The collision could have happened to anyone. I consider myself a savvy driver, yet all it takes is a moment's inadvertence or end-of-day weariness to get stuck on the tracks. Streets and rails need to be on different levels.
The political climate makes this difficult in Menlo Park. Grade separation may strain budgets and tear up roads. Worse, it seems to challenge our civic imagination.
For years, locals have assured me that raising or lowering Caltrain's tracks will 'split Menlo Park in two.' It's a difficult argument to follow in a town with a mile-long railway berm. There's no place to cross the tracks from Ravenswood Avenue to Palo Alto. All traffic ? vehicular, bike and foot ? gets channeled through downtown.
Nevermind. Grade separation will encounter opposition. How can we get it done?
Politically, there may be nothing to lose by proposing the most imaginative...and comprehensive...approach. To quote Peter Carpenter in a 24 February post, "Why not take this as an opportunity to design a multi-dimensional, multi-purpose system that uses the existing right-of-way that includes Caltrain, HSR, utility conduits for telephone and internet cables, surface housing with high density housing around each station, etc." Carpenter points out that the land is very valuable and, with rails underground, could generate substantial revenue for the project.
Which raises another set of issues.... High-speed rail is coming. It requires more than two tracks...and, historically, our City Council has had a one-track mind on this point. Menlo Park needs to accommodate a third set of rails.
In short, all these issues are interconnected...and the region's high-tech boom is making them urgent. It doesn't help that suing Caltrain has become something of a local sport in Atherton and Menlo Park. Even the threat of a lawsuit must force Caltrain to dot every 'i' in 'environmental' and cross every 't' in 'impact.' The line needs to protect itself...and the 55,000 commuters it carries daily...and the regional economy it supports.