Schools get priority as Menlo Park council seeks to make city streets safer | November 10, 2023 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - November 10, 2023

Schools get priority as Menlo Park council seeks to make city streets safer

by Cameron Rebosio

Facing grim collision data from the state, the Menlo Park City Council focused on school zone safety and "high-collision corridors" in its first conversation about the Vision Zero Action Plan at a Nov. 7 meeting.

The Vision Zero plan outlines policy, analysis and street safety regulations with the goal of eliminating collision-related fatalities and reducing by half the number of non-fatal collisions by 2030.

On average, six people are killed or severely injured in collisions in Menlo Park each year, and an additional 124 people are injured, according to a report from city staff. Staff identified the city's "high-collision corridors," which account for 20% of roadway miles, but see 83% of all collisions and 93% of collisions resulting in death or serious injury. The list includes El Camino Real, Bayfront Expressway, Willow Road, Ravenswood Avenue and Middle Avenue.

Crash data from the state paints an even bleaker picture of Menlo Park streets. The most recent crash data from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), from 2020, ranks Menlo Park the sixth worst out of 91 similar-sized California cities when it comes to collisions where a bicyclist was injured or killed, and the third worst for cyclists under age 15. The OTS reported that Menlo Park had a total of 88 crashes resulting in injury or death in 2020, the 13th highest among comparable cities.

Matthew Rascoff, co-chair of the Safe Routes to Schools Committee at Oak Knoll School, called the council's attention to OTS data from 2019, which showed 176 people killed or injured in collisions. Rascoff said that number is the equivalent of 1 in every 200 Menlo Park residents, as the city has a population of about 35,000. He commended council members for their work on the controversial Middle Avenue pilot project to remove parking spaces and create buffered bike lanes to enhance safety for bicyclists.

"I know how difficult some of these decisions have been for the City Council, especially on removing parking," Rascoff said. "I think we've got some real momentum, the Middle Avenue Project to me has been a tremendous success, and it took some political courage from this council."

Staff said their Vision Zero plan accounts for human error, because mistakes shouldn't have to result in injury or death.

Assistant Public Works Director Hugh Louch said that staff focused on targeting areas that see the highest risk behaviors, as well as making lower-cost safety improvements throughout the city. Some quick-build improvements could look like the intersection of Menlo Avenue and University Drive, where pilot project eliminated a right-turn lane to improve crosswalk safety. That T-intersection, by Draeger's market, was the site of about a quarter of total pedestrian-involved collisions in Menlo Park in 2022.

Council member Betsy Nash recommended a focus on school zones, a sentiment echoed by Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor, who suggested school speed zones become a near-term priority. Taylor also recommended adding crossing guards not only in school zones but also for seniors. Several Menlo Park schools are located along these high-collision corridors, as are bike routes used by children.

"​​A lot of times, these high-collision corridors, they don't really have a champion," Mayor Jen Wolosin said. "The fact that they account for so much of the collisions and fatalities is critical to get this work done."

Wolosin called for protected bike lanes as well for student safety, saying that one weak link could make a chain of safe bike routes fall apart. If there is one street that can't safely be crossed, then that can no longer be considered a safe route.

The City Council is set to allocate funding for Vision Zero projects during its annual budget discussions. n


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