After a lengthy dissection of a 7-0 vote made at a previous meeting to recommend adding bike lanes, but not car lanes, to El Camino Real, the Menlo Park Planning Commission on April 20 stood by its recommendation, but this time it wasn't unanimous.
Commissioner Katherine Strehl dissented and John Onken abstained on the 4-1-1 vote. Andrew Combs was absent.
The request to revisit the issue was brought by Commissioner John Kadvany. After the original vote, taken on April 6, city officials received emails questioning why unbuffered bike lanes were favored for a busy state highway instead of more car lanes or bike lanes physically separated from other vehicle traffic. Several public speakers at the April 20 meeting made similar comments.
Commissioner Katie Ferrick, in making the motion to uphold the original recommendation, said she thought the unbuffered bike lanes struck a balance between creating an illusion of bicycle safety, as buffered lanes could, versus slowing traffic down by adding car lanes. The design alternatives study carried out by consultants W-Trans came to the "counterintuitive" conclusion that more car lanes equaled longer travel times, she said, but that conclusion is backed up "by quite a body of evidence."
Mr. Onken said he was abstaining not because he objected to the recommendation, but to the timing. With a general plan update underway that will involve looking at the circulation element (the blueprint for travel around the city whether by vehicle, bike or foot), he felt making a recommendation for the El Camino Real would be out of context.
He compared it to ordering from a dessert tray that presented a few choices before getting the rest of the meal. "There are a lot of other things going into this meal that are not part of this discussion," he said, including safety issues and emergency vehicle response times brought up by Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman, who backed adding more car lanes instead of bike lanes.
Ms. Strehl opted to dissent, for the same reason, and added that upcoming projects along El Camino Real, which have not yet been submitted to the city, could also influence the decision. "I feel like this is the wrong time to be making a recommendation of this sort," she said.
However, Commissioner Vince Bressler said that since people are already biking along El Camino Real, the time was right to do something to make the road safer. "If we make the recommendation, the project designs that follow will be forced to take that into consideration," he said. "If we're wishy-washy now, who knows what will happen?"
The City Council will make the final choice of a design option after considering the recommendations of the planning, bicycle and transportation commissions.