Town Square

Post a New Topic

Palo Alto looks to empower citizens group on rail redesign

Original post made on Sep 10, 2019

Seeking to bring clarity to Palo Alto's convoluted debate over the future of its rail corridor, the City Council agreed on Monday to expand the powers of a committee tasked with narrowing down the city's options.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, September 9, 2019, 11:43 PM

Comments (27)

12 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2019 at 4:43 am

Faced with a similar problem, Mountain View and Sunnyvale have both settled on the "low cost" alternative for their crossings.

Palo Alto started by eliminating the low cost option from consideration and are now left with an unappetizing choice of expensive boondoggles what will struggle to attract funding partners.

Mountain View and Sunnyvale have chosen to close the lesser of their crossings to traffic, replacing to with a pedestrian/bicycle underpass. For the major road, they have chosen to lower the road 20 feet, leaving the rail line unaltered.

In 2014 the Rengstroff road underpass was estimated to cost $117 million which includes $18 million to acquire residential properties.

A similar solution at Charleston Road would need to acquire about 10 properties valued at $28 million.

Closing Meadow Drive and building a pedestrian underpass could be done with minimal or no residential property takes.

With this solution, Meadow and Charleston grade separations can be done separately, so the new committee only has to scrape together $130 million to get started on the Charleston crossing.

Mountain View, Rengstroff alternatives: Web Link
Sunnyvale grade separation options considered: Web Link


9 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 10, 2019 at 7:52 am

There is no pressing need for grade separation. It's not relevant that Mountain View and Sunnyvale rushed to build something without knowing the facts. Caltrain's projections are pie-in-the-sky and not based on reality. Even if Caltrain does run trains every few minutes during rush hour, that leaves 140 hours per week that trains are not running non-stop and trains can easily cross at existing points. It makes absolutely no sense to close crossings or spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build new crossings because it might be slightly harder to cross the train tracks by car during a few hours each weekday.

There is absolutely a need for bike / ped crossings somewhere near Charleston / Meadow. That's what the city should focus on. That's a project all of Palo Alto would benefit from, not a project that spends hundreds of millions of dollars and possibly takes away homes.


5 people like this
Posted by Morris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2019 at 11:48 am

"Mountain View and Sunnyvale have chosen to close the lesser of their crossings to traffic, replacing to with a pedestrian/bicycle underpass."

Palo Alto did exactly this at California Avenue in the early 1960's. The underpass is still there.

"Closing Meadow Drive and building a pedestrian underpass could be done with minimal or no residential property takes."

Close Meadow, Churchill, Charleston and Palo Alto Ave. to through traffic and you will no longer have any grade crossings in need of separation at low cost and with no property takings but will have eliminated a great deal of cross-town connectivity.

I see no indication that any of these myriad rail committees will interface in any way with the ultimate owners of the rail infrastructure: PCJPB. Palo Alto can dream about gold-lined trenches and tunnels but if they don't pass muster with PCJPB then it's so much wheel spinning. The first things PCJPB will look at are water-table issues and the risk of flooding immobilizing their trains.

One concludes that the Mountain View and Sunnyvale plans do not call for submerging the tracks and were quick to get approved by PCJPB.


6 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2019 at 11:58 am

TBM always trying to tell us in Palo Alto how we should be doing things. So, you interested in being forced to give up your home to a person who will be losing their property under your scenarios?

Didn't think so.


6 people like this
Posted by Morris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2019 at 11:59 am

"It makes absolutely no sense to close crossings or spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build new crossings because it might be slightly harder to cross the train tracks by car during a few hours each weekday."

"Caltrain's projections are pie-in-the-sky and not based on reality."

Agreed

JR makes a good point.

What's the difference if the crossings are impassable a small percentage of the time due to crossing trains vs being impassable 100% of the time because the city closed the crossings? Maybe appoint yet another rail committee to study this question?


16 people like this
Posted by Revolve
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 10, 2019 at 12:27 pm

Don't worry the entire region will wait while Palo alto takes another decade to Make a decision. No rush. The world revolves around Palo alto.


9 people like this
Posted by Morris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2019 at 12:28 pm

Spend your millions on ADA-compliant bike/ped underpasses and forget about auto traffic.

No elevating train tracks, no risk of immobilized trains due to flooding, no property takings, no PCJPB approval needed, no "Berlin wall" dividing the city, no loss of driveway access, no loss of privacy due to elevated trains peering into back yards, no shoofly track.

Better appoint another rail committee to study this.


3 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2019 at 12:52 pm

If Palo Alto takes no action, Caltrain will eventually update the at-grade crossings to a 110mph compatible quad gate design. CHSRA recently produced a video simulation showing what such a crossing would be like: Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2019 at 1:21 pm

The point as I see it as that already some of the crossings (both at grade and also those not at grade) are not passable, depending of course on the definition of at passable.

I have attempted to cross at Meadow and at Churchill and had to wait for more than one green light to cross, and that is not because of the gates closing. When the gates close the amount of time it takes for a green light sequence can be very long particularly if a second train comes along.

Traffic on San Antonio, Oregon and Embarcadero is often at a standstill even though these are supposed to be arteries or expressways. We have two high schools both on the same side of the tracks which means that as a rough estimate half our high school students have to cross those tracks on a twice daily basis by whatever means they can.

With even a slight increase in the number of trains running through Palo Alto at commute times, these crossings will definitely be impacted even more than they are at present. The tracks do divide the town in half and regardless of whether people are crossing the tracks to get to work using 101 or to get to school or jobs at Stanford, Cal Ave or SandHill, these crossings will need to increase their volume if the number of trains increase.


Like this comment
Posted by Train neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 10, 2019 at 1:29 pm

Train neighbor is a registered user.

Error needs correction: "Expanded Community Advisory Committee (known as XPAC)"

Should read "Expanded Community Advisory Committee (known as XCAP)"


Like this comment
Posted by Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Sep 10, 2019 at 1:59 pm

Gennady Sheyner is a registered user.

Thanks, Train Neighbor. Sorry for the typo. I made the correction.


4 people like this
Posted by Staying Young Through Kids
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2019 at 3:22 pm

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

@Me 2 "TBM always trying to tell us in Palo Alto how we should be doing things. So, you interested in being forced to give up your home to a person who will be losing their property under your scenarios?

Didn't think so."

If (when) properties need to be taken for the project I’d imagine the authorities overseeing the project will have no trouble finding a home or two to swap folks into.

With housing prices, a decade of rail construction, insane traffic, and the densification required by ABAG there ought to be plenty of folks willing to cash out and head to Bend OR, Austin TX, Denver CO…etc…

I'm a supporter of walking and biking for those who are able to make that work, but I'd beg of the XCAP group to look to make Palo Alto a car friendly community with an INCREASED number of crossings. Closing even one of our geographically distributed crossings should be a nonstarter. Please use grade separation to INCREASE our automobile, bike, and pedestrian crossing capacity!!

To borrow from a popular catchphrase "Feel the Berm!!"


2 people like this
Posted by Morris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2019 at 4:57 pm

How many residences do the two hybrid solutions contemplate taking? How many at Meadow and how many at Charleston? I've combed through the AECOM literature and still do not have a handle on these numbers.

If it's a small number, how about offering 2X FMV for the properties? If someone offered me $6 million for my $3 million residence it might go a long way toward easing the pain of relocating. This in combination with a hybrid would likely be cheaper than the shoofly track that would need to be built for a trench or tunnel.

Almost no one would oppose a trench or tunnel except maybe those who live along Alma in close proximity to a shoofly track. The wild cards are PCJPB and the agencies involved with the creek crossings and water-table issues this plan would encounter. As it has been for many years, Palo Alto and its myriad rail committees are operating in a vacuum, not interfacing with PCJPB, so these questions remain imponderables.


11 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2019 at 5:24 pm

Sounds like another ploy to delay making a decision, drive up costs, and limit our options when we finally do try to build something.


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 10, 2019 at 9:09 pm

If someone offered me $6 million for my $3 million residence, half would go to taxes.


Like this comment
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2019 at 10:25 pm

"How many residences do the two hybrid solutions contemplate taking? How many at Meadow and how many at Charleston? I've combed through the AECOM literature and still do not have a handle on these numbers."

The estimates for property takings were from an earlier study by Hatch Mott McDonald. The estimates depend on maintaining the ability to turn onto these streets from Alma. To maintain them, it requires a higher number of property takings because Alma would have to be lowered, which would require taking property along Alma as well.

For Meadow, estimated 11-14 property takings and 3-4 partial. For Charleston, 18 full, 3 partial. Churchill was studied as well - 16-33 full, 3-4 partial.

Web Link

"If it's a small number, how about offering 2X FMV for the properties? If someone offered me $6 million for my $3 million residence it might go a long way toward easing the pain of relocating."

If of course, you have no ties to your neighborhood and presumably no school aged children in PAUSD, this would be an easy cash out. Of course, given our lack of housing, I think it would be ironic to reduce family housing supply even more in Palo Alto.

"This in combination with a hybrid would likely be cheaper than the shoofly track that would need to be built for a trench or tunnel."

Still obsessed about a shoo-fly track on Alma? Given that you're changing the elevation of both the tracks and the street in the hybrid scenario, who says you won't need a shoo-fly track this scenario as well?


2 people like this
Posted by Morris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2019 at 1:01 am

So what's the solution if we eliminate anything that requires taking residential properties such as hybrids, and eliminate a viaduct from consideration for being unpopular with the citizenry.

The citizens won't object to a trench/tunnel but we've no idea whether PCJPB would go for it. We don't have an answer to this because our myriad rail committees aren't reaching out to PCJPB after 10+ years of deliberating.

Again, I've read where Burlingame considered a trench/tunnel and concluded it would be impractical to keep dry rear-around so they discarded the idea.

So where does this leave Palo Alto?


5 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2019 at 4:41 am

"How many residences do the two hybrid solutions contemplate taking?"

The roads at Charleston and Meadow can be lowered about 5 feet without taking any properties, but then the rail has to be raised by 15 feet, causing a significant "Berlin wall" effect that will reduce neighboring property values.

Digging the road ever deeper takes successively more properties but reduces the height of the Berlin wall.

Lowering the road by 20 feet eliminates the need to raise the rail and the expense of a shoo-fly.

Is the cost of taking properties for a 20 foot road underpass less than the collective loss in property values caused by a Berlin wall?


Like this comment
Posted by Morris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2019 at 6:49 am

Those questions are tradeoffs the many rail committees will have to ponder.


1 person likes this
Posted by Morris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2019 at 7:01 am

Learn a lesson from Burlingame:

"In Burlingame, where residents and city leaders initially preferred a trench for the train, studies showed that it would be difficult and costly to keep the trench dry during rainy season. Palo Alto's roadway underpass at Oregon Expressway often floods in heavy rains."

Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Morris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2019 at 7:08 am

"For people who have been following the process, a major cause for concern among people who live near the tracks is the prospect that grade separation might require that houses be demolished. In the South Palo Alto area where this concern was the greatest because houses are near the tracks and cross streets, the most recent design updates suggest that no houses would need to be removed in the options being considered. There are a few locations where driveways would need to be modified, but the driveways would continue to provide full access to the houses. "

Web Link


18 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2019 at 11:39 am

The best thing Palo Alto can do is NOTHING. Twenty years from now when self-driving cars put Caltrain out of business, Palo Alto will look like the smartest guys in the room. San Carlos, Redwood City, and Mountain View will all be stuck trying to figure out what to do with communities blighted by very expensive, ugly, white elephants.


14 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2019 at 5:54 pm

@Morris - No property takings, they say? If you can find the designs, I'd love to see them. My sense is that they'll just be lifting the tracks higher and depress very little. Technically still a hybrid, but essentially would be a berm.

@Ahem - I think that's what will happen. We'll just end up closing all at-grade crossings. Heck, Caltrain just reported a slight drop in ridership (surprised PAO hasn't picked up on it), which tells me, again, that all these 20 year ridership projections are a bunch of hooey.


9 people like this
Posted by relentlesscactus
a resident of another community
on Sep 12, 2019 at 6:28 am

#Ahem you know not of what you speak. I am a transportation planner in rail. Self-driving cars when ready which is very far off require road infrastructure and even with communication between vehicles the theoretical capacity of such a smart road for limited segments cannot approach the passenger carrying capacity of rail.


2 people like this
Posted by Garrett Smith
a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2019 at 2:50 pm

I’m actually in Mountain View.

Build a tunnel that is well lighted, wide for pedestrians and bicyclists and other forms of light, single-person transportation (scooters, boosted boards, etc.). It Hass to feel welcoming and safe to get the majority of people to ride their bikes through it. Avid cyclists like me will go through the tunnels even when there is no bike lane at risk. But most people won’t do that. I can’t say I blame them.

It’s nice that I can commute everywhere by bicycle, but the commute isn’t always nice. It’s often inconvenient and often very dangerous.

Bicycle infrastructure here is bad. There is a lane on the side of the road for bicycles/parking. It’s often full of gravel and sticks. This is obviously not feasible as when there is a parked car there, the bicycle is obstructed and must weave into traffic. Very unsafe.

Bicycle commuting should be safe and fast. It should be safe for people who want to bike at 10 miles an hour and people who want to bike at 20 miles an hour. Bike lanes have to be wide. They have to be clearly marked, separated from the cars, well lighted, and free of debris.

Although I take great restaurant bicycling everywhere, many of my colleagues do not feel safe on the road and us choose to drive rather than commute by bicycle. Note that they would commute by bicycle if it was safe. But it is not safe. People do not sit feel safe when they’re crossing over the 101 overpass and have to merge with cars that are exiting the freeway and cars that are trying to enter the freeway. Those intersections are already dangerous. On a bicycle alongside large buses, it’s a deadly situation.

But as for train crossings… The train crossings are inconvenient. The best we have is the San Antonio station which has a narrow, winding Corridor and tunnel that is shared with bicyclist and pedestrians. This greatly slows down my commute by about two minutes. It’s also unsafe. Imagine trying to get through there in a hurry and there are people walking there, looking at their cell phones, pushing babies in strollers, etc. and I’ve come from going 25 miles an hour in the street trying to slow down to 5 mph through the tunnel. Obviously I don’t want to slow down and I want to keep going.


6 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 7, 2019 at 7:56 pm

They are proposing to make Embarcadero 6 lanes! What??!!! That's like a freeway. NO!
And while asking us to pay a pretty penny to destroy our town.


6 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 7, 2019 at 7:58 pm

The best thing Palo Alto can do is NOTHING


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields


All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Legends Pizza Co. replaces Palo Alto Pizza Co.
By Elena Kadvany | 10 comments | 2,607 views

Premarital and Couples: 10 Tips for the Holidays
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 2,335 views

What is a "ton" of carbon dioxide anyway?
By Sherry Listgarten | 13 comments | 2,233 views

Do city officials ever consider giving taxpayers a break?
By Diana Diamond | 18 comments | 1,146 views

HIIT
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 969 views

 

The holidays are here!

From live music to a visit with Santa, here's a look at some local holiday activities to help you get into the spirit of the season.

VIEW