More than a decade ago Menlo Park identified significant “gaps” in its community bike network that when filled would enable bicyclists to travel conveniently, comfortably and safely to every popular destination both in Menlo Park and neighboring cities. These gaps now severely limit bike access to destinations downtown and on opposite sides of El Camino and expose bicyclists who do cross them to a stressful and unsafe experience.
None of the gaps have been filled since the City’s approved it’s first and only Comprehensive Bike Development plan twelve years ago in January 2005 – an extremely poor track record and major disappointment for residents who enjoy bike riding.
East-West Bike Connectivity
The four most natural places for east-west bike corridors in Menlo Park are already popular with bicyclists but significant shortcomings limit usage.
At the north end of El Camino, Valparaiso, Glenwood, Laurel and Ravenswood all have bike lanes which provide excellent options for traveling to destinations between the Alemeda and Middlefield. These are largely used by students who attend Hillview Middle and Menlo-Atherton High School as well, bike commuters, and passengers on Caltrain. During 2016 almost $500,000 was spent improving this corridor for both pedestrians and bicyclists.
At the south end of El Camino the combination of Middle and Oak provides the most popular bike route for bicyclists riding to or from destinations between Sand Hill Road and University including Oak Knoll School. Today striped lanes separate vehicles from bicyclists on Middle between Olive and University but there are no bike facilities to assist bicyclists who want to ride to either Nealon Park or the Safeway shopping plaza – the most popular destination in Menlo Park for our residents. Menlo Park plans to add bike lanes on Middle and extend them across El Camino and Middle Plaza (Stanford – 500 ECR) and under the train tracks to Alma. From there bicyclists would have a number of options to reach destinations between Alma and Middlefield. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, this will likely not happen for at least another seven to ten years.
At the center of El Camino, the combination of a Menlo and Ravenswood bike corridor and bike-friendly approaches on University from both Middle and Santa Cruz would provide the most convenient way to reach the largest number of popular destinations in Menlo Park including downtown, the library, gym, Burgess Park playing fields, the swim center, the civic center, and offices along Ravenswood (e.g., SRI) and Middlefield, and Menlo-Atherton High School . Bike lanes already exist on Ravenswood between Laurel and Middlefield. While many courageous bicyclists already ride on Menlo, cross El Camino and continue on Ravenswood, they must share narrow lanes with much faster vehicles (25 to 30 mph) and parked cars that do not allow them to safely move to the right to let motorists pass. This is a big problem and the existing street markings provide little relief for either motorists or bicyclists.
Today bicyclists who travel east on Santa Cruz to University have no appealing options. Proceeding either downtown or turning right onto University is daunting as the narrow vehicle lanes must be shared with faster moving traffic and existing “sharrow” street markings offer little relief. Only the courageous and foolish bicyclists ride here. This is a big problem for anyone wanting to reach destinations either on or near Menlo, or cross El Camino to Ravenswood.
The following scenarios illustrate the most common east-west bike riding experiences.
# 1 – A bicyclist prefers to ride on Middle Avenue to destinations on or near downtown Santa Cruz
- A. University lacks bike lanes, vehicles are traveling much faster at speeds of 25 to 30 mph, and parked cars prevent bicyclists from moving out of the way to let them pass. This is particularly stressful and unsafe after dark. The existing street markings “sharrows” provide little to no relief.
- B. North-south neighborhood streets like San Mateo and Fremont are used to reach Santa Cruz and thereby bypass University. But now the bicyclists faces two unappealing options (a) continue on Santa Cruz and share a narrow vehicle lane with faster moving cars and no ability to move out of the way because of parked cars and new on-street dining areas, or (b) turn right onto University and then left onto Menlo. But this section of University is unsafe and stressful because bicyclists must share a lane with the heavy amount of traffic and deal with a complex lane configuration that creates distractions for motorists, and the parking plaza adjacent to Dreager’s is extremely active. And once on Menlo similar problems are encountered: moderate to heavy traffic, faster moving vehicles, narrow lanes and parked cars. The existing sharrows provide little to no relief.
#2 – A bicyclist prefers to the Safeway Shopping Plaza, the most popular destination in Menlo Park
- From the intersection of Middle and University, bicyclists must share Middle with motorists, cross to the north side and either enter the extremely busy entrance or carry a bike up the ramp near Peet’s. This intersection can easily be reached from Middle and Santa Cruz. Unfortunately, crossing Middle anywhere near the plaza entrance is dangerous.
- Alternatively, a bicyclist riding south on University can turn onto Roble, ride to El Camino and turn right, travel a short distance and turn into the parking lot. This will likely not be viewed as a convenient option.
# 3 – A bicyclist prefers to ride on Middle Avenue to destinations on the other side of El Camino
- A. If the destination is either on or south of Ravenswood, the bicyclists has two undesirable options: (a) cross at the intersection with El Camino and ride either in the street or on the sidewalk, turn into the parking lot entrance at Big 5, traverse a series of parking lots to reach Ravenswood, and then ride on the sidewalk until Alma. Then ride on either Alma or Ravenswood. The section of Ravenswood between Alma and Noel does not have bike lanes. Or, (b) ride on University, take a right on Menlo and cross El Camino to reach Alma. Then options are similar to (a).
- B. If the destination is north of Ravenswood, take a combination of north-south neighborhood streets like Cotton, Wallea-San Mateo, or Arbor to reach Valparaiso, head east, cross El Camino to Glenwood, and continue to Laurel where there are several options: (a) turn left and head to Encinal, (b) go straight to Middlefield, and (c) turn right and head towards Ravenswood.
# 4 – A bicyclist prefers to ride on Santa Cruz Avenue to destinations on or near downtown Santa Cruz
- Same as #1B (a) and (b)
# 5 – A bicyclist prefers to ride on Santa Cruz Avenue to destinations on the other side of El Camino.
- A. If destinations are north of Ravenswood, take either Cotton, San Mateo or Arbor to reach Valparaiso. At this point continue as in #2B.
- B. destinations on or south of Ravenswood, same as #4A.
Bicyclists currently have many options on both sides of El Camino for traveling across Menlo Park in a generally north-south direction. Closing three gaps with well marked bike routes would greatly increase the number of convenient available options.
- The Alameda has bike lanes its entire length between Redwood City and San Cruz Avenue.
- Many residential neighborhood streets that extend between Middle, Santa Cruz and Valparaiso are popular because of their suitability for bicyclists including Lemon, Olive, Hillview, San Mateo, Wallea, San Mateo, Fremont and Johnson.
- As mentioned above in #1A University between Santa Cruz and Middle is uncomfortable for both bicyclists and motorists; University south of Middle is popular, safe and comfortable for bicyclists riding towards Palo Alto via Creek.
- El Camino is suitable only of the most skilled and courageous bicyclists because of heavy traffic and large number of “conflict points” at busy public driveways and intersections not controlled by traffic lights.
- The station 1300 development will connect Garwood Way to Oak Grove with a bike route and should be available in 2019.
- The installation of a well-marked bike route on Alma between Oak Grove and Ravenswood would create excellent bike connectivity between Encinal and the bike bridge at the border with Palo Alto.
- Laurel and Middlefield are already popular bike corridors that run between Atherton and Willow.
Blue lines => Existing bike lanes Red lines => Trouble spot (“gap” in network)
Green lines => Popular with bicyclists & need bike route and wayfaring signs.
The following busy streets are stressful and unsafe for both motorists and bicyclists because they lack either bike lanes or adjacent bike paths. Although many bicyclists use them because they are convenient, many more steer clear because these environments provide uncomfortable riding conditions.
Menlo Avenue: This is a popular route for bicyclists to access downtown and cross El Camino. However, vehicle traffic is heavy especially at commute times, vehicles travel much faster than bikes, and parallel parked cars line on both sides of the street make it hard for bicyclists to move out of the way and avoid opening car doors. The existing bike street markings (“sharrows”) provide no material benefits. Protected bike lanes – also called cycle tracks -are needed.
Ravenswood between El Camino and Laurel. This is also a popular route for bicyclists accessing downtown and crossing El Camino. Unfortunately, bike lanes exist only between Laurel and Middlefield so bicyclists and motorists share an unsafe and uncomfortable section about 300 feet long between El Camino and Laurel. A combination of a bike path and bike lanes would solve this problem.
University between Santa Cruz and Menlo Avenue. This short section of University is narrow, heavily travelled by motorists and intersected by two busy driveways that provide access to the parking plaza near Draeger’s. Bicyclists riding east on Santa Cruz now face two undesirable options: either proceed to downtown Santa Cruz or turn right onto University. In both cases they must share a single vehicle lane, an acton that is unsafe and uncomfortable for both bicyclists and motorists. Because few pedestrians walk on the west sidewalk on University bicyclists should be encouraged to share the 200-foot section between Santa Cruz and Menlo Avenue.
University between Middle and Menlo Avenue. Like Menlo Avenue this section of University is a popular route for bicyclists to access downtown and cross El Camino. However, vehicle traffic is heavy especially at commute times, vehicles travel much faster than bikes, and parallel parked cars line on both sides of the street make it hard for bicyclists to move out of the way and avoid opening car doors. The existing bike street markings (“sharrows”) provide no material benefits. Protected bike lanes (“cycle tracks”) should be installed.
Coleman between Willow and Ringwood. This is a popular route for students riding to Menlo Park District Schools and M-A High School. There is a lot of vehicle traffic especially at morning commute times. Either bike lanes or a bike route is needed.
Middle between University and El Camino Real. While the Safeway shopping plaza is the most popular destination for Menlo Park residents bike access is severely constrained by the lack of bike lanes between University and the plaza entrance. Bike lanes and a cyclist-controlled crossing light are needed. New bike lanes would also serve riders that use Nealon Park. Note that the city plans to extended bike lanes across El Camino to Alma after 500 ECR is developed (2020?). There is no reason to delay a “Safeway connection”.