In response to previous complaints that Menlo Park was moving too slowly to implement critical measures to deter cut-through traffic in Belle Haven, plans to remove street parking, and install bulb-outs and other measures to slow traffic throughout the neighborhood are moving forward on an expedited timeline.
The Menlo Park City Council voted unanimously Tuesday, April 16, to approve a six-month trial of the traffic management plan, which will be implemented using materials that are low-cost and easy to remove, should they become unpopular. After six months, the city will collect feedback from residents to decide whether to make the changes permanent. According to staff, this process is usually more drawn-out and requires multiple votes by neighborhood residents. But many residents have expressed in past meetings that they need relief from the constant congestion as soon as possible.
The Belle Haven neighborhood can only be accessed along Willow Road or on Chilco Street from Bayfront Expressway, and as such, is highly vulnerable to congestion along those roads. Even so, residents say, commuters are known to cut through the neighborhood to try to minimize their waits on Willow Road or Bayfront Expressway.
The city required Facebook to pay for the creation of a plan to reduce cut-through traffic when it approved the company's campus expansion in November 2016.
Since the study began, and even since initial data was collected in late 2017 and early 2018, traffic conditions have only worsened, according to staff, due to "the number and severity of ongoing construction projects on Chrysler Drive, Independence Drive, Chilco Street and Constitution Drive proceeding simultaneously."
According to staff, efforts that have already been taken to curb cut-through traffic have included installing "no through traffic" signs at entries to the neighborhood, adding speed humps, creating left-turn restrictions from Chilco Street to eastbound Hamilton Avenue, and closing roads.
The plan would be mainly focused on four streets in Belle Haven: Newbridge Street, Ivy Drive, Chilco Street and Terminal Avenue.
On Newbridge Street, brightly marked crosswalks will be added to each intersection from Carlton Avenue to Windermere Avenue, along with bulb-outs on the corners. Staff members say they anticipate that each bulb-out will require the removal of one or two on-street parking spaces.
On Ivy Drive, the city will install crosswalks, bulb-outs, raised intersections and speed feedback signs. On Chilco Street between Windermere Avenue and Hamilton Avenue, the city will install a yellow line marking the center of the street, bulb-outs along the sides of the street, and "sharrows," or painted signals on the road that remind drivers to be aware of cyclists.
On Terminal Avenue, more crosswalks and bulb-outs are planned, along with several speed humps in the parking area near the Onetta Harris Community Center. The city also plans to add "gateway" pillars to mark neighborhood entrances.
The traffic management plan is expected to require the removal of up to 60 on-street parking spaces.
The art of curbing cut-through traffic requires a delicate balance in installing obstacles that deter outsiders yet don't drive neighborhood residents crazy, staff explained. In a staff report, Associate Transportation Engineer Kevin Chen explained that staff tried to pick measures that would also improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians and improve streetscapes, in addition to making it less convenient for outside commuters to shortcut through neighborhood streets.
Some parts of the plan will be slower-moving and require cooperation with agencies outside of the city, Chen explained. For instance, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has jurisdiction over Ivy Drive, and would have to sign off on crosswalks, line striping, speed feedback signs, and other planned efforts.
The Menlo Park Fire Protection District also has an interest in making sure the roads remain wide enough to navigate emergency vehicles, Chen noted. The city plans to work with the fire district to ensure that firetrucks can navigate around any bulb-outs that are installed, he added.
Another traffic issue in Belle Haven is that the Willow Road and Newbridge Street intersection tends to get very congested, due in part to the frontage road that runs along Willow Road at that intersection. Caltrans has jurisdiction over Willow Road, and, according to staff, the city wants to work with Caltrans to install a limited right-turn restriction and left-turn signal arrow on Newbridge Street at Willow Road.
However, working with Caltrans has been slow, and some requests have been pending for over a year, according to a staff report. Staff has requested to make traffic signal modifications at all of the intersections along Willow Road (at Hamilton Avenue, Ivy Drive, O'Brien Drive and Newbridge Street), but they haven't been approved yet. Now, staffers say they're looking into what it would cost for the city to take on responsibility for those signals and signal timing so they'd have more control.