In the hopes of relieving auto congestion on El Camino Real, in the context of the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan, some are proposing increasing El Camino Real to 6 lanes of car traffic.
Unfortunately, this won't relieve traffic congestion, and will harm other goals to improve El Camino and the city.
The latest report investigating options for El Camino found that widening it to 3 car lanes throughout downtown Menlo Park won’t fix the traffic jam. It would save only 17 seconds at the most congested intersection. In return for those seconds (and an average only 8% reduction in delay), the change would significantly reduce safety for pedestrians crossing the street, and degrade the potential retail environment on El Camino.
The study does not even consider the impact of “induced demand”. This is the potential for some drivers to flock back to El Camino from Highways 101 and 280 if El Camino becomes briefly faster. Another item that is not considered is the impact of walking and biking on traffic congestion. If more kids can cross El Camino safely to get to school and sports, if more people can do short errands with a bike and a basket, how much will that alleviate car traffic?
The study does recommend an option to add bike lanes on El Camino. Over time, if parking can be removed, there could be “protected bike lanes” where bikes are separated from cars, making for a much safer experience. This route is complementary to other, calmer routes (e.g. Alma) - and provides benefits to people who want to run errands on El Camino, or for whom El Camino is the most direct route to get to where they’re going.
One of the challenges of a planning process that looks 20 to 30 years into the future is envisioning a future that looks somewhat different from today. In the past, El Camino was an auto-dominated environment, with drive-in fast food and ice cream shops, auto dealerships, and auto repair stores. Sidewalks are so narrow and obstacle-filled that two people cannot walk side by side. The plan envisions a future where El Camino has a mix of offices, retail, and housing, with sidewalks and safer crossings, so that people can walk between errands, or from work to lunch, and kids can safely get to schools and playing fields.
The challenge for our community and the Council is whether we want and have the courage to create a future that is different from the past.