A Yes To More Outdoor Dining in Downtown Menlo Park

View Comments on the Nextdoor neighborhood network.

In January our city council agreed to move forward with its experiment of adding temporary outdoor street dining in downtown, an idea I hope most Menlo Park residents wholeheartedly support, as I do. This could be the first of many significant steps that enhance the economic and social vitality of our city, and I encourage our city council to take more of them.

Menlo Park has the opportunity to enliven its downtown in ways more difficult for neighboring cities. Rooftop dining like what is being proposed by the new owners of the former British Bankers Club and attractive and comfortable permanent sidewalk dining are just two examples. The creation of a pedestrian-friendly street is another.

I applaud the city council actions and look forward to many more bold ones.



El Camino Real Corridor Study: Let’s Try Three Lanes Each Way And See How Well It Works.

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I confess to NOT trusting the vehicle traffic projections that have been supplied by the consultant who is currently helping Menlo Park on its El Camino Real Corridor Study. Even he admitted some of the projections are counter-intuitive. For example, by adding a third lane in each direction north of Ravenswood the consultant projects that the 50% increase in lane capacity would simply induce 50% more vehicle trips on an average day. So there would be no benefit, traffic congestion on El Camino Real would remain.

While I do not doubt the idea of induced demand I do not find assumption. The total number of existing average daily trips on the north end of El Camino Real is about 36000. So a 50% increase would equal 18000 more vehicle trips on El Camino Real. (Note: traffic in both directions is included.) That is, an additional northbound and southbound lane would “induce” 9000 more trips in each direction.

It is NOT clear where these additional vehicles are either originating or going; they simply appear out of thin air. If existing drivers are changing their routes which ones now have less traffic? Is this a good trade-off? Also, it is impossible to evaluate the consultant projections without understanding risk. I believe the consultant’s traffic projections are ONLY the “expected values” of a range of possible outcomes. What is his confidence level, i.e., the actual range of likely outcomes? Standard deviation?

So what should Menlo Park do? The best way to find out what would happen if El Camino Real had three lanes in both directions its entire length is to run a well-designed experiment. I recommend that Menlo Park do so in 2015 and carefully monitor the impact on El Camino Real and other street that might be impacted. Then we could make well-founded decisions.

Why Adding Bike Facilities On El Camino Real Would Needlessly Jeopardize Cyclist, Driver And Pedestrian Safety.


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Menlo Park is a fine place to ride a bike. Our official bike network is generally quite safe and convenient, our neighborhood streets offer many safe and convenient alternatives, and both our Specific Plan and 2005 Comprehensive Bike Development Plan outline excellent ideas on how to improve the cycling experience and encourage greater bike usage. Menlo Park also has a resident-based advisory bike commission that assists our city council . However, I strongly oppose the current idea being studied by our city that would add bike facilities to El Camino Real because these would unnecessarily jeopardize cyclist, driver and pedestrian SAFETY.

In a nutshell, El Camino Real cannot be made sufficiently safe for most cyclists; bike facilities would create the illusion of safety and encourage people to ride beyond their capabilities, and safer options either exist or can easily be added without large city expenditures.

1.    A suburban highway lined with densely packed businesses is an environment that cannot be made safe for biking.

       There are too may places where cyclists and drivers can cross paths and “cut-off” each other. ·      On El Camino there are more than 60 such spots, and since cars can travel over 30 miles per hour mid-block unexpected turns can be especially dangerous.

       The mixing of pedestrians, drivers and cyclists at major intersections, e.g. Santa Cruz Avenue, makes all more vulnerable to accidents.

       There are simply too many distractions for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists everywhere along El Camino Real.

2.    The illusion of safety created by marked bike lanes and separate paths easily leads to misjudgments and bad decisions by both cyclists and drivers.

       Most vehicle-bike accidents do not occur on unbroken stretches of streets

       Cyclists and drivers can easily assume they are visible at crossing points. Drivers and cyclists can easily assume the others will make good judgments and behave defensively.

3.    Safer riding options either already exist or new bike lanes and routes can be easily added. 

       These are primarily in residential neighborhoods bordering downtown and El Camino Real.

       There are fewer busy intersections and public vehicle access points.

       There is much less vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

       There are fewer stop lights with associated delays

Seasoned cyclists can already ride on El Camino Real because they know how to assess risk and minimize it by riding alertly and defensively. However, I do not recommend riding on El Camino Real nor do it myself, as I am unwilling to accept the additional level of risk in order to potentially safe a few minutes.

Your Voice Needs To Be Heard On The El Camino Real Corridor Study

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March 9, 2015

Menlo Park Friends & Neighbors

I would like to call your attention to an important study and an online survey currently being conducted by the City of Menlo Park that could significantly impact your safety and convenience when traveling on El Camino Real. I recommend that you learn about the changes that are being considered and share your concerns and preferences directly with our city council at city.council@menlopark.org.

The El Camino Real Corridor Study is evaluating three alternative ways to reconfigure the lanes on El Camino Real (ECR) and would like resident feedback. Alternative 1 would provide three vehicle lanes each way on its entire length by adding one north of Ravenswood Avenue. Alternative 2 would provide two vehicle lanes each way on its entire length by eliminating one south of Ravenswood AND adding bike lanes. Alternative 3 would be similar to Alternative 2 except physically separate bike paths would be provided.

Unfortunately, there are many fundamental problems with this study and survey.  First, it asks residents to express their preference without providing adequate information about how the alternative designs would impact the safety and convenience of pedestrians, drivers and cyclists. Instead, residents are left on their own to assess these important considerations, and I believe too few residents are knowledgeable enough to do so. Next, the study does NOT assess how changes in the number of vehicle lanes would likely impact traffic patterns including neighborhood “cut-thru” traffic. This should be a big concern, as the actual traffic impacts of the planned Greenheart and Stanford development projects at 1300 and 500 El Camino Real will remain unknown until these projects are completed. Also, a fourth alternative, leaving the vehicle lanes unchanged for now and focusing on the safer bike route included in the Specific Plan, has NOT been presented as a viable option. And finally, too few residents are even aware of this study and survey so polling results will likely NOT represent the views of most Menlo Park residents. Instead, experienced cyclists who might confidently ride on El Camino will likely be well represented, as will non-cyclists who simply want to constrain vehicle traffic on this primary artery.

I recommend that you directly contact your city council to express your concerns with this study and survey and ask they consider a fourth alternative, leaving ECR as is, and carefully weigh the impact of all four alternatives on safety and convenience of all potential users.

You can view an in-depth analysis of the four alternatives and my personal recommendations for making Menlo Park more bike-friendly.

Please also share this message with your Menlo Park friends, family members and neighbors to ensure all resident voices are heard.

Best regards,

Dana Hendrickson


Re-Imagine Menlo Park

Inspire. Inform. Advocate.


El Camino Real Corridor Study: Do Not Sacrifice Bicyclist Safety

bike family

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– 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

It’s Time To Eliminate Unnecessary Traffic On El Camino

“After three decades of lobbying, negotiation, and litigation, the (Sand Hiil) road was finally completed to El Camino Real in 2001. Only the existing portion from just north of Alameda de las Pulgas to just south of Stanford Shopping Center was widened to four lanes; the new extension past the shopping center was built only as two lanes.” – Wikipedia

What’s Wrong With The Current Intersection At Sand Hill And El Camino Real

When you read the traffic circulation section of the Specific Plan you immediately notice that there is no treatment of the major El Camino Real intersection which lies just south of the Menlo Park-Palo Alto border.

This is a big omission because the existing configuration UNNECESSARILY causes Palo Alto Alma – Sand Hill Road traffic to travel twice (a) through the intersection and (b) on El Camino Real between Sand Hill Road and Cambridge. Effectively, Cambridge Avenue becomes a virtual pivot point for a traffic loop and the short length of El Camino Real part of an ingress and exit to and from Sand Hill and Alma. Effectively, the u-turn at Cambridge Avenue and a short length of El Camino Real are parts of an artificial traffic loop. Also, the traffic coming from Alma must cross multiple lanes of ECR to reach the left turn at Cambridge, and at peak traffic times this can be extremely unsafe and difficult. If a westbound driver either cannot safely reach this left turn or the left turn line is too long, she likely continues and either makes a u-turn back to Sand Hill at Middle Ave OR turns left and travels west on Oak to reach Sand Hill Road. This configuration already contributes significantly to current Menlo Park traffic congestion on a stretch of El Camino that is expected to carry much more when the 500 ECR development is completed.

This connection was controversial when built, and it will become a much bigger problem when Stanford completes its development at 500 ECR in Menlo Park. Palo Alto fought against a direct connection between Alma and Sand Hill, and Caltrans yielded to its demands. While Menlo Park clearly had skin in the game it lacked any authority to stop this decision. Why Caltrans accepted this odd solution remains a mystery to me. There is substantial traffic flowing through this intersection.

I estimate about 2700 vehicles per day based on the traffic volumes provided in the ECR Corridor Study. (The difference between the traffic at Sand Hill Road and Middle Avenue which likely represents vehicles reversing direction at Cambridge Avenue.)


What Menlo Park Should Do About This Problem

Since Stanford must perform a project-level Environmental Impact Report for 500 ECR, Menlo Park should require Stanford to study the expected impact of the current configuration and a direct connection between Alma and Sand Hill Road. It should also require Stanford to study the impact of making the narrow two-lane section of Sand Hill Road between El Camino and Arboretum four lanes wide.


Put Downtown Parking Underground

Peter Carpenter – January 2015

It would be a tragic mistake if Menlo Park chooses a short term solution (one parking lot) to solve a small part of a long term problem (a more vibrant downtown).

Take all the public property including all the parking lots, all of Santa Cruz Ave and all the cross streets between ECR and University and Menlo and Oak Grove and put it into a design competition to create a totally walkable, bikable, playable, shopable surface area with ALL the parking underground. This total publicly owned land is incredible valuable and developing it in three dimensions could provide an exciting opportunity that would attract capital and encourage the current downtown property owners to either find ways to connect their current buildings to this project or allow their properties to be acquired by the City via eminent domain (which has great tax advantages to the current owners) and then placed into the pool for the new integrated design.

All it would take is vision, leadership and courage.

Guest Opinion: The REAL Reason For More Downtown Parking

Lee Duboc – February 7, 2015

Fellow residents,

More of you responded to my January 7th email (Re-Imagine Santa Cruz Ave) than to any email previously sent, and 90% of you wanted to see CHANGE.

Well, unless we have more parking, there will be no change. Here’s why:

  • Physical changes to downtown stores require building permits —even for fairly minor changes.
  • Getting a building permit requires bringing much or all of the structures up to current safety codes—which is good–and needed.
  • However, to cover the significant costs involved, like providing access for those with disabilities; adding indoor sprinkler systems; providing new water hookups; and rewiring; etc, the properties must have an incentive to expand, mostly by adding a second or third story.
  • BUT according to zoning codes, they cannot add square footage without providing more parking; and here’s the catch, they have no room on their properties for that.
  • And of course, if we populate downtown with better stores, more restaurants and new tenants, and we create an upbeat milieu, parking will become critical.
  • Without more parking, expect Santa Cruz Ave to remain stuck as it is.

Happily our planning commission and Mayor Catherine Carlton support the idea of creating more parking in our downtown area.

(And) hopefully, we will have a constructive and realistic discussion about increasing the number of parking spaces in our town.

Menlo Park Needs To Develop A LONG TERM Downtown Parking Plan Now 2

Whether you agree or not that there is a big parking problem in downtown Menlo Park today, it should be clear that one WILL exist once the Greenheart and Stanford projects are completed, and an even bigger one, if the city is successful in attracting more residents to downtown with appealing civic improvements. It’s important to keep in mind that any big solution like a parking structure (s) will take several years to build IF we decide its a good idea. The Specific Plan identified three likely locations for parking structures. So what should Menlo Park do in 2015?

I recommend that our city council:

  • Determine whether Menlo Park can afford a parking structure. Develop a funding strategy and identify potential private and public partners.
  • Evaluate above ground, underground and hybrid structures. Evaluate different architectural designs and landscaping.
  • Assess the trade-offs of building one or more at a time, e.g., cost, impact on downtown during construction.

  • Develop short term solutions to current parking problems which appear most troublesome around lunch time mid-week. There are hundreds of unused parking spaces within a short 5-minute shuttle ride to downtown. That could be used for daily permit parking and would free up downtown parking spaces for shoppers.

Downtown Parking Today

A look at existing downtown parking and recommendations in the Specific Plan. View now.

Parking Structure Building Cost Estimates

RSMeans is a leading provider of construction cost data for hundreds of cities in North America. I have consulted the online information they provide for building parking structures in Palo Alto in order to estimate the cost of building similar ones in Menlo Park. Please note RSMeans provides 2013 data so the numbers are lower than costs in 2015 or the future. My goal is to simply “ball park” estimate different options. For my analysis I assumed that 2015 costs were 30% higher than 2013. This may still be low given the strong local economy.

If Menlo Park were to build Parking Structure #3 as identified in the Specific Plan 438 NET new parking spaces would be created (650 new minus 212 lost).

Option 1 – Build surface and above ground parking structure

  • The estimated cost per space: $31,700.
    Total cost: 650 x $31,700 = $20.6M
  • Cost per NET ADDED parking space = $20.6M /438 = $47,000

Option 2 – Build surface and an underground parking structure.

  • The estimated cost per space of underground parking is $37,300.
  • Total cost = 650 x $37,300 = $24.2M
  • Cost per NET ADDED parking space = $24.2/438 = $55,250

View the assumptions and calculations for Option 1 and Option 2 options.

Community Discussions

Menlo Park survey: Most residents want above-ground parking facility (The Almanac – January 14, 2016)

Specific Plan Implementation: The FY2015 City Budget

Menlo Park City Council is currently setting its priorities and creating budgets for the 2015 fiscal year that begins on July 1. This multi-month process will determine what improvement projects will be either evaluated, planned, budgeted or started before June 30, 2016. Since ALL phases of individual projects require funding progress can be made only those that are included in the capital expenditure budget. So decisions made between now and the end of June will determine how much progress can be made on implementing the city’s Specific Plan next year.

Residents should take advantage of the opportunities to shape the City Council’s thinking and decisions.