"Hello council members," said a child who took the podium, lifting onto her tiptoes to better reach the microphone. "I'm Irene Vail. I am in second grade at Encinal School." She went on to tell the Menlo Park City Council that she doesn't feel very safe riding her bike and would like to have bike lanes on Oak Grove Avenue.
She, with a number of other Menlo Park community members, voiced support of a plan proposed by the city's Bicycle Commission, which would be a pilot program to install bike lanes that connect Menlo-Atherton High School to downtown Menlo Park.
Though council members couldn't vote to approve the pilot project since the matter was not on the agenda, they did voice support for it. The proposal will be brought back to the council for action.
According to bicycle commissioners Jonathan Weiner and Bill Kirsch, the pilot would last during the 2016-17 school year before being revisited as a potentially permanent installation.
Heading from east to west, the bike route would start at Menlo-Atherton High School (Oak Grove Avenue and Middlefield Road), with 7-foot buffered lanes, and continue along Oak Grove Avenue, past El Camino Real to Crane Street, where the lane would narrow to 5 feet.
Riders would take Crane Street to Santa Cruz Avenue, where they would have to deal with a 530-foot stretch where the bike lane would disappear in favor of "sharrows" (lanes marked by white bicycle signs painted on the road that tell motorists that they are sharing the road with bicyclists).
From there, bicyclists would have access to the existing bike lanes to continue down Santa Cruz Avenue.
Heading from south to north, another bike route is proposed to stretch from Middle Avenue to Valparaiso Avenue, beginning on University Drive, then jogging east along Live Oak Avenue to Crane Street. In all, the proposed project would eliminate 112 street parking spots.
Bike lanes would be on both sides of the streets so cyclists could travel in either direction.
Several bicycle commissioners at the meeting said they had spoken with various stakeholders who could be affected by the bike lanes. Kevin Conner, sustainability director at Menlo School, said the school supports the project, and sees it as a way to increase safety and eliminate obstacles that could prevent kids from cycling to school.
Bicycle commissioner Cindy Welton presented letters of support for the project from Monsignor Steven Otellini, pastor at Nativity School and Michael Dwyer, operations director at Sacred Heart Schools.
Lydia Lee, another bicycle commissioner, said that even though she is a bike advocate, it can be hard to encourage others to bike without having proper infrastructure on the streets for people to be safe. Demand for bike lanes is evidenced by the kids who already ride their bikes. She said the plan could make "hundreds of students' lives better."
Fran Dehn, president of the city's Chamber of Commerce, said she supports the project, but wants to make sure that the proposed elimination of parking spots does not disturb downtown parking. Many of the cars that currently park on Oak Grove Avenue, she said, are from students at Menlo-Atherton High School. They would need an alternate parking location if those spots were eliminated.
Councilwoman Kirsten Keith offered a preliminary suggestion that perhaps nearby church parking lots, which typically remain vacant during the day, could be utilized.