News

Plan to close Churchill Avenue near tracks faces backlash

City Council defers decision on rail crossing after dozens express concerns about traffic impacts

The proposed closure of Churchill Avenue near the rail crossing in Palo Alto includes an underpass for bicyclists and pedestrians. Rendering courtesy Aecom.

Southgate residents see some irony in the City Council's decision to call its campaign to redesign its rail crossings "Connecting Palo Alto."

The effort, which has been slowly advancing for more than five years, includes three options for the Churchill Avenue crossing, which is just north of Southgate and which serves as the neighborhood's main conduit to cross the tracks and head east. Two of these — a viaduct and what's known as a "partial undercrossing" — feature large concrete structures along the tracks. But it's the third option — the closure of Churchill Avenue to traffic near the tracks – that many see as the most divisive of the lot.

With a price tag of between $50 million and $65 million, the closure option is the cheapest of the three and it would take the least time to implement — about two years according to an analysis by the city's consulting firm, Aecom. It would usher in a suite of traffic improvements, including a reconfiguration of the clunky interchange of Alma Street and Embarcadero Road, and it would feature an underpass for pedestrians and bicycles looking to get across the tracks. The closure alternative has also won the endorsement of the Expanded Community Advisory Panel, a specially appointed citizen committee that voted 6-3 after 18 months of deliberation to support this option.

But for resident Susan Newman, who lives in the Southgate neighborhood, the closure option — more so than other two — epitomizes division. Like dozens of her neighbors, she believes that it would direct cars to other parts of the city, most notably University South, while taking away Southgate's main route east across the tracks.

"Closure doesn't even begin to meet one of grade separation's primary objectives, to increase east-west connectivity to all modes of traffic," Newman, who spoke for a group of residents, told the council during a Monday night public hearing on the Churchill Avenue grade crossing. "It doesn't even begin to live up to the dream up of connecting Palo Alto."

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She was hardly alone. Inder Monga, who lives close to Embarcadero, emphasized the heavy use that Embarcadero already gets from visitors to Stanford University, Town & Country Village and Palo Alto High School.

"Given its role, it's impossible for me to believe that shutting down an intersection nearby and redirecting cars going to Paly to Embarcadero will be resolved by mitigation. … This will not only increase traffic in Embarcadero and gridlock but in neighborhoods adjacent to Embarcadero to unreasonable and unsustainable levels," said Monga, who also spoke for a group of residents.

The Monday hearing did not bring the council any closer to its objective of choosing a preferred option for the Churchill rail crossing. With public testimony stretching well past 11 p.m., the council unanimously agreed to defer its own discussion of "grade separation" — an effort to redesign rail crossings so that roads and tracks would no longer intersect — until Nov. 15.

A partial underpass option at Churchill Avenue in Palo Alto would allow cars to make limited turns onto Alma Street. Rendering courtesy Aecom.

The hearing clearly demonstrated, however, that whatever option the city chooses would have to overcome significant opposition. Both the viaduct and the partial underpass have been criticized by XCAP for their visual impact and soundly rejected by residents who live next to the tracks. The group's final report, which was issued in March, notes that residents who own houses with their backyard adjacent to the train tracks "will experience a structure with a train running on it over 40 feet in the air."

"Because of the width of the rail corridor near Churchill, the viaduct would be constructed only a few feet from property lines, increasing the impact on the nearby properties," the report states.

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The group's six-member majority also concluded that the partial underpass, which would depress Churchill west of the rail tracks and allow drivers to turn left or right on Alma, is "an expensive alternative that is unlikely to be improved with additional design iteration." The report notes that the underpass would create a "concrete structure whose roadways are more complicated than a simple underpass, due to a design that preserves some of its turns and not others."

The closure of Churchill was the only alternative that mustered majority support at XCAP, which failed to reach consensus on any of the design options for the two other rail crossings it was charged with evaluating: Meadow Drive and Charleston Road. Gregory Brail, a member of XCAP who voted in favor of Churchill's closure, called the alternative "an excellent option that would be an exemplary experience for those people who cross the tracks."

A train viaduct is one of three options that the city is considering for redesigning the rail crossing at Churchill Avenue in Palo Alto. Rendering courtesy Aecom.

While Brail conceded that the viaduct would do a better job in connecting the city, he noted that the elevated structure would be less than 5 feet from the nearby property line. The underpass, meanwhile, would create a "concrete wall that divides the city," he said.

Several residents agreed and lobbied the council to support XCAP's recommendation. Churchill Avenue resident Jason Stinson alluded to reports from the city's traffic consultant, which suggested that the various road modifications and traffic signals that are proposed as part of this plan would mitigate its traffic impacts.

"We continue to hear from many people in the community about increased traffic congestion, but that's mostly based on their own residential observations and anecdotes," Jason Stinson said. "The actual data doesn't support that."

But others didn't buy the conclusions of the traffic study. Former Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto, who lives on Embarcadero Road, alleged that closing Churchill would cause "a cascade of changes that will change Palo Alto into a more expressway-oriented city by moving even more traffic to Embarcadero Road, a residential arterial already over-impacted."

Rachel and Thomas Kellerman, who also live close to Embarcadero, similarly suggested in a letter that the traffic mitigations proposed as part of the closure alternative will not be enough to protect the neighborhood from added traffic. Even XCAP, they noted, requested that the plan for Churchill include additional mitigations, beyond those recommended by the city's consultant, Hexagon Transportation Consultants.

"It is clear the mitigations proposed by the consultant have not yet been adequately studied and are likely insufficient to remedy the impact of a closure on traffic flow and bicycle and pedestrian safety. ... While a bicycle underpass at Churchill would be a welcome addition, empirical evidence indicates that that feature alone will not alleviate the hazards associated with adding substantial additional vehicular traffic to the Embarcadero corridor," the Kellermans wrote.

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Plan to close Churchill Avenue near tracks faces backlash

City Council defers decision on rail crossing after dozens express concerns about traffic impacts

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Nov 2, 2021, 1:13 am

Southgate residents see some irony in the City Council's decision to call its campaign to redesign its rail crossings "Connecting Palo Alto."

The effort, which has been slowly advancing for more than five years, includes three options for the Churchill Avenue crossing, which is just north of Southgate and which serves as the neighborhood's main conduit to cross the tracks and head east. Two of these — a viaduct and what's known as a "partial undercrossing" — feature large concrete structures along the tracks. But it's the third option — the closure of Churchill Avenue to traffic near the tracks – that many see as the most divisive of the lot.

With a price tag of between $50 million and $65 million, the closure option is the cheapest of the three and it would take the least time to implement — about two years according to an analysis by the city's consulting firm, Aecom. It would usher in a suite of traffic improvements, including a reconfiguration of the clunky interchange of Alma Street and Embarcadero Road, and it would feature an underpass for pedestrians and bicycles looking to get across the tracks. The closure alternative has also won the endorsement of the Expanded Community Advisory Panel, a specially appointed citizen committee that voted 6-3 after 18 months of deliberation to support this option.

But for resident Susan Newman, who lives in the Southgate neighborhood, the closure option — more so than other two — epitomizes division. Like dozens of her neighbors, she believes that it would direct cars to other parts of the city, most notably University South, while taking away Southgate's main route east across the tracks.

"Closure doesn't even begin to meet one of grade separation's primary objectives, to increase east-west connectivity to all modes of traffic," Newman, who spoke for a group of residents, told the council during a Monday night public hearing on the Churchill Avenue grade crossing. "It doesn't even begin to live up to the dream up of connecting Palo Alto."

She was hardly alone. Inder Monga, who lives close to Embarcadero, emphasized the heavy use that Embarcadero already gets from visitors to Stanford University, Town & Country Village and Palo Alto High School.

"Given its role, it's impossible for me to believe that shutting down an intersection nearby and redirecting cars going to Paly to Embarcadero will be resolved by mitigation. … This will not only increase traffic in Embarcadero and gridlock but in neighborhoods adjacent to Embarcadero to unreasonable and unsustainable levels," said Monga, who also spoke for a group of residents.

The Monday hearing did not bring the council any closer to its objective of choosing a preferred option for the Churchill rail crossing. With public testimony stretching well past 11 p.m., the council unanimously agreed to defer its own discussion of "grade separation" — an effort to redesign rail crossings so that roads and tracks would no longer intersect — until Nov. 15.

The hearing clearly demonstrated, however, that whatever option the city chooses would have to overcome significant opposition. Both the viaduct and the partial underpass have been criticized by XCAP for their visual impact and soundly rejected by residents who live next to the tracks. The group's final report, which was issued in March, notes that residents who own houses with their backyard adjacent to the train tracks "will experience a structure with a train running on it over 40 feet in the air."

"Because of the width of the rail corridor near Churchill, the viaduct would be constructed only a few feet from property lines, increasing the impact on the nearby properties," the report states.

The group's six-member majority also concluded that the partial underpass, which would depress Churchill west of the rail tracks and allow drivers to turn left or right on Alma, is "an expensive alternative that is unlikely to be improved with additional design iteration." The report notes that the underpass would create a "concrete structure whose roadways are more complicated than a simple underpass, due to a design that preserves some of its turns and not others."

The closure of Churchill was the only alternative that mustered majority support at XCAP, which failed to reach consensus on any of the design options for the two other rail crossings it was charged with evaluating: Meadow Drive and Charleston Road. Gregory Brail, a member of XCAP who voted in favor of Churchill's closure, called the alternative "an excellent option that would be an exemplary experience for those people who cross the tracks."

While Brail conceded that the viaduct would do a better job in connecting the city, he noted that the elevated structure would be less than 5 feet from the nearby property line. The underpass, meanwhile, would create a "concrete wall that divides the city," he said.

Several residents agreed and lobbied the council to support XCAP's recommendation. Churchill Avenue resident Jason Stinson alluded to reports from the city's traffic consultant, which suggested that the various road modifications and traffic signals that are proposed as part of this plan would mitigate its traffic impacts.

"We continue to hear from many people in the community about increased traffic congestion, but that's mostly based on their own residential observations and anecdotes," Jason Stinson said. "The actual data doesn't support that."

But others didn't buy the conclusions of the traffic study. Former Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto, who lives on Embarcadero Road, alleged that closing Churchill would cause "a cascade of changes that will change Palo Alto into a more expressway-oriented city by moving even more traffic to Embarcadero Road, a residential arterial already over-impacted."

Rachel and Thomas Kellerman, who also live close to Embarcadero, similarly suggested in a letter that the traffic mitigations proposed as part of the closure alternative will not be enough to protect the neighborhood from added traffic. Even XCAP, they noted, requested that the plan for Churchill include additional mitigations, beyond those recommended by the city's consultant, Hexagon Transportation Consultants.

"It is clear the mitigations proposed by the consultant have not yet been adequately studied and are likely insufficient to remedy the impact of a closure on traffic flow and bicycle and pedestrian safety. ... While a bicycle underpass at Churchill would be a welcome addition, empirical evidence indicates that that feature alone will not alleviate the hazards associated with adding substantial additional vehicular traffic to the Embarcadero corridor," the Kellermans wrote.

Comments

Broken Broker
Registered user
College Terrace
on Nov 2, 2021 at 6:32 am
Broken Broker, College Terrace
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 6:32 am

Another non-decision on a major issue. Palo Alto stuck in the mud again. Hard to understand why such an affluent community is unwilling to pay the cost of the solution everyone wants, a real underpass or the trains in a tunnel.


larryncelia
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Nov 2, 2021 at 8:47 am
larryncelia, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 8:47 am

Remember all the worry when the new store at Alma and Meadow wanted to put in a big sign? It was going to destroy the quality of life in Palo Alto, and create a traffic hazard all down Alma as drivers were mesmerized? Remember how the traffic circles along Ross were going to result in so many accidents and injured bikers? And how the road changes along Charleston were going to bring traffic to a standstill all across south Palo Alto?


Bill Bucy
Registered user
Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2021 at 9:43 am
Bill Bucy, Barron Park
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 9:43 am

It's as if our fearless leaders are waiting for someone to stand up at a hearing and offer them a solution never before considered. Make a decision people. Live with it. Move forward.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 2, 2021 at 10:09 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 10:09 am

Say no to closing Churchill until they can really evaluate the traffic on Embarcadero. It's already picking up and the cars are backing up more and more each day.


Jim Hols.....
Registered user
Community Center
on Nov 2, 2021 at 11:03 am
Jim Hols....., Community Center
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 11:03 am

City could make a very simple trial by closing Churchill for a month. Traffic could be monitored at Embarcadero and any places of interest. We would gain some very useful information at a very low cost before a final derision.


Sunshine
Registered user
Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2021 at 11:10 am
Sunshine, Barron Park
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 11:10 am

Do not close any of the crossings, especially the one at Churchill.
Both Embarcadero and University avenues are now impacted. This proposal to close Churchill would further exacerbate the problem.
Crossings should be placed at reasonable intervals relevant to the traffic at busy times. Closing any of the crossings will make congestion in Palo Alto at these points far worse. It will also increase road rage as frustrated drivers find they cannot get from one side of the tracks to the other and need to take a long circuitous route around.
I know home owners in the area want to avoid the disruption of this traffic. However, the City must think of all the residents and not favor one group over any other. This proposal favors a few who may live near the crossing, but makes the situation impossible for all others. Furthermore, allowing Churchill to be closed will make it more difficult for students to get to school.
On grade crossings should have been eliminated over 50 years ago. Instead we followed the Palo Alto process (will we someday appear on Saturday Night Live?) and talked about it ad infinitum.
Enough already, fix the crossings and keep them open.


Citizen
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 2, 2021 at 11:20 am
Citizen, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 11:20 am

""We continue to hear from many people in the community about increased traffic congestion, but that's mostly based on their own residential observations and anecdotes," Jason Stinson said. "The actual data doesn't support that.""

Now I know why the last time they were out with the traffic counters in our neighborhood was during a school break....


plantfruittrees
Registered user
Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Nov 2, 2021 at 11:26 am
plantfruittrees, Greendell/Walnut Grove
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 11:26 am

There's a reason houses right up against the tracks are cheaper. The rest of the city shouldn't be punished for that.

Do the right thing. Keep the crossing open. Running Churchill beneath the tracks is the solution.


cmarg
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Nov 2, 2021 at 12:09 pm
cmarg, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 12:09 pm

Well, I agree that the traffic on Embarcadero needs to be fully explored. It needs to be done at peak times when both Paly and Castilleja are in session.
Also, if they would do something at Churchill, I would hope that means NO expansion for Castilleja. Talk about traffic problems!


Richard
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 2, 2021 at 12:22 pm
Richard, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 12:22 pm

It seems clear that no solution will please everyone and it's also clear that all parties have voiced important concerns. So unless funding for an underpass or tunnel magically appears, the Council needs to make a decision. As noted by another commenter, an experiment could be done to temporarily close Churchill and see what happens to traffic, especially during peak traffic times in the morning and late afternoon/evening. Fixing the coordination of traffic lights on El Camino and Embarcadero near Town and Country would also be a worthwhile effort in better managing traffic what ever solution is decided up (if one ever is)


Leland J.
Registered user
Professorville
on Nov 2, 2021 at 12:45 pm
Leland J. , Professorville
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 12:45 pm

Just keep kicking the can down the road, and make it someone else's problem.

Can't anyone just make a decision and live with the consequences and criticism?


Be realistic
Registered user
Charleston Meadows
on Nov 2, 2021 at 1:12 pm
Be realistic, Charleston Meadows
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 1:12 pm

Thankfully, the City Council actually listens to the citizens now. It would be irresponsible to "just make a decision and live with the consequences and criticism", as some suggest. Those who are planning to live here appreciate that. There have been a number of those decisions made already.

The city is cut in half by the tracks. Closing one of the ways across the tracks near downtown will impact traffic and people's lives. Those who have not seen University (is it still blocked now?), Embarcadero, and Charleston around rush hour, which is now 3 - 8 PM, perhaps should.
Why indeed, as Jim proposed, not to make an experiment and close Churchill to traffic? Go, for once, with the actual data instead of opinions of arm-chair city planners.


Me 2
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 2, 2021 at 1:25 pm
Me 2, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 1:25 pm

"Why indeed, as Jim proposed, not to make an experiment and close Churchill to traffic? "

Because it's an incomplete experiment. Closing Churchill without implementing the traffic mitigation strategies for Embarcadero will skew the results.

...or is that the intention?


III
Registered user
Midtown
on Nov 2, 2021 at 2:10 pm
III, Midtown
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 2:10 pm

I wish I could take the time to provide a in-depth, astute, comment
regarding any thinking or discussion of closing Churchill exit in any direction.
Just beyond STUPID and waste of everyone's energy.
Spend more time with other useless efforts. Like renaming Jordan Junior High School.
III


Paul
Registered user
Charleston Meadows
on Nov 2, 2021 at 3:19 pm
Paul, Charleston Meadows
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 3:19 pm

Hope it will make more people hop on their bicycles then get around town like I do! Kudos to Ellen Fletcher! I think of her every time I hop on Bryant to ride downtown! Wake up, people, help to save our planet for our grandchildren!


William Hitchens
Registered user
Mountain View
on Nov 2, 2021 at 3:23 pm
William Hitchens, Mountain View
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 3:23 pm

"It would usher in a suite of traffic improvements, including a reconfiguration of the clunky interchange of Alma Street and Embarcadero Road, and it would feature an underpass for pedestrians and bicycles looking to get across the tracks." What goes on at Alma and Embarcadero is locally irrelevant to what is proposed at Churchill. Not installing an underpass at Churchill would cut off the residents of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood north of Alma from easy access to Palo Alto HS, El Camino Real, and Stanford U. It also would further increase traffic on Embacadero and Page Mill Roads, whose intersections at El Camino real already are jammed at rush hours. This would further divide and not unite Palo Alto.


Concerned residents
Registered user
Southgate
on Nov 2, 2021 at 3:33 pm
Concerned residents, Southgate
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 3:33 pm

The focus needs to be on the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists and cars turning east from Alma onto Churchill.

Just this morning, there was a horde of Paly students on their bicycles who crossed Alma en masse and were able to eventually coagulate at the corner off of Alma but in doing so, impacted a car who was sitting on Churchill between the train tracks and Alma heading east. The car had to wait for those students to go and for the next group of bicyclists who arrived with the next green light.

Also, the cars traveling south on Alma struggle with the intersection as the lanes narrow and do NOT go straight once. It is always terrifying to be the first car in the left hand turn lane waiting to turn east onto Churchill. This morning a big truck was able to move using both southbound Alma lanes in order not to hit me as I was the first car in the left hand turn lane. This situation is pretty much an all day occurrence, not just at peak hours. In fact, it is almost worse in non-peak hours as the speed of those traveling south seems to increase.

Safety needs to be the priority for this intersection. Paly is not going away; bicyclists and pedestrians are an integral part of Paly.

Please focus on safety first and foremost.


Carl Jones
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Nov 2, 2021 at 3:49 pm
Carl Jones, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 3:49 pm

My letter to the City Council:

This letter is in response to this (partial) paragraph from the Tue Nov 2nd 2021 Palo Alto Online:

With a price tag of between $50 million and $65 million, the closure option is the cheapest of the three and it would take the least time to implement — about two years according to an analysis by the city's consulting firm, Aecom. It would usher in a suite of traffic improvements, including a reconfiguration of the clunky interchange of Alma Street and Embarcadero Road, and it would feature an underpass for pedestrians and bicycles looking to get across the tracks.

First, closure can be accomplished by lowering the train crossing barriers and placing the ubiquitous concrete roadway construction barriers across the Churchill roadway on each side of the tracks. Used ones can be had for less than $1000 each (plus shipping). Gotta be less than $100,000 for an adequately and ‘nicely enough’ blockage of Churchill.

MUCH BETTER THAN $50-$60 million. Put that money toward the Public Safety Building. Or to other parts of the railway project.

Second, I understand that that does not pay for “other improvements”. But price those improvements for what they are, and not “for closure of Churchill.” If that money does not have to be spent by leaving Churchill open, then LEAVE Churchill OPEN. You want to add a pedestrian underpass and some greenery at Churchill? Fine. Price that out by itself.

Finally, some article (The Weekly, I believe) quoted estimates of 15-20 minute waits to get across the tracks at Churchill and having a line of cars down Alma to Embarcadero and a backup of cars to El Camino on Churchill. Bah! Do you actually think that people will choose those routes with that long a wait? I wager that they will alter their drive by time and/or route.


chris
Registered user
University South
on Nov 2, 2021 at 9:52 pm
chris, University South
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2021 at 9:52 pm

Carl,

Your post unwittingly explains why Churchill will not be closed.

You are right people will drive around the close and block every other street.


Jeremy Erman
Registered user
Midtown
on Nov 3, 2021 at 12:30 am
Jeremy Erman, Midtown
Registered user
on Nov 3, 2021 at 12:30 am

I think Jim has the right idea about closing Churchill to cars now and seeing what happens. Virtually all city planning and transportation decisions seem to be made based on abstract theories or computer models--why not run an experiment (or two, or three) and get some real-world data rather than just relying on guesses?


SCB94303
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 3, 2021 at 4:52 am
SCB94303, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Nov 3, 2021 at 4:52 am

@Paul: Why do you think everyone is young like you and can ride a bicycle everywhere? What about rainy days? What about old or older-than-you people? What about handicapped people? Lots of people shop and have packages to carry that cannot be put on a bicycle. You don't need to be so self-centered to think everyone can ride a bike, and so that solves everything! Not everyone can get around the way you do. And Churchill is a great way to get onto Alma Street from El Camino, to then go south to get to the other end of town.


CT resident
Registered user
College Terrace
on Nov 3, 2021 at 7:10 am
CT resident, College Terrace
Registered user
on Nov 3, 2021 at 7:10 am

How ironic that the city who refuses to build housing (and is fighting increased quotas) but loves to build office buildings now finds itself paralyzed by the threat of traffic. It's almost like if they built more housing and people didn't have to commute into the city then they might have more options and more tax money to fund them with. :shrug emoji:


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Nov 3, 2021 at 7:44 am
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Nov 3, 2021 at 7:44 am

A Palo Altan could move away for 10 years, return, and experience deja vu all over again: Grade Separation/Churchill Closing on the CC agenda.

Local bike shops might want to start selling some sort of super rickshaw/bikeseat hybrid for seniors and others who are not able to hop on a bike, but still need to get around town. Or is there a plan afoot to allow only bicyclists and pedestrians to live here?


sequoiadean
Registered user
Los Altos
on Nov 3, 2021 at 10:52 am
sequoiadean, Los Altos
Registered user
on Nov 3, 2021 at 10:52 am

@SCB94303, you may not know this, but it's possible to ride bikes on rainy days, and to ride if you are elderly, and ride to go shopping. Ellen Fletcher rode nearly to the end of her life. Sure, some people cannot ride a bike, but if those who can, do, it will alleviate traffic for everyone.

I personally think the viaduct is the way to go for these crossings. If you live near the tracks, that's too bad, but you chose to live next to train tracks when you bought/rented your house: you could always sell your house or move. The viaduct seems to be the solution that impacts people the least and keeps traffic flowing the best.


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Nov 3, 2021 at 3:01 pm
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Nov 3, 2021 at 3:01 pm

@CT Resident: Building more housing here increases traffic congestion here, because most trips take place near home. In addition to commute trips, each resident generates trips to stores, restaurants, service providers, schools, and a host of other destinations, plus deliveries, trips by at-home service providers, and more. The Institute of Transportation Engineers rule-of-thumb is that each new unit in a multi-family building generates 7 trips per day.

If it's well-designed, building more transit infrastructure can reduce traffic congestion. (One of the problems with SB9 is that it concentrates new development in precisely those areas that have the poorest transit service, and another is that it provides no funding for new transit.) That process is expensive and time-consuming, though, which is why the Caltrain expansion that's the motivation for the change at Churchill runs all the way out to 2050.

Palo Alto has done a fairly good job of capping office construction here since the unlimited-growth majority on the City Council was replaced.


SamuelL
Registered user
Meadow Park
on Nov 3, 2021 at 5:36 pm
SamuelL, Meadow Park
Registered user
on Nov 3, 2021 at 5:36 pm

@sequoiadean,
"I personally think the viaduct is the way to go for these crossings. If you live near the tracks, that's too bad, but you chose to live next to train tracks when you bought/rented your house: you could always sell your house or move."

That's an ignorant comment. The people that lived near the tracks knew the tracks were there, yes. They are not complaining about the train. A viaduct was not there when they bought/rented their house. Equivalent of the state building a highway on your residential street and you complaining and then everyone telling you that you were the one that bought a house on a road.


LeslieYork
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2021 at 6:48 pm
LeslieYork, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 3, 2021 at 6:48 pm

What Palo Altans and the rail committee fail to realize is that the best solution for Churchill Ave. is already in place and has been for 150+ years.

Let's say Caltrain ramps up its service so that the gates are down 20% of the time, making Churchill impassable over the tracks 20% of the time.

Suppose Churchill is permanently closed, making it impassable 100% of the time.

Now put that fancy Stanford degree to work and do the math. Which is preferable?

Gates down 20% of the time (80% throughput)

or

Churchill closed 100% of the time (0% throughput)

You don't need a Ph.D degree from Stanford to figure that out.

Nobody is taking emergency-vehicle access into account in this discussion: police, fire and ambulance, as well as PAUSD vehicles.

Palo Alto has studied this to death for over a decade and no panacea has magically emerged. This tells us something.

A viaduct would look into people's back yards along the ROW and would likely die at the ballot box when it came time to fund it.

A hybrid would also likely die at the ballot box and the neighbors would consider it unsightly.

A trench requires Caltrain approval (not yet obtained) and could flood during a heavy storm. A trench would be extremely expensive if Caltrain even approved it.

An underpass under the tracks would restrict turning movements and may require property takings.

The status quo works despite its inherent shortcomings; it is time-tested, doesn't require voter approval and costs nothing. Maybe spend a few thousand to install quad gates.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Nov 3, 2021 at 8:58 pm
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Nov 3, 2021 at 8:58 pm

Leslie York: I think your post would get lots of "likes" if only that button still existed. I think your assessment is correct. Neighboring cities figured out how to do this; Palo Alto didn't and isn't.


LeslieYork
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2021 at 10:56 pm
LeslieYork, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 3, 2021 at 10:56 pm

I think the committee of citizen rail planners feels it must come up with a solution, any solution, no matter how bad it may be, even if it's not the smartest solution.

I submit that the smartest solution for Churchill is already in place, without all of the negatives and expense of the "do something, anything" plans they have come up with: viaduct, hybrid, trench and underpass (as at Embarcadero, Page Mill and University). Yet the committee is dug in and continues to spin its wheels in search of that mythical ideal solution as if one exists. No matter what they come up with, someone on the cc or the neighbors will be opposed to some aspect of it as outlined above. We've repeated this cycle many times over the past decade. You can't please everyone.

How long can this go on without a decision being made? The decision to DO NOTHING at Churchill is itself a decision. Mission accomplished.

The Churchill crossing would benefit from the installation of quad crossing gates as noted above.

A bike/pedestrian underpass is a separate issue. It does not involve the construction of a large above-ground structure or re-routing automobile traffic or Caltrain. It would be cheaper and much more likely to find support among residents. I know that intersection well, having crossed it every day for 3 years to get to the Paly campus.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2021 at 4:11 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 4, 2021 at 4:11 am

Leslie York's comment makes a great deal of sense to me.

Traffic flows like water looking for the least resistant path to its destination. The fact that the back entrance to Paly is on Churchill and is used by staff, PAUSD buses, as well as students arriving by car, by bike and by foot means that the crossing will continue to be necessary. That crossing is dangerous for bikes and pedestrians as there is not enough waiting space for when the gates are closed for a train, or when the green light is for Alma and the red for Churchill.

I would suggest that putting in either a bike bridge or tunnel to alleviate the dangers for those crossing without a vehicle, and if the gates are closed for longer periods, traffic will move to where there is less time spent waiting for the gates to open.

Unlike the other crossings in town, there is no similar entrance to a large facility where a large number of people have to arrive or depart at similar times. Closing Churchill would be an enormous mistake and emergency and buses would necessitate big rerouting.


Palo Alto native
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 4, 2021 at 7:50 am
Palo Alto native, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 4, 2021 at 7:50 am

Safety First. This is the 21st century. Reducing gas emissions, increasing bike, pedestrian accessibility, making single use car trips less attractive are all City Goals! Close Churchill to cars and build an exemplary experience for bikes and pedestrians. Live up to our City’s most bike friendly status in California. Name this bike underpass the Ellen Fletcher Legacy Undercrossing. Prevent 1 more death from this unsafe, overly trafficked cut through access point. Major traffic should flow through arterials, Churchill is a narrow neighborhood street that was never set up to handle Alma, El Camino or Emarcadero connections.
CC make a decision! This crossing study has been going on since 2017. How many more years do you need to study this? Studying a process to death isn’t going to make the final decision any easier. SAFETY FIRST! 21st Century !


RealityCheck
Registered user
another community
on Nov 4, 2021 at 10:32 am
RealityCheck, another community
Registered user
on Nov 4, 2021 at 10:32 am

At its tallest point, the viaduct only needs to provide 15.5 feet of vehicle clearance at Churchill. And with a generous 5-foot deck thickness (thinner designs exist), it would only rise to 20.5 feet there — and even less if Churchill is slightly dipped where it passes underneath!

Here’s a cold hard reality check for those who melodramatically prattle on about the (imagined) “visual impact”:

Walk around and consider the realistic actual sight-lines to the Caltrain line obstructed by trees, bushes, homes and assorted other foliage, try drawing or imagining a map or diagram with all the places from which a 20-foot high wire (such as the catenary now installed representing the viaduct) running along the Caltrain line would be visible. And remember, the viaduct slopes back down to ground level on either side of Churchill.

If conducted correctly, honestly, what you will notice is that the viaduct is only (partially!) visible from Churchill itself and a few portions of Alma Street … and from a handful of backyards it passes immediately behind. That’s it!

This has been a virtual “story pole” exercise … which didn’t actually require actual story poles.

Oh, and the *really* dishonest viaduct foes will laughably like to include the electrification pole heights in the scarily claimed “40- or 50-foot” structure height. The wires and poles are already up (as they always have been all around town on utility poles) … so I guess by their “logic” that means we already have 20-40 “structures” all around us? What melodramatic rubbish!?






Be realistic
Registered user
Charleston Meadows
on Nov 4, 2021 at 11:23 am
Be realistic, Charleston Meadows
Registered user
on Nov 4, 2021 at 11:23 am

"it's an incomplete experiment. Closing Churchill without implementing the traffic mitigation strategies for Embarcadero will skew the results.

...or is that the intention?"

The intention is, first, not to waste time on snide comments.
Embarcadero crossing is wild West after 3 PM. People try to make it left on red, El Camino traffic stops, etc.
It has to be improved; let us see the proposal. I has to be greatly improved, as well as the Churchill crossing which is to stay where it is right now.


LeslieYork
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 4, 2021 at 12:39 pm
LeslieYork, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 4, 2021 at 12:39 pm

"Reducing gas emissions, increasing bike, pedestrian accessibility, making single use car trips less attractive are all City Goals! Close Churchill to cars and build an exemplary experience for bikes and pedestrians."

You're basically trying to coerce people out of their cars through bad traffic design. It's dubious whether this would actually work. There's nothing to stop people from continuing to drive, only they'll have to take the long way around to Embarcadero or Page Mill and that blows your hopes of saving energy.

If you were to suffer a heart attack, they're not going to take you to Stanford hospital on a bicycle. The fire department does not own a hook-and-ladder bicycle to put out structure fires. The PAUSD yard is right there and they're not going to stop using motor vehicles which must cross the tracks dozens of times per day. Whatever you do or don't do at Churchill must accomodate motor vehicles efficiently as they're not going away. Closing Churchill won't do that. Encouraging bike use is a noble goal but it's a different view once you pull your head out of the clouds.

"At its tallest point, the viaduct only needs to provide 15.5 feet of vehicle clearance at Churchill."

You've been posting here for years and I presume you've seen all the discussion of a viaduct. Realistically, do you think a majority of Palo Alto voters would approve funding for a viaduct? It's a hot potato and likely a non-starter for that reason alone.

One big reason this grade-separation dilemma lingers after lo these many years is that Palo Altans seem to lack or refuse to get a firm grip on reality.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 4, 2021 at 1:05 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Nov 4, 2021 at 1:05 pm

Leslie York is exactly right. It's idiotic to put more traffic "calming" obstacles everywhere WHILE mandating a huge population increase and expect anything to improve.

For years the Menlo Park fire chief has blamed traffic for preventing their crews from getting to accidents in a timely manner.

Use some common sense. If you close Churchill, how is northbound Alma traffic going to get to El Camino / Stanford? By making U-turns at Casti and Sand Hill / El Palo Alto??? IMPOSSIBLE. They'll have to circle Casti and drive through the neighborhoods or drive to the Menlo Park Safeway and make a u-turn!


sequoiadean
Registered user
Los Altos
on Nov 4, 2021 at 2:30 pm
sequoiadean, Los Altos
Registered user
on Nov 4, 2021 at 2:30 pm

I didn't mean to be so harsh about people who choose to live next to the train tracks. But if we had a viaduct through town, wouldn't we no longer have train whistles sounding loudly every time a train approached an intersection? Perhaps no more train whistles is a decent tradeoff for a viaduct, along with the much better traffic flow. That still seems more realistic to me than the "just bury the train in a tunnel" option that a lot of Palo Altans seem to prefer.


LeslieYork
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 4, 2021 at 5:32 pm
LeslieYork, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 4, 2021 at 5:32 pm

"if we had a viaduct through town, wouldn't we no longer have train whistles sounding loudly every time a train approached an intersection?"

Train whistles went out with steam locomotives decades ago. In the 21st century they have horns :)

All you have to do is convince homeowners along the right-of-way and many other Palo Alto residents that this is the way to go. Good luck.

A viaduct would solve lots of challenges. It would separate auto traffic from the trains and would not pose a flooding risk as a trench would, but instead would pose a seismic risk. I'm sure many residents would consider it unsightly and aesthetically unappealing. Per Caltrain it would have to be wide enough to accomodate 4 tracks. Caltrain might go along with it if it didn't present too-steep grades to their trains (1% or less).

Don't take this personally, but we're at the point where every solution you can think of is flawed in some way or another, yet people keep suggesting ideas that have already been hashed out and discarded.


toransu
Registered user
Barron Park
on Nov 4, 2021 at 11:17 pm
toransu, Barron Park
Registered user
on Nov 4, 2021 at 11:17 pm

Hey, maybe we should move away from cars and towards robust public transit solutions! But nah, that’s too hard, so let’s just whine and complain about traffic!


RealityCheck
Registered user
another community
on Nov 5, 2021 at 10:44 am
RealityCheck, another community
Registered user
on Nov 5, 2021 at 10:44 am

Municipalities can (relatively) inexpensively legally stop indiscriminate routine train horn use by following the procedure for implementing a “train horn quiet zone.” (As with motor vehicles, QZ’s still allow horn use for cause — such as a person or vehicle seen on or nearing the tracks.) QZ’s must be initiated and paid for by the local jurisdiction or municipality, and, once they satisfy the required conditions for approval, cannot be stopped by the railroad(s) affected.

Details here: Web Link

Like every municipality along the 45-mile Larkspur-Santa Rosa Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) rail line, Atherton established the first (and only so far) Caltrain QZ some years ago at their Fair Oaks Lane crossing … and it works beautifully. They are presently working with Caltrain to extend that QZ to cover their only other crossing at Watkins Ave. after installing full-quadrant crossing gates for about $1.1m.

Atherton’s QZ in action: Web Link




LeslieYork
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 5, 2021 at 10:58 am
LeslieYork, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 5, 2021 at 10:58 am

"Municipalities can (relatively) inexpensively legally stop indiscriminate routine train horn use"

The use of train horns is not "indiscriminate". It is federal law.

Read your own link:

"Under the Train Horn Rule (49 CFR Part 222), locomotive engineers must begin to sound train horns at least 15 seconds, and no more than 20 seconds, in advance of all public grade crossings.

If a train is traveling faster than 60 mph, engineers will not sound the horn until it is within ¼ mile of the crossing, even if the advance warning is less than 15 seconds."


Me 2
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 5, 2021 at 4:50 pm
Me 2, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 5, 2021 at 4:50 pm

RealityCheck is back! Nothing like having someone from outside our community discuss our own internal issues just because it has something to do with a choo-choo.

@Be Realistic says "The intention is, first, not to waste time on snide comments."

Snide is in the eye of the beholder. Truth is more like it.

"Embarcadero crossing is wild West after 3 PM. People try to make it left on red, El Camino traffic stops, etc.
It has to be improved; let us see the proposal. I has to be greatly improved, as well as the Churchill crossing which is to stay where it is right now."

The proposed traffic mitigation approaches are already in the document. RTFM.


Harvey
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 6, 2021 at 8:28 am
Harvey, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 6, 2021 at 8:28 am

For the last 21 years, I have lived with my family 3 blocks from the Churchill & Alma intersection- I know it intimately and use it all day long. Closing the intersection to cars is the best option by far:

*Safest- Especially for the students at Paly and others who bike across this intersection all the time, this is very dangerous as configured and closing to cars would likely save lives

*Cheapest and fastest- by far- compared to other options

*Here is the kicker- for those of us who live within a 10 block radius, our quality of life will increase significantly as the train horn noise will be reduced. Currently, anyone who lives close by can attest, the horns blast day and night. I along with hundreds or potentially thousands of residents have ben woken up at night by the train horns very often. I welcome this reduction in noise pollution (and fear that NOT closing the intersection, will actually mean a large INCREASE in horns/ noise).

*Also, all the folks in Old Palo Alto for example, let's walk and use our bikes more often! I can't tell you how many times my neighbors (and I admittedly at times) got in our car to drive 10 blocks to Town & Country.

Folks, no solution is perfect. For those latecomers to the debate, not fair to those on the XCAP who have been working on this for years. Let's accept their decision and move on.

Neighborly,
Harvey


LeslieYork
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 6, 2021 at 10:49 am
LeslieYork, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 6, 2021 at 10:49 am

I empathize with your situation, Harvey.

Not to be disrespectful, but there are other considerations to be taken into account besides horn noise for those who live near the crossing. The ROW has been there for over 150 years. You should have known about the proximity to the crossing before moving there.

Did you read the post about a quiet zone above? Can anyone explain why Atherton has a quiet zone and Palo Alto does not? Has it never been pursued and if not, why not? 21 years is plenty of time to establish a quiet zone.


RealityCheck
Registered user
another community
on Nov 6, 2021 at 10:57 am
RealityCheck, another community
Registered user
on Nov 6, 2021 at 10:57 am

Yes, federal law requires a prescribed rote pattern and volume of indiscriminate train horn blasts for every grade crossing not part of one of the thousands of US crossings covered by train horn quiet zones established under federal law … in which case horns may only be sounded for cause and subject to fines otherwise.

The truth behind the promulgation of the QZ rules and regulations are the little-known but well established fact that train horn use at appropriately-configured crossings with automatic protection equipment (e.g. gates, bells, flashers, signage, striping, center median curbs, and sometimes sensors) is essentially needless noisy safety theater. Every crash and suicide at QZ crossings occurred despite copious allowed-for-cause horn use as verified by passengers, witnesses and the now standard onboard event and video recorders. The horn rule requiring the prescribed mindless pattern and volume of blasts really only makes sense at the thousands or private, farm, rural and otherwise insufficiently protected public crossings across the US that lack automatic crossing gates.

Try reading up on Atherton's quiet zone establishment history in the Weekly/Almanac news archives. Compliance was initially crappy until Atherton volunteers started recording violations and the town threatened to fine Caltrain.

Then turning to the Marin IJ and Santa Rosa Press Democrat, read up on the recent history of the essentially 45-mile continuous series of quiet zones established along the entire Larkspur to north Santa Rosa SMART rail line.


LeslieYork
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 6, 2021 at 12:32 pm
LeslieYork, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 6, 2021 at 12:32 pm

Here is the how-to manual:

Web Link


RealityCheck
Registered user
another community
on Nov 6, 2021 at 4:40 pm
RealityCheck, another community
Registered user
on Nov 6, 2021 at 4:40 pm

@LeslieYork … now that’s the spirit!

Lots more links to good info here:

Web Link

The quiet zone risk index calculator is fun too!

Web Link


Me 2
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 6, 2021 at 5:16 pm
Me 2, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 6, 2021 at 5:16 pm

"The ROW has been there for over 150 years."

And the Ohlone had been here many years before that. So what?

Actually, I don't mind if they keep it open - HSR is dead, which was the major impetus for grade separation. And there's no way that Caltrain will achieve its ridership projections as long as we on the peninsula and South Bay remain leafy suburbs filled with aging boomers clinging to their Prop 13 assessments..

But if they choose to grade separate, then just close the crossing.


LeslieYork
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 6, 2021 at 6:10 pm
LeslieYork, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 6, 2021 at 6:10 pm

"if they choose to grade separate, then just close the crossing."

Close the crossings at Palo Alto Ave., Meadow and Charleston. The residents will love the new serenity. Make everyone drive to University, Embarcadero, Page Mill or San Antonio. Use the county money for "mitigations" and new signs.

There! I just solved Palo Alto's grade separation dilemma.

This idea is silly enough that the city might actually go for it.


RealityCheck
Registered user
another community
on Nov 6, 2021 at 8:48 pm
RealityCheck, another community
Registered user
on Nov 6, 2021 at 8:48 pm

@Me2 is misinformed. The ongoing HSR project was never — and is still not — “the major impetus” for Caltrain grade separations. And with the legally-mandated blended operation plan to share track, electrification, and signaling infrastructure with Caltrain, there is no plan (or legal/regulatory or operational requirement) for 110 mph HSR trains on the Peninsula to be grade separated.

Recent HSRA community update presented in Millbrae:
Web Link

Last week’s HSRA San Mateo & Santa Clara County Community Working Groups update:
Web Link


Me 2
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 7, 2021 at 8:56 am
Me 2, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 7, 2021 at 8:56 am

" The ongoing HSR project was never — and is still not — “the major impetus” for Caltrain grade separations."

Caltrain used HSR as an excuse to get funding for electrification. There's a straight line from HSR to grade separation.

You can use legal gobbledygook. In the end, without HSR, there wouldn't be a need to grade separate.


LeslieYork
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 7, 2021 at 12:38 pm
LeslieYork, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 7, 2021 at 12:38 pm

My understanding is that the idea of trenching the trains, thus achieving grade separation, was unsuccessfully floated as far back as the 1960's.

Fast forward to the HSR era and the "blended approach" where Caltrain and HSR would share tracks. Caltrain put out its blue-sky "vision for the future" which envisioned trains every five to seven minutes. Whether there would be enough fare-paying passengers to fill those trains is another story, as is the question of whether such frequency would ever actually materialize or was simply vaporware.

Upon seeing the Caltrain P.R., CPA concluded all this train traffic would cause the gates to be down for too long, thus clogging surface streets. After years of foot-dragging, grade separation suddenly became urgent. Then came the pandemic and Caltrain ridership plummeted by 90% while people learned to have Zoom conferences.

CPA has engaged no fewer than three (3) engineering firms (Hatch Mott MacDonald, AECOM and Hexagon) to study the matter. All of this engineering brainpower and money has thus far failed to devise a solution which pleases everyone.

It's fair to say Caltrain and HSR are intertwined in this push for grade separation.


RealityCheck
Registered user
another community
on Nov 8, 2021 at 1:12 pm
RealityCheck, another community
Registered user
on Nov 8, 2021 at 1:12 pm

Various Peninsula cities have been planning and building grade separations at a slow pace (due to their cost) going back for decades. Sure, Caltrain’s 2040 business plan and service vision to move from the old office worker “commuter rail” to a regional frequent BART-like transit regional rail service paradigm with actually useful all-day and evening, weekend and holiday service has increased cities’ interest and urgency around grade seps in part due to safety and horn noise elimination, but primarily due to increased gate downtime resulting in increased motor vehicle delays.

Caltrain data shows that nearly all fatalities are pedestrians, and that by far, investigating officials are able to confirm most of those as intentional. As with BART and other fully grade separated systems around the world, these also can and do continue to occur from easily publicly accessible station platforms. So grade seps can really only stop accidental deaths, of which there are thankfully very, very few on Caltrain due to its ubiquitous automatic crossing protection equipment.

Since electrified HSR (the only kind there is) absolutely *required* Caltrain to be electrified in order to access SF using its tracks, the CA HSRA agreed to contribute $713m — or 30.8% of the most recent estimated $2.313b cost — to help pay for the Caltrain electrification project (which had been an unfunded planned Caltrain project since 1990 or so when the first electrification study was released).

Caltrain and HSR environmental planning documents envision a *maximum* of 4 HSR trains per hour per direction … and since HSR would start at significantly less service than that when it begins serving SF — which currently is optimistically projected to be maybe by 2030 or so — claiming HSR is or was “the major impetus” for grade seps is laughable (or should be).


Me 2
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2021 at 10:19 pm
Me 2, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 8, 2021 at 10:19 pm

"Since electrified HSR (the only kind there is) absolutely *required* Caltrain to be electrified in order to access SF using its tracks, the CA HSRA agreed to contribute $713m — or 30.8% of the most recent estimated $2.313b cost — to help pay for the Caltrain electrification project (which had been an unfunded planned Caltrain project since 1990 or so when the first electrification study was released)."

So yes, without funding from the HSR kitty, there still would be little to no movement towards grade separation.

You can split hairs all you want, but without the choo-choo to nowhere, grade separation would still be a pipe dream.


GregPA
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 8, 2021 at 11:18 pm
GregPA, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Nov 8, 2021 at 11:18 pm

A few of you have been talking about quiet zones. In order to get approved for a quiet zone, the FRA has to approve it based on, among other things, the safety record of the crossing.

This is partly based on an "accident prediction score" that you can find yourself at Web Link

Fair Oaks Lane in Atherton, which is where they have the quiet zone, sees about 5000 cars per day, has not had an accident since at least 2016, and has a prediction score of 0.043971.

Churchill sees about 12,000 cars per day, has had five accidents since 2016 (in the database -- there were actually six), and has a score of 0.422541.

Charleston sees 20,000 cars per day, and has a score of 0.464465. That's the fifth highest score in California. I even ran a report that includes New York, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Illinois, and Pennsylvania and Charleston is still #8.

That, in my opinion, is why Atherton has a quiet zone and we don't. I think that's also why "just leave it alone" is a poor choice for a town that claims to want to enter the 21st century.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 9, 2021 at 12:30 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Nov 9, 2021 at 12:30 am

Interesting. Then that would make Charleston the logical crossing to close, no?


LeslieYork
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 9, 2021 at 3:40 am
LeslieYork, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 9, 2021 at 3:40 am

"That, in my opinion, is why Atherton has a quiet zone and we don't."

Has CPA ever explored quiet zones? I suspect not, in which case the reason we don't have them is because CPA has never pursued it.

"I think that's also why 'just leave it alone' is a poor choice for a town that claims to want to enter the 21st century."

What's your solution for Churchill that will please everyone and preserve east-west connectivity? Or should we close Churchill altogether and forget about east-west connectivity? In that case, close all of the grade crossings and force traffic to University, Embarcadero, Page Mill and San Antonio. Just think, no train horns!


LeslieYork
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 9, 2021 at 3:43 am
LeslieYork, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 9, 2021 at 3:43 am

"without funding from the HSR kitty, there still would be little to no movement towards grade separation."

You're confusing grade separation with electrification. HSR requires electrification but not grade sep.


RealityCheck
Registered user
another community
on Nov 9, 2021 at 5:09 am
RealityCheck, another community
Registered user
on Nov 9, 2021 at 5:09 am

@GregPA: regarding scoring … keep in mind that, by far, most Caltrain crossing fatalities are intentional, and so not actually being accidents, safety measures such as crossing gates, flashing lights, bells, horns, medians, signage, and striping meant to prevent accidents have little or no effect on them.

Point #2 of this ( Web Link ) QZ creation brochure says a high score doesn’t preclude a QZ:

In order to create a quiet zone, one of the following conditions must be met:

1. The Quiet Zone Risk Index (QZRI) is less than or equal to the Nationwide Significant Risk Threshold (NSRT) with or without additional safety measures such as Supplementary Safety Measures (SSMs) or Alternate Safety Measures (ASMs) described below. The QZRI is the average risk for all public highway‐rail crossings in the quiet zone, including the additional risk for absence of train horns and any reduction in risk due to the risk mitigation measures. The NSRT is the level of risk calculated annually by averaging the risk at all of the Nation’s public highway‐rail grade crossings equipped with flashing lights and gates where train horns are routinely sounded.

2. The Quiet Zone Risk Index (QZRI) is less than or equal to the Risk Index With Horns (RIWH) with additional safety measures such as SSMs or ASMs. The RIWH is the average risk for all public highway‐rail crossings in the proposed quiet zone when locomotive horns are routinely sounded.

3. Install SSMs at every public highway‐rail crossing. This is the best method to reduce risks in a proposed quiet zone and to enhance safety.

SSMs are pre‐approved risk reduction engineering treatments installed at certain public highway‐rail crossings within the quiet zone and can help maximize safety benefits and minimize risk. SSMs include: medians or channelization devices, one‐way streets with gates, four quadrant gate systems, and temporary or permanent crossing closures.


RealityCheck
Registered user
another community
on Nov 9, 2021 at 6:40 am
RealityCheck, another community
Registered user
on Nov 9, 2021 at 6:40 am

For curious or interested readers:

Oceanside’s train horn quiet zone takes effect
Web Link

Capital Metro is working to make four North Austin rail crossings 'quiet zones'
Web Link

Various “train horn quiet zone” stories in the news:
Web Link



PeterCarpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Nov 9, 2021 at 7:43 am
PeterCarpenter, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Nov 9, 2021 at 7:43 am

"That, in my opinion, is why Atherton has a quiet zone and we don't."

Atherton has a quiet zone because they paid to have quad gates installed - no other condition was required.


LeslieYork
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 9, 2021 at 11:29 am
LeslieYork, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 9, 2021 at 11:29 am

All of Palo Alto's grade crossings are equipped with functioning crossing gates, bells and flashing red lights. Given that, I don't see the justification for requiring Caltrain commute trains and Union Pacific freight trains being required to sound their horns when approaching one of these crossings, be it at 3 pm or 3 am. If it is necessary to install quad gates then do it. These things could have been done years ago.


Me 2
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 9, 2021 at 6:55 pm
Me 2, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 9, 2021 at 6:55 pm

"You're confusing grade separation with electrification. HSR requires electrification but not grade sep."

Without electrification, the fantasy that is build-it-and-they-will-come growth projections for Caltrain wouldn't be feasible. You can't have those kinds of service levels with diesel locomotives.

HSR->Electrification->Caltrain BS Growth Projections.

Connecting the dots show that without HSR, we wouldn't be considering grade separation.


LeslieYork
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 9, 2021 at 8:48 pm
LeslieYork, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 9, 2021 at 8:48 pm

"HSR->Electrification->Caltrain BS Growth Projections.

Connecting the dots show that without HSR, we wouldn't be considering grade separation."

As has already been explained to you, Caltrain's intent to electrify the line predates the HSR "blended approach" to running HSR trains on the peninsula ROW. Caltrain wasn't going to keep running diesel locomotives forever.

This much is true:

Electrification->Caltrain BS Growth Projections


Me 2
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2021 at 8:59 am
Me 2, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 10, 2021 at 8:59 am

"Caltrain's intent to electrify the line predates the HSR "blended approach" to running HSR trains on the peninsula ROW. Caltrain wasn't going to keep running diesel locomotives forever."

Sure. But w/o funding, it would have never happened. There was no pathway to funding this project without HSR.


RealityCheck
Registered user
another community
on Nov 10, 2021 at 10:21 pm
RealityCheck, another community
Registered user
on Nov 10, 2021 at 10:21 pm

Due to the increasing push to cut carbon, NOx, and small particle emissions associated with burning dirty diesel, looming end of equipment service life, and need to improve train performance and O&M costs, Caltrain’s decades old electrification plan (now to use 100% green/renewable electricity) was going to be funded sooner than later without HSR’s contributing a little over 30% of the $2.3b project cost.

For some cost perspective, it’s interesting to note that the FTA just raised the cost estimate of VTA’s 6-mile, 4-station, needlessly over-priced downtown SJ BART extension to $9.1b, putting the nearly $2.3b PER STATION cost on par with what it’s costing to dramatically modernize the 158-year-old, nearly 50-mile Caltrain line and system with 133 sleek, state-of-the-art, high-performance Swiss train cars (configured as 19 seven-car car self-propelled trainsets) to finally deliver BART-comparable (superior with expresses) service the congested Peninsula and Silicon Valley has long needed and deserved.


RealityCheck
Registered user
another community
on Nov 13, 2021 at 11:54 am
RealityCheck, another community
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 11:54 am

Menlo Park City Council’s Rail Subcommittee will review an RFP for a $75k train horn quiet zone study covering Menlo Park’s 4 closely-spaced grade crossings (and, possibly, Palo Alto’s Alma Street crossing due to its proximity) at its Monday, November 15th, Zoom meeting.

For the meeting agenda, staff report, and proposed RFP text, see: Web Link


Me 2
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 14, 2021 at 11:47 am
Me 2, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 14, 2021 at 11:47 am

"what it’s costing to dramatically modernize the 158-year-old, nearly 50-mile Caltrain line and system with 133 sleek, state-of-the-art, high-performance Swiss train cars..."

That no more than 30,000 people will ride round trip in good, non-COVID economic times.

This is stupid. Caltrain can't solve the last mile problem on the peninsula. That's the fundamental issue why Caltrain will continue to limp along. Again, as long as Boomers continue to cling to their Prop 13-enabled single family houses, there will never be enough density to justify these lousy projections that Caltrain is promoting.

Building it and they *won't* come.


RealityCheck
Registered user
another community
on Nov 14, 2021 at 3:43 pm
RealityCheck, another community
Registered user
on Nov 14, 2021 at 3:43 pm

Again, @Me2 is misinformed. Average weekday Caltrain ridership (boardings) on a traditional office worker peak-period focused “commuter rail” schedule averaged over 70,000 boardings for the last 6 (pre-pandemic) months of 2019 … and with numerous peak-period trains suffering from latent unserved demand as indicated by consistently filling past standing-room only (SRO).

Further, since Caltrain’s ridership demographic is a highly educated, professional and affluent “by-choice” (vs. transit-dependent) with access to one or more alternatives (e.g. driving, working from home, etc.), most do not consistently ride 5 days a week … which means the actual total number that use Caltrain on a semi-regular basis is some significant multiple of the average weekday ridership.

Further, it is a long and well-established fact that transit ridership in congested corridors such as Caltrain’s is highly correlated to service frequencies during peak and off-peak (midday, night, weekends & holidays) and train capacities. Pre-pandemic, there was every indication of big untapped latent demand not served by Caltrain’s SRO peak, and meager off peak service.

Millions of square feet of new office, hotel, retail, and housing are under construction or recently approved within easy walking or riding distance(*) all along the Caltrain corridor and there is little doubt of the essentiality of useful all-day increased (better-than BART, with expresses) service in this hyper-contested corridor.

(*) SF, Brisbane, SSF, Millbrae, Burlingame, San Mateo, San Carlos, Redwood City, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, San José … just to name a few with recent announced plans or construction underway.


Me 2
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 14, 2021 at 9:00 pm
Me 2, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 14, 2021 at 9:00 pm

" Average weekday Caltrain ridership (boardings) on a traditional office worker peak-period focused “commuter rail” schedule averaged over 70,000 boardings for the last 6 (pre-pandemic) months of 2019 … and with numerous peak-period trains suffering from latent unserved demand as indicated by consistently filling past standing-room only (SRO)."

Someone can't read between the lines. A single commuter boards the train TWICE - once to go to work and once to go home. Divide the boardings in half to really get the real number of commuters.

This "boardings" sham is an example of "lies, damn lies, and statistics."

And, BTW, before COVID, number of, um, "boardings" actually decreased moderately. Can't blame the pandemic for that.


RealityCheck
Registered user
another community
on Nov 15, 2021 at 10:45 am
RealityCheck, another community
Registered user
on Nov 15, 2021 at 10:45 am

@Me2: boardings is analogous to the traffic statistic used by city, county, and state governments and agencies when counting vehicle trips on neighborhood and city streets, expressways, highways and bridges. From a train (or lane) space impact perspective, it makes absolutely no difference whether some riders (or drivers) take the train (or car) one way, or two, or many more ways per day. A trip is a trip: a butt in the seat or a car taking up lane space. (BTW: the *average* Caltrain trip is about 23 miles, so that’s a lot of person miles!)

But hey, just tell all those Palo Alto neighbors worried about cut-through traffic, or Castilleja and/or diverted Churchill vehicle trips that their concerns are exaggerated and that they just need to use @Me2 “logic” and divide by 2 (or by 4 for am/pm round-trip student chauffeurs!) and that that way their streets and roads (as you argue about trains) are not “actually” nearly as full!! Hilarious.


LeslieYork
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 15, 2021 at 12:08 pm
LeslieYork, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 15, 2021 at 12:08 pm

"Divide the boardings in half to really get the real number of commuters."

The number of boardings is the correct way to do it, whether train, plane, bus, etc. If you assume everyone is making a round trip by the same conveyance each way you're going to get inaccurate counts. Suppose they take Caltrain one way and car pool for the return trip. Caltrain knows what it's doing — they're not counting individual passengers. That's why they're careful to use the word "boardings".

Someone needs to learn to count.


Me 2
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 15, 2021 at 11:47 pm
Me 2, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 15, 2021 at 11:47 pm

“ The number of boardings is the correct way to do it, whether train, plane, bus, etc.”

It may be how everyone is counting trips, but seriously how many people are *not* doing round trips on Caltrain?

I would argue that most people on Caltrain — especially with that average of person miles — are roundtrippers.

Given that, it’s clear that Caltrain is only serving a tiny percentage of all commuters in the Bay Area and will continue until there’s a radical change in land use policy up and down the peninsula. And as long as Prop 13 exists, the last mile problem to home and to work will continue to bedevil any growth projections that Caltrain imagines.


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