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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Don’t close Churchill Avenue at the tracks

Uploaded: Apr 1, 2019
Palo Alto is having a lot of trouble figuring out what kind of grade separations should be used at railroad crossings to accommodate an estimated 20 trains an hour running on Caltrain. After years of discussion, there is no real solution in sight. All four proposals –building a tunnel or a trench, having tracks on a 12-foot-high berm or putting the tracks way above the city are expensive -- and each is embedded with technical, aesthetic and cost problems.

Palo Alto is now considering closing off Churchill Avenue because with more frequent trains, the gates will be down and it will be difficult to cross the tracks without long waits. It would be easier to have a bike-pedestrian tunnel at the crossing to accommodate the students. The city doesn’t want to tear down any houses to build a berm there. The result: Drivers entering Churchill from El Camino would find a dead end at the tracks. Ditto for those driving down Alma to Churchill – there would be no way to cross the tracks. It’s a ridiculous idea.

Granted, the street closing would solve some neighborhood concerns about more traffic on their streets – and, practically speaking, Palo Alto would have to deal with only three grade separations, not the four at existing crossings (Charleston, Meadow, Churchill and Alma at the Menlo Park border) and perhaps save money. But the closure will result in. innumerable new problems for years to come, if not permanently.

It’s ridiculous because we need more, not less, grade crossings in town. Our east-west arterials are limited, and since thousands of commuters employed in this city use those corridors daily, the traffic is intense. We don’t solve traffic problems by closing down one street that commuters and students use daily.

A study by TJKM, a consulting firm, said traffic at the closure of Churchill would divert to other streets about 706 cars during the morning peak hour (8 a.m. to 9 a.m.) and 776 cars in the peak afternoon period (5:15 p.m. to 6:15 p.m.). But traffic is heavy more than two hours a day in that area, so more than 706 and 776 cars will be affected – say thousands.

Planners propose driver unable to cross Churchill could use the Embarcadero Road underpass. Nearby residents fear those cars heading toward Embarcadero would end up on their roads. A valid fear, particularly since the city doesn’t have plans yet on how to handle extra traffic on Embarcadero.

My concerns are several if Churchill is closed:
• What about the children, parents and teachers not being able to get to Paly High from Alma? Do they have to drive down El Camino every day?
• What about all the residents clustered in the Southgate portion of town – those living on the south side of Churchill between the tracks and El Camino. Churchill is their main way to get into and out of their area (the other option is to wind around Park Blvd.). Would they have to drive to Oregon every time they wanted to visit Rinconada Library or the Palo Alto Art Center?

As one Palo Alto online blogger put it: “Closing the Churchill crossing will have the same effect as the gates being down 100% of the time. Under the current situation, the gates are down, what, 25% of the time? That's a 75% improvement over closing the intersection completely.” Of course, with more trains, the gates will be down a lot more, but closing a street is much worse than having it available half the time (and more on weekends).

Installing a berm in the area would probably require some houses to be torn down, which is terrible, I know, and makes us all feel very uncomfortable. Yet I think it has to be done, since the train-crossing problem will not only continue but get worse in the future. I can only hope through eminent domain that the affected residents get a really high compensation for their homes.

So don’t close Churchill Avenue. That’s my uncomfortable solution.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Eliminate Charleston & east Meadow As Well, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Apr 2, 2019 at 7:55 am

I would close off East Meadow & Charleston as well leaving only San Antonio Road, Page Mill Road & Alma/ECR as the primary RR crossings.

The traffic factor will not change in terms of overall numbers. While the closures would create a diversion, all cities have traffic 'bottlenecks' in certain areas.

Traffic would flow more smoothly along Alma & all that's needed is a below the tracks pedestrian/bikeway.

No one misses the California Avenue/Alma closure. Cars use the Page Mill/Oregon underpass & there is a subway beneath Alma & California.

The residents who reside on these crossover streets will probably appreciate the reduced traffic.

Posted by Chip, a resident of Professorville,
on Apr 2, 2019 at 12:43 pm

Closing off Churchill is a terrible idea. Embarcadero is already too narrow for the traffic volume it carries. How will the Southgaters go south? Put in a signal @ Miramonte & El Camino to allow left turns?
Churchill as it is is better than a dead ended Churchill.

Will the next suggestion from the local genii be moving PAHS?

It's way past time to stop allowing increased growth here, both residential & commercial. There are already enough locals here to support locally-owned businesses. We don't need anymore tech business offices or centers but I do vote for a decent supermarket. Wouldn't you rather keep those dollars in town than sending shoppers to MP or Mt. View?

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 2, 2019 at 5:24 pm

There is a simple, easy solution. Dig the cross streets straight under Alma and the tracks on their present footprints. No connections to Alma. No property takings. Done.

Close Meadow. It is redundant with Charleston, and its terminus at El Camino Way makes it an awkward arterial at best.

Posted by Imagine if..., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Apr 2, 2019 at 6:33 pm

Chip- regarding embarcadero road, do you remember that yoriko kishimoto tried to get that road narrowed to 1 lane in each direction? Can you imagine the traffic mess if that would have happened. I will not mention here, whose home was located on embarcadero road.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Apr 2, 2019 at 7:12 pm

Well it seems that they don't mind making driving completely unviable in this town. This is their long-term goal.
As it stands, people who commute by car alone, who make up the majority of the population, have the lowest priority and if in the long-term Palo Alto succeeds in phasing out cars and making the majority ride bicycles or use trains/buses like in a European city, they are still doing it in a destructive manner.

Posted by Oldster, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Apr 3, 2019 at 3:16 pm

Why can't we think about this railroad track crossings safety and car congestion issue as a regional and multi-modal transportation issue, not just a Palo Alto we-need-X-now problem at just 3 intersections?

The variables:
- Caltrain and Union Pacific BIg Train track right of way is being electrified and we'll then have more commuter trains.
- No one has the nerve (yet) to do any eminent domain taking of that rail right of way despite th fact the rail companies don't use all their land for their trains.
- Our local and regional train and car traffic will get much much worse very soon given all the new office and Stanford construction already approved
- How many of the Palo Alto City Council members will give up entirely forever and always their own private care and their own private parking spaces at City Hall in favor of their feet, a bike or mass transit?!? zexpecting us to do that and not them to "solve" our transit problems is a laugh. So, please, City Hall, stop saying anything about "mass" transit or bikes or pedestoan options as any real solution. A bike and pedestrian Churchill undepass will not reduce traffic messes around the Churchill train crossing one iota.

How about a few new ideas?

- Allow driverless electric quiet cars and mini buses to zip from Alma at San Francisquito Creek to Central Expressway at San Jose Airport at 5-10 miles faster than the current speed permit and see what happens. Do it as a one year test and see what happens. That might reduce some of the through-traffic congestion.

- Palo Alto could do eminent domain on the traintracks, bury the tracks in a tunnel; put parks, and dedicated bicycle and pedesrian paths on top. That would give more room on and next toAlma for high speed automomous vehicle lanes for the through-traffic.

One day the Bay Are will have high speed urban automomous vehicles lanes. Why not have the first in Palo Alto?

Posted by Rick, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Apr 4, 2019 at 1:38 pm

Remove/condemn commercial properties that contain businesses that drive commuter traffic. Repeat until traffic reaches a level sustainable by the infrastructure.

Problem solved.

Posted by Staying Young Through Kids, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Apr 4, 2019 at 4:10 pm

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

I was dead set against a berm / wall / elevated viaduct I would gladly accept that over the closure of Churchill but I'm warming up to the idea given the ideas being proposed.

Forgetting the fantasy of a 2 mile linear park in the existing right of way, there is one though which I haven't heard much about if the train were to be below grade or elevated. That would be INCREASING the number of crossings for vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists.

If the citizens and the ROW stakeholders could work together to maintain the existing 6 crossings and add 2 more vehicle crossings and 10 (or more) pedestrian / bike crossings just within Palo Alto it would be an accessibility windfall for both residents and those commuting to workplaces up and down the Peninsula. It would work just as well (perhaps even better in some areas) all the way from San Mateo to Sunnyvale.

INCREASING the number of crossings would also make the El Camino VTA / SamTrans corridor many times more useful for those looking to get to the East side of the tracks...AND....additional mass transit routes could be added between 280 & 101. Too much of our mass transit ignores East / West travel in the areas between the two freeways.

Eliminate the tracks as a barrier for all types of travel and improve the lives of millions of taxpayers!

Posted by Staying Young Through Kids, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Apr 4, 2019 at 4:47 pm

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

Too funny....

@Eliminate Charleston & east Meadow As Well says:

"No one misses the California Avenue/Alma closure. Cars use the Page Mill/Oregon underpass & there is a subway beneath Alma & California."

I believe the author meant to say:

"No one under the age of 70 misses the California Avenue/Alma closure. Since 1959 cars have been using the Page Mill/Oregon underpass & there's even a spiffy new (non ADA compliant) subway beneath Alma & California."

Ironically....this entire conversation is VERY much like the one from 1961 when the Residentialist movement in PA all began due to the construction of Oregon Expressway! A bit before my time, but I'm glad the city built that underpass with the idea that Oregon Avenue MIGHT see more traffic in the future! And, yes, the Oregon underpass @ Alma / train tracks was built over 10 years before Oregon Expressway was built (glad they didn't need to build that twice!)

My thanks to the early 1960's PA City Council (and voters) for having the foresight to build roads & bridges that proved adequate for 50+ years. Hopefully we can now add to our infrastructure in a way that works for the next 50+ years!

Posted by love2bike, a resident of Professorville,
on Apr 5, 2019 at 11:23 am

I would love to see Alma/Churchill crossing be closed for car traffic, it will make the crossing so much safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Car traffic will adapt driving patterns and maybe more folks would try to bike and walk and realize how great it is to use infrastructure as a cyclist or pedestrian. In the long term it would make Palo Alto more ready for the future as less car, and carbon dependent city.

Posted by Aptoide for PC, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Apr 7, 2019 at 3:10 pm

post deleted

Posted by Aptoide for ios, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 7, 2019 at 3:11 pm

post deleted

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton,
on Apr 8, 2019 at 12:26 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"How about a few new ideas?

- Palo Alto could do eminent domain on the traintracks, bury the tracks in a tunnel; put parks, and dedicated bicycle and pedesrian paths on top. That would give more room on and next toAlma for high speed automomous vehicle lanes for the through-traffic."

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2015 at 2:36 pm
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.
If this is done one crossing at a time it will be very expensive, take a long time and result in a dis-integrated design.

Please at least think about a more comprehensive and integrated approach.

Why not see this as an opportunity rather than a problem?

One thought is the put the trains underground, use the surface rights above it for housing in the stretches between stations and use the surface above the stations for transit connections and parking. The surface area of the current right of way is very valuable land - particularly in Atherton - and could generate a lot of the needed capital.

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. And add pedestrian path and a separate bicycle path on the surface along the entire right of way. And include 3 or 4 12" conduits for the technology of the future.

We should think of this right of way as an integrated multi-modal communications spine for the peninsula.

A piecemeal approach will be very expensive.

Do it once and do it right.

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