News

Atherton: Making roads safer for bicyclists, walkers

By Barbara Wood | Special to the Almanac

An El Camino Real shrunken to four traffic lanes, with a shared bike and pedestrian trail on one side and a bike lane buffered from traffic on the other, is just one of the projects envisioned in the draft master plan for bicycle and pedestrian circulation in Atherton presented to the City Council at a joint study session with the Parks and Recreation Commission on April 2.

The total cost of priority projects in the plan is $6.8 million, but consultant Casey Hildreth, an associate planner with Alta Planning and Design, said much of the funding could come from other agencies or grants, and the town would probably be responsible for about $1.5 million of the cost.

Mr. Hildreth told the town officials that they should think about how long they wanted to take to make the improvements. "It might take 20 years," he said.

But at least one council member saw a swifter implementation. "In terms of time frame for the dollar amounts you showed," Councilman Rick DeGolia said, "I'm thinking this is not a 10-year-project, this is a three-year project."

The master plan shows how bicycles could travel through Atherton and link up with bikeways in adjacent communities. It also lays out ways in which some simple changes could make Atherton streets more walkable, such as revising the town's rules for landscaping in the roadside setback.

Currently, Atherton allows ground-hugging landscaping of up to 5 inches in height right up to the roadsides. When the consultants looked at the walkability of Atherton's streets, "we found landscaping to be the number-one impediment," Mr. Hildreth said. "It's a nice rural environment, but if the goal is to prioritize walking," changes will have to be made. The town also needs to improve drainage in some areas and add barriers between walkers and traffic on some busy streets, he said.

In a report to the council about the master plan, City Manager George Rodericks and Community Services Director Michael Kashiwagi said that the council still has a number of decisions to make regarding the master plan. They must vote to accept the draft plan, do environmental analysis of the plan and its projects, approve the final plan, change the town's regulations for landscaping along streets, change regulations to allow bikes to go through Holbrook-Palmer Park, and put funding for projects in the town's budget, the report says.

Projects given priority in the draft plan include:

● New shared-use (bike and pedestrian) paths: El Camino Real from Selby Lane to 5th Avenue and from Atherton Avenue to Encinal Avenue; Watkins Avenue from the train tracks to Middlefield Road and Middlefield Road from Watkins Avenue to Marsh Road; Holbrook-Palmer Park from the corner of the park to the current Felton Gables pathway.

● Bike lane improvements: Middlefield Road from the town limits to town limits; Valparaiso from North Lemon to El Camino Real.

● Bike boulevard (shared with cars): Elena and Atherton avenues between Valparaiso and Austin avenues.

● Intersection improvements: Middlefield Road at Oak Grove Avenue and at Glenwood Avenue; and Valparaiso Avenue at Elena Avenue.

The draft plan also recommends two studies. The first, costing $100,000, would study El Camino Real between Selby Lane and Valparaiso Avenue for the feasibility of reducing the number of lanes and adding a shared-use trail.

The second calls for spending $50,000 to study the feasibility and preparing a preliminary design for a trail or pathway along Marsh Road from Bay Road to Middlefield Avenue and from Middlefield Avenue on Watkins Avenue to the Dinkelspiel Station Lane Caltrain tracks.

Click here to see the full report (it may take a minute to load).

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 17, 2014 at 4:44 pm

For another $250K or so, vehicular quad gates could be installed on Watkins Ave. and with the existing quad gates at Fair Oaks, and the grade separation at 5th Ave., a quiet zone could be established through most of town.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 18, 2014 at 8:09 am

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

What do quad gates do to make Atherton safer for bicyclists and pedestrians? That's a totally different subject.

This is long overdue. I am encouraged to see Atherton being a good neighbor and making it easier for people to walk and bike through town. I wish this plan included some proper sidewalks on Middlefield so that kids could walk to Encinal more safely.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by concerned
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 18, 2014 at 9:23 am

At the town council meeting on wednesday, the chief of the menlo park fire department made it abundantly clear that the plan could make it difficult, if not impossible, for fire trucks to arrive where needed when el camino, middlefield and the alameda are shrunken for bicycle lanes. just a thought.Eb


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 18, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"At the town council meeting on wednesday, the chief of the menlo park fire department .."

Actually I made those comments as an elected Director of the Fire District (after consultation with the Fire Chief and the Board President) and as the designated Fire Board liaison to the Town Council.

There are 5 fire stations serving Atherton (only one of them IN Atherton) and all of them must travel north and south on ECR, the Alameda or Middlefield to access Atherton. Restricting traffic on ECR will also force traffic to the Alameda and Middlefield and then all three access route for fire engines to Atherton will be compromised. A much better solution would be more traffic signals on ECR and equipping every traffic light with emergency vehicle preemptors (which automatically turn the lights green as an emergency vehicle approaches.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by BikeMan
a resident of another community
on Apr 18, 2014 at 4:26 pm

There are 2 lanes of El Camino Traffic in Redwood City and Menlo Park. It is only the Atherton section that has 3. Why?

Why is the Fire District able to provide adequate services in those municipalities with only 2 lanes, but not Atherton if it reduces the lanes?

Would the fire department have fewer severe accident calls if El Camino Traffic weren't able to travel at 50MPH due to congestion?

It seems to me the Fire department is throwing up barriers but deals with this same issue elsewhere without a problem.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 18, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

ECR in the portion of ECR south of Highway 84 that is served by MPFPD is 6 lanes and .
Most of ECR in Menlo Park is 6 lanes.

The best way to slow traffic is to enforce the speed limits not create barriers to emergency response vehicles.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 18, 2014 at 5:57 pm

The biggest barrier to emergency response vehicles is private cars parked along the side of the street. They block visibility and take up valuable space. Replacing on-street car parking with bike lanes is an obvious fix. Bicyclists can easily get off the street when they hear a siren behind them.

I do not believe claims that making streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists makes them more difficult for emergency services. Even the complaint about crosswalk bulb-outs has been debunked by San Francisco traffic engineers.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 18, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"I do not believe claims that making streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists makes them more difficult for emergency services."

You may not believe it but it is true - just watch fire engines trying to respond on Marsh or Willow.

"Even the complaint about crosswalk bulb-outs has been debunked by San Francisco traffic engineers." Please document that claim - I doubt it.

The best solution for ECR is more traffic signals on ECR and equipping every traffic light with emergency vehicle preemptors (which automatically turn the lights green as an emergency vehicle approaches and better speed enforcement.

Don't handicap your first responders - you may well be the one to suffers from a delayed response.


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Posted by Mary
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 21, 2014 at 12:50 pm

How have they dealt with this in other places, like Copenhagen, Amsterdam and likely places in the US?

Regarding safety - why not have the municipalities or Boy Scouts or some outfit paint the bike lanes a green as Portola Valley has in some places? I don't even think most people around here know the difference between a solid and broken line on the streets, as I always see people disregarding them, with or without cyclists around. Why not have our local media or a bike coalition organization put word out about this, so everyone knows?

There is no longer going to be "smooth" traffic throughout Menlo and other local towns. There's too much traffic of all kinds and too many people driving while stressed out and in a hurry. But many are also trying to work together, making eye contact, obeying speed limits and stop signs/signals. Again, have there been solutions from other communities that work, that we could consider?


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 21, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"How have they dealt with this in other places, like Copenhagen, Amsterdam and likely places in the US?"

I just returned from Copenhagen - very impressive bike infrastructure. They have totally separated bike lanes with separate traffic signals. Bikes and cars generally do not share the same space. Lots of free bike parking spaces.

Web Link


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Posted by Former Resident
a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2014 at 1:40 pm

I've got extensive experience in the area with bicycle issues, including with the short-lived San Carlos bicycle committee and with Western Wheelers Bicycle Club, and a lot more.

The absolutely best way to deal with bicycle and pedestrian issues is to follow the Caltrans Highway Design Manual. It is very well thought-out, and safety-oriented -- and Caltrans are the experts!

Dangerous designs happen when local jurisdictions (usually listening to contractors) think that they know more than Caltrans...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 21, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here is the link to the Caltrans Manual - it is a very big file:


Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Karen
a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2014 at 5:02 pm

While it is a very important document, the Caltrans Highway Design Manual probably does not include the latest guidelines about bicycle infrastructure.

According to the April 17, 2014 e-Bulletin of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, "In an announcement last week, Caltrans declared California the third state in the nation to officially endorse the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide and Urban Bikeway Design Guide! This means that cities will now be able to implement innovative bicycle infrastructure without going through the Caltrans design exception process."

Here is a link to the NACTO "Urban Bikeway Design Guide":

Web Link

According to that NACTO website, "The NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide is based on the experience of the best cycling cities in the world."

And here is a link to the NACTO "Urban Street Design Guide":

Web Link

According to that NACTO website, "the Guide unveils the toolbox and the tactics cities use to make streets safer, more livable, and more economically vibrant."


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