Controversy over adding sidewalks to Sharon Road

Menlo Park resident Linda Barman submitted this photo to the city council illustrating the obstacles that La Entrada Middle School students have to face on their way to school.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Controversy is beginning to brew over a proposal to build sidewalks along Sharon Road in Menlo Park leading to La Entrada Middle School.

Some residents think that the city shouldn’t build sidewalks on the street, while others say the city ought to have a process to prioritize which streets get new or improved sidewalks.
Another group of residents would be pleased to see sidewalks on the street.

The city’s plan would put sidewalks along Sharon Road between Alameda de las Pulgas and Altschul Avenue, which leads to La Entrada Middle School. The city has $935,000 set aside to design the sidewalks, according to a Feb. 1 report by Public Works Director Justin Murphy.

The issue is surfacing because council may put the project on the city’s to-do list of projects for this year at a meeting Feb. 26.

Mayor Ray Mueller said that adding sidewalks along Sharon Road was discussed at last year’s priority setting meeting, and that the project was later added to the budget. However, the project does not appear individually on the city’s 2018 priority list.

Some residents, such as Jen Wolosin, the chair of the group Parents for Safe Routes, point out that this year’s goal setting is different from last year because three of the five council members were elected last fall to represent geographical districts in the city.

The role of the new council districts

Previously, all five council members were elected citywide. The switch to district elections has raised concerns that council members will only worry about projects in their districts in order to win re-election.

Wolosin, in an email to council, urges council to “look at the big picture of safe routes and not focus on one-off projects.”

Sharon Road and La Entrada are located in council District 5, where both Mueller and Councilwoman Catherine Carlton live. District 5 encompasses part of the west Menlo Park, Stanford Hills and Sharon Heights neighborhoods.

Both Carlton and Mueller were elected before the switch to council districts. Mueller said that since the previous council reviewed the project twice, and set money aside for it, it is a citywide project.

“At the end of the day, it’s a street next to a middle school with 800 students and no sidewalks,” Mueller said. He called the sidewalks a matter of safety.

Mueller also pointed out that similar projects have been constructed throughout the city — sidewalks have been built along Chilco and Santa Cruz, and a bicycle lane was installed along Oak Grove.

Wolosin in her email agreed that Sharon Road needs to “become a proper safe route,” and listed 20 other streets and intersections that also need to be improved. Wolosin urged the council to use the city’s Transportation Master Plan process or its Safe Routes to School program to properly prioritize projects.

Are the two school districts treated the same?

However Linda Barman, who used to represent the Las Lomitas School District in the Parents for Safe Routes group, argued that multiple “safe routes” projects benefitting the Menlo Park City School District have already been completed, such as the Oak Grove bike lanes and the sidewalks on Santa Cruz Avenue to Hillview Middle School.

“(Las Lomitas) has gotten nothing, and now we are asking for one block — only one block — of sidewalks,” Barman wrote.

Barman said sidewalks should be a council priority.

“The current situation on Sharon Road is extremely dangerous. There are no sidewalks, and students must walk out into the road to avoid garbage cans, puddles, and parked cars on the narrow shoulder. It is a very busy road with lots of traffic, just as the children are walking to school. … It is only a matter of time before a student is seriously injured or killed,” Barman wrote in an email to council.

However, not everyone agrees that there ought to be sidewalks along Sharon Road. Of the 31 or so emails that council has received since the beginning of the month about the project, at least six oppose installation of sidewalks.

Among those opposed are Pat and Ginger Connolly, who have been living along Sharon Road for 46 years. They suggested that the council instead look at a “range of alternative solutions” to improve children’s walk to school.

The Connollys suggest in their email that the best solution would keep Sharon Road as the “preferred route” for cars. While bicyclists and pedestrians would use Harkins Road, which runs parallel to Sharon Road between Alameda de las Pulgas and Altschul Avenue, which already has some sidewalks.

However, most of Harkins is in unincorporated San Mateo County, while Sharon Road is in Menlo Park proper, so the city would not be able to make Harkins a bike and pedestrian route, the county Board of Supervisors would.

But others, including former Las Lomitas School Board Trustee Christy Heaton, are urging the council to go forward with the sidewalks.

“We have many students walk that small stretch of Sharon every day and I just held my breath every day, hoping that something horrible didn’t happen to one of our students on that stretch,” Heaton wrote.

Whether the sidewalks become a main council priority for the year may be determined at the council’s Feb. 26 meeting.