What would make the Menlo Park El Camino development sustainable?

Building new developments close to transit can help the environment in theory, but the details are critical.    The Sierra Club Sustainable Land Use Committee has taken a first look at a proposed major new development on El Camino Real in Menlo Park, and has found a number of areas where the project could be improved to be more sustainable, and do a better job of meeting the goals of the city’s new El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan.

  • The project as proposed makes the city’s jobs/housing imbalance worse. A balanced ratio is 1.5 jobs per housing unit – this project has a ratio of 6:1 using conservative estimates.   The project should swap some of its office for housing.
  • Strong transportation demand management (TDM) could reduce traffic impact and pollution – there should a robust program with ongoing metering and reporting of vehicle trips.
  • Transportation Demand Management doesn’t work well for medical office use, since sick patients are much more likely to drive or be driven. Why use transit-friendly real estate for a car-centric use? The development should have less medical office.
  • The primary pedestrian and bike East/West connection and public plaza should not be located at a driveway.  Vehicle access should be moved away from the place where children will be walking, biking and playing.
  • The Plan calls for an important new pedestrian/bike crossing of the Caltrain tracks.  The developer needs to pay a Transportation Impact Fee. That ought to help pay for the crossing.
  • The intersection at Middle should be pedestrian friendly with crosswalks on both sides of Middle across El Camino.
  • The pedestrian experience along El Camino by the office buildings can be improved with changes to building design, with interesting street entries and facades in place of faceless glass box facades.

On Monday, January 28, the Menlo Park Planning Commission will conduct its first review session for the development.  This is the first development to be submitted under the Specific Plan, and will be a test case of the City’s new policies and goals under the Specific Plan.


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3 Responses to What would make the Menlo Park El Camino development sustainable?

  1. Pingback: Today’s Headlines | Streetsblog San Francisco

  2. Ian Turner says:

    Sounds mostly pretty reasonable, but why is more office space “worse”? Seems to me that it has the potential to encourage active transportation by giving people the ability to live near work. I’d much rather have an office in downtown Menlo Park than a driving-only site out on the highway.

    Overall, it’s not clear to me why it’s necessary for the public to dictate one way or the other whether the space is to be used for apartments or offices.

    • admin says:

      The reason housing is better than office is that Menlo Park has a bad jobs/housing imbalance. Some areas have lots of jobs but few houses, and some have lots of houses but few jobs. This means that people spend a long time commuting by car, which causes pollution and health problems. It is also very expensive to keep building and expanding freeways to further out areas where people live and commute to work.

      California has a law requiring cities to zone for housing. However, Menlo Park chose to ignore this law for many years. When Facebook was doing the Environmental Review process for their buildings, some nonprofits saw that Menlo Park was in noncompliance and sued. The City Council decided that it would be better to comply with the law.

      The City needed to identify property in different locations in the city that could be zoned for housing. This process was very painful,
      especially since the city was about 20 years behind! The proposed development is heavily skewed toward office which would make the imbalance worse. So it is helpful to take advantage of transit-rich sites for housing when the sites are available.

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