Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 29, 2011

Around Town

WHO YOU GONNA TEXT? ... At a time when businesses, teenagers and Middle East protesters are turning more and more toward smartphones and social-media sites, police dispatchers across the nation remain tethered to the past. Citizens in distress still have to dial 9-1-1 the old-fashioned way, even when sending a text message or a video clip could prove more convenient or fruitful. Now, Palo Alto is working with Los Altos and Mountain View on what officials are calling the "Next Generation 9-1-1" — a system that would allow the three cities to accommodate emergency requests from text messages, Internet-based text-messaging clients, video-based clients and other modes of technologies, according to a new report from the Palo Alto Police Department. "For the past 40 years, 9-1-1 calls have depended upon traditional, low-speed, analog telephone infrastructure," the report states. "While the remainder of the business and consumer world has embraced and adopted the use of Internet and wireless technologies, the 9-1-1 infrastructure has remained essentially unchanged." The three cities are upgrading their respective emergency-dispatch systems to both enhance their capability to receive complaints through non-traditional means and to consolidate their respective operations. The new system will allow the three different systems to communicate with one another, a capability they currently don't have.

HIGH-SPEED AHEAD ... State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, grabbed statewide headlines three weeks ago when he, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, unveiled a new proposal for California's high-speed rail system. The proposal calls for the rail authority to "blend" the new system with an upgraded Caltrain system rather than building what the lawmakers called "duplicate" tracks on the Peninsula. Simitian, who chairs a Senate Budget Subcommittee and who has long branded himself a supporter of "high-speed rail done right" had a chance to discuss his new proposal Thursday morning with Roelof van Ark, the CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, at a budget hearing in Sacramento. The former Palo Alto mayor told van Ark that he wished he didn't have to present his own plan for the voter-approved rail system. But after waiting a year and a half, he decided that it's time for him to make clear what he means by "done right." He asked van Ark not to proceed with an environmental analysis for the entire project but to reduce the project's scope. He said he doesn't want the rail authority's Environmental Impact Report for the largely unfunded project to "put a sword over the head of every property owner" along the Caltrain corridor. Van Ark remained skeptical about some aspects of the legislators' new proposal. "The long-term nature of the project requires that we continue to plan for the entire system and for the longer term," van Ark said. He also raised questions about the blending of Caltrain and high-speed rail on the Peninsula. He noted that the high-speed rail has to be able to travel between San Jose and San Francisco in 30 minutes and suggested that running on Caltrain tracks could complicate this objective. "The two systems, high-speed and commuter rail, operate at very different modes," van Ark told the committee. "Commuter-rail systems have to stop at every station. High-speed rail doesn't want to stop at stations. You cannot pass the trains because you're behind them when they're stopping and unloading (passengers)." The rail authority's board of directors is scheduled to discuss the Peninsula segment of the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line on May 5.

GOING FOR A RIDE ... As Palo Alto continues to revamp its bicycle Master Plan, city officials are preparing to take residents for a ride to show them a glimpse of the future. Mayor Sid Espinosa, City Manager James Keene and planning staff are inviting the public on a "Bicycle Boulevard Tour" along Park Boulevard, which is slated to become the city's next "bike boulevard" (a street that discourages cars and entices bicyclists through various traffic-calming measures and amenities such as bike lanes). The tour, which starts at City Hall, will return via Bryant Street, an existing bicycle boulevard, and conclude just in time for the City Council's 6 p.m. discussion of the city's ongoing update of its "Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan."

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