfigure the facility's on-site parking to add up to 14 spaces to compensate for losing street parking. The school will also develop a program to encourage alternate transportation.

Some changes will be made to the intersection of Laurel Street and Oak Grove Avenue: pedestrians will have longer to cross the street, and right turns on red will be prohibited while children are present.

There's still some fine-tuning to be done. A school representative speaking at the council meeting asked the city to share the costs with Nativity, which the council encouraged. Transportation Manager Jesse Quirion noted that grant funding may be available to pay for some modifications, such as painting the bike lanes green along certain portions of the street to heighten awareness.

Parents and school administrators also said they remain concerned about the future, as Menlo-Atherton High School expands. Erin Glanville, president of Nativity's parent-teacher group, suggested the city seek funding for enlarging Laurel Street, and pointed out that Menlo Park's "safe routes to school" policy states that traffic should not be pushed to adjacent neighborhoods and that parents should be provided adequate space for school transport.

Whether eliminating the street parking will have unintended consequences, as some fear, remains to be seen; all modifications will be evaluated after the 2014-15 school year starts.

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