A little over a year ago, temporary bike lanes were installed on segments of Oak Grove Avenue, Crane Street and University Drive as part of a pilot project to see if they would improve safety for east-to-west cycling through downtown Menlo Park and draw more cyclists out of cars and off of other car-heavy roads.
A year-long study was conducted to evaluate the effect of the program, and the verdict: T he temporary bike lanes have, in fact, achieved those goals. According to Hugh Louch of Alta Planning + Design, the firm that conducted an evaluation of the project, the number of cyclists increased during peak travel periods, specifically at three out of four intersections along the route, according to a staff report. The number of cyclists increased 15 percent at the intersection of Oak Grove and Crane Street, 10 percent at Oak Grove and El Camino Real, and 9 percent at University Drive and Live Oak Drive, and decreased 4 percent at Oak Grove and Laurel Street.
At its Nov. 13 meeting, the Menlo Park City Council voted 4-0, with Vice Mayor Ray Mueller recused, to make the bike lanes permanent along Oak Grove Avenue and Crane Street. The council also designated an additional $50,000 beyond the $110,000 in order to look into extending the bike lanes on Oak Grove between Crane Street and University Drive and addressing a loading zone problem for some residents on Pine Street.
Mueller recused himself because the company he works for may move office locations to Oak Grove Avenue, and City Attorney Bill McClure didn't participate in the matter because his office is near the bike lanes.
The council directed staff to look into a curb-cut loading zone on Oak Grove Avenue or a designated loading zone on Pine Street to accommodate the residents of 1150-1160 Pine St.; a number of those residents said they have been negatively impacted by the new bike lanes on Oak Grove, which leaves them unable to park in front of their apartments on weekdays.
The council's discussion inevitably led back to one of the key objections raised when the pilot project began: that bike lanes require the elimination of on-street parking.
This particular set of bike lanes involved the loss of 168 street parking spaces: 25 on Oak Grove Avenue near downtown, 78 on Oak Grove east of El Camino Real, and 70 on University Drive.
Louch reported that, as studied, there was still ample downtown parking availability, even at peak times, despite the street parking spaces lost because of the bike lanes. According to the staff report, street parking use increased to an average of 46 percent from 41 percent during the trial period, and a maximum of 67 percent, from 62 percent, during peak periods.
Pine Street problems
A number of residents of the apartments at 1150-1160 Oak Grove Ave. told the council that the restricted parking access has had a tangible negative impact on how they go about their daily lives.
Marie Moran said that, as a senior resident, she has serious concerns about being able to easily get in and out of her home in the future if her mobility deteriorates or if she can no longer drive. It will be more challenging to meet her needs through ride-share and delivery services if vehicles are not permitted to stop temporarily on Oak Grove Avenue, she explained.
Bette Bohler told the council that residents are "all for bikes, but give people a chance in the middle of the day to get in and out, or get their friends in and out. It means a lot."
Samir Patel, a new resident of the apartment complex, said that his nonagenarian parents have great difficulty getting up and down the stairs from the underground parking, and that he must be able to park at street-level if they are to continue to visit him.
Beyond the complaints from residents of that particular apartment building, however, most people surveyed supported the bike lanes, according to staff. Eighty percent of residents and 76 percent of all respondents of 756 people who took a public survey favored the bike lanes becoming permanent.
The City Council also received about 30 emails in support of making them permanent.
Many emails came from parents who said the lanes made them feel better about letting their kids bike to school and around town.
"As a mother whose son was 'doored' and fractured his collar bone last fall while riding his bike to school, I implore you to keep (and add!) more biking safety measures for our children. They need to be safe and with today’s growing traffic issues and concerns, we need to do everything we can to protect them and the rest of our community," Menlo Park parent Linda Knoll wrote in an email to the council.
Parent Sara Leslie wrote that her kids use the bike lanes to get to school, activities and friends' homes. "It's good for my kids -- they get exercise and independence -- it's good for me and it's good for the environment."
"We need to encourage more active commutes for people of all ages, and clearly marking dedicated bike routes is a small but critical step," wrote resident Lyndon Wong.
Twelve-year-olds Adie and Rowan Pecson, Hillview students, both wrote that they support the bike lanes. "Since the trial bike lane on Oak Grove avenue was first put into place, I have felt a lot safer biking down the road to get home," Rowan wrote. "It makes me feel a lot safer to have a buffer between the cars and me," Adie wrote.
Others in the school community also commented in support of the bike lanes. Erik Burmeister, superintendent of the Menlo Park City School District, wrote, "On behalf of the (school district), with enthusiasm I ask that you vote to approve the Oak Grove Bike Route as one of hopefully many future permanent solutions to address traffic and safety. I could list all the reasons why, but you know them."
Hillview Principal Willy Haug wrote: "So many Hillview students bicycle to school on a regular basis, and the more we can encourage them to take well-marked, protected routes, the better for their safety and well-being. Each year we have a number of close calls with bicycle accidents. Keeping our kids as separate from cars as possible, on less-well -raveled routes, is imperative for their safety."
Emma Shlaes, director of policy and advocacy at the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, wrote, "We are very happy to see the positive results of the evaluation, especially the increase in people biking."
Access the full set of emails online here.
Council members present, Peter Ohtaki, Rich Cline and Kirsten Keith – none of whom will be on the council next year if preliminary election results hold – spoke about the need for the city to move forward with plans to build a public parking structure to ensure downtown businesses aren't impacted by the loss of parking.
Keith added that she wants to add bollards to the bike lanes, where feasible, to improve safety. There is a problem with bollards in some scenarios because they can get in the way of Recology waste pick-up vehicles, staff explained. Ohtaki made the recommendation that a curb-cut loading zone on Oak Grove Avenue near the Pine Street apartment building be considered.
In the end, Cline reminded the council that it retains its power to change plans if something isn't working.
"We're constantly in evolution," he said. "It's always a trial. That's what we do in this city. If it's not working, what are you going to do? Keep it there forever? ... Every time we've had a hard decision, I always ask: Can we review it in six months? The answer is always yes."