- It voted to add the development of an institutionalized Safe Routes to School program to its 2017 work plan, thus prioritizing Safe Routes to School, and,
- It merged the Bicycle Commission and the Transportation Commission into one, Complete Streets Commission.
Following these forward-thinking acts of leadership, we would then assume that when it comes time to actually implement Safe Routes and Complete Streets projects that the City Council will act in a way consistent with its earlier stated priorities. Right? Unfortunately, this may not happen. We will find out at tomorrow night's City Council Meeting (4/18 at 7pm, Agenda Item J2).
To catch you up, in December 2016, the City Council approved the Oak Grove Bike Pilot that provided, among other things, buffered bike lanes across El Camino Real for kids traveling East/West to and from M-A and Hillview. The project was 2 years in the making, involved a considerable amount of outreach (over 1800 postcards were mailed to those near the route, meetings were held with key stakeholders, etc.), was debated in public and then approved. The final approved pilot (yes, it's a one year pilot, not a permanent change), while filled with compromises and not perfect, provides a much safer biking experience for our community's kids to get across El Camino Real than any other alternative.
This map illustrates the route approved in December 2016: Web Link. Please note that Green = buffered bike lanes both directions, Orange = sharrows both directions, Blue = parking on side as shown.
Unfortunately, last minute objections related to loss of parking along the route (which had already been minimized and safety compromises had already been made to address), have made the City Council second guess its previously approved project. City Council is now considering delaying the project to allow further feedback and compromise.
At tomorrow night's City Council meeting (April 18th, meetings start at 7pm), the City Council will vote on one of three options regarding the Oak Grove Bike Pilot (see Staff Report 17-086-CC - Web Link):
- Option 1 - Delay the project to get more feedback.
- Option 2 - Move forward with the previously approved project.
- Option 3 - Conduct a 2 Phase Process. Move forward with the bike route west of El Camino, but delay the project east of El Camino to allow time for more feedback.
Parents for Safe Routes feels strongly that the only acceptable choice is Option 2 - to move forward with the project as planned. Option 3, while presented as a public compromise, and likely to be favored by City Council as one, delivers a route to nowhere...half of a safe route...which is not a safe route at all. Just as Option 1 (a full delay) is troubling, Option 3 is also problematic for the following reasons:
- Delays both this project and other projects, including the Willows Neighborhood Complete Streets project (outlined in the Staff Report)
- Adds costs
- Leads to additional compromises which will result in a less safe route
- Fails to get kids safely across El Camino to/from Hillview or M-A. A route that dumps someone on the other side of El Camino to danger seems even worse than no route.
- Opens mid-year, not at the beginning of a school year.
- Lets the City Council feel satisfied they are doing "something", making them less inclined to really to the right thing.
- Sets a terrible precedent for how our city is run and decisions get made...that an approved project can be derailed at the last minute.
While Parents for Safe Routes (and I personally) had nothing to do with the development of and the original approval of the Oak Grove Bike Pilot, and while it has some flaws, we are strongly advocating for its implementation for the following reasons:
- There is currently no safe way to cross El Camino Real for school kids traveling East/West to and from M-A and Hillview. Crossing El Camino Real at Ravenswood/Menlo and Santa Cruz are not viable options. Kids need safety now.
- There is an approved project (this one) that provides some steps towards developing a true Safe Route to/from Hillview, etc.
- This is a pilot. Maybe the parking woes that many are concerned about will be realized and our community will decide that the safer biking benefits do not outweigh the cost of lost parking OR maybe more families and others will come out, try the route, and realize that even further safety enhancements are needed for the route. Maybe a parking crisis doesn't happen and some even realize that they could live with less parking. Maybe the downtown businesses and restaurants see a surge in customers because people feel safe coming downtown. Maybe those who need to drive feel safer doing so because bikes are separated from them and there are fewer cars on the road.
Our community must make a decision. Either it values biking or does not value biking. If it chooses not to value biking, we should give up our Multi-Modal, Vision Zero, Safe Routes, Complete Streets vision. Using all of these buzz words means nothing if when it comes time to actual projects we don't support them. We can then add back all the street parking people want and get in our cars and drive our kids to school one by one. We can deal with the traffic and live our lives, knowing that we live in a place with certain values. However, if we claim that we want to reduce traffic and have Safe Routes and Complete Streets, including biking, then we MUST move forward with this pilot and even more projects. We are at a crossroads. What's it going to be?
This is about kids AND quality of life. Do we want Menlo Park kids to get to experience the independence and freedom that we felt as kids when we biked to schools near our homes? Do we want our kids to get their blood flowing and their minds cleared on their way to and from school? And what about the rest of us? Do we want to be forced in our cars in bumper to bumper traffic as we travel less than 2 miles around town? Do we want to be stuck in a vicious cycle of dangerous streets - more driving - more traffic - more dangerous streets?
And as for drivers and those who can't bike...removing bikes from "sharing" the road will make drivers feel safer. I know that when I drive (and I drive a lot), I feel very nervous when I interact with bikes. And, if more people bike, there will be fewer cars, and the roads will be safer for those who need to drive.
And regarding parking, I am very sympathetic to inconveniences for seniors, people with mobility issues, gardeners and service providers. I welcome them to this civil public discussion. However, up until now, all of the inconveniences and alternative arrangements have been put upon another group of vulnerable community members...our kids. Parents for Safe Routes was founded to speak for them. Please consider their need for safety (and all the benefits that biking to school provides our youth) when weighing the needs of other groups.
This pilot must move forward so we can continue to weigh the trade-offs this project has uncovered. If this pilot gets delayed, for the reasons that are presented, what hope do we have of ever having Safe Routes or Complete Streets?
Please join me and Parents for Safe Routes in telling City Council to move forward with the approved Oak Grove Bike Pilot. You can email them at email@example.com or show up at tomorrow night's City Council meeting and let them know in person.
Parents for Safe Routes