El Camino Real Corridor Study: Do Not Sacrifice Bicyclist Safety

bike family

Download this post.

– Latest Update: March 8, 2015

– Original Post: February 22, 2015

Note: I am a 30-year Menlo Park resident, an experienced cyclist, and a frequent local driver who rides neither in busy urban settings nor on highways unless  it’s practically unavoidable.


During the Specific Planning process Menlo Park studied ways to improve its bike network in and around El Camino Real and our central downtown business districts, and this work benefited from significant resident input. However, the City is currently conducting an El Camino Real Corridor Study that appears to be totally out of synch with general – not bike enthusiast – resident expectations. Read my post The Future Of El Camino Real to understand my perspectives on this study.

This post focuses more tightly on the need to provide safe and convenient options for both inexperienced and experienced cyclists.

Option 1 – Build A Bike Lane or Separate Path on El Camino Real

El Camino Real is a state highway with heavy vehicle traffic crossing or turning at intersections where there would be either bike paths or lanes.

  • Southbound : Thirteen intersections including three arteries and three collectors.
  • Northbound: Eight intersections including two arteries and three collectors.

Option 2 – Keep Cyclists In Bike Lanes that are largely on Residential Streets

An alternative bike route that used Alma, Greenheart, and Garwood Street would cross fewer vehicle lanes of all kinds.

  • Southbound and northbound: Ten intersections including one vehicle artery and four collectors
  • Southbound: Vehicles DO NOT cross bike route at four intersections (Willow, Sherwood, Waverly and Burgess)

Important Details


El Camino Real Vehicle Arteries And Collectors
Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 5.34.16 PM

Menlo Park Bike Network (Specific Plan)
North South Bike Route

Intersections Where Cyclists Riding On ECR Encounter Vehicle
MP ECR Vehicle Circulation

Intersections Where Cyclists Riding On non-ECR Route Encounter Vehicle
Bike Lanes Alma+


  • A bike network should be viewed as a system for safely routing cyclists with a sensitivity to convenience.
  • Experienced cyclists will always pick safety over convenience when selecting a bike route and inexperienced cyclists should never be trusted to make the correct decision.
  • Most bike-car collisions occur either at intersections – regardless of signaling – and mid-block where vehicles cross paths with cyclists when either entering or exiting public areas, e.g., parking lots, gas stations, retail malls.
  • In some circumstances either walking or riding a bike for a short distance on a sidewalk is safer than riding on a street, and it’s not significantly less convenient.
  • Riding on residential neighborhood streets is generally safer that riding on highways and urban streets as the latter has busy intersections, mid-block side “pull-ins and pull-outs”, and cars either entering or leaving parking spaces opening car doors.
  • I believe projections for vehicle and bike traffic volumes and circulation paths are extremely unreliable. Both expected and ranges of possible outcomes must be carefully considered when potential outcomes are significantly negative.
  • Palo Alto is one of the most progressive bike communities in the country and it has chosen NOT to build either bike paths or lanes on El Camino Real. This city has more experience with biking issues and a much better understanding of bike circulation challenges and solutions than Menlo Park. A case study of the Palo Alto Bryant Street Bike Boulevard is available at www.bikesafe.org

My Recommendations:

  • Menlo Park should NOT add either bike lanes or bike paths to El Camino Real as these facilities are much less safe for riders of all levels than bike lanes on convenient alternative streets. El Camino Real is a busy state highway with more than 60 intersections and mid-block driveways where vehicles would cross paths with bikes, and most do not have any traffic signals nor stop signs
  • Two safer north-south alternative bike facilities can be provided on the east side of El Camino Real between Encinal Avenue and Sand Hill Road.

–       Laurel Street, Burgess Drive and Alma Street (existing)

–       Alma Street, Greenheart connector, and Garwood Street (proposed)

  • Menlo Park should require Greenheart to provide a temporary bike route across its property until a permanent connector is built.
  • Two safer north-south alternative bike facilities can be provided on the west side of El Camino Real between Middle Avenue and Valparaiso.

–       University, Live Oak and Crane (existing)

–       Fremont Avenue (proposed)

  • Menlo Park should require Stanford to provide a temporary north-south bike route across its property until a Middle Avenue-Alma connector is built under the train tracks. An alternative would be a dual use sidewalk built on the east side of ECR between Cambridge and Ravenswood.

Summary of Arguments For & Against Bike Facilities on El Camino Real


CLAIM #1 More bike riders would use El Camino IF it were safer.

My Assessment: Bike-vehicle collisions occur most often when the two objects cross paths even when suitable signaling is provided, and adding pedestrian to the mix increases the risk to all parties. Busy intersections are particularly dangerous especially whenever EITHER cyclists, pedestrians or drivers are distracted, misjudge either their own capabilities or the actions of others, daydream or simply act impatiently. Mid-block points where vehicles enter or exit the highway are also dangerous. Inexperienced cyclists are the most vulnerable as they can easily be distracted, misjudge situations and feel safer than they really are. Unfortunately, bike lanes and paths reinforce this illusion. Bike lanes and paths on mostly residential streets offer the greatest opportunity to create safe environments for cyclists, vehicles and pedestrians.

El Camino is a MAIN artery with three minor arterial connections, three collectors, and five additional intersections. Plus, about sixty mid-block vehicle driveways serve local businesses. Together these represent about seventy potential collision points.

In contrast, the bike lane that already exists on Alma between Creek Drive and Ravenswood Avenue could be (a) extended to Oak Grove, (b) connected to Glenwood via a connector on the Greenheart property and (c) lengthened by adding bike lanes on Garwood. This route would cross one minor artery, two connectors and less than ten business “driveways”, and none involve a MAIN artery (El Camino Real).

I personally would not recommend that friends or family members of any age or experience bike on El Camino regardless of the bike facilities.

CLAIM #2: El Camino is more convenient than either existing or planned biking alternatives.

My Assessment: I believe this statement is NOT meaningful. Whether one bike option is more convenient than another depends many factors, e.g., the distance between a rider’s points of origin and destination, the abilities of the rider, the number of required or potential stopping points, and the number and length of time delays at stopping points. The existing Menlo Park bike network includes many popular north-south and east-west bike lanes and routes, and the City plans on adding more facilities when the Greenheart and Stanford projects are built. Adding a bike lane on University between Middle and at least Robles Avenue is worth exploring as is the alternative of creating bike lanes on Fremont between Middle and Santa Cruz Avenues.

Cyclist should never expect to ride safely on ALL available streets nor always the entire distance between their origins and destinations. For example, it is safer and not much less convenient to walk a bike a short distance on a sidewalk from the nearest side street to a store on this highway.


Additional Information

Menlo Park Comprehensive Bicycle Development Plan – 2005 – Alta Planning + Design

Palo Alto Bicycle Transportation Plan (2003)

(Palo Alto) Bryant Street Boulevard Case Study

Leave a comment