The results of a trial of roadway changes intended to make the Ravenswood Avenue railroad crossing in Menlo Park safer have shown that some of the changes may have actually made the crossing more dangerous. Those changes will be ended by Sept. 15, according to Menlo Park Transportation Manager Nicole Nagaya.
The barriers blocking eastbound Ravenswood Avenue traffic from turning right and heading south on Alma Street, will be removed by the end of the day on Tuesday, Sept. 15, she said. The left-turn barriers, from northbound Alma Street onto westbound Ravenswood Avenue, will remain for the rest of the six-month trial, she said.
Many users of Ravenswood Avenue near Alma Street have been fuming about the trial changes the city of Menlo Park began in June, in response to a fatal accident on the tracks in February. But other residents have said the changes have cleared cut-through traffic from their streets.
After evaluating the results of the first phase of the trial, Nagaya said the city found "the congestion during the evening has increased (the) risk of a vehicle getting stuck on the tracks." She said the city found some traffic improvements in the non-peak travel times, but said the increase in congestion offset that benefit.
"We will continue to evaluate the changes and make adjustments as needed," Nagaya said.
The trial, which cost about $20,000, was approved by the City Council in May. Mayor Catherine Carlton and Councilman Ray Mueller have asked that the subject be put on the agenda for the City Council's Sept. 29 meeting. An email from Mueller asks for "all available information to date, to determine whether the pilot should continue."
Mayor Carlton said that as soon as she heard that the number of vehicles stranded on the train tracks had actually increased during the trial, she asked to have it ended. "When I found out it was making things worse, I said pull it," she said.
Nagaya said the city has been paying close attention to the number of vehicles that end up stopped on the tracks, whether or not a train is coming. The city has figures from Caltrain from December 2013 and compiled its own counts in April of this year and monthly after the trial began. Those counts were made by video surveillance of the rail crossing. Both the figures from December 2013 and from April of this year (before the trial started) showed 13 cars or pedestrians had been stuck on the tracks at least temporarily in the eastbound direction during the afternoon rush hour (4-6 p.m.). The count in July, after the trial was installed, rose to 40.
Other numbers improved, however. In the mornings (7-9 a.m.), the number of eastbound strandings were reduced from seven in December 2013, and from 16 in April 2015, to four in July 2015. In the afternoons, the number of westbound stranded vehicles was reduced dramatically; from 15 in December 2013 to zero in July 2015.
Mueller said he would like the see the right-turn barriers come down even earlier if possible. "The only concern I have now is that they're going to wait until next week," he said.