News

Palo Alto residents not sold on local rail station

Few express interest, many raise objections to hosting a high-speed rail station

High-speed rail officials seeking to gauge Palo Alto's interest in a local rail station received an unambiguous message from the community Thursday when not a single resident voiced support for the idea.

Officials from Caltrain and the California High-Speed Rail Authority asked about 30 residents and local officials at the Thursday night meeting to raise their hands if they think a rail station would be compatible with downtown Palo Alto.

Not a single hand went up.

The lightly attended meeting, which coincided with the San Francisco Giant's playoff opener, underscored earlier signals from City Council members that the city probably will not be seeking a high-speed-rail station on University Avenue. Palo Alto is one of three cities on the Midpeninsula, along with Redwood City and Mountain View, that the rail authority is considering for a station. Rail officials said it's also possible that none of the three cities will end up with one.

The authority also plans to build stations in San Francisco, Millbrae and San Jose.

Officials from the Peninsula Rail Program, which is charged with designing the Peninsula segment of the 800-mile rail line, said a local rail station could bring significant improvements to downtown Palo Alto, including improved transit connections, higher property values and greater business development downtown. Bruce Fukuji of the Peninsula Rail Program (a collaboration of Caltrain and the state authority) said the project could also potentially improve connections between Stanford University, Stanford Shopping Center and downtown Palo Alto.

Domenic Spaethling, whose firm Parsons Brinckerhoff is managing the Peninsula program for the rail authority, told an audience that Palo Alto was chosen as a possible station destination because it already has a vibrant downtown, a reputation as a destination city and a large number of train riders. The city's Caltrain station at University Avenue is second only to San Francisco when it comes to ridership.

"The idea is to have stations in activity centers where you can really take advantage of transit-oriented development," Spaethling said.

The goal, he said, is to design the station in a way so as "to make it a win-win both for the cities and the High-Speed Rail Authority." The rail authority has also offered to help participating cities revise their planning and zoning guidelines to enable construction of a rail station.

The authority would build the station, but local officials are expected to build enough parking structures to house 3,000 parking spaces within three miles of the station. Last month, members of the City Council expressed major reservations about the parking guideline, which Palo Alto officials estimate would require six 50-foot tall garages and would cost the city $150 million.

Councilman Larry Klein, who chairs the council's High-Speed Rail Committee, said at the committee's Aug. 24 meeting that these parking structures would constitute a misuse of land and said he doesn't see how a station would ever benefit the community.

Residents also raised alarms at the Thursday meeting about the traffic congestion a new high-speed rail station would bring to Palo Alto. The rail authority estimates that the station will attract 15,600 people to the station by 2035.

Though no one voted to support a station, several people said they would like to learn more about the possible benefits of a local station. Seven people at Thursday's meeting raised their hand and said they were undecided, while 11 said they believe the station would be incompatible with Palo Alto.

Dennis Struecker, the rail authority's traffic consultant, said traffic impacts could be mitigated by locating parking structures further away from the station and by shuttling people in from other parts of the city. This strategy could, however, reduce the number of riders using the rail system.

Struecker said the authority's Project Environmental Impact Report for the Peninsula segment would evaluate both centralized and scattered parking. The report is also expected to provide more details about the system's proposed design. The authority has previously said that high-speed rail could pass through Palo Alto at-grade (street level), along an aerial viaduct, or through an open trench.

The council's High-Speed Rail Committee is scheduled to discuss a potential rail station at its Oct. 21 meeting.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Just don't get it...
a resident of Southgate
on Oct 8, 2010 at 11:34 am

Improved transit connections, higher property values, greater business development???? Has it occurred to anyone that PA is basically a small town that doesn't need an additional 15,600 people a day going through here?? Where are they going to go? Can't imagine Stanford getting too excited about this! Besides, PA could become more of a ghost town with a big berm running through the middle of it!!


Like this comment
Posted by Jens Jensen
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 8, 2010 at 11:42 am

PA should opt for a HSR station downtown, if Redwood City and Mountain View decline. We need one more station in addition to San Jose. An electrified modern Caltrain has to become the main "feeder" system, obviating the need for huge parking structures to be built.


Like this comment
Posted by Evan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 8, 2010 at 11:47 am

Uhh, my hand would have gone up! Yes please! Gee…do I want to be able to walk downtown and hop on a train to LA, SD, Orange County or (a faster) SJ/SF? Do I want a vibrant downtown with lots of great restaurants, bars and shops with lots of customers? Do I want more transit options from Palo ALto, instead of being forced to use a car?

Yes. You're damn right I do.


Like this comment
Posted by E.S.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 8, 2010 at 12:33 pm

In the long run, long-distance driving within the HSR corridor would be reduced if we have a station serving the Palo Alto area. Instead of 3000 parking spaces we need shuttle buses that run throughout Palo Alto/Stanford and vicinity that will get passengers to the scheduled trains.


Like this comment
Posted by Just don't get it...
a resident of Southgate
on Oct 8, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Evan, if you haven't noticed we already have great, vibrant restaurants, bars and shops downtown with lots of customers. You can already walk downtown and hop a train to SJ then on to LA. I just don't think 15,600 people is sustainable. And, all those cars will be coming here to park to take the train. Get a clue.


Like this comment
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of University South
on Oct 8, 2010 at 1:15 pm

YIMBY is a registered user.

for the record folks, I sent my letter to council last weekend as I knew I'd be out-of-town (enjoying bike-friendly San Luis Obispo, right now), in support of a rail station. And I was very happy to see that Council woman Shepherd responded! (she noted that because Stanford, who owns the land, are not supportive, the issue is moot).


Like this comment
Posted by PA resident
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 8, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Might as well ask us this question:

Do you want 101 and 280 off ramps directly connecting to multiple 50 ft parking garages in Downtown PA.

answer = NO

Think about how an airport looks as you drive to one...


Like this comment
Posted by A-Rocket-In-Every-Pot
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2010 at 2:49 pm

> do I want to be able to walk downtown and hop on a train to LA, SD,
> Orange County or (a faster) SJ/SF?

Right you are! But wait .. there's more! Why should we Palo Altans be expected to use HSR to get to places that are only located near the HSR tracks? Why not be able to walk downtown to a rocket port that will provide Very High Speed (VHS) transportation to locations all over the world, and within our solar system (like the Moon, and Mars)?

The HSR is so yesterday .. when compared to rocket travel!

> Do I want a vibrant downtown with lots of great restaurants,
> bars and shops with lots of customers?

With a downtown Palo Alto rocket port, most of those old, unsightly homes could be replaced with the rocket transport center, which would bring in a lot of money to support dozens and dozens of new restaurants, massage parlors, and a huge new police detention center.

> Do I want more transit options from Palo ALto, instead of being
> forced to use a car?

Right again! That old HSR is so yesterday! I want to be able to rocket anywhere I want, when I want. And I want somebody else to pay the bills--I am an Palo Altan ..and I deserve no less!


Like this comment
Posted by A. J. Weiler
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 8, 2010 at 3:19 pm

"because Stanford, who owns the land, are not supportive, the issue is moot"

Jeez, we ought to just clearcut the downtown and make room for this station and parking lot. Sunnyvale did that for its mall years ago and look at all the good it did for them.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Parking structures at Bayshore with efficient shuttles to downtown and the station. Rickshaw bicycle taxis to meet the trains to take the arrivals to where they want to go, Stanford, local companies, etc. Done right, a station in Palo Alto sounds great.


Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of University South
on Oct 8, 2010 at 4:20 pm

I think having an an HSR station in downtown would be great, especially if there were an acceptable place to put the necessary parking structures. (I currently live about a 10 minute walk from the Caltrain station.)

I think most of the people who show up to these meetings live within a hundred feet of the tracks and want to ensure that no construction happens.

Yes, construction will cause disruption, but we need to build new infrastructure in this country, and our new infrastructure should be environmentally friendly and connect urban areas (where people can live in a more environmentally sound way) with each other.


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Data point... Did you know that the Caltrain station at University Avenue already attracts 8000 people per weekday, today?

The metric used in the HSR figure of 15600 people includes both boardings + alightings. Caltrain has about 4000 daily boardings in 2010, double that if you also count alightings.

So, they are talking about tripling of today's train passengers, maybe quadruple if Caltrain manages to evolve from its current Neanderthal state.

Does anyone feel crowded by today's train passenger traffic?


Like this comment
Posted by A-Rocket-In-Every-Pot
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2010 at 4:35 pm

> Data point... Did you know that the Caltrain station at
> University Avenue already attracts 8000 people per weekday, today?

The following is the ridership numbers of 2010:

Web Link

Palo Alto shows 3905 boardings for the period used to measure ridership. This comes to about 1900 unique people. The ridership tables don't identify Palo Alto as the downtown station by itself, or the sum of the California and Downtown stations, so exactly how many people use the University Station needs a little refinement by CalTrain.

No matter what the number actually is .. it's a far cry from 8,000.


Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 8, 2010 at 4:39 pm

to "jut dont get it"
you ask: "Has it occurred to anyone that PA is basically a small town that doesn't need an additional 15,600 people a day going through here?"

I think you have it wrong - the 15,600 additional folks are coming - and even more over time. Stanford is building a huge new hospital; we are actively courting industry and building denser housing. Even if Palo Alto could enforce a zero growth policy (which it can't) the surrounding area will grow and the state will grow.

So since growth is inevitable the question is what is the best way to deal with the 15,600 (and more) additional folks.

This is why I support HSR and I think was should actively pursue a station. It's in our own interests. But I also think that California Ave might be a better location (better access to 280 and 101)


Like this comment
Posted by Station not happening
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 8, 2010 at 4:42 pm

The location of a station is MOOT as Councilwoman Shepherd said at the council and in the letter to YIMBY above. Stanford owns the land under the station and isn't interested. That's the first good news from Stanford in years! They don't want parking for 3,000 cars and neither do we.
Thanks to Ms Shepherd for some straight talk instead of moseying around and keeping this dead issue alive.
It's MOOT, folks. Talk about the real world.


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2010 at 5:03 pm

> Palo Alto shows 3905 boardings for the period used to measure ridership.

Right.

> This comes to about 1900 unique people.

Right.

And yet, if you count boardings AND alightings (which the HSR figure does) a single daily commuter counts four times. AM boarding, AM alighting, PM boarding, and PM alighting.

This is not complicated math, but you do have to compare apples to apples. HSR says 15600 boardings AND alightings at Palo Alto, and that should be compared to 8000 Caltrain boarding AND alightings.

> No matter what the number actually is .. it's a far cry from 8,000.

The number for 2010 is about 8000. Actually, it's probably even more than that, since Caltrain ridership is counted in February, one of the lowest ridership months. Try it in August 2010, when average weekday ridership was 40,939 (based on ticket sales), some 17% greater than February 2010.

Get a sense of proportion. Just because it sounds like a big number doesn't mean it is.


Like this comment
Posted by Phil
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 8, 2010 at 8:02 pm

I think an HSR station in Palo Alto would be great. Mountain View would be good, too.


Like this comment
Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 8, 2010 at 11:03 pm

I can't believe that the group that showed up at the meeting is representative of Palo Alto as a whole. Assuming HSR runs through Palo Alto (admittedly an uncertain assumption), then it would be crazy to pass up the opportunity to have a station stop here. The economic benefits are significant. The opportunity to revitalize the downtown area, reconfigure the transportation hub, and better tie in the downtown to the shopping center and Stanford is spectacular.


Like this comment
Posted by NONIMBYS
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 9, 2010 at 9:31 am

The 30 NIMBYS that showed up and show UP for every HSR.. yaaa thats a majority vote!!!


Like this comment
Posted by wary traveler
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2010 at 11:24 am

You'd think that if people are very excited about having a station, they'd show up. That didn't happen. One can only conclude . . .


Like this comment
Posted by YesHSR
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 9, 2010 at 12:41 pm

As a downtown homeowner, I'd love to have an HSR station here! If we're going to have the line running through our city anyway, it would be nice to at least have a station, providing fast access to SF, San Jose, Milbrae (for SFO/Bart), LA, Sacramento, and potentially many other cities in the future.

Yes, non-PA folks will come to use the train too. But I see that as a big opportunity as well. They can shop in our stores and eat at our restaurants as they wait, stay in our hotels, pay to use those 3,000 parking spaces, etc.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Many of us have families and lives and cannot get to meetings regardless of our views.

I hope the powers that be take note of public responses from emails, letters to newspapers and even blogs like these rather than just the few people who manage to get to the meetings. I am pleased that they host the meetings, but hope they realise that they are not getting a true represented cross section of opinions at them.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2010 at 2:22 pm

ps, and they did realise that they were competing against the Giants game. I wonder how many Palo Alto residents went to that game by Caltrain that evening?


Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2010 at 3:49 pm

>”…our new infrastructure should be environmentally friendly and connect urban areas (where people can live in a more environmentally sound way.”

How about a definition of this “environmentally sound” lifestyle? Could it be that not all of us would agree with you on how we want to live?

>”The economic benefits are significant. The opportunity to revitalize the downtown area, reconfigure the transportation hub, and better tie in the downtown to the shopping center and Stanford is spectacular.”

Do you have a business plan that proves all these economic benefits? Start with the $150M construction cost for a 3,000-stall parking garage, based on a current cost of $50,000 per stall (2010 prices). With bond financing costs, the amount would double to $300M. The HSRA isn’t going to pay, so who will?


Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2010 at 11:16 pm

<< a single daily commuter counts four times. AM boarding, AM alighting, PM boarding, and PM alighting. >>

What kind of crazy arithmetic is that? I used to make this commute every day. Commuters don't make the same trip twice each day. They get on once, commute to their destination and commute back. One boarding and one alighting. You came up with an unsupportable figure apparently out of thin air and had to double it to make it jibe with reality. I don't know where you get your monthly figure for August, but even if you increase 3,906 by 17% you get 4,569, a far cry from your original figure of 8,000. You're trying to make your case with flat-out bogus figures.

To others: How many times must it be repeated? There will NOT be an HSR station downtown. Stanford owns the land and will not allow it. The depot would have to be built closer to California Avenue which is already developed, so where are you going to put it? Bowden Park? Peers Park?

The $150 million cost of this parking structure comes out to roughly $2,500 PLUS INTEREST for every man, woman and child living in Palo Alto for something a small fraction of them will ever use. If the fanciful HSR ridership projections never materialize, Palo Alto will be stuck with a 3,000-stall parking structure well away from downtown. Absent the throngs of people we are asked to believe will use HSR each and every day, only a fraction of those 3,000 stalls will actually be filled.

Good Lord, you don't need a computer or Cambridge Systematics to figure this stuff out. You can figure it out on the back of an envelope with a little common sense.

<< Just because it sounds like a big number doesn't mean it is. >>

Another profound statement.


Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Regarding my previous post, we're talking about boardings and alightings at the SAME STATION, which is what this discussion is all about. One boarding in P.A., one alighting somewhere else, one boarding somewhere else and one alighting in P.A., for a grand total of two boardings/alightings in Palo Alto.

It also occurs to me that perhaps the recent meeting was so lightly attended because the HSR shills from out of town couldn't make it to Palo Alto that evening.


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 10, 2010 at 10:47 am

ODB, you've still got it all wrong. Let me walk you through it slowly. Pull up the 2010 Caltrain ridership count: Web Link

Turn to page 12 and look up Palo Alto. Every weekday in February, on average, 3905 people board Caltrain at University Ave and 4013 people get off Caltrain at University Ave. That is 3905 + 4013 = 7918 boardings AND alightings in Palo Alto.

The HSR figure is 15600 boardings AND alightings. To compare apples to apples you must compare 15600 to 7918 (or essentially 8000).

If for some reason you can't wrap your brain around this boarding + alighting metric, and you insist on counting only how many people get ON the train (not OFF) then the HSR figure for the year 2035 is 7800, to be compared to 3905 for Caltrain in February 2010.

If you still can't believe how HSR ridership is counted, look it up here: Web Link turn to page 8, where it clearly states 7800 daily HSR boardings, vs. 15600 boardings + alightings.

For reference, August 2010 ridership is listed on page 37 of this PDF: Web Link


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