May 14, 2016
TO: Menlo Park City Council CC: City Commissions
FROM: Dana Hendrickson, Menlo Park resident
SUBJECT: Menlo Park City Council Tables El Camino Real Bike Lanes
In the movie Ground Hog Day Bill Murray is trapped in a disturbing cycle of endless repetition. That’s how many residents have felt during the past year while listening to recycled arguments – largely unsupported by persuasive logic and relevant facts – of both advocates and opponents to adding bike lanes to El Camino in Menlo Park. Is it a great, good or bad idea? Nothing was certain so doubt stubbornly remained. Fortunately, this long cycle has been broken as the City Council decided to indefinitely table the idea by a 4-0 vote on May 1. An El Camino bike lane proposal will likely reappear someday but for now our current city leaders have soundly rejected it. They deserve credit for acknowledging their civic, ethical and legal responsibility for building a community bike network that not only encourages more bike usage but also provides the safest possible riding environment for bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians.
This City Council decision benefits all “users” of El Camino Real, especially the general bike community as this heavily travelled commercial highway will remain a dangerous place for most bicyclists regardless of the type of bike lanes could be installed. It is ironic that the users who were supposed to benefit from new bike lanes would actually be harmed. Eighty intersections and public driveways create conflict points where bikes and vehicles constantly cross paths, and none would be eliminated. The Safeway, Ducky’s Car Wash, MacDonald’s, and the planned 1300 and 500 ECR multi-use developments are just a few examples of busy places. More bicyclists of all ages and skills WOULD use El Camino if bike lanes were installed; however, the city would be irresponsible to encourage greater unsafe bike usage.
Other major beneficiaries of the City Council decision include small retailers on El Camino who would have lost street parking in front of their storefronts. Despite claims by some bicyclists that businesses would enjoy a revenue boost by adding bike-based customers, retailers never agreed. Motorists also greatly benefit because they will avoid both a large increase in the number of potential bike-vehicle conflicts at intersections and public driveways and a new class of interruptions to general vehicle traffic flow. Benefits also flow to public safety service providers like fire departments and ambulances. The Menlo Park Fire District believes that the presence of bicyclists on El Camino materially and unfavorably impacts service provider response times and opposes bike lanes. Finally, all Menlo Park residents benefit. Our community does need major improvements to our city bike network. Significant gaps and problem spots exist, and the likely failure of bike lanes on El Camino would have dampened enthusiasm and support for essential improvements.
So what should the City Council and residents learn from this yearlong decision process?
First, no major changes to the city bike network should be supported without consulting a professional bike network expert like Alta Planning + Design. This firm has assisted every Peninsula city that has created a bike network system plan during the past five years and even helped Menlo Park over a decade ago in 2004. No sane person would rely on a plumber to design an electrical wiring system. No city should rely on bike enthusiasts and amateurs to design bike network facilities for Menlo Park. Expertise matters.
Next, new bike lanes are needed to improve bike connectivity to Downtown. Today bicyclists are discouraged from riding to popular downtown destinations including Draeger’s, Trader Joe’s, Walgreen’s, the hardware store and our many cafes. Bike lanes on University and Menlo Avenue would dramatically improve access and increase bike usage. Many bicyclists do not understand the meaning of the existing street markings (‘sharrows”) and are uncomfortable sharing bike lanes with vehicles travelling at speeds of 25 to 30 MPH. There also are few places where they can move aside to allow motorists to pass. Motorists, in turn, dislike both driving behind much slower moving bikes and passing them on busy streets.
Finally, bike lanes on University and Menlo could also become key elements in a future central east-west bike corridor that extends across El Camino Real and Ravenswood to Middlefield. All decisions that are made about the future configuration of the El Camino Real intersection and the Ravenswood crossing of the train track must reflect the needs of motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists. The creation of a modern Menlo-Ravenswood bike corridor should include a study of a beautiful bike path across city property between Alma and Laurel and the potential extension of the bike path along the front of SRI between Laurel and Middlefield. Menlo and Ravenswood are already popular because they provide the most convenient east-wide bike route. The City should have a long-term plan for making it much safer and a showcase bike corridor. In the interim, it should put individual important segments in-place as soon as possible as each has standalone value.
It’s not too late for the City Council to adopt a more effective approach to creating a first-class community bike network. Even Bill Murray escaped a frustrating experience – eventually.