Daily Archives: January 21, 2015

Existing & Future Downtown Parking

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Both residents and visitors frequently complain about parking time limits downtown and $45 parking citations, and office workers and retail employees constantly move their cars to avoid them – or the cost of daily parking permits. Menlo Park’s Specific Plan assumes two future downtown parking structures will be needed to handle projected future growth and civic improvements downtown, and three possible locations were identified. Is it time for Menlo Park to start planning to build the first one?

A series of posts will deal with “parking downtown”. This initial one reviews current parking and the Specific Plan.

Parking Today

There are currently about 1600 short-term public parking spaces downtown including 1200 in the parking plazas. Public Parking is MOSTLY free – as it is in nearby Palo Alto and the Stanford Shopping Center – and is limited to two hours per parking plaza per day. Drivers are allowed to re-park in a DIFFERENT parking plaza.

There are 685 fee-based, daily downtown parking permits sold each year (57% of the total spaces) so about 500 parking spaces (43%) are available for short term parking during normal work hours.

The current demand for parking varies greatly by day and time of day. Midday parking Monday thru Friday can entail a long walk to one’s destination; on weekends it seems to vary by plaza. In the evening parking spaces are readily available all week in all public parking plazas.

The demand for parking space comes largely from retail employees, residents and small office workers. Downtown Menlo Park is NOT a popular destination for visitors.

Specific Plan

The future demand for public parking spaces will depend on a few primary factors including the relative appeal of going downtown versus other places nearby, the convenience of parking options and the cost, if any, of parking and violations.

The City’s Specific Plan provides a number of informative high-level perspectives on how Menlo Park could provide additional downtown parking with either one or two parking structures. Figure 1 shows the potential sites of parking structures. Figure 2 shows the amount of additional parking that might be provided.

The addition of one parking structure is shown to increase downtown parking by about 440 spaces (from 1200 to 1660) or about 35%. However, if the amount of daily downtown permits were limited to say 800 – an increase of 115, the amount of short term public parking could increase by 325 spaces (from 500 to 825) or 65%!

(Note: A smaller structure would reduce the amount of parking by about 120 space per level. Perhaps, the initial cost of the structure could be reduced with a modular design that added some levels as they were needed.)

Anyone who is interested in this issue should carefully read the Downtown Parking section of the Specific Plan. Here is a link to that section.

Figure 1 – Potential Parking Structure Sites

parking structure sites

Figure 2 – Potential Downtown Public Parking Supply

parking supply downtown

Short Term Solutions

Can Menlo Park figure out how to better manage its the current supply of public parking spaces? One option is to change the current limits on maximum parking times in different locations. This will be explored in a future post.

What Is The Menlo Park Specific Plan?

There remains a great deal of confusion

about what the Menlo Park Specific Plan is, and is not.


I was reminded of this when some residents responded negatively to my recent post “Should Menlo Park Make Santa Cruz Avenue A Pedestrian Street”. They believe I am advocating a change to the Specific Plan and said they felt this would cause big delays in its implementation. They did NOT offer any facts to support their opinions but nevertheless felt strongly about them, one even suggested I needed to read it. I agree that IS the best way to understand the Specific Plan; however, during the past nine months, I have found few people who have. I recommend that every resident who has a strong interest in the future public and private development of downtown and El Camino Real invest the time to read it. At more than a hundred pages the Specific Plan looks a bit intimidating at first but it is well-written. Just read it a section or two at a time. You can view it at the City website. I will provide a few relevant points in this post.

The Official Statement of Purpose in The Specific Plan

“The El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan establishes a framework for private and public improvements on El Camino Real, in the Caltrain station area and in downtown Menlo Park for the next several decades. The plan’s focus is on the character and extent of enhanced public spaces, the character and intensity of private infill development and circulation and connectivity improvements. It includes a strategy for implementation of public space improvements, such as wider sidewalks and plazas, and other infrastructure improvements. The overall intent of the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan is to preserve and enhance community life, character and vitality through public space improvements, mixed use infill projects sensitive to the small-town character of Menlo Park and improved connectivity. As discussed later in more detail, the Specific Plan reflects the outcome of an extensive community outreach and engagement process.

  • Encourages infill development of vacant and under-utilized lots along El Camino Real through increased intensities, coupled with strict building modulation and ground-floor setback and building profile requirements that both attenuate the mass and scale of larger buildings and create wider public sidewalks;
  • Retains the existing “village” character downtown by keeping buildings low and requiring varied building massing, including through building profile and façade modulation requirements;
  • Increases downtown activity, foot traffic and transit use through enhanced public spaces, mixed-use infill projects (including residential uses) and higher intensities of development near the commuter rail station;
  • Enhances community life through an integrated network of widened sidewalks, promenades, pocket parks and public gathering spaces; and
  • Enhances east-west connectivity across El Camino Real through crosswalk and sidewalk improvements, while accommodating north-south vehicular through-traffic, and across the railroad tracks through grade-separated pedestrian and bicycle connections.

The illustrative plan, as shown in Figure A1, depicts how the plan area could potentially build out over the next several decades in conformance with the overall planning principles and within the land use and development regulations and design guidelines contained in subsequent chapters. It is important to emphasize that the illustrative plan indicates only one potential development concept and that the actual build-out will likely vary from the initial projection.

The Brief Definition Of The Specific Plan On The City Website

“A specific plan is a comprehensive, action-oriented set of rules for a specific geographic area. For Menlo Park, the El Camino Real / Downtown Specific Plan sets the direction for the heart of the city over the coming decades. It builds on the successful 2007-2008 Vision Plan process, which established twelve key goals. The Specific Plan defines what our community desires for its future by regulating land use and defining other aspects of possible future public and private development.

What The Specific Plan Does Not Provide

While the Specific Plan analyzes possible opportunities like more downtown parking and possible options that would conform to the comprehensive zoning regulations in the Specific Plan, it did NOT decide which public projects would be implemented.

  • So there is no public development roadmap or timetable.
  • There is no prioritization of public infrastructure improvements.
  • There is no capital or expense budget that estimates costs and potential sources of funding.
  • There is no published timetable for creating the above items. All were assumed would be addressed after the Specific Plan was finally approved (end of 2013).

Some Implications

  • The city still needs to decide which specific big ideas, e.g., parking structures merit additional evaluations so residents can buy-into them, or not.
  • Any public improvement idea that conforms to the Specific Plan can be considered worthy of evaluation by our City Council, it will decide which ones and when.
  • Our City Council welcomes resident input and has invited residents to submit their ideas by January 26 so the City Council can consider them when it set its 2015 priorities.
  • There remains a lot of hard work ahead and I hope you will support our City Council as they lead the way.