On Wednesday night, November 13, the Menlo Park Transportation Commission voted unanimously to remove parking from Laurel Street bike lane. The Laurel Street bike lane is a key piece of the city’s bike network, the low-traffic logical north-south bike route parallel to El Camino, identified in the city’s bike plan, the Downtown Specific Plan, and two Safe Routes to School plans.
At an earlier community meeting, parents and school officials highlighted the lack of safe places for parents to pick up and drop off kids, or park to enter the school.
In the weeks before the Transportation Commission meeting, city staff had worked with school officials to come up with a new proposal to reconfigure the school campus to enable 13-14 dropoff and parking spots to be available on campus, replacing the number of spaces that will be unavailable if the bike lane is reserved for bikes. The reconfiguration would be done over the summer, as part of the school’s growth to add a pre-K class.
There were other alternatives explored by staff and the school, but not recommended. These options included several potential designs for creating a pullout parallel to Laurel. This would cost ~$100-$300,000 depending on design, create door conflicts with bikes and pedestrians, and require the removal of trees and relocation of telephone poles. Staff explained that this costly option would be a challenge to fund with grant funding, which favors projects of regional value, and projects in priority development areas. Another option included expanding the sidewalk into a bike/ped path, which would be crossed by driveways.
Still, a number of parents at the school spoke at the meeting, wishing to preserve the bike lane parking. Nativity parents suggested replacing the bike lane with sharrows in the middle of the road, or encouraging cyclists to use Middlefield (20,000 cars per day) instead of Laurel (4,000 cars per day). Parents were concerned about added traffic, even with the reconfigured school site with onsite pickup/dropoff and parking. However, the staff report showed that bicycling had increased on Laurel by 42% in the last year – even with the obstructed bike lane. Clearing the bike lane could help reduce traffic by encouraging more families and cautious adults to bike.
At a recent visit, there were only five families who had biked to school. Commissioners who are parents who have kids who have kids bicycling to school (or have adult children who used to bike to school) urged the school and its families to explore opportunities for carpooling, as well as bicycling and walking for those who live close enough.
The motion approved by the Commission accepted the staff recommendation to support the school campus parking reconfiguration, remove parking from the bike lane, and improve the pedestrian crossing at Oak Grove and Laurel. The motion also included extending the no right on red in all cases, not just when children are present; and to consider creating a program to encourage carpooling, bicycling and walking when the school applies for the use permit to expand the pre-k.
Another concern raised by the school community was the upcoming expansion of Menlo-Atherton High School. Staff will work with the school to address potential traffic and safety issues with the move.
Apparently there was a conflicting meeting preventing even more of the Nativity parents from attending. Steve Schmidt, Robert Cronin, and John Langbein spoke in favor of removing parked cars from the bike lane.
Next, the item will go before Menlo Park City Council.