One of the Green Cities subcommittees is studying the Dumbarton rail extension which has been in the conceptual planning stages for over 10 years. Six commuter trains in the morning and six trains in the evening would run between the East Bay (Newark) and the Midpeninsula (Redwood City) where it would meet CalTrain. It is estimated that there would be between 5,000 to 7,000 rider-trips a day and that number could double in 10 years.
Not surprisingly, some residents object to the Dumbarton plan finally reaching our doors. Claims range from excessive cost, flawed ridership estimates, engine noise and crossing gate bells, vibration, automobile congestion caused by crossing gates, and the specter of freight trains using the line. Opponents have come in at the 11th hour to suggest that other options would be better.
Why not light rail, they ask? Maybe electrified trains? Wouldn't it be better to change one of the lanes on the existing Dumbarton Bridge to a commute lane or to consider bus rapid transit (BRT)? Some demand that budget-busting grade separations be included.
Most of these issues were raised in January of 2000 by then-mayor Mary Jo Borak in a letter sent to the representative of the Dumbarton Corridor Task Force. This letter is now being circulated as evidence that cooler heads were in charge and were protecting the interests of Menlo Park residents.
After 7.5 years of diligent efforts, much has been accomplished to move this project along. Ninety percent of the funding has been met thanks to San Mateo County voters. Mayor Borak's concerns voiced on behalf of the city were not forgotten and have been incorporated into the current environmental scoping and planning. The option of bus rapid transit instead of trains on the rail bridge has been shown to be as costly as trains but less appealing to new riders.
Train noise and vibration will be minimized by completely rebuilding the rail-bed and installing quieter continuous welded rail. Instead of separations, quiet-zone crossing gates can be installed that preclude the sounding of horns at at-grade crossings. No concern of Mayor Borak's has been ignored and the project now has every reason to succeed. What seems to be lacking in Menlo Park is sincere resolve.
The Dumbarton rail extension will benefit Menlo Park and the region. It is also consistent with the goal of reducing global warming. The city should not spend it's time and energy waxing poetic about reducing our carbon footprint while nitpicking the Dumbarton rail project to death. This quiet and disingenuous form of opposition has been going on for too long. Either we are players in the fight to reduce carbon emissions or we aren't. Here's an opportunity for Menlo Park to show our colors. Green or something else? Do we really care about the environment or will we let fear make our decisions?
Steve Schmidt was Menlo Park mayor in 1997 and 2002. He lives on Central Avenue in Menlo Park.