Last week, Menlo Park Transportation Commission unanimously supported a proposed design with cycle tracks – bike lanes that are protected with a physical barrier, such as curbs or planters – as well as protected intersections that help prevent collisions between vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians. The Bicycle Commission also strongly supported this option. Based on the feedback, consultants will flesh out the designs, present material at a community meeting in December, and for City Council review in January. Decisions will also be informed by a study of vehicle parking, which is not yet complete.
According to a survey, Menlo Park residents resoundingly favor improved pedestrian and bicycle safety for El Camino. 81% of respondents desired improve pedestrian safety, while 72% supported bicycle lanes, and only 17% sought faster vehicle speeds on El Camino. The most prevalent use of El Camino was shopping, with 69% using El Camino to patronize local businesses.
The San Mateo Sustainable Streets Plan lays out a goal to increase multi-modal access for people of all ages and abilities, and specifically to increase the combined bicycle and pedstrian mode share to 30% for trips one mile or shorter by 2020. El Camino is part of the vision.
In the San Mateo Sustainable Streets Plan, was presented for Council review last week, to positive council and community response, proposes designs for El Camino that include Cycle Tracks from 2nd Avenue to 9th Avenue, the segment closest to downtown. The proposed improvements also include high-visibility cross-walks and pedestrian refuge islands to make it easier to cross the street. The plan lays out a longer vision that would need further review with the community and with CalTrans, the state agency that has official control of the road, but has been making progress toward approving people-friendly designs for populated areas. (see page 4-3 for the section on El Camino).
Survey results in San Mateo, with over 600 responses, also show strong support for better pedestrian and bicycle facilities. The preferences for better pedestrian and bike safety hold even when residents are asked to make tradeoffs. “Residents expressed the strongest support for investing in bike, pedestrian, and transit facilities at the expense of road expansion” (page 5)
In Mountain View, the draft El Camino Precise Plan allows for bicycle lanes or cycle tracks along El Camino Real, focusing on areas that are needed to close gaps in the bicycle networks, that have long gaps between commercial driveways, where onstreet parking is less critical for local businesses. The draft plan includes a longterm goal of reducing the need for onstreet vehicle parking as buildings on El Camino are developed. The plan calls for an implementation phase study of planning and engineering options for bicycle facilities on El Camino, including relationship with onstreet parking, bus and pedestrian facilities.
Originally used as a highway traversing the state, the role of El Camino Real role for long-distance travel has been supplanted by freeways 101 and 280. The street is used for retail businesses, as a main bus route, and increasingly for housing with access to transit. Communities are moving toward appreciating the role that can be played by walking and bicycling in supporting local commerce and reducing traffic.
According to Ellen Barton, the San Mateo County bicycle/pedestrian coordinator, 70% of all trips are non-commute trips, and even during peak commute periods, perhaps 50% of all trips are for purposes such as shopping, errands, and recreation. Marketing and education programs to shift short trips less than 2 miles to bicycling and walking could help reduce peak hour congestion.
All of these proposed changes are works in progress. In Menlo Park, a more fleshed out draft will be presented at a community meeting in December, and presented for City council review in January for approval in Q1. In San Mateo and Mountain View, the proposals will need further study and community review, and only cover parts of El Camino Real. While more planning and review will be needed for all of these changes, the proposed transformations of El Camino Real reflect a substantial shift from the road’s car-centric past.