Blood on the Tracks | On a Roll | Paul Bendix | Almanac Online |

Local Blogs

On a Roll

By Paul Bendix

About this blog: A 32-year resident of Menlo Park, I regularly make my way around downtown in a wheelchair. This gives me an unusual perspective on a town in which I have spent almost half of my life. I was educated at UC Berkeley, and permanentl...  (More)

View all posts from Paul Bendix

Blood on the Tracks

Uploaded: Feb 26, 2015
The Menlo Park Caltrain accident that killed motorist Jahyun Jennifer Koo on Monday has reignited the issue of grade separation. Acknowledging that it remains an 'issue' is key to moving forward.

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.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Feb 26, 2015 at 2:07 pm

I vote yes to grade separation, even if the only practical way to build grade separation is to elevate the train tracks all the way through town. This design has been successfully deployed in many other parts of San Mateo County, creating safer and quieter roads and sidewalks.

Posted by terrible headline, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Feb 26, 2015 at 2:58 pm

Could you come up with a more tasteless headline?

Posted by derailment, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Feb 27, 2015 at 12:10 am

Not raising or lowering the Caltrain's tracks could lead to a massive derailment, as happened in another city: Web Link

Posted by Appalled, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Feb 27, 2015 at 5:20 pm

I agree with 'terrible headline.' As an African American I find this headline to be in unbelievably poor taste. Please change it.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Feb 28, 2015 at 3:57 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

what does the headline have to do with African Americans?

Posted by Mac, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Mar 2, 2015 at 11:10 am

Sink or elevate.

Look up the road to SC Blemont or San Bruno - cities that know "how".

Posted by pearl, a resident of another community,
on Mar 2, 2015 at 12:38 pm

pearl is a registered user.

@Menlo Voter: I had the same question.

Posted by really?, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Mar 2, 2015 at 2:07 pm

Tasteless headline, especially for Dylan fans

Posted by Dana Hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Mar 4, 2015 at 1:10 pm

Let's assume that Menlo Park DID decide it wanted elevated tracks. What would be the primary obstacles? How would they be overcome? I welcome constructive ideas and discussion of this important issue and will add the topic to Re-Imagine Menlo Park.

Posted by Belle Haven Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Mar 4, 2015 at 1:35 pm

It got a lot of attention, which is a headline's job.
PS - Menlo Park has been split for a long time, but at 101, not at Caltrain.

Posted by resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Mar 4, 2015 at 2:49 pm

@Dana Hendrickson - the biggest obstacle to elevating the train tracks is the cost. Engineering issues are minimal since this technique has been repeatedly and successfully been for many years in other areas along the Caltrain line. Another obstacle is NIMBYs who think grade separation is ugly, even though they may claim to have other objections.

Posted by Kristina Lemons, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Mar 4, 2015 at 9:05 pm


As a witness of this horrid obliteration, I think blood on the tracks is a highly appropriate title. In fact, shame on you for not wanting to be offended. You should be. Let it fuel you to make this change. Reimaginemenlo, I'm your neighbor, I want to help. Now. Anyone who wants to know what that was like, I'll tell you all about it. It has changed my life.

Posted by Kristina Lemons, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Mar 4, 2015 at 9:12 pm

One more thing. Wanna know what's uglier than grade seperation. You actually don't. If we don't do this our entire downtown work force will need Zanax to cope. Do you think I'm joking? I'm not. Give me names and numbers. I would love to meet with anyone opposed. Let me buy you lunch.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Mar 5, 2015 at 9:50 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Kristna - Thank you for your first person perspective. Most people forget about the eyewitnesses, the train engineer, firefighters and police who had to respond to this tragedy and you have reminded all of us of how horrible it was.

Can you imagine the firefighters' fears and determination when they discovered the infant seat in the car? Was or was not there a second victim buried in this ball of wreckage? They only could answer that by literally tearing the wreck apart.

Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.



Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Almanac Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Worried about the cost of climate change? Here is some hope.
By Sherry Listgarten | 23 comments | 3,347 views

Two Hours - 75,000 Meals – Wanna Help?
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 1,756 views