“Members of Menlo Park's Complete Streets Commission voted 6-0 on April 10 to recommend that the City Council permit the removal of more than 100 street parking spaces on both sides of Middle Avenue, between Olive Street and San Mateo Drive.” – The Almanac, April 15, 2019
I am a long-time biking enthusiast who has ridden in more than a dozen states and European countries. So naturally, I am reluctant to question any apparently sound proposal to improve the convenience, comfort and safety of bike riding in Menlo Park, especially as in this case, where the primary focus is on young students who are qualified to ride to schools without supervision. While I am comfortable riding on most streets that lack bike lanes, I realize that most bicyclists and motorists feel more comfortable (less stressed) and sometimes actually are somewhat safer when using them. Separating motorists and bicyclists also reduces the inevitable conflicts and hard feelings when either ignores both motor vehicle laws and common sense. That said, when new bike lanes are installed other street users must give up some privileges. So, the interests of all parties must be carefully weighed when new bike lanes are proposed.
I have strong mixed feelings about adding bike lanes on this section of Middle. This is not simply a matter of how street usage is allocated between motorists and bicyclists. This is a residential neighborhood with thirty homeowners and families accustomed to enjoying the benefits of convenient street parking. Eliminating street parking will likely be viewed as a major loss.
My concerns are summarized below.
Impacts On Residents & Their "Visitors"
1. Middle residents would share most of the burdens of parking bans but those living on San Mateo, Santa Rita, Cotton and Hobart would also be impacted, as motorists would shift parking from Middle to these locations.
2. Many Menlo Park households have three or more resident drivers and vehicles plus occasional houseguests. Requiring them to always park in a garage, driveway or on side streets seems unreasonable.
3. Anyone who “visits” these homeowners would also be directly impacted. These include single guests, gatherings and service providers, e.g., landscapers, contractors, housekeepers. Not only will they find parking inconvenient, if parking is permitted on only one side "jaywalking" across Middle will be dangerous, especially after dark.
4. The Complete Street Commission ("Commission") recommends street parking be completely banned 24 hours a day, seven days a week – well beyond the times that most students bike to and from school. The negative effects on residents and guests would be most evident on weekends and in evenings when visits are common.
5. The Commission has proposed a vision for Middle Avenue that builds bike lanes from Olive to El Camino. So residents on the entire length of Middle would eventually face street parking bans.
Impacts on Bicyclists
1. This section of Middle has existing “parking and biking” space that is 11-feet wide on both sides. Most vehicles are 6 - 7 feet wide, so there is plenty of space to ride (and walk) past parked cars.
2. Opening car doors are always a safety concern when bicyclists pass parked cars. Imagine what it is like on Menlo Avenue where a continuous string of cars are parked every weekday between Evelyn and Doyle and shoppers regularly exit street parking spots. This is not the situation on Middle.
3. The observation that on average only about five cars are parked on each side of the street during the day is good news for bicyclists. That means there are only five potential places where they are exposed to the possibility of doors opening in their paths over a distance of 0.4 miles.
4. It is alleged that bicyclists swerve into fast-moving traffic to avoid opening doors. I do not know how often this happens. I have driven on Middle on average four times a day over the past thirty years and have never witnessed this behavior. Why? Probably because it’s usually easy for a bicyclist to spot a driver in parked vehicle, bicyclists know they must proceed cautiously when passing one, and none should ever enter a Middle vehicle lane without first checking to see if it is safe to do so. That’s the law AND common sense. Just like crossing a street.
1. Install bike lanes and ban all street parking at all times - the current commission recommendation.
2. Install bike lanes and ban all street parking during the school year at times when most students are riding to and from Hillview and Oak Knoll. (7:30 AM to 8:30 AM and from 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM?).*
3. Install bike lanes and allow street parking on one side. The vehicle lanes are shifted an additional three feet away from the street parking curb.
a. One side has an 8-foot wide area for parking and 6-feet of width along the curb dedicated to a buffered bike lane.
b. The other side has an 8-feet wide buffered bike lane.
4. Install bike route signs and and ban all street parking during the school year at times when most students are riding to and from Hillview and Oak Knoll. (7:30 AM to 8:30 AM and from 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM?).
5. Do nothing.
There is lots of short and medium-term parking on my street. A house across the street is being remodeled, and construction workers have parked four to six vehicles from about 7:30 AM to 4 PM every weekday for the past seven weeks. A neighbor across the street has five vehicles, and visiting teenage drivers also frequently park on the street. I cannot help wonder how my neighbors would feel if we lost the right to park on our street during normal waking hours.
1. Question #1: How would you feel if this happened on your street?
2. Question #2: So what do you think should be done on Middle? And why?
3. Question #3: Do you have an additional alternative? Why do you prefer it?
* Note: "You may park in a bicycle lane if your vehicle does not block a bicyclist and/or there is not a “No Parking” sign posted.” (CA Department of Motor Vehicles)