Closing Churchill to cars could create jams elsewhere | March 29, 2019 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 29, 2019

Closing Churchill to cars could create jams elsewhere

New traffic study shows new rail configuration would divert hundreds of cars to other streets

by Gennady Sheyner

As Palo Alto moves closer to picking a new design for its four rail crossings, residents are warning that one of the more promising solutions — the closure of Churchill Avenue to cars — may create traffic jams in nearby neighborhoods.

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Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

19 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2019 at 12:06 am

"the city’s consultants offered an array of reasons why a tunnel would be difficult to construct"

$4 billion to begin with; double or treble that amount by the time "cost overruns" enter the picture. Look no further than the bay bridge for a local example of "cost overruns", so $8 to $12 billion for a rail tunnel when all is said and done. Yet Palo Altans continue to regard this as a feasible, viable option despite the admonitions of their own consultants. This is the stuff disasters are made of.

"allow parks, tennis courts and other amenities to get built on top of it"

Another Palo Alto resident who appears to be ignorant of the fact that CPA does not own the rail right-of-way. For the hundredth time, CPA does not own the land under the tracks or the rail infrastructure. They are owned by PCJPB who are in the business of operating trains, not giving away expensive peninsula real estate. It is unlikely that PCJPB will want to part with the land. How much will they want to lease the land to CPA, assuming they are even willing to?


54 people like this
Posted by Rainer
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 28, 2019 at 1:42 am

Rainer is a registered user.

The previous comment is such a mixture of unproven and nonsensical statements that it is difficult o politely and rationally refute. It is all gossip and smken mirrow.

When Hensel-Phelps (the second largest US Government builder) bids for construction of a Navy Base in Guam at, say, $2Billion. How much overrun do you think they are allowed?
the 117km
Or if Bechtel bids on CrossRail in London, with 25 miles of new tunnels under London, for 15Billion pounds, how much overrun will they be allowed? Double as claimed above.

Palo Alto Planning never liked the tunnel, maybe because they are ignorant, and so the made outlandish claims about the cost.

And even if there are cost increases, because the cost is difficult o estimate, much like renovation of an old house, the increase might be well worth it.

A case in point would be the Mont Blanc tunnel:
It ended up with a cost overrun of at least 100 percent because the costs of construction were virtually impossible to estimate correctly. Tunneling through the Alps required innovation. Some had to be tested on-site and then improved.

However, when the Tunnel opened in 1965 it was an instant success. The route was a boom to the local economies of France and Italy, but it may have been too successful. Originally designed for 350,000 vehicles per annum, instead it was accommodating over 1 million by the early 1990’s when I used it.


17 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2019 at 3:35 am

Refurbishing part of the bay bridge was a much simpler proposition than tunneling through the Alps, yet how do you explain the bay bridge project going 2 - 3 times over projected cost?

These aren't U.S. government contracts as you cited, and you don't have the U.S. gov't. overseeing them.

The $3.8 billion figure was taken from the article — go back and see for yourself.

PCJPB owning the right-of-way is indisputable. Look that one up, too.


17 people like this
Posted by Ingeborg
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 28, 2019 at 6:38 am

Maurice- thanks for clarifying the misstatements made by Rainer.
And definitely churchill should be closed so that people won't have a 5 minutes delay. And of course getting rid of traffic in their neighborhoods is a must as well.
Funny to see the people that do vehemently opposed granny units wanting tennis courts on the tracks!!!
What a city and what residents!


30 people like this
Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 28, 2019 at 7:29 am

I'm not sure I see the logic of closing Churchill rather than just leaving it like it is (with better gates). The supposed reason is that the more frequent train schedule will cause the gates to be closed more often -- so it would be closed 20-30% of the time during peak periods, and less at other times? (or whatever the percentage is -- the point is that it would be less than 100%). So the answer is to go ahead and close it for 100% of the time at all hours??? I know they shoot horses when they break a leg, but I'd rather have the horse in a cast and limping in this case.


21 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2019 at 7:38 am

Reality Check is a registered user.

Let the tunnel proponents put their money where their mouths are and pay the billion or more cost differential. Their adamant support will mysteriously wane at that point (it's so easy to support anything as long as other people will be made to pay).

Nobody else is going to pay for an alternative that offers essentially no additional transportation value over, say, a viaduct, which allows complete cross-town connectivity and use of the space underneath, and, as AECOM determined, can be built in south Palo Alto without a shoofly.

The Bay Bridge east span project went from initial estimates of under a billion to well over $6 billion ... so, depending on which cost estimate you choose as your baseline, its final cost was well over 6x.

Union Pacific has perpetual rights to freight service on Caltrain's line. It is extremely costly — if not impossible — to make a long tunnel with an underground train station safe for diesel locomotive hauled freight trains which sometimes include hazmat loads, tank cars, etc.

The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (PCJPB) owns and controls the Caltrain tracks and right of way. There can be no tunneled grade seps without their consent. And they, along with UP, oppose tunneling for a variety of operational reasons. A tunnel would also make adding future passing tracks to meet future demand and need for HSR and express trains to pass locals logistically difficult and cost-prohibitive.

The tunnel obsession is a pipe dream if there ever was one. The sooner it is (wisely) put aside, the sooner we can focus residents and the council on narrowing and choosing from among the realistically feasible alternatives.


24 people like this
Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 28, 2019 at 8:17 am

DTN Paul is a registered user.

No amount of "further study" by overpaid consultants will change the fact that there exists no solution that will make everyone happy. Watching the amateurish hemming and hawing from our city council is just unbearable.


16 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2019 at 8:20 am

"I'm not sure I see the logic of closing Churchill rather than just leaving it like it is (with better gates)."

It exemplifies the bass-ackwards illogic that has consumed this panel of amateur rail planners. It would have the same effect as the gates being down 100% of the time, the diametric opposite of the putative purpose of grade separation.

Hopefully the citywide tunnel would die a merciful death at the ballot box when voters are confronted with the price tag and the myriad engineering complications it would entail.

That the amateur rail planners are even bothering with these options rather than discarding them shows how badly broken the process has become.


25 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2019 at 8:35 am

"No amount of "further study" by overpaid consultants will change the fact that there exists no solution that will make everyone happy."

With the peninsula leg of HSR having been killed by Gov. Newsom, Caltrain's forecast of "20 trains per hour" is null and void — in other words, it's vaporware.

There is no clamor to implement any of these unsatisfactory alternatives. Leaving the crossings as is remains the most attractive option in my book.


24 people like this
Posted by Cars Are The Problem...Not the Trains
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2019 at 8:54 am

>> No amount of "further study" by overpaid consultants will change the fact that there exists no solution that will make everyone happy.

^^^^There is no solution to this issue.

The residential overpopulation & growing work force in Palo Alto created this problem. You cannot blame the trains or RR tracks...they were here first.

Perhaps best to leave things the way they are rather than waste time/money on irrational concepts & ideas.

Cars are the problem...not the trains. This acknowledgement is Step 1 to further addressing & resolving the problem.

Eliminate the excessive use of automobiles & this problem goes away...ZAP.



1 person likes this
Posted by central subway project
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2019 at 10:52 am

looking at another local tunnel project, the SF Central Subway project, no doubt more difficult to build than under the Caltrain tracks, but it is only 1.7 miles long and the estimated cost ~$1.6 billion is running about two years behind the original schedule (now maybe complete sometime in 2020

Web Link


12 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 28, 2019 at 10:59 am

mauricio is a registered user.

No multi billion dollar project that would probably end costing 5 times the estimated cost would fix the underlying problem:overpopulation.


28 people like this
Posted by JCP
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2019 at 11:03 am

JCP is a registered user.

Closing Churchill makes no sense. And adding a light on Alma near Embarcadero would cause major backups. Why is this even on the table?


16 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 28, 2019 at 11:28 am

Annette is a registered user.

@DTN Paul: I agree. The rail discussion is protracted and the decision postponed b/c we are not well served by Council Members who are, above all else, politicians. Taking property and closing streets is a sure way to become unpopular as you will be associated with that act for several Council cycles.

I think it is not possible to separate rail/transportation issues from the gargantuan housing problem we have. It is regrettable that CC (not all, but certainly the current and recent majorities) has burdened this city with more jobs than it can handle. It is daunting to see the various ways in which decisions to add unmitigated commercial space haunt us. And now there's a push to compound our very real problems by relinquishing local control. That alleviates local accountability for unpopular decisions, but it is locals who will be forced to pay for the necessary infrastructure improvements that will be required as a result of unfunded mandates. Frankly, I think we cannot afford SB50.

As for the trains, I think the HSR decision does not change the fact that electrification will increase rail activity. I hope the CAC will include smart and informed people, not political pals. We so badly need to move past cronyism.


13 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 28, 2019 at 11:29 am

To the weekly: I wish you would censor some of these nonsensical comments before you print them ie Ranier. Also how many times must it be stated that the railroad owns the land?
GEEEEEEESH!


7 people like this
Posted by Kya
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2019 at 12:00 pm

Of course nobody wants their neighborhood used as a dumping ground for cars trying to go east/west. However at this point, after community meetings and so many safety issues/suicide clusters, I would think Palo Altman’s can come together and support our HS Students and their mental health over some traffic increase. Churchill crossing is very unsafe. Anecdotally I witness about 1 -2 cyclists to Paly crossing the tracks when a train arm goes down for a train coming to the RR Crossing.Also, in the afternoons, cyclists ride and cross cars on Churchill going east in very unsafe ways. The answer is a full bicycle:ped underground separation to deal with the safety of our students. Do the right thing!


6 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 28, 2019 at 1:10 pm

> Also how many times must it be stated that the railroad owns the land?

The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board "owns" (i.e. has title to) the rail right of way from San Francisco to San Jose. The JPB purchased the rail right of way in 1991 for over $200M using public money.

The JPB is the City and County of San Francisco, the San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA). Each agency has 3 members on the Board of Directors.

Each of the 3 agencies are public entities supported by taxpayers. I guess you're technically correct that the JPB "won't give away expensive Peninsula real estate." But, your logic is wrong: the JPB can't give away something the public already owns.

The JPB has easements for fiber optic cables and pipelines along and across the rail right of way in hundreds of places on the Peninsula from San Jose to San Francisco. So, encroaching on, over or under the JPB right of way is not something different or special for Palo Alto.

The City of Palo Alto may need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars providing Caltrain separations, with only a fraction of the cost paid for by the VTA. The VTA, though the JPB, will need to give Palo Alto more than the longest and most expensive dog run in the world as compensation.


1 person likes this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 28, 2019 at 1:24 pm

For the dozens of families living near a crossing, the increased train schedule will result in an increase in the worst of train noise > the clanging of crossing bells and the very, very loud blaring train horns. A rise in the frequency of the trains will result in almost continue blaring and clanging perhaps making it perhaps almost impossible to carry on family life.

Perhaps certain families would welcome selling their homes to the City provided the price offered allowed them to purchase a different home in Palo Alto so their children could continue to attend their schools etc. When looking at Zillow - the real estate website - seems that most homes that would be affected are in excess of $3.5 million then of course, there is the cost of moving etc.

Does anyone know if family home owners have been approached about selling or is the City thinking of taking homes through eminent domain and if so, at what amount? I think as a community, we would want to facilitate these families being able to continue to live in Palo Alto. Thank you!


11 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2019 at 1:32 pm

"I think the HSR decision does not change the fact that electrification will increase rail activity."

It's not a fact. It's a prediction and an outdated one at that, having been made before Newsom cut off HSR.

I have made this point many times in the recent past: Where is a timetable showing this increased Caltrain service? There is no point in running additional trains if those trains are empty or nearly so and not carrying fare-paying passengers.

The SRO problem seems to exist only during peak hours. Can this be solved by adding more cars to existing trains, or do we need to add more trains and if so, how many? Will the new EMU's carry more passengers per train?

Is Palo Alto being suckered into grade separation with these dire predictions of "20 trains per hour" which may never materialize? Vaporware. I fear the amateur rail planners are not asking the tough questions that need to be asked. Worst case: CPA pays way too much for a solution that nobody is happy with.

"I witness about 1 -2 cyclists to Paly crossing the tracks when a train arm goes down for a train coming to the RR Crossing.Also, in the afternoons, cyclists ride and cross cars on Churchill going east in very unsafe ways."

This situation has existed for decades since I went to Paly, and accidents never happened. There are flashing red lights, bells and crossing gates. If those things don't get your attention as a Paly student on a bike, then you're going to have big problems later on in life.


2 people like this
Posted by bob.smith
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2019 at 1:46 pm

@ "Does anyone know if family home owners have been approached about selling or is the City thinking of taking homes through eminent domain and if so, at what amount? I think as a community, we would want to facilitate these families being able to continue to live in Palo Alto. Thank you!"

An Eminent Domain process is a last resort that can only be initiated after the home owner has rejected all reasonable offers. For the home owner rejecting reasonable offers through normal channels is a risk because in an eminent domain process the law strictly defines the maximum amount that can be paid.
The court can transfer the title of the home and the home can be destroyed while the home owner continues to refuse the accept the governments price.
The home owner will not be awarded legal costs.


4 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2019 at 2:09 pm

"Each of the 3 agencies are public entities supported by taxpayers. I guess you're technically correct that the JPB "won't give away expensive Peninsula real estate." But, your logic is wrong: the JPB can't give away something the public already owns."

The point is, the city of Palo Alto doesn't have the authority to let Joe Developer build a shopping center on the ROW after the tracks have been put in a tunnel. Even though the ROW is within the city limits it is under the control of JPB. AFAIK only JPB can grant this permission. The next question is, how much money, if any, would JPB want? Does JPB get money for the existing fiber and pipeline easements? Were some of those in place when S.P. owned the ROW? S.P. may have had copper wire and pipelines (you would know better than I).

It concerns me greatly that our panel of amateur rail planners seems to be making these plans essentially in a vacuum, without any consultation of JPB.


1 person likes this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2019 at 2:31 pm

"For the dozens of families living near a crossing, the increased train schedule will result in an increase in the worst of train noise > the clanging of crossing bells and the very, very loud blaring train horns."

You should see about having your area declared a "quiet zone":

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2019 at 2:33 pm

"Each of the 3 agencies are public entities supported by taxpayers. I guess you're technically correct that the JPB "won't give away expensive Peninsula real estate." But, your logic is wrong: the JPB can't give away something the public already owns."

Legally the JPB is holding the land in trust for the State and in this case it is unlikely that the State would sanction it's partial destruction given that the State has made an executive decision to favor transport by rail.

As an inter-state railroad, it enjoys strong federal protections, for example the railroad land is immune from the State's power of eminent domain.

The blended HSR plan is not legally dead until a state-wide ballot overturns the existing statutory obligation for HSR to terminate at Transbay Terminal and agrees to refund the Feds their $3.5bn


Like this comment
Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 28, 2019 at 2:38 pm

jh is a registered user.

My understanding is that the length of the trains is limited by the length of the platforms and this will depend if all the stations can accommodate longer platforms.


4 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Mar 28, 2019 at 2:42 pm

Howard,

What don't you understand about the humongous backups that would be caused on Alma, Churchill, and El Camino if Churchill were left as is? Some traffic may shift to Embarcadero and Oregon but not enough to prevent huge snarls on those streets.


4 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Mar 28, 2019 at 2:53 pm

As the newest member of the City Council and as the likely deciding vote, Alison Cormack should come out soon and strongly for the hybrid solution that has been successfully used in a number of cities on the Peninsula. This would shortcut the pointless process put in place by the previous City Council, which has shown it has been unable to make a decision and stick to it and has spent far too much time encouraging totally infeasible options.


11 people like this
Posted by Sally
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 28, 2019 at 3:00 pm

It's only $25,000 per resident. I don't see what all the fuss is about. (End sarcasm.)


16 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 28, 2019 at 3:09 pm


Just run a test. Close Churchill for 7 consecutive days and monitor traffic to see the changes in congestion. This will give us answers at current population levels.


2 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2019 at 3:45 pm

"Just run a test. Close Churchill for 7 consecutive days and monitor traffic to see the changes in congestion. This will give us answers at current population levels."

This has already been studied and is the crux of the very news story you are commenting on.

"It indicated that the closure of Churchill would divert about 706 cars during the morning peak hour (between 8 and 9 a.m.) and 776 cars during the afternoon peak hour (5:15 to 6:15 p.m.) to other streets."


Like this comment
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 28, 2019 at 4:12 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

@Mike: "Just run a test."

That was my thought, too. But it isn't good enough. You also have to test the mitigation measures, and some of those are difficult and expensive (like adding new signals). That's why the traffic engineers used a simulation.

That said, there were some problems with the simulation, particularly around Emerson, so it's not trustworthy as-is.


18 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2019 at 4:22 pm

Honestly, given that "direct to downtown SF" HSR has been delayed, I don't see what the hurry is. In the morning, from about 7:20-7:40 AM or so, it is a wait to get across, and then, from about 4:50-5:20 PM. It will get worse with better train control and electrification, but, as someone said, why close a crossing completely because it is bad for a couple of half-hour periods? HSR is an issue because trains could be going so fast, but, for the moment, trains aren't going to be going faster than the current limit of 79 MPH. I think we need better gates to positively prevent cars from blocking the tracks, but, other than that-- no HSR, no crisis.

Do no harm. -We don't need to do something just to do something.- Any changes should be significant improvements.



3 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2019 at 4:48 pm

"no HSR, no crisis"

No concrete plan from Caltrain for expanded service, no crisis.


7 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2019 at 5:52 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

Two points with accompanying documents:

• With respect to Newsom's widely misinterpreted comments ... nothing has changed regarding HSR on the Peninsula; the preferred alternative (PA) decision for SF-SJ has actually been moved up to this September (see page 4) to better align with the PA decision for SJ-Merced:
Web Link

• Caltrain's 2040 Business Plan is developing and studying service plans and passing track infrastructure to carry 4x today's weekday ridership (from around 60k to 240k). It's a work in progress, but it has been moving along nicely. Here's the latest snapshot:
Web Link

A few other comments:
• locomotive-hauled trains are currently limited to 6 cars so they'll fit on all station platforms
• as with BART, the new electric trains will be self-propelled and so not have locomotives
• as with BART, they'll have less seats but more standing room
• they will use 100% green/renewable electricity
• they will be much quieter, but their horns must be just as loud (as per federal regulations)
• Atherton is the first and only Caltrain city to follow the FRA & CPUC process to establish a train horn "quiet zone" — any Peninsula city can legally do the same, whether Caltrain likes it or not!


20 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2019 at 7:14 pm

There is no good solution and never will be. Rail transportation was conceived to serve the population distribution of Victorian England. Sparsely populated cities separated by rural expanses. Passenger rail technology does not efficiently serve the two dimensional grid of the modern suburban/urban landscape.

Wondering why there is no good solution to integrate Caltrain into Palo Alto, is like wondering why there is no good solution for integrating vacuum tubes into the internet of things.

The passenger rail dream is kept alive by hippy generation neo-primitivists still waging a Quixotic war on the long extinct 1960's gas guzzler. It is more than a bit ironic that the generation that was all about change was never able to imagine the modern landscape or zero-emmissions all-electric automobiles.

Unlike the cities of Victorian England the cities of San Francisco and San Jose are separated by a dense population and an extensive transportation grid that supports economic development that threatens the power and influence of these two cities.


2 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2019 at 7:43 pm

"Rail transportation was conceived to serve the population distribution of Victorian England."

Is this the 800th or 801st time you've made this same point here? I've lost count.

And what percentage of the Victorian England population did those trains serve?


3 people like this
Posted by Polly Wanacracker
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 28, 2019 at 7:55 pm

"the cities of San Francisco and San Jose are separated by a dense population"

Speak for yourself, Buster. We aren't all dense.


16 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 28, 2019 at 9:42 pm

There is absolutely no reason to take away peoples houses, tear up roads, and spend hundreds of millions of dollars for phantom train projections that may never come to be. There is nothing wrong with Meadow, Charleston, and Churchill the way they are currently configured. I hear no residents complaining. What problem is this supposed to solve?


6 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2019 at 10:59 pm

This needs to be impressed upon the city's amateur rail planners. Of course they will never hear it from AECOM who are already salivating over the engineering fees they stand to receive.

There is one rail planner who is so in love with the idea of a citywide tunnel that it continues to be "on the table" no matter how badly flawed and expensive it is, and it IS badly flawed and hideously expensive.

"There is absolutely no reason to take away peoples houses, tear up roads, and spend hundreds of millions of dollars for phantom train projections that may never come to be. There is nothing wrong with Meadow, Charleston, and Churchill the way they are currently configured. I hear no residents complaining. What problem is this supposed to solve?"


4 people like this
Posted by David Grossman
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 29, 2019 at 9:01 am

To assess the effect of closing Churchill, just close it for a one week test.


5 people like this
Posted by RP
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 29, 2019 at 10:02 am

We live a quarter mile from the tracks. I would like nothing more than to have a tunnel that opens space and eliminates train noise (and those horns!), but as a city or region, we don't have $4 billion to spend. Let's do something more reasonable. Take tunnels off the table, even the south of Oregon concept. It makes no sense to spend 10 years digging down just to have it go back up in Mountain View. Then let's discuss an incremental plan. Given that we want to encourage bikes and alt transit, let's build them to go under Alma and the tracks at all 4 crossings. If we can rather painlessly do the same for auto traffic, let's do it where feasible (Charleston and E Meadow). If a viaduct or mixed concept is better, let's get on with it and end the indecision. There are funds from Measure B to get, so let's apply and get moving.

Finally, if all this results in applying for and getting "quiet zone" approval for those incredibly loud horns, I'd be all for it.


3 people like this
Posted by sequoiadean
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 29, 2019 at 10:43 am

sequoiadean is a registered user.

Regarding the incredibly loud horns - if there was a viaduct, the trains would no longer need to sound their horns at the Charleston and East Meadow crossings, correct? That seems like a good tradeoff for people who live near the rail crossings - they would see the trains more, as they would be elevated, but they would be quieter than now, and would not sound their horns at the crossings.


23 people like this
Posted by Cal Ave Neighbor
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 29, 2019 at 10:54 am

Cal Ave Neighbor is a registered user.

Doesn't make any sense to close the Churchill crossing (or any other crossing). Let it stay the way it is. In the future, if people want to wait in the traffic to cross there, let them. If it becomes unbearable people will find another way. There are many hours of the day/night/weekend/holidays when the increased frequency of the trains won't apply and Churchill can be used as it always has. Closing it permanently eliminates one of the precious few places to cross the tracks in Palo Alto!


3 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2019 at 2:39 pm

Posted by Reality Check, a resident of another community

>> • With respect to Newsom's widely misinterpreted comments ... nothing has changed regarding HSR on the Peninsula

I don't know how to interpret his remarks myself. It sounded like there was not enough money to do the SF-SJ segment any time soon. The projected speed for blended track utilization was < 110 MPH, correct? Using existing tracks, which is what we are talking now, speed is limited to < 80 MPH, correct? That sounds like a change. Also, because the the downtown STC was screwed up, Caltrain/HSR are limited to the "moderate growth" scenario for numbers of trains, correct? Another change. The current plan appears to reach to the year 2040 -- roughly 20 years. At that point, ridership could be about 3X what it is now. That is the maximum.

What -must- be done in this area - Mountain View, Palo Alto, Menlo Park - to reach that goal? Anything not part of that baseline+moderate-growth plan is a pipe dream at this point.



18 people like this
Posted by Anne
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 29, 2019 at 2:46 pm

We need MORE ways to get across the train tracks, not less. Closing any of our crossings and not expecting gridlock as a result is insanity.


20 people like this
Posted by Lenore
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 29, 2019 at 2:55 pm

Everyone is talking about tunnels, bridges, adding more traffic to other streets, reducing traffic on some streets. We are all talking around the issue. There are are simply toooooo many caars on the road in Palo Alto and it gets worse inthe morning/afternoon.... No one is talking about the root cause - too many jobs, not enough housing (affordable or not) and not enough land to make it all work. When will we (powers that be) finally state the obvious. We have outgrown our success and there is no more land, space, room, etc for the pace that development is going to continue at the pace we are adding and adding and adding.

I have this silly image in my head - those jeans we love,but barely fit. In frustration we eat a donut and keep tugging at the jeans....finally get them up and zipped ..... but where did that puffy pillow top come from that is bulging over the jeans and we can barely breath because they are tight. That is exactly what we are doing in PA and the entire peninsula. There are other places in the country with smart, educated people and land to build. We are choking ourselves under the guise of growth and it keeps gettig worse. Check out the article in the Daily today about Mega Office Projects.

When will we stop kidding ourselves?


Like this comment
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2019 at 5:10 pm

@Anon "What -must- be done in this area - Mountain View, Palo Alto, Menlo Park - to reach that goal?"

There are no curves in the track through PA so 110mph is achieved by adding safer crossing barrier systems at grade crossings and better fencing.

The service plan assumes 2 minute headways which needs a modern signaling system throughout the corridor like they have in 1st world countries.

The service plan assumes high platforms to reduce dwell times.
While they are raising the height of the station platforms at California Avenue, they should take the opportunity to move the platforms 35 feet further apart, thereby making space down the middle of the station for passing tracks. Caltrain owns the land around the station so making the station 35 feet wider is no big deal.

Downtown STC was not screwed up, there was never going to be room for more than 6 tracks in the space available. The long term plan is run-through tracks.

Nothing has changed, blended HSR was being studied and is still being studied. Funding was never more than penciled-in.

Calling it a pipe-dream does not make it more likely that Palo Alto can build tennis courts on the ROW.

When the next economic recession hits, Trump will crank up the printing press and drop stimulus money from helicopters onto shovel-ready infrastructure projects.


6 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2019 at 5:55 pm

If closing a crossing (Churchill) is worthy of consideration by our panel of amateur rail planners, then so should be the option of not doing grade separation at all.

Closing the Churchill crossing will have the same effect as the gates being down 100% of the time. Under the current situation, the gates are down, what, 25% of the time?That's a 75% improvement over closing the intersection completely.

A whole litany of options have been considered and every one of them is far from ideal, ranging from too expensive to aesthetically unacceptable to technically infeasible.

The do-nothing option overcomes all of these obstacles, yet it eludes our amateur rail planners.

Of the hundreds of posts I have read here, I have heard no one complain about the current situation where cars wait a few minutes for trains to clear a crossing.

This impending onslaught of Caltrains every 3 minutes may never materialize.


22 people like this
Posted by Seriously
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2019 at 6:01 pm

The Palo Alto city council is too incompetent to even bring fiber optics to the city. What are the odds they can organize and fund a new rail corridor? Nil.

What we can do is get a referendum on the ballet to place a moratorium on further office development and housing densification -- FOREVER -- to keep traffic from getting even worse and hold the developers at bay. Then, maybe over a decade or two we could drag our politicians by the noses toward a bike tunnel or two underneath the busy train tracks.

Everything else is just fantasy. Take it from someone who's lived here for several decades.


22 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2019 at 7:19 pm

The real danger of passenger-rail is that it cannot solve our traffic problems but WILL serve as a pretext to keep the mad orgy of office development going.


2 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Mar 29, 2019 at 10:05 pm

Seriously,
A vote in Palo Alto will do nothing to stop the development in Menlo Park and Mountain View.
Just another example of the “tunnel” vision of the mayor and many of the commenters here.


Like this comment
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2019 at 12:32 am

A straw vote for a grade-sep scenario will probably be meaningless. Nearly everyone will vote for a tunnel/trench without regard to the cost and how much their property tax will go up. After all, it's just pretend money.

Sentiments will likely change when it comes time to shell out actual money.


3 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2019 at 3:52 am

It is not uncommon for a city to disagree with the construction of a utility of State importance. It is not a problem, the law prescribes the way forward:
---------
The California Public Utilities Commission has the exclusive power to REQUIRE, where in its judgment it would be practicable, a separation of grades at any crossing established and to PRESCRIBE the terms upon which the separation shall be made and the proportions in which the expense of the construction, alteration, relocation, or abolition of crossings or the separation of grades shall be divided between the railroad or street railroad corporations affected or between these corporations and the state, county, city, or other political subdivision affected.
----------
This may be the path of least resistance for the Palo Alto. Let others prescribe the optimal grade separation and send the City their part of the bill.


3 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2019 at 4:38 am

"Let others prescribe the optimal grade separation and send the City their part of the bill."

Optimal? Probably not. Most likely the cheapest.


6 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2019 at 12:59 pm

A graceful, elegantly-designed viaduct over Charleston and Meadow would be a wonderful, practical and affordable solution — except for the gotcha that train passengers could peep into the back yards of residences down below.

Every one of these grade-sep solutions has a deal killer. Not doing grade sep looks more attractive all the time.


3 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2019 at 2:48 pm

@Maurice "train passengers could peep into the back yards of residences down below"

Problem solved: Web Link So you are voting for an elegant viaduct now?


1 person likes this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2019 at 3:17 pm

"Problem solved: Web Link

So you are voting for an elegant viaduct now?"

Well if that don't beat all.

It would solve a lot of problems in Palo Alto.


8 people like this
Posted by relentlesscactus
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2019 at 5:06 pm

When all is said and done, Churchill will be closed, Palo Alto / Alma will be a very expensive over-or-underpass, and E. Meadow and Charleston will be a hybrid. The only question is how long it will take to get there, and how much the delay will cost Palo Alto.


4 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 2, 2019 at 10:30 am

"When all is said and done, Churchill will be closed, Palo Alto / Alma will be a very expensive over-or-underpass, and E. Meadow and Charleston will be a hybrid. The only question is how long it will take to get there, and how much the delay will cost Palo Alto."

Nah. Hybrid won't happen because it requires property takings, which is politically infeasible regardless of location. At this point, I am agreeing with Maurice in that we'll end up with status quo, which is the de facto closure of Churchill and Palo Alto Ave *if* Caltrain actually meets its service goals.


6 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 3, 2019 at 12:17 am

"I am agreeing with Maurice in that we'll end up with status quo, which is the de facto closure of Churchill"

Maurice is vehemently opposed to the closure of Churchill. It would reduce traffic throughput to zero and force traffic elsewhere.

Closing Churchill would be the height of stupidity, which means it could actually be implemented by our amateur rail planners.

Maurice


3 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 3, 2019 at 12:30 pm

Maurice - "de facto" as in the definition "in fact; in reality:"

If Caltrain hits its proposed service targets and gates are down as much as they're claiming, Churchill will be essentially ("de facto") closed even if we leave it alone. Same with Palo Alto Ave.

But as you have said, we don't know if they'll actually hit those service targets. It only services around 30,000 round trip commuters a day anyway. Drop in the bucket.


1 person likes this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 3, 2019 at 5:19 pm

"If Caltrain hits its proposed service targets and gates are down as much as they're claiming, Churchill will be essentially ("de facto") closed even if we leave it alone. Same with Palo Alto Ave."

Thank you for clarifying your definition of "de facto closed".

I believe Caltrain's forecasts included HSR trains under the "blended approach". If HSR doesn't happen on the peninsula then those forecasts are obsolete. That's one reason I'm skeptical of them.

Even if Caltrain adds a few more trains at rush hour, how much more down-time would there be than at present? During off-peak hours there might not be much of a change. It wouldn't make sense for Caltrain to add off-peak trains if there's no one to ride them.


Like this comment
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 3, 2019 at 5:27 pm

"But as you have said, we don't know if they'll actually hit those service targets."

I'm glad someone else sees the big picture. All we need is to spend billions on grade sep and have it turn out to be a "nothing burger" as they say in Washington, D.C.


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2019 at 5:40 pm

Posted by Maurice, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> Even if Caltrain adds a few more trains at rush hour, how much more down-time would there be than at present? During off-peak hours there might not be much of a change.

It really isn't an issue during off-peak hours, and, I don't expect that will change for quite a while. The morning and evening peak hours are the issue. I already plan around this a bit myself around/after 5 PM.

>> It wouldn't make sense for Caltrain to add off-peak trains if there's no one to ride them.

Yes and no. Sometimes a few extra trains may run to get the morning equipment aligned for the afternoon and vice versa. And then, the first train and last train of the day are usually lightly filled because you need an early train, and a -last- train for people who miss the "last" train.

But, neither of these affects the point you are making. There won't be enough off-peak trains to stop cross traffic. The issue is that with improved headway and more peak-hour trains, the crossings may be effectively closed during rush hour.


1 person likes this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 3, 2019 at 6:08 pm

"So you are voting for an elegant viaduct now?"

Let's not kid ourselves — a viaduct or any elevated solution will be a hard sell.

A trench or tunnel under Charleston and Meadow is probably the way to go and easier to sell to voters — provided no private residences are taken in the process.

All that said, there should be NO grade sep north of Matadero Creek. It would be a hideous waste of money to rebuild the crossings that are already grade separated (Oregon, Embarcadero and University).

Churchill remains a problem case and should be left OPEN.


3 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Apr 4, 2019 at 1:33 am

Why does the plan need to be "sold" to voters?

The City just needs to inform Caltrain/JPA that the City is amenable to a hybrid grade separation of Charleston and Meadow, and then the City can wash it's hands of the whole affair and move on.

• Caltrain will manage the project design, planning, permissions, construction etc.
• The CPUC will endorse the plans and decree that they should proceed.
• Santa Clara County will purchase any required properties.

The Valley Transportation Authority in Santa Clara County has eminent domain authority in Palo Alto. They have already used their authority to purchase land for the Caltain Electrification Project.


Like this comment
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 4, 2019 at 12:21 pm

"They have already used their authority to purchase land for the Caltain Electrification Project."

What land is that?


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2019 at 2:33 pm

>> What land is that?

Well, so far they have spent $17M out of $28M max budgeted for real estate:

"Real Estate$28,503,369 $28,503,369 $83,221 $17,222,040 $11,281,329 $28,503,369"

Web Link

I'm not sure where all it is along the right-of-way. There are a lot of documents in the online library; the real estate details might be in there.


Like this comment
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Apr 4, 2019 at 3:01 pm

@ "What land is that?"

960 Kifer Road, Sunnyvale. The proposed acquisition consists of: (1) 972± sq. ft. (JPB-SC3-0206-1A) Fee Simple parcel for electrical poles, and (2) a 1,740± sq. ft. Electrical Safety Zone Easement (JPB-SC3-0208-2A) to provide safe clearances from the overhead electrical lines being installed. An aerial photograph ...
Web Link

Resolution of Necessity determining that the public interest and necessity require the acquisition of certain land and directing the filing of eminent domain proceedings: Web Link


15 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2019 at 4:00 pm

"Why does the plan need to be "sold" to voters?"

Uh... because the Palo Alto city council is supposed to represent and advocate for Palo Alto residents, not just implement Party policy like obsequious apparatchik in the Party machine.


6 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 4, 2019 at 8:34 pm

"Why does the plan need to be 'sold' to voters?"

I can't imagine them financing this multimillion-dollar project without a property/sales-tax increase or a bond measure requiring voter approval, can you?

There could be a vote to choose from among several grade-sep schemes.


Like this comment
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2019 at 9:17 am

"The Valley Transportation Authority in Santa Clara County has eminent domain authority in Palo Alto. They have already used their authority to purchase land for the Caltain Electrification Project."

Just because the law says you can doesn't mean you actually will be able to do it. Political careers and lawsuits backed by deep pockets in Palo Alto that would delay any kind of project like this to 2050 at the earliest says that eminent domain is a nonstarter.


4 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2019 at 2:52 pm

"Just because the law says you can doesn't mean you actually will be able to do it." :-)

The entire point of having an eminent domain law is to enable a project of "public interest and necessity" to proceed without the taxpayer being extorted or dragged through the courts for decades.

VTA just needs to show the judge that:
• The public interest and necessity require the project.
• The project has been planned or located in the manner that will be most compatible with the greatest public good and the least private injury.

Palo Alto has been paying consultants for years to study every imaginable project alternative, so it will be difficult to argue in court that the project is not necessary or that there is an undiscovered alternative that provides greater public good with less private injury.

A disagreement about "just compensation" is a separate matter that can continue until 2050, long after the project is complete.

In the Central Valley they are still arguing in court over the value of 10 year old almond trees that where uprooted many years ago to make way for HSR.


9 people like this
Posted by Perplexed At This Discourse
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2019 at 3:32 pm

The trains only run on what...a half-hour or hourly run. That gives cars plenty of time to get to where they are going.

In addition, a train passing through Churchill only takes a few seconds or so.

What is the big deal? And why does it require a consultant?

Just don't argue right of way with a train as the train usually wins.


Like this comment
Posted by Kenny
a resident of University South
on Apr 7, 2019 at 3:33 pm

"The passenger rail dream is kept alive by hippy generation neo-primitivists still waging a Quixotic war on the long extinct 1960's gas guzzler."

The hippies were fun. Too bad they got displaced by the yuppies. Palo Alto became really uptight when that happened.

"I can't imagine them financing this multimillion-dollar project without a property/sales-tax increase or a bond measure requiring voter approval, can you?"

It will be great, and we will make the NIMBYs to pay for it.

"Uh... because the Palo Alto city council is supposed to represent and advocate for Palo Alto residents, not just implement Party policy like obsequious apparatchik in the Party machine."

That will only happen when city council members are elected by district.

"Let the tunnel proponents put their money where their mouths are and pay the billion or more cost differential.'

That is not the Palo Alto way. The Palo Alto way is to demand something that benefits you and get others to foot the bill.

BTW - How much did Palo Alto spend on those consultants? Maybe we should electric them to the city council so we would not have to pay for outside consultants all the time.


Like this comment
Posted by Kenny
a resident of University South
on Apr 7, 2019 at 3:35 pm

I meant elect.


2 people like this
Posted by Why only one hour?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 7, 2019 at 4:22 pm

I have to laugh at a study that looked at only one hour of traffic in the morning and one in the evening on Churchill. For years, I have passed through there in the afternoon and traffic gets really bad before the peak hour looked at. It backs up frequently starting around 3 PM! And is bad from 3 PM through at least the hour looked at.

The railroad crossings need to be eliminated and the rational decision is to use overpasses/viaducs where needed. People who bought houses by the track knew what the risks were and got a discount on the house prices because of it.


Like this comment
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2019 at 4:27 pm

" The project has been planned or located in the manner that will be most compatible with the greatest public good and the least private injury."

There's no difference for Caltrain and riders don't that live in our city whether Palo Alto is grade separated or not. The service will be the same regardless.

The only public good is for Palo Alto. And also the most private injury should someone stupid push hybrid.

Your logic will lead towards just closing all the crossings.


2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2019 at 4:30 pm

"The hippies were fun. Too bad they got displaced by the yuppies. Palo Alto became really uptight when that happened."

Uh, the hippies became the yuppies. At least the ones that decided that showering was a good idea.


3 people like this
Posted by Martin
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 8, 2019 at 9:00 pm

There is no need for any change. The intersection works as well as it can. I don't go that way when it is busy. The problem is with the bicyclists that use Alma instead of Bike Blvd. Why have a Bike Blvd and then the bicyclists use Alma?


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 8, 2019 at 9:47 pm

^ Is that a suggestion to prohibit cars on our bike boulevards?


1 person likes this
Posted by Disrupt and reorg
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2019 at 11:32 am

No transit agency has taken responsibility for managing grade seperation planning across the region. Why? Because VTA is holding the Measure B money for grade seps in Santa Clara County improvements in their tight fist and they really don't care about anything except BART and south county. MTC can't work across county lines because VTA doesn't cooperate.

Caltrain can't take control because they have no reliable income source and no money to lead large-scale planning across the entire line. It is amazing that they accomplish what they do with the resources they have.

We need to have one regional transit agency. It cannot be lead by VTA--one of the most dysfunctional transit agencies in the nation. It is time to disrupt the system and reorg.


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

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