Daily Archives: April 20, 2015

You Be The Judge: A letter From the Chairman of The Menlo Park Bike Commission

Today I was copied on this letter to the City Council from the Chairman of the Menlo Park Bike Commission. While I have consistently advocated for an in-depth analysis of two of the alternatives in the El Camino Real Corridor Study – adding bike lanes to El Camino Real and widening the north end of this highway to 3 lanes – because only a conceptual review of the alternatives has been completed at this point, Bill has already decided based on his personal beliefs and interests that it is obvious the City should move forward with only the bike lane alternative. Notice the tone of his letter and how he discounts anyone who feels threatens what he believes most residents want. And note he could be easily be accused of all the “sins” he believes his opponents have committed. Keep in mind I am open to bike lanes IF they are as safe for cyclists, motorists, pedestrians and public safety professionals as if bike riders used alternatives to El Camino Real. Who is the ideologue?

“There will always be naysayers selfishly clinging to the status quo, that would have Menlo Park remain rooted in the automobile ideology of the 1970’s, and whose few shrill voices seek to dominate the public discourse.  These few voices did not hear what they wanted to hear from the ECR consultant’s report, and from every Menlo Park Commission that considered the ECR options. ”

I have highlighted some noteworthy messages because I have heard a lot of this talk from bike lane advocates the past several months. Civil discussion? Open-minded? A bit self-righteous?

My letter to the same audience can be viewed here.

April 20, 2015

Dear City Council Members:

I strongly urge you to follow the recommendations of your Transportation, Bicycle and Planning Commissions and implement bicycling infrastructure on El Camino Real.

Your community, as evidenced by the volunteer citizens on your Commissions, are demanding bicycling access on El Camino Real, and by extension, that bicycling be recognized for what it is to increasing numbers of Menlo Park citizens; a viable, healthy transportation choice that thousands in Menlo Park and surrounding cities use on a daily basis for their basic transportation needs.

People in cars and people on bicycles and on foot must be highly vigilant and cautious when using every street in Menlo Park.  Choosing the bicycle for transportation means accepting hazards that exist on every road.  It is up to our elected officials though to recognize and address these hazards so that all users have access to safe and healthy transportation options. We are growing in numbers, and will continue to grow as we encourage our children to bicycle to school, as the younger generation now entering the workforce, less beholden to the automobile, demands transportation options, and as young families demand a safe and healthy environment in which to raise families.  Bicycle access on El Camino Real will allow access to dozens of merchants along the corridor, will shorten crossing distances for pedestrians and bicyclists, and will move ECR towards becoming the attractive retail corridor that it could be, instead of the high-speed throughway that today despoils our community.

It is my experience that auto speeds on Santa Cruz Ave are often higher than those on ECR, with as many driveways and car/bicycle interaction points as exist on ECR. Should we therefore ban bicycles and pedestrians from Santa Cruz Ave? (Note: driveways on Santa Cruz Avenue are primarily private NOT traffic-heavy public driveways like Ducky’s so this is a bad comparison) As a caring community, we instead address the problem, as the City Council did in its recent vote, and build for a future where every street is transformed over time to realize the goals of the City Council adopted Complete Streets vision. To do otherwise is to undermine the City Council’s own adopted principles, to thwart the guiding philosophy of multi-modal inclusion on El Camino Real embodied in The Grand Boulevard Initiative (where Menlo Park has active representation) and to push against the positive change for healthier, more connected communities happening all around us (approval of bicycle lanes on ECR in San Mateo and Mountain View, Palo Alto’s aggressive expansion of its bicycling network, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation’s Vision Zero “Mayor’s Challenge” to make our roadways safer for all users, et al).

The consultant’s findings that increased auto capacity on ECR will induce demand and in fact increase car counts is intuitive and quite obvious to any citizen that has driven a car in the last 30 years. (so says Bill) Look where our addiction to increasing road capacity has gotten us: an over reliance on the automobile for even the shortest and simplest in-town errands, downtown streets clogged with car storage, dangerous and unattractive pedestrian crossings and hazardous cycling conditions on most local streets and arterials.

City Council, let’s move boldly forward to re-imagine Menlo Park [cute reference 🙂 ]) as a healthy, connected community where people have priority over automobiles (note: people drive autos).  There will always be naysayers selfishly clinging to the status quo, that would have Menlo Park remain rooted in the automobile ideology of the 1970’s, and whose few shrill voices seek to dominate the public discourse.  These few voices did not hear what they wanted to hear from the ECR consultant’s report, and from every Menlo Park Commission (less than 20 residents) that considered the ECR options.

Bring bicycling access to El Camino Real.  Let’s build a community that respects all users of our public byways.


Bill Kirsch


How To Conduct A Credible Bike Safety Study

Readers of Re-Imagine Menlo Park know how unhappy I am with the poor quality bike safety analysis produced so far by current The El Camino Real Corridor Study. After more than a year we have illustrations of possible bike lanes and bike paths on this primary vehicle artery (= highway) but no comprehensive treatment of the convenience and safety issues associated with these two options. You can read my recent letter to the city and city commissions about my concerns.

Bike safety is measurable and there are well-accepted metrics. So there is no need to rely on anecdotes, common perceptions or personal hunches. Here is an example of the nature of effort that is required in Menlo Park.

Route Infrastructure and the Risk of Injuries to Bicyclists: A Case-Crossover Study

Kay Teschke, Melody Monro, and Hui Shen are with the School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. M. Anne Harris is with the Occupational Cancer Research Centre, Toronto, Canada. Conor C. O. Reynolds is with the Liu Institute, University of British Columbia. Meghan Winters is with the Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada. Shelina Babul is with the BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit, Vancouver, Canada. Mary Chipman, Michael D. Cusimano, and Lee Vernich are with the School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada. Jeff R. Brubacher and Garth Hunte are with the Department of Emergency Medicine, University of British Columbia. Steven M. Friedman is with the Emergency Department, University Health Network, Toronto, Canada. Peter A. Cripton is with the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of British Columbia.

Objectives. We compared cycling injury risks of 14 route types and other route infrastructure features.

Methods. We recruited 690 city residents injured while cycling in Toronto or Vancouver, Canada. A case-crossover design compared route infrastructure at each injury site to that of a randomly selected control site from the same trip.

Results. Of 14 route types, cycle tracks had the lowest risk (adjusted odds ratio [OR] = 0.11; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.02, 0.54), about one ninth the risk of the reference: major streets with parked cars and no bike infrastructure. Risks on major streets were lower without parked cars (adjusted OR = 0.63; 95% CI = 0.41, 0.96) and with bike lanes (adjusted OR = 0.54; 95% CI = 0.29, 1.01). Local streets also had lower risks (adjusted OR = 0.51; 95% CI = 0.31, 0.84). Other infrastructure characteristics were associated with increased risks: streetcar or train tracks (adjusted OR = 3.0; 95% CI = 1.8, 5.1), downhill grades (adjusted OR = 2.3; 95% CI = 1.7, 3.1), and construction (adjusted OR = 1.9; 95% CI = 1.3, 2.9).

Conclusions. The lower risks on quiet streets and with bike-specific infrastructure along busy streets support the route-design approach used in many northern European countries. Transportation infrastructure with lower bicycling injury risks merits public health support to reduce injuries and promote cycling.

Read The Complete Study

A personal note: This study did not evaluate a busy highway like ECR and I expect the accident rate for ECR would be higher than a typical urban street as there are many more public driveways per mile, dangerous places where bikes and vehicles frequently cross paths.

Letter To The City Council And Bike, Transportation and Planning Commissions

Date: April 20, 2015

To: Menlo Park City Council Members

CC: Planning Commission, Transportation Commission, Bike Commission, Transportation Division

From: Dana Hendrickson, Editor, Re-Imagine Menlo Park

I cannot decide whether I am more disappointed, exasperated or distressed about how the city is handling the El Camino Corridor Study. After more than a year and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars it has so far failed to provide the essential information needed to make good decisions about the future use of El Camino Real by bicyclists, motorists, pedestrians and public safety vehicles, and I fear it was never required. Despite this major problem three city commissions are relying on their own limited knowledge and experiences and inadequate information to interpret the potential impact of several alternatives and make proposals about new bike facilities and vehicle lane configurations. Why have they been put into this unenviable position? And why hasn’t anyone including a well-paid consultant raised red flags well before now? It is clear the two most important considerations – safety and convenience – have NOT been adequately addressed yet apparently the city council plans to make important decisions soon. I recommend that it not make any final decisions about El Camino Real and instead focus on ensuring the best ones are made and clearly explained to all Menlo Park residents. That means everyone needs better information.

  • No one has determined there is actually a significant need for bike facilities on El Camino Real because no credible analysis has been done. What are we trying to accomplish? Who would benefit? How much of a difference would bike facilities really make? New bike facilities should be evaluated only within the context of our existing bike network, the 2005 Menlo Park Comprehensive Bike Development Plan (which may need updating), and other ideas identified in the Specific Plan.
  • No one has determined whether the safety associated with riding on El Camino would be even close to the safety associated with riding alternative routes because no one has done this analysis.
  • No one has determined the impact that more bicyclists riding on El Camino Real would have on the safety and convenience of motorists, pedestrians, and public service professionals because no one has done the analysis.
  • No one has shown how bike facilities on El Camino Real ranks in importance re: other improvements to bike safety and convenience. Do we not have a prioritized list of our best ideas? Metrics for measuring their value and drawbacks? Policies for balancing conflicting interests? How about the cost of implementing them? What about the timeframe? How is possible the City has a 10-year old Bike Transportation Plan that no one on the study team or commissions even references? Does it need updating?
  • With regards to the 3-lane alternative the city commissions and transportation division appear to have accepted the consultant’s counter-intuitive computer model projections with little skepticism and understanding of the uncertainty that surrounds probabilistic data? What are confidence levels in the expected values? Implications of the projections about traffic flows in nearby neighborhoods? Why does no one appear to see the value in acquiring actual field trial data?

So where do you go from here? The study has increased our knowledge but the necessary work is clearly not done. And If the City proceeds to make major changes to El Camino Real without having an excellent understanding of the likely outcomes it risks appearing irresponsible and possibly negligent when avoidable accidents occur. It’s not the time to assign blame; it’s time to get this work back on track before it’s too late I again invite you to contact me if you have questions. Like a growing number of residents I am eager to learn how you intend to proceed.