Plans to reconfigure a stretch of El Camino Real in Redwood City to make it safer for bicyclists and pedestrians will not be realized any time soon.

Councilmembers celebrated the plans conceptually, describing them as “bold” and “innovative” at a meeting Feb. 25, but they were also concerned that businesses would suffer because of the loss of parking and that traffic congestion on surrounding streets would worsen, particularly on Redwood Avenue.

Those concerns, among others, led most councilmembers to call for additional studies and alternatives to the current proposal.

“This is nowhere near a done deal, it’s going to be a very long process and we will decide as a community how we move forward,” Mayor Ian Bain said.

The proposed improvements include protected bike lanes, new crosswalks, stoplights and bus stops on El Camino Real between Charter and Maple streets. That segment was studied because it sees high pedestrian and bike collision rates, which total 2.32 collisions per million vehicle miles compared to the statewide average of 1.48 for comparable roads, according to the Bike and Pedestrian Safety Improvement Study. The ultimate goal is to add similar improvements to the entire 2-mile stretch of El Camino Real in Redwood City.

The plans also include sheltered bus stops between the road and bike lane so that bicyclists can ride unencumbered. The entire project on the aforementioned stretch of El Camino Real is estimated to cost $11 million.

Senior Planner Lindy Chan said parking is currently underutilized on stretches of El Camino Real and that as many as 200 parking spots could be removed if the plans became a reality, leaving many worried about the viability of the businesses that rely on those spaces for their customers.

“The concerns about the businesses are very legitimate,” Bain said. “We’re seeing a lot of mom-and-pop businesses that are really struggling to stay in Redwood City because of the rents being charged and other conditions that are making it difficult for them to do business. So I don’t want to exacerbate those problems for those businesses.”

Ed Krantz, who owns Broadway Cleaners on El Camino Real, said as much during public comment and urged the council to leave the road as is.

Chan said outreach efforts revealed mixed reactions to the plans among businesses along the thoroughfare, adding that many of them have parking lots. She also said a parking management program would be implemented if the project moved forward and shared parking could play a role in offsetting the impact of eliminating parking spots.

Councilwoman Giselle Hale suggested testing potential bike and pedestrian improvements in phases with funding from development.

“The El Camino is ever changing and there are new developments being proposed so one opportunity might be to work with those developers to fund and include the elements we’re most interested in seeing tested as part of their project’s community benefit so we could reap the benefit of that test,” she said. “I would love to see a phased approach.”

Councilwoman Shelly Masur suggested widening the sidewalks and devoting half of it to bikes and half to pedestrians.

“You’re still separating the bikes safely from the traffic, but in a different way than we’ve seen typically in cities,” she said. “I’d like us to think differently about how to make it possible for people to bike on El Camino.”

Councilmembers were also concerned that the plans would worsen traffic congestion on nearby streets, especially Redwood Avenue.

“[The proposals for] Redwood Avenue are problematic in a number of ways,” Bain said. “If we add a stoplight there that will be a game changer not just in terms of getting across El Camino but also in terms of backup on Redwood so that’s going to need a tremendous amount of study and a tremendous amount of engagement with that neighborhood on what that means and whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.”

Several bicyclists spoke in support of the project and the need for safety upgrades on El Camino Real.

“I get off my bike and walk it across El Camino Real and it’s always a tire screeching honking ordeal every time and I have bright lights and everything but there’s just no way for someone not in a car to get across El Camino safely, it’s genuinely terrifying,” said Isabella Chu. “People actually bike to work, it’s going to be used.”

Councilwoman Alicia Aguirre summarized the competing interests at play in developing the plan.

“Safety to me is huge in this area and I’d like to see it safer for cyclists and pedestrians,” she said. “Whatever we’re trying to promote, we do need to find a way to coexist. There are also a lot of people who want to go to businesses [on El Camino Real] who don’t want to walk, who don’t want to ride their bike there so what are we doing to facilitate that. So facilitating the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, and the businesses who are there and the folks who can’t or don’t want to walk to those businesses — how do we coexist? That’s always been the challenge. To me that’s the big question.”

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(2) comments

Bob Wilson

Safety first! A primary goal for us all and the city. I am pleased, however, that the Council is moving thoughtfully and carefully. One thing we need to start is moving the st backs from the street to large buildings much further back. Too often the new buildings are far too close to the road crowding out pedestrians. With thoughtful planning we can at least start considering this additional space in set backs for both bike lanes and sort term parking for local businesses. A very tough problem since so much is already done, but we need to start!

pangolin76

It is disappointing to see the RWC City Council prioritize taxpayer-subsidized parking for small businesses and faster drive times for cars over the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. Everyone talks a big game about reducing pedestrian and cyclist deaths and getting people out of their cars, but decisions like this simply perpetuate the status quo.

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