The primary objective of Menlo Park's Middle Avenue Project is to improve the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians, and last month the City Council approved a field trial of new bikes lanes. Unfortunately, the selected design removes all street parking and eliminates two-thirds of the parking spaces at the front of Nealon Park.
The council claims that bicyclists – especially young students – are currently exposed to two significant risks. They might collide with the opening doors of vehicles parked on the street and be struck by vehicles backing out of head-in parking spaces at Nealon Park.
Fortunately, the risk of these accidents occurring are extremely low and can be reduced even more with bike safety measures that do not remove so much parking. (I will review some of these in an upcoming blog post in The Almanac.) Remember that motorists can now use street parking 365 days a year, and with overnight permits, 24 hours a day. Also, Nealon Park is extremely popular with residents who use the playground, sports facilities, small field, cooperative nursery, and adjacent parking areas.
There are many reasons residents should ask the council to re-examine its decision.
The council should feel obligated to adopt a plan that fairly balances the interests of bicyclists, residents who live on Middle Avenue and nearby cross streets, other motorists who park there, and users of Nealon Park. This should be a fundamental policy objective. The alternative of adding bike lanes and simply removing parking on only one side of Middle would fulfill it.
The council should not make decisions that penalize large numbers of residents without first conducting public hearings. These enable the council to explain and justify plans; and residents can air their concerns, share ideas, and challenge council assumptions. The council is a representative body that should not simply dictate solutions.
The council is responsible for educating residents (and itself) on the actual trade-offs associated with major civic projects, collecting well-founded feedback on potential solutions, and clearly justifying its decisions. On this project, the council has not fulfilled any of these civic obligations.
Council members Jen Wolosin, Betsy Nash, and Maria Doerr claim the bike lane design they support is significantly safer than the one recommended by the city Complete Street Commission. The latter preserves street parking on one side of Middle Avenue. Both provide excellent bike safety that is far superior to existing ones on Santa Cruz, Valparaiso and Ravenswood avenues. So why is the council unnecessarily removing additional parking on Middle?
Wolosin, Nash, and Doerr are all strong biking advocates. While I appreciate their focus on bike safety, their actions on this project raise serious concerns about their objectivity. Why are they not willing to accept a reasonable compromise? Also, I find their general "they will get used to it" attitude towards affected motorists disturbing.
The street entrances to the Safeway parking lot and the corner Shell Station at El Camino Real are clearly the most dangerous spots for bike riding on Middle – far more than the places where bicyclists now must pass parked vehicles Why has the council not focused on installing effective traffic controls for both motorists and bicyclists at these locations?
I encourage homeowners, renters, apartment building owners and nonprofits who believe they will be negatively impacted by lost parking to ensure the council fully understands their concerns.
• Send both an email and letter to the council now. Describe how you expect to be affected by lost parking spaces. Ask the council to explain how it intends to mitigate these negative impacts. And finally, insist the council commits to holding public hearings before it makes any final decisions about reconfiguring Middle Avenue.
• Organize a neighborhood effort that will ensure your collective voices are heard by the council.
• Record the actual incidents you experience during the field trial and send a summary to the council before it holds public hearings and makes final decisions.
Menlo Park does not establish measurable success criteria for projects that significantly modify city streets. Nor does it effectively seek resident feedback during field trials. I encourage residents to ensure this does not happen again this time.
Dana Hendrickson is a longtime Menlo Park resident and recreational bicyclist who publishes a blog on almanacnews.com. He is also a co-founder for the nonprofit Elevate Art Menlo Park.
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