I strongly believe this is a bad idea because, ironically, more pedestrians, motorists and bike riders would be endangered if more bike riders were attracted to El Camino by new bike safety measures. Since this decision will have a major impact on all Menlo Park residents, I encourage them to form their own positions and make their preferences count before it is too late.
Who stands to gain the most from bike facilities on El Camino? Most likely cyclists who have the experience, skills, and awareness to minimize dangerous encounters with motor vehicles that cross their paths at both street intersections and at mid-block public driveways at places like Ducky's and Safeway, and who prize the possibility of shaving several minutes off travel times. For cyclists, the 60 vehicle-bike crossing points on El Camino will guarantee that riding remains an anxiety-filled challenge, but at least the bike lanes would make motorists generally more aware of them. Fewer than fifty cyclists appear to now ride daily on this highway, and a city-commissioned study has not estimated the number of cyclists who would prefer a modified El Camino rather than alternative bike routes.
The number of residents who stand to lose the most from adding bike facilities is much larger than the cyclist community, and includes bike riders, motorists and pedestrians. Bike riders — think school children and adults who are comfortable riding on residential streets — are generally ill-equipped to handle the demands and dangers of riding on El Camino, and ironically, the existence of either bike lanes or paths would encourage more to do so by creating the illusion of safety.
Motorists would also be exposed to a higher number of potential bike collisions and accidents, and would regularly face delays wherever and whenever they cross paths and merge with bike riders. Pedestrians would also be endangered by mixing with bike riders at busy intersections regardless of how crosswalks are marked. Inevitably, there would be confusion, angry exchanges and accidents.
Finally, the Menlo Park Fire Protection District has told the Planning Commission about its two major concerns. It expects bikes riders would increase the response times of ambulances and fire trucks heading to emergencies in Menlo Park and, as backup, to Palo Alto because El Camino is its most critical primary route. The fire district chief also believes encouraging more bike riders on El Camino would generate more medical emergencies.
So what do I recommend? First, the City Council should hire a bike network design specialist to evaluate not only the absolute safety of adding either bike lanes or bike paths to El Camino, but also the relative safety and convenience of the many alternative bike routes available in the Menlo Park bicycle network and nearby residential streets. Next, residents should communicate their concerns and preferences to our City Council at email@example.com. The welfare of all residents, including bike riders, is clearly at stake so all voices should be heard.
You can learn more about the ECR Corridor Study and read my analyses at bit.ly/ECRcorridorstudy.
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