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By Paul Bendix

About this blog: A 32-year resident of Menlo Park, I regularly make my way around downtown in a wheelchair. This gives me an unusual perspective on a town in which I have spent almost half of my life. I was educated at UC Berkeley, and permanentl...  (More)

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Menlo Park's Youthful Future

Uploaded: Apr 11, 2014
An unusually warm evening in downtown Menlo Park and families with little kids are out in numbers. It's Wednesday, and the Off the Grid vans must be doing some business. Who would have thought that the Caltrain parking lot could be a family destination?

Being old...relatively...there are all sorts of things I don't think about. Such as the kid appeal in dinner from a van window, a melange of carnival-picnic-fast-food. To stay spirit, I have to think about these things. So does Menlo Park.

While our fair suburb debates its future, let's consider the present – not as I know it, but as younger people do. This from a new report by Oakland-based TransForm (formerly TALC, Transportation and Land Use Coalition):

"The next generation is rejecting car-centric lifestyles and moving to walkable
communities near public transportation. Young people are driving 23% less in the
past 9 years alone."

Older people may equate office construction with dark-toned photos of traffic-clogged El Camino. But the Valley's young workforce knows better. That's why Caltrain – and the corporate shuttles that serve it – are at capacity.

Menlo Park's downtown isn't. Talk to local retailers. Generally, business isn't bad. But it isn't booming. In theory, expanding retailers should boost tax revenues. But where is the demand? A few more professionals working in downtown Menlo Park would increase that. And yes, they would certainly need more housing.

For another vision of development, consider this from TransForm's GreenTRIP program. Funded by everyone from the Rockefeller Foundation to Bay Area Air Quality Management District, GreenTRIP targets exactly what we face in Menlo Park:

"Perhaps most insidious are outdated codes that overestimate how many cars people will own and how much they will drive in walkable communities near transit. Developments end up with expensive parking structures, community outcry over anticipated traffic, and no funding for affordable units or other community benefits. Luxury units are often all that pencil out."

When property values go up, so does population density. The real question about our future: will we be honking at each other, or merely yelling?
What is it worth to you?


Posted by MP Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Apr 13, 2014 at 7:46 am

Well said, Paul. Our family is right on the line between GenX and millenials. We mostly bike / walk / transit by choice, but do sometimes drive too (a car really is the easiest way to do a Costco run)

Downtown Menlo Park has some nice shops and such, but is really a low density disappointment surrounded by a parking crater.

Cars are for old people, shared space is often the best use of space (Caltrain station by day, food truck fiesta at night), parking is a blight, and a giant middle finger to "Save Menlo".

Posted by Louise68, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Apr 13, 2014 at 6:29 pm

"MP Resident" --
"Cars are for old people." Really? Just have to put people down who are different from you, don't you? Yet you yourself admit that you have to use a car to shop at Costco. And if you don't die young -- guess what? You get old! Please tell all of us -- what is wrong with being old?

And I surmise that you do not understand that living in a suburb -- and Menlo Park is a suburb -- is not possible without a car. Do you do all your non-Costco shopping by walking or on bicycles or by riding Caltrain?

What about people who are not physically able to walk everywhere or ride bicycles? Are those people's needs unimportant? Are those people worthless? I know they are truly valuable people -- just as you are.

To everyone --
Cars are for everyone. We just need to be creative and find ways so that we no longer need to own our own cars to get most places:
1. Greatly expand home-delivery of groceries.
2. Create new federally-funded and licensed local taxi and shuttle services
3. Put back many of the former streetcar lines that we used to have.
4. Expand Caltrain, BART, the capitol Corridor trains, and ACE. Add other rail lines (SMART in Marin, etc.)

Posted by Paul Bendix, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Apr 13, 2014 at 8:54 pm

Thank you for the spirited discussion. We have much common ground here. As we all get older, while life remains quite enjoyable, getting around becomes more challenging ? in every dimension. Some communities have excellent, and frequent, public transportation, including throughout suburban neighborhoods. That\\\'s what we need, in one form or another. In terms of examples, Santa Barbara comes to mind. Can anyone else think of a good suburban transportation system? Above all, do check out the TransForm website: Web Link

Posted by MP Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Apr 14, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Paul, I am absolutely in agreement with you, good public transit is paramount. The problem with transit right now is that there is a series of disconnected / poorly connected systems, with route designs that have no real bearing on everyday trips.

There's also a lot of repetition - i.e. instead of using buses to parallel Caltrain, build a hub and spoke system where Caltrain is the backbone, and the buses cover the last few miles to a destination. Bikes on Caltrain also serve that purpose for a subset of riders, but Caltrain bike capacity is miniscule compared to peak demand.

The recent tragedy in front of the Menlo Park Walgreens is an example of what happens when you combine a car-centric culture and design, lack of transit, and an aging population that really needs to give up the wheel. Better transit and dense development go hand in hand - a bus stop at the edge of a small, walkable downtown is an awful lot more useful than a bus stop at the edge of a downtown where 75% of the land area is taken up with surface parking.

Posted by whatever, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Apr 15, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Good column Paul. It's not only major transportation such as bus and trains which need to be well though out. Pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure are in need of improvement in MP.

Safer routes for peds and bikes will encourage their use as transportation to downtown and other areas of the city. Bike parking spaces and areas are needed in and around the shopping and office areas. Sidewalks for pedestrians are needed on the three main E/W arteries west of university - Santa Cruz, Valpariso and Middle should have sidewalks. I believe the city has the right of way for the side walks even where homes have built fences and gardens on these streets.

Atherton residents are and can be major MP shoppers - and I'm sure there a residents in Redwood City who would bike to MP if ECR was safer. A sidewalk on the west side of ECR in Atherton would be great as would add'l signaled crosswalks across ECR in encouraging people to walk and bike.

Lastly in any development MP should require wide sidewalks (at least 6 feet)with building setbacks to encourage the pedestrians. And while were at it - on Santa Crux etc, no tables unless there is a minimum 4 foot walk thru remaining for pedestrians.

Posted by Stu Soffer, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Apr 16, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Stu Soffer is a registered user.

Good post, Paul.

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