Given a choice of three options or leaving El Camino Real alone, the Menlo Park Planning Commission gave a unanimous thumbs up to one design that would create buffered bike lanes along the city's main corridor as long as trees at its intersection with Ravenswood Avenue are left alone.
Consultant W-Trans has been carrying out a $459,713 contract to analyze ways to improve travel along El Camino Real for bicyclists, pedestrians and vehicles. During a study session on Monday, April 6, the seven planning commissioners supported the second option given in the staff report. With that design, bike lanes would be added on El Camino Real in both directions by narrowing the existing vehicle lanes by 1 to 3 feet, and getting rid of street parking along the road north of Roble Avenue. An additional 3-foot bike buffer would be created with paint.
While that option also called for removing 11 heritage trees and seven street trees to widen Ravenswood Avenue, the commissioners nixed that idea, noting that the trees provide a key visual landmark. Commissioner John Kadvany said it's "one of the best-looking places we have on El Camino Real," even though he's "not a tree hugger."
Chair Ben Eiref noted that the chosen design would not reduce the road's capacity to handle traffic flow; instead, capacity would be shifted away from parking. Travel times are estimated to increase going north on El Camino from 4.1 minutes to 4.6 minutes under the recommended option even though capacity would increase, according to the report -- a finding that "kind of blows my mind," Mr. Eiref said.
Not everyone was thrilled about the commission's recommendation. Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman spoke during public comment about the potential impacts on emergency response, which he pointed out were not analyzed as part of the W-Trans study. The district, given the lack of data, prefers the option of creating three vehicle lanes in each direction on El Camino between Encinal and Roble avenues.
He also raised safety concerns about encouraging bicyclists to travel along El Camino. "I know you could do it; the question is why would you do it?" Chief Schapelhouman said, adding that towns such as Los Altos have created a network of bike paths through parks, school grounds and other routes that see less vehicle traffic than busy streets.
Commissioner John Onken, who said he bikes along El Camino every night, suggested that the real danger to cyclists is not speeding cars, but cars turning in front of the bike or a door of a parked car opening. Therefore he didn't support the option for three vehicle lanes in each direction.
The City Council will make the final choice of a design option after considering the recommendations of the planning, bicycle and transportation commissions.