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By Sandy Brundage
Almanac Staff Writer
Making the streets of Menlo Park and East Palo Alto safer for bicyclists has hit the top of Facebook's community "to do" list as the company settles into its new headquarters on Willow Road in Menlo Park.
The social networking giant announced plans on Monday, Jan. 30, to collaborate with local municipalities to create safe, continuous routes through the community to and from its campus at 1 Hacker Way.
John Tenanes, Facebook's real estate director, said the company is making a "significant investment" in the effort, which depends on East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Caltrans to help it figure how and where to spend the money.
Some improvements are already under way. The company got approval from Caltrans to restripe bike lanes from Newbridge Street at Willow Road to the Bayfront Expressway. University Avenue will also get a makeover within the next few weeks. Portions of Willow Road, Middlefield Road, and Hamilton Avenue may be next.
The pedestrian tunnel passing under the freeway also got a boost, with accelerated plans to reopen the path this year.
"Cycling on the east side of Menlo Park is going to be a whole new experience," Mr. Tenanes said, and emphasized that the idea is to work hand-in-hand with local agencies to see that happen. The exact budget for the project depends on what changes partnering agencies will support.
The initiative was developed with plenty of help from Adina Levin and Andrew Boone of the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition. Earlier this year they spotted several trouble spots for bicyclists while riding to Facebook, including the bike lane on Willow Road ending on Okeefe Street before it widens to two lanes, and the cloverleaf interchange at Willow Road and U.S. 101.
With their input, Facebook has designed a survey that will soon go out to its workforce to help focus its efforts by identifying where clusters of cyclists are riding from, Mr. Tenanes said.
About 47 percent of Facebook employees use alternative transportation to get to work, said Jessica Herrera, Facebook's transportation coordinator. Six percent bike; she'd like to see that number reach 10 to 12 percent.
Terry Barton, who often bikes to his job at Facebook, said changes the company has made on campus have already shaved about 15 minutes off his home-to-desk travel time by grouping indoor bike racks, lockers, and showers close together in each building.
Employees began spotting bike herds after Facebook bought 60 bikes for anyone to use around campus. "They're so popular that people are riding them to the cafeteria, then coming back out to find there aren't any left," Mr. Barton said.
Eventually the herd will expand to include a variety of bikes that workers can take out the gate on to local trails or into downtown Menlo Park, according to Ms. Herrera. An on-campus bike shop in Building 4, complete with mechanic, will let riders fix their bikes or build their own.
"The message is we're really serious about our (transportation demand management) program," Mr. Tenanes said.
The Menlo Park City Council meets on Tuesday, Jan. 31, at 6 p.m. in council chambers at the Civic Center at 701 Laurel St. to study the draft environmental impact report for Facebook's planned campus expansion. The company has asked the city to let it bring 9,400 employees to work in Menlo Park in exchange for implementing caps on the number of vehicular trips.