Guest opinion: We must untie the El Camino traffic knot | February 6, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - February 6, 2013

Guest opinion: We must untie the El Camino traffic knot

by Henry Riggs

After nearly a decade, there is a proposal to develop vacant lots along El Camino in Menlo Park. There are significant changes needed before the project is accepted by residents, and Stanford University, the applicant, got the message last Monday night. But there was another message, for our City Council.

It was crystal clear at the four-hour Planning Commission study session: Whatever projects get built, Menlo Park residents are demanding that El Camino traffic be addressed. Now.

Unlike many building project meetings, nearly all speakers across almost two hours offered constructive, considered commentary. Given the dominating concern for traffic gridlock and neighborhood impacts (cut-through traffic), it's worth noting that not one person asked for neighborhood speed bumps or stop signs; they asked that the source of the problem — El Camino traffic flow and the added traffic of a major project — be solved by our city.

Two observations seem inescapable:

• El Camino and related traffic has been a major resident complaint for a decade or more — and is one of the 12 visioning goals formally adopted by the council four years ago. This is not just the recent Caltrans signal-coordination problem, although that spotlights the importance of open traffic flow.

• Whoever rebuilds the derelict El Camino corridor — as residents have hoped for years — new buildings will bring more cars, even with aggressive alternative commute programs. Those cars must rely on El Camino as the arterial roadway — not the surrounding neighborhood streets.

We are fortunate that six large parcels are all being brought forward for development at once: If they had separate owners and were brought forward incrementally, we might continue to kick the can down the road. The city needs to have a clear, responsible plan to not only restore full function to El Camino but to prepare for greater traffic volume — remembering that the reality of "bad traffic" is not how many cars get through — it's how many sit and wait to do so. And we need to include improved bike and pedestrian crossing between the east and west halves of downtown.

To do this, the City Council must make clear choices about street parking, dedicated bus lanes, and the appropriateness of bicycles on an arterial with multiple commercial driveways and high-demand intersections. This discussion should be scheduled promptly.

Pending that, residents will rightly continue to doubt that Menlo Park has the roadway infrastructure to handle its current traffic, let alone that from a million square feet of new construction.

Please, let's begin.

Henry Riggs, member Menlo Park Planning Commission


Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 5, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Finally someone who is taking a proactive view of how to accomodate the Specific Downtown Plan permitted growth.

Thank you Henry!

In my opinion parking should be removed from ECR and it makes no sense to create exclusive lanes for the very few buses which carry very few passengers.

Posted by old timer, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 5, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Henry Riggs, a member of the MP planning commission has never voted against a commercial development. To him, build it higher and denser is his agenda; you then worry about the consequences with band aid fixes.

His agenda is certainly aimed at transforming suburban Menlo Park into a full high density, traffic nightmare of a urban city like San Jose or SF.

For many of us who have chosen to live here, this is completely a wrong approach. The specific plan should be revisited, regardless of what Mr. Carpenter, a resident of Atherton and not Menlo Park, input on the matter suggests.

Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 5, 2013 at 4:31 pm

" Mr. Carpenter, a resident of Atherton and not Menlo Park,"

I probably spend more time on ECR and more money in Menlo Park than do most Menlo Park residents. And I firmly support Henry Riggs' enlightened approach to cleaning up the ECR traffic mess.

Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 5, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Also, please remember that ECR is a STATE highway and not the private property of Menlo Park.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 5, 2013 at 4:58 pm

old timer:

you can revist the specific plan all you want. You can't change the granted zoning without a lawsuit. You want your tax dollars being thrown down that rat hole? Yes, rat hole, as that is not a lawsuit the city will win.

Posted by Adina, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 5, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Menlo Park certainly needs to study El Camino - there were important decisions left unresolved in the Specific Plan. But adding car lanes is far from a slam dunk solution. ECR is located in between two freeways, 101 and 280. Everybody who uses El Camino for more than a short trip makes a decision about whether or not to take the freeway. If we expanded El Camino to six lanes (or more), it would draw trips from the freeway.

The Specific Plan calls for a pedestrian/bike crossing of the Caltrain tracks so families can get to the playing fields, pool, gym, library, etc. The plan calls for improving the walking environment and pedestrian crossings on El Camino. This will also help residents and workers in the new developments get to downtown or Safeway without getting in a car.

Do we want to keep these goals of making it easier to walk? Do we want to be more like Sunnyvale or Fremont, with lots of car lanes and streets that are unsafe to cross?

I agree with Henry Riggs that the city needs to study and make decisions about how to handle El Camino. We shouldn't punt the decisions until after a traffic-generating development goes in.

Posted by throw them out, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 5, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Each week, a new planning commissioner publishes a guest opinion decrying the lack of foresight that accompanied approval of the plan.

Yet all planning commissioners and council members were informed last spring that Stanford would almost certainly do exactly as it has done: develop its property to the max. Henry, John, and almost all the rest chose to ignore these warnings.

The PC is appointed, so not much we residents can do. But a recall of the council is certainly a possibility.