What About Removing Most of the Parking In Front of the Popular Nealon Park Playground?
Or are these well-intentioned but unnecessarily draconian measures?
NEW: Menlo Park should rethink nixing parking on Middle Avenue (Almanac Guest Opinion (March 17, 2023)
.....Middle Avenue Parking Strips - Looking East Towards University Avenue
The City Council (“Council”) is nearing the end of its evaluation of major potential changes to Middle Avenue that will affect organizations, homeowners, renters, businesses, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
The following are the biggest changes currently favored by the Council:
(a) the addition of bike lanes on the entire length of Middle between El Camino and Olive Street.
(b) a ban of all street parking on Middle
(c) a sharp reduction in the number of spaces in the parking area in the front of the Nealon park tennis courts and playground
Unfortunately, I believe the Council appears to have overestimated the potential value and underestimated the certain hardships that would result from these changes.
I will explain why and then offer some suggestions on how our city could make bike riding on Middle much safer and comfortable
...There is a better quality image of this bike lane - no street parking drawing on the city website.
Potential Benefits of Middle Avenue Bike Lanes
Claimed Benefit 1: The Council and Complete Streets Commission (“Commission”) believe the existing marked parking strips do not enable bicyclists to safely pass parked vehicles. Since the parking strips are about eleven feet wide, bicyclists usually have about four feet of space to pass vehicles and avoid opening doors. The Council and Commission claim this is an unacceptable situation, i.e., the risk of serious injury – especially for Oak Knoll and Hillview students - is too high.
There appears to be no actual evidence that this is true. I have not seen or heard of an occurrence of this type of accident in the more than thirty years I have lived near Middle.
While the risk of bike-vehicle door collisions IS significant in urban environments where long strings of parked vehicles are actively opening doors, this is not the case on most of Middle where typically less than a ten vehicles are scattered between Fremont and Olive Street.
On weekday mornings and afternoons fewer than a dozen Oak Knoll students ride on Middle, and more than two dozen use Bay Laurel because there is so little vehicle traffic. And very young and riders are generally accompanied by adults. Oak Knoll and Hillview students typically DO ride safely on Middle, and I have never seen them pass parked vehicles riding side-by-side. Recently I monitored their bike riding behaviors on several mornings and afternoons and was impressed by their practices and behaviors.
Potential Benefits of Bypass Bike Lanes At Nealon Park
Claimed Benefit 2: The Council and Complete Streets Commission (“Commission”) believe that the pull-in parking at the front of Nealon Park is unsafe for passing bicyclists and are recommending the entire parking area be reconfigured for only parallel parking AND new bike lanes installed to bypass parked vehicles There are currently about 60 parking spaces; this number would be reduced to about 20.
I believe the risk of bicyclists colliding with vehicles exiting pull-in parking spaces is extremely low because the high volume of passing traffic discourages motorists from abruptly backing into Middle. And bicyclists can easily spot the signs vehicles are about to cross their paths. These include back-up lights and car movements. I also think many bicyclists would simply ignore the bypass. as it is less convenient.
Sacrificing Existing Street Parking Strips
Although, as I have noted, two councilmembers have plans to meet with residents from their districts this week, this action is an anomaly.
Please note the serious concern expressed to the City Council by a Middle Avenue resident in an email on January 31, 2023. I suspect others share his frustrations. Note: This email is included in the public council email log I but have omitted the individual’s name.
“I am writing to ask you to reschedule discussing the Middle Avenue plans at the upcoming meeting until after you hear from residents of Middle and get comments on the design. I worry that, without any new developments in the discussion and no attempts to hear from residents to influence the plans, this is a setup to repeat the lack of decision that happened last City Council meeting. It seems like Council is trying to avoid hearing from those this will affect adversely - I suspect this is because we have legitimate concerns that could require re-examining the plans and redesigning a lot of elements. All the outreach that was promised has not happened; I have been asking to meet for months, have made phone calls, and spoken in person to the previous mayor, and nobody has followed up on these requests despite my repeated attempts.”
(Read entire email.
Identifying The Users of Middle Street Parking
Various types of users take advantage of street parking at different times in the week and typically park for times ranging from a few minutes to either an entire day or evening.
• Homeowners. Many households have three or more drivers and vehicles. If they did not have street parking they could be constantly shuffling vehicles between spaces in their garages and driveways. Regular visitors and overnight guest would also be affected. Plus, motorists who attend social gathering, e.g., dinner party, birthday, and meetings would need to park on inconvenient side streets.
• Home service providers. Gardeners, housekeepers, childcare providers, plumbers, appliance repair personnel, carpet cleaners, all will need either to park on side streets or simply decide not serve the affected households.
• Contractors. Building new homes can take two years or more and this work frequently attracts more than a dozen worker vehicles plus equipment every weekday from 7:30 AM to 4 PM. This common Menlo Park occurrence is now spreading to Middle. For example, new home construction has just started at 1270 and 1285 Middle. Without parking on Middle nearby streets will feel the heavy impact of more traffic, trucks and parked vehicles.
o Apartments. There are a total of 33 units in the two existing apartment complexes between University and Arbor and maany renters park on Middle because there is an insufficient number of on-premises parking spaces.
o New Community Church. Every Sunday members attend services that start at noon, and many remain for an informal reception afterwards. Typically, 30 vehicles park on each side of Middle for a couple of hours – a total of 60 – because the church parking lot is very small. At other times, attendees of church-sponsored activities park on Middle.
• If bike lanes are to be installed, street parking should be preserved on one side because the benefit of the wider bike lanes available with no street parking is arguably not meaningful enough to justify eliminating all this parking. That is, the incremental benefit is more than offset by the additional harm to a large number of street parking users.
Here is a comparison of bike riding spaces. Seven feet is surely sufficient.
• Existing parking strips: –4-foot-wide passing space
• Parking on one side: a 7-foot-wide bike lane including a 2--foot buffer
• No street parking: a 10-foot-wide bike lane including a 3-foot buffe
Identifying The Users of Off-Street Parking Area At Front of Nealon Park
.... These parking spaces are usually full on weekends
o This large playground is popular whenever there is good weather, and groups frequently gather there and in the nearby small playing field to celebrate children’s birthdays.
o Tennis and pickleball players regularly fill the available courts and use the existing parking spaces from 8 am until late in the evening.
o Parents and volunteers at the Menlo-Atherton Nursery Cooperative use these spaces on weekdays.
• This is an undesirable change that would have a huge negative impact on the use of Nealon Park facilities and potentially the M-A Nursery Cooperative.
• The loss of this parking capacity would likely shift vehicles to spaces near the playing field and potentially near Little House.
• Plus, if nearby residents and renters lose street parking they might be forced to use Nealon parking lots.
MY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR GREATER BIKE SAFETY ON MIDDLE
1. IF street parking is eliminated on Middle between University and Olive, this should be done only on one side, as the gain in bike lane width does NOT justify the loss of additional street parking and therefore is a draconian measure. (Note: This is the bike lane configuration proposed by the Complete Street Commission but NOT accepted by the Council)
2. The existing pull-in parking spaces at the front of Nealon Park are often intensely used, especially on weekends, and should not be replaced with parallel spaces.
3. The most dangerous bike riding conditions on Middle exist between University and El Camino. and the Safeway and Shell station driveways require special attention. Motorists need to be warned about the presence of bike riders and rider-initiated traffic controls are required. The intersection at El Camino also requires excellent warnings and controls for both motorists and bike riders.
4. if street parking is generally banned on Middle, then time-limited parking should be provided . Here are some candidates:
- New Community Church - Sunday Services and Receptions
- Residents who host social gatherings and meetings ( require FREE permits?)
- Contractors building new homes (require permit)
5. Prohibiting street parking during the 30 minute periods each weekday morning and afternoon when students are riding to/from Oak Knoll and Hillview should be considered as a viable alternative to adding bike lanes between University and Fremont.
Finally, Menlo Park needs to dramatically alter its planning process for its bike network. First, council members, city staff and commissioners need the help of an expert who can both design new bike infrastructure AND provide well-based assessments of all expected benefits. There is a well-accepted standard methodology for doing this work. The city should use it. Next, the interests of residents who would lose street parking must be fully and fairly considered. This requires the city to proactively engage them in planning discussions well before a council selects a final bike network design. Otherwise, it will fail to make the best possible decisions and earn the community's respect and trust. This happened during the prior planning projects for bike lanes on Oak Grove and El Camino and I fear will reoccur with the Middle Avenue Project.
My Relevant Background
• Have been an active recreational cyclist for the past twenty-five years.
• Typically drive on Middle six times a day so I am very familiar with the behaviors of motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
• Spent three mornings and three afternoons observing the flow of Oaknoll School students riding thru the intersections of Middle and Olive and Olive and Oak. Also watched how they passed parked vehicles along Middle.
• Studied the current standard methodology for planning plan bike networks and used it to assess the benefits and safety associated with adding bike lanes to El Camino. Concluded that only physically separated bike lanes with a well-design system of signage would be safe enough for bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists would made sense. Buffered bike lanes would be woefully inadequate on this suburban highway.