Menlo Park Creating Transportation Master Plan as Community Grows

By Michele Chandler

The city of Menlo Park is the latest Silicon Valley municipality to kick off an effort to create a Transportation Master Plan outlining strategies and services designed to ease traffic woes in the growing community.

“There are both commuting people coming in regionally as well as people who live here and want to get around the city, but the congestion from other traffic makes that difficult,” said Kristiann Choy, senior transportation engineer with the city of Menlo Park who is involved in the planning process.

Since holding information sessions at two public events in August, the city has also solicited input from residents via an online portal about how transportation improvements should be prioritized. The online open house and survey to gather residents’ suggestions will remain open until September 30.

After that survey closes, an 11-member committee appointed recently by the city council will meet starting in October to analyze the data and hammer out proposed solutions, Choy said, with draft recommendations expected to be finished in early 2018. “If that were to stay on track, we would approve a final plan in mid-spring,” she said.

The city council allocated $400,000 to complete the study. So far, the city is hearing a variety of suggestions about solutions to accommodate the growth that the city’s General Plan foresees through the year 2040.

“We’ve gotten different points of view on whether we should be focusing on adding bicycle facilities—more bike lanes or bike routes—versus more capacity for vehicles,” said Choy. Adding car share and bike share programs and installing additional sidewalks have been suggested.

Menlo Park’s effort comes as land use changes in the city’s Bayfront area could result in the development of up to 2.3 million square feet of non-residential uses, as many as 4,500 residential units and up to 400 hotel rooms, the city said. Another 500 residential units could also be built in Menlo Park’s downtown area, according to the city’s estimates. Further housing construction is currently underway, or has been recently completed, at sites on Hamilton Avenue, Haven Avenue, Willow Road and El Camino Real, with 1,000 residential units expected to be occupied in the next few years.

Social media giant Facebook, located in Menlo Park since 2011, is one factor influencing traffic in the city. In July, Facebook announced it had tapped international firm OMA to design a mixed-use neighborhood that will be located next to the company’s existing headquarters on Willow Road.

Facebook, the city’s biggest employer, has said it plans to build 125,000 square feet of new retail space, including a grocery store, pharmacy and retail.

Improvements emerging in the Master Plan will be partially paid for by revising the Transportation Impact Fee that’s now levied on all new development projects in the city, based on the expected added traffic growth that will result.

In August, San Bruno began a similar exercise. City officials and members of the public there commented during a series of community workshops about how online video giant YouTube moves forward in its bid to add 400,000 square feet of office space to its existing campus in the 73-acre Bayhill Office Park, as the San Bruno-based tech firm aims to accommodate growth it expects to occur during the next 20 years.

Three possible development alternatives for San Bruno’s Bayhill Specific Plan Area will be selected and presented to the public, the San Bruno’s City Council and the San Bruno Planning Commission. A preferred alternative for the 89-acre area will be selected in late 2017 and featured in public hearings next summer before going before the planning commission and city council for a vote in August 2018.

Urban and regional planning firm Dyett & Bhatia of San Francisco was hired to help guide the development process for the proposed office park, taking into account perspectives from YouTube as well as city officials, community members and other interested parties.

YouTube is paying the $785,000 consulting fee to create the plan, while the project is being managed and administered by San Bruno city staff.

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