Almanac

News - March 19, 2014

Menlo Park releases first phase of traffic study on Stanford project

by Sandy Brundage

As with most projects in Menlo Park, there's good news, and bad news: The mixed-use complex Stanford University wants to build would add about a third less traffic overall than projected by the specific plan, but nearly six times as much to Middle Avenue, according to a preliminary report.

The city released the first of three traffic studies last week. The initial analysis, carried out by consultants W-Trans, concluded that Stanford's project would generate 3,115 trips a day — 1,727 fewer trips than the specific plan estimated for development at 300 to 500 El Camino Real.

"As a whole, the traffic is significantly lower than expected by the specific plan," Menlo Park Transportation Manager Jesse Quirion said, partly because the specific plan made assumptions based on a scenario that included construction of a 275-room hotel on the site.

A hotel would mean lots of trips by people from out of town, usually taking the quickest route through unfamiliar streets based on directions provided by GPS. The specific plan estimated 4,882 trips for that scenario.

But rather than a hotel, Stanford wants to build a mixed-use complex on 8 acres of land — now mostly vacant car lots — with 199,500 square feet of office space, 10,000 square feet of retail, and up to 170 apartments.

The complex, however, will generate more local trips — and thus more traffic through the neighborhoods, Mr. Quirion said. The study estimates that the project would add 528 car trips per day along Middle Avenue; the specific plan had anticipated 87.

The next two phases will look specifically at the project's traffic impact to El Camino Real, and then within the neighborhoods, including Allied Arts. Mr. Quirion said the results of those studies could lead to changes in the estimated total traffic estimates.

"At this point, it does look like (the project) fits within the specific plan as far as traffic is concerned," he said. "But it's only the first step."

According to Mr. Quirion, there's no set timeframe for completion of the remaining studies. "We're going to be very transparent with the neighbors and Stanford ... so it is taking a little bit longer than a standard review." A draft of the preliminary study, for example, was distributed to representatives from all sides of the discussion for comment, and then further revised before the official release on March 12.

George Fisher, who served as a neighborhood liaison on the council's Stanford project subcommittee, said the analysis still doesn't make sense. The "gargantuan traffic burden" on the neighborhoods fails to justify the amount of office space Stanford wants to build, he said.

Mr. Fisher and other members of Save Menlo are collecting signatures to try to get an initiative on the November ballot that would, among other provisions, cap office space in any individual development at 100,000 square feet — about half of what Stanford wants to build — and limit total new office space in the specific plan area to 240,820 square feet.

The initiative would also restrict new, nonresidential development to 474,000 square feet within the plan's boundaries. Voters, not the City Council, would have to approve exceeding the limits on nonresidential development or changing the measure's regulations.

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