Disrupting the Royal Road

El Camino Real—aka “the Royal Road”—has been on my mind (and in my sights) a lot these days. Naturally I spend a lot of time walking along El Camino for this blog. Recently I attended some of the meetings for the El Camino Real Corridor Plan, hoping to ensure that the pedestrian’s perspective is represented in this, the latest of Redwood City’s precise plans. And, of course, as a resident I cannot help but drive along El Camino periodically.

For the last couple of years my wife and I have been driving for Meals on Wheels. Our current route covers much of downtown Redwood City and the surrounding area. Because the meals are prepared at Rosener House in Menlo Park (on Middle Avenue, a couple of blocks off El Camino), each week we use El Camino to make the drive from Redwood City to Menlo Park and back—twice. Thus we’ve become particularly familiar with that section of El Camino and the traffic that occurs during the mid-to-late morning hours.

The last couple of weeks have proven to be particularly challenging, especially when heading back up from Menlo Park. This has partly been due to the construction on the 1305 El Camino project:

Apparently this project reached the stage—as nearly all projects seem to do—at which the nearby road needs to be torn up to provide access to underground utilities (water, sewer, gas). When the road involved is a small one the disruption usually isn’t too much of an imposition, but when it is a major, heavily used artery such as El Camino, many motorists end up suffering. For the last couple of Fridays at least one lane of El Camino Real going northbound has been blocked off in the late morning, reducing the number of available lanes from three to two. The resulting bottleneck caused a decent-sized traffic jam as people approaching the lane closure squeezed into the next lane to the left. Fortunately for my wife and I, as we first pass this project heading south we can see whether or not northbound traffic is being impacted. If so, when we return to the area with our meals for delivery we avoid that particular section of El Camino Real.

The 1305 El Camino project isn’t the only one impacting El Camino these days, of course. The other week I had occasion to be out driving on El Camino and ran into four such projects, all within the space of a couple of miles. First, there was a lane reduction in Menlo Park itself due to the digging of a parking garage for a small boutique hotel at 1400 El Camino. Then, there was the above-described project at 1350 El Camino. Next was a lane reduction resulting from work on San Carlos’s new multi-modal transit center. And lastly, traffic had to move over once again just after passing Holly Street due to the construction of the Transit Village apartment complex.

As if making the northbound drivers suffer wasn’t enough, this week construction started in earnest on the twelve condominiums planned for 150 El Camino Real (next to the old Mountain Mike’s pizza place). The contractors began with what appear to be sewer or storm drain connections—which meant tearing up El Camino and temporarily disrupting southbound traffic:

As someone who walks along El Camino more than the average Redwood City resident, I should of course note that motorists aren’t the only ones who suffer at the hands of projects like these. The rare cyclist on El Camino probably has it even worse than the motorists, given that these projects often leave a very uneven road surface for a time that makes cycling extra hazardous. And we pedestrians have it worst of all: the sidewalks around projects like these are simply closed for the duration of the project, requiring us to make long detours in order to pass by. For instance, on Monday I was heading towards San Carlos along El Camino and had to detour around the 150 El Camino project. I was forced to jog one block to the west, and then of course come back one block to the east once I had circumvented the affected area.

For the casual pedestrian making detours like this can be a real pain. I’m a rare case in that a detour presents me with an opportunity to visit a part of town I might otherwise not have gone to, so I usually take it with good grace. On occasion a detour pays dividends, as it did this week. If I hadn’t made this particular detour, I wouldn’t have seen this house, which is located on Hyde Street right where Avondale meets it:

I poked through the Fire Department logs and did a quick internet search to learn that the Fire Department visited this house on April 14 to deal with a fire in a plastic shed in the backyard, and then returned on the 15th to deal with a fire in the house itself. As you can see from the photo (click it to see a larger image), the house has been completely gutted. It will be interesting to see what the fire investigators say: based the two visits I’m guessing that they’re treating this case as suspicious.

After the detour I crossed Cordilleras Creek—which marks the border between Redwood City and the city of San Carlos—and continued up El Camino until I reached 1524 El Camino, the home of Mints & Honey. I’ve been curious about this business for some time now, ever since their sign went up at this address. What apparently started as a floral design business back in 2005 morphed (or expanded) into a party venue, which is what opened here back in April 2015. However well that has been going, I’ve never seen any activity here until this week, when they added yet another business: at the back of the party venue Mints & Honey is now operating a small cafe that serves coffee, tea, and a handful of baked goods. My wife and I dropped by on Wednesday to check them out, and we were both pleased: she with her latte and I with my Blackberry/Lemonade/Jasmine iced tea.

Mints & Honey has a really nice outdoor patio, which, because it is in the back, and not on El Camino itself, is very quiet. The trick with this place is in knowing how to get there: you have to go in the back entrance, which is in a small alley off White Oak Way between El Camino and Laurel, just south of Trader Joe’s. Look down the alley from the street and you should see their sign, if no the place itself:

If you are in the area and looking for a coffee or tea, drop in and check out Mints & Honey. Note that they are only open Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Across El Camino and little farther along, the Multi-modal Transit Center project continues to make slow progress. It seemingly took weeks to change the curb and pour an apron for the entry and exit to this new parking lot (which also will include “layover areas” for buses and shuttles, waiting areas for taxis, and a “kiss and ride” area). Because the curb and apron are right up against the roadway, the right lane of El Camino had to be closed during construction.

El Camino is flowing freely here once again, but because the new entrance will require the construction of a new signalized intersection at Cherry Street expect further disruptions on El Camino in the future.

When walking through San Carlos I always make it a point to check out the various projects underway, and this trip was no exception. All of the projects I have written about before (most recently in A Tale of Two Cities) seem to be moving along as expected. I of course had to pay a visit to Wheeler Plaza and although the progress so far is not really worth writing about—it’s going slowly—I was pleased to note that the contractors have cut viewing holes in the wooden construction walls along San Carlos Avenue, and placed them low enough so that kids can safely watch the heavy machinery at work:

I did note that the fifty-space parking lot that was built on the former site of the Foodville grocery store is open and operating:

This parking lot, which is free, is “valet-assisted”; while most drivers will likely self-park in the marked spaces, the valets can park cars in the aisles when all of the marked spaces are occupied. Once full the lot attendant will point drivers to the nearby SamTrans garage, where additional public parking has been made available.

I wandered up to the old Hermary’s store (on El Camino, one block north of Holly), which is now being rehabbed for either retail or office use—I’m not sure which. They’ve lofted the interior and put new glass along the entire exterior. But progress seems very slow; indeed, when I was there on Monday there was not a worker to be found. Me, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they keep the neat old Mickey Mouse clock on the top of the building above the entrance…

From Hermary’s I took a good look at the Transit Village apartments being erected across El Camino (between El Camino Real and the tracks). This project, at least, now appears to be making great progress. Two of the four apartment buildings that will soon stand north of Holly Street are quite visible, and footings, plumbing, and such for the other two appear to be in place: very soon now we should have a feel for how this project is going to impact that part of San Carlos. Fortunately it no longer seems to be impacting El Camino, at least for now.

El Camino Real is a state highway, and it shows: thanks in large part to our booming economy El Camino carries a lot of traffic each day, and even a minor disruption such as a delivery truck blocking a single lane is enough to cause a major headache. When a large development project results in a lane closure for a week or three, residents and through-drivers alike feel the pain. Fortunately, these closures are temporary and eventually come to an end, after which our traffic patterns return to normal (such as that is). At the moment things have quieted down, but the construction boom in Redwood City (and in San Carlos and Menlo Park) will likely continue to impact roads such as El Camino Real for many months to come.

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