By Erin Glanville | Special to the Almanac
Should El Camino Real be a two-lane or three-lane route through Menlo Park? Should bike lanes be added to the roadway? These were among the questions facing local residents at a community workshop on the future of El Camino Real, held Feb. 19 at the Arrillaga Family Recreation Center in Menlo Park.
About 60 people participated in the workshop, where they had the opportunity to learn about and comment on lane-design options for El Camino Real in Menlo Park, from Encinal Avenue in the north to Sand Hill Road in the south. This is the city's third workshop on the project. The others were held in October and April of 2014.
Steve Weinberger, of the Oakland-based traffic engineering consulting firm W-Trans, presented an analysis of current traffic conditions and results from an online survey that received responses from 316 people.
The lane-design options were developed within several parameters, including that sidewalks, center medians and newly planted trees not be impacted, and that no grade separations or tunneling be considered.
One option is to increase the number of travel lanes on El Camino from two to three in each direction between Encinal Avenue and Roble Avenue. This option would eliminate on-street parking on El Camino as well as dedicated right-turn lanes (except at Ravenswood Ave.)
No bicycle paths on El Camino would be added under this option. Bicycle routes would be identified on parallel routes off El Camino.
A second option would provide for a 6-foot-wide bike lane (separated from traffic by a painted buffer) that would run next to the motor vehicle lanes. This option would be accomplished by narrowing the existing vehicle lanes by one to three feet and by eliminating on-street parking along most of El Camino.
Cars making right turns would share the bicycle lane in a "mixed zone." This option would provide for pedestrian bulb-outs for some intersections. (A bulb-out extends the curb and sidewalk into the roadway, making pedestrians more visible to motorists and shortening crossing distances.)
A third alternative would create one-way dedicated bike lanes protected from vehicle traffic with raised curbs or planters along El Camino. This option would eliminate on-street parking and right-turn lanes on most of El Camino.
According to the city, all of the proposed alternatives can be accommodated within the existing curb-to-curb paved area with the exception of the northbound approach to the Ravenswood Avenue intersection.
At Ravenswood, the paved area would need to be widened to accommodate any of the proposed changes.
According to Mr. Weinberger, the city arborist has concluded that options one and two may result in the removal of 11 heritage trees and seven street trees. The third option would result in the removal of only one of the heritage trees in addition to seven street trees.
A fourth option to do nothing isn't really an option, Mr. Weinberger said. "The current situation isn't working" as periods of peak traffic have grown.
"The heavy (traffic) windows are no longer from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.," he said. "Now they run from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. as people simply adjust their schedule as the demand on our streets has grown."
The analysis by the W-Trans consulting firm challenges conventional wisdom that adding a travel lane (option 1) would result in faster travel times in peak traffic periods. Its study suggested that option would attract more drivers to El Camino who currently take other routes, such as Middlefield Road.
During the workshop, participants had an opportunity to examine large schematic maps, models and charts breaking down the effectiveness of each alternative in terms of the impact on vehicle and bicycle travel, pedestrian comfort, transit use, parking, and "aesthetic" opportunities, such as improved landscaping. Attendees were invited to comment on each of the alternatives.
Nikki Nagaya, the city's transportation manager, said the city staff has heard "loud and clear" that residents want the city to more fully explore installing bicycle lanes on parallel routes off El Camino.
A large city map was made available for attendees to highlight suggested bicycle routes. Finding a route to highlight, however, was problematic. Many residents who bicycle pointed out that Menlo Park does not have another continuous north-south route, aside from Middlefield Road. They pointed out that Middlefield Road is far from downtown, where many of the cyclists want to travel.
Several attendees expressed concerns with how few responses the survey received, and questioned how effectively parents of school-age children were engaged.
Menlo Park resident Henry Riggs expressed concern that "we've talked a lot about the needs of bicyclists, but not about the needs of pedestrians," and pointed out that downtown businesses need a corridor that makes it easy for people to reach them.
Menlo Park resident Honor Huntington said a more granular level of analysis was needed, including looking at where bicycle use is most highly concentrated now (near Sand Hill Road), in which direction those cyclists tend to move, and whether that might change with the adoption of any of the alternatives for El Camino Real.
Ms. Huntington and several others pointed out that the impact to side streets from changes on El Camino needs more study.
Concerns have been raised about the proposed option to combine buffered bicycle lanes with right-turn lanes. Peter Carpenter said in an email to the City Council: "Both the bicycle inclusive alternatives (options 2 and 3) are designed to attract bicyclists yet neither of them protects bicyclists from turning vehicles at the intersections. The result in both cases will be more bicyclists and more bicyclist injuries/deaths. By taking the sidewalks off the table the City has precluded a Class I bike/pedestrian path design."
The public will have more opportunities to study the proposals and give feedback as the options make their way through the Bicycle, Transportation and Planning commissions, before going to the City Council.
Residents who did not attend the meeting but would like to vote online can do so through March 13.
Click here to vote.
Transportation Manager Nikki Nagaya says that presentation materials will be available soon on the city's website.
Click here to see the city of Menlo Park's El Camino Real Corridor project page.