Nine speed humps. One yield sign. One road closed to vehicles, plus a few advisory speed limit signs. Yet it took, by one resident's calculations, 528 days to get the Menlo Park City Council to approve a six-month trial for such traffic-calming measures to be enacted in the Willows neighborhood.
Still, when the council voted 3-0 in favor of the plan on Sept. 11 (with council members Rich Cline and Ray Mueller absent), it appeared to give the parties present what they wanted. Marmona Drive and McKendry Drive will get four speed humps each; Blackburn Avenue will get one; and Baywood Avenue will get none. Clover Lane will be closed to vehicle traffic, though pedestrians and cyclists will still be able to access it.
Accompanying signage, including a yield sign on Baywood Avenue at its intersection with Blackburn Avenue, and some "Speed Hump Ahead" warnings will also be added. The humps will have breaks in them so that they can be crossed easily by emergency vehicles.
Susu Ribaudo, a Marmona Drive resident, said she began a city process to marshal neighborhood support for traffic changes in April 2017 with a goal, she explained in an email to the City Council, "to restore the safety and quiet of the neighborhood." She said she doesn't let her kids play in her family's front yard because of the speeds some cars reach while cutting through the neighborhood.
"It's an accident waiting to happen," she told the council.
Kristin Ocon, also a resident of Marmona Drive, recalled a similar proposal to add speed bumps from about 25 years ago, which failed at the time – to her disappointment, she told the council.
"I'm thrilled to see this come back again," she said. "Give it a chance after all this time."
While the residents of Marmona Drive preferred that speed humps be installed, it was equally clear that the residents of Baywood Avenue felt very differently toward the prospect of the humps.
When staff circulated a survey to gauge support for the plan in February, it was supported by 102 of 174 households, with 25 against it and 47 non-responses. The support meant the proposed trial crossed a 51 percent threshold and could move forward.
The next month, residents of Baywood Avenue submitted a petition requesting that no speed humps be added there, according to staff.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," summarized Leslie Gordon, a resident of Baywood Avenue. "Please don't throw money at a problem that doesn't exist."
One thing residents did appear to agree on was the effectiveness of the right-turn restrictions the city recently implemented in the neighborhood as a result of crippling traffic that had been occurring because of changes at the Willow/U.S. 101 interchange. That step has lowered traffic speeds and volumes in the neighborhood, according to traffic data reported by staff.
An arduous process
Ribaudo told the council that the process she and other supporters followed to develop a "Neighborhood Traffic Management Plan" was slow and arduous.
According to staff, the procedure was established in 2004 and lays out a very thorough process to ensure there is neighborhood consensus before such a matter comes before the City Council. Since then, this is only the fourth such plan to come forward.
The process involves: submitting a request and petition for a neighborhood traffic plan; collecting data; hosting neighborhood meetings and preparing a plan; surveying the community about the plan; submitting it for review by the Complete Streets Commission and the City Council; installing the proposed changes on a trial basis; conducting a follow-up survey; and having the commission and council review the trial outcomes. Only after those hurdles are cleared can the changes be made permanent.
In addition, traffic-calming measures have been a notoriously fraught topic in the Willows. In 2011, a $120,000 traffic plan for the neighborhood was shelved, due partly to lack of consensus.
Mayor Peter Ohtaki told the petitioners that one of the outcomes of a citywide Transportation Master Plan, when complete, may ease the process by which neighborhoods pursue traffic changes. That plan is currently a 177-project working paper that is in the process of being reviewed by an oversight committee dedicated to the plan. On Sept. 12, the city's Complete Streets Commission is scheduled to review aspects of the working paper that pertain to city pedestrian and cycling networks.
According to Public Works Director Justin Murphy, the speed humps won't be installed for at least a couple of months. The project has to be sent out to bid, and then the construction – mainly pouring pavement – will depend on weather conditions, and could be delayed if the winter is cold or rainy, he said.