Does Menlo Park Really Need A Parking Garage? Afford One?

The economics of building parking garages on the Peninsula is rapidly losing its appeal. Just look at the recent experience of Palo Alto Web Link. In April 2017 that city approved $34.5M to build a 6-story garage including 2 underground levels and would add 335 new spaces at a cost per incremental space of $103,000. Now less than a year later, the cost has increased 16% to $40.M and the cost per incremental space is $119,000. Meanwhile, Menlo Park continues to pay a consultant to study how to build a downtown parking structure without FIRST (a) determining the actual need for more spaces (b) estimating how many would be enough, (c) identifying likely funding sources and (d) evaluating reasonable ways to flexibly add short-term parking downtown WITHOUT building a parking structure. Instead it’s trying to figure out how tall a structure would be acceptable to residents. This is crazy!

This approach would NEVER happen in a successful business. So why do residents allow our city to behave like this way?

January 19, 2018

News: August 2016Forming a private-public partnership with a commercial developer might be a way to create more public parking in downtown Menlo Park. But how likely is this to happen? Here is an example that illustrates the economics and issues that surround this approach.

News: May 2016: Consultant estimates that a new downtown parking structure in Menlo Park would cost between $40,000 and $50,000 for each additional space using 2004 dollars (????).


At a time when the future demand for short-term public parking in the next ten to twenty years is so uncertain, Menlo Park should be evaluating a more affordable, cost-effective, flexible and timely solution than a plaza parking structure.

  • Currently there are under-utilized public and private parking lots near downtown that could be converted easily into at least a 100 annual permit parking spaces for weekday business employees.
  • Just 100 more short-term parking spaces would increase the downtown inventory by 12% => from 915 to 1015.
  • These additional spaces could be in-place in 2017 and likely cost $1000 to $5000 per space.

Free (or inexpensive) satellite permit parking compares extremely favorably to a small plaza parking structure like the one identified in the Specific Plan. It would cost at least $8.8M million, add about 155 net new spaces at about $57,000 per space and not be available before 2020 at the earliest. Because the Specific Plan severely restricts commercial development downtown it is unlikely that Menlo Park could attract private investment to subsidize this cost. Nor is it likely that non-local public funding sources are available for this purpose.

Menlo Park is the home of Facebook and a large number of professionals who work in Silicon Valley firms, yet the widely admired innovation has not rubbed off on our city transportation planning. For example, a year ago the city said it would kick-off a study to evaluate building an initial parking structure downtown. Of course, this would take a millions of dollars that Menlo Park does not expect to have, and while a private partner and/or public funding from outside Menlo Park might be the answer, no vetted sources have been identified. If parking is to remain either free or affordable its hard to see how a parking structure could be an appealing investment.

So what is the City to do? It needs to seriously evaluate two viable and much less costly alternatives that could be implemented in 2016.

Existing Downtown Parking

  • Most short term public parking is free in Menlo Park – as it is in nearby downtown Palo Alto, the Stanford Shopping Center and the Palo Alto Town & Country shopping plaza – and here it is limited to three hours per parking plaza per day. Drivers are allowed to re-park in a different parking plaza.
  • According to the city Specific Plan there are now about 1600 short-term public parking spaces downtown including 1200 in parking plazas. Note: that the parking time limits have changed from what is shown.

Downtown Parking Spaces

  • The current demand for parking downtown varies greatly by day and time of day. Midday parking Monday thru Friday can entail a long walk to one’s destination but on weekends it seems to vary by plaza. In the evening parking spaces are readily available all week in all parking plazas. Also, weekend parking generally does not appear to be a problem. The table below illustrated parking plaza occupancy rates during a deep recession in 2009. Current capacity utilization is likely higher but unknown.

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 12.59.23 PM

  • 685 fee-based, downtown daily parking permits are now sold each year so a large percentage of parking spaces are NOT available for short term parking during normal work hours. (Note: The permits are attractively priced at less than $500 a year = a daily cost of less than $2 assuming 250 usage days. This compares very favorably to the $5/day charged at the Caltrain parking lot.)

(1600-685)/1600 = 43% of total parking unavailable

(1200-685)/1200 = 57% of plaza parking unavailable

  • The addition of just 100 short term parking places would significantly increase the availability of parking for non-permit users.

100/(1600-685) = 100/815 = 12% increase downtown parking

100/(1200-685) = 100/525 =19% increase in plaza parking

Potential Parking Structures

The Specific Plan (2012) identified a number of plaza locations where parking structures could built.

Core Downtown Parking

Economic Model  for A Large Parking Structure (“Back of the Envelope”) – 428 Net New Spaces

    1. The Specific Plan recommends a 650-space parking structure for Plaza 3 which would add NET 428 spaces to the downtown parking inventory because 212 existing spaces would be replaced. This 5-level structure is described as having one level underground, a surface lot and three above ground parking areas.
    2. $60,000 is a reasonable estimate for the current cost of a parking space built underground and $35,000 for surface and above ground parking spaces. So the average cost is $40,000 = (1/5 x $60,000 + 4/5 X $35,000)
    3. The effective cost of a net new space is $60, 750 = $40,000 X 650/428 ) as all existing spaces must be replaced.
    4. The  current construction cost for this parking structure is estimated to be $26 million (650 x $40,000). (note: this is more than three times the City’s 2015-2016 Capital Improvement Budget)
    5. Developers generally expect at least an 8% annual return on an investment so parking fees would need to generate at least $12.80/day for 250 days in order to attract funding.
    6. According to the City website there were 17,800 registered voters in Menlo Park in November 2014.  If ALL voters were to bear the full cost of building the parking structure, each household would assume in some form a $2247 “obligation” ($26,000,000 /17800 = $1460) plus any interest payments per voter.

One-voter household = $2247

Two-voter household = $4494

Three-voter household = $6731

However, like school district bonds many registered voters might be exempted, e.g., seniors, students. This means that the remaining voters would have a higher obligation.
Also, the City might expect a lower return on investment.

Economic Model for A Small Above Ground Parking Structure – 155 Net New Spaces

    1. The Specific Plan recommends a 250-space parking structure for Plaza 2 which would add only 155 net new spaces to the downtown parking inventory because 95 existing spaces would simply be replaced.
    2. $35,000 is a reasonable estimate for the current cost of surface and above ground parking spaces so the total cost = 250 x $35,000 = $8.8 M.
    3. The effective cost of each new additional space = $8.8M/155  = $57,000
    4. PRIVATE Funding: Developers generally expect at least an 8% annual return on an investment so parking fees would need to generate at least $18.20/day for 250 days in order to attract private funding for the entire construction cost. Note: This excludes annual operating and maintenance costs.
    5. CITY Funding: According to the City website there were 17,800 registered voters in Menlo Park in November 2014. So if ALL were to bear the full cost of building the parking structure, each would assume in some form a $494 “obligation” ($8.8 million /17800 = $494). Note: This excludes annual operating and maintenance costs.

One-voter household = $494    Two-voter household = $988    Three-voter household = $1482

NOTE” The actual resident obligation could be significantly higher if specific groups of voters received exemptions.

Satellite Daily Permit Parking

Menlo Park should seriously consider building satellite permit parking AND reducing downtown permit parking. Together these two strategies could create hundreds of new short term parking spaces, and the flexibility them as needed.

Nealon Park Example

There are about 155 public parking spaces at Nealon Park and another 25 could easily be added at a small cost. Currently the existing parking spaces are used during weekdays by Little House participants and employees, residents of adjacent multi-unit apartments*, and park users.

* Note: There are 18 multi-unit apartment buildings adjacent to Nealon Park and another 10 on the north side of Roble, and they all have gate access to Nealon parking. At least HALF of the 155 existing spaces are routinely used by residents during weekdays.

A potential near term solution:

  • Add about 25 new parking spaces
  • Dedicate 50 of the 180 spaces for free daily permit-only parking
  • Use a lottery to select these permits
  • Run a regular free shuttle during commute times
  • Monitor success and impacts; make adjustments as needed.

A potential medium term solution:

  • Add more permit parking spaces by requiring Little House employees and volunteers to park on Roble and use the gate to walk short distance to the senior center. Seniors would not be effected.
  • Reduce the number of downtown parking permits.

In both cases some apartment residents would likely be displaced from the Nealon parking lot during the day but could still be permitted to park at other times. Menlo Park is not obliged to provide them unlimited free daytime parking.

Cost-Benefit Impact:

Avoid parking structure cost of 50 x $40,000 = $2 million.

(Earlier) economic benefits to downtown retailers: Unknown.

Implementation: TBD (50 x $2500 = $125,000???)

Cost of Shuttle: TBD

Cost of lost permit revenue: 50 x $500 = $25,000/year



Other Satellite Parking Possibilities

There are also estimated 150 to 200 parking spaces in privately owned parking lots within a half mile of downtown that are rarely used on weekdays between 8 am and 5 pm. Perhaps the owners would allow the City to use them for permit parking if the owners received a fair amount of revenue untaxed by the City.

  • $500 x 100 spaces = $50,000/year for an under-utilized asset.
  • Avoid parking structure cost of 100 x $64,500 = $6.5 million.


There are only a few ways Menlo Park could add more short term public parking capacity downtown.

  1. Reduce the number of annual downtown parking permits.
  2. Build a parking structure with its own and other sources of public funds.
  3. Partner with a developer who would build a parking structure on a downtown plaza that would serve the city and its own private parking needs.

A combination of satellite parking lots on public and private land is likely feasible.

The City has not revealed that it has identified promising non-City public funding sources.

Private development would likely require a major change to the Menlo Park Specific Plan.

Given the large uncertainty about future demand for parking,  the broadly recognized need to incentivize more drivers to use alternative modes of transportation, the cost of parking structures and the availability of potential viable alternatives it is not clear that Menlo Park either needs or can actually afford one. It’s time the Menlo Park City Council adopted a pragmatic vision about the future and focus on how affordable solutions could better serve its residents and businesses for the next 10-20 years and beyond.


Dana Hendrickson


Re-Imagine Menlo Park

Private-Public Parking Partnership

In the summer of 2016 the Menlo Park City Council initiated a study of potential private-public partnerships which would require a developer to provide enough new parking to satisfy the City and its own needs for an economically viable downtown commercial development project. Is this promising? Likely not. But at least a study might demonstrate there is no simple, low cost way to build a public parking structure even if the City contributes land currently used for plaza parking.

First, the Specific Plan limits building heights to X feet, a restriction too severe to allow enough room for multiple parking structure levels, commercial space for retail, office and/or residential facilities and the infrastructure needed for motorists and pedestrians to move between them.

The builder would need to replace existing surface spaces, create additional spaces for the City, and create parking spaces for its own offices, retail, and residences. Per 1000 square feet, developers must provide the following parking spaces: residential: 1 to 1.5, office: 3 to 3.5, retail: TBD, movie theaters: 8 to 9.

Example: Build residential units and 512-space parking structure in Plaza 3

Current parking capacity: 212 spaces

Additional public parking: 150 (purely a guess)

100 residential units of 1000 square feet equals about 100 to 150 parking spaces.

Total parking required: 212 + 150 + 150 = 512 => likely three levels

Residential unit space: 100,000 square feet

Residential infrastructure* space: 80,000 square feet

Total residential square footage: 180,000 square feet.

Total residential height: 3 to 4 levels

Total # of parking and residential levels: 6 to 7

Total parking cost (surface): 512 x $40,000 = $20.5M

Total developer subsidy of Menlo Park: 362 x $40,000 = $14.5M

Total parking cost (2 levels underground): 300 x $90,000 + 212 x $40,000

=> $27M + $8.5M = $35.5M

* Includes lobby, storage, hallways, stairways, elevators, recreational amenities


  • Would the city approve a 4 to 5 story building with two levels of underground parking?
  • Would the city accept a 6 to 7 story building with no underground parking?
  • Would either option be economically attractive to a commercial developer
  • A requirement to include retail or other types of space would increase developer construction costs and the height of a downtown building.
  • Could the city and/or developer charge parking fees that would “meaningfully” offset construction costs?


  • How many more short term public parking places does Menlo Park need?

The city does not have an official estimate for either the current or future demand for downtown parking spaces; however, a reasonable estimate might be a maximum of  100 to 150 more spaces over the net 15 to 20 years. Keep in mind that some  parking spaces might be eliminated to accommodate new bike lanes and improvements in downtown infrastructure like outdoor dining and an area for events.

  • Why is demand expected to grow albeit modestly?

The Specific Plan severely limits the amount of new office space that could be created downtown by restricting building height and there is no open space other than the parking plazas that could support new residential and retail construction. Demand will therefore be driven primarily by the of appeal that downtown has for consumers. While the local economy is currently booming demand for downtown parking appears not to have grown significantly during the past few years.

  • Why are the cost estimates for parking structures ($40,000 to $60,000 per space) much higher than what is in the Specific Plan ($28,800 to $32,400)?

The Specific Plan numbers were estimates for 2012. Currently parking structure contractors estimate that surface and above ground construction costs range from $25,000 to $40,000 compared to $60,000 to 120, 000 for underground parking spaces. The costs vary depending on the total parking space capacity and, in the latter case, on underground environmental conditions. These costs do NOT include land.

  • Won’t the loss of annual downtown parking permits hurt businesses?

This can easily be avoided by offering employees who need daytime parking reasonable alternatives in terms of cost AND convenience. This assumes that a small percentage of existing permit users would prefer to save money and usually do not need access to their vehicles during the day. As a buffer they might be offered the option of parking downtown a limited number of times when necessary, e.g., 10 days a year.

  • How could Menlo Park make permit parking affordable and convenient if some downtown permit parking spaces were eliminated?

There are a number of ways. Here are some examples. Create satellite parking that is a short distance from downtown and provide users who sign-up for satellite parking free special permits for a few years.  In return, they do not have permit privileges downtown.  Expand the current free midday shuttle service to include commute times with pick-up every 15 to 20 minutes instead of the current 60 minutes.

  • Wouldn’t satellite permit parking at Nealon significantly penalize other park users, especially seniors, volunteers and employees at Little House.

Not if done right. Here are some possible mitigation tactics:

Expand the number of parking spaces by about 25 to a total of 180.

Limit the initial permit parking to about 50 designated spaces along the main driveway off Middle.

Require that Little House employees to park on Roble and use the path that connects to the parking lot.  There are at least 40 spaces within a convenient short walking distance. Employee permits might be used to minimize the impact on Roble residents.

Weekend and evening uses of the park would not be impacted by the satellite parking. In the event Little House holds a large event during a weekday, Satellite parkers would be notified and redirected to downtown with signage and not be penalized on these occasions.

Overnight resident, visitor and guest parking would not be impacted.

Community Discussions

Does Menlo Park Really Need A Downtown Parking Structure? Likely Not.

NextDoor – February 11, 2016


There are only a few ways Menlo Park could add more short term public parking capacity downtown if it decides more are needed.

  1. Reduce the number of annual downtown parking permits. (Satellite parking lots might provide 50 to 200 spaces for daily permit users.)
  2. Build a parking structure with funding assistance from non-private sources. (None have yet been identified)
  3. Partner with a developer who builds a parking structure shared with the City.  This would likely require a major change to the Menlo Park Specific Plan.

Given the large uncertainty about future demand for parking,  the broadly recognized need to incentivize more drivers to use alternative modes of transportation, the cost of parking structures and the availability of potential viable alternatives it is not clear that Menlo Park either needs or can actually afford one.

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.

Who Would Be The “Winners” And “Losers” If More Bicyclists Use El Camino Real?

This post is a summary. Read the entire El Camino Corridor Study page for additional information.

Menlo Park is currently studying the addition of either bike lanes or paths along El Camino Real, and both would significantly impact the safety and convenience of ALL Menlo Park residents. While optimal decisions can only be made after all significant trade-offs are identified, sized and evaluated and weighed in a fair and balanced manner, the current study has not produced this essential information. The following “potential impact table” identifies the primary groups who would be effected and the impacts I intuitively believe would occur.


What Would Benefit Peninsula Residents More: Hi-Speed Rail or A BART LIne Extension?

This really should be a “no-brainer” for Peninsula cities like Menlo Park.

Hi-Speed rail will provide few benefits and lots of headaches both during its multi-year construction and when (whenever?) it becomes operational between San Jose and San Francisco. The local, state and federal political battles will be mind numbing, and this mega-project will have a huge unpredictable price tag. It is also unclear how many people will actually use this service.

In contrast, a West Bay BART extension from San Francisco to San Jose could relieve a huge amount of existing and future congestion on local highways and arteries. What is needed is a BART line that runs parallel to and near Highway 280. This rail would attract thousands of Peninsula residents who would never take Caltrain because driving to and parking at its stations are way too inconvenient. And there is a potential BONUS, if BART committed to building a line on the west the idea of extending hi-speed rail through the Peninsula would lose its existing state support.

I think it’s worth a look and encourage Menlo Park to join other Peninsula cities in San Mateo and Santa Clara to explore what it would take to get the two counties interested in joining BART and building this west side line betweeen San Francisco and San Jose

Let’s pre-empt Peninsula High-Speed Rail and get a local rail service we badly need?

P.S. An Electrified Caltrain is NOT sufficient!


Letter To Menlo Park City Council & Planning Commission

Download a copy of this letter

Last Update: April 4, 2015

April 2, 2015

RE: Concerns About The El Camino Real Corridor Study

TO: City Council Members & Planning Commissioners:

I would like to share my concerns about the EL Camino Real Corridor Study and its potential impact on the future safety and convenience of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians who use El Camino Real and the residents who live in nearby neighborhoods. The El Camino Real Corridor Study could lead to Menlo Park deciding to reconfigure vehicle lanes, add either bike lanes or separate bike paths, and reduce street parking. Unfortunately, the study is a poor foundation for making well-informed and well-reasoned decisions. It suffers from both too narrow a scope and questionable methodologies, and so far both the proposed alternatives and findings have been poorly communicated to the public. I urge you to re-evaluate this study and set it on a more meaningful path. I believe the study …

  • Fails to strongly establish the need for cyclists to ride on El Camino Real. No analysis of cyclist (in)convenience has been done, and while many hardcore cyclists prefer bikes to cars ideology should not drive the City Council’s decision-making.
  • Understates the dangers to cyclists, drivers and pedestrians of adding either bike lanes or separate bike paths to a heavily travelled highway that has about 60 spots where vehicles would naturally cross the paths of cyclists. And unfortunately, the illusion of safety would encourage cyclists of all levels to unknowingly and unnecessarily expose themselves to collisions and accidents. No other Peninsula city encourages riders on their sections of this highway.
  • Understates the negative impact of encouraging cyclists and drivers to share this main artery on the flow of vehicle traffic and driver convenience.
  • Understates the greater safety and similar convenience of encouraging cyclists to ride bikes near El Camino Real on either existing or planned bike routes.

My personal objective is simply to have a majority of well-informed residents make well-reasoned decisions that optimally balance the needs and wants of all interest groups, and I accept that each might prefer different alternatives, as we do not share all the same values and ideologies. Unfortunately, the current study does note provide a meaningful answer to the most fundamental question: Which design option for El Camino Real provides the best absolute and relative SAFETY and convenience for the majority of potential users?

I urge you to consider three actions:

  • Evaluate the relative convenience of riding on El Camino Real versus alternative routes between LIKELY popular origins and destinations.
  • Require a bike network design specialist like Alta Planning + Design to evaluate how bike facilities on El Camino would impact the safety of all users.
  • Conduct a field trial that tests the impact of making El Camino Real three lanes in each direction for its entire length. (Note: this can be done without modifying the Ravenswood Avenue right turn lane.)

These actions would put residents in a much better position to make the right choices.

I welcome the opportunity to either explain or clarify any of my points at your convenience if you feel that would be helpful.

Best regards,

Dana Hendrickson

Editor, Re-Imagine Menlo Park

Outside The Box: Let’s Bury El Camino Real

Download this post On an average weekday drivers make over 45,000 trips on Menlo Park’s short section of El Camino Real, and a majority of these drivers are simply passing through as they travel between origins and destinations outside our city, e.g., Palo Alto, Stanford Facilities + Shopping Center + Medical Center. El Camino Real is a HIGHWAY = Primary Vehicle Artery, after all, so it is performing the role it was intended. However, the large and growing amount of traffic will continue to create problems for Menlo Park that will only get worse given the huge amount of current development activity in Palo Alto, Redwood City and Stanford. Think about the current more than 800,000 square foot expansion at the Stanford Medical Center. So why not simply bury El Camino? That way, pass through traffic would almost “disappear”.


Bold Idea – Design Concept

  • Force North-South pass-thru traffic traveling on El Camino Real underground via a one-mile tunnel that runs from just south of Middle Avenue to just north of Valparaiso.
  • Transform the current El Camino to a wonderful surface park with popular amenities, bike paths and a few cross streets.
  • Allow drivers to enter and exit the tunnel at each end and at Ravenswood Avenue. A mid-tunnel access would be located below grade (under the tracks and Alma Street.
  • Extend streets across the park only at Ravenswood Avenue, Santa Cruz Avenue, Oak Grove, and Valparaiso.
  • Build one-way single vehicle surface lanes on both sides of the park to handle local traffic. Also. provide a single line of parking on one side.

Great Benefits & Problems Solved

  • Menlo Park would a beautiful park that include a variety of amenities, e.g., landscaping, fountains, seating, reflecting pool, sculpture, outdoor cakes, integrates downtown and El Camino.
  • The park would integrate downtown Santa Cruz and El Camino Real making it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to travel between the two areas and the train station district.
  • The pass-thru traffic handling capacity of El Camino Real would be significantly increased making this highway more efficient.
  • Pass-thru vehicle traffic would not interfere with local traffic, especially important during commute times.
  • Pass-thru vehicle traffic would be discouraged from crossing neighborhoods on either side of El Camino.
  • Grade separation with Ravenswood Avenue passing under both the train tracks and Alma Street would greatly improve driver, pedestrian and cyclist safety at this crossing.
  • Cyclists would gain another safe north-south bike route along or in the park.

Wouldn’t this be great?


What Would This Cost?

“Let’s start with something we know: the tunneling cost for the proposed extension of the Long Beach 710-Freeway: $6 billion for 4.9-mile segment, which works out to $1.22 billion per mile.” (See source) And the park costs and surface infrastructure would be added to this figure.   

The Menlo Park “Complete Street” Policy Does NOT Require Bike Facilities on El Camino.

Original Comment

By Tunbridge Wells, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park, in The Almanac.  (March 24, 2015)

“What both Dana Hendrickson and Peter Carpenter are overlooking is that Menlo Park has adopted a Complete Streets policy:  Web Link and that Caltrans is also supportive of Complete Streets on its facilities:  Web Link El Camino Real, in its current state, serves only automobile traffic well. It is an important connector that despite being used by pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users, it does not do well by them. That needs to change. Despite their protests to the contrary, studies show that adding traffic lanes does not fix congestion, it just makes more of the same. Studies also show that adding bicycle infrastructure enhances safety not just for people on bikes, but pedestrians and also reduces collisions between cars. Roads are for people. El Camino Real existed before cars did.”

My Response

Mr. Wells, I have read the Complete Streets Policy adopted by the City of Menlo Park and do not interpret it to mean that El Camino Real must or should be included in our city bike network. Perhaps, we need an official interpretation from the City


“Complete Streets Serving All Users. City of Menlo Park expresses its commitment to creating and maintaining Complete Streets that provide safe, comfortable, and convenient travel along and across streets (including streets, roads, highways, bridges, and other portions of the transportation system) through a comprehensive, integrated transportation NETWORK that serves all categories of users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, persons with disabilities, motorists, movers of commercial goods, users and operators of public transportation, seniors, children, youth, and families, emergency vehicles and freight.”

The policy focus is on a safe and convenient NETWORK for users. This does not mean that every street either should or must become a “complete street”. Nor does it imply that every street could become a complete street. It also seems to say that whenever either new street construction or major physical modifications are planned on an existing one “multi-modal usage” must be CONSIDERED but not required.

“As feasible, the City of Menlo Park should incorporate Complete Streets infrastructure into existing streets to improve the safety and convenience of users and to create employment, with the particular goal of creating a connected network of facilities accommodating each category of users, and increasing connectivity across jurisdictional boundaries and for existing and anticipated future areas of travel origination or destination.”

Please note the term “feasible”. I believe we can create a safer yet still acceptably convenient bike NETWORK without including El Camino Real. 

Bike/car accidents are rare on El Camino today because so few riders risk riding on it. I can imagine the public outcry if young or inexperienced riders were encouraged to do so by new bike facilities and one or two accidents cause major injuries to cyclists or pedestrians. There would likely be a call for the complete separation of cars and bikes. Does that sound familiar?

El Camino Real is THE main VEHICLE ARTERY in Menlo Park and our city should be focused on making it handle vehicles better in order to reduce existing and future congestion. I highly recommend that we not try to re-purpose it for greater cyclist usage. I would much prefer the explore expanding it to three lanes in both directions its entire length. Unlike Palo Alto we do not have additional major north-south arteries like Foothill expressway and Alma Street. Let’s implement a well-designed trial and see if additional lanes north of Ravenswood Avenue would provide significant benefits. Cars are NOT going away; let’s encourage them to stay on our arteries and collectors.

Almanac Post – March 23, 2015

I am an experienced cyclist who frequently rides 40 to 60 miles a week and would not ride on El Camino regardless of the type of bike facilities.  Nor would I recommend that inexperienced cyclists ride on this highway. The significant additional risk versus other available bike routes is simply too high.

Much of the discussion about the El Camino Real Corridor Study has centered on the needs of cyclists who maintain that ADDING bike facilities to this highway and REDUCING the number of vehicle lanes to two in each direction would make bike riding more convenient, Unfortunately, this is too narrow a view. Instead, our residents and City Council should consider the interests and well being of cyclists, drivers and pedestrians. Any major changes to El Camino Real will entail compromises, all SIGNIFICANT trade-offs warrant consideration, and personal safety is THE critical criteria. Our decisions also need to be well informed and well reasoned.

There about 60 spots on El Camino where cars would cross paths with cyclists riding in either bike lanes or bike paths and cars can be traveling fast when they exit the highway. This is a dangerous situation for both drivers and cyclists, and the latter bears the greater risk of personal injury. When either a driver or cyclist is not cautious or is distracted the risk of an accident or collision climbs dramatically.

If bike facilities were added to El Camino cyclists and pedestrians would mix at busy intersections; this is a dangerous situation for both EVEN IF separate crossing lanes are marked. Human behavior = cannot count on compliance and good judgment.

If bike riding on El Camino were a good idea Palo Alto would already provide this capacity. Both Palo Alto and Menlo Park have relied on the same “bike plan” consultant (Alta Planning + Design) and they have NOT recommended including El Camino Real in the two bike networks as a high priority.

Reducing the vehicle lanes on El Camino to accommodate bike facilities will likely increase congestion and generate more cut-through traffic in adjacent neighborhoods like Allied Arts. Today there are about 45,000 daily vehicle trips on El Camino between Sand Hill Road and Ravenswood Avenue. Where will these vehicles go if lane capacity is reduced by 33%? No one really knows. But the negative impact could be large and the risk high.

Finally, while I have heard a great deal about the general issue of cyclist inconvenience I have not heard any actual examples of routes that would be significantly more convenient if El Camino was included.  Menlo Park has a fine existing bike network, and many ways to make it even more convenient and safer without encouraging cyclists to ride on El Camino have already been identified.

Making bike riding a LITTLE more convenient for some cyclists who wish to travel between certain points in Menlo Park does NOT justify exposing all riders to GREATER danger and SIGNIFICANTLY penalizing drivers and our neighborhoods.