Almanac

News - August 10, 2011

Making it safer to cross El Camino Real in Menlo Park

• Menlo commission focuses on pedestrian safety in specific plan review.

by Sandy Brundage

Focusing on the El Camino Real portion of the proposed downtown specific plan for Menlo Park on Aug. 4, the Planning Commission decided to emphasize the need to make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross the busy street.

The plan suggests enhancing crosswalks at Oak Grove Avenue, Santa Cruz Avenue, Ravenswood Avenue, and other locations through technology such as countdown signals, and also creating median islands and sidewalk extensions. Grade-separated crossings would also be added over railroad tracks at the Caltrain station and near Middle Avenue.

A debate over sidewalk extensions, otherwise known as "bulb-outs" that would block curbside traffic lanes, led to the commission's first recommendation. By a 4-3 vote, with Commissioners Ben Eiref, John Kadvany, and Peipei Yu dissenting, it decided bulb-outs should not be used along El Camino Real for fear of interfering with traffic that includes buses.

"It seems too draconian to completely eliminate (bulb-outs) from the plan," Mr. Kadvany noted.

With disappointment over the options for what the plan describes as "east-west connectivity," the commission voted unanimously to encourage the City Council to look for more creative, aggressive ways to help people get across the street safely through signal timing and modification, and also to consider different types of bike lanes along El Camino Real.

The disappointment may have been expressed during the Thursday night meeting, but wasn't expressly included in the recommendation.

"I don't want the word disappointment in there," Commissioner Henry Riggs told his colleagues. "It's our job as the Planning Commission to vet this stuff for the council. As much as we are disappointed, I think it's poor form to say it that way. Maybe 'in order to accomplish more than is proposed.'"

The commission's recommendations will go to the City Council, which ultimately decides the final shape of the specific plan.

Meanwhile, the fiscal impact analysis (FIA) that was supposed to accompany review of the specific plan still wasn't ready. Its release was delayed to give the consultant time to analyze the plan's impact on school and fire protection districts, staff said. According to the staff report, the FIA may now be out by Aug. 22.

INFORMATION

Go to tinyurl.com/plan-163 to review the specific plan. The Planning Commission continues its review on Monday, Aug. 22, when it's expected to consider aspects of the plan related to senior housing, open space, and facade heights, among other topics. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at the Civic Center at 701 Laurel St.

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