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February 08, 2006

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Publication Date: Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Can El Camino Real be reinvented? Can El Camino Real be reinvented? (February 08, 2006)

** Officials have vision of a "Grand Boulevard."

By Marion Softky

Almanac Staff Writer

As El Camino Real in Menlo Park goes from ugly to empty -- think vacant car lots -- some people are looking to get aboard a visionary proposal to re-create the historic "Royal Road" as a chain of attractive destinations instead of a string of traffic jams.

"El Camino Real is one of our great resources; it is the spine of the Peninsula," SamTrans CEO Mike Scanlon told a breakfast session of county transportation leaders recently. "We can make El Camino Real the pride of our communities."

The grand vision of El Camino Real as a "Grand Boulevard" has been building for several years. It has the backing of numerous public agencies and interest groups. Both San Mateo County and Santa Clara County are on board, and half a dozen cities are already redesigning their cores to be more friendly to business, housing, transit -- and ultimately people.

Under the Grand Boulevard concept, each of San Mateo County's 12 cities along El Camino Real would plan to re-invent its areas close to El Camino and transit stations in a creative design that melds housing, shops, and public spaces with transportation.

Mr. Scanlon envisions Grand Boulevard as a "linear Epcot," referring to Disney's Florida center, where a string of attractions modeled on different countries surround a lake. "Each city is its own creation," he said.

Redwood City is the farthest along with carrying out the Grand Boulevard concept near El Camino Real and its Caltrain Station, noted Ian McAvoy, chief development officer for SamTrans. Millbrae is planning a major complex of a hotel, shops, and housing near El Camino and its BART and Caltrain stations.

SamTrans is working with cities on Grand Boulevard planning, Mr. McAvoy said. It can make grants from $3 million in federal funds earmarked for the Grand Boulevard initiative.

"Grand Boulevard is a galvanizing concept that can overcome parochial interests," Mr. McAvoy said. "Very few people are against upgrading El Camino Real."

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