Changes underway at hazardous Menlo intersection

Menlo Park launches six-month trial to improve safety at railroad crossing

A six-month trial of changes to the Alma Street-Ravenswood Avenue intersection starts this week, according to the city of Menlo Park. The changes are being put in place in an attempt to improve safety at the street-level railroad crossing where a woman in an SUV was struck and killed by a train in February.

This week work crews are scheduled to begin installing temporary medians from the Ravenswood Avenue railroad crossing to Noel Drive, along with a curb extension to block left turns from northbound Alma Street onto Ravenswood Avenue, according to Transportation Manager Nikki Nagaya. Right turns from Ravenswood to head south on Alma Street will also be blocked. The installations are expected to be finished within three days.

The council voted 3-0 on May 5 to let the trial proceed, while granting staff the flexibility to adjust the temporary installations as needed. The city is also studying options for creating a separation between the road and the railroad tracks; the study is expected to take at least 18 months.

Navigating around the trial changes will entail making a left turn from northbound Laurel Street instead of Alma Street onto Ravenswood Avenue, Nagaya said, or using a combination of Laurel Street and Oak Grove Avenue.

She acknowledged that the changes will take some getting used to. "All city employees use those intersections, so it affects us as well," she said.

Nagaya told the Almanac that the city will compare collision rates and near-accidents before and after the installation at the intersection and railroad crossing to assess how well the changes are working. The city will also record video of the crossing to track how often vehicles get stuck on the railroad tracks.

There's also community feedback to consider. She said anyone wishing to comment should call the transportation division at 650-330-6770 or email

"We're sure it's going to be a learning experience," Nagaya said. "We'll try to make it as painless as possible."

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5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 2, 2015 at 4:04 pm

Blocking those turns from/onto Alma is a good start, but it does nothing to solve the real problem: cars being trapped on the tracks by traffic lockups caused by drivers merging onto Ravenswood from Merrill Street. Extend Merrill's curb by Kepler's to prevent those turns onto Ravenswood.

14 people like this
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 2, 2015 at 4:27 pm

Re the first posting, isn't the real problem the drivers who allow themselves to be stuck on the tracks? I was on Churchill and the driver in front of me drove onto the tracks at a red light. So I left room for the driver to back up in case. Of course, a train came and I saved that person's life by allowing him/her to back off the tracks. If people are in such a hurry and so self-absorbed that they park on train tracks, then there are possible consequences.

13 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 2, 2015 at 5:22 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Huh? - you are right, especially in the situation you described on Churchill. The Ravenswood crossing is more complicated though - there can look like there is room to get through, then the traffic backs up because of cars turning or pedestrians crossing. A perfectly careful driver would never get caught on the tracks, but there is room to improve the intersection to increase the margin for error.

15 people like this
Posted by Old guy
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 2, 2015 at 11:37 pm

There was money available 20 years ago to do a grade separation at Ravenswood. Menlo Park chose not to. Redwood City, Belmont, & San Carlos all did great separations.

Will we ever face up to the fact that we have more traffic than our pathetic few crossings can handle?

We need great separation from the tracks and we need to plan for the high-speed rail rather than just denying it's coming.

3 people like this
Posted by lance
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 3, 2015 at 11:30 am

I go through there 4 times a day - in a car, on foot and on a bike.

It is good to prevent left turns from Ravenswood (on the el Camino side) onto north Alma. That backs cars up onto the tracks sometimes. This will prevent some of the problems.

Preventing right turns from Ravenswood (on the el Camino side) onto south Alma seems good; cars sometimes back up onto the tracks when pedestrians cross Alma there. However, there are other ways.
*We could remove the existing pedestrian cross at the southside of Alma + Ravenswood, and add a pedestrian cross just a little further south on Alma. This could allow 4-5 cars to turn down Alma before there was any risk of a car getting stuck on the tracks.
*We could add a third lane on Ravenswood (between el Camino and the tracks), a lane that must turn south on Alma; no car going straight would be stuck behind a turning car.
*We could add a traffic light for the existing right lane before the tracks, a light that turns red when pedestrians want to cross Alma. Pedestrians would activate it much like the light we have for those who cross Ravenswood there.

Like this comment
Posted by LJSE
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 3, 2015 at 11:31 am

Will there be signs showing a route to the library parking lot?

4 people like this
Posted by Life Wish
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 3, 2015 at 11:42 am

This is a matter of life and death(s). The sooner permanent changes are implemented, the better.

Eighteen months is a long time to wait for the conclusions made by a study. People's lives are at stake: if a grade separation is needed, a way to afford and implement one can surely be found. The local governments have never had a problem finding ways to finance things we DON'T need!

1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 3, 2015 at 2:46 pm

"If people are in such a hurry and so self-absorbed that they park on train tracks, then there are possible consequences."

You are entitled to your opinion, but I think death by train is too extreme a penalty for people who are in such a hurry and so self-absorbed.

Like this comment
Posted by cross walker
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 4, 2015 at 8:02 am

Here,the issue is the cross walks and pedestrians. it is not the cars turning right onto Alma. i agree strongly with one commenter--the cross walks need to be adjusted. the one on Alma could be moved farther south on Alma--there is no need to have a cross walk exactly at the intersection of alma and Ravenswood. Move it two or three car lengths farther south on Alma. i also a agree that a red light flashing before the tracks if someone is in the cross walk crossing Ravenswood would be a great idea. this generally is the real issue. this cross walk is used a lot by pedestrians. pedestrians often times push the button and walk--without realizing what the cars are doing, which causes sudden stops by cars unsuspecting of pedestrians crossing. this seems to be dangerous to me. either put in a "wait your turn" light for crossing, or at least put in an indicator that someone is in the cross walk before cars approach the tracks. often times cars see the lane ahead is open and so start to cross the tracks and all of a sudden someone steps into the cross walk causing immediate stoppages--whether on the tracks or not. that is the crosswalk that causes the real issue--it isn't the one that crosses alma street. taking away this right turn, seems to be a waste of time, gas, causing much more traffic on Laurel and streets surrounding the park as cars try to get to the library, city hall, recreational facilities, and homes. there are a lot of cars that use Alma street. this situation could be handled pretty easily without taking away the right hand turn onto Alma Street. And, it wouldn't take 18 months to figure this one out. (someone at the City has entirely too much time on their hands and too much money to waste on an 18 month study.)

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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