Council removes parking on El Camino to make way for bike lanes

Lydia Kou was the only council member to vote against removal of the parking on El Camino Real to make way for bike lanes.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto City Council on Tuesday (June 18) approved the removal of all parking on El Camino Real in favor of bike lanes, whenever Caltrans repaves the road.

The city will lose roughly 500 parking spaces, replaced by a green plastic curb that is raised a few inches off the ground.

Residents and businesses who rely on the parking aren’t happy, while biking advocates scored a victory in their quest to make El Camino a bike highway throughout the Peninsula.

Council members said they were pushed into a corner by Caltrans, which owns the state route. Only Councilwoman Lydia Kou voted no at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Whether we like it or not, Caltrans is doing this,” Mayor Greer Stone said.

“We need to make the best of it,” Vice Mayor Ed Lauing said.

Lauing and Councilman Pat Burt have been working with Caltrans officials on the design since April 1, after council voted 4-3 to reject a version of the bike lanes that relied mostly on paint.

The new bike lanes will be separated from the road by a rubber barrier and vertical posts about two or three feet tall, according to Aung Maung, Caltrans’ chief safety officer for the Bay Area.

Right turns banned

Council also voted to ban right turns on red at most intersections on El Camino.

“If this is all said and done one day, it’s an entirely differently place — in a good way,” Councilwoman Julie Lythcott-Haims said.

The city still has to figure out where the parked cars will go, including the 40 or so RV dwellers who live on the street.

Transportation Planner Nate Baird is expecting a showdown in the Evergreen Park and Mayfield neighborhoods, where the city could allow employees to buy permits to make up for the loss on El Camino.

“I believe there is some room, but it is a very a sensitive conversation,” Baird said. “Some residents are pointedly against any employee parking in the neighborhood.”

Lauing said the city will go “block by block, business by business” to find parking solutions.

“The access for local-serving retailers and restaurants and other businesses is serious,” Lauing said.

“We’re going to get that done. We have to get that done.”

Will ‘destroy’ small businesses

Kou said the loss of parking will “destroy” small businesses, and the bike lanes are “over-engineered.”

High-rise apartments are coming to El Camino, and the new developments won’t have enough parking either, she said.

Palo Alto should watch what happens with new bike lanes on El Camino in Los Altos and Mountain View first, Kou said.

“Is El Camino — a state highway — the place to do this?” she asked. “Just repair the road. Repair the road.”

Keri Wagner, president of the Palo Alto Council of PTAs, said she supports banning right turns on red.

So do the family members of Paul Lafargue, an 11-year-old boy who was was struck and killed by a flat bed truck at the corner of El Camino Real and California Avenue in March 2020.

“This is a very real safety concern that could easily be addressed, by prioritizing the life of vulnerable road users over the speed and flow of traffic that seems to take all precedence in decisions so far,” Edouard, Veronique and Jules Lafargue said in an email to council.

Tony Lee, who owns Stanford Coin Wash at 2045 El Camino Real, said his customers rely on the convenience of street parking, and they have no other option.

“Removing the parking on El Camino would not only kill my business, but also negatively impact the lives of our customers who rely on our services, and of course my livelihood as a small business owner,” Lee said.

Gregg Forrest, the owner of Cardinal Bike Shop at 1955 El Camino Real, said that Palo Altans care about parking more than bike lanes.

“This is going to blow up in your face,” he said.

Not a place to bike

Forrest said he would never let a loved one bike on El Camino, and he is worried about the parking impact on businesses too.

“It’s not going to make it safer … There will be deaths within a year. There’s no question. These kids are oblivious,” Forrest said.

Galen Fletcher, owner of Sundance The Steakhouse, said the bike lane proposal is the biggest threat to his restaurant in 50 years of business.

Caltrans hasn’t released a schedule for when the repaving will take place.

Caltrans Division Chief Nick Saleh told council in April that work could start this summer, and the goal is to finish the repaving project through Palo Alto, Los Altos and Mountain View early next year.

The state and the city still have to negotiate an agreement for maintaining the bike lanes. For example, which entity will repair a post that is knocked down.

Aung told council that Caltrans doesn’t have the employees to maintain the equipment, so the state agency has asked cities to do the work. But the city would be liable if an agreement is signed and then the maintenance doesn’t get done, Aung said.

Council was scheduled to vote on the parking removal on Monday, but the meeting went too long. So council took it up first thing on Tuesday, and Councilman Greg Tanaka was absent.


  1. Thanks to Lydia Kou for speaking out for small businesses, their patrons, as well as residents and guests of all the new apartments and condos that don’t have adequate parking.

    And thanks, Lydia, for noting that Caltrans should focus on fixing the humongous potholes NOW! Seems like cars don’t matter. They think that when our tires and suspensions are shot, we’ll all sell our cars and ride bikes 20+ miles to work, to shop for groceries, to take our kids to soccer practice, to go to the dentist/doctor/drugstore …

    It’s more fun for Caltrans engineers to make grandiose plans than to get out and make essential street repairs. They like spending huge amounts of taxpayer money on virtue signaling. What about the state budget deficit? Where’s our county rep, Joe Simitian, on all this? Does he ride a bike to work?

    ‘Lauing said the city will go “block by block, business by business” to find parking solutions.’ Have fun, Ed. That will take a miracle. Neighborhoods don’t want business parking on their streets. We’ve already seen what happened in College Terrace, Downtown North and Crescent Park. People couldn’t get out of their driveways!

    Never mind the people living in vans. What about all the Paly and Stanford student cars lining El Camino during the school year?

    Gregg Forrest, owner of Cardinal Bike Shop, said, “This is going to blow up in your face.” Next to Lydia Kou, he was the smartest guy in the room.

  2. And where will VTA and Samtrans buses drop off and pickup riders?

    As a biker I would use the bike blocs, rather than bike El Camino and breath the more polluted air. Putting bike lanes on El Camino benefits 1%, will cause more congestion on feeder roads to El Camino, more pollution as cars idle.

  3. Thank you, Lydia Kou, for speaking out against this absurd nonsense.

    I hear Pat Burt says we’ve got the best roads anywhere. Can the entire county send him our bills for car repairs and new tires?

    Where has he been for the last few years when we were all saying ECR needed to be repaved? Drinking the politically correct Kool=Aid from his Bike Bully Buddies?

    • El Camino is under the jurisdiction of the County, so the County is responsible for filling the potholes, which is why it never gets done.

      The County is also mandating that El Camino install bike lanes and lose the parking spots. Again, not much Palo Alto can do about it other than minor alterations, unfortunately.

      Can’t blame Burt or the Council. These are all County level decisions. Granted, the article did not make it clear.

      • That is not what was decided on at the City Council meeting where they said Palo Alto will work out a contract with CalTrans to decide who maintains and polices ECR. Go back and watch the CC reruns.

        Besides, Pat Burt said we’ve got great roads. He clearly needs to get out more because NO ONE I’ve ever spoken to praises the shape of our roads or the light timinbg. Shades of Liz Kniss saying we have no traffic problems.

  4. Instead of eliminating parking, how about we go to two lanes of traffic in each direction. That will allow both bikes and parking, and maybe El Camino will slow down. It’s become a freeway.

    • El Camino is already two lanes in Menlo Park. Today was a typical day with delivery vans parked in one lane, slowing traffic to a crawl. The more Caltrans hinders traffic, the worse behavior we’ll see from frustrated drivers.

  5. What happens to all the RVs parked along Stanford where people live? That may be a less than ideal solution to housing costs, but what will be the alternative? Will they be parking in residential areas instead?

    Hopefully the Council and staff have an answer other than “let’s hire a consultant.”

  6. Patrick Burt used to say “We’ve got the best roads to nowhere.”
    Glad to see former Mayor Kou stand up for small businesses.

  7. Please stop with the myth that we have “great roads” (reality = potholes everywhere) and are “bicycle friendly” (reality = 2 deaths and one paralyzed from neck down so far this year). Recently, I was run down by Palo Alto’s own USPS van who was upset I was in the same turning lane as he. We need to increase penalties to drivers who harm & KILL bike riders (including students simply riding to class). You kill someone, pay up!

  8. I’m all for environmentalism and bike safety, but as a small business owner on El Camino Real, the decision to remove parking will destroy my livelihood. I don’t understand how the city council could let caltrans make these kinds of decisions while not attempting to stick up for our backs. Where was the consideration for us businesses? The customers? The employees? The nearby neighborhood residents? The emphasis on biker safety seems like a complete bad faith excuse for the state to use/make some money. There are much safer alternatives for bike paths than busy El Camino where thousands of commuters that live in neighboring cities MUST commute by car to get to their work everyday! No one has come to my business nor any of my neighboring businesses to ask or even notify us about this decision that has been in the works for months! For the council to allow this to happen to its community is devastating and if you ask me… something really fishy is going on.

  9. Isn’t the real question, why are people allowed to park on a State Highway in the first place?
    Nobody would regard it as safe to “park” on SR-101 or I-280. And while SR-17 does have some businesses along the route, all parking is off-street parking.
    State highways are made for transportation and not car-storage. Parking on major highways always leads to congestion, when people circle two/three times around the block until that one spot in front of their favorite business is available.
    And if Palo Alto wants to increase population density along ECR, then of course they need to increase transportation density as well, and that requires bus lanes or bike lanes.
    This could have been done with bus lanes, but Palo Alto city council turned down the VTA proposal in 2015 (I believe), so know Caltrans is required to provide bike lanes instead. This is good transportation policy by Caltrans.

    • I280 is an interstate freeway. US101 is a US highway. CA82 (El Camino) is a state highway. Apples and Oranges.

      How much congestion do you expect when there’s no parking on El Camino? Shoppers and apartment/condo dwellers (and their guests) will do a lot more circling than you see now. Although when businesses go belly up, that will certainly ease the problem.

      Have you seen the MTC financials? Take a look and ask yourself if these people are likely to provide public transit that will get people out of their cars — without a $20B (actual cost $48B) bond to rescue them, assuming they deserve to be rescued.

      How many drivers will switch from car to bike just because there’s a bike lane on ECR? Experienced bicyclists say they will never ride on ECR because it’s inherently unsafe.

      Finally, how is it good transportation policy to favor a minority of commuters (bicycles) over a majority (cars)?

  10. City council is just getting us ready for the day when we abandon our cars and take bikes everywhere. Flooding the streets with bikes has worked out so well in Shanghai and Guangzhou, it’s time to try it here.

  11. Our expectations of the council members are too high. They’re a bunch of dim bulbs. Most of them believe in the global warming theory and think the earth is going to burn up in a few years. They can’t explain the science but will believe anything the woke movement tells them.

  12. What about the driveways from cars usually nose out INTO the proposed bike lanes so drivers can check oncoming traffic? It’s already pretty dangerous for cars in the right lane trying to avoid them when boxed in by the middle lane so wondering what the traffic planners are going to do about them??

    Also where are all the ride-share vehicles and delivery vans –Amazon, Fedex, USPS, UPS and private to businesses — going to park? Or maybe they’re planning on closing off all the driveways?

  13. This is a great idea. There’s plenty of parking off ECR. The few spaces in front of the businesses near California street won’t make a difference in those businesses. I don’t mind walking another 2 minutes and no one will say “I’m not shopping here unless I can park 20 feet from the door.”

    Plus, it will be wonderful to clean up the ghetto of those ramshackle RVs that line the road. They’re an eyesore.

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