News - May 25, 2011

Menlo Park Transportation Commission questions downtown plan data

by Sandy Brundage

The initial discussion of the newly released downtown/El Camino Real specific plan environmental impact report (EIR) left more questions than answers at the Menlo Park Transportation Commission.

The traffic study shows 13,385 more car trips per day into the downtown area under the development scenario outlined in the specific plan. That includes 899 more car trips during the morning commute, and 1,319 more car trips during the evening. But those numbers might be a low-ball estimate.

Commissioner Ray Mueller said he's waiting to find out what the traffic impact could be once a projected 28 percent increase in traffic from growth and other projects is also taken into consideration. Staff suggested comparing data from multiple tables within the report, but both Mr. Mueller and staff found that too confusing.

"I'm concerned that number isn't easily accessible," he said. "To be fair, I'm not bringing that up because I'm against the plan or for it. It's just data that we need. The problem I have right now is that without the basic underlying data, it's hard to know what questions to ask. I don't really know what the picture is that I'm looking at."

Mr. Mueller said city staff committed to providing that information at the commission's next meeting.

Commissioner Charles Bourne had a few questions of his own. Well, more than a few. He focused on how high-speed rail would affect the study, along with El Camino Real lane configurations, traffic, and parking — in particular, how the proposed design would impact downtown businesses such as Wells Fargo and Trader Joe's that currently rely on plazas 6 and 7 for customer parking.

On the other hand, colleague Martin Engel had fewer questions, but a firmer stance vis-a-vis the plan. "Bottom line? I'm against it," he said.

Once traffic from all incoming projects such as the Stanford hospital expansion and the Bohannon Gateway development are considered, according to Mr. Engel's calculations, the city is looking at 50,000 daily car trips.

"And that's insane! While the downtown planning has been dragging on for over two years and the city has spent over a million on it, there has been an ever louder voice in opposition," he commented. "That voice should be listened to. As with most projects, the initial concept and vision sound absolutely attractive. However, the devil is in the details and the realities. Traffic is merely one of those devils."


The Menlo Park Transportation Commission will hear a formal presentation of the downtown specific plan EIR when it next meets on Wednesday, June 8, at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at the Civic Center, 701 Laurel St.


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