Perfume heir fights plans for Willow-101 interchange

Gary Lauder is interviewed in a Palo Alto restaurant on Jan. 15. Post photo.

Daily Post Staff Writer

An Atherton venture capitalist who is the grandson of perfume and cosmetics mogul Estee Lauder is fighting the new design for the Willow Road and Highway 101 overpass and says it will only make things worse, not better.

Gary Lauder, who is also on Atherton’s transportation commission, said his interest in traffic and transportation sparked when he was living in New York and would ride his bike to and from work. He said he could see what some of the solutions to New York traffic were, and figured local officials could solve the congestion issues themselves.

But fast-forward 30 years and that isn’t the case in either New York or the Bay Area. So Lauder decided to roll up his sleeves and in 2010, he tried to get the Atherton transportation commission to put a roundabout at Alameda de las Pulgas and Atherton Avenue. He joined the commission in 2012.
“There are a number of ways I try to improve the world and this is one,” Lauder said.

Lauder has also written about transportation in Aspen, Colo. and has done multiple talks on the subject.

Traffic backups

His concern today is on the Willow Road-101 interchange.

Caltrans is converting the cloverleaf so that all four ramps will have two lanes. Two new stoplights will be added. Bike lanes will also be widened.
Cars are already backing up in the Willows neighborhood in Menlo Park, and that’s just from construction. It will be worse when the interchange is finished, he said.

He said he is speaking out against the project after having seen the impact of the Marsh Road-101 interchange revamp, which is similar to the Willow-101 project.

Lauder disputes the contention of planners that the new interchange will improve the flow of traffic. He said that what will really get traffic moving is improving surrounding roads and two intersections — Willow Road and the Bayfront Expressway and Willow and University Avenue.

Accident reduction claim disputed

Lauder also disputes the claim by proponents that the new ramps will reduce accidents. He said he sees accidents at the Marsh-101 interchange on a regular basis.

He said that if the goal is to help bicyclists get safely over Highway 101, then there were better, less expensive options than a $70 million redesign of the interchange. One option would be to build a bike and pedestrian bridge.

Lauder has posted his critiques of the interchange project on a Facebook page titled “Willow Interchange,” started by investor and doctor Joon Yun. It can be found at

The page includes a video Lauder took using a drone of the Hillsdale Boulevard off ramp, which was configured in a similar way in which Willow Road will soon be. He has offered to take Menlo Park officials on a “field trip” to the ramp during commute time to show them the drawbacks of the design.

City Council gets the last word

Lauder has spoken at many city council and transportation commission meetings in Menlo Park since 2015 about the project, and council members Catherine Carlton and Ray Mueller have expressed concerns about the interchange. But the council needs three votes to reconsider the project, which may be especially tricky because construction has already begun. Lauder plans on speaking at tonight’s (Jan. 16) council meeting at 7 p.m.