Palo Alto parents group wants to shut down Caltrain Palo Alto Issues, posted by train rider, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Nov 23, 2009 at 3:15 pm
A group of Palo Alto parents (unknown exactly who or how many they are) demands that Caltrain run its trains at 5mph through Palo Alto.
This request is the equivalent of a 5mph speed limit on Highway 101. It will effectively end Caltrain service on the peninsula. Shutting down Caltrain will put thousands more cars on the roads. Yes, fatalities are tragic, but a lot more people get killed by cars than by trains.
Posted by Paly Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 23, 2009 at 5:25 pm
I won't sign the petition even though I think the situation is serious and I had a student in the Paly class of 2006 which lost 2 students to suicide on the tracks. But, I would imagine that a petition may make Caltrain realise how dangerous the crossings are. The style of all the crossings in Palo Alto and elsewhere on Caltrain would be considered third world in any European country for a residential area suburban busy railroad.
Anything that makes Caltrain realise just how pathetic their safety measures are is a good thing. However, I don't think passengers should be inconvenienced while doing so.
Posted by Gunn Alum, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Nov 23, 2009 at 6:24 pm
The trains are secondary but if you look elsewhere in the country you'll see that communities have many attempted suicides and not as many successes. There aren't many communties like ours where the train is so easily accessible and the outcome so final. There's no going back once you've taken that step onto the tracks. I just can't imagine that this would inconvenience passengers so much for such a small distance through town.
Posted by Won't happen, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Nov 23, 2009 at 6:27 pm
Slowing the trains down to 5 MPH at East Meadow won't ever happen even if they get hundreds of on-line signatures on the petition. Why, because it takes far to long and far to many miles ahead to slow the trains down, it will throw Caltrain's schedules out of wack.
Posted by train rider, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Nov 23, 2009 at 6:28 pm
I agree with Paly Parent. While your emotions are understandable, taking them out on the current train passengers is divisive and counter productive.
Caltrain is taking this seriously and they have made many safety improvements around the train stations in the last few years. They are also working with mental health professionals, set up a suicide hotline, held numerous outreach seminars (including one last weekend), etc.
Rearranging the roads, however, is way outside their current budget. You need to address that to the city and county governments. There is a long term plan to separate all the train crossings and public support can push that along. You should be prepared for opposition from various special interest groups, but at least you will be fighting for the issue based on its merits rather than as a publicity stunt.
Posted by train rider, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Nov 23, 2009 at 6:33 pm
And I do agree with "Won't Happen". If Caltrain were forced to run at 5mph even for a moderate distance, that would create such a huge bottleneck that the whole system would fall apart. Imagine changing the speed limit on Hwy 101 to 5mph through Palo Alto and how that would affect the traffic along the whole peninsula. And cars can accelerate and brake a lot more quickly than trains.
Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford, on Nov 24, 2009 at 12:51 am
I can understand reasonable worry about trains after the terrible tragedies. But to propose inconveniencing hundreds or thousands of commuters and others who rely on the trains is short-sighted and selfish.
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 24, 2009 at 3:06 am Walter_E_Wallis is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
"Rearranging the roads, however, is way outside their current budget. You need to address that to the city and county governments."
Fiddlesticks. Palo Alto is notorious for it's blocking off through traffic whenever the whining gets hot. For the cost of a few speed bumps, Meadow and Churchill crossings could be permanently closed. switching center lane direction to favor demand might even more then compensate for he loss of Churchill.
Posted by Facts, a resident of Stanford, on Nov 24, 2009 at 7:59 am
Why 5 mph only through Palo Alto? there have been suicides all along the Caltrain line--maybe Caltrain should run at 5 mph from San Francisco to san Jose.
Did anyone do the math and caculate the distance between the Palo Alto borders--it is about 5 miles from Menlo Park to Mountain View--that means with stops it would take the train approximately 1 hour to go through Palo Alto--that is ridiculous.
this is typical of the "palo alto--the world revolves around us" mentality
If it is such a problem, then build graded crossings--yes, I know Palo Alto residents will yell and scream--but you cannot have it both ways
Posted by Won't happen, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Nov 24, 2009 at 8:33 am
Many years ago I remember hearing the plans for grade separation in Palo Alto. They included closing off East Meadow at the railroad tracks on both sides and having all vehicles use an over pass at Charleston which would include both the train tracks and Alma. But until this happens don't expect anything to change. Also, expect a lot of opposition!!
Posted by Ask the BoE, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 24, 2009 at 9:01 am
It's not the trains, it's the workload. The school board needs to create rules for teachers so our students are not so overworked. Either they have final exams before Winter Break or move Winter Break to January (allowing Dec. 24/25, Jan. 1/2 off) so that the students can have a real break after final exams and not have exams hovering over their heads during Winter "Break". Have more "staff development" days during the year even if it means school ends a week later. Have more "No Homework Days". Our students don't have enough time to rest.
Posted by KB, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Nov 24, 2009 at 9:32 am
There are plenty of at-grade crossings all the way from San Jose to SF. Why have there been so many suicides in PA then, compared to the rest of the route? It appears that the problem is not then with the crossing, but with something else in Palo Alto.
It also seems that removing the method will not necessarily solve the problem, since the cause remains un-addressed. The kids will just move on to other methods, plenty of which exist: buses, painkillers, car exhaust, etc.
If these parents really want to make a difference, they should work on the problems that are causing their kids to do this. But that probably involves more self-awareness and introspection than they want to do, and worse, might place some of the blame on themselves. Much easier to blame Caltrain.
Posted by the watcher, a resident of another community, on Nov 24, 2009 at 9:54 am
While is is undiscribible the amount of grief and concern people have in regard to the recent teen suicides, one should realize that this area is well known for suicides along the train tracks.
Public records will allow one to go back 30 years to view the amount of suicides on Charleston and E Meadow along this particular area of the train tracks. The number of such deaths is alarming.
A suggestion: The lighting in this area is minimal. Perhaps a line of (5-10 or so) motion lights along either side of the tracks could be triggered to light up just prior to the train's approach. Then they would automatically turn off. If lights wer installed, any person standing along the tracks or in the area could be seen immediately. This may possibly detour the victim from harming his/her-self. (I parked and got out of my car one night just prior to the train approach, and noticed the lighting is minimal 20 feet west along the sidewalks, as well as north and south of the tracks, especially considering the current situation).
Such a lighting project would not be that costly to institute, and would give the train engineer and vehiclist waiting at the traffic lights a broader visual of what's ahead.
As a mother of a teen, I know that when one young person takes his/her life, a part of many of that victim's friends acquaintences and community's teen parents are also hurt and affected. Also, the train's personnel and passengers carry horrific feelings of grief and dispondency for days afterward.
Maybe my idea will be considered, or perhaps someone will come up with a similiar or better suicide prevention idea.
Posted by train rider, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Nov 24, 2009 at 9:56 am
I'm guessing that most of the Palo Alto suicides are copy cats. The media circus (as well as Internet chatter) about these tragedies just encourages more at-risk students to consider the same type of suicide. If someone committed suicide in some other very public way, I would not be surprised to see that copied instead.
You can't blame the train tracks. There are plenty of other public dangers. In some communities, there have been a rash of people running out on to freeways, but no one is suggesting a 5mph speed limit there.
Any solution to suicide has to be addressed at the mental health level. Everything else is just a band-aid, though some band-aids, like the parents group monitoring the train crossing, can be effective in the short run.
Posted by More-Proof, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 24, 2009 at 10:25 am
> Public records will allow one to go back 30 years
The lighting in this area is minimal.
No one has ever claimed that the people killed by the trains didn't know that these tracks were there, or couldn't see them after dark. The warning lights and bells go off about 25 seconds before a train arrives that the tracks. The warning lights are red and flashing. Any one not wanting to commit suicide will be quite safe if they stop walking until the crossing lights go out.
While it's arguable that bright lights might force a person considering suicide to go somewhere else to do the deed, if such a person is committed .. they will find a place to jump in front of a train .. even if it is somewhere else.
Posted by Clem, a resident of another community, on Nov 24, 2009 at 10:41 am
> Also, the train's personnel and passengers carry horrific feelings of grief and dispondency for days afterward.
It is really depressing. I was sitting in the front car of a northbound on November 6th when the train hit someone in Redwood City. It is a sound I will never forget, and I had nightmares about it for several nights afterward. I can't imagine what it must have been like for the train crew: the engineer who saw it just before, and the conductors who saw it just after.
I like your lighting idea. It is something that has a reasonable chance of getting done, unlike slowing the trains. Ultimately the correct solution is to grade-separate the train tracks.
Posted by train rider, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Nov 24, 2009 at 11:00 am
It is true that someone who really wants to commit suicide can always do it. However, most suicide attempts are spur-of-the-moment emotional acts, perhaps prodded on by media attention. That is why patrolling and lighting specific locations can be effective, at least in the short run.
Posted by the watcher, a resident of another community, on Nov 24, 2009 at 11:20 am
QUOTE: Public records will allow one to go back 30 years
Posted by More-Proof: Doubtful.
Not doubtful. As a citizen of Palo Alto, or any other community, public records access is your right. If any person filled out the proper paperwork at their local police department records desk, they would be allowed copies of computer generated printouts of suicides in specific areas of the city at a minimal cost.
Is it not wise to look at the history of the number of suicides in Palo Alto before trying to move ahead to the future in solving this problem? The city of Palo Alto has the largest number of suicides on this line.
Posted by Gunn parent, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Nov 24, 2009 at 11:24 am
To Train Rider,
I can't believe how things get switch around. Now you are saying that trains will be shotdown. I know it will be invonvenient for you if the train crosses Palo Alto at 5mph, but it will be worth it because the life of students will be saved. Also this would not be for a long time, it will only be while the hot spot cools off. I know that the tracks are not the main reason of the suicides, however if parents are there, the spot gets lighted, and the train reduces speed, the spot will loose interest and will cool off. I know the school needs to do a lot of changes on how to support our students who have been affected by these tragedies. If the first suicide did not happen we would not be on Palo Alto on Line talking about this subject. I do not think the other students did it because they are copying, they are doing it because they have been affected by the other suicides. They are young people and did not get enough help to deal with such tragedies. The Gunn administration needs to improve or change, also parents needs to be more understandable of their students failures both academically and socially. I know I am doing these changes at home, I am working on the tracks, but the next step is to really deal with the school. That is going to be a hard one, because of course the school is defensive. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Please lets join forces to help our teens to stay alive, finish high school and move on with their lives, they need time to heal, and they will not have it if another person commits suicide on the tracks. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 24, 2009 at 12:52 pm
Not true about Paly kids, just not quite so recent. The class of '06 lost two to suicide on the tracks about 18 months apart and one more that the kids themselves managed to prevent by reporting to staff.
Posted by DZ, a member of the Terman Middle School community, on Nov 24, 2009 at 1:01 pm
Hi Train Rider,
Show me what Caltrain has done, except signs and blaming us? Say again their budget is more important than our lives. Say again that the proposed 500 feet of 5 mile zone is equivalent to 5 mile zone to the hundreds of miles of 101. I hope you can look at mirror and say: I am fair person and deserve any people's respect.
Posted by train rider, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Nov 24, 2009 at 1:33 pm
An accident on Highway 101, even when it is cleared quickly, can cause backups for miles. Creating a blockage on the train tracks is even worse since trains brake and accelerate much more slowly than cars. And you're demanding that this choke point last all day, not just a few minutes like many car accidents.
This is even worse that trains stopping at stations. One train may stop at a station, but other trains that do not service that station can pass on the other track.
I guarantee that it is not going to happen. If you really want to make a difference, you need to focus your efforts elsewhere, such as patrolling and improving the lighting at the train crossing. Even closing the crossing entirely is more likely to happen than blocking the trains.
Also work with groups that can fund grade-separated road crossings. Such groups do exist, but they are very unpopular in this forum.
Posted by P.A. Native, a resident of Mountain View, on Nov 24, 2009 at 2:18 pm
Isn't this idea basically like arguing to lower the Golden Gate Bridge to a non-lethal jump height? Can't you see that your focus on the train is only causing the situation to worsen? What about the kids who are so sad and feel so helpless that they would even consider such action let alone take it. These troubled kids are crying out for help and all you can hear is the train whistle (which is too loud for many of you). Don't blame the train and slow the commute of thousands of people. Address the real issue of teen depression and have a discussion about what Palo Altans can do to ensure that their kids are happy and well adjusted. Honestly, the kids deserve that much and probably have for much too long.
Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 24, 2009 at 2:35 pm
This is not a discussion about which course of action to take to prevent suicide. This is a discussion about one facet of suicide prevention.
Of course families have to look inwards for stresses and signs of mental health issues with the kids.
Of course schools should look to see if they can improve the prevention of stresses in the lives of their students.
And, of course Caltrain can makes its crossings safer.
None of these will be the answer on its own. Looking at all three together will not prevent suicides, but all these avenues must be investigated. Making suicide more difficult to achieve, particularly for those that may be impulsive, is a good preventative method for the present method of choice. Making the crossings safer would also prevent accidental fatalities also (of which there have been some at the same places). Making the crossings safer should be a top priority for Caltrain regardless.
Posted by Anon., a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Nov 24, 2009 at 2:53 pm
I understand the parent's viewpoint, but remember that millions of student crossings occur every year without incident ... so it is much better to study the cases where something happens and try to improve the process and fix it than it is to stop the train ... which is not going to happen anyway.
Taking a big picture view ... why is Palo Alto so badly planned and maintained in almost all dimensions one would want to look at.
Traffic, shopping, bicylcling, stores, trees ... housing, parking ... it is a mess and getting worse. It is clear that there is not involvement in this city in terms of management past people who want to make money building things with minimal planning and cost.
this is what palo alto is ... it has been living on its past reputation and reality for a long time and it is going to become a real hell hole pretty damn fast if some hard decisions are not brought up talked about and decided on.
stopping the trains is not really one of them. it would be nice if we could put them underground ... but it costs money.
Posted by huhwhat, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 24, 2009 at 2:54 pm
How about the hard driving, super successful parents in our Silicon Valley culture who give the message to their kids that the only road to success is to be tops at everything: social life, music, sports, and a 4++ grade point average. When kids take a high profile way out like suicide on the tracks, its local, visible, and in our faces. These kids are hurting and will find a way out of their pain with our without trains.
Ours is not the only community on the Peninsula that has these problems with children.
Posted by Facts, a resident of Stanford, on Nov 24, 2009 at 3:04 pm
"And, of course Caltrain can makes its crossings safer."
Yes, by making the crossings graded crossings, but Palo Alto does not want that. Saving lives is okay as long it does not inconvenience PA residents. Think I am joking? try bringing up the idea of redoing all the Caltrain crossings in PA and see the firestorm that emerges
Posted by train rider, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Nov 24, 2009 at 5:40 pm
Only a few NIMBY groups are opposed to grade-separated road crossings, but these are the same people who complain about the train whistles at the crossings, so maybe they will come to their senses. Most people agree that grade-separations will be safer, as well as reduce traffic and congestion.
Posted by and then what?, a resident of another community, on Nov 24, 2009 at 7:06 pm
if you slow the trains going through palo alto, then in fairness, other communities can ask for the same consideration, and could easily sue for equal treatment. you would have to slow trains down for every community down and up the line, fair treatment.
...so, how long do you think Caltrain can remain a viable, only going 5mph through all bay area communities?
Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Nov 24, 2009 at 7:42 pm Douglas Moran is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
1. In considering the projected benefits of a safety measure, one needs to consider whether you are simply shifting risk, rather than reducing it. For example, if the trains are slowed in response to suicides, it could cause some of its passenger to change to driving, with the increased fatal accidents - from just having more vehicles on the road plus a higher accident rate (per vehicle) from the increased congestion - being as much or more than the suicides prevented.
NOTE: I do not know the numbers underlying this tradeoff -- My professional background just tells me that such needs to be considered.
2. FYI: On grade separation for the Caltrain tracks: It was part of the budget for electrifying Caltrain. However, that scheduled funding was "reallocated" by the State to High-Speed Rail. Electrification would have included lighter-weight trains that had faster acceleration and de-acceleration. Who knows if it would be restored, or when, if HSR fails to produce a business plan credible enough for the State.
Posted by maguro_01, a resident of Mountain View, on Nov 25, 2009 at 2:41 am
"Taking a big picture view ... why is Palo Alto so badly planned and maintained in almost all dimensions one would want to look at.
Traffic, shopping, bicyling, stores, trees ... housing, parking ... it is a mess and getting worse. It is clear that there is not involvement in this city in terms of management past people who want to make money building things with minimal planning and cost.
this is what palo alto is ... it has been living on its past reputation and reality for a long time and it is going to become a real hell hole pretty damn fast if some hard decisions are not brought up talked about and decided on. "
It may not have been intended but this reads like someone who wants to hype their real estate by restricting any further building except to replace less expensive houses and tapping the city treasury for as many neighborhood embellishments as possible. This has become a standard game in the Bay area and is as damaging to growth of community as pave-everything commercial development.
Community and connectedness are not exactly Palo Alto strong points. A public school cannot provide its students with a life even if it chooses to take their life's time. Americans used to have so many voluntary associations, now nearly none. Twittering, Facebook, etc, are done by virtual people, a game, and don't count for this purpose. There's a level in between missing.
One thing the students may know that their parents are just facing up to is that the charmed life Americans have had for a few decades is now gone. Students may be facing an anomie they are not able to deal with alone. Families from far away don't usually share that disconnectedness and these 'clusters' that accompany it. The arrogance of the people that want to shut down the public train system points us to conclusions like that, unfortunately.
Posted by Anon., a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Nov 25, 2009 at 3:31 am
Maguro ... what's wrong with caring about real estate values ... in the context of a sustainable plan for development that does not leave everyone with an impossible transportation system that threatens everyone's health, wealth, safety and calm?
I think it seems obvious to me that there is nothing selfish or egotistical in my desire for future growth in the city in which I live to be rational and planned for and I don't being criticized for it unfairly or mischaracterized.
I have no idea what you are trying to say about the schools or anything else is that comment, so maybe you are confused about just what you are trying to say. If you live here are you telling me you do not care about your real estate values or traffic intensity or parking. Maybe you do not remember back far enough to when there were not the parking structure in downtown and how hard it was to find a place to park to shop, see a movie, or eat inner?
Posted by Cecelia Horn, a resident of the The Greenhouse neighborhood, on Nov 25, 2009 at 11:35 am
This is my closest neighborhood (near Moldaw). I am practically out of town. I would love to shop at the Alma Plaza instead of constantly spending dollars in Mt. View. When will there ever be an overpass or underpass--hopefully one unlike the one at Oregon where the ivy gets watered all year)and the equally infamous one at Embarcadero where the threatened merchants of downtown Palo Alto made it narrow so that the new Stanford shopping center would not erode their client base. Trains are useful for travel (reducing excessive numbers of cars). Southern Pacific is not going away. After all, they got the land free.
Parents continue to flock here for the schools, so don't blame the trains.
Posted by Eddie, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 28, 2009 at 5:20 pm
Those parents should slow down their expectations of their kids to 5 MPH! It is NOT the trains that are the issue here, it is what this sick town and its expectations of "excellence" and "perfection' do to its kids. The pressure to go to Stanford, take all AP classes as a sophomore (not possible!), master the violin, play on the varsity-whatever team, and be the editor of the yearbook, and also take SAT classes starting in 6th grade (!!) is obscene.
Parents who want the train slowed- PLEASE look in the mirror at your selves-- your unrealistic expectations you have on your kids and the tremendous pressure you and this sick society put on these kids is an outrage. YOU are the problem, not the trains.. slow the trains to 1 MPH.. these kids will find other ways to express their inner angst created by unrealistic pressure to excel.
Look in the mirror! The trains are not the issue. As for safety, how many people get killed accidentally crossing those tracks? Very few every year-- less than those who try and cross the streets! Should we slow your traffic down to 5 MPH? Of course not, as you would have none of it, since it would be a major inconvenience as you try to rush your kids to the next violin lesson and pick the other ones up from SAT prep.
Posted by Gunn parent, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Nov 29, 2009 at 12:39 pm
I think we all need to slow down for our children, call train, parents and mainly Gunn High School (they need to slow down when our children make mistakes instead of making big deal out of it). If we don't all slow down our kids will perceive themselves as failures and who wants to live like that? I will wait for Gunn to slow down first, and then we will go with call train and parents. The main problem is Gunn.
Posted by robit noops, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Nov 29, 2009 at 3:40 pm
Not a solution.
Palo Alto parents who are worried about kids committing suicide need to address the emotional problems of their kids instead of creating a padded cell for them. Train crossings are safe enough, they do not need armed guards or safety gates. People need to be accountable for their own actions and aware of consequences.
The train is available for thousands of commuters per day between San Francisco and San Jose and I see effective public transportation as the priority.
Posted by robit noops, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Nov 29, 2009 at 6:05 pm
You actually need a gate? The bell, the existing gate, or the sound of a train isn't enough? You couldn't jump that gate if you wanted to? With all the services and jobs being cut, this is what you want to spend money on? Personally I don't want that gate at the Paly crossing, it is ugly.
Posted by kay m, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Nov 29, 2009 at 10:15 pm
As a mother of a senior at Gunn. I can tell you that Gunn should be held responsible for allowing parents to pressure the staff and base a curriculum on primarily what a certain group of who have overbearing and unreasonable expectations on their children, and then we are all stuck with that pressure on all of our kids if we allow parents to dictate curriculum and outrageous schedules.
Gunn needs to stand up for our general population of the student body and not allow an overload of AP classes for any child. Regardless of what any parent wants. It's affecting all of our children.
They ALL feel the pressure. They still say their parents won't listen to them. They are still shocked by their friends suicides - these kids are still not talking to each other and letting their best friends know how much pressure they feel.
We are allowing the pressure. We are pushing these kids while they are hormonal challenged and highly charged emotionally.
Be understanding! Slowing trains down isn't the worst thing, people.
Adding lights along the tracks between Charleston and Meadow might help to deter. Sometimes, deterring someone who is suicidal, is enough to stop them and have the time to get them help.
Hey Sarah, from Midtown. You are one cold woman.
What can be more important for our community and country than healthy, resilient teens who will one day be the adults making decisions for our country and government? And maybe, even where you end up in your old age and choosing your nursing home.
You don't like the community you're in that cares about it's children?
Sounds like it time for you to be doing the moving to a place where people don't care for their families and the lives of others.
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2009 at 12:43 am
Suicide is almost always a result of mental illness, not just stress. Suicide clusters, sadly, happen all over the US and the world, and are not related to the # of AP classes or anything else, aside from undetected and untreated mental illnesses. Blaming the school is understandable, but off-base.
Watching the tracks actually makes sense, since suicides are often copy-catted and particular ways and places have an attraction for those susceptible (like the Golden Gate Bridge). If enough time passes, memories fade and the attraction of the tracks should lessen. Slowing down trains, while a logical idea, is probably too much to ask of the entire commuting public for the length of time it would probably be required.
Posted by Anon, a resident of another community, on Nov 30, 2009 at 8:47 am
There have been other suicides besides high school kids on these tracks, also accidents where the trains have hit cars. These crossings are a hazard to the entire community. It is shameful for a densely populated city to have these sort of crossings. which are mostly found in very rural and sparsely populated areas across this country. I am guessing the tracks pre-date the rise of Silicon Valley. I hope this parents group succeeds. Maybe then the state will fix these crossings before sinking money into the high speed rails.