County planning to revamp Middlefield Road corridor in North Fair Oaks 

A busy thoroughfare in North Fair Oaks is about to get a face-lift thanks to an investment by San Mateo County and officials are asking for the community's input on the various improvements.

The county Board of Supervisors in June pledged $12.5 million in Measure A funds to overhaul a strip of Middlefield Road between Pacific and Fifth avenues in the unincorporated area of the county. The project will aim to make the retail corridor safer for pedestrians and cyclists and more welcoming to shoppers and business owners.

The Middlefield Road stretch is currently saddled with dim lighting, narrow sidewalks and cramped parking, according to county officials. Its four driving lanes, which parallel U.S. Highway 101 and connect Redwood City with Atherton and Menlo Park, are prone to high truck volume and speedy traffic that make it difficult for people to safely cross the street, officials note.

"There is a stoplight, there are some flashing lights ... but the general idea is that it's really difficult, especially for little kids going to school," Supervisor Warren Slocum said of District 4, which includes the working-class and largely Latino area of unincorporated North Fair Oaks.

"All the people in our surveys say that they want a safe street and they want a more beautiful street," Slocum added. "People tend to go a little bit too fast on it. It's a major artery."

Reducing the road width to three lanes and potentially including a median have been proposed as speed abatement measures. Such a plan would convert the street's current diagonal parking arrangement to parallel parking.

According to Slocum, about half of the 2,000 residents surveyed for the project support lane reductions, while those opposed have expressed concerns that available parking spaces would also be reduced.

A number of meetings held this summer and fall will to continue to present ideas to the public and solicit feedback on the streetscape overhaul.

The first phase of improvement, which has already begun, consists of undergrounding utility poles. Possibilities for Phase 2, which isn't slated for completion until 2019, include wider sidewalks with benches, more trees and new streetlights. A civic arts committee will commission public works such as murals, hanging banners and living walls to adorn the corridor.

The design may also incorporate plazas and parklets for gatherings, small parking areas or garages, and dedicated bike lanes.

"It is a major bike thoroughfare and that relates to the coming of Facebook and other tech companies and a younger workforce that wants to bike to work," Slocum said of the proximity to local tech businesses.

The proposed enhancements are part of a larger effort to preserve neighborhood character while readying the area for the housing boom spreading across the Peninsula. Zoning along the corridor will soon allow for higher-density residential development.

"There are a lot of small Latino businesses up and down that street," Slocum said. "Part of what this is all about is figuring out a way to keep that cultural flavor and make all these zoning changes without turning it into Van Ness Boulevard."

The North Fair Oaks Community Council will review plans and weigh in on the width of the new Middlefield Road in September. By year's end, Slocum expects the final proposal to come before the Board of Supervisors.

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S. Parker Yesko

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