Each day, as many as 45,000 cars make the slow, jolting traverse through Menlo Park along El Camino Real.
How to make that traverse less excruciating, more safe and more friendly to alternative modes of transit were questions that resulted in a $459,713 study by traffic engineering consultant group W-Trans.
On Tuesday night, May 3, the Menlo Park City Council could decide which option it favors for El Camino Real.
The study yielded four options:
● Do nothing.
● Remove street parking and have three continuous vehicle lanes going each way.
● Remove street parking and install bike lanes, with buffers painted on the road.
● Remove street parking and install bike lanes, which would be buffered by the physical separation of 3-foot wide curbs or planters.
Converting the street to three car lanes each direction would be expected to increase traffic demand by 64 percent in the morning and 47 percent in the evening. Pedestrians would likely be less comfortable having to cross additional traffic lanes.
Eighty-eight street parking spots, all north of Roble Avenue, would be removed, according to the consultants' analysis of each alternative.
Creating bike lanes between Sand Hill Road and Encinal Avenue in both directions with a painted buffer would not increase traffic demand, the consultants say. Pedestrians would have increased comfort. Street parking a total of 156 spots would be removed throughout the entire stretch of El Camino in Menlo Park. The average travel time to drive on El Camino Real between Encinal and Roble avenues would be 4.5 to 6 minutes.
Adding a bike lane for the same stretch, only in this scenario using three-foot wide raised curb or planter would have the same impact on parking (a loss of 156 street parking spots on El Camino Real), and would yield an average travel time for drivers of 4.7 to 6.9 minutes, consultants say.
In April 2015, the Menlo Park Planning Commission unanimously supported installing buffered bike lanes along El Camino Real, but opposed the plan's proposal to remove 11 heritage trees.
Existing vehicle lanes would be reduced by 1 to 3 feet, street parking would be removed along El Camino Real north of Roble Avenue, and a 3-foot bike buffer between the bike and vehicle lanes would painted on the road.
In August 2015, the report went before the Menlo Park City Council, which asked the staff to gather additional data.
City staff members have contacted ehe Menlo Park Fire Protection District, businesses on El Camino Real, neighboring cities and Caltrans. They have developed metrics to determine what would constitute a "successful" trial of the bike lanes. They have counted bike traffic on nearby streets.
For the May 3 council meeting, the staff recommends that the city postpone a pilot project on El Camino and instead wait until Atherton and Palo Alto have discussed what they plan to do on El Camino Real.
By doing so, the staff says, the city could reallocate money set aside for the pilot program between $250,000 and $1.2 million to work on other transportation projects in the city. The city would be able to work on adding bike lanes and pedestrian safety features to improve east-west connectivity in the city.
As of the evening of May 2, the council has received four emails favoring buffered bike lanes, and 10 opposed.
One supporter of bike lanes is Janelle London, an employee of Menlo Spark, a nonprofit seeking to make Menlo Park climate neutral by 2025.
In an email to the council, she said: "Please support the safest designs available to protect the hundreds of people walking and bicycling on El Camino Real every day."
Another supporter is Adina Levin, a transportation commissioner. She argues that "Bike lanes on El Camino Real will be valuable even if neighboring cities do not yet provide continuous facilities." Short, one- to two-mile trips within Menlo Park usually done by car on El Camino Real could be switched to bike trips if lanes were added. It could also enable people to go shopping by bike at businesses along El Camino Real.
Another point bike-lane supporters give is that converting the parking lane to a vehicular through-lane would not decrease traffic, according to the W-Trans consultants.
"Your traffic study has already shown that removing parking and adding bike lanes to ECR will not have a significant impact on peak traffic flow," wrote Dave Roise in an email. "Please don't wait for action from our neighboring cities or listen to the dittoheads from Menlo Park's Past. Instead, please direct your staff to move forward as soon as possible."
Those who oppose bike lanes have heated arguments, too. Menlo Park resident J. Barton Phelps emailed the council this message: "I have never, ever read about nor heard anything so wrongheaded, stupid, or worse than the idea to narrow the travelled surface of ECR (already jammed beyond its capacity) to provide bike lanes."
One recurring concern by naysayers is that having bikes along El Camino Real would be unsafe. "If you vote for the Bike Lanes, a bicyclist will probably die because of your votes," said Pat White.
Former council member Lee Duboc proposed that the city consider putting an advisory initiative on the ballot.
To see what happens, go to the Menlo Park City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 3, starting at 7 p.m. at the council chambers at 701 Laurel St. in the Menlo Park Civic Center. See the meeting agenda, read the staff report or the consultant report, or watch the meeting online.