Despite its location in Silicon Valley, the center of innovation and technology utilization, Menlo Park is no leader when it comes to the planning process it uses to evaluate individual civic projects like bike network improvements, and this handicaps City Council members, staff and volunteer commissioners, virtually ensures sub-optimal decision-making, and ensures poor participation by residents, schools and businesses.
I recommend that our city focus on three primary objectives.
- Greater Responsiveness. Increasing the City’s knowledge of what the broad bicyclist community actually wants and most values in terms of bike network improvements.
- Greater Community Engagement. Increasing bicyclist and non-bicyclist awareness, education and participation at key points in the bike planning process.
- Greater Professionalism. Use professional bike network designers and planners to assess bicyclist needs, propose and evaluate alternative solutions, perform impact and safety analysis, assess project risks and recommend best investments.
Problem #1: Menlo Park does NOT understand how bicyclists most currently use the existing city bike network and neighborhood streets.
Recommendation: Conduct a comprehensive bicyclist survey at least every five years AND before and after the implementation of any significant new bike project.
Problem #2: Menlo Park does NOT understand what most bicyclists actually want and need nor how much they value individual bike projects. The ACTUAL bike community should define Menlo Park’s bike network investment priorities.
Recommendation: Same as #1.
Problem #3: The city bike network development plan created in 2004 is outdated.
Recommendation: With the assistance of a professional bike network design and planning firm the city should develop (1) strategies, (2) plans (3) a prioritized list of bike projects.
Problem #4: The City does not conduct a comprehensive needs and impact analyses on significant bike projects.
Recommendation: These should be required. The needs analysis should compare expected project benefits to existing conditions and potential alternative investments, and the impact analysis should weigh the safety, convenience and comfort of bicyclists and negative impacts on all street users including home owners, rented, businesses, pedestrians and motorists. Metrics and threshold should be established before field trials are conducted.
Problem #5: Residents have very limited opportunities to provide input and feedback on individual projects once the city initiates an evaluation.
- Each resident is limited to speaking for 3 minutes at Council reviews.
- It is difficult for residents to know when Council reviews of projects will occur. Council agendas are not finalized until the Thursday before meetings and residents can learn about them only by visiting the City website; there is NO PROACTIVE public outreach/notification, e.g., email notices.
- City commissioners are well aware of scheduled project reviews and organize supporters to lobby for their recommendations at Council meetings; residents and businesses who either oppose or are undecided about recommendations are at a huge disadvantage.
- There are either no or only poor outreach programs, e.g., no professional quality resident surveys, workshops, study sessions
- Distribute meetings agendas via email the day they are posted on the city website.
- Conduct workshops or public project reviews where residents can actually ask questions and discuss projects once a feasibility study has been performed and before the City Council approves a field trial, during the field trial, and after one is completed.
Problem #6: City officials and volunteer commissioners often treat unsolicited resident ideas and feedback as threats rather than opportunities for constructive discussions.
Some personal experiences:
- Three City Council members have accepted invitations to discuss ideas and concerns about individual bike projects and found these valuable; the remaining two have simply ignored them.
- City staff often views public outreach s undesirable because residents will express concerns and opposing views.
- The city generally uses field trials to implement a project and gauge resident reactions instead of addressing objections and concerns had on ahead of time.
- The Bike Commission has refused to consider and discuss a potential Menlo-Ravenswood bike corridor starting in the summer of 2015 and has often resorted to personal attacks when I offered different views on the El Camino Bike Lane and Oak Grove-Crane-University bike projects, either in person, in The Almanac and on The Next Door social network.
- The City Council build a much more resident-friendy culture and planning process that welcomes and proactively solicits resident input and feedback, especially bike projects that could have significant negative impact on other members of the Menlo Park community.
- A “business plan” should be created and updated whenever a bike project study has been undertaken so residents can easily understand its purpose, expected benefits and harm, progress and status. Clear metrics and thresholds should be established before field trials are approved.