News


Santa Cruz Avenue sidewalk plan approved

Sidewalks and buffered bike lanes will run from Hillview Middle School to downtown

By Joshua Alvarez | Special to the Almanac

The Menlo Park City Council has approved a plan to install sidewalks along Santa Cruz Avenue between Olive Street at Hillview Middle School and Johnson Street at the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and the beginning of the downtown area.

The council voted unanimously March 10 to install sidewalks and buffered bike lanes on both the north and south sides of Santa Cruz Avenue, which would eliminate parking on both sides. City staff will work on the design and come back to the council to refine components, such as the width of the sidewalk.

The council prefers a design that creates 6-foot wide sidewalks wherever feasible; keeps the 5-foot-wide bike lanes; creates a 2-foot-wide bike lane buffer zone; and conserves heritage trees, hedges, and permanent landscaping improvements.

The council asked the staff to explore maintaining parking on the south side of Santa Cruz Avenue between Fremont Park and Fremont Street or potentially Arbor Road. Church-goers often use the parking spaces to attend services at St. Raymond Catholic Church and Menlo Park Presbyterian Church.

The existing sidewalks along the St. Raymond property and on the south side between Johnson Street and Arbor Road would be improved to comply with standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The proposed 5-foot wide sidewalks were considered too narrow by the council and some residents. Hillview students often walk to school in groups and parents would like their kids to be able to walk side by side. Parents also complained that they wouldn't be able to fit their stroller past a pedestrian.

City staff asked the council for guidance on whether added safety for bicyclists should take priority over saving heritage trees and other landscaping. Mayor Catherine Carlton said she considered it a false choice, noting nowhere would the bike lanes be narrower than their current width of 5 feet, which meets minimum safety requirements.

The proposed 2-foot buffer zone for the bike lane should be added wherever feasible but not at the expense of heritage trees, she said. Councilmen Peter Ohtaki and Richard Cline agreed, but councilwoman Kirsten Keith disagreed, though she ultimately relented.

The spirit of the convoluted resolution that passed was to provide as much flexibility as possible to the public works and planning staff in order to maintain character and safety on every block. "There is a uniqueness on every block," said Mr. Cline. "I would like to see some flexibility and some humanitarianism in the staff's decision process. I do think that every crosswalk on Santa Cruz should be lighted, as well."

Councilman Ray Mueller was unable to attend but was recognized in public comments for his efforts in meeting with residents. Mr. Mueller submitted a letter for the record urging passage of the preferred alternative. "It is time to move this project forward, we owe it to our residents and kids," he wrote.

The council also encouraged staff to begin discussions with PG&E about undergrounding utilities. The council would like design plans to assume compatibility with future undergrounding projects. "We don't want to waste money by installing the sidewalk, then having it torn up by PG&E," said Mayor Carlton.

Dozens of residents, including many with property on the affected area of Santa Cruz Avenue, attended the meeting and provided public comment. While the majority of residents agreed that Santa Cruz Avenue should be made safer, particularly for the students of Hillview Middle School, they pointed out that the biggest hazard was the excessive speed of traffic. According to city staff, cars travel at an average speed of 37 mph on Santa Cruz Avenue. The council made note of that and expressed interest in lowering the speed limit.

Many residents proposed that the center turn lane be done away with, but Public Works Director Jesse Quirion cited a federal study that warned that removing the turn lane would significantly increase the chances of accidents. The council agreed the center turn lane was a different matter that was not on the table for discussion.

In 2008, the City Council had voted to make installing sidewalks on Santa Cruz a priority, but the financial crisis effectively placed a moratorium on the project. "I was there in 2008," recalled Mr. Cline. "It was like serving a tour of duty. We had a window to accomplish this then, but then it closed. Moving on this as quickly as possible is critical."

Comments

8 people like this
Posted by Plan prioritizes heritage trees over safety buffer...
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 13, 2015 at 12:21 pm

Unfortunately, this article doesn't clearly communicate very important information about what the council voted for, what their priorities are and the implications on the safety of our children.

Shockingly, the council unanimously voted to prioritize the saving of heritage trees over the installation of a buffered bike lane in locations where there isn't room for both.

Councilmember Keith was a proponent for the buffer running the entire length but then caved in at the very end. Councilmember Cline initially prioritized the buffer over the trees, but surprisingly flipflopped within seconds. Councilmember Ohtaki seemed to have no hesitation about the priority of trees over the safety buffer, with his main focus seeming to be with parking on the East end of Santa Cruz. Chairperson Carlton looked to city staff to verify for her that a bike lane without a buffer was "safe" and then proceeded to prioritize the trees over the buffer.

How the council could do this baffles me. Clearly experts believe a buffered bike lane provides an important level of safety over a non-buffered lane or it wouldn't have been a component of the plan at all. But, it shouldn't take an expert to realize that having a 2 foot safety zone between kids on bikes and cars is significantly safer that a 6 inch white line.

If this is of concern to you, please let the council know your thoughts.


3 people like this
Posted by Frank
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Mar 17, 2015 at 5:41 pm

There are heritage trees on El Camino in Menlo Park? Where?


Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Mar 17, 2015 at 5:43 pm

"There are heritage trees on El Camino in Menlo Park? Where?"

Meant Santa Cruz Ave.


3 people like this
Posted by preferred alternative
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 17, 2015 at 6:17 pm

Incredible news! Council prioritized protecting hedges. Property owners will give up some street parking, but will be able to keep most of their city-owned land. Mueller worked with staff in creating this "compromise preferred alternative" Web Link


14 people like this
Posted by Mike Doran
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 17, 2015 at 8:41 pm

I, for one, moved to Menlo Park in part because I liked the look and feel of it. Heritage trees and mature landscaping are an important part of that. I suppose I could have moved to Cupertino, if I liked the look and feel of a sterile expanse of concrete. Let's don't bring that look here.

Santa Cruz traffic goes too fast. There is little disagreement about that, and it is the greatest danger to our children in the bike lanes and crossing the street. Numerous traffic studies have shown the importance of the tree canopy in slowing traffic. Does anyone really think that adding to the expanse of pavement will reduce speeds?

Everyone is talking about "city owned land." How much, and even if, the city owns any of it is very much in doubt. A number of the houses on Santa Cruz were built prior to the incorporation of Menlo Park in 1927, and have lots which have never been subdivided since. Someone tell me when and how the city acquired any "ownership" of the land in front of these house? The city attorney couldn't. If you try to jam a plan down the throats of property owners in this situation, can you foresee litigation, delays and expense for the city? I can. The city is terrified of doing a survey, and has steadfastly refused to do so to date.

Ray Mueller did a great job in working with the many constituencies and the city to avoid legal complications and litigation (assuming the version passed stays intact) and coming up with a plan that most constituencies can live with. It passed with a majority of the council WITHUOT HIS VOTE. He should be commended for that.


16 people like this
Posted by HIllview Mom
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 17, 2015 at 11:45 pm

Santa Cruz Ave is a street full of pedestrians, both on sidewalks and at street crossings, especially during school commuting times. Excessive speed on Santa Cruz is the real danger. I would rather have a 6 inch stripe between bike lane and cars and have traffic going 25 miles an hour than have a two foot buffer and cars going their current speed. Right now, city can't enforce the 30 MPH speed limit, much less reduce speed limit, because traffic studies show that Average speed is well above the current speed limit.

Wee should focus on reducing speeds as first priority. Mueller gets that, more than any other council member.


13 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 18, 2015 at 3:18 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Strange - We can grow new trees but people are not as easily replaced. A separated and protected bikeway is the only way to do this safely.


17 people like this
Posted by Citizen Can
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Mar 18, 2015 at 8:52 am

"preferred alternative" says: "Mueller worked with staff in creating this "compromise preferred alternative"....

Is this supposed to be a bad thing? City Council does nothing for at least seven years, and coming up with a compromise that can actually pass Council is bad? Would you prefer the City Council take their cue from Congress, and gridlock on every issue?

I think Mueller did great work in balancing the competing interests and coming up with a plan that can get sidewalks built.


17 people like this
Posted by Pedestrian Pete
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 18, 2015 at 10:10 am

1. The compromised preferred alternative design passed at the City Council meeting 4-0. It was unanimous even without Mueller.

2. Mueller should be commended for rolling up his sleeves, like he always does, and being unafraid of controversy to find solutions to longstanding city problems.

3. All you have to do is ask a resident of Santa Cruz Avenue how hard he worked to bring sidewalks and bike lanes to our kids in order to understand that he shouldn't be criticized for achieving what others could not.


1 person likes this
Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 18, 2015 at 11:32 am

Be wary here. Although this Council is different than the one that got us the 'Traffic Calming' fiasco the mentality is the same. I remember going to a council meeting after most of the work on calming was done and they didn't know how many parking places were lost or even the distance between the auto traffic and the new bike lanes. Also, the fire dept reported that there were places that they could not enter because of the narrowing of the road. Let us hope that they at least can do the geometry this time.

And heritage trees? Just another term for keeping the old as if we really care. Just a do-gooding priority vs intelligent decision making. UGH, again?


6 people like this
Posted by Plan prioritizes heritage trees over safety buffer
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 18, 2015 at 2:09 pm

The proposed plan puts our children on bikes in MORE DANGER than they are now.

For the folks thinking that sacrificing the bike safety buffer for heritage trees will make our children more safe, I think you might not be taking into consideration some key points.

1) Currently, the parking lane, which rarely has cars parked in it during school commute time, actually serves as a safety buffer for our kids. Our children can easily ride on the outside edge of the bike lane, straddling the parking lane, or even in the parking lane, to keep themselves a safe distance from the cars. By removing this buffer space and not replacing it where there are heritage trees, we'll be putting our kids in greater danger.

2) Having the bike lane vacillate between having a safety buffer and not will also put the kids in greater danger for a couple reasons; a) the bike lane won't be straight and will require the kids to angle out towards the cars at the same time their buffer disappears and b) the drivers and the children might not completely realize this buffer is gone and that they are dangerously close to each other.

3) Keeping the few heritage trees that will cause the bike lane to weave and the buffer to disappear is NOT going to result in reduced speeds. And, even if it did, a child getting hit by a car going 25 mph is sadly not likely to survive. A 6 inch white lane is NOT enough.

While I love trees, and all foliage, and would like to see as much of it preserved as is safely reasonable, and while I don't advocate that we scrape the entire right of way to create a large, ugly, concrete expressway, and while I appreciate all the hard work that Ray Mueller has done, it's vital that we ensure there's a buffer space between the bikes and the cars for the ENTIRE length of the corridor. Doing anything else is just crazy. In conjunction with the buffer, the town can certainly work to reduce speeds.

Do you really want to tell our children "well, we decided that keeping these few trees that are causing you to have to weave in the bike lane and lose your buffer is more valuable than your life."?

I urge the City Council to think through the above points and figure out a way to maintain the full length of bike buffer.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 18, 2015 at 2:53 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Compromise is just that - compromise.

Safety IS more important than heritage trees.

Children ARE more important than oaks.

A physically separated and protected bike lane is much better protection than a painted line on the pavement.


Like this comment
Posted by El Camino
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 18, 2015 at 3:32 pm

Peter,

Do you support bike lane separations on El Camino in Menlo Park and Atherton?


10 people like this
Posted by what compromise?
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 18, 2015 at 3:32 pm

the only people polled were property owners on Santa Cruz, not the hundreds of us who use Santa Cruz. nearly a majority of the property owners didn't respond so how was this a compromise. who with?
city staff convened many residents in the area when this effort began but did not convene us again.

None of the city council members live in the area affected so they don't know how poorly many of the property owners maintain the hedges and vegetation that endanger pedestrians and bikers. Some do a great job, but all of them must for this to work. Cars are parked all the time on santa cruz, not all day in most cases. Removing all of it just transfers cars to nearby streets that are even less safe for children.

the safest path for bikers, especially children, is the straightest. This meandering path is flat out dangerous. Cars that have to meander will drive more slowly but bikers have accidents when visibility is bad and the path is crooked.

Wide sidewalks are necessary for school kids so they aren't walking in the street. narrowing to four feet is unwise.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 18, 2015 at 3:49 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Peter,

Do you support bike lane separations on El Camino in Menlo Park and Atherton?"

NO, there is not sufficient space to properly separate and protect bike lanes on ECR.


Like this comment
Posted by El Camino
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 18, 2015 at 4:13 pm

Why isn't there sufficient space to properly separate and protect bike lanes on ECR?


4 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 18, 2015 at 5:24 pm

We agree with @what compromise. A convoluted route with lots of turns and intersections is much more dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists. Most collions with cars happen when the car is turning at an intersection and a convoluted route puts pedestrians and bicyclists in a turning car's path many more times compared to a direct route. The danger is worst at night, since most of these back streets are very poorly lit and car drivers are paying less attention to the sides of the roads. If the city cares about pedestrian and bicyclist safety, then give us first class routes. We are not second class citizens.


Like this comment
Posted by Lorena Ballard
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 18, 2015 at 7:14 pm

I like Cat Carlton, but her embrace of "minimum safety standards" is pretty weak tea. This and the El Camino project need some boldness! There will ALWAYS be voices telling you not to do something "new", but that's where vision and leadership come in. Will the Council prioritize safety and change the paradigm on El Camino, or will you double down on the past?


10 people like this
Posted by Mike Doran
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 18, 2015 at 8:11 pm

The average speed on Santa Cruz right now is 37.5 MPH. That means there are as many cars going 50 as there are going 25. The point is not that it is OK to get hit by a car going 25 MPH. It is never OK to get hit by a car. The point is that you are much more likely to get hit by one going 50 than by one going 25 (AND less likely to survive it). The primary safety problem on Santa Cruz is speed. We need a solution that addresses that.

Drivers look at Santa Cruz now and see the big wide expanse of pavement and think that its OK to go 50. From an engineering point of view, they may even be right - the street is engineered for much higher speeds than it is safe to drive it at. Adding width to that already wide expanse of pavement is not going to help slow cars down, its only going to make the problem worse.


5 people like this
Posted by Plan prioritizes heritage trees over safety buffer
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 18, 2015 at 9:35 pm

@ Mike Doran, the plan as proposed - even the sections with the 2 foot safety buffer - will not make the driving pavement wider, it will actually make the driving pavement narrower. It will delete a 5 foot wide parking lane and add a 2 foot wide safety buffer. The bike lane width already exists. The additional parking lane width will be used for part of the sidewalk and a curb.

If the city wants to get creative, it could even put some foliage and trees in the sections of buffer that don't block driveways and intersections. This would make the road look/feel/be even narrower. Although it would be necessary to ensure the foliage was low enough that cars could still easily see bikers so they would be fully aware of them at all turning points AND they would need to ensure this wouldn't interfere with drivers clearing the road for emergency vehicles. To see foliage in a buffer area, check out some images of bikes lanes in Copenhagen.

Also, you're confused about the meaning of the 37.5 mph speed. As city staff member, Mr. Quiron, pointed out at the meeting, that's not an average speed at all. It's the 85th percentile speed. That's "the speed at or below which 85% of all vehicles are observed to travel under free flowing conditions" In other words, just 15% of vehicles are going over 37.5. And, if you're on the road in the morning and afternoon when our children are commuting, it's far from free flowing conditions. Speed really isn't a significant issue at all during school commute times. These of course aren't the only times the bike lanes are in use but they're certainly times with the greatest number of cyclists.


3 people like this
Posted by Mark
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 18, 2015 at 10:26 pm

I'm in favor of the trees over the full bike buffer zone, and I ride this street often.

Where the zone narrows, they could enhance the buffer by placing a line of those hollow plastic poles, like the ones on the left turn lane from northbound El Camino onto Middle.


3 people like this
Posted by what compromise?
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 19, 2015 at 8:45 am

I want to understand what it means to have a city right-of-way.
Someone says houses on Santa Cruz were built in the 1920s when it was different, but how many really? Only 1 looks as if it is that old. besides, part of the "compromise" of becoming part of a city is to adhere to its rules.
I know for a fact that some of the hedges and walls were installed in the last 10-30 years. So why allow those bad decisions to trump the best solutions?
I am not at all happy that the supposed compromise made minimizes, not maximizes, the width of the sidewalk, the line of the bike path, the ability to put new landscaping closer to the street (such as between sidewalk and street).
We neighbors were not allowed to be part of any compromise. So the supposed compromise was made by staff and council with the 20 or so property owners who have put things in the city right-of-way. WE will be affected by the decisions to remove all parking. If the city decides in the future to use more of the right-of-way, WE will have to pay for the re-do.


2 people like this
Posted by Old MP
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 19, 2015 at 10:00 am

I think the correct term for "city right-of-way" would be "easement".

Menlo Park, Hetch Hetchy, PG&E, etc. all have easements throughout the city. If you plant on an easement, you run the risk that at some point in time that the plant will need to be severely pruned or removed. If you build on the easement, you run the risk of that structure getting removed (on your dime).

There is an easement issue in Mountain View where PG&E has decided that they want to clear their easement of plantings - supposedly so they can have unhindered access for gas line inspections.

In San Diego (about 10 years ago), along the beach walk in Mission Beach, the city exercised it's easement on all of the front yards facing the beach - doubling the width of the sidewalk for pedestrians and cyclists.

Sorry for anyone who may lose some plants - but the easements are listed on your title report. Of course, no one expects the city to ever exercise the easement - but it does happen.


7 people like this
Posted by It takes a neighborhood
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 19, 2015 at 12:54 pm

Traffic speed is Santa Cruz Avenue's biggest safety issue – for drivers, and especially for cyclists and pedestrians who are vastly more likely to be injured as traffic speed increases. Everyone who cares about safety should be able to agree on reducing the speed of cars on our city streets. Everyone can help by driving 25 mph on Santa Cruz Avenue when kids are present (as posted) and driving at the posted 30 mph speed limit the rest of the time. We shouldn’t need police enforcement for us to do what we all know is the right thing. Just glance down at your speedometer and take the foot off the gas a little.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 12:59 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Given that the City Council has decided to turn Santa Cruz Ave into an unprotected bowling alley for bicyclists and pedestrian the least they can do is dramatically lower the speed limit.

This is what is happening all over the UK:
"On 20 July 2014 the City of London Corporation implemented a 20mph speed limit across almost all of the City."

Why not in Menlo Park?


11 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Mar 19, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Fences can be moved and trees and shrubs replaced.

Allowing property owners to usurp what isn't theirs is bad policy. Especially when it risks causing safety issues and increasing public costs of re-routing.

It is also a give-away of public resources/funds. At the very least, the usurping property owners should pay MP fair market value for what they have improperly acquired.

And similar issues on Middle Ave should be addressed in short order.


1 person likes this
Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Mar 19, 2015 at 9:40 pm

@It Takes a neighborhood, your ideas are well-meaning, but unrealistic.

I agree with Peter Carpenter on this one. Let's reduce the speed on this
relatively short section of roadway to 20 MPH.


2 people like this
Posted by jmir
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 20, 2015 at 12:24 am

I agree with the earlier comment about councilwoman Carlton's comments. I was in the meeting last week when she asked the city manager if both options were safe. Her wording was very careful. She didn't ask if both were equally safe. It was clear that they'd set some sort of a bar for "safe enough".

One thing that was clear was that the owners on Santa Cruz Ave. have had time to organize. You could hear similar language choices in many of their comments in the meeting. The users of the space are, for obvious reasons, less organized and that's probably why our interests were more of less ignored.

I'm on Middle often when the Hillview students are coming and going. It's really stunning to see many students bike dangerously. I see students taking left turns from the bike lane (on the right), riding 4 across, riding in the far right of the parking lane and then swerving unexpectedly into traffic from behind cars. I don't think Hillview students will be safe without something between them and the road.

I don't get all this dramatic talk about "scraping" back all of the greenery and looking like Cupertino? The plans that involve taking the larger amounts of city-owned land back for shared use feature buffer strips of green between the sidewalk and the street. Breaking up the concrete like this would make the street look more green, not less.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 3:15 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Let's put some real world data into the conversation:

" By August 2002, Kingston upon Hull in the UK had introduced 112 20-mph zones and 190 km of roads subject to a 20 mph limit covering 26% of the city's streets which they described as contributing to "dramatic reductions in road casualties". Total collisions were reduced by 56%, Killed & seriously injured collisions down 90%, child casualties collisions down 64% and all pedestrian collisions down 54% and child pedestrian collisions down 74%."

A report published in 2008 estimated that following the introduction of 20 mph zones in London, a reduction of casualties by 45% and killed and serious injuries by 57% occurred."

Note - London extended the 20 mph limit City-wide in 2014.

Why not on Santa Cruz Ave?


2 people like this
Posted by West Menlo Mom
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 20, 2015 at 7:05 am

While they are putting in sidewalks, I wish they would put in the lighted crosswalk. With kids using the fields at night, they often just dart across the street, oblivious to traffic.


1 person likes this
Posted by facts
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:00 am

Currently there are 4 lighted crosswalks on this section of Santa Cruz Avenue at: Johnson, San Mateo Drive, Cotton, Olive.


Like this comment
Posted by facts?
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:05 am

jmir: "The plans that involve taking the larger amounts of city-owned land back for shared use feature buffer strips of green between the sidewalk and the street." The bike commission and the transportation commission recommendations and the city preferred alternative did NOT include any green strips. Please share those plans with green strips.


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