Opinion: Decision to put bike lanes on El Camino will hurt small businesses


Daily Post Editor

An estimated 39% of small, independent businesses in California were forced to permanently close during the pandemic, according to research by Harvard. Those who survived are still trying to get back to where they were in 2018 and 2019.

In Palo Alto, the businesses that survived got a kick in the teeth last Tuesday when the City Council voted 5-1 to eliminate parking on El Camino Real. For most businesses, car traffic is essential to success. If a consumer can’t drive to a store or restaurant, and find parking, the business dies.

Council eliminated 500 parking spaces that serve over 100 businesses along El Camino. Those businesses are either going to close or move to a more business-friendly city.

This happened because bicycle advocacy groups have been applying nonstop pressure to Caltrans to add bike lanes. Caltrans is the state agency responsible for El Camino. Caltrans buckled under the pressure and told cities such as Palo Alto that the road won’t be repaved unless it includes bike lanes.

Palo Alto didn’t put up much of a fight. Instead, a couple of council members waved the white flag and started working with Caltrans behind the scenes to design the bike lanes.

One problem with these new bike lanes is that they will tempt unsuspecting cyclists to believe El Camino Real is a safe place to bike. Picture a first-grader who doesn’t have a lot of experience cycling pedaling down the street alongside an 18-wheel tractor trailer.

City should fight Caltrans

The city is telling businesses that there will be sufficient parking on streets in nearby neighborhoods. But that will crowd out the people who live in those neighborhoods.

It’s a shame that the city didn’t fight Caltrans on this one. City leaders could have engaged Assemblyman Marc Berman and state Sen. Josh Becker to get Caltrans to change its mind.

And why not fight this out in court? The city had a number of good arguments:

1. The state doesn’t have the right to redesign city streets.

2. The state doesn’t have the right to extort cities by forcing them to approve bike lanes or their roads won’t be repaved.

3. The state is pushing an unfunded mandate on the city because businesses will sue the city for lost business, and the money to settle those suits has to come from somewhere.

4. There are parallel streets that would provide a safer route for bicyclists than El Camino.

5. When bicycle deaths occur because of the new lanes, the city will be held liable even though Caltrans is to blame. The city shouldn’t have to take the blame.

6. The decision should be made by locally-elected officials, who are accountable to the voters, and not Caltrans, which has no elected leadership.

Remember this at election time

At election time, city council candidates like to say that they’re supporters of small, local businesses. This decision by council says otherwise. It says that special interests can get their way by pushing state and local bureaucrats around, and council won’t fight back.

This decision will become a big issue in the fall council race. Pat Burt is running for re-election and it’s likely Greer Stone will seek another four years.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays in the Daily Post.


  1. Does the author understand that caltrans owns the street and is bound by state mandates to make streets safer. It is their decision to make the binary choice between bike lanes and parking. They could’ve easily removed a car lane to accommodate the parking.

    Make way for the future, cars are on the way out. No one goes to ECR as a destination. It desperately needs more locals and food traffic.

  2. The author, Dave Price, says Caltrans controls El Camino in the fourth paragraph. His point is that the city could fight Caltrans if it wished to. But thanks for revealing your agenda — a world without cars. That sounds so insane.

  3. Bike Lane mean business. City centers in Europe have returned quite nicely after the pandemic AND especially those that offered a more beautiful, walkable, and bikeable setup.
    The most important sentence here:
    “An estimated 39% of small, independent businesses in California were forced to permanently close during the pandemic, according to research by Harvard.”
    California is as car-centric as any state, which means the 39% of small, independent businesses were forced to close BECAUSE California is so car-centric. For years small businesses in the US were hurt by big car-centric malls, now the car-centric malls and the downtown areas are in trouble because California never got the message.
    I love my car, but I’m not married to it and if I have the choice to drive or order online, I go online. But if I can combine a little shopping with exercising, I’m better of using my bike. And especially if I want to take my kids along, bike lanes are needed.

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