Menlo Park must invest more and faster in safe routes
There are really 2 paths that must be taken with regards to Safe Routes:
The City must establish a comprehensive Safe Routes to School program that address Safe Routes from a strategic perspective. This means setting up a Community Partnership with key stakeholders (municipalities, school districts, community members) to address Safe Routes issues on an ongoing basis. In Palo Alto, for example, key stakeholders meet on a monthly basis and go through all of the E's of Safe Routes (Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Encouragement, Evaluation and Equity - we like to add a 7th E of Engagement) to make sure that issues are addressed proactively at many levels. At these monthly meetings, police officers, school principals, traffic engineers community members and parents make comments on items like a new proposed school design so that everyone is working in a coordinated effort and applying a Safe Routes lens to key initiatives.
The good news is that due to our efforts, Menlo Park will starting to establish such a program in 2017-2018. Here is what Nikki Nagaya, Menlo Park's Asst. Public Works Director told us this will likely look like this year:
"We’ve proposed a budget to do two things: (1) provide staff assistance (through a consultant that would serve as an extension of staff) to manage the program and (2) resources to fund a consultant-prepared plan to develop the structure of the program. These two items combined are a $90,000 request. We will be planning to get someone on board to manage the program by the fall, and then outreach and convene stakeholders from each school in late 2017."
This is great...but while this long-term, strategic initiative is being set up and implemented, we can not take our eyes off of the day-to-day realities on the streets. Unfortunately, there are so many gaps in the Safe Routes infrastructure, that we must simultaneously also pursue a second path.
The City must quickly address street/intersection specific "hot spots" that both endanger our kids and/or lend to a biking/walking environment with stress points that are so stressful (especially to our vulnerable populations - kids, elderly, etc.) that they are unusable. A bike route that is 90% wonderful, but 10% dangerous/stressful, is not acceptable. Menlo Park has many roads/intersections with disappearing bike lanes, "sharrows" (lanes where bikes and cars "share" the road) on high-speed roads, missing sidewalks and other design issues. We must get those fixed if we ever expect to get a meaningful percentage of our kids/families to leave their cars at home and bike/walk to school. We should all want this...a huge % of morning traffic is school commute related.
And yes, the City has recently prioritized several "Path 2" Safe Routes efforts that address specific neighborhoods and streets. We all know about the sidewalks on Santa Cruz - those are great! And at the end of summer the Oak Grove Bike Pilot will launch, and the City will be or is embarking on a Willows Neighborhood Complete Streets (/Laurel Safe Routes) Study, Belle Haven Traffic Calming Project and Middle Avenue Undercrossing Study. Parents for Safe Routes is currently developing Position Papers on these key studies so that Safe Routes issues will not be overlooked.
While we are very appreciative of these "Path 2" efforts, there are so many more efforts needed around town. Parents for Safe Routes is currently working on a report of "hot spots" that we are using to identify areas that need immediate attention (like the Middlefield at Santa Monica/Linfield project). Every day, people are using streets and crossing intersections that are inherently unsafe (let alone stressful). While the Parents for Safe Routes report may not be perfect (and if anyone has areas that they would like considered, please let us know), it will at least help start a conversation in our community about needed infrastructure improvements.
Safety is the 2nd level of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (after Physiological needs). Why is it that we must continue to lobby and issue Calls to Action to get fundamental safety issues taken care of in Menlo Park? Why aren't we prioritizing ALL of these "hot spots" to begin with? It's mind-boggling to me that addressing safety is a multi-year, long-debated process. It's safety for our kids - and everyone in the community.
We understand that the Menlo Park budget is only so big, and that there are limited resources to go around. We just don't see a more pressing need for funds in our community, other than affordable housing, than transportation and safety - which is what Safe Routes, on an engineering level, is about. Perhaps it’s about reallocating pieces of the pie. Or, perhaps it's about making the pie bigger. The City has an overflow of funds. All of the development in our town has created a lot of cash in our reserves (including from Transportation Impact Fees). While we want to stay balanced and be smart for a rainy day, we also must consider what quality of life we want to have in Menlo Park, and what's worth spending our money on.
These are complicated issues, and there are many aspects to consider (increasing capacity would likely increase pension liabilities). We'd like to see us having these conversations, with each other and at City Council. It is also important that the City leaders stick to plans and project guidelines. Allowing 11th hour community members to derail an 18-month study at the end because they weren’t paying attention early on is unacceptable. The current speed and efficiency of addressing safety concerns are not ok.
"If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got." What we've got is a mess.