As a practicing family doctor commuting by bike daily between Portola Valley, Menlo Park and Palo Alto, I could not help but respond to the emphasis in your editorial last week titled, "Time for serious effort on bike safety?" which addresses bike and driver education as well as law enforcement.
I appreciate your editorial and agree it is time, past time, for an effort on bike safety, but there are more important and more expensive adjustments which must be made.
Clearly, Sand Hill Road and Woodside Road suffer terribly from an absence of safe bike lanes and/or bridges when they encounter the usual All-American highway sprawl at clover-leaf intersections. We are continuing to create extremely dangerous routes for any modern recreation or alternative transportation by allowing our highway system to move forward with more and more high-speed on-ramps and narrow bike lanes in between traffic lanes.
It is indeed time to change the model, to decrease on-ramp merging speeds and to make safe biking and hiking routes wherever possible but most importantly under, over, or through busy high-speed intersections.
In medical practice we are seeing unacceptable numbers of biking injuries, both minor and major. The message in my opinion, however, is not to get meaner in terms of penalties and more cautious in our approach to transportation options. Our culture is full of those sentiments already.
This cultural style is having incalculable long-term negative effects on the way we raise our children, our attitude towards nature, exploration and exercise, and our hopes for a better future. What we need are connections and travel routes which are truly safe and bike friendly.
Mary Page Hufty, M.D.
Mapeche Drive, Portola Valley
Change direction; ride bikes against traffic
I read with great interest your recent editorial on bike safety and agree with everything it recommended, but it left out one vital element — the direction that bikes are ridden on the road.
When I was a kid I was always told by my parents to walk and ride against the traffic so I could see the cars and bicyclists that were coming my way and get out of the way if they were coming too close to me. There were no bike lanes then and you really had to look where you were going.
I don't know when the law was changed to require bikes to ride with the traffic, but if the law is changed, it could save a lot of lives. A person would at least have a chance to "bail out" if they saw a car or bike coming at them in the bike lane.
I have lived and ridden a bike in Portola Valley for 40 years (I'm 76) and used to ride the Loop regularly but no more. I now go to Stanford and ride around the campus or I ride on back roads in Portola Valley or up Old Alpine Road because there is very little traffic.
In my view, bikers should be banned from riding on Arastradero Road from the Alpine Inn (Zotts) to Old Page Mill Road because it is too narrow and has no bike lane. And bikes should also be banned from Old La Honda Road and La Honda Road for the same reasons. Canada Road is much safer, as are many other roads in the area, especially if one was riding facing all the traffic that was coming at them.
Some of the recent deaths probably could have been avoided if the riders had a visual warning that said, "Hey, that car is in the bike lane and may hit me so I had better take some evasive action." If riders can't see the car or bikers coming, people will continue to be killed.
Bear Paw, Portola Valley
Arastradero an accident waiting to happen
I read last week's editorial about the bicycle accidents between bikes and cars on Sand Hill Road.
Both were tragic accidents. And there is an automobile/cyclist accident waiting to happen on the section of Arastradero Road between the Alpine Inn in Portola Valley to Page Mill Road in Palo Alto. It is a winding, hilly, narrow two-lane road that has no bike lane and no shoulder on either side. I know the cyclists have just as much right to use that road as motor vehicles, but they are in danger. An automobile can go around a sharp curve and find a cyclist in front of him. I never drive on that road unless I am going to the Arastradero Preserve.
Valencia Court, Portola Valley
Menlo should try Neighborhood Watch
The upshot of the recent Menlo Park town meeting about the Willows shootings seems to be that the Menlo Park police are too short-staffed to adequately patrol the neighborhood.
Yet the police department seems to be responding by calling for the hiring of two new officers for traffic enforcement! Hiring two glorified meter maids for the purpose of revenue collection will do nothing to improve the safety of the Willows. If the city hires more police, they should be actual patrol officers who can improve public safety for the entire city, not just the Willows neighborhood.
Notably absent from the account of the town meeting in (a recent Almanac article) was any suggestion of revitalizing the Neighborhood Watch program, something that would be far more beneficial to the Willows than adding even more speed bumps to our streets.
Laurel Avenue, Menlo Park
Unhappy with city's tax, and budget process
As I watched last week's Menlo Park City Council meeting about the 2007-'08 budget, I was troubled again by the circumstances by which we came to this point. It's not especially important whether the Utility Users Tax is set at 0, 2 or the maximum 3.5 percent. What is important is to understand the flawed and ethically dubious process by which the city carefully seeded the ground for the tax by telling the voters for most of the year that we had an intractable budget deficit of $2.9 million.
Then, a month before the election, it comes out very quietly, that in fact the city did not have a deficit at all. Even without Measure K, the utility tax, we will be enjoying a $3.9 million dollar surplus.
The question is why was this information withheld until it was almost too late to do anything about it? Who had this information but failed to quickly disseminate it to the voters so that they would be able to vote accordingly?
Did the City Council members know? With due consideration of the fact that Measure K won by about 60 votes out of thousands cast, would we even have a utility tax today?
I call upon today's City Council to consider these facts very carefully when they levy the utility tax, and to investigate the circumstances by which we came to have a tax. Above all, I call upon the council to create a permanent independent commission to review and audit the city's budget on an on-going basis.
Patricia Place, Menlo Park
Construction projects ruining quiet Atherton neighborhood
What happened to my nice, quiet neighborhood?
I've lived in my home for over 40 years, in a wonderful, nice quiet neighborhood with quaint older homes and lots of trees.
But now many of the homes are being replaced by "McMansions." And also, it seems as more houses go up, more trees come down. What has replaced them is lots of noise and traffic.
The construction noise goes on all day every day and the traffic is always there, many times blocking the whole street. And cars are parked everywhere, making it difficult to get out of our driveway. The hammering and sawing are not as bad as the beeping of trucks while they are backing up. Can they back up all day long?
No one ever apologizes for the noise or the street being hard to get through. In the past, the prior owners of these properties would respect each other by letting each other know that they would be making noise because of repairs, trimming of trees or having a party.
Now it seems that all the newcomers feel they have all the rights and none of the obligations. The new houses look like motels, and they are bringing in full-grown trees to replace all the beautiful old ones that were cut down. One of the big problems is too many building permits are given at a time.
Park Lane, Atherton
City should oppose Dumbarton rail extension
With all due respect to my friend Steve Schmidt, I believe Menlo Park should register opposition to the Dumbarton rail extension as presently proposed.
Why? Because, while the trains will benefit the Peninsula to the north, they will not do anything for Menlo Park. To the contrary, they will inflict undue noise and emissions on the Belle Haven, Suburban Park and Lorelei Manor neighborhoods.
The proposal could be revised in either of two ways to improve the equation. On the one hand, using light rail and either electric power or non-emitting diesels would minimize the adverse impact on the abutting neighborhoods.
As an alternative, adding a station stop adjacent to the Willow Road crossing and including a shuttle bus between that stop and the areas in Menlo Park where commuters are likely to be employed would provide the missing benefit.
James R. Madison
Holly Avenue, Menlo Park
Consolidate fire agencies, and more
In the May 30 Almanac there was an item asking: "Should San Mateo County fire agencies be consolidated?"
From my point of view the answer is "absolutely!"
For years it seems that the area is so overloaded with "managers" that there are insufficient "workers" to support them.
Perhaps consolidation should be considered in other areas. It is about 20 miles from the northern end of San Mateo County to the southern end in Menlo Park. Considering only the area east of Skyline there are at least 17 communities, or one every 1.2 miles.
Of course every town has its "NIMBY" factor, and some of it is justified. But probably more commonality than uniqueness exists. Most towns have a city manager, as well as police and sometimes a fire department, as well as sections or departments for planning, permits, purchasing, and so on. And each of these departments has its own manager, assistant manager, chief, assistant chiefs etc.
Schools also are overloaded with superfluous overseers. I know of one district that has two schools, a superintendent, assistant superintendent, two principals and two assistant principals.
It is my strong belief that much of these common needs could be better served by central offices. The libraries have done an excellent job of sharing their efforts. I do not know how cost-effective it has been, but certainly there has been considerable savings in the purchase of books.
For example, having perhaps three or four central purchasing centers instead of the 15 or so that now exist could mean a significant cost savings for the taxpayer.
No doubt there are many other areas where functions could be unified and every community could still retain their uniqueness. So let's get back to the drawing board and consider more than just fire protection.
Trinity Drive, Menlo Park
Rubber and plastic slab not good for kids
What is best for the children of Woodside: playing on natural grass fields or on rubber and plastic fields?
It's really a rhetorical question because everyone knows that children should be in harmony with the natural world, not isolated from nature by a huge slab of hot rubber and plastic. It should not be a question of what's easiest or cheapest. It's what's best for the children.
What is best for the environment at Woodside Elementary School? Taking two out of the three cool natural grass fields and turning them into a hot, dead desert of rubber and plastic is pure madness.
What is best for our community? Would you rather picnic on rubber and plastic with loose rubber pellets on the surface or on natural grass where your children could make daisy chain necklaces if they wanted to?
Recently two whales got lost and swam up the delta almost to Sacramento and miraculously found their way back home to the open ocean. All the people who loved them kept visualizing them swimming under the bridges out to sea. The whales saw their way home in our hearts. If we open our hearts and let the whales help us we will see that our children should not be separated from the natural world. Our natural community park — sport fields should remain natural.
It's not about the number of games that can be played on the fields. It's about the health of our children and their environment. It's about the air and the water and the health of the birds and the butterflies and the squirrels and the bees. Let's put the extra money that we would spend on the installation of the artificial turf on properly maintaining new natural turf fields.
Glenwood Avenue, Woodside