It was, perhaps, an optimistic schedule -- three meetings to evaluate the draft downtown/El Camino Real specific plan, then on to other business. And indeed, the Menlo Park City Council found that three meetings weren't nearly enough during what was to be the final discussion on Tuesday (Sept. 20).
The plan aims to describe the types of new development and building dimensions allowed downtown and along El Camino Real for the next 30 years. Given the complexity, the plan will grace the agenda during October and possibly even November so that the council can hone its vision, continuing to build on the work carried out this summer by the Planning Commission.
Many of the 22 people who addressed the council during public comment, including educator Chuck Bernstein and former Planning Commissioner Patti Fry, seemed to agree there was a lot left to discuss.
That is not to say, however, that nothing was accomplished at the Sept. 20 meeting as it stretched past midnight. At least a dozen bicycle and pedestrian advocates appeared delighted by the outcome of the council's decision to accept many of the nine suggestions made by the Bicycle Commission, in particular, concentrating on bike lanes rather than bike routes through downtown and El Camino Real.
Adina Levin, founder of the Drive Less Challenge, told the council she was excited to see bike parking stuffed full outside council chambers. During a presentation co-authored by Andrew Boone, she laid out a way to add 13 miles of bike lanes on eight streets, compared with the specific plan's one mile on two streets, through strategies such as restricting street parking between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and adding shared lane markings called "sharrows."
She asked the council to reconsider the specific plan's goal of widening El Camino Real to six lanes. "One of the real risks with transit-oriented development is if transit-oriented development is in little pockets separated by wide car avenues, then people wind up getting in their car to cross the street and you don't get the benefit of vibrancy, the benefit of a walkable, ride-able community," she said.
However, the council opted to keep the six-lane option open, while city staff said that implementing any changes would require a full public review. "Just to make it clear that it's not a done deal," said Associate Planner Thomas Rogers.
Bulb-outs also remain controversial. The Planning Commission recommended removing sidewalk extensions, which provide safe havens for pedestrians attempting to cross a street, from the specific plan to avoid interfering with bike and bus lanes. The council agreed, but advocates argue that the law requires bulb-outs to be installed in a way that doesn't interfere.
The council expects to continue its specific plan review on Tuesday, Oct. 4, with a focus on how to incorporate public benefits from new development, fire district concerns, and El Camino Real.
Click here to review the draft specific plan and associated reports.