Menlo Park council pumps brakes on Middle Avenue bike lanes | June 5, 2019 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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News - June 5, 2019

Menlo Park council pumps brakes on Middle Avenue bike lanes

by Kate Bradshaw

The Menlo Park City Council admonished staff on May 21 for not doing enough public outreach before drawing up potential plans for new bike lanes on Middle Avenue that could eliminate street parking for up to 135 cars along the road.

This came after the proposal triggered a widespread email campaign to the council, in which some residents asked for more opportunity for compromise, or for the idea to be abandoned altogether.

Ferah Kutlu, for instance, asked that the council consider banning street parking only at peak times when children are riding their bikes, or only during the school year. "Please remember that children bike at certain times of the day, week and academic year but we live on this street," she wrote.

Others argued that the real problem on Middle Avenue is the speed at which vehicles travel, and that adding bike lanes may not help with reducing speeds. Middle Avenue resident Erica Hsu wrote to the council: "It's quite often (a) car barely stops at the Middle/Olive stop sign then fully speeds forward or their tires peel out as they turn onto the intersecting road. What happens if a driver loses control and slams into a house surrounding the intersection? There is no speed enforcement to prevent this dangerous behavior ... ."

Supporters of the project and staff explained they wanted to expedite it so construction would align with efforts to resurface the road and be completed around the time Stanford University finishes its development project at 500 El Camino Real and the city completes the bike and pedestrian undercrossing beneath the Caltrain line. Staff members are also facing deadlines to apply for grants to fund the project, they explained.

Several members of the Complete Streets Commission noted that they fully expected to do more outreach and that consultants would do more engineering work; these plans were merely conceptual, they said. But that didn't dissuade several council members from insisting that presenting the plans seemingly fully formed so early was not procedurally appropriate.

"This is not how we do things," said Councilwoman Catherine Carlton.

"I think we all need to take a step back," added Councilwoman Betsy Nash.

While Councilman Drew Combs said he appreciated staff's "boldness" in quickly pursuing the project, he added, "The result of boldness sometimes is that you get slapped down. I think we are responding to what we've heard from the public ... (that) what is envisioned here is substantive change, and (residents) don't know there has been ... enough process."

Mayor Ray Mueller asked that the assistant public works director and Complete Streets Commissioner Bill Kirsh hold at least two community meetings on the proposal before bringing the matter back to the council.

In a separate item, the City Council voted 4-0, with Mueller recused because his home is nearby, to approve plans to remove 17 parking spots to extend bike lanes on Santa Cruz Avenue between Olive Street and Avy/Orange avenues. The parking spots will be removed on the south side of the street across from Hillview Middle School.

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