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On a Roll

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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Where the Sidewalk Ends

Uploaded: Oct 28, 2014
For a town that prides itself in village flavor, Menlo Park seems oddly un-walkable. True, from a wheelchair I appreciate the more accessible and rollable features of suburban life. But when it comes to sidewalks, many of us are in the same boat. Wheelchair users, families with strollers, the elderly. And while our sidewalks could do with a bit of work...all of us could do some homework on the topic of Pedestrian Friendly Communities.

What does "pedestrian friendly" mean? And do we care?

I had a sort of negative epiphany the day, crossing El Camino Real at Middle Avenue. At the former Tesla site, I turned my wheelchair north – and ran out of sidewalk. I tried squeezing between a light pole and the much lower dirt border. My wheelchair tilted and got stuck. A passing motorist rescued me.

Which speaks well of motorists but not of our badly neglected main thoroughfare. Almost no one strolls along El Camino Real. Development can only change this for the better. With more opportunities to live and work in the general vicinity of the Caltrain station, Menlo Park will see more foot traffic. Which means better footpaths. That is to say, any pedestrian-friendly route, paved or otherwise, suitable for everyone.

Occasionally, I roll my wheelchair from downtown to the home of friends near San Mateo Drive. With homage to Shel Silverstein, "where the sidewalk ends" is unpredictable and seemingly incoherent. Rolling west along Santa Cruz Avenue, I duck in and out of church properties. For the last quarter mile or so I hit the street, bouncing along the pavement.

Is this the pedestrian route along one of our main streets? Is there a pedestrian route?

How do non-motorists approach our "village?" It is, after all, ours.
Local Journalism.
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Posted by Louise68, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Oct 29, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Paul --
I am a long-time resident of Menlo Park, and I never could understand why there are no sidewalks on many West Menlo streets. I never walk there -- much too scary not to have a somewhat safe place to walk, and I am almost always going too far from my home to walk, anyways.

I am glad you brought this up. There are far too many streets with no sidewalks in Mnelo Park.

BTW --the developments you are in favor of will only make traffic much, much worse, and very few of the people who will work in those huge new office buildings will be able to afford the exorbitant housing costs here on the Mid-Peninsula. They will live a long way away, and will have to commute by car -- probably alone.

Posted by peninsula resident, a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School,
on Oct 30, 2014 at 11:58 pm

@Louise68 :

The reason parts of "west Menlo Park" have no sidewalks is because most (likely all) of those areas are not Menlo Park, they are unincorporated San Mateo County.

Posted by Skip Hilton, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle,
on Oct 31, 2014 at 1:21 am

Paul, thanks for your post. And thanks for reporting on what it is like to get around our city. I agree that walking along El Camino is not pleasant. I also agree with you that developing the ECR corridor provides a great opportunity to build a more walkable (or rollable) city. The Downtown Specific Plan requires large setbacks for wider sidewalks and plazas than we have today. Once complete, you will be able to roll pleasantly along the east side of El Camino from Palo Alto to Cafe Barrone. WIll there be some mixed use office/residence and retail there? Yes, and it will be a major improvement over the chained link vacant lots we have put up with for many, many years.

But what about the traffic? Will there be more traffic when these parcels are developed? Yes I believe so. WIll there be more traffic anyway as our region continues to grow and people want to live and work in a city with great schools and greater weather? I would say yes. So we need to address that. And there are many, many ways to mitigate, reduce, slow and redirect traffic on side streets as well as improve flow and throughput on ECR. We should do those things too.

I wish all the folks worried about traffic would spend more time and effort focused on how to manage traffic, and stop holding back our downtown from reasonable development and progress. I remember when the Burgess Pool remodel was underway - so many people were concerned that building a great new pool would create more traffic. Yes, because having nice things means people want to use them - like a nice downtown with places to live, work and shop. And when we get all these people living and working downtown (and taking public transit thanks to incentives) we will have even more vibrancy and retail opportunity to serve those people.

If it is not clear yet, I will be voting No on Measure M. Let's keep our city moving forward!

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