Viewpoint - October 8, 2008

Guest opinion: Tunnel vision on proposed bike tunnel

by Carla Posthauer

Steve Schmidt's Guest Opinion last week highlights, yet again, his vision for a tunnel, and his vision only.

At the moment, there is little opposition to evaluating a tunnel at the Middle Avenue location. Finally, Mr. Schmidt's pet project isn't creating a stir, yet he is still unhappy. Wasn't the ultimate goal to provide better access to Burgess Park and a safer way to cross El Camino for children biking to school and/or cross town?

Oh, I forgot. That's not it. The ultimate goal was to have better access to Sand Hill Road for the avid biking community, of which Mr. Schmidt is a member (thus the Willow/Cambridge connection he suggests).

I find it even more interesting that the former mayor is calling for more evaluation and research. Isn't that exactly what the Linfield Oaks neighborhood asked for, to begin with? The location Mr. Schmidt suggests is rife with problems, and our neighborhood continually asked to show research and data to support that location, yet received very little data in return. To review some of the issues with Willow/Cambridge:

• Duplicative with the Alma Street Bridge to Palo Alto and, yes, Sand Hill Road;

• Would require eminent domain of private land between railroad tracks and El Camino;

• Tunnel connects commercial to residential, when most tunnels connect commercial to commercial. For example, Homer and University in Palo Alto;

• For bikers, the path would put you right onto El Camino where there are no bike paths;

• In the past, the Stanford Park Hotel (main business affected) did not support the project;

• Some residents were concerned with a steep increase in all-day parking on Alma by employees of El Camino businesses.

These are just a few highlights. To be clear, I do not speak for my neighborhood, but my personal opinion is that in these times, do we have the money to even consider a tunnel when our school district is taking a loss (due to Lehman's collapse) from county funds? And I'm sure the trickle-down effect will impact local funding of many projects, bonds and other measures.

Also, if the money earmarked for this project is still intact, might it be reallocated to more needy items?

And, if economics truly bear out to move forward with this project, then a location that makes sense for the entire Menlo Park community, not just the biking community, is worthy of serious evaluation.

While Mr. Schmidt accuses the current council of only conducting a beauty contest so far, perhaps it is because it is not worth considering putting lipstick on a pig.

Carla Posthauer lives on Claremont Way in Menlo Park.


Posted by Steve Schmidt, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 8, 2008 at 11:28 am

Carla Posthauer seeks to perpetuate myths and misinformation about the bicycle/pedestrian under-crossing of the Caltrain right-of-way. She goes so far as to challenge any need for this public safety improvement that has been a priority in the City's General Plan for every City Council for the last 14 years.
1. Carla thinks that pedestrians and bicyclists don't need an under-crossing because the Alma Bridge to Palo Alto already gives people a route to cross the Caltrain barrier and get to the west side of Menlo Park. While this is technically correct, there is no doubt many would choose to avoid this at-grade crossing of the railroad tracks, the flying right turn from Alma to northbound El Camino, the unofficial and debris-strewn side path and the harrowing merge across three lanes of impatient motorists.
2. If we want to reach the goal of the City's Green Ribbon Task Force to reduce car-trips and increase safety for children going to school, then we need to create a non-motorized access between residential neighborhoods and another destinations. This concept is considered a major public benefit.
3. The reason for an under-crossing of the railroad tracks is to enable pedestrians and bicyclists to cross El Camino Real safely and travel on quiet streets to the west or east sides of Menlo Park. Accessing either the signalized intersection at El Camino at Cambridge or Middle Ave. is the key to this plan.
4. Times change. In the 1990's the Stanford Park Hotel management was receptive to the under-crossing concept; in 2002 they were not; now under new management, they may be again supportive.
5. There is no denying that the Linfield Oaks neighborhood is fearful of non-residents parking on Alma Street, which borders their neighborhood. Parking on public streets is not an illegal activity. Since Menlo Park has a prohibition against overnight parking by anyone in most residential neighborhoods, and new development on El Camino will be required to have adequate parking, the possibility of cars overflowing in noticeable or dangerous numbers into the neighborhood seems remote.

That all said, I will repeat my concern: Wherever the City Council decides to put an under-crossing of the Caltrain tracks, it has an obligation make that decision based on a rational analysis of alternatives. So far we have seen only the most superficial and cursory examination of the problem. There has been no comparison between possible sites based on costs, design challenges or timing. Unfortunately a recommendation based partially on the kind of Linfield Legend repeated by Ms. Posthauer has already been made by the Bicycle and Transportation Commissions.

Steve Schmidt, Menlo Park Council 1994 - 2002

Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 8, 2008 at 12:14 pm

Here's a scenario: the high-speed rail comes through Menlo Park via a 20- or 30-foot berm and the bike tunnel goes underneath what used to be a grade-level track.

Assuming that the high-speed rail bond measure is approved in November, why spend money tunneling underground when we could wait and tunnel through the berm?

Posted by cyclist, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 8, 2008 at 1:06 pm

Carla called your bluff, Steve. Instead of indulging in petulant, puerile whines, spend a moment and think about what is best for the city. And maybe, then, accept the fact that no one wants your Cambridge tunnel. It's not too late for you to learn how to compromise. Or to stop making enemies in Linfield Oaks.

Posted by Former Linfield Oaks resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 8, 2008 at 5:22 pm

Seems like everyone's opinion is pretty set... But if it matters, I used to live in Linfield Oaks and would have LOVED an underpass somewhere between the creek and Burgess. Suddenly walking to Safeway for groceries would be feasible and getting to that area by bike would not require the nasty Ravenswood/Alma/Caltrain intersection or the Alma/El Camino/Sand Hill intersection, which dumps you on El Camino at a spot from where biking back toward Safeway is unsafe.

So count this as one person that think Linfield Oaks would *benefit* from better pedestrian/bike access.

Posted by Allied Arts cyclist, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 8, 2008 at 6:26 pm

"Indulging in petulant, puerile whines"???? Gee, the first comment seemed to me a simple, factual response to the guest editorial. Is it possible for the rest of you to drop the personal attacks and absorb the content of Mr. Schmidt's letter, after which you might accept or reject his contribution? I thought this city was attempting to be a "green" city.

Please, let's stop this petulant and puerile negativity.

I don't understand the objection to a tunnel under the tracks and I am interested in the options open to us.

Posted by cyclist, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 8, 2008 at 10:19 pm

Carla began her letter by pointing out that there is almost no opposition to a tunnel at Middle. Did either Former or Allied read the original letter? Steve simply won't be satisfied unless the tunnel is placed at Cambridge. Carla cited the problems with Cambridge and Steve did not provide any counter-arguments. Cambridge never has and still does not make sense.

It is personal with Steve, and his hatred of Linfield Oaks is legendary and, yes, juvenile.

Posted by mom, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 9, 2008 at 12:21 pm

There are concerns about Middle, not about a bike tunnel there, but about the incredibly unsafe intersection of El Camino, Middle, service station, Safeway. Whatever is selected - and we really want something for our children -- must consider the tunnel location along with the safety of routes using it, and what the routes connect.

Posted by Loca Motive, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 13, 2008 at 11:30 am

If Prop 1A passes and High Speed Rail comes through Menlo Park, there are going to be underpasses a-plenty for cars/bikes/pedestrians, because there won't be any more grade crossings in town. Menlo Park won't need to worry about a bike tunnel.

Posted by Robert Byrne, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 14, 2008 at 9:33 am

Yet another reason to proceed cautiously (or not at all) with these tunnels. Happened yesterday:

*Robbers fracture man's shoulder in PA robbery*

A 58-year-old man suffered a fractured shoulder today (Monday) in a midday baseball-bat attack by two robbers in the Caltrain pedestrian tunnel at the downtown Palo Alto station, police reported.

The unidentified victim sought emergency medical help before notifying police of the 11:40 a.m. attack, police Agent Dan Ryan said.

He said the victim was walking through the underground pedestrian tunnel when he was attacked from behind by two men, one of whom wielded an aluminum baseball bat. He was struck in the upper arm with the bat and knocked to the ground.

The two assailants stole cash and fled on foot. They were seen running east on University Avenue.

The robbers are described as black adults of unknown ages. The man wielding the bat wore a blue shirt over beige pants and had short black hair. The second subject wore a dark shirt and brown or black pants.

Ryan reiterated earlier police warnings that people should walk in pairs or groups and stay aware of their surroundings. He said people should avoid talking on cell phones or listening to headphones while walking.

Anyone who sees suspicious activity should immediately call 911, and anyone with information about this robbery can call the department's anonymous tip line at 650-329-2190.

Police are increasing patrols in the area, in response to this series of robberies.

-- Palo Alto Weekly staff

Posted by No Money - No Underpass, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 14, 2008 at 6:22 pm

I have never been in favor of this bike tunnel boondogle. Just today I watched a group of youths on bikes cross the tracks at Ravenswood without any problems. But I found myself wondering what they were going to do when they got to El Camino. And I wondered how they had navigated the cars at the Ravenswood Alma intersection. Why on earth spend a whole bunch of money to build an underpass for the train, but leave the bikers and walkers to fend for themselves against the cars on El Camino?

What are y'all thinking?

I would fix that crazy intersection at Ravenswood & Alma before I paid to dig a tunnel under the train. The cars are a much bigger threat to walkers and bikers than the trains. The flow of cars is constant. But you can often look up and down the train tracks and not see a single train for several minutes.

The bike tunnel under the train tracks is a stupid idea.
Shut it down.

Posted by no tunnel, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 8, 2008 at 4:52 pm

The comment by No Money above and also the earlier comment about if High Speed Rail is approved would lead me to believe the City should immediately abandon this effort.

It just makes no sense to spend millions doing a bike tunnel now and then have to in a very few years later have to do it again.

Time to shut this down.

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