After three and a half years, Menlo Park's comprehensive Transportation Master Plan finally won approval from the City Council Tuesday.
The project was an immense undertaking – at 320 pages, it describes 120 projects, down from nearly 200 citywide – that are set to improve safety, manage traffic congestion and give locals better opportunities to bike and walk around town.
The list was consolidated with input from more than 1,000 people, a consultant roster of about 30 people, about 10 staff members, and countless hours of public meetings involving not just council members but nine meetings with an 11-member outreach and oversight committee as well as the heavy involvement of the city's Complete Streets Commission. Consultant firms included W-Trans, Alta Planning + Design, BKF Engineers, Bottomley & Associates, Dyett & Bhatia, EnviroIssues, Iteris and Kittelson & Associates.
The report highlights a pre-pandemic Menlo Park in which traffic was bad and getting worse. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Menlo Park had 34,000 residents and 35,000 workers, the plan reported. And city residents with commutes of an hour or more had risen by 75% between 2013 and 2017, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, the plan said.
The plan was developed with a few key goals: to improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians on city streets; to help the city reach its climate goals, which include becoming carbon neutral by 2030; to provide residents improved alternatives to driving solo; and to manage traffic congestion while limiting cut-through traffic.
From there, projects were prioritized based on criteria of safety, sustainability, greenhouse gas reductions, school access, congestion relief and management, whether it impacts a sensitive population, and whether it helps develop stormwater infrastructure. On the safety front, the city seeks to eliminate the number of traffic fatalities and curb the number of collisions by 50% by 2040.
Sustainability goals are at the fore of the plan as well: Throughout Menlo Park, transportation accounts for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions – in 2017, it represented about 56% of emissions citywide due to the use of gas-powered vehicles, according to the plan. The City Council recently set a goal for the city to become carbon neutral by 2030.
Years into the process of developing the plan, the goal of managing congestion was modified, after a number of community members emphasized the need to tackle one of locals' key problems in Menlo Park: traffic.
But residents laid out other frustrations the plan aims to address. In the plan's appendices, there are pages and pages of anonymized input collected from residents, many of whom express deep frustrations with the city's disjointed bike and sidewalk networks, both internally within Menlo Park and at its borders with other communities, particularly with Atherton and West Menlo Park.
In all, the projects, which are broken down into two tiers, are estimated to cost $150 million. In Tier 1, there are 53 projects, and in Tier 2, there are 67. The council added an additional project Tuesday, to conduct walk audits to see how pedestrian-friendly certain areas are under current conditions.
In a presentation to the council, Senior Transportation Engineer Kristiann Choy said that the city would likely fund the projects with a mix of local funds, impact fees from new developments, grants and taxes.
Projects were also grouped by which roads or intersections they affect. A number of the Tier 1 projects focus on problematic high-traffic roads such as Willow Road, El Camino Real, and Middlefield Road, as well as downtown intersections – but were distributed citywide.
For instance, just one project on the Tier 1 list is at Willow Road and Middlefield Road and includes a $1.4 million proposal to remove the westbound right turn, modify the traffic signal to include protected north- and southbound left turns, restripe the north- and southbound Middlefield Road approaches to the intersections, install bike boxes at each approach to the intersection and add pedestrian facilities on the east side of Middlefield Road between Woodland Avenue and Willow Road.
Another project, set at $1.5 million, is at the El Camino Real and Ravenswood Avenue intersection. It would widen the sidewalk to 15 feet and create a bike and pedestrian path on the east side of El Camino Real; install a bike signal on northbound El Camino Real; add a northbound right turn lane on El Camino Real and add bike lanes on the westbound approach to Ravenswood Avenue, among other steps.
Others are less complex: adding high-visibility crosswalks along El Camino Real at Live Oak and Roble avenues, adding bike lanes on University Drive between Oak Grove and Santa Cruz avenues, and on Coleman Avenue from Ringwood Avenue to Willow Road.
Other Tier 1 projects applied citywide – for instance, streamlining the process for neighborhoods to propose their own traffic management programs; making a citywide bike map for visitors to show which routes are most safe and comfortable for cyclists to use ($5,000); or installing technology to detect when pedestrians and cyclists are waiting to cross intersections ($875,000).
A key part of the plan are five regional projects that the city can't do alone and needs to join with other agencies and jurisdictions to move forward. These are to: install bus lanes along the shoulder of Bayfront Expressway and give those buses traffic signal priority; making improvements to boost traffic flow along the Dumbarton corridor – including possible pricing strategies and grade separations at key intersections with Bayfront Expressway; support reactivating the Dumbarton Rail Corridor for passenger rail service; building a separated bike and pedestrian path from Marsh Road to University Avenue along the Dumbarton Rail Corridor; and building grade separations across the Caltrain tracks at Ravenswood, Oak Grove and Glenwood avenues, according to the plan.
Now that the plan is approved, the next step is for city staff to start working on straightforward projects and work with the Complete Streets Commission to identify which projects to move forward first through the city's five-year capital improvement plan.