The Menlo Park City Council heard more than an hour's worth of contentious public comments stretching into the wee hours of Wednesday, April 19, before deciding shortly after 1 a.m. to move forward with an existing schedule for an east-west bike route in town.
The one-year pilot program is intended to test whether new bike lanes on Oak Grove Avenue and other streets will provide a safer routes for bicyclists traveling between Menlo Park's downtown and schools east of El Camino Real.
The pilot program, approved last December, would add painted bike lanes, with a minimum 18-inch buffer, or "sharrows" (painted markings on the roads that remind drivers to share the road with cyclists) along a route intended to give cyclists a clear path through downtown Menlo Park.
The bike route will start at Menlo-Atherton High School, run westbound along Oak Grove Avenue past El Camino Real to Crane Street, and then continue left with a mild jog across Santa Cruz Avenue, right on Live Oak Avenue, and continue left again on University Drive to Middle Avenue. The Crane Street bike lane would extend in the other direction to connect with Valparaiso Avenue.
Lost on-street parking
A total of 168 on-street parking spaces are planned for removal during the pilot project, according to Michael Tsai, assistant transportation engineer. Twenty-five are on Oak Grove Avenue near downtown, 78 are on Oak Grove east of El Camino Real, and 70 are on University Drive, he said.
Parking to be removed on University Drive will be on both sides of the street, and the parking removed on Oak Grove Avenue will be on one side only, with the exception of the first 400 feet east of El Camino Real, where parking would be removed on both sides, Mr. Tsai said.
The initial contract for the project design had a price tag of $236,000, but a $54,000 contract extension with Alta Planning & Design is required, according to city staff.
By not pursuing a project redesign, or opting to split the addition of the bike lanes into two phases, the city will not have to spend an additional estimated $15,000 to $40,000, according to a staff report. The amount falls within what has already been budgeted for the project, according to city staff.
The plan to install the bike lanes originated in citywide concern with providing safe ways for kids in town to get to school by bike. The council intensively studied a proposal to add bike lanes on El Camino Real, before it was decided that the plan was too controversial for the time being, and turned its attention instead to developing a safe east-west bike route to connect Menlo Park's downtown to schools east of El Camino Real. The route was developed by city staff and the bicycle commission.
A report by Joint Venture Silicon Valley and the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition released in February showed that between 2011 and 2015, Menlo Park is the only jurisdiction among its neighbors (including Palo Alto, Redwood City, San Jose, Mountain View, Stanford, and the counties of San Mateo and Santa Clara) to experience an increase in the number of annual bike collisions and a decrease in the percent of people who bike to work.
At least 20 people spoke at the April 18 council meeting, arguing fiercely for and against the pilot program. Many of the speakers had waited through hours of the meeting that dealt with other matters, including the controversial issue of whether Menlo Park should become a "sanctuary city." Opponents complained about the loss of 168 on-street parking spaces, which may make parking difficult for people who go to Nativity Church or shop downtown.
While the number of those arguing for and against the pilot was split about evenly during the meeting, Mayor Kirsten Keith said she received before the meeting about 10 emails against the project and 66 in favor.
In a change to the pilot program, the council agreed to allow Nativity Church to use street parking on weekends during church services until a sidewalk is built to connect the church and the school. The council also agreed to allow the church to have street parking for big events for up to 15 days a year. City staff was directed to work with Greenheart Land Co. to restrict its construction on Oak Grove Avenue during peak student commute times.
Three council members favored the motion to move ahead with the pilot; two council members, Ray Mueller and Catherine Carlton, abstained.
Mr. Mueller said he did not support the motion because it is not known yet if street parking will be allowed along the Oak Grove Avenue portion of the Greenheart Land Co.'s development at 1300 El Camino Real. If street parking is allowed there, he said, children will only have a car-free bike lane on one side of the street, which could create confusion for kids near three potential hazards: El Camino Real, the Caltrain tracks, and the Greenheart construction site.
He said he did not support the motion because safety for bicyclists would not be assured without the complete elimination of street parking there.
Ms. Carlton said she didn't think the trial was designed to be as safe for bicyclists as it should be.
"I'm not saying this trial is poorly designed, but it could be safer," she wrote in an email. Outreach and planning for the project were also lacking, she said, and she opposed the decision to limit street parking at Nativity Church to 15 events during the year because it seems arbitrary and could create parking trouble for people seeking to attend events such as funeral services at the church.
Downtown business owners Kerry Hoctor of Village Stationers, Matt Levin of The Refuge and Ciya Martorana of Carpaccio said they felt excluded from the public outreach process and opposed the parking removal.
Another frequently cited concern was that Oak Gove Avenue is often lined with the cars of Menlo-Atherton High School students. Where those cars will go when street parking is removed did not appear to be resolved.
Councilman Rich Cline said that the parking lot owned by SRI International at the end of Ravenswood Avenue on Middlefield Road appears to be empty most of the time and suggested that perhaps it could be subleased for high school or church parking. SRI International has a written agreement with the First Church of Christ, Scientist church to allow parking for church activities, according to Jeannie L'Heureux, the church's executive board chair.
He also expressed doubt that the students who drive to school will switch to biking with the addition of bike lanes. "They're in high school," he said. "They'd much rather drive."
By sticking to the current schedule, the bike lane and sharrow painting on the road will likely be completed in August, according to a staff report.