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Much ado about Churchill: Plans for busy rail crossing drive wedge between neighbors

Original post made on Nov 22, 2019

The battle over Churchill Avenue's future in Palo Alto's grade-separation project has set off a political storm, pitting neighborhoods against each other and launching a fresh round of petitions and counter-petitions.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, November 22, 2019, 6:52 AM

Comments (83)

36 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2019 at 9:22 am

Let's just call the "viaduct" what it really is... an elevated freeway for trains. Right through the middle of Palo Alto.


17 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2019 at 10:54 am

I don't live near Churchill but I do use it frequently and my kids used it for school. I can understand that this is very problematic for both sides. I see the pros and I see the cons.

Unfortunately, the biggest con would be leaving it as it is. Churchill is a very necessary route and without it traffic in all directions would get snarled.

I am at the stage of saying that I don't really care what they do as long as it is not closed but that they get on with it quickly. Otherwise it will be like the bridge over 101, very much more costly.


22 people like this
Posted by Concerned longtime PA resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 22, 2019 at 11:39 am

Though I empathize with Churchill homeowners in fear of losing their homes, I believe it is very selfish to propose widening Embarcadero and adding stoplight to the Kingsley junction with out considering the overall heightened gridlock at this major thoroughfare. Is worsening traffic here that will affect Alma and Embarcadero traffic in North Palo Alto worth it to save the homes on the one block of Churchill by Alma? Please, let’s look at the big picture!


20 people like this
Posted by duveneck
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 22, 2019 at 12:10 pm

Many people with homes in the threatened areas have either been there for years and have no/reduced mortgage, or they have sacrificed greatly to purchase the home. Especially in the current housing market, there would be no comparable place for them in Palo Alto. An eminent domain land grab exercised in this way is theft at the highest level. This would be life-changing. Another solution must be found.


18 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 22, 2019 at 12:17 pm

"Though I empathize with Churchill homeowners in fear of losing their homes, I believe it is very selfish to propose widening Embarcadero and adding stoplight to the Kingsley junction with out considering the overall heightened gridlock at this major thoroughfare."

I believe it is very selfish to demand that other people's houses be taken to save you 5 minutes of driving when other solutions that don't require eminent domain are available

FTFY


46 people like this
Posted by Cal Ave Neighbor
a resident of Mayfield
on Nov 22, 2019 at 12:32 pm

It would seem that leaving Churchill the way it is makes the most sense. Nobody loses their home, hundreds of millions are saved, the drivers who can’t tolerate the new wait times will find an alternate route. And during non commute hours and weekends and holidays Churchill will function as it always has as another convenient way to travel East and West across the tracks.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Old Palo Alto

on Nov 22, 2019 at 12:33 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


41 people like this
Posted by Carl Jones
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 22, 2019 at 12:37 pm

Carl Jones is a registered user.

There are good reasons to provide grade separation at Meadow and Charleston.
But has the following been considered?
Why not (a) leave Churchill the way it is for cars, and (b) build a good, big, wide underpass for peds/bicyclists?
The kids would have a safe way to get to the High School and cars can continue to wait for the trains if they do not want to take another route. I am not sure why leaving it open for cars 'at grade' is terrible. No taking of property, no road closure, much less expense. And no continued 'dithering' because all other choices will hurt/offend/inconvenience some portion of the population.
What am I missing?
(thanks @Cal Ave Neighbor)


5 people like this
Posted by Green Acres parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 22, 2019 at 1:04 pm

Closing Churchill Ave would allow the city to remove some of the turn lanes on Alma St. This would make the lanes wider. The lanes are currently very narrow. I've never seen such narrow lanes elsewhere and I've read that very narrow (and very wide) lanes tend to have more accidents.


11 people like this
Posted by Old Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 22, 2019 at 1:08 pm

If people lose their homes to eminent domain, will they be able to transfer their property tax basis to a new home? And will the 'gains' on their home sale be taxed if they buy a new home in Palo Alto?


15 people like this
Posted by YSK
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 22, 2019 at 1:20 pm

I lived on the 100 block of Churchill near Alma for over 15 years. Another neighbor and I were relentless in our goal to get speed bumps on Churchill. We got very tired of people coming from El Camino, seeing the light at the tracks turn green, and hitting the tracks at a speed that made the car actually jump a little off the ground. We got nowhere, nobody would listen to us.

We lost countless cats on Churchill. All killed by speeders. My neighbors aldo lost pets on Churchill. The intersection itself was not a problem, occasionally somebody has an issue with a car and it gets hit. The main problem was speeding. People treating that street like it's the freeway. Also, the usual group of entitled jerks who would not let people on the even side of the 100 block back out of their driveways or scream at them as they waited to turn into their driveways. I remember once being blocked for 15 minutes. Nobody would let me back out until I basically threatened to hit somebody's car. You used to be able to park on both sides of the street and then they changed it to just the right side if you're facing El Camino, on the 100 block.

The idea people could lose their houses because of the train tracks is absolutely ridiculous and so wrong. It is not any homeowner's fault that the city council is allowing this place to expand so much that we are experiencing severe infrastructure issues. We can't accommodate e everybod. It's time to scale back.


35 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 22, 2019 at 1:21 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

How about the city have a test run. Close Churchill, when school is in session. Leave it open to bikes and pedestrians.

Keep it closed for at least a month. See where the traffic goes. I'm sure the city will get more input when people around the city, workers at Stanford, emergency services, etc... experience the impacts.


8 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Nov 22, 2019 at 1:39 pm

Samuel,

You don’t seem to understand that the number of trains will double. Your idea has no practical value. How are you going to simulate doubling the trains? And if you wait until the trains double, it will take att least 5 years to solve the problem.

I guess you want them to program the gates to come down even when there is no train. That experiment would last less than a week before the citizens rioted in City Hall.


22 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 22, 2019 at 1:44 pm

I'm not fond of an elevated train but one positive impact could be less possibility for suicide since it will be more difficult to access. There are no really good solutions to the traffic problem longer term other than trying to reduce vehicle usage.


8 people like this
Posted by Former Palo Altan
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2019 at 2:44 pm

Interesting that there is no mention of improving the rail crossings at Charleston and Meadow streets. These intersections will also be affected by the increased number of trains, and are more dangerous than the Churchill crossing according to the FRA.

From the article: "The Churchill rail crossing is deemed the 15th most dangerous in the state by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)...Two other city rail crossings, at Charleston Road and East Meadow Drive, are Nos. 4 and 5 on the FRA list."

Given the much higher danger at the crossings on the South side of Palo Alto, I'd be interested to know what, if any, safety mitigations are proposed for those intersections.


7 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 22, 2019 at 3:02 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

Chris,
I don't understand your point. People are postulating about what would happen if we close Churchill. Currently, the majority of those concerned live near that intersection. Due a test run and close Churchill to automobile traffic. The number of trains is irrelevant.
You say that people will riot at City Hall. Exactly! Once we see the impact of closing Churchill, that option will most likely be taken out of the running.


7 people like this
Posted by Dan Melick
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2019 at 3:55 pm

If the closure of Churchill to car traffic is selected, why not make the bike underpass straight, starting on the East side of Alma and going straight across coming up on the bike path alongside of Churchill on the west side. This eliminates the stop light on Alma at Churchill. Churchill could simply have a stop sign at Alma.

Also the Alma overpass bridge at Embarcadero should be widened so there is no northbound lane reduction just to cross the bridge. This is always a bottleneck.


40 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 22, 2019 at 4:50 pm

Why not allow every person who lives in a Palo Alto home to vote? I bet the majority would vote to keep Churchill open. Seeing how Palo Alto city operates, it will take the LOUD minority vote to close down Churchill while everyone wants it kept open to traffic.


33 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 22, 2019 at 4:59 pm

For the few select folks who will lose to a land grab... let's face it. It happens all throughout North America and it has been done in the Bay area and likely in Palo Alto. The only difference is, the few folks on Churchill are very vocal and self advocate (which is great). However, if you do what is best for the greater good, the number of folks who will benefit from Churchill closure, compared to the folks who will now be forced to use Embarcadero and Oregon daily, as well as the increased gridlock, and the tremendous amount of folks whose homes will be impacted negatively by the excess traffic and nonstop congestion ... the Churchill folks are much smaller in number.

Also, when one "widens the roadways" of Oregon, what exactly is that? A non-land grab?
It's laughable that Churchill folks are advocating for the folks who live in other parts of Palo Alto to have, the very thing they despise and don't want for their neighborhood.

I suggest that if we are going to close down Churchill, the city of Palo Alto should put up every single street as a potential closure to traffic, and ask the Palo Altans vote on it.

For instance, closing down Stanford Avenue to traffic (except pedestrian and cyclists)... bet you will have more folks coming out form College Terrace and Stanford homes (who live there) advocating for that closure than the number of folks who want Churchill closed.

Why stop at Churchill? Let's close down El Camino to traffic as well. And Alma. And Stanford Avenue.

So a few consultants agree to closing Churchill. I bet you can also find consultants saying closing Churchill will have long term adverse effects. Why is it a few on the city Council and a few on the committees get to decide whether to close down Churchill?

Give it a vote to the entire population of Palo Alto and see what the city of Palo Alto wants. Other than the few folks who own property on Churchill - we want Churchill to be open to car traffic.


30 people like this
Posted by We should consider property takings
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2019 at 5:03 pm

We should consider property takings is a registered user.

I really hope that we will consider property takings when we are evaluating options for these crossings. For a good price it can be a win-win. There are many houses for sale in our city as nice as or nicer than those close to the train tracks. Maybe a house could even be moved to a new location. This will be come with a cost, but if we need to pay extra for 10-20 properties, I believe it can be money well spent.

If I had a house near the tracks I would consider and even welcome an offer, if only to avoid living in the middle of so much construction for many years, following which I would have noise and vibrations from an increasing number of trains. Pay me double what my house is worth in today's market and call it a deal.


13 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Nov 22, 2019 at 5:23 pm

Old Steve is a registered user.

I can't hold back anymore. Caltrain is already working at night installing the Electrification project up and down the Peninsula. Other cities have plans and grant money to move forward with design. PA will lag, costs will be higher, compromises will be required. See the adjacent story on the "Holman Bike Bridge". From $9 million to $20 million in six years. Now scale up two orders of magnitude for PA Grade Separations.

BTW -- The weekly has had good coverage of the options at Charleston and Meadow, but you do have to pay attention.


9 people like this
Posted by To AHEM
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 22, 2019 at 5:23 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


1 person likes this
Posted by Ex Paly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 22, 2019 at 5:44 pm

Michael Price's proposed redesign of the Churchill crossing is really worthy of consideration. No viaduct, no homes taken, no diverting Churchill traffic onto other streets, no war among neighbors. It might need to be tweaked so that no portion of it encroaches on Caltrain property.

Worth reading:

Web Link

I'm skeptical of Caltrain's projections for expanded service and fear it could turn out to be so much vaporware. That there is not a sample timetable that I can find for their expanded service is telling. They'll need to come up with fare-paying passengers to fill those 20 trains per hour for it to work.


Like this comment
Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 22, 2019 at 6:29 pm

mjh is a registered user.

I had heard that Caltrans (or whoever it is owns the railroad right of way) is going to close all the at grade crossings up and down the line because of the increased train frequency. So keeping it open as is now may not be an option. Personally I would like to keep it open during non-commute hours when there are fewer trains and close it during commute hours. But I have heard that is a non-starter.


3 people like this
Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 22, 2019 at 6:33 pm

mjh is a registered user.

@ Ex Paly. All the developers who are required to mitigate traffic/parking for new office construction claim the added employees will take the train. I believe at one time Stanford had claimed in their (temporarily withdrawn) GUP application that traffic wouldn't be increased because of their 9,000 additional employees would all be commuting by train.


4 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Nov 22, 2019 at 10:11 pm

Caltrain (legal name: Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board) owns the Caltrain right-of-way. How would it make sense to close Churchill during commute hours? That is when the biggest backups occur and it is when the largest increase in train frequency will occur.


15 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 22, 2019 at 11:16 pm

eileen is a registered user.

I think the viaduct is the best option, especially if it is done well. If it is landscaped in a way that screens it from neighbors, it can be quite beautiful. Other than a tunnel, this is by far the best option. Churchill is an essential acess street and with a viaduct, it will be so much safer! The area under the viaduct can be beautifully landscaped.!


2 people like this
Posted by Martin
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 23, 2019 at 12:27 am

I think it would be wise and learn about history a bit. When SF decided to tear down the highways, there were predictions of massive traffic. People wondered where all the cars will go. In the end, the traffic just disappeared. Enough people found other ways to get around.

Same with hybrid approach. Are there communities that live with a similar design? How to people deal with privacy? What do they do about the wall? Are there any creative decorations?

I can understand being fearful of change, but just how people feel better after chatting with others about shared experiences, rather than drive to meetings, perhaps go visit and talk to other communities.


16 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2019 at 1:08 am

Let's learn from history. Recent history. Elevated freeways whether for cars or trains cause blight. I can't believe we are even discussing spending $500M to build one of these monstrosities when enlightened cities all over the world are desperately trying to figure out how to tear them down.

The destruction of the elevated Embarcadero Freeway by the Loma Prieta earthquake was the best thing that ever happened to San Francisco.

From the August 1, 2017 San Francisco Chronicle:

An ode to the Embarcadero Freeway, the blight by the bay
Web Link


12 people like this
Posted by Ex Paly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 23, 2019 at 3:13 am

Go to your back yard and look up 10 - 20 feet. Now imagine a train whizzing by at 40 - 50 mph with a clear view into your back yard.

I think I would rather sell my home to the city and move.


6 people like this
Posted by Breakfordecenthousing
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 23, 2019 at 3:18 am

Those apposed to closing Churchill are many of those same voices opposed to building multi family housing near transit centers. Furthermore these squeaky wheels believe those coming by train daily into Palo Alto for the overly robust labor market, albeit low and moderate range, have no right to feel “entitled” to live where the work is. You can’t demand and vote away one answer without giving up the solution proposed and advacated for another.


13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 23, 2019 at 4:24 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


8 people like this
Posted by To AHEM
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 23, 2019 at 4:44 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Like this comment
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Nov 23, 2019 at 8:27 am

@@@Ex Paly "Michael Price's proposed redesign of the Churchill crossing is really worthy of consideration. No viaduct, no homes taken, no diverting Churchill traffic onto other streets, no war among neighbors. Web Link

I'm skeptical that such a design really fits in the space available. California Department of Transport Highway design manual Web Link indicates that for a new construction, preferred lane width is 12 feet, a multilane undivided highway should have 8 foot paved shoulders, and a single ramp should have a 4 foot shoulder on the left and 8 foot shoulder on the right. The proposed layout adds up to:
2+8+12+12+12+12+8+1+4+12+8 = 91 feet.
Alma Street is about 66 feet wide including sidewalk. Underpasses built in the 60s can't be used as a design guide.


18 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 23, 2019 at 9:36 am

Sorry, totally opposed to closing Churchill. That will throw way more cars onto Embarcadero and Oregon Expwy. 4500/ day to be exact, as Churchill has 9000 cars use it/day. No. Traffic is congested enough on Embarcadero and Oregon. Churchill is a vital artery through Palo Alto and it must remain open. Make it safer, sure, but don't close it.

Those of us who live near Embarcadero say no, no to more traffic, no to more pollution, no.


9 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 23, 2019 at 10:07 am

"I really hope that we will consider property takings when we are evaluating options for these crossings. "

I'm so glad you are willing to donate your house in Midtown for the cause. So big of you.


12 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 23, 2019 at 10:18 am

"NIMBY-ism is not wanting a highspeed rail to come through Palo Alto. NIMBY-ism is not wanting a viaduct to accommodate the highspeed rail. NIMBY-ism is not wanting a highspeed rail station in Palo Alto."

Actually not wanting high speed rail has more to do with how fraudulent the business plan is and stupid the idea is in general.

It's taking money that could be used for local transit, where it's really needed.

But really it's the lack of political savviness that Diridon and his henchmen really lacked in pushing HSR through. If they went Altamont Pass, this would be a nonissue. However, Diridon of course insisted on making sure HSR went through his namesake station. Hell, he could have offered to allocate HSR budget to tunnel all the way from Diridon Station to San Francisco and gotten what he wanted. But he was too dumb to figure that out.

He and the rest of the HSR mafia thought they could just impose what they wanted on the Bay Area.

What an idiot.

Instead the CA HSR folks were held up just enough to let everyone realize what a sham and fraud the whole project is. Even if the so-called NIMBYs would have been placated by a tunneled solution in the Bay Area, it still would be a fraud of a project with BS projection. Just like Caltrain 2040 projections.


9 people like this
Posted by Long View
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2019 at 10:59 am

" City of San Carlos has grade separation already."

Personally, I think the elevated tracks there cut the town in half in a way that alienates one side from the other and can never be repaired.

Don't be pennywise and pound foolish. A tunnel is expensive, but financed over 30 years, and making companies pay their fair share, it's doable. Makes the most sense. Give one of them a 5 year exclusive right to implement their scooters or whatever smart vehicles they want on the throughway above, and let 'em bid for it.

No train problem at Churchill anymore, but the possibility of a bike, pedestrian, and small vehicle throughway across town is priceless.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2019 at 11:34 am

Although I didn't seriously consider it previously, I've come around to thinking that just closing Churchill, and, building a pedestrian/bike undercrossing is the best way to go. We may even see a reduction in East Bay commuter traffic on Embarcadero over the same period, because of the massive developments going up in EPA and east Menlo Park that will effectively block out a lot of commuters from the East Bay during rush hour. I think the lights in front of T&C could be re-re-engineered to improve throughput and we might be no worse off than now.


9 people like this
Posted by Martin
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 23, 2019 at 11:48 am

How do elevated tracks cut city in half in a way that current tracks don't? Do you trespass in areas where there are no crossings?

If anything, elevated are less dividing because you can have more pedestrian crossings than before.


4 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 23, 2019 at 12:08 pm

"Let's have a larger vision here. An urban planner would likely suggest building a viaduct and then to make the lands near the highspeed rail become taller buildings with more housing. THese could be low rise condominiums. Then as one moves away from the condominiums, you get townhouses. Then after that... ,you get single family homes."

Let's play pretend Urban Planner! They probably would also suggest making Middlefield wider, adding (instead of cutting) VTA service and upside zoning between Oregon and San Antonio Road. We probably should take some homes and apartment buildings to do it as well.

"How do elevated tracks cut city in half in a way that current tracks don't? "

Just look at San Francisco. The difference that tearing down the Embarcadero and Central Freeways have done to the waterfront and Hayes Valley, respectively, is striking. Yes, cars are different than trains, but Octavia and Embarcadero are both much wider than Caltrain ROW and it's made a huge difference.

"If anything, elevated are less dividing because you can have more pedestrian crossings than before."

You presume walking access is enough. If anything, taking the freeways down made walking across Octavia less accessible. But the impact on the neighborhood was striking. I lived in SF when the Central Freeway was taken down. I was totally against it as it slowed my access to 101. However, I can't deny the very positive impact to Hayes Valley and in retrospect, I should have been a supporter.


9 people like this
Posted by Ex Paly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 23, 2019 at 1:21 pm

The more posts I read here, the better the do-nothing option looks.


7 people like this
Posted by Long View
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2019 at 1:25 pm

"How do elevated tracks cut city in half in a way that current tracks don't? Do you trespass in areas where there are no crossings?"

I don't know, @ Martin. Let's build a giant wall in the middle of your living room and see if you get the picture.


11 people like this
Posted by Long View
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2019 at 1:30 pm

There is a reason that open living/kitchen areas are popular in homes these days. Walls literally separate people. It works that way in communities, too. If it were between North and South Palo Alto, I'd be all for it because maybe it's time South Palo Alto stopped paying to support all the civic amenities centered in the North that residents can't really use anymore but instead created their own community. It would be nice to have City Hall equally represent us.

But, this bisect town the wrong way. It's perfect if we're creating a throughway for bikes and alternative modes of transportation that would be accessible from all parts of town. Elevating the track is quite literally a way to divide Palo Alto forever or unite us. It's worth the very doable investment to underground the train and use the right-of-way it creates.


3 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Nov 23, 2019 at 2:06 pm

@ "It's worth the very doable investment to underground the train and use the right-of-way it creates."

PA dropped the underground option because it was NOT financially "doable" Web Link , and that was for the cheap 2 track bottleneck tunnel that Caltrain would reject.

What do you know that they don't?


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2019 at 3:32 pm

Let's face it. We have already lost one crossing in Palo Alto when the Cal Ave crossing was closed and a pedestrian tunnel replaced it.

This means that getting to the Caltrain station takes much longer by car and has put a lot more pressure on Oregon than when it was open.

Local residents complain about all the extra parking due to the crossing being closed and people using the tunnel to get to Cal Ave businesses, I have done it myself. Can you imagine all the extra parking if Churchill were closed as teachers, students, all decided to park on the streets instead of on campus?

Really? Have those of you thinking it is a good idea to close Churchill crossing paid attention to the fact that it would add additional parking to the neighborhood?

California crossing was closed before many of us lived here, but it was a crossing and the decision to close it still causes dissent.

No to closing Churchill crossing. The repercussions would be horrendous.


12 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2019 at 3:35 pm

The only thing stopping Caltrain from going underground is a lack of imagination ... and political courage.

San Francisco's political elites somehow found a way to put Caltrain underground through San Francisco. San Jose's political elites somehow found a way to put BART underground through San Jose.

Do the right thing. Put Caltrain underground. Pay for it with a tax on commercial office space. Office developers and owners are the biggest beneficiaries of Caltain. They should pay for it.


4 people like this
Posted by Ex Paly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 23, 2019 at 7:49 pm

"San Francisco's political elites somehow found a way to put Caltrain underground through San Francisco."

Interesting point.

Will the tunnel go through property owned by Caltrain or by the City/County of San Francisco? If the latter, that's one obstacle down.


13 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2019 at 10:08 pm

@Ex Paly,

Wikipedia has a interesting history of San Francisco's 100 year long effort to bring Peninsula workers, taxpayers, and consumers into San Francisco by rail.

Web Link

Pretty obvious from the Wikipedia history of the Downtown Rail Extension that the real reason Caltrain is being electrified is so San Francisco can underground Caltrain from the outskirts of San Francisco (22nd St) to the new Transbay terminal under the Salesforce building.

It is kind of sick, but you have to admire the slick operators in San Francisco who figured out how to trick the bumpkins running Peninsula cities into spending billions of dollars on a system designed to suck economic vitality out of the Peninsula and deliver it underground to the foot of the Sales Force building in San Francisco!


9 people like this
Posted by Ex Paly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 24, 2019 at 2:06 am

Dating back to the S.P. days, for decades they've wanted to bring peninsula commuters closer to the financial district.

The article mentions a connection to CA HSR. You knew there had to be a HSR connection somewhere with its "blended approach".

The City of Palo Alto lacks the political clout of CA HSR and its enablers, Rod Diridon, Quentin Kopp and Jerry Brown.


4 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Nov 24, 2019 at 5:20 am

@ "San Francisco's political elites somehow found a way to put Caltrain underground through San Francisco. San Jose's political elites somehow found a way to put BART underground through San Jose." @

Both of these examples extend the network to new stations and create new transport options for commuters. The only reason they go underground is because there is practically no space on the surface.

A Palo Alto tunnel does not create any new transport options for commuters, on the contrary it reduces future options by narrowing the right-of-way to two tracks, when there is already plenty of space on the surface for four tracks. No transport agency or political elite outside of Palo Alto city limits would want to be associated with such a poor value-for-money boondoggle.


22 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Nov 24, 2019 at 8:05 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The only reason they go underground is because there is practically no space on the surface."

Correct!!


And that is why there should be a four track bored tunnel from San Jose to San Francisco.

Do it once and do it right.


5 people like this
Posted by Ex Paly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 24, 2019 at 12:53 pm

"that is why there should be a four track bored tunnel from San Jose to San Francisco."

You've been posting basically the same message for a couple of years now. Your phonograph needle is stuck on the same song.

How many tens of billions will your 50-mile fantasy tunnel cost and how are you going to convince voters in 3 counties/16 or so communities to fund it?

Tunnels aren't free or cheap. AFAIK Palo Alto is the only peninsula community where a train tunnel is even being discussed. Burlingame gave up on the idea. Palo Alto, with its creeks to cross and aquifers to deal with. The City can't even keep the Oregon underpass from flooding during a storm.


23 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2019 at 2:53 pm

If passenger-rail has a future, it is below ground level.

Passenger-rail technology is no longer compatible with the modern landscape and/or the dominant modes of transportation on the surface.

If Caltrain continues to try to expand above ground by taking property, dividing communities, blighting neighborhoods, extorting taxpayers, comping contractors, and funneling commerce to San Francisco, the >99% who do not use Caltrain will only learn to HATE it, and the politicians pushing it. Did the Brown-Newsom-Pelosi familia learn anything from the CalHSR boondoggle-fiasco?

Do it once, do it right. Put it underground.


3 people like this
Posted by Ex Paly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 24, 2019 at 3:24 pm

I'll pose these questions again: How much will your grand tunnel cost and how are you going to get taxpayers in all three counties to fund it?

Good luck getting the ">99% who do not use Caltrain" to approve the funding.


18 people like this
Posted by so scared
a resident of Southgate
on Nov 24, 2019 at 5:15 pm

I continue to read that people are willing to let others suffer so they dont have to drive a few more minutes. Close Churchill. It is SO SELFISH to subject anyone to an ugly Viaduct because you can't drive a few more minutes. What happened to Love they neighnbor. Drive a few more minutes and stop distroying others homes. As far as I see it, those that want a Viaduct don't have to look at it. They are far enough away - very sad.


23 people like this
Posted by Viaduct? Sound travels
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 24, 2019 at 6:11 pm

Viaduct? Sound travels is a registered user.

It's not just the view of the viaduct, it's the transmission of sound and vibration. This is not going to be a cute little monorail track. It's going to have long, heavy freight trains lumbering down it at night, as well as Caltrain trains at all times of day. The train people will say there is dampening technology that works, but the stuff I've read (I am no expert) says that homes in the vicinity cannot have their windows open, and even when they are closed they need special glass.

People who live a distance away should care. They don't hear the trains now. But they will.

Re the visual, I can tell you that the area under the cloverleaf at San Antonio and Central is pretty awful -- weeds and trash and graffiti. Why would this be nicer?

There is no great answer to this separation problem. But it'd be nice if people stopped pretending the viaduct is nice. It's not. The only thing it has going for it is it costs less than the other options.


6 people like this
Posted by Ex Paly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 24, 2019 at 6:15 pm

"I continue to read that people are willing to let others suffer so they dont have to drive a few more minutes. Close Churchill. It is SO SELFISH to subject anyone to an ugly Viaduct because you can't drive a few more minutes."

Your concern can easily be turned around: forcing traffic to congest other people's neighborhoods to have a serene Churchill is just as selfish.

If they build a viaduct at Churchill then they haven't really closed the road, have they? The idea is that cars will drive under the viaduct while the trains go overhead.

It is possible to close Churchill without building a viaduct, forcing that traffic to other streets and neighborhoods.


2 people like this
Posted by Ex Paly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 24, 2019 at 6:50 pm

"There is no great answer to this separation problem."

Man, you said it. That's the big problem with grade separation in Palo Alto.

There is so much controversy surrounding the viaduct, and it is so polarizing, I think the idea is D.O.A. for those reasons alone.

The do-nothing option looks better all the time.

If the City of Palo Alto were smart, they would long ago have sent correspondence to JPB and asked point-blank, "is a trench/tunnel on or off the table?" We would at least have some guidance.

It's not too late to send that letter.


11 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2019 at 9:18 pm

@ Ex Paly,

How much is it really going to cost to leave Caltrain above ground?


What are the health care costs associated with chronic noise and vibration?
(chronic noise significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.)

What is the social/political costs of government seizing properties?

What is the social/emotional cost of dividing a city?

What is the social/economic cost of a neighborhood destroyed by blight?


10 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 25, 2019 at 4:17 am

Welcome to Palo NIMBY.

Just to clarify: people’s homes would not be “taken”. They would receive millions for their properties and move to new homes which don’t have trains running through their backyards.

It could even be argued that quality of life would improve for these poor souls.

Everyone complains about “the traffic” but when it comes time to make sacrifices we pucker up. Hypocritical to say the least.


30 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 25, 2019 at 5:19 am

The article says consultants have a plan to make Embarcadero better for traffic. Question - Traffic on Embarcadero has been a mess for over a decade; why would it take the closure of Churchill to implement changes to clear up the Embarcadero traffic mess? The city could have done those changes now.


Posted by chris
a resident of University South

on Nov 25, 2019 at 11:16 am


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2 people like this
Posted by Gunn kid
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 25, 2019 at 2:15 pm

Hey- seeing as we are talking about tunnels & viaducts, id like to remind you guys that we have not considered the hybrid earth berm+lower road grade which will cost a lot less money in this thread.

Import a bunch of dirt and pile it up to create an earthen berm/hill where the tracks currently are and put the train on top of that. Then simply remove of the current street 1-2 meter grade before the railroad crossings and allow for cars to go through underneath the tracks and berm.

It’s way cheaper than digging a tunnel or making a viaduct, doesn’t close any crossings, and is simpler so it could be built more quickly and not run into Palo Alto’s slow construction curse.

As one other commenter mentioned landscaping around a viaduct, this is even more suitable for landscaping- an earthen hill could be beautifully landscaped.


7 people like this
Posted by Ex Paly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 25, 2019 at 7:10 pm

Hybrid crossings have been discussed many times in other threads. They would involve taking residential property.


36 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 25, 2019 at 8:54 pm

Another local newspaper has a front page story today (11/25) about the power struggle taking place between San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties over who selects Caltrain's CEO.

Currently the Samtrans board of directors selects the Caltrain CEO. In 2015 the Samtrans board selected former Redwood City councilman Jim Hartnett to head Caltrain even though Hartnett did not even meet Caltrain's own minimum job qualifications.

Minimum qualifications for the job include a bachelor's degree in business, engineering, planning, or a related discipline, and 12 years experience leading and managing a large complex and highly integrated organization.

"Hartnett's management experience was limited to overseeing a small law firm in Redwood City".

Political patronage breeds incompetence and corruption. Caltrain is just a miniature version of the giant CalHSR boondoggle-fiasco. How long until the FRA puts a hold on Caltrain's federal grant money?


4 people like this
Posted by RalphE
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 26, 2019 at 2:12 pm

Why would anyone want to keep the Churchill intersection open with Caltrain doubling the number of trains running up and down the tracks and blasting their air horns. Close the intersection and put in a underground pedestrian and bicycle tunnel like California avenue has. Replace the Embarcadero underpass with 2 lanes in each direction to match the existing Alma and Embarcadero roads.
The roads will be a lot safer for everybody.


14 people like this
Posted by sunshine
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 26, 2019 at 3:35 pm

When I first arrived here in 1964, I wondered why there were so many at grade crossings. Although I had formerly lived in a very small tow, we had very few at grade crossings that required stopping traffic when trains came by. I wondered what was wrong with the whole area.
Gradually Mountain View and Sunnyvale, then cities to the north of Palo Alto separated their grade crossings. Palo Alto stayed essentially the same. Originally the homes along the rails were nothing special (except to those who lived in them).
For over fifty years my main thoughts have been "get on with it". Palo Alto I soon realized is a town where people discuss things to distraction, but never get them done.
Now, let's get on with separating all the grade crossings.


6 people like this
Posted by Facts, please
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 26, 2019 at 4:20 pm

@Sunshine
Not sure where you you’re getting your facts.
When you got here in 1964 the grade separation at Oregon Expressway was just wrapping up construction. It was big news at the time with a narrow election supporting the Oregon Expressway construction and taking of over 100 homes. The Alma/railroad overpass at San Antonio was constructed soon afterward, I believe. Those grade separations are in addition to the older ones at Embarcadero Rd and University Ave.
Mountain View has only one grade separation which is at Shoreline, other than Highway 85.
Menlo Park and Atherton to the north do not have any of their rail crossings grade separated.


15 people like this
Posted by Chuck Walters
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 27, 2019 at 5:04 am

@Sunshine “ Palo Alto .... is a town where people discuss things to distraction, but never get them done.”

Exactly !!


6 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 27, 2019 at 8:40 am

@Facts, Web Link Grade separation at Oregon wrapped up in 1959.
The tightly contested expressway vote was June 5, 1962.
A lot of unhappy third graders in my Hoover Elementary class.


7 people like this
Posted by Churchill neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 27, 2019 at 12:32 pm

Churchill neighbor is a registered user.

As a 20 year resident, I did not like the idea of the elevated train cutting through Palo Alto - instead I have always been in favor of a trench where the train runs below grade as this would solve traffic, aesthetic, and safety concerns as in most European communities. If the trench option is not available, then a raised train option (while not ideal) appears to be the best option. Closing Churchill or any other road simply does not make sense as it will be a terrible inconvenience to every resident in the city. However, if the train is raised at Churchill, it will dramatically improve traffic and safety for all. I have reluctantly moved to the position of a raised train solution and hope to see this completed sometime in my lifetime.


15 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 27, 2019 at 1:22 pm

Great article in the Los Angeles Times about the various scavengers squabbling over the CalHSR carcass as San Francisco and Los Angeles attempt to run off with the lion's share of carrion.

In blow to bullet train, CA might shift billions to L.A. & Bay Area projects
Web Link

From the article:

"In the Bay Area, there is the possibility of further investments in Caltrain, which is already in a transition, funded by the rail authority, from diesel to electric power. The line includes dozens of grade crossings in Silicon Valley that could be eliminated with more money. Another option is to help San Francisco dig a tunnel connecting Caltrain to the new Transbay station downtown"

How much you want to bet San Francisco gets its tunnel, and Palo Alto gets the shaft?


1 person likes this
Posted by Charles Waltors
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 27, 2019 at 2:22 pm

Ahem: “ How much you want to bet San Francisco gets its tunnel, and Palo Alto gets the shaft? “

Palo Alto has been such a “friend” to CalTrain. If I was CalTrain I’d make sure not one penny went to Palo Alto.


Like this comment
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Nov 27, 2019 at 3:14 pm

@Ahem "In blow to bullet train, CA might shift billions to L.A. & Bay Area projects"

Wishful thinking by local politicians. Deutsche Bahn has done a comparative study that shows that the remaining funding is best spent in the central valley Web Link .
The remaining funding can legally only be used to construct a "portion of a high speed rail system" and there is little value in creating a portion of a high speed rail system that just duplicates what Caltrain or Metrolink already does.


2 people like this
Posted by PA is no SF
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 27, 2019 at 7:51 pm

"How much you want to bet San Francisco gets its tunnel, and Palo Alto gets the shaft?"

How can you compare Palo Alto to San Francisco? I live in Palo Alto, but I realize that San Francisco has a much denser urban landscape than Palo Alto! With tall building occupying much of the space. There is absolutely no room to put new surface tracks or roads in SF, whereas PA still has some room. And eminent domain in PA would take a few houses, while in SF it would require taking many homes, offices and assorted businesses.

Palo Alto residents can be so incredibly self-centered. Please, get over yourselves fellow Palo Altans.


9 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 27, 2019 at 10:05 pm

Hard to understand why anyone living in Palo Alto would waste their time confabulating flimsy excuses for San Francisco elites using political strong-arm tactics to take $4 billion in Federal, State, and Local tax money that was supposed to spent throughout the state, and instead using the $4 billion in a futile attempt to bail-out the investors and developers of the Salesforce building with an underground rail extension.

I sometimes think Palo Altans have been so indoctrinated with self-loathing that they have developed a type of battered wife syndrome where they have come to identify with their abuser and sincerely believe they deserve the abuse.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 28, 2019 at 3:57 pm

Palo Alto decided many years ago to do grade separation. But just because of a few Palo Alto Churchill residents, we are now hiring more consultants and suggesting to close down Churchill.
When it's been shown that grade separation reduces the complexity of traffic movements and reduces the risks of accidents. Given the number of suicides that happen in Palo Alto as well as the number of cars hit... grade separation makes the most sense with the viaduct.

Palo Alto NIMBY: Didn't want the High speed rail station stopping in Palo Alto (so it now doesn't stop in Palo Alto, but a station will be in Redwood city)

Palo Alto NIMBY: Didn't want the highspeed rail period

Palo Alto NIMBY: Doesn't want a viaduct or grade separation (which makes the most financial sense for the city) and the most sense in terms of safety. It reduces suicides and reduces pedestrian and cyclist and car accidents with the train

Palo Alto NIMBY: demands their Churchill road be close to traffic and diverted to every other neighborhood in Palo Alto (except theirs).

What is the most logical and most safe and most financially sound choice of grade separation will be debated until the few city councilors decide to instead favor the few (Churchill residents) over the the rest of the city of Palo Alto.


13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 28, 2019 at 4:16 pm

I wouldn't be surprised if all the Churchill residents and homeowners and those who live close by are the ones who advocate heavily for the closure of Churchill to traffic while pushing for car traffic onto other neighborhoods and streets in Palo Alto. "double the Embarcadero streets, doubling the number of lanes each way" says one Resident. Double the traffic along Alma says another Churchill resident.

Let all Palo Altans vote. Homeowners and residents. The MAJORITY will vote to keep Churchill open. The MAJORITY desire grade separation.

The only minority and few folks who live near Churchill want closure of Churchill to traffic.

Urban developers have been used when cities develop increased train traffic. Grade separation. Higher density residents near the train tracks. Condos and apartments are often built near railways and elevated highways. These higher structures are aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Then as one moves away from the highspped rail, we could have density housing (townhomes) and then as one moves further away, you can have single family homes.

Instead the city of Palo Alto will debate this to death about Churchill (meanwhile Charleston is kept open and there are no talks about closing down Charleston - even though a tremendous amount of children bike down Charleston.

Palo Alto is stuck in a quagmire of debating and hiring consultants. Palo Alto had decided as a city to move ahead with grade separation, but here we are back to square one, now considering an option that would not benefit anyone except the Churchill neighbors. NIMBY Churchill folks.


10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2019 at 8:29 pm

Just reminding the residents of the Churchill area just east of the tracks that if the road is closed, all those Paly students and staff will just park on their streets and use whatever underpass is built. In fact, I would suggest that Stanford people will park in the area and use a bike, or E scooter, or skateboard, to use the underpass to get to Stanford. When Cal Ave was closed to traffic and an underpass was built, that is what happened so don't be surprised if you see all the parkers if Churchill is closed.


4 people like this
Posted by Ex Paly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 28, 2019 at 10:35 pm

"if the road is closed, all those Paly students and staff will just park on their streets and use whatever underpass is built."

Good point. This happened in the '60s when they closed California Avenue. People would park on the Bowden Park side of the tracks to use the Caltrain station. The city was actually requiring parking permits but that was years ago. We lived on the stretch of Washington Avenue between Alma and Bryant.


6 people like this
Posted by Pro Cyclist
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 29, 2019 at 4:56 am

Downtown North has spoken.
Let us all follow the Downtown North example of how city funding development. Should be allocated.


10 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 2, 2019 at 10:20 am

Downtown North should be more worried about the Palo Alto Ave. crossing. That's ripe for closure as well.


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