News


Worried by rail redesign, residents seek to save their homes

Old Palo Alto, Southgate residents unite to lobby city over Churchill Avenue rail crossing

Watch David Shen, a member of the North Old Palo Alto group, discus this issue with Weekly journalists on an episode of "Behind the Headlines."

A new alliance between Old Palo Alto and Southgate neighborhood residents has formed to influence the city's decision on the railroad reconfiguration at Churchill Avenue and Alma Street.

Some options the city's considering, notably having an elevated rail or a hybrid lowered road grade, could require 36 properties to be seized through eminent domain and significantly disrupt their neighborhood, they claim.

The new group, called North Old Palo Alto, presented a petition with 300 signatures to the City Council Rail Committee on Wednesday morning.

Caltrain is expected to electrify its trains in 2021, doubling the trains each week, which would make crossing the tracks nearly impossible, the residents noted. Separating the tracks from the roads will be necessary.

The Churchill crossing is the first intersection that could be redesigned. It is one of four in the city, including Palo Alto Avenue, Meadow Drive and Charleston Road, where vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians must cross the tracks.

As currently configured, the intersections have been the locations of multiple collisions. Vehicles have become stranded on the tracks in heavy traffic or taken a wrong turn after following GPS instructions. Suicides have also occurred at or near the intersections.

Among the dozens of designs the city's been considering is a hybrid underpass, which involves both lowering the rail and raising the road. But the residents' group said on its website that if either a hybrid or full underpass were to be built at Churchill, it would be a concrete eyesore.

The underpass, which might look like the one on Oregon Expressway, would increase traffic through the neighborhood and would result in the destruction of houses seized through eminent domain. Property acquisitions, if eminent domain is needed, could start around November 2021, the residents noted.

Up to 36 homes could be taken through eminent domain at this crossing, the group has estimated. An additional six homes would be partially claimed. A 2014 study by consultants Hatch Mott McDonald noted that up to 65 homes citywide -- at the four crossings -- could be seized if vehicle underpasses were created under the rail line.

The residents calculated that at the Churchill intersection alone, the acquisitions would add $200 million to the project cost before construction even begins.

"Spending a total of $350-400 million for grade separation at a single intersection that is 400 yards from an existing underpass (at Embarcadero Road) is not an acceptable use of taxpayer funds," they wrote.

A Churchill underpass would likely require lowering Alma by 22 feet and all roads feeding into it to the same level, which would wipe out an entire neighborhood by more than 370 feet in both directions and kill hundreds of trees, they said. It could also impact the staff parking lot at Paly and possibly remove part of the school's football field, the residents claim.

The construction work would likely shut down Alma, a main traffic conduit, for years, they added.

Raising the train tracks onto a berm or other structure would also not be preferred, the group states. Trains would be more visible, violate privacy in the neighborhood, increase noise and could be at higher risk of derailment, they said.

The group does support putting the train tracks in a tunnel or trench. A bored tunnel would reduce construction impacts, and it would allow the above-ground right-of-way to be used as a pedestrian and bike parkway that would span the city. To offset increased costs of this option, the land could also be leased for low-income housing or other functions, they said.

This option would "allow the city to realize several of its stated goals that are otherwise very difficult to realize given a lack of available open space. These types of objectives have been proven already in several cities, like New York City, that recently reclaimed an elevated train track to create a public parkway," the petitioners said.

A report by consultants Mott MacDonald in February found that trenching or tunneling at the four intersections is likely to be too expensive, however. A memo by City Manager Jim Keene argued that undergrounding could be "practically unworkable" due to adding overpasses at the key crossings and getting approvals from Menlo Park at the north end.

If a tunnel or trench isn't possible, the group proposes the city close Churchill to cars but build a pedestrian/cyclist undercrossing at Churchill and improve Embarcadero Road with better lights and a pedestrian underpass at Town and Country Village shopping center. The city could widen Embarcadero and Alma to accommodate the traffic no longer crossing at Churchill, they reckon.

These lower-cost solutions would increase daily traffic capacity along the Embarcadero Road underpass without taking any homes. The city could also add bike/pedestrian underpasses underneath Embarcadero Road at the intersections with Kingsley Avenue and the entrance of the high school on existing public lands. These solutions would eliminate an existing traffic signal on Embarcadero Road that currently slows east-west traffic, they said.

Additional improvements would broaden the Embarcadero underpass to four lanes, which would eliminate a bottleneck and add left-turn signals from west- and eastbound Embarcadero to Alma Street, they said.

David Shen, a North Old Palo Alto member, said the group formed in November 2017 after some neighbors on Churchill saw a map that showed the potential seizure of homes by eminent domain should underpasses be built at the intersection.

One resident who had attended the first community meeting on grade separations went door-to-door to alert neighbors to future meetings.

"It started with all the residents whose houses were potential eminent domain targets. This includes houses along Churchill both in Old Palo Alto and Southgate, and also along Alma. We mobilized first in Old PA, then we walked south to notify those Southgate members who were also affected. We have been working together since," he said in an email.

"While we all support the trench or tunnel, we (Old Palo Alto and Southgate residents) both realized that if a city-wide trench or tunnel was not feasible, no one wanted an underpass on Churchill. We both felt that would be irrecoverably damaging to the character of our neighborhoods: more traffic, less pedestrian/cyclist safety, too many homes taken and too much money spent when Embarcadero is only a few blocks away," Shen said.

Nearly 300 concerned residents in both neighborhoods have signed the proposal and have attended one or more group meetings. The number is growing every week, he said. A core group of six to eight members attend every rail-related meeting, produce most of the documentation on the website and solicit signatures, keeping everyone informed, he said.

The group has met with every council member individually, except Mayor Liz Kniss, and had separate meetings with both city Chief Transportation Official Josh Mello and City Manager Jim Keene.

"The city has given us extensive feedback regarding our proposal and it has mostly been positive. It has even been formally included in the master list of 34 proposals that went through a scoring process to determine their feasibility. As of the last rail committee meeting, it scored near the top and is likely to be recommended to move forward when the proposals are narrowed to 16 in the near future," Shen said.

The city this week hired consultants AECOM to help it narrow down the options. The consultant was scheduled to appear at the April 18 council rail committee meeting. The city is expected to narrow its options to by end of June and to decide on a final option in December.

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Comments

16 people like this
Posted by bike commuter
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 17, 2018 at 6:27 pm

Is there any contact information of this group? It will be Meadow and Charleston's problem soon.


18 people like this
Posted by Train Neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on Apr 17, 2018 at 6:55 pm

The article is incorrect in stating that it would be "Caltrain" that would "take the homes" using eminent domain. It would be the decision of the City of Palo Alto's City Council to make any grade separations at Alma/Palo Alto Ave., Churchill, Meadow and Charleston.

The October 2014 Hatch Mott MacDonald Grade Separation study identified up to 65 properties that could be taken for separating Churchill, Meadow and Charleston intersections.
Source: Web Link and Web Link (caution, this attachment is a 223 MB download)

The Palo Alto City Council Rail Committee meeting on Wednesday April 18 (8 AM) should be streamed on Midpen Media Center at: Web Link


14 people like this
Posted by Cory Wolbach
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 17, 2018 at 7:09 pm

Cory Wolbach is a registered user.

Thank you to the Weekly for covering this issue. To emphasize, the City Council has not selected a preferred grade separation option for any of the crossings, including at Churchill. We will not for several months. The City Council Rail Committee, which I chair this year, will hear from staff and the community tomorrow (Wednesday, 4/18) at 8am at City Hall about the pros and cons of various options. Before our summer recess, the Committee hopes to provide recommendations to the full Council about which options are most promising. Limiting impacts to properties, in whole or in part, is a critical part of our consideration. Thank you to everyone who has and continues to share your concerns and ideas with the Committee and Council. This project is important, and important to get right.


59 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2018 at 8:11 pm

"the City Council has not selected a preferred grade separation option for any of the crossings"

However, the City Council has given up on the tunnel... the only solution that will preserve everyone's home, traffic flow, quality of life, and sanity.

The Caltrain extension will be underground through SF. Why not Palo Alto?


24 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 17, 2018 at 8:29 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

There'll be tunnels through Pacheco Pass and into San Fernando Valley, also. Not to mention San Jose is getting one for BART.


27 people like this
Posted by Rob
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 17, 2018 at 8:55 pm

The last rail corridor meeting I attended had the gentleman from San Gabriel to talk about his experiences grade separating freight rail through his cities. Some of the solution there was trenching, and some was at grade crossings for lower traffic volume crossings. There may have been some street closures as well, I don't recall. I wish the city had reached out to him years ago. His 15 minutes of comments simply made much of this cities rail corridor planning seem misdirected. He emphasized that down south, it took years of wrangling many cities to cooperate and emphasized that a very concerted effort spanning years was required to secure Federal, State and local funds to pay for the project. We basically have none of that planning, and even less time to do something. Thank you past city councils who have squandered time and effort by basically doing nothing about this problem which became self evident when the high speed rail proposition was passed about 10 years ago. One take home message from that meeting directly relevant to Palo Alto was that freight rail will almost certainly veto any sort of rail tunnel of significant length. It's an access issue for the freight haulers to get at rail derailments and other possible problems. So, scratch tunnel from the Palo Alto solution list.

The trench option has a lot of appeal, but is costly, and will turn the southbound lanes of Alma into the temporary (years) rail route while the trench is dug. I still think it's the best long term solution here, not sure it's going to happen. The taking of properties is a real and costly problem. It seems that the only way to avoid it is to close crossings. For Churchill, with so many properties so close to the tracks, that may be the best solution there.

It's a complicated issue and basically we have pretty much run out of time. The citizen report on the rail corridor that the city requested and then quickly buried in 2012 Web Link is a thoughtful document that was unfortunately just about completely ignored by several successive city councils. Way to go. Now what?


17 people like this
Posted by Jessica Clark
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 17, 2018 at 8:59 pm

Is it true the tunneling option is out? I think it would be smart for all of the neighborhoods being affected by the multiple grade separations under consideration to coordinate their efforts to not lose their homes. My family is directly affected by the grade separation at charleston and alma. I would like to join up with those at churchill as well as the other neighborhoods, as we seem to all want home preservation.


15 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 17, 2018 at 9:39 pm

After reading all the information presented in this article, elevating the tracks is clearly the best option. No plan is best for everyone, but elevating the tracks works best for most people (considering cost and benefits) and is not the worst for anyone. No more stalling. Get it done before prices go up again.


53 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2018 at 10:07 pm

Resident of Professorville,

Elevating the tracks is the best solution for YOU because you like to ride the train and you live in Professorville. It is a horrible solution for the people who actually live near the tracks and will have their homes confiscated, the value of their property cut, and their quality of life destroyed.

Enjoy your train ride!


42 people like this
Posted by Juan
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 17, 2018 at 10:17 pm

Either build the trench or leave it as-is. It is not fair, just, or moral to destroy peoples houses so that the train can speed along 5 minutes faster or so people can cross the railroad tracks without waiting for the train.


17 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 17, 2018 at 10:56 pm

A trench or a tunnel has very real flooding concerns which everyone glosses over. What happens when there is a storm and the pumps fail? There is plenty of precedent for it at Oregon. The ROW would be impassable in both directions because Palo Alto is flooded, and all rail service would be shut down, both Caltrain and freight. There is no natural drainage in that area.

Closing the crossings is no solution at all. Better to leave them as is with the gates coming down every few minutes. Churchill has low automobile traffic volume anyway.

At $2 million per residential parcel, taking residential property in Palo Alto is out of the question.


36 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2018 at 11:27 pm

ODB said:

"A trench or a tunnel has very real flooding concerns which everyone glosses over. What happens when there is a storm and the pumps fail?"

No one is glossing over the flooding concerns, but one person is continually exaggerating them. If the electric pumps fails the diesel powered backup pumps takes over.

Let's get real. BART has a tunnel all the way under the Bay just a few miles north of Palo Alto. There is a tunnel under the English Channel. The Caltrain extension in SF will be underground and the BART extension in SJ will be underground, but Caltrain through Palo Alto can't be underground because it MIGHT flood?


20 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 17, 2018 at 11:31 pm

Leaving Churchill at grade for automobile traffic, as it is now, seems like the most practical option that would please everyone. The crossing has low automobile traffic but lots of bike/ped traffic. Build a bike/pedestrian underpass under the tracks. That would be relatively cheap and easy to do.

No properties taken, no elevated trains looking into back yards, no trenches or tunnels that could flood, no change in noise propagation, no shoofly tracks on Alma during construction.


20 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 17, 2018 at 11:43 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"At $2 million per residential parcel, taking residential property in Palo Alto is out of the question."

Woudn't / shouldn't that parcel price be much higher? How can it be "only" $2 million when an empty lot at Coleridge and Embarcedero recently listed at $5,500,000 and sold very quickly?


3 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 17, 2018 at 11:44 pm

"If the electric pumps fails the diesel powered backup pumps takes over."

Why doesn't this happen at Oregon? It would be up to CPA to maintain those pumps and CPA has a very poor history of maintaining pumps and preventing flooding at Oregon. Yes, it might flood but when it does there will be no movement of trains.

I see a giant white elephant lumbering down the tracks.


5 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 18, 2018 at 3:35 am

The benefit of democracy is nobody is willing to pay in the short term ,every amateur tries to influence the decision making, and eventually everyone loses out in the end. For more than 10 years, not a single mile built.

"The fact that the train’s projected cost has mushroomed from approximately $40 billion when voters first approved the project in 2008 to about $64 billion in 2016 means a lot of people feel ripped off.

Doubly so for the fact that construction seems to be progressing at a painstakingly slow rate. An unreleased Federal Rail Administration risk analysis from earlier this year said the project was running significantly over budget and behind schedule, according to the Los Angeles Times."

In contract:

High-speed rail (HSR) in China is the country's network of passenger-dedicated railways designed for speeds of 250–350 km/h (155–217 mph). In 2017 HSR extended to 29 of the country's 33 provincial-level administrative divisions and exceeded 25,000 km (16,000 mi) in total length, accounting for about two-thirds of the world's high-speed rail tracks in commercial service. It is the world's longest HSR network and is also the most extensively used, with 1.713 billion trips delivered in 2017 bringing the total cumulative number of trips to 7 billion.

Over the past decade, China’s high-speed rail network grew rapidly according to ambitious railway plans issued by the State. The "Mid- to Long-Term Railway Network Plan" ("Railway Network Plan") approved by the State Council in 2004 called for 12,000 km (7,456 mi) of passenger-dedicated HSR lines running train at speeds of at least 200 km/h (124 mph) by 2020. The 2008 Revisions to the Railway Network Plan increased the year 2020 passenger-dedicated HSR network target length to 16,000 km (9,942 mi) and removed the 200 km/h speed standard to allow new lines to be built to standards that can accommodate faster trains.[154] By the end of 2016, the HSR network had reached 22,000 km (14,000 mi). The 2016 Revision to the Railway Network Plan is calling for 30,000 km (18,641 mi) of passenger dedicated HSR lines by 2020 and 38,000 km (23,612 mi) by 2025, and aims to bring HSR service to all cities with population over 500,000.


27 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 18, 2018 at 7:18 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"However, the City Council has given up on the tunnel... the only solution that will preserve everyone's home, traffic flow, quality of life, and sanity.

The Caltrain extension will be underground through SF. Why not Palo Alto?"


Lack of vision and no political courage - same for Menlo Park and Atherton.


69 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Apr 18, 2018 at 8:59 am

Reality Check is a registered user.

@Ahem and others: Believe it or not, simply grade-separating suburban Palo Alto with its *existing* operating double-track right-of-way is nothing like attempting to build a completely *new* railroad across SF's downtown (SOMA, FiDi, Union Square and Chinatown/North Beach), the SF Bay, the English Channel or a mountain range. And, unlike Caltrain, BART and Muni do not have a Class I US freight railroad (such as Union Pacific and its lawyers) with operating rights to run their daily diesel locomotive hauled heavy freights, including hazmat cars, over their tracks and through their stations (with all the attendant tunnel/trench ventilation, drainange and life safety issues).

Nobody can credibly deny a tunnel or trench is technically possible ... but that's not at issue. As is patently obvious, it's clearly financially prohbitive and, as the above hints at, it's not at all necessary. There is ample evidence there is no practical or reasonable way for Palo Altans to come anywhere close to being both willing and able to directly (taxes or assessments) or indirectly (development on a right of way owned by Caltrain — not the city) the enormous marginal cost above and beyond much more reasonable and affordable alternatives.

Tunnel and trench are dead on arrival. You need to wake up from your tunneling fantasies and move on to more financially realistic alternatives.


34 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2018 at 9:21 am

Check said:

"Nobody can credibly deny a tunnel or trench is technically possible"

That's right. It's all about the money. The powerful Party leaders in SF and SJ can find all the funding they need to build VERY expensive, world class underground rail extensions.

The obsequious Party lightweights on the Peninsula fight with each other over scraps and tax their residents to death to build a third rate solution that will steal people's homes and blight our neighborhoods.

Regional "cooperation" means domination by SF and SJ.


31 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 18, 2018 at 9:29 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The obsequious Party lightweights on the Peninsula fight with each other over scraps and tax their residents to death to build a third rate solution that will steal people's homes and blight our neighborhoods."

Well said.

And many tunnels around the more developed world handle freight trains with ease.


2 people like this
Posted by @Ahem
a resident of another community
on Apr 18, 2018 at 10:28 am

Yeah Ahem, I'm sure you're just being taxed to death. What's the effective property tax rate you're paying again?


27 people like this
Posted by Why?
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 18, 2018 at 10:29 am

I'll never understand why people who have such issues with trains (noise, crossings, or just dislike of the technology) move into an area where they might even remotely interact with them. This ranges from having a hous right next to the tracks, to just being near enough that you would occasionally crosses the tracks driving somewhere.

I certainly hear over and over again how the trains honk their horns more now, or that there is more traffic and so "WE NEED" to change the crossings - but people like me are fine with the sound, proximity and technology. That's why I bought a house where I see or hear trains, and where I know I have to cross the tracks. I'm fine with that. I don't want it changed and I don't want to pay to change it.

It seems to me the only people who want to spend the billions to change the crossings are the people who live near the tracks, fear the crossings, or just dislike trains. Those people should have never bought in the area where their "tolerance level" would be "tested". They really should never have chosen to reside here. They should take responsibility for their own bad decisions and move.


18 people like this
Posted by @Why
a resident of another community
on Apr 18, 2018 at 10:33 am

It's almost like the debate they're having is really in bad faith, and a disingenuous attempt to demand the most expensive, complicated, and least likely option in order to slow the whole process down so nothing ends up happening.


27 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 18, 2018 at 10:38 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Smart people who are thinking long term prefer more expensive tunnels because put train underground will enhance the community by removing surface rails, removing dangerous grade crossings and removing a continuous barrier down the middle of our community.


4 people like this
Posted by bike commuter
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 18, 2018 at 10:53 am

why do we all view train as an inevitable future? caltrain is on the rise recently just because of the new boom of startups in SF because of the AWS. it may change in the future.


1 person likes this
Posted by ODN
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 18, 2018 at 10:54 am

Has anyone from CPA approached Caltrain to see how they feel about having their tracks put in a tunnel or trench, or developing the space above their right-of-way, or building elevated structures on their ROW?

CPA is spending all this money on Mott McDonald and the other consultant but it's all being done in a vacuum with no input from PCJPB (Caltrain) who own the tracks, the ROW, the stations, etc. and who will ultimately have to approve any changes.

It could be that PCJPB isn't on board with some of these ideas and won't allow these contemplated changes to their ROW without a court fight costing $$$ in legal fees.

The City of Palo Alto does not own the railroad right-of-way nor any of the rail infrastructure even though it is within the Palo Alto city limits. The rail infrastructure is owned by PCJPB which owns Caltrain. Making these pie-in-the-sky plans in a vacuum without involving PCJPB will only get you so far.


13 people like this
Posted by @bike commuter
a resident of another community
on Apr 18, 2018 at 12:03 pm

The Bay Area population is always going to keep growing. Roads only handle so much traffic. Mass transit investment is a must to be able to handle this. This should have happened decades ago.


2 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 18, 2018 at 12:59 pm

Well, if NO change occurs at Churchill, then there need to be warning signs farther down Churchill (of limited traffic capacity ahead) so cars may choose other routes. Backup of cars will be unacceptable, I would think, once more/longer trains are coming through there.
Why can’t a bike/pedestrian bridge be built there, instead of a tunnel for this purpose? Would this be an improvement put into effect more quickly?
I hope Embarcadero is improved in the ways noted; if more cars are to be diverted there, then this will be necessary. Some of us actually need to drive through there and get by Paly and Town & Country......


2 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm

"BART has a tunnel all the way under the Bay just a few miles north of Palo Alto."

BART has a tube on the floor of the bay, not a bored tunnel.

The BART tube is submerged so it can't flood during a storm — it's already underwater!

"Caltrain through Palo Alto can't be underground because it MIGHT flood?"

Yes, and you build structures to earthquake code because there MIGHT be an earthquake and you carry insurance because there MIGHT be an unforeseeable catastrophe. You have to manage risk.

CPA has historically done a poor job of preventing flooding at Oregon even though the underpass is pumped 24/7, so a precedent has clearly been established.


2 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Apr 18, 2018 at 1:51 pm

Old Steve is a registered user.

For those still interested in Palo Alto's Special Tunnel (or Trench), all that is required (Per Mr. Carpenter) is Vision & Money. Palo Alto residents have had much of these commodities for at least 80 years (back to the founding of HP). Since you all cannot agree on a basic Infrastructure Tax, good luck agreeing on a special property assessment for your Special Trench. Even at $5 Million per property purchase, any other option is still less expensive construction than lowering the rails into trench or tunnel. Mtn Vw and Menlo Park are both moving ahead, so PA can be Special on it's own, just like Berkeley BART back in the day. GOOD LUCK!

Rail agencies tunnel when they don't have cheaper options. Simple.


3 people like this
Posted by Caltrain already has tunnels
a resident of another community
on Apr 18, 2018 at 2:01 pm

If you've ever taken Caltrain to SF, you will notice the train goes underground four times to finally arrive at 4th and King. And these are the more suburban areas of SF in the south and east that have tunnels, not the urban areas.


Like this comment
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 18, 2018 at 2:02 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

Build a bike/pedestrian underpass under the tracks, like the one under Alma at Homer, under 280 between Moorpark and Tisch Way, or at a lower cost, a bike/pedestrian overpass, such as crosses 101 near Oregon, Woodside near Middlefield, and other places around the Bay. Leave the crossings open, drivers will soon figure out that a detour to San Antonio, Embarcadero or Oregon Expy is faster than waiting for the trains. Meanwhile, peds/bikes can cross in safety if they are REQUIRED to use the overpass.


2 people like this
Posted by Sue Dremann
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Apr 18, 2018 at 2:32 pm

Sue Dremann is a registered user.

The url for North Old Palo Alto.org is: Web Link


19 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Apr 18, 2018 at 3:46 pm

Old Steve is a registered user.

@Already...

Those tunnels entering SF are hard rock tunnels hand dug before the 1906 Earthquake (112 years ago today). They do not go below the level of the adjacent bay water surface. Nuisance water drains out one end. Any PA tunnel or trench will need pumped drainage as noted elsewhere. Those tunnels were mildly damaged in the 1989 earthquake. Any Palo Alto trench or tunnel has to address a different set of seismic issues. The Mott MacDonald folks actually know a great deal about tunnel engineering.


15 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 18, 2018 at 4:07 pm

The Caltrain tunnels in the city are at grade. They go through Potrero Hill, a different situation from the below-grade tunnels contemplated for Palo Alto.

If you build a bike/ped overpass at Churchill you would need a minimum of 14 feet of vertical clearance over Alma street and the tracks. To complicate things further, the slope would have to be less than a certain amount for bikes, peds and handicapped (not sure of the exact slope but 6% comes to mind). I envision a rather long approach on either side of Alma/the tracks. If my math is correct we're looking at an approach of over 200 feet on each side of Alma/the tracks to get up 14 feet at 6%. And people will whine and moan about how "ugly" it is.

I would think an underpass would be less conspicuous and would require 7 or 8 feet of internal vertical clearance.

The idea of leaving Churchill at grade with crossing gates as it has been since long before I went to Paly, has a lot of appeal.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 18, 2018 at 4:10 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"I would think an underpass would be less conspicuous and would require 7 or 8 feet of internal vertical clearance."

Fire engines need a minimum of 13 ft vertical clearance.


17 people like this
Posted by Why?
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 18, 2018 at 4:13 pm

"It's almost like the debate they're having is really in bad faith, and a disingenuous attempt to demand the most expensive, complicated, and least likely option in order to slow the whole process down so nothing ends up happening."

I'm not suggesting anyone is making specious arguments. I'm sure each poster truly believes what they are saying and is passionate enough about it to take the time to post here. It helps me to see the range of opinions and how far folks are willing to go to achieve their objective ($, time, effort, etc.)

What baffles me is that people so against the various impacts of trains on their lives chose to expose themselves to trains by selecting homes near the trains. More so, now want to spend Billions of dollars to mitigate the impact on their lives.

I for example, would never move to a "Red State" because I don't want to be exposed to the annoyance of republican value advocates. I would not move to a gun carrying community, because I fear guns and people who carry them. I would not live in the south, because I am uncomfortable with the frequency with which I encounter racial attitudes that I don't agree with. If I didn't like trains, or their impact on my life, I wouldn't live in an area where I am exposed to them beyond my tolerance level.



1 person likes this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 18, 2018 at 4:18 pm

So PCJPB (Caltrain) would own the tunnel/trench (they own the ROW) but who would be responsible for the pumps and their maintenance and keeping it free of an accumulation of storm water?

The citizens of Palo Alto want the trench/tunnel, not JPB, so I can't see JPB agreeing to maintain these pumps. I can see CPA having to maintain the pumps. If the pumps fail (and there is plenty of precedent for it in Palo Alto) and train service is disrupted, who's going to be liable?

Gotta think about these things.


14 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 18, 2018 at 4:19 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Kudos to those people who are organizing around this issue. I would, too, if my home was located in a targeted area.

The City's outreach to these residents need to be above reproach. It should be extensive, meetings should be held at times convenient for the residents, and it must be a transparent process. We are talking about people's HOMES.


4 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 18, 2018 at 4:21 pm

"Fire engines need a minimum of 13 ft vertical clearance."

What would fire engines be doing in a bike/ped underpass?

If Churchill is left alone they simply cross Alma and the tracks as they have for decades.


109 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 18, 2018 at 4:35 pm

"Spending a total of $350-400 million for grade separation at a single intersection that is 400 yards from an existing underpass (at Embarcadero Road) is not an acceptable use of taxpayer funds,"

It would be a criminally silly misuse of taxpayer funds. Close the superfluous Churchill crossing and be done with it.


1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 18, 2018 at 4:50 pm

"Fire engines need a minimum of 13 ft vertical clearance."

Come on. Think Silicon Valley style! Fire engines need to cross the tracks at Churchill much less often than autos. So size the underpass for autos and put the tracks on Bascule lifts to accommodate the occasional fire engine. Surely our spiffy new electric trains will come with the technology to brake to a stop upon receipt of a signal from the crossing lift controller. If not, install it. Kids of all ages will be fascinated watching the Bascule work.


3 people like this
Posted by Andy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 18, 2018 at 6:14 pm

It is funny that churchill guys formed their own group and asked to close churchill. What stops meadow and charleston ask the same?

We all should unite in asking keep as is for caltrain and invest in autonomous vehicle. You give a dedicated lane to autonomous vehicle today and can get door to door service without waiting for caltrain timing and pay for its parking. That should be the ask!


5 people like this
Posted by old PA resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 18, 2018 at 6:24 pm

If a lot of the tunneling cost is because the tracks need to support Union Pacific heavy freighters, then why not tunnel, using the same tunnel boring technology that they are going to use in San Jose for Bart (or what Elon Musk is pushing), for CalTrain and HS Rail, BUT LEAVE THE SURFACE TRACKS IN PLACE with their grade level crossings for Union Pacific to use once or twice a day.

I also think the worries about flooding and seismic safety for a tunnel is way overblown. Modern tunnels are well sealed and seismically safe. Comparing them to the Oregon underpass flooding, which is open to the elements and has storm drains to deal with, is silly. As people have pointed out, the bart transbay tunnel doesn't flood, nor are they worried about the new San Jose Bart tunnels flooding.

So, if the whole elevated/trenched/tunneled cost trade off is based upon supporting Union Pacific heavy trains, then not tunnel and leave the existing tracks alone? Seems much cheaper to me!


11 people like this
Posted by DES
a resident of Southgate
on Apr 18, 2018 at 6:46 pm

This article understates the enormous impact of the rail design on the entire city, and I speak from personal experience having seen the impact of a similar project on another city. First, the noise impact is incredibly important. If the rails are elevated residents all the way from the middle of the Stanford campus to the Rinconada Library will hear each and every train. If you like the noise of the airplanes, then you'll love this. But if you like to sleep with the windows open, or entertain or dine in the backyard, not so much.

Elevation of the trains will also cleave the city in two, visually and psychology just as Oregon Expressway has already done. One can already say that in effect there are two very different Palo Alto's with very different needs and interests, the thriving north and the neglected south.

We need a city council with the courage to say no. Palo Alto will not benefit from this project and should not fund it. And so the interests who wish to move forward should do so on our terms, i.e. a trench or a tunnel, or not at all.

This issue is of such importance to the residents and residential property owners of Palo Alto that the city council should have to sell their proposal to the citizens who should then decide this via a popular vote.


1 person likes this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 18, 2018 at 7:04 pm

"If a lot of the tunneling cost is because the tracks need to support Union Pacific heavy freighters"

It isn't. A trench or a tunnel can support heavy freight as well as Caltrain at the same cost.

"I also think the worries about flooding and seismic safety for a tunnel is way overblown. Modern tunnels are well sealed and seismically safe."

There will be a portal on each end of the trench/tunnel for trains to enter and exit. The designers anticipate the ingress of storm water — it says so right in the engineering study — that's why they have specified pumping stations. There is plenty of precedent for pumps failing during storms when you need them most, particularly if CPA maintains them.

Earthquakes and flooding happen even if you THINK they won't, or think they are nothing to worry about or are dismissive or in denial about their likelihood. The designers of Millenium Tower didn't THINK their building would list but it is and now they don't know what to do.

"the bart transbay tunnel doesn't flood"

The BART tube was >>designed<< to be submerged under water 100% of the time. By design it can't flood in a storm! Is this such a difficult concept to grasp?

"nor are they worried about the new San Jose Bart tunnels flooding."

How do they plan to deal with the ingress of storm water in this tunnel?


5 people like this
Posted by NOPA
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 18, 2018 at 9:02 pm

Hi all, I saw some comments about getting in touch. If you want to get involved, please go to Web Link and fill out the contact form at the bottom of the page and we'll go from there!


2 people like this
Posted by Stew Pid
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 18, 2018 at 10:54 pm

The money is not a problem. The City Council can simply raise utility rates to the outer reaches of the galaxy to fund whatever they want in our lovely burgh.
Yee Haw!


3 people like this
Posted by Property valuation 101
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 18, 2018 at 11:19 pm

Posted by Online Name

"At $2 million per residential parcel, taking residential property in Palo Alto is out of the question."

Woudn't / shouldn't that parcel price be much higher? How can it be "only" $2 million when an empty lot at Coleridge and Embarcedero recently listed at $5,500,000 and sold very quickly?

Why, because those parcels have always been next to the train track/Alma. and it's half the size of Coleridge lot.

The empty lot, that sold was on a culdesac that is across the street from Walter Hayes, and....the lots was/is over 12,000 square feet. Pretty clear from them apples why it sold for that price. Apples to apples people.

Simple example:

Lot is about half the size of Coleridge, but has a house on it, but has and always will have, if not seized, a train running through its back yard, hence, ergo, whatever, it is worth half, or thereabouts the other one. Capice?

1645 Mariposa Ave
Palo Alto, CA 94306 (Southgate)
4 beds 2 baths 1,717 sqft 6960 sqft lot size

Now pending, been in and out of contract, list price, $2,650,000.00


4 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Apr 19, 2018 at 12:56 am

Reality Check is a registered user.

Like many new and old tunnels, BART's tube constantly leaks and has pumping systems to keep water from slowly filling it up.

And to help keep the tube from possibly completely flooding too quickly in a 500- and/or 1000-year quake, BART is spending over $300m to upgrade the tube's pumping systems to give trains and riders enough time to safely evacuate before drowning: Web Link

The idea of Caltrain separately maintaining a freight track on the surface for UP's use in addition to a new set of completely unaffordable underground tracks and stations through Palo Alto utterly ridiculous and absurd.

Some Palo Altans seem to think (other people's) money just grows on trees to indulge their untethered from practical reality feverish fantasy proposals.

It's high time for a group of well versed intelligent and prudent grown-ups who have a practical grasp of funding realities, trade-offs, opportunity costs and all the various rail engineering and operational constraints to steer this endless process to some reasonable conclusion on behalf of the (endlessly) chattering class that will drift in and out of the fray until the end of time. Just today we had the rail committee put tunnels back into the mix to appease newcomer Lydia Kou ... unbelievable!

Earth to delusional Palo Altans ... NOBODY will give Palo Alto even a single extra BILLION$ for a city-wide tunnel ... and an obviously not-worth-the-extra-trouble-or-expense open trench is ridiculous on its face.

Either leave crossings as they are, close them, or elevate the tracks on an attractive-and-screened-as-can-be MSE walls (Web Link) or embankment or viaduct (with Caltrain's whisper-quiet sleek new Swiss electric trains) to minimize property acquisitions (eminent domain is only employed after a full and fair market value sale agreement cannot be reached with the property owner).


7 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 19, 2018 at 2:54 am

Closing a crossing is no solution at all. It will only make automotive gridlock worse. Far better to leave an at-grade crossing such as Churchill exactly as it has been for decades than to close it.

If the tracks are elevated, how about planting tall Eugenia trees along the ROW to serve as an optical and acoustical barrier between the trains and people's back yards?

I visited the North Old Palo Alto web site and saw that hybrid crossings are still under consideration by them. True hybrid crossings have never even been mentioned in any of the M.M. studies. They may be the most practical solution at Charleston and Meadow, certainly worth considering and not worth ignoring as Mot MacDonald have done.

However, NOPA seems to be laboring under the common misconception that the right-of-way (the land upon which the tracks are located) is owned by the city of Palo Alto which it is not, even though the rail infrastructure is within the city limits. If the tracks were moved underground, you can't start developing the land on the surface above the trench/tunnel without first dealing with the owner, Caltrain (PCJPB). Of course Caltrain isn't going to simply give away this valuable land for free. CPA would have to either acquire or lease the right to develop this land and that will cost money, assuming Caltrain (PCJPB) is even agreeable to such an arrangement.

I was quite surprised to see that NOPA made the implicit assumption that once the tracks are buried the land is available for development, and they are apparently ignorant of the fact that PCJPB owns all of the rail infrastructure in Palo Alto including the land and air rights. An organization which purports to be involved in the Palo Alto rail alignment should be aware of this fact.


2 people like this
Posted by bob.smith
a resident of another community
on Apr 19, 2018 at 3:50 am

>>>> The Caltrain extension will be underground through SF. Why not Palo Alto?

>>>> There'll be tunnels through Pacheco Pass and into San Fernando Valley, also. Not to mention San Jose is getting one for BART

All of the aforementioned tunnels have a good return on investment because they add value by extending the rail system to new populations and/or create a short-cut that will pay off in efficiencies over the next 100 years.

A tunnel under Palo Alto has a poor return on investment. Caltrain will argue that a tunnel is a value-subtracted proposition because it cuts their valuable 4 track right-of-way down to only 2 tracks, setting the stage for growing transport inefficiencies over the next 100 years.




Like this comment
Posted by bob.smith
a resident of another community
on Apr 19, 2018 at 5:24 am

>>> If my math is correct we're looking at an approach of over 200 feet on each side of Alma/the tracks to get up 14 feet at 6%. And people will whine and moan about how "ugly" it is.

You would need 29 feet clearance above electrified Caltrain, but the ramps can be curved or zig-zag.

Palo Alto should put itself in the map by building Americas first floating bicycle/pedestrian roundabout above Alma/Caltrain/Churchill.
Nobody can say that this is ugly: Web Link


19 people like this
Posted by HMM
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 19, 2018 at 6:53 am

Pay for the trench with a Bond financed by a business tax. Why shouldn't Palantir, Facebook, Google,Mongo DB, Ideo, pay to improve something that directly benefits them. The train brings their workers into town every day. Why are the taxpayers of Palo Alto bearing the burden of the congestion these companies cause? Why shouldn't companies improve the infrastructure of the towns they use? They make money, we pay for their parking ramps. Don't we subsidize CalTrain passes for their workers?

And, Reality Check-these are your neighbors. We are talking about destroying their homes. What if it was you?


2 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 19, 2018 at 10:59 am

"the ramps can be curved or zig-zag.

Palo Alto should put itself in the map by building Americas first floating bicycle/pedestrian roundabout above Alma/Caltrain/Churchill."

Why make it so darn complicated? Dig an underpass under Alma/the tracks, maybe a little wider than the one at Calif. Ave., and be done with it.

This is why Palo Alto hasn't made one millimeter of progress on grade separation in 10 years. Too many kooky and impractical ideas.


8 people like this
Posted by NOPA
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 19, 2018 at 11:41 am

In reply to ODB:

>> I visited the North Old Palo Alto web site and saw that hybrid crossings are still under consideration by them. True hybrid crossings have never even been mentioned in any of the M.M. studies.

That is not true. We do not support hybrid crossings for Churchill Ave under or over the tracks because that would still result in a concrete structure in the middle of what was once our serene neighborhood. Where did you see that? We provide illustrations of all the potential options on the home page but that is for information only, not part of our proposal.

>> I was quite surprised to see that NOPA made the implicit assumption that once the tracks are buried the land is available for development, and they are apparently ignorant of the fact that PCJPB owns all of the rail infrastructure in Palo Alto including the land and air rights. An organization which purports to be involved in the Palo Alto rail alignment should be aware of this fact.

Again, I am not sure where you are getting this information. We have made no assumptions on land usage or value recapture in the scenarios where this is possible. We also are aware of the information you wrote above as we have attended every rail committee meeting and this was explicitly noted by City staff to the attendees on a few occasions. Whether value capture is possible or not is not something we're talking about explicitly.


2 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 19, 2018 at 12:07 pm

The quote below is directly from the NOPA web site.

The ideas for a parkway, a bike path, a farmers' market and low-income housing assume that PCJPB is willing to repurpose its ROW and that a suitable deal can be struck with CPA, both big "if's". Locating the tracks in an underground tunnel does not automatically make the land owned by PCJPB available for those uses.

PCJPB's only interest is in moving trains. Repurposing the ROW for these other uses is a real long shot.

========================

2) Financial Benefit: Implementing a bored tunnel solution would open the above ground right-of-way for various community uses, including a parkway and ped/bike path spanning Palo Alto, but also provide income generating opportunities like leasing land to low-income housing developers and an open air farmers’ market. Leasing the land for these purposes would generate significant income to offset the cost of construction.

3) City / Community Benefit: Reclaiming the open space created in a bored tunnel approach would allow the City to realize several of its stated goals that are otherwise very difficult to realize given a lack of available open space. These types of objectives have been proven already in several cities, like NYC that recently reclaimed an elevated train track to create a public parkway. The City could achieve objectives including:
1. Increased low income housing
2. Increase pedestrian/bike pathways
3. Increased open space


2 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 19, 2018 at 12:26 pm

"Caltrain will argue that a tunnel is a value-subtracted proposition because it cuts their valuable 4 track right-of-way down to only 2 tracks"

Your argument doesn't hold water, bob.smith.

Two bores (tunnel) below ground and a wide swath of land above ground (existing ROW). They could still have four tracks.

CPA pays to bore this tunnel under land owned by PCJPB (Caltrain).

Who owns the tunnel? Presumably PCJPB does.


6 people like this
Posted by NOPA
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 19, 2018 at 1:05 pm

In reply to ODB:

Sorry you're right. I stand corrected. Mentally we have already updated the information in our minds with the fact that Palo Alto doesn't own the land on which the rail tracks sit. It still remains a possibility, however slim, that value recapture can be done albeit it will require negotiation with the owners of that land and remains uncertain, and it still holds a valid place in the justification for a tunnel.


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Posted by NOPA
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 19, 2018 at 1:13 pm

In reply to ODB:

To add - in relation to my statement about value recapture still holds a valid place as justification for a tunnel...

...unless you think it doesn't belong as justification for a tunnel?


3 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 19, 2018 at 1:21 pm

NOPA:

I hope you will update your web page as well.

To me it borders on fraudulent to sell residents on the idea of a tunnel by holding out the promise of developing the land on the ROW when no one has any idea if PCJPB is agreeable to the idea in principle. At least NOPA recognizes this and I assume it will make amends.

It likewise concerns me that as far as I know, there has been no outreach to PCJPB by CPA. Palo Alto is making these grandiose plans for the right-of-way (which it does not own) in a vacuum.


1 person likes this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 19, 2018 at 1:39 pm

"in relation to my statement about value recapture still holds a valid place as justification for a tunnel...

...unless you think it doesn't belong as justification for a tunnel?"

To address this question more directly, you could repurpose the land on the ROW if a tunnel were built, but by my estimation the chances of that happening are extremely remote, especially without knowing PCJPB's sentiment toward the idea. In addition, you would have to factor the cost of acquiring or leasing the development rights into the project.

It also depends on what form the project takes. A citywide tunnel has been ruled out by city staff and justifiably so, due to the complexity of crossing S.F. creek which forms the city limit and the county line. North Palo Alto already has three grade-separated crossings: Oregon, Embarcadero and University. It would be the height of insanity and near-criminal extravagance to reconstruct these grade-separated crossings. The smartest plan is to "leverage" the fact that these crossings are already grade separated and simply leave them alone.

That leaves Churchill, which is of greater interest to your group. The one idea I think would please everyone is to leave this crossing as it has been for decades, at grade, with the addition of a bike/ped underpass to facilitate movement to and from the school. I elaborated on this idea earlier in this thread. Churchill is a tough nut to crack due to the limited amount of space available and the proximity to residences.


8 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Apr 19, 2018 at 2:25 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

@HMM wrongly implies grade separations benefit employers, and goes to suggest therefore they should pay for them.

Pretty close to 100% of the benefits of a grade separation accrue to motorists (eliminated crossing delays, and the occasional vehicle code violation resulting in scofflaw motorists forcing trains to hit them and/or their vehicles) and to the immediately surrounding community (eliminated horn-blowing, reduced traffic backups & suicide access points).

The railroad and its users get the relatively tiny benefit of eliminating the risk of very occasionally being forced to hit suicidal trespassers and scofflaw motorists (there is no legal way to get hit by a train).

Contrary to popular belief, trains are not slowed for crossings and are therefore not "sped up" upon their removal.

Just another reason why community engagement and notions of CSS is a recipe for endless discussion wherein the same issues need to be explained and re-explained and discussed and re-discussed as various well-meaning (mostly) and sincere endless rotating cast of lay community members who (understandably) don't know what they're talking about decide to "engage" and "disengage" as their time and interest (or level of outrage and indignation) permits.

Grade seps are one of those things, that — on the surface — seem simple, and so everyone, particularly people who either are — or think of themselves as — being of above-average intelligence and competence in other areas of their professional or personal lives think they can waltz in with their bright ideas for how to "solve" the problem. A proven recipe for endless debate and discussion with nothing getting decided or done.


2 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 19, 2018 at 4:06 pm

I know exactly what you mean, Reality Check. I have posted countless times here explaining why kooky, ill-conceived ideas are kooky and ill-conceived. "Let's slow the trains to 5 mph". Well, you'll be just as dead walking in front of a train moving at 5 mph as a baby bullet, and so on and so on and so on.

My two cardinal rules will always apply:

1. The trains aren't going away, period.

2. Trains always have the right of way. Under federal law, trains always have the right of way over automobiles.

When I first heard about CSS I thought "this is going to add years to the process". Was I wrong?

We also have people who might as well be trolls posting disinformation and outright lies here to advance their own agendas. I can't believe the city is taking seriously the idea of closing crossings but they are, because "it's what the community wants". Trenches and tunnels may be the most popular among the uninformed, but are they economically viable and can the city raise the funds to build them? Are they practical? It's what the community wants.

For every grade separation solution you can think of there are 101 gotchas.


9 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 19, 2018 at 9:10 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

The obvious choice is the one that was abandoned long ago to moonbeam dreams and nightmare realities.

HSR should simply terminate in San Jose.


4 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Apr 19, 2018 at 11:23 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.


Fully elevating tracks to ~20 feet allows roads to pass under a slender (5 feet thick) rail bridge with a generous 15-foot vertical clearance for the tallest vehicles (moving & fire trucks, utility vehicles, double-deck buses, etc.) while eliminating the need to condemn and/or acquire private homes (provided that the shoofly is shoe-horned onto Caltrain and/or public property (e.g. a sliver of Alma).

The advantage of this is no road lowering whatsoever is required, and you can have open, usable space (aka a viaduct) punctuated only by support columns, which can be landscaped and used for public paths or parcourses, etc. ... or you can have a solid berm or embankment or MSE walls that can be covered with plantings or vines and screened with hedges and/or trees.

Or, if you'd rather have the tracks at, say only 12 feet up with little or no usable space underneath (you'd just use a solid berm or MSE walls), you'd have to dip roads (like Churchill) down about 8-9 feet and equip the dips with lighting and pumping systems. Such hybrids are not necessarily much cheaper than fully elevated because the associated utility relocations under the lowered roads and roads that connect to them (e.g. Alma) can be quite costly, depending on what's there. And if the roads and sidewalks are dipped down very much, the end result may not be so nice for bikes and peds to traverse.

Yes, and while Caltrain's spiffy new self-propelled (no locomotives) electric trains will be significantly quieter, there will still be an occasional noisier freight and whatever sound that's there may carry a bit further. Noise emanating from the wheel-rail interface can be blocked with low knee-high sound walls along the sides. As for privacy, plant a tall hedge or some trees ... and all the homes backing up to the tracks near crossings are in areas where Caltrain typically travels somewhere between 50 and 79 mph ... not much for riders to see when quietly swooshing by.

No need to fear track elevation. Fully elevated has its advantages, so don't dismiss it out of hand. I doubt people and homes are bothered much, if at all, by the Caltrain-like electric trains swooshing by on the beautiful double-track electrified viaduct in Germany: Web Link

Easy peasy ... and about as affordable as you can get with little or no North Old Palo Alto homes condemned and/or acquired.


1 person likes this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 19, 2018 at 11:25 pm

How does the bullet train play into all this? Sounds the area will be a construction zone for years.


1 person likes this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 20, 2018 at 12:04 am

Follow the link in Reality Check's post and imagine the viaduct done in a Spanish motif to blend with California's architectural heritage.


5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 20, 2018 at 10:26 am

Online Name is a registered user.

One of the other papers today reported the Rail Committee chaired by Mr. Wolbach hasn't even started to study the question of eminent domain!

"The Palo Alto City Council at its meeting Monday addressed eminent domain concerns, but staff said it hasn’t yet studied the issue and doesn’t plan todo sountil the council picks a preferred alternative, which it’s expected to do before the end of the year. The council agreed to spend up to $1.27 million on a contract with AECOM to select an alternative. AECOM replaces engineering firm Mott McDonald.


1 person likes this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 20, 2018 at 1:06 pm

"HSR should simply terminate in San Jose."

We're discussing grade separation in Palo Alto, which can happen with or without HSR.

The next governor will have a lot to do with HSR. I suspect the vainglorious Antonio Villaraigosa would be another Jerry Brown and HSR would be his vanity project. I don't know if he's accepting money from labor but he sure seems gung-ho on the HSR boondoggle. The problem is, I can't find a candidate who recognizes HSR as the white elephant it is. The State of California has no business entering the money-losing passenger rail business. Look at Amtrak — it loses a bloody fortune. How about spending money on water management to prepare for the next drought?

"staff said it hasn’t yet studied the issue and doesn’t plan to do so until the council picks a preferred alternative"

That's good because at this stage there is nothing to study regarding eminent domain. The new firm could develop a plan which will require no property taking.

My problem with M.M. is that they seemed oblivious to true hybrid crossings, and I still don't understand why their design contemplated taking so many residences and laying waste to the surrounding terrain. I never saw an artist's conception of what they planned to build, whether it was a giant edifice with cloverleaves or what have you. Taking so many residences would have been a non-starter. Really, no residences should be taken if the FMV is pushing $5 million a pop, and it is just wrong to displace families for railroad grade separation.


25 people like this
Posted by You had me at "Reality Check"
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 20, 2018 at 2:29 pm

I like the idea of just closing the at grade crossings. We already have several overpasses and underpasses that connect both sides of town. Way more per mile in fact, than Mountain View. Traffic will adjust and it will be just fine.

Spend the money we'll save on something truly useful like feeding the poor and staving children of this world, or modernizing city hall for example.


6 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of another community
on Apr 20, 2018 at 2:47 pm

"I like the idea of just closing the at grade crossings."

I agree. I live north of Palo Alto, and would welcome closing the following grade crossings:

Oak Grove
Glenwood
Encinal
Watkins
Fair Oaks

Then just make Ravenswood grade separated. This would force all cross-Caltrain-ROW traffic into Palo Alto, Ravenswood and Redwood City.

Where it belongs.


6 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 20, 2018 at 4:34 pm

Close the crossings and come back here and whine about how bad the gridlock and congestion are.

Close all the crossings in Mountain View which will force the traffic into Palo Alto. Close all the crossings in Palo Alto, forcing the traffic into Menlo Park. Close the Menlo Park crossings and force the traffic to Atherton which would close all of its crossings and push the traffic to Redwood City, which would likewise close its crossings and force traffic to San Carlos, which already has — guess what — GRADE SEPARATION!!!

This is a brilliant idea of genius proportion, I must say.

What kind of addle-pated thought process thinks closing the crossings is a good idea? The crossing would be open to autos ZERO percent of the time as opposed to the current arrangement in which the crossings are open, what, 80 percent of the time? Shockingly, the city takes seriously the idea of closing the crossings. No wonder Palo Alto can't get it together with grade separation
with this kind of hare-brained thinking. Meanwhile, Mountain View, Menlo Park, Atherton and San Carlos whiz past us on a Baby Bullet.

Better to leave the crossings as they have been for decades than to close them.


44 people like this
Posted by You had me at "Reality Check"
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 20, 2018 at 5:42 pm

"Better to leave the crossings as they have been for decades"

Yeah.
Or just do that.



48 people like this
Posted by Juan
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 20, 2018 at 7:39 pm

Wasn't is just last week that the Charleston Rd crossing was closed for two days? I don't recall traffic being snarled for miles, basically everyone got around pretty much fine. Some people had to spend a few minutes longer to cross the train tracks, is that so horrible?


23 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Apr 20, 2018 at 9:17 pm

The grade crossings should be closed immediately and until a solution is worked out. Drivers in the area have proven themselves incapable of using proper caution when crossing the tracks and it's a miracle there hasn't been any sort of derailment or passenger casualties.


11 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 21, 2018 at 6:07 pm

Seems clear to me that the preferred solution is to have the trains in a tunnel. Beside saving the land and houses needed for the other options, it would also reduce traffic congestion going east to west.

Palo Alto seems to have lots of money to waste doing traffic calming projects like the one on Ross. Let's stop that and put the money into a tunnel. Something that everyone who lives, drives, and bikes in Palo Alto.


2 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 21, 2018 at 6:09 pm

Should have been:

Something that everyone who lives, drives, and bikes in Palo Alto will benefit from.


68 people like this
Posted by Face reality
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 22, 2018 at 12:09 pm

Sometimes, the acquisition of private property is necessary for the greater good of the community.

Aligning the roads and rails in Palo Alto for the century ahead is one of those rare situations where it many be necessary for the greater good.

Back in the 1970s, Palo Alto changed zoning in some locations to force businesses to move elsewhere in order to build homes on the land. Remember Manchester Auto on Middlefield? The photo lab on Loma Verde? Or the auto body shop on Churchill, next to the tracks?

Was rezoning to force those businesses out fair? Maybe. Or maybe not. But more than 30 years later, I think most people would agree the greater good for the community was served by those actions.

Argue all you want, but at some point people need to face the facts as they exist in the real world.

Look at the bigger picture and what will be the greater good for the community 20, 30, and 50 years from now.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm

"The photo lab on Loma Verde? Or the auto body shop on Churchill, next to the tracks?"

And that structure would be sacrificed to the God of Ever More Concrete if "Face reality" has its way. Oh, the irony.

At some point people need to face the facts as they exist in the real world.


3 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 22, 2018 at 1:13 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Silly people. "Traffic light" only counts for the folks allegedly working near these developments who never get laid off or change jobs but not for the people forced to drive longer distances to get the services they've lost nearby.


4 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2018 at 2:35 pm

The difference between zoning changes in the '70s is that each residential property taken will add a couple of million dollars to the cost of the project. The owners must be compensated at fair market value and residential real estate is pretty expensive in Palo Alto.

You're going to have enough trouble financing this project without having to acquire millions of dollars in residential real estate.


45 people like this
Posted by Concerned Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2018 at 2:41 pm

I think the safest and least expensive option is to close Churchill to cars. Add a pedestrian and bicycle underpass similar to the one at Homer, and the problem is solved. Losing housing to eminent domain doesn’t make sense when there is a shortage of housing in Palo Alto. I live near the Alma/Churchill crossing, most of the Paly students bike to school, so it would be safer to separate the bikes from the cars.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 22, 2018 at 2:55 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" Add a pedestrian and bicycle underpass similar to the one at Homer,"

There is no enough distance between the tracks and Alma to do the same tunnel configuration as there is at Homer and Alma.

A bicycle tunnel could go under the tracks AND under Alma but that would probably require taking one or more properties at that intersection.


3 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2018 at 3:06 pm

"that would probably require taking one or more properties at that intersection."

Why? What would the taken land be used for?

Take a look at the Calif. Ave. underpass. If it requires a property to be taken it's a bad design.

What does closing the crossing accomplish? It makes your stretch of Churchill more idyllic while shifting the gridlock elsewhere and making it someone else's problem, a real NIMBY strategy.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 22, 2018 at 3:19 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Why? What would the taken land be used for?"

IF a bicycle tunnel were put under the tracks and under Alma the bike path would have to return to grade level East of Alma and that would require additional land unless Churchill became a cul de sac instead on remaining connected to Alma.


Like this comment
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2018 at 3:27 pm

>>>> A bicycle tunnel could go under the tracks AND under Alma but that would probably require taking one or more properties at that intersection.

One of the corner properties would provide enough area to build a spiral bicycle ramp going down 10 feet under Alma.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2018 at 3:33 pm

I'm beginning to think that some type of embankment for the trains would be a reasonable idea, particularly if it was done with symmetry and good design. A trestle bridge can look really nice and so does a viaduct. Alternatively, the right of way underneath could work for freight at night and possibly we could get a nice bike boulevard underneath that was dedicated for bikes and not for mixed use with pedestrians. I know we would have to make sure that the underneath didn't become an eyesore or a magnet for homeless encampments, but with design and proper usage, I think we could prevent these problems.

Just a thought.


2 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2018 at 4:54 pm

On either side of Churchill, the sidewalk combined with the landscaped parking strip would be plenty wide for the entrance to an underpass. No property taken.

Resident: you're forgetting that the city would have to negotiate with the owners of the rail right-of-way, Caltrain (owned by PCJPB) for your "nice bike boulevard", and they would probably want CPA to lease the land and that's $$$.

If Cedric's structure were built with two decks, the trains could be on the lower deck and do what you please with the upper deck, bike path or whatever. This is how the Bay Bridge used to be.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 22, 2018 at 4:59 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"On either side of Churchill, the sidewalk combined with the landscaped parking strip would be plenty wide for the entrance to an underpass. No property taken."

The distance required to bring the bike path up from beneath Alma and the tracks to street level would cut off driveway access to at least two properties on Churchill.


3 people like this
Posted by Churchill Xing for Bikes/Peds
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2018 at 9:50 pm

I like the idea of making Churchill a cul de sac.
Build an underpass under both Alma and the tracks to accomodate bikes, pedestrians, and wheelchairs. It would be relatively inexpensive, and it would benefit one of our communities greatest values: our students.


Like this comment
Posted by brian
a resident of another community
on Apr 24, 2018 at 11:35 am

The Caltrans standards say a dead-end street more than 150 feel long needs to have a 30 foot radius turning circle at the end, so you can't make Churchill a cul-de-sac without taking two properties at the dead end.

I you are taking properties at the end, better to use that space to create a bicycle ramp to the side and leave the road open.


Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 24, 2018 at 3:40 pm

"The distance required to bring the bike path up from beneath Alma and the tracks to street level would cut off driveway access to at least two properties on Churchill."

I doubt you have measured and I don't think you know the necessary slope, height width and distances. Get back to us when you have some concrete figures.


7 people like this
Posted by My Town Too
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2018 at 4:28 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by brian
a resident of another community
on Apr 25, 2018 at 12:09 am

>>>> "I doubt you have measured and I don't think you know the necessary slope, height width and distances. Get back to us when you have some concrete figures."

Federal Highway Administration: "The design of all pedestrian overpasses and underpasses must include ramps that do not exceed 1:12 grade (preferably as shallow a grade as possible) and landings must be provided for every 30 inches of rise." Web Link

If we assume that 1:12 with landings averages out at 1:20 (5%), an underpass depth under Alma of 15 feet (a 10 feet high underpass 5 feet under the road surface) gives is a ramp length of 300 feet, about half the length of the street, or 6 properties.

When you embark on major changes to a street, you need to bring it into compliance with the latest Caltrans standards, so while you may think there is space to squeeze in a ramp, under modern highway design standards, there may not be.


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Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2018 at 2:49 am

"If we assume that 1:12 with landings averages out at 1:20 (5%), an underpass depth under Alma of 15 feet (a 10 feet high underpass 5 feet under the road surface) gives is a ramp length of 300 feet, about half the length of the street, or 6 properties.

When you embark on major changes to a street, you need to bring it into compliance with the latest Caltrans standards, so while you may think there is space to squeeze in a ramp, under modern highway design standards, there may not be."

Wow. the underpass at Calif. Ave. is nowhere near that long, but it was built in the early 1960's. How times have changed.

Thank you for the figures and research, Brian.


2 people like this
Posted by Mike Forster
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 15, 2018 at 8:29 pm

To restate the compelling arguments in favor of a fully-elevated viaduct over Meadow and Charleston, incorporating previous comments by this writer, Reality Check April 19, and ODB April 20:

A fully-elevated viaduct over Meadow and Charleston can be attractive, is likely the least expensive option, is the least disruptive, and will not add to noise, loss of privacy, or blight. Menlo Park has included a fully-elevated viaduct over Ravenswood, Oak Grove, and Glenwood as one of their study options.

The viaduct can be designed to be pleasant arches in a Spanish or Stanford motif, not just a freeway-style concrete bridge, nor a berm. The viaduct can also be camouflaged by tall trees on both sides, so even an attractive viaduct can be hidden from view nearly completely.

Fully elevating the tracks is somewhat more expensive partially raising the tracks. But fully elevating the tracks avoids all of the costs of: lowering Meadow, Charleston, and long stretches of Alma; acquiring private properties around each intersection, at millions of dollars per parcel; relocating utilities under the lowered roads; and removing dozens of trees. The fully elevated viaduct option might cost low enough that Measure B could fund it fully, if not, it would still reduce the funding required from Palo Alto property owners.

Fully elevating the tracks is less disruptive than a hybrid approach, by minimizing or avoiding street closures for weeks or months. It would also be less disruptive to the dozens of homeowners who would lose their properties to accommodate a road-lowering or hybrid approach.

With electrification, the trains themselves will be much quieter, as are electric cars today. Grade-separating the tracks will eliminate the train horns and crossing gate alarms. Wheel-track noise can be muffled by short sound walls along the sides of the tracks. In addition to camouflaging trees, privacy for the backyards facing the tracks can be helped with attractive taller screens.

Some time soon, Caltrain should influence Union Pacific to replace its diesel engines with hydrogen fuel cell or battery engines for the short line operation from San Jose to Redwood City and beyond, thereby further reducing noise and completing an emissions-free corridor.

With a 1.25% track slope, the entire fully-elevated track viaduct would comprise only about 1 mile total, from about Ventura Avenue to Greenmeadow Way. Such a short, attractive, less expensive, less disruptive, and quieter fully-elevated viaduct would not blight Palo Alto neighborhoods.


6 people like this
Posted by Juan
a resident of Mountain View
on May 15, 2018 at 9:26 pm

If funding isn't available for trench / tunnel from Mountain View station to the county line then we should wait until funding is available (maybe next stimulus package.. when we have a new President). There is absolutely no rush to get this done, we already have four crossings within a few miles (Shoreline, San Antonio, Oregon, Embarcadero). There is no need for more crossings, traffic might be backed up for one day and then people will learn. If you need to cross the tracks reliably then cross at one of those four intersections, if you are feeling lucky then go to Rengstorff, Charleston, etc. It's not much different than today.

Don't rush, do it right, the world will not explode if you have to wait a few more minutes to cross the tracks. Calm down, there is no crisis.


1 person likes this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2018 at 9:28 pm

I am in total agreement with Mike Forster about the aesthetics of a viaduct.

A viaduct, like any architectural structure, can be made to be attractive or to be ugly. If it carried over some of the architectural sensibilities of Stanford U., it could actually be an asset.

All this talk about an elevated train becoming a haven for heroin addicts is so much fear mongering IMO, especially if CPA negotiates a deal with JPB and turns the surface of the ROW into a lovely greenway.

I'll add to Mike's list of benefits:

1. No risk of flooding. I have written about this extensively in the past. CPA has a very poor record of maintaining the pumps at Oregon expwy.

2. No shoofly tracks (hopefully). The prospect of Caltrains hurtling down Alma street is most unappealing. How would these shoofly tracks connect with the main line? There would have to be a northerly cutoff and a southerly cutoff. What property would have to be seized for these cutoffs, and what happens to that property when construction is complete and shoofly tracks are no longer needed?

I will reiterate one of my ideas:

Divide the project into two phases.

Phase I: Meadow and Charleston

Phase II: Churchill and Palo Alto Ave.

The two phases could be years apart and would make financing the project easier.


1 person likes this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2018 at 9:39 pm

"If funding isn't available for trench / tunnel from Mountain View station to the county line then we should wait until funding is available (maybe next stimulus package.. when we have a new President)."

You make an interesting point. CPA has stalled and dragged its feet for this long, what's a few more decades?

A tunnel or trench to the county line isn't going to happen. Also, I can't see Mountain View or any other city being any too eager to work with CPA on grade separation.


12 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2018 at 10:02 pm

Mike,

You lost me at the start of the second paragraph.

"A fully-elevated viaduct over Meadow and Charleston can be attractive"

Your use of the word "can" makes it seem like even you don't believe it.

Anything can be attractive, but nothing government builds ever is. Government bureaucracies are incapable of artistic vision. A viaduct, if built, will be an uninspired gray concrete utilitarian structure shaped by freeway engineers and bean-counters. The only thing artful about a viaduct will be the graffiti adorning its gray walls.

Elevated rail = blight.


11 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2018 at 10:22 pm

Mike said:

"Some time soon, Caltrain should influence Union Pacific to replace its diesel engines with hydrogen fuel cell or battery engines for the short line operation from San Jose to Redwood City and beyond"

Maybe Caltrain should talk itself into replacing its diesel engines with hydrogen fuel cell or battery engines instead of burdening the taxpayers with the billion dollar electrification boondoggle.

And, what makes you think Caltrain has any influence over Union Pacific? Union Pacific actually knows the rail transportation business. That's why Union Pacific's predecessor unloaded the dead-end passenger rail business onto Caltrain (taxpayers) 40 years ago.


4 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2018 at 10:33 pm

"A viaduct, if built, will be an uninspired gray concrete utilitarian structure shaped by freeway engineers and bean-counters. The only thing artful about a viaduct will be the graffiti adorning its gray walls."

Not in Palo Alto it won't! In Palo Alto, 10 years would have to be spent seeking "context sensitive solutions", then a 50-step architectural review process followed by another 15 years deciding how to finance it. By that time trains will be able to fly — literally airborne — and grade separation will no longer be needed!


11 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2018 at 10:48 pm

Ahem,

In 50 years trains will be the same obsolete 19th century technology they are today. No profits = no R&D = no technological advancement.


4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 16, 2018 at 7:32 am

When I drive up El Camino going north I can see underpasses, one completed recently in San Bruno. They built the underpass with little downtime and no related looking effect on the surrounding neighborhood. So if underpasses can be build cheaply with no impact on current operation in an area that as the same exposure to water then why is this such a big flap. Yes - it is an industrial area but no buildings were removed in the process - the underpass is the same size as the original street. Why does San Mateo County just go ahead and build bike bridges and underpasses in a economically efficient manner and we stumble around trying to figure out how to maximize cost and human effect. Someone is making large monetary transactions with companies to maximize the impact here? Can someone please go up the peninsula and look at what can be done then ask them how they did that? The appear to have more experts up there? We have no experts here. We have people here who have no educational background to function in best interests to city to create lest impact.


6 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2018 at 12:55 pm

I've been asking for years why San Carlos has grade separation licked and Palo Alto just chases it tail ad infinitum.


4 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2018 at 3:05 pm

"Someone is making large monetary transactions with companies to maximize the impact here?"

I don't know, but it is interesting to note that the city recently changed engineering firms for this project after the original firm completed two studies.


14 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2018 at 7:05 pm

Let's start calling the "viaduct" what it is. The "viaduct" is an elevated freeway for trains.

Nobody would even think of putting an elevated freeway for cars through the middle of Palo Alto, but we are supposed to believe an elevated freeway for trains will be a beautiful addition to the community?

I guess after years of propaganda teaching us car-hate, suburb-hate, and self-hate, we are all expected to feel some sort of sanctimonious satisfaction inflicting this wound on our neighbors and our community.


6 people like this
Posted by SilentAndInvisible
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2018 at 6:53 am

All the bad choices were made when CAHSR chose the Caltrain corridor. A patch of land it didn’t own and cities don’t control.

All the options are just a footnote to that single colossal mistake; there are no good choices left. We are framed with a mess the state decided not to fund properly so we can bicker over the unacceptable vs the unaffordable.


CAHSR should be a) stopped. Or b) funded to mitigate its own impact. Or c) moved to a location of less impact.

Anything else is just property value theft.


Like this comment
Posted by @SilentAndInvisible
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2018 at 10:34 am

"Anything else is just property value theft."

Call me when you actually pay taxes on that property value and I might care.


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

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