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Guest Opinion: Remembering Palo Alto's transportation history

Original post made on Feb 14, 2020

Understanding the historical "bones" of our city -- the rail line and a walkable grid street system rather than a car-dominated expressway network that defines many post-war communities -- will stand us in good stead.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, February 14, 2020, 6:52 AM

Comments (7)

Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2020 at 5:35 pm

Bicycling advocates have been their own worst enemy.

In a city controlled by real-estate interests, the solution to every problem gets twisted around to build, build, build. Unfortunately bicycling advocates drank the developer Kool-Aid and foolishly started believing a more urban Palo Alto would be a more bike-able Palo Alto.

By allying themselves with developer's and their urbanization plans, bicycling advocates were able to get a few bike paths built, but what they did not realize was urbanization induced road congestion would destroy bike-able infrastructure faster than it could be built.

Bike path construction will never make up for the loss of the ability for bikes to safely share the roads with cars.

Posted by J S
a resident of another community
on Feb 15, 2020 at 5:43 am

One of the biggest losses started in what is now Palo Alto -- the loss of the Blossom Line branch out of Mayfield (California Ave. Area). The line branched at the industrial facility that later (until recently) became Fry's Electronics, carried south at an angle, and then went on all the way to Los Gatos. This line was a vital link for passengers from parts of the South Bay to Stanford and on to San Francisco, but almost all of it was destroyed to make Foothill Expressway.

A small part of the original line remains in the Cupertino/Saratoga area, serving a freight branch line to the cement factory.

Posted by Richard
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 16, 2020 at 1:21 pm

Remember after the CA High Speed Rail bond initiative passed, per Ms. Kishimotos's endorsement, when the city authorized the citizen rail corridor study in 2010? The city subsequently approved and published that report in 2013. After releasing this reasonably well investigated report, the city then promptly buried and ignored it and dropped the ball completely on rail grade separations which were needed with or without high speed rail

Web Link

Years later after Caltrain gets funding for electrification, the city, again ignores the rail corridor study and proceeds to start from square one, and here we are. Pretty much where that 2013 report left us. Sad.

Posted by Judith Wasserman
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 18, 2020 at 1:03 pm

2010? There were studies and urban planning charettes in 1998. They were stashed in drawers like the Ark of the Covenant.

Posted by Richard
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2020 at 2:09 pm

Perhaps the most forgotten form of effective transportation was the Palo Alto Bus system. My grandmother used it from 1964 until the city sold or gave it to the county transit system. The frequency of busses was cut along with the number of routes. Theis meant she could no longer walk to Louis and Colorado and travel all over the city do do her shopping, medical visits and such. Thus my mom had to drive cross town to get her then all around town in the car back to my grandmothers house and then home again. Some benefit to the residents that was.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 18, 2020 at 4:09 pm

The rail and grade separation issue did not die in 2013. When the 4-rack HSR option was beaten back and replaced by the “Blended System” concept in 2012, Caltrain started to move forward on their electrification. The city council kept an active Rail Committee and they commissioned the Hach Mott MacDonald study which looked at 2-track grade separations.
However, there wasn’t any local or state money to build the separations. The SVLG looked at a county tax in 2014 and they ended up putting it to the voters in 2016. Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Palo Alto negotiated $700M in that tax for grade separations in their cities, which was a real big down payment. Consequently, in 2017, the city started moving forward with looking at all of the alternatives, along with a bunch of pros and cons for each option.

Posted by Richard
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 18, 2020 at 9:32 pm


After the 2013 citizens report, the city of Palo Alto basically did nothing about grade separations, and certainly did previous little that I am aware of looking for funds at the state and or local level, an obvious potention source of funding for such a large, expensive and regional project. The Hach report was dropped and ignored almost as quickly as the 2013 citizens report. If you have attended any of the recent rail corridor meetings, you would assume that the city just recently discovered that there are rail tracks running through town, and oh my, what are we to do about it?? Who knew?? Nothing in any previous report or study was brought into the most recent discussion about rail separations that I am aware of. The city, again, started from square one trying to come up with any sort of solution. Meeting after meeting over more than a year basically advanced the process nowhere spending a lot of time reminding attendees that there are rail tracks running through town, but little more. Things have advanced quickly more recently, thankfully. Concerning the svlg tax you mention, remember that that was initially a county tax to only pay for a $4B Bart tunnel from alum Rock to down town San Jose. Only after protests were the words changed to toss a bone to grade separations to ensure its passage. The funds from that tax that can go to rail separations are capped at the $700M mark, funds to Bart are unlimited over the life of the tax. A classic svlg regressive tax to ensure that their corporate sponsors, some of the wealthiest companies in the world, pay nothing to mitigate the traffic congestion that they are largely responsible for, but residents pay for the mass transit that benefits their bottom line.

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