As Palo Alto braces for potentially transformative changes along its rail corridor, city officials are preparing to kick off an intense community-engagement process aimed at educating residents and soliciting their ideas for rail design.
The first milestone in what promises to be a long journey will take place on Saturday, May 20, when transportation staff will host a community workshop at Mitchell Park Community Center. The event will kick off a public-engagement process that will take a close look at existing conditions along the city's 4-mile stretch of rail, consider the two major ongoing rail projects -- the electrification of Caltrain and the potential implementation of high-speed rail -- and solicit community opinions about the best way to separate the tracks from the streets at the city's four grade crossings.
While the city's conversation about grade separation is far from new, the effort gained some momentum last November, when voters approved Measure B, a sales-tax measure that allocates $700 million for the effort in Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Palo Alto. While the funds are not sufficient to build a tunnel or a trench – an option favored by many in Palo Alto – they open up new opportunities for the three cities to design and plan for potential rail improvements.
To determine what types of changes the city should pursue, the City Council's recently re-formed Rail Committee decided earlier this year to launch a process known as "context sensitive solutions," which is often used for statewide highway-construction projects and that emphasizes community engagement. The May 20 meeting will be an early step in this extensive process.
Joshuah Mello, the city's chief transportation official, told the committee last month that the goal is to introduce the community to the various challenges and opportunities relating to a potential redesign the rail corridor and to "feel out the tone of the community."
"We don't want any preconceived notions about what the solutions are or what the problem is," Mello said at the April 26 meeting.
City Manager James Keene concurred and noted that the city has many stakeholders in this process. Each will be able to bring their own their own objectives, knowledge and expertise to the effort.
"We have to meet people where they are and listen to any kind of issue or comment that can come up," Keene said.
The workshop will stretch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 20, in the Palo Alto Room at the Mitchell Park Community Center, 3600 Middlefield Road.
More information about the event and the city's new campaign is available here.