Is there actually less traffic in Menlo Park now than a decade ago? When the city released the draft environmental impact report (EIR) for a vision of the downtown and El Camino Real corridors, it was a milestone for a plan that's been years in the making. Now that the scrutiny has begun, it didn't take long to identify a glitch.
The Transportation Commission met on June 8 to discuss the report. Commissioner Ray Mueller said he reviewed Menlo Park's historical traffic data from 1995 to 2009, and discovered that traffic dropped by approximately 12 percent during those years even though the city's population grew roughly 14 percent from 1995 to the present.
However, the draft EIR, like previous traffic studies have done, assumes a 1 percent annual increase in traffic. Although the report states that figure is based on historical data obtained by monitoring Menlo Park's streets, city staff told the Transportation Commission that it's actually an industry standard applied to built-out cities.
"We're not creating a specific plan for an industry standard," Mr. Mueller noted. "We're creating it for what's actually going to occur in Menlo Park." He then proceeded to present a data analysis showing traffic volume had decreased.
The city's transportation manager, Atul Patel, responded that the economic downturn could account for that; the recession led to fewer cars on the streets. Mr. Mueller countered that traffic decreased even during the dot-com boom.
Staff pointed out that the traffic projections are intended to also capture regional growth, such as increased traffic from the Stanford hospital expansion, and that using the 1 percent factor instead of historical data wasn't likely to change the overall projected traffic impacts.
The study estimates 13,385 more car trips per day into the downtown area under the development scenario outlined in the specific plan. That includes 899 more car trips during the morning commute, and 1,319 more car trips during the evening, although it's still unclear how the draft EIR takes all regional projects into account.
"We have a very small area and a lot of cars coming into it, and it's really important that we get this right," Mr. Mueller said.
The Planning Commission heard a similar staff presentation on the draft EIR earlier last week, and decided to hold four meetings during the summer to review the document before providing recommendations to the council. On Tuesday, June 14, the council will review the current status of the draft EIR evaluation process.
The public comment period for the draft EIR ends Monday, June 20. Submit comments to Thomas Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or to the Community Development Department, 701 Laurel St., Menlo Park, CA 94025, or fax to 327-1653.