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By Paul Bendix

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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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Downtown's Collision

Uploaded: May 31, 2014
Aside from leafy streets and property values, can't our fair suburb have some verve?

Downtown's next small experiment – widening spaces for sidewalk cafés – seems like a splendid move. Santa Cruz Avenue is just too sleepy. Let's see what happens when parking gives way to café patrons. Menlo Park's vaunted "village character" needn't be deadly for retailers. We could even have some nightlife.

"Village character" does collide with one inescapable fact: downtown is bisected by a six-lane state highway. El Camino Real's future seems entirely urban. This is the place where people should work, shop and live in density. It's also the place where people could comfortably walk...to nearby jobs, entertainment, retailers...and public transportation.

Unfortunately, the smart growth advocated by groups like the Sierra Club collides with pressures for no growth. In Menlo Park, these forces achieve a perfect storm. We fear increased automobile traffic...yet we oppose modernizing our commuter rail line. We'd like more housing...but not in walking distance of offices (of which we want very few).

El Camino and Santa Cruz Avenue should pleasantly intersect. Something more urban in one direction, more villagey in the other. Instead, both are stagnating. What's really intersecting is the past and future. In the end, the future always wins.
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