Guest opinion: Small gains for cyclists; big losses for everyone else | January 11, 2017 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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Viewpoint - January 11, 2017

Guest opinion: Small gains for cyclists; big losses for everyone else

by Dana Hendrickson

Make a mental note: Dec. 6, 2016, will prove to be a more important date than most Menlo Park residents now realize. That day, three City Council members — Keith, Ohtaki and Carlton, with Mueller and Cline absent — approved a one-year field trial of the soon-to-be-controversial Oak Grove-Crane-University Bike Project without understanding its true benefits and negative impacts, and with little input and feedback from residents. Why? For the simple reason the council did not require a high-quality needs and impact analysis.

Instead, the three council members acquiesced to the sustained advocacy of the well-meaning Bicycle Commission, a small group of volunteers that unsurprisingly lacks bike network design expertise.

While I enthusiastically support city efforts to make meaningful improvements to our community bike network and, like other residents, waited more than a decade for our city to close critical gaps (see bit.ly/biketroublespots) identified long ago (2004), this pet project will serve only a small number of bicyclists at the expense of all Menlo Park residents.

It will also jeopardize a superior bike project that would provide more bicyclists better access to a greater number of popular Menlo Park destinations both downtown and on the opposite sides of El Camino.

The value of the proposed project remains solely an "article of faith." The project study report (bit.ly/OCUreport) claims 21 destinations will "attract" bicyclists but ignores two important considerations: Most would not be popular with bike riders, and the few that are are already easily reached using existing bike lanes.

For example, seven are churches and a monastery. Five on the list — downtown destinations like Draeger's and Walgreen's — are highly questionable entries since the proposed bikes lanes on University Drive and Oak Grove Avenue do not provide good bike access to them. And five of the six schools are already conveniently accessed using existing bike lanes on Valparaiso, Glenwood and Laurel.

This unimpressive list of destinations clearly will not attract many bicyclists. So why should residents accept the significant sacrifices required by this misguided project?

Although the city has not made a credible attempt to quantify the negative impacts of this bike project, the likely harm is easily understood. For example, a total of 183 street parking spaces will be eliminated at the expense of motorists, homeowners, businesses and apartment renters who have long depended on them. And the creation of problematic intersections on downtown Santa Cruz Avenue at Crane and on Oak Grove Avenue between El Camino and Alma will generate significant new delays for motorists.

The new Crane Street bike route will also encourage bicyclists to ride on downtown Santa Cruz — a dangerous idea given the narrow lanes, parked cars, and new on-street dining areas. Downtown distractions also reduce the safety of street sharing by bicyclists and motorists. (Note: bicyclists should be encouraged to access downtown destinations from side streets and walk bikes on sidewalks to their destinations.)

Finally, the loss of downtown parking is likely to prevent the implementation of a more valuable project: the addition of bike lanes on University Drive and Menlo Avenue, and a bike path near Ravenswood between El Camino and Laurel. This east-west bike corridor would allow bicyclists who prefer Middle and Santa Cruz to more directly access downtown businesses, the train station, the library, Menlo-Atherton High School, recreational facilities at Burgess Park, the Civic Center, SRI, and more than a dozen office buildings on Middlefield Road. The bike corridor would also better serve east-side bicyclists who prefer Ravenswood and Willow and want more direct access to downtown. This project would eliminate less than half of the parking spaces lost with the Oak Grove-Crane-University project.

So what should the City Council do? First, it makes no sense to conduct a field trial during the construction of station 1300 (2017-2019), the Garwood Way extension, and new bike lanes on the adjacent section of Oak Grove.

Second, the city needs to fairly and professionally evaluate both bike projects before conducting any field trial. This evaluation should clearly present and quantify benefits, negative impacts and trade-offs.

Menlo Park has the opportunity to make big improvements in its bike network and should not settle for much less.

Residents can view a more detailed presentation (bit.ly/OCUanalysis) of both projects at the Re-Imagine Menlo Park website.

Dana Hendrickson is a 30-year resident, an avid cyclist, the founder of the disabled veteran support nonprofit Rebuild Hope, and the editor of Re-Imagine Menlo Park.

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