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Study: If Churchill intersection is closed, road improvements could mostly handle increased traffic

Original post made on Jan 9, 2020

With Palo Alto debating a contentious proposal to close Churchill Avenue to traffic near the railroad tracks, critics ask: What will happen to 9,800 cars that use Churchill every day to cross the tracks?

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, January 9, 2020, 9:44 AM

Comments (36)

26 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2020 at 11:07 am

What is continually failed to be addressed is the fact that all the Paly students, teachers, PAUSD staff at Churchill HQ, will all park in the area east of the tracks and walk to school or admin offices. Probably some Stanford people too with the use of bicycles or whatever.

The other aspect is to ask PAUSD about the bus depot. Those school buses need to cross the tracks multiple times a day and from the depot parking lot it will take plenty of time for them to circumnavigate the tracks.

The inconvenience of closing Churchill is not just what about the traffic, but secondary issues also.


30 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2020 at 11:31 am

Closing Churchill would be disastrous, but I'm sure its gonna happen now that Adrian is in charge.
There's just such a hostility towards people who drive cars (which is virtually EVERYONE) the catastrophic impact on traffic is an afterthought to these people. I don't trust any of these "studies" as they just serve as an excuse to justify these horrid decisions.
How about we add lanes at Alma and Embarcadero, while keeping Churchill open??
But wait... that would "encourage" more single-occupant vehicles. God forbid!


23 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2020 at 11:43 am

if there are improvements to Embarcadero that can be made, why hasn't the city already done so? The Embarcadero traffic congestion around Town & Country has been as issue for over 10 years, and nothing has been done.


24 people like this
Posted by dtnorth
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 9, 2020 at 11:47 am

Hexagon is crazy.Are they the same group who implemented the Arastradero and Charleston road diets and new islands that get in the way. The traffic on Embarcadero is horrible and I am not sure with all the lights how one is going to make it better unless we remove some of the lights. The only way the DT people can get to El Camino is to go through the University tunnel or the Alma/University going into Menlo and then making a u-turn. This again just pushes traffic to other areas except the main routes. We need to go up as they have done in many area. We are a big city and we can't be closing off entrances and exits as the community continues to add more people, homes and cars.


5 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 9, 2020 at 11:55 am

Perhaps the State would provide funds to build an overpass for the train that would also handle high speed trains in the future?


18 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2020 at 12:03 pm

Seriously? Are the neighbors really going to be happy with all the additional people parking in their residential streets because they can't park on Paly campus? And the school buses? Will they also park during the day in the streets?

Why aren't people thinking with common sense on this?


13 people like this
Posted by LeaveItOpen
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2020 at 12:30 pm

The only reason to close Churchill is if a berm is built without a passage under it. If the tracks remain 'at grade' at Churchill, then regardless of what is done further south, leave the crossing there for the people who want to use it. If they have to wait longer because of increased number of trains, so be it. Let them decide.

Now - I am highly in favor of constructing a bicycle and pedestrian underpass at that intersection. Have the entrance on the west side of Churchill beyond the railroad tracks. Have the entrance on the east side 100+ feet down Churchill from Alma.

And, yes, fixing Embarcadaro from El Camino all the way to High Street, including its connection with Alma (have lights on Alma?) would be a much needed improvement.

Finally, eliminate the crossing light between Town&Country and Paly. Put fences along both sides of Embarcadaro so that peds cannot cross. Replace the crosswalk with (1) a tunnel, or (2) a pedestrian overpass *AND* put sidewalks in place along Embarcadaro leading to the existing sidewalk over Embarcadaro at Alma. The kids are young and healthy; they should walk.


29 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 9, 2020 at 1:13 pm

This again. NOBODY wants Embarcadero and Alma with more lanes and more traffic, while Churchill is closed. Who is hiring Hexagon anyways? Who vets these "consulting firms" that taxpayers dollars bankroll? Why is only one option being consulted instead of other options as well?

It's like saying, there is only ONE option here, go down that ONE option, we are the consulting company and we know everything. Take that one option. Please pay our bills please, with your Palo Alto tax dollars.

I'm sure New Mayor Adrian Fine is all on board given how he likes to be in the developer's pockets and this means more massive construction on Alma and Embarcadero and revitalizing Churchill with landscaping.

Put this to a vote from all registered Palo Alto tax payers and you will find the popular vote is to keep Churchill open.


18 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 9, 2020 at 2:38 pm

Has Hexagpon Consulting done other traffic surveys and other consulting projects in Palo Alto and, if so, what ones?

I ask because PA is not exactly known for the accuracy of their consultants' work since they usually tell the contracting parties what they want to hear, forcing citizens to conduct their/our own traffic counts etc. because the consultants often conduct their "demand surveys" during the lightest traffic times rather than during rush hours, school drop off/pickup times etc.

So what's their track record, were other options considered and is this just part of our new mayor's plan to bring a “21st-century attitude and thinking” to tackle the “simmering issues” of traffic on Embarcadero Road, the dearth of downtown parking and heavy commuter traffic choking city streets." Web Link


15 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 9, 2020 at 2:54 pm

"Hexagon is crazy.Are they the same group who implemented the Arastradero and Charleston road diets and new islands that get in the way. "

If they are, this IS BEYOND nuts! Just last week a young woman with a small car from the East Bay drove me to the Mitchell Park dog park behind the school off Charleston. In BROAD DAYLIGHT she ran into the barrier at the school entrance. Exiting she -- like any other intelligent person -- had no clue how to make a left turn heading to Middlefield because of the idiotic barriers.

She was horrified and couldn't stop talking about the idiocy and the likely cost of realigning her car.

And that was during the holidays without our ridiculous commuter traffic!

No wonder the city wants to undercut the auditor who might flag ridiculous and costly nonsense like this.


15 people like this
Posted by Torreya Man
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2020 at 3:58 pm

This would only worsen the already horrendous Play HS / Town & Country / Embarcadero Road mess


12 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 9, 2020 at 4:04 pm

Please don’t add more traffic to Embarcadero and Oregon.


9 people like this
Posted by bike57
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 9, 2020 at 4:59 pm

I with they close Churchill, I ride bike to my work and I see more and more people who doesn't want to leave their cars at home and get a nice bike ride to Stanford, to Paly or or Town and Country, I am 57 years old and continuing riding my bike.
Close Churchill Avenue as a test, after a year check the results and vote again to decide the issue.


30 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2020 at 7:45 pm

I am getting really tired of people living in the professorville/stanford bubble telling people with real jobs and lives outside of a half-mile radius of their home that bicycles are the solution to our transportation woes.

40 years ago you might have been able to convince me that Palo Alto could be a bicycling utopia, but we are long past that now. It is not 1970 anymore.

Bicycles will never be more than a drop in the transportation bucket and hectoring people who don't meet your puritanical standard, without offering a practical solution, is just elitist virtue-signaling.


6 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 9, 2020 at 8:07 pm

Never had windows broken out on my bicycle, but difficult to lock things in the trunk.
However, the remains of vandalized and stolen bikes are more common than shattered
glass around the Cal Ave train station. The bike rack carnage there is pathetic.


9 people like this
Posted by Thank goodness for bikes
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 9, 2020 at 8:13 pm

I don't agree. We are very lucky to have so many kids biking to school during the morning commute hours and to after-school activities later. The American Community Survey also says that about 10% of commuters in Palo Alto bike to work. That's not the level of Copenhagen or Amsterdam but it's not tiny either imo.


15 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2020 at 11:44 pm

The concrete in the foundation of just one of the oversized buildings being built along El Camino put more GHGs into the atmosphere than every Palo Alto cyclist will save by bicycling for the rest of their lives.

Hint to Cyclists:

You will find bicycling to be a much more effective form of penance if you wear a hair shirt and incorporate some sort of mortification of the flesh, like self-flagellation, into your cycling routine on days that are not particularly cold or wet.


8 people like this
Posted by Chris K
a resident of Southgate
on Jan 10, 2020 at 8:15 am

There are no good answers here - but my preference, as a current user of the Churchill crossing, is to close it. I dread the thought of the backup in the left turn lane from NB Alma, which will back up into the other lanes, as we wait for trains to clear. Similarly, I don't wish to be blocked in my neighborhood by people who can't read the KEEP CLEAR blocks on Churchill.

These blockages will cause the traffic to shift even if Churchill is left open - so the other solutions are important to consider anyway.


11 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 10, 2020 at 8:26 am

There is no need to agree to Churchill being closed. Say no.

Vote no when they ask us for more money for Caltrain to do these grade separations, or for anything else. Caltrain already has funding, from the joint powers board, so it won't suffer. It has funding.

The city and counties do not have the funding to do these grade separations - so vote no when they ask for transportation funding.

The city will be asking us for money to ruin our own city to finance grade separations. Please vote no.

Electrification does not mean more frequent trains by itself, it is only the expensive grade separations that make that possible. $200 million a pop. Grade separations are needed for the trains to go faster, enabling more frequent trains, because they make the crossings safer. But why would we want that? Trains hurtling by over 100 mph. They go 79 moh now - Caltrain that is. Think of the additional noise and wind. Faster, more frequent trains actually means making our lives more difficult, them proposing to close Churchill (a needed grade separation to meet safety regulations if the trains go faster), and costing us beaucoup bucks for the privilege - at least $500 million for three Palo Alto grade crossing, not even considering the Palo Alto grade crossing.

Vote no and say no. No. No. No.

And btw, if Sunnyvale or Redwood City or San Mateo doesn't come up w the bucks for their grade separations, then the trains won't go faster anyway. And we in Palo Alto will have spent our money for nothing.

Say no.


5 people like this
Posted by Fairly Benign
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2020 at 11:26 am

@independent -- Electrification will happen regardless of whether there is grade separation. Electric trains accelerate and decelerate faster than diesel powered units. Modernization of the signaling system allows decreased gaps between trains. These two features allow for the increase from 9 to 12 trains per hour. With more frequent trains traveling at the same speed the crossings will be closed for longer periods.

So... vote "no", watch the traffic situation go to hell, sit back, and thank yourself for managing our finances prudently.


4 people like this
Posted by Fairly Benign
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2020 at 11:27 am

@independent -- Electrification will happen regardless of whether there is grade separation. Electric trains accelerate and decelerate faster than diesel powered units. Modernization of the signaling system allows decreased gaps between trains. These two features allow for the increase from 9 to 12 trains per hour. With more frequent trains traveling at the same speed the crossings will be closed for longer periods.

So... vote "no", watch the traffic situation deteriorate, sit back, and thank yourself for managing our finances prudently.


8 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 10, 2020 at 1:33 pm

One fast no-brainer for Alma and Embarcadero is to remove the giant Botts Dots on the approach to Alma North that cause drivers to swerve back into traffic. I guess they're there to indicate a possible pedestrian crossing but the benefits are minimal vs all the near-misses of the breaking swerving cars.

Still the approach Alma approaches are hardly the biggest problems with Embaracadero and the area around Paly.

I'm sure our 3d transportation czar and our new 21st Century mayor will use their revolutionary innovative approaches and get right on the "long-simmering" problems. Tick tock tick tock.


3 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2020 at 1:47 pm

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland

>> Just last week a young woman with a small car from the East Bay drove me to the Mitchell Park dog park behind the school off Charleston. In BROAD DAYLIGHT she ran into the barrier at the school entrance. Exiting she -- like any other intelligent person -- had no clue how to make a left turn heading to Middlefield because of the idiotic barriers. [] She was horrified and couldn't stop talking about the idiocy and the likely cost of realigning her car.

I know that some of you out there are having trouble, but, I can't figure out what is different about these new barriers vs the barriers that have been around for 40+ years like Wilton/ECR, or, Park/Meadow. In all cases, you have to be able to steer through a "chicane". I don't see anything different about these that didn't exist when I learned to drive way back when. Part of basic "control the vehicle" skills they taught us back in the big parking lot after school in drivers ed, before they let us out in the street. Please enlighten me.


10 people like this
Posted by Jim
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 10, 2020 at 2:18 pm

Instead of spending money to simulate churchill closing, why not just close it for several weeks and collect the traffic data?


12 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 12, 2020 at 3:22 pm

@Fairly benign- there's no increase in deceleration due to electrification. No increase at top speed due to electrification either. There will only be more frequent trains if the trains are permitted to go above the current 79 mph, which is dictated by federal safety regulations, which are related to the current state of grade crossings. No change to grade crossings, no increase in speed allowed. No increase in speed, frequency of trains stays the same. No more frequent trains, no increased wait times at grade crossings. And money stays in everyone's pockets, as each grade separation costs at least $200 million and the city will be asking us to pay for a portion of it. And no extra trains, we can still cross at Churchill. 9800 cars cross Churchill each day; closing it is a huge problem and will cause HuGE impact on other residents. So, no thanks to grade crossings, no thanks to more frequent trains, and no thanks to taxes to pay for something we never wanted anyway. And Churchill can stay open.


10 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 12, 2020 at 3:50 pm

Independent, what a sensible post. Too bad it runs counter to the 21st century sloganeering and the gravy train of consultants who profit from making us miserable.


8 people like this
Posted by III
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2020 at 9:33 am

LOL.... This Churchill study reminds me of the narrowing of Middlefield Rd
Test 7+yrs ago. Oregon Expressway, through midtown shopping center, to
approx. Colorado Ave.
As a resident, months in advance in meetings, in person, in letters,
I told them would simply cause traffic jams and divert traffic to speed
on to the side streets to go around the new traffic jams from 4 lanes to 2.
THANK GOD they did a test run.... I am not right often but was
beyond exactly as I suspected. Major 3hr nightmare of a test.
Although I agree, Churchill is a mess, 3pm-ish to 6pm-ish....
III


8 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 13, 2020 at 11:12 am

@Fairly benign -
You are incorrect. Electrification and modernizing signal systems facilitate higher train speeds, but they, in and of themselves, do not lead to higher train speeds or increase the frequency of trains. Only coupled with expensive grade separations can the trains actually be permitted by federal safety regulations to go faster, and thus lead to higher frequency. If the new, expensive grade separations aren't in place, federal safety regulations preclude speeds above 79 mph, Caltrain's current speed, due to grade level crossings. Thus no increased train frequency. And why would we want more frequent trains, and more traffic tie ups due to them, closing Churchill while being asked to pay for the privilege? We don't. Time savings? @ 110 mph versus 79 mph, from Palo Alto to SF, the time savings is 7 minutes. Those coming from San Jose would save 11 minutes. Nice of us to help them save time @ $200 million a pop for the grade separations. This is all a charade being played to qualify for high speed rail funding. HSR has to run at 110 mph or above in the SJ to SF corridor to meet the requirements for funding in the initiative - or no funding. Say no to expensive grade separations which makes your town less livable while taxing you for the privilege. Say no to deception. Electrification in and of itself does not lead to more frequent trains. That is false advertising they are peddling. Only expensive grade separations permit this charade to continue.


4 people like this
Posted by @Independent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 13, 2020 at 3:35 pm

@Independent: You are incorrect. As Fairly Benign explained, electric trains can accelerate and decelerate faster than diesel trains, which enables more frequent service. Please refer to Web Link or contact Caltrain for more information. Grade separations are not necessary for more frequent service.


1 person likes this
Posted by Charles Walters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2020 at 9:49 pm

Close it


3 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Jan 14, 2020 at 7:50 am

@independant,

"Only coupled with expensive grade separations can the trains actually be permitted by federal safety regulations to go faster"

Incorrect; Federal regulations allow train speeds up to 125mph on at-grade crossings Web Link . Caltrain's new trains have PTC, so the current Tier IA grade crossing (80mph) can be updated to Tier IB (110mph) or Tier IC (125mph) with some inexpensive modifications to the crossing gate design.

The High Speed Rail Authority has a video of the type of 110mph at-grade crossing gates it intends to install at Churchill if the city takes no action on grade separation: Web Link

The principle driver of electrification is that it enables more trains per hour with no change to the grade crossings: Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by Midtown Guy
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 14, 2020 at 12:00 pm

You are Coming from south of Palo Alto, headed toward either Stanford University or Stanford Shopping Center. most drivers use Alma north (like an expressway, fewer lights than El Camino—which is being overdeveloped with condos—) and then crossing to El Camino via Churchill.

Don’t close Churchill or the traffic mess on El Camino will be far worse. All those new condos and office buildings withb all those thousands of new trips. Churchill is a vital strategic cross street.


3 people like this
Posted by Much Ado
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 15, 2020 at 12:56 am

It remains to be seen if Caltrain will actually implement more frequent train service. All we have now is P.R. from them, not even a sample timetable showing the proposed enhanced service. It's a fair question whether Caltrain's grandiose vision of a train every 3 minutes or whatever will actually materialize.

Churchill should remain open until such time as Caltrain actually implements its contemplated increased frequency of service, which won't happen until electrification of the entire corridor is complete, and that is several years away. If and when Caltrain upgradeses its service, Churchill could literally be closed overnight simply by dropping in some "K" rails. If the closure proves untenable, the "K" rails can just as easily be removed.

In addition to Paly and PAUSD personnel parking in the neighborhood, a legitimate concern, there is an associated issue of emergency vehicles crossing the tracks if Churchill is closed.

Don't close Churchill until there is a clear need to, if ever.


7 people like this
Posted by Much Ado
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 15, 2020 at 2:54 am

Let's say Churchill Avenue is closed.

If I'm on Churchill and want to cross the train tracks, I would have to detour to either Embarcadero or Oregon. How would taking either of these detours be less inconvenient than simply waiting for a train to pass?

What would be the benefits of closing Churchill at the tracks?

It would make life more serene for those living on Churchill near the tracks. Beyond that, I can't think of any benefits.

Closure wouldn't facilitate the movement of the trains. They always have the right of way. It wouldn't facilitate the movement of automobile traffic, requiring as it would taking a detour to cross the tracks.

Those 9,800 cars aren't going to vanish in a puff of smoke. They will be diverted onto neighborhood streets which will be absorbing the parking of vehicles that no longer park on the Paly campus or the PAUSD parking lot. Then there is the impediment to the movement of emergency vehicles.

It doesn't take much analysis to see that the disadvantages far outweigh the meager benefits of closing Churchill.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 15, 2020 at 9:52 am

Posted by Much Ado, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> It doesn't take much analysis to see that the disadvantages far outweigh the meager benefits of closing Churchill.

Traffic-wise, I agree with you. There is a different benefit, however. Grade-separated modern train systems in France (TGV on the new tracks) and in Japan (Shinkansen) with virtually perfect *safety* records.

I've never been an eye-witness to a Caltrain accident, but, I have seen the aftermath of one, and, we've all been part of the collateral damage one way or the other-- unfortunately, some of us numerous times. Let's plan on getting grade separation done eventually. We just need to figure out how to do it in a way that is affordable, and pedestrian/bicycle friendly. Which means, let's not get pushed into the "Do-something!" thing instead of doing the right thing. Grade-separation is going to happen eventually. Do it the right way.


3 people like this
Posted by Much Ado
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 15, 2020 at 6:10 pm

"Let's plan on getting grade separation done eventually. We just need to figure out how to do it in a way that is affordable, and pedestrian/bicycle friendly."

Would that it were so simple.

CPA has been at this for years and has found no satisfactory solution. The do-nothing option, leaving things as is, is still available. The downside is that commuters would wait a few extra minutes for trains to pass, just as they have for decades.

Closing Churchill is not grade separation; it's road closure.


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