News


Woman dies after train strikes SUV in Menlo Park

 

A woman in her 30s died Monday night from injuries sustained when her silver Acura SUV was struck by a southbound train at around 4:45 p.m. at the Ravenwood Avenue crossing in Menlo Park.

The woman, the lone occupant of the vehicle, was driving west and became stuck on the tracks at the Ravenswood crossing when the car was hit, said Harold Schapelhouman, chief of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

She was apparently boxed in by traffic as the gates came down. The SUV flew 40 feet from the impact with the baby bullet train, which was traveling at 79 mph, Caltrain officials said.

Witnesses to the accident administered CPR until medics arrived and took her to Stanford Hospital, said Caltrain spokesperson Mark Simon. She was pronounced dead a short time later.

A child safety seat was found in the car but was unoccupied, Chief Schapelhouman said.

All trains were stopped in both directions until about 5:30 p.m. when a single track was opened through the area, Caltrain officials said. Around 6 p.m., the northbound tracks reopened for all trains.

The crossing gate mechanism was destroyed and the train sustained "substantial damage," said Caltrain spokesperson Jayme Ackemann. The train may need repair work before it can be moved out of the crossing, she said.

The tragedy prompted Caltrain to remind motorists to never stop on the tracks. "Under any circumstances, do not stop on the tracks," Mr. Simon said. "Don't start across the tracks until you can get all the way across."

Menlo Park police issued an advisory at 4:49 p.m. Tuesday that Ravenswood Avenue at El Camino Real and the train tracks was reopened after being closed since the accident.

Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

Comments

36 people like this
Posted by So sad
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 23, 2015 at 10:55 pm

So many people get stuck at the tracks there due to pedestrians in the nearby crosswalk, bikers crossing illegally at the tracks, and all the cars turning left between 4 and 6 pm even though it's not allowed. That intersection is so hazardous to pedestrians and now this happened. Maybe Menlo Park will finally spend some time planning safety improvements there. Very sad this woman lost her life. :(


18 people like this
Posted by Susan Smith
a resident of Woodside: other
on Feb 24, 2015 at 6:31 am

It is time to elevate the tracks like San Carlos did. The safety is increased, the noise of the train diminished and it looks nice. Time for a change.


9 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 24, 2015 at 7:17 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

It is sad this woman lost her life.

It is also sad that the train engineer involved with life with the memories of this forever.

And it is sad that the first responders had deal with the carnage.

So what can be done NOW to prevent the exact same tragedy happening today?
Follow the law:

"If you need to stop after crossing the tracks, wait until you can completely cross the tracks before proceeding. Make sure your vehicle clears the tracks before you stop.
Never stop on the railroad tracks. Remember that a train cannot stop quickly or swerve out of the way. If you are on the tracks, you risk injury or death."


What can be done to eliminate the possibility of such tragedies in the future?
A separated grade crossing - which will take years to approve and cost millions of dollars.


12 people like this
Posted by Menlo Mom
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 24, 2015 at 7:55 am

What happened to all of the other comments that appeared last night (including mine)?

Editor's note: I took that thread offline because there were too many posts that needed editing due to insensitive comments, etc.


33 people like this
Posted by J
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 24, 2015 at 8:44 am

Tragic.

Simple fix -- Add a traffic light at the intersection of Ravenswood and Alma. That intersection is one of the least safe ones I have seen in all the Bay Area.


31 people like this
Posted by Sad
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 24, 2015 at 9:18 am

Brian, the accident occurred at 4:45 PM when traffic is quite heavy. Even if she was headed towards El Camino, traffic gets backed up because of the El Camino traffic light and I can see how one could get stuck on the tracks.

I cross this intersection every day, both as a pedestrian and a driver, and it is more confusing and dangerous than any other intersection I have ever encountered, even without the railroad tracks. There's just too much to look out for: pedestrians in the crosswalk, drivers stoping to turn left on to Alma, and frequent back ups because of the short distance between the tracks and light at El Camino. And because it is near a train station, the gate guard goes down more frequently, causing huge traffic back ups when traffic is heavy.

The only solution is grade separation, but that will take years. An immediate solution would be to ban all left turns at that intersection, which are dangerous even without the railroad crossing. Getting rid of the crosswalk would also help but it's the most convenient way to get to the Library/Burges park, and people will just j-walk without a crosswalk.

I am very sorry for the woman who was killed and for her friends/family who are grieving.


22 people like this
Posted by time for grade separation
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 9:18 am

My heart goes out to the family that lost a mom, wife, sister to such a tragic and avoidable accident. I also feel for the train employees and first responders, and bystanders who were involved, too.

However, with so much new development - and lots and lots of new traffic - coming to the middle of our town, this sort of accident easily could become more common. Abrupt stops are required frequently already due to the crosswalk at Ravenswood and Alma, and due to the light at el camino. Trains could become more frequent, and we know traffic will be much worse. So why is our Council ignoring the need for grade separation? We can't wait 20 years to think about it. The time to act is now. A decision today couldn't be built for a number of years, so they need to get on with this NOW.

btw It is baffling to me that some like hendrickson and duboc are pushing for Alma to be a bike path. All we need is to add bikers trying to get across Ravenswood in the mix of what's already congested and confusing. Distracted drivers wouldn't be the only ones at risk in such a scenario.


14 people like this
Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 9:30 am

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

Getting rid of the crosswalk is simply not an option. People need to cross there to get to the facilities at Burgess or to get to Caltrain. There are too many people walking between the two sides of Ravenswood, closing the crosswalk is a terrible idea.

Agree that it is time for a grade separation.


17 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 9:39 am

"J" has an excellent idea. A traffic signal at Alma and Ravenswood which works like the signals in PA at Churchill, Meadow and Charleston. The signal allows eastbound traffic to clear the intersection while stopping westbound traffic and it also stops the Alma pedestrian and vehicle cross traffic.


5 people like this
Posted by Sad
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 24, 2015 at 10:17 am

Think about it. A traffic light at the Ravenswood/Alma intersection would cause even more traffic delays/huge back-ups, which is why a light has never been installed there. It would need to sync up with the light at El Camino and the frequent train crossings. You could sit for a long time at a red light but still be unable to move on a green light because of the train crossing or traffic backed up between El Camino and the tracks. That is why we need grade separation.

The crossings at Churchill, Meadow and Charleston aren't as complex or close to El Camino. It just won't work at Alma/Ravenswood.


14 people like this
Posted by Another Menlo Mom
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 24, 2015 at 10:34 am

driver mistake + dangerous crossing = horrible tragedy

Nothing we can do now for the deceased, but please let's try to make this intersection safer. While we are waiting for a grade separation, can't we at least eliminate any left turns at that intersection and put up some barriers to enforce that? How about considering a pedestrian/bike bridge over Ravenswood?


10 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 24, 2015 at 11:09 am

I agree that a traffic light is badly needed at that intersection. Lots of pedestrians and bicyclists cross the street there to get from the train station to Burgess Park and the pedestrian bridge to Palo Alto. A traffic light would also reduce the distractions and confusion to car drivers. Palo Alto has figured out how to synchronize their traffic lights with the Caltrain gates, so I'm sure Menlo Park can do the same.


19 people like this
Posted by Aaron
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 24, 2015 at 11:18 am

Aaron is a registered user.

As I posted on the previous article, my thoughts go out to the family and friends of the woman, daughter, sister, wife, aunt, cousin who perished in the horrific accident yesterday evening, as well as the first responders, commuters, train operators and the citizens who did their best to help.

Two articles from the past two years to read:

First is on how MP was denied funding to look at options for a re-design of this very railroad crossing:

Web Link

The second is an update on what Palo Alto is considering (note, they already have traffic light coordination on Alma to clear traffic on Charleston/W. Meadow with an approaching train...something MP should do for ECR with triggers from signals at the Alma St. crossing in Palo Alto, and trains passing through Atherton Station giving more than enough time to coordinate traffic on ECR in time for any backup to clear):

Web Link

We should not accept more death in the heart of our town before we act, and with a projected 10-12 trains per hour with track electrification, and possibly 20 per hour with high speed rail (it's coming, people...we need to prepare for it), it's time to move forward with grade separation.

As we consider the Stanford development project and its promised bike/pedestrian underpass, perhaps we should take this time to consider re-designing the entire corridor, in conjunction with our neighbors in Palo Alto, Atherton, and Redwood City with trenched or elevated grade separation.

In the meantime, we should coordinate traffic signals at ECR to clear the load on Ravenswood when a train is approaching (this would include a No Turn on RED sign on NB ECR that is triggered with trains approaching), bar left and right turns at the Alma intersection, put up a traffic light at the Alma intersection that will control pedestrian crossing in a coordinated way with the traffic lights on ECR, and perhaps more clearly mark the stay-clear zone around the tracks.

How can we best organize to push this forward? Let's stop talking about it and get moving on it!


12 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 24, 2015 at 11:26 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"As we consider the Stanford development project and its promised bike/pedestrian underpass, perhaps we should take this time to consider re-designing the entire corridor, in conjunction with our neighbors in Palo Alto, Atherton, and Redwood City with trenched or elevated grade separation."

Note this posting:
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:24 pm
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.
What not see this as an opportunity rather than a problem?

One thought is the put the trains underground and the surface rights above it for housing in the stretches between stations and to 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, etc.

I would add a pedestrian path and a separate bicycle path on the surface along the entire right of way. And I would 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.

Let's take the big view and come up with a win-win solution.


3 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 11:40 am

time for grade separation,

"It is baffling to me that some like hendrickson (ME!) and duboc are pushing for Alma to be a bike path. All we need is to add bikers trying to get across Ravenswood in the mix of what's already congested and confusing. Distracted drivers wouldn't be the only ones at risk in such a scenario.:

Since no one seems to know how many cyclists already cross Ravenswood using Alma, would do so with a well-designed intersection, how safe that could be, how can you criticize the idea?

Cyclists already use Alma. Experienced commuting cyclists - like me - know how to cross a busy street. An Alma-based bike route is in the Specific Plan. And bike lanes and bike paths on El Camino Real would be MUCH less safe because of al the highway intersections and mid-block public entries and exits.

Go talk to Palo Alto about its RENOWNED City Bike Network. Palo Alto encourages cyclists to stay OFF El Camino Real for good reasons. Are you really that much smarter than them?


Like this comment
Posted by Aaron
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 24, 2015 at 11:46 am

Aaron is a registered user.

Peter - I remember that post and I completely agree. I suppose it would only be possible if perhaps the use of the land above a submerged rail line would provide enough revenue to offset a significant portion of the costs.

So...how do we organize to get this moving forward while also taking steps to minimize fatalities and near-tragedies with the current grade crossings at Ravenswood, Glenwood, Oak Grove, Encinal, Watkins and Fair Oaks (priority on Ravenswood as it's the major thoroughfare)?


4 people like this
Posted by dana hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 11:51 am

Never, ever stop on train tracks. If there is ANY possibility one cannot clear them, take a deep breath and wait. I am saddened by this accident but glad this woman's child was not in the car.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 24, 2015 at 11:58 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"how do we organize to get this moving forward while also taking steps to minimize fatalities and near-tragedies with the current grade crossings"

First, let's do everything we can to educate people on the fundamental rules of train crossings and also start rigorously enforcing compliance with those rules.

Second, every citizen who wants to prevent future tragedies like this should urge their respective city/town councils and their elected County and State leaders to endorse AND FUND an integrated multi-modal communications spine for the peninsula.


18 people like this
Posted by scott
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:19 pm

It's easy for the police or the newscasters to say this woman wasn't paying attention or should have stopped before the tracks but I've often gotten stuck at this particular intersection. There is A LOT of unpredictable activity between the pedestrians at the crosswalk, the traffic light, and cars turning onto Alma. I just wish there was a way she could have gotten out of her car before she was struck. So sad she lost her life.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

And just now a northbound train has struck a pedestrian at the Palo Alto station.
Details not yet known.


2 people like this
Posted by menlo oaks doctor
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:28 pm

I agree the grade separation is the preferable solution, but the cheapest most effective temporary solution would be a bike/pedestrian bridge across Ravenswood where the crosswalk with flashing lights now is. I have been stuck on the tracks myself when the car in front of me suddenly stops when the lights go on


9 people like this
Posted by Block it
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:29 pm

How about installing bollards so that no one can turn left off of Alma to Ravenswood? This would force people to use Laurel and keep traffic flowing a little smoother. It may not prevent all accidents but is a start, can be implemented now and provide more time for a study on what to do with that dangerous intersection.


3 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:41 pm

For some reason my previous post was removed. I did not find it insensative but I guess the editors did. I guess they will remove this one as well

"Brian, the accident occurred at 4:45 PM when traffic is quite heavy. Even if she was headed towards El Camino, traffic gets backed up because of the El Camino traffic light and I can see how one could get stuck on the tracks."

I completely disagree. If you follow the law and common sense you do not move forward until there is enough room for your vehicle on the other side of the tracks. The same goes for intersections. People seem to be too busy to wait and end up blocking the intersection for cross traffic. In this case she was on the tracks, did not move or get away from the vehicle when the crossing arms came down and [portion removed; an investigation is underway to determine what the driver might have been doing; speculation is not helpful]. That ads up to a tragic situation. We don't need grade separation, we need drivers to pay attention to what they are doing.


19 people like this
Posted by ki
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:44 pm

Really a tragic situation. AND, telling people just to be more careful not to get stuck on the tracks is an insufficient response; our community needs to take a larger look and take action immediately for a safer intersection. I don't think a light at Ravenswood/Alma is going to work well; and if Charleston/Middlefield is the model, it REALLY won't work--that is one of the scariest intersections in Palo Alto for crossing the tracks and turning onto Middlefield. I agree that a grade separation is the BEST answer...and let's get going on it! In the meantime, a pedestrian bridge instead of that ridiculous and very dangerous crosswalk would be a good short-term step. The overall chaos of the intersection definitely adds to the problem.

Heart goes out to this woman's family and friends.


2 people like this
Posted by Tanya
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:46 pm

With traffic becoming more and more of a problem in this area, I think reminders to stay back from the track unless you can make it over safely to the other side would be helpful. It's a small thing but we know that people usually have their eyes on their phones when sitting in traffic waiting for a light, so maybe a small visual reminder would register when they finally do put their eyes on the road.

A few signs are simple compared to the other longer term alternatives.

There are also lots and lots of MA kids crossing these tracks on foot, bike and in car every day. Would be helpful to them as well.


10 people like this
Posted by Sad
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:52 pm

This intersection will become even more congested next year when the little shops on Alma (Iberia Restaurant, Cindy's nails, laundromat, hair salon, etc.) will be bulldozed to make way for a 3 story office building. You think this intersection is bad now, just wait...


6 people like this
Posted by Responsible
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 24, 2015 at 1:01 pm

As tragic as this is (and I worry when they put out her name I'll know her), I have to agree with those that say, just don't pull onto the tracks if you can't clear them.

We are all responsible for our own actions. We can't expect the City/State/Feds to make everything "safe" for us.

Yes traffic is bad, yes a grade separation would be nice, but take some personal responsibility and drive defensively.


23 people like this
Posted by CCB
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 24, 2015 at 1:02 pm

This intersection, which I use every single day, usually multiple times, is terrifying.

It is easy to say "don't get stuck on the tracks" but traffic in this area is so aggressive, particularly in rush hour. It's hard to be the one sane one who sits and waits until a full auto-length gap opens up on the other side of the train tracks--and often some impatient driver will swerve around and into that gap, rather than wait.

I've gotten honked at repeatedly when I stop for pedestrians crossing Alma and/or Ravenswood--ostensibly by people who can't see the obstacle and don't understand why I'm not moving. Cyclists--especially kids!--are also trying to squeeze through on their way to M-A. The bike lane between El Camino and the train tracks curves and every single day I'm in it, I see drivers swerving into it. Drivers rarely look to their right before turning onto Alma from Ravenswood, endangering any cyclist who isn't riding defensively and anticipating getting hit. (which describes 90% of teens that I've seen).

The intersection at Laurel and Ravenswood isn't much better, with dozens of pedestrians headed to SRI during peak transit hours and impatient, distracted drivers attempting to turn left with no signal.

I understand people wanting to optimize El Camino for traffic but the East-West routes in our city require much more urgent attention, particularly if we want to continue to encourage people to walk and bike and use our fantastic municipal facilities around Burgess.

IMHO this should be a top priority of City Council and planners.


Like this comment
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Feb 24, 2015 at 1:09 pm

pogo is a registered user.

CCB: "It is easy to say "don't get stuck on the tracks" but traffic in this area is so aggressive, particularly in rush hour. It's hard to be the one sane one who sits and waits until a full auto-length gap opens up on the other side of the train tracks."

You HAVE to be the sane one. It is preferable to the alternative.


23 people like this
Posted by ki
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Feb 24, 2015 at 1:12 pm

I guess I just don't think this is an either/or matter. Should people drive more safely and defensively? Absolutely. Should they not cross rr tracks unless they can clear? Obviously. But good urban planning doesn't just rely on each driver to be safe and responsible. A dangerous intersection is a dangerous intersection--and this one is plenty dangerous. Again, there is a LOT going on there, especially at rush hour. It's easy to get confused, pressured, or whatever.

Part of the function of city planning is to set up roads and encourage traffic patterns that maximize safe and responsible transportation choices. So, let's do that! This isn't a matter of big/small government; it's a matter of working together to create the kind of community we want to live in.


21 people like this
Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

I told this story in the thread that was deleted, but I have had the experience of having part of my car stuck on the tracks through no fault of my own. I leave space in front of me and wait to make sure my car will clear the tracks before crossing. I have had a car in the left lane suddenly veer into my lane, as I am crossing the tracks, and occupy the space I was planning to take. Cars behind me prevented me from backing up. I did honk quite loudly to indicate the car shouldn't have done that, I don't know what else I could have done in the moment. I was very lucky no train came while the back end of my car was over the tracks. As traffic volumes increase I fear this scenario will happen again.

I should note that on more than one occasion I have been waiting to cross the tracks, and had cars change lanes and pull in front of me, placing themselves right on the tracks. People are too impatient and distracted while driving. We can hector people about driving responsibly or we can minimize the risk to innocent people (like train engineers!) and get moving on grade separation.


4 people like this
Posted by Samia
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 24, 2015 at 1:24 pm

As Sad mentioned above, this intersection is a terrible spot for another 3 story office building like the one submitted to the Planning Commission in December. I wonder what percentage of employees will drive with the new two-level underground parking garage proposed:

Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Aaron
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 24, 2015 at 1:37 pm

Aaron is a registered user.

@ki - I drove down Alma to take a right onto Charleston twice a day, every day for the past three years. Yes, it's a "scary" intersection, but at LEAST it has coordinated traffic signals. When a train is approaching, the lights on Alma immediately change, and the green comes on for Charleston east bound to relieve any traffic congestion that might be sitting on top of the tracks.

It's not ideal, but in lieu of a grade separation, it seems to be working. I think we need a grade separation (is there enough approach space to put Ravenswood underneath the tracks?), but in the meantime, I'd say we consider some of the below:

1) Put a barrier to block east-bound vehicles on Ravenswood from turning left onto Alma (and westbound's on Ravenswood turning left onto Alma as well)

2) Install a coordinated traffic light at Alma and westbound Ravenswood (and at northbound Alma and Ravenswood)that serves two functions:
a) Stops traffic when pedestrian crossing is active
b) Coordinates such pedestrian crossing with the traffic signals at ECR so that pedestrians crossing at Alma can only do so when traffic eastbound on Ravenswood is stopped.

3) Modify the traffic lights at ECR/Ravenswood/Menlo Ave. and coordinate them with the trains, breaking the cycle to immediately alleviate traffic westbound on Ravenswood and block traffic eastbound on Ravenswood (no turn on red northbound on ECR) with approaching trains. This would need to be triggered early enough to allow for the inch worm nature of clearance from an intersection (or better coordinated with real-time caltrain traffic data)

4) Incorporate a full traffic hold at ECR/Ravenswood/Menlo to allow pedestrians to cross from all four corners all at once (rather than have pedestrians cross ECR into turning traffic, which also contributes to congestion on Ravenswood). This four-way traffic hold for all vehicles would be timed with the crossing at Ravenswood/Alma for the city hall complex to ensure that
a) There was no traffic congestion eastbound on ravenswood that could be on the tracks
b) pedestrians crossing ravenswood/alma toward SRI/city hall complex/burgess could cross safely at this light with all traffic stopped.

5) Block exit onto Ravenswood from the Caltrain/business parking lot south of Ravenswood so that cars cannot exit this lot onto Ravenswood (leave entrance from Ravenswood intact)


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 24, 2015 at 1:44 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"the cheapest most effective temporary solution would be a bike/pedestrian bridge across Ravenswood where the crosswalk with flashing lights now is."

ADA requirements mean that such a bike/pedestrian bridge across Ravenswood would have to have approach ramps on either side of about 150 ft. Where would those go?


4 people like this
Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 1:51 pm

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

A bike/ped bridge is very expensive for a temporary solution, and doesn't solve the problem that cars and trains are moving on the same level. Rather than dropping untold millions on something that doesn't really fix the problem, let's just do it right the first time.


20 people like this
Posted by Carol Kelly
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 24, 2015 at 2:02 pm

I am so sad this tragedy happened! I believe even when we are following the rules, and staying off the tracks this kind of accident can still happen.

When going West bound, there is only one lane that goes straight into town. This lane gets backed up down Ravenswood. I have often been behind and stopped at the tracks, waiting for it to clear ahead so I can proceed. When it does clear, I start to move and a car from the left lane jumps in the gap and cuts me off. In the mean time I have started to drive forward and are now left on the tracks!

Inconsiderate drivers who don't want to wait in the queue drive in the left lane and cut over at the last moment and trap the other driver on the tracks. It wouldn't surprise me if an investigation finds that this happened yesterday. Rarely would someone intentionally sit idle on the tracks. I would bet she was cut off when she started through that intersection.

We could all try to be a little more considerate of each other and not be so aggressive on the road since we all want to get home safely. Unfortunately until the city does something to remedy this crossing (from both sides), more accidents will occur.


1 person likes this
Posted by Aaron
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 24, 2015 at 2:16 pm

Aaron is a registered user.

Closing off the possibility of left turns from Ravenswood onto Alma (in either direction) would set up the possibility to make clear lane markings between Laurel and Alma on westbound Ravenswood so that people turning left onto ECR are directed earlier to the left lane, people turning R onto Merrill/ECR or going on to Menlo ave. are directly earlier to the right lane. Can put lane separators up to enforce people in the left lane stay left, etc.

Maybe even put a system in place to warn drivers further up in traffic when a car at the end of the line is on the tracks. I often see drivers leave tons of space between their cars when pulling up a few feet each to pack the cars in could save someone's life 4-5 cars behind them.


2 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 24, 2015 at 2:21 pm

And with the new office block going in to replace Iberia, there's going to be even more cross traffic at that junction!. Something's got to be sacrificed in driving convenience to make that junction safer.


6 people like this
Posted by Edward Syrett
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 24, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Edward Syrett is a registered user.

First let me compliment Peter Carpenter on his very sensible suggestions. What the Peninsula has needed all along is NOT "High Speed Rail" but an integrated plan to get the most advantage from the CalTrain corridor while minimizing the hazards and inconvenience. HSR would need to go faster than 80 mph, the reported speed of the train that struck the SUV. At that speed, the train covers the length of a football field every 2.5 seconds. If you're stuck on the tracks and can even see the train approaching at that speed, you haven't time to get out of your seat belt and exit the vehicle before it hits you. And Menlo Park's downtown traffic is already hideous at busy times. I agree with the poster who wrote
"However, with so much new development - and lots and lots of new traffic - coming to the middle of our town, this sort of accident easily could become more common. Abrupt stops are required frequently already due to the crosswalk at Ravenswood and Alma, and due to the light at el camino. Trains could become more frequent, and we know traffic will be much worse. So why is our Council ignoring the need for grade separation? We can't wait 20 years to think about it. The time to act is now. A decision today couldn't be built for a number of years, so they need to get on with this NOW."


4 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 24, 2015 at 2:44 pm

I am sorry but I disagree with many of you who think that a grade seperation or ped/bike bridge need to be built. People need to pay attention. We don't need to become a "Nanny State" where everyone is prevented from every possible way to make a mistake. It is already bad enough we force people to wear seat belts and motorcycle helmets.

Put up some more signs if that would help but big flashing warnings, a dropping crossing arm and the ringing noise did not seem to work in this case so I am not sure if signs will. Maybe what is needed is to have the police spend a few random evening there issuing tickets to people who don't follow the law.

In that particular intersection you can drive past the crosswalk and right up to the crossing arm without blocking cross traffic and still being safely away from the tracks. When you are there no one can cut in front of you and you can wait until there is ample room on the other side of the tracks.

And frankly who cares if someone honks at you for obeying the law. Would you drive though a red light because someone behind you honks?


1 person likes this
Posted by Edward Syrett
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 24, 2015 at 2:44 pm

Edward Syrett is a registered user.

Permit me an observation on gee-whiz technology. The glitz (even in publications like Communications of the ACM) is glittering on self-driving cars. What "we" (Google and the auto industry) could do is develop a plan for sensors on new cars (which are already pretty much fly-by-wire) integrated with really smart complex-intersection controllers. Imagine if a master computer could know, in real time, exactly where every car was in an area enclosed by a 100-meter circle centered on that level crossing. It could anticipate queue demands and signal approaching cars to avoid the area if necessary. Not that we shouldn't aim for grade separation here, but in general, we need to use technology in practical ways to get more bang for already-invested bucks.


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Posted by Aaron
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 24, 2015 at 6:40 pm

Aaron is a registered user.

Long Time Resident: We all have opinions. I think you and Brian are absolutely in the wrong. There are things we can do to save lives. This is a very busy intersection that a large portion of the community crosses on a daily basis. As a community, we should try to make it safer. The cost of adding better safety measures is insignificant compared to lives saved.


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Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 24, 2015 at 6:48 pm

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Moderator - Why are you editing posts then going back and removing them?

Editor's note: I'm removing comments that primarily speculate on what she did, what she saw, and whether she was at fault.


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Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 24, 2015 at 6:51 pm

Brian is a registered user.

"Long Time Resident: We all have opinions. I think you and Brian are absolutely in the wrong. There are things we can do to save lives. This is a very busy intersection that a large portion of the community crosses on a daily basis. As a community, we should try to make it safer. The cost of adding better safety measures is insignificant compared to lives saved."

Ridiculous. You can save a lot of lives if you limit everything a person can do and take away everything sharp or pointy, etc. How far should the government go in protecting every human being from being able to do something that bring harm to them selves? Take responsibility for your own actions and make other take responsibility for theirs.


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Posted by mark
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 24, 2015 at 8:51 pm

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Seems like Cal Trans could also contribute to a solution. Their trains could stop at this station or at least slow down when passing this admittedly dangerous crossing. Sure it would add a few minutes to the schedule but this intersection is a known hazard. Moreover if the train were moving slower it would have a better chance of stopping or at least slowing down and the survivabilty of a collision would be much better. 79 mph is just too fast given the inherent dangers of the crossing.


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Posted by Aaron
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 24, 2015 at 8:54 pm

Aaron is a registered user.

Brian - We just have a difference of opinion. I won't bother arguing with you on this as it's not worth discussing it with somebody who believes that requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets and drivers to wear seat belts is indicative that our "Nanny State" is "bad enough".


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Posted by JMIR
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 9:34 pm

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I cross here every day. There are often avoidable dangerous situations in the eastbound directions which we've heard about here but this accident was westbound and it is easy to get stuck on the tracks there even when you are doing everything right.

Going westbound, I regularly begin to cross the tracks (in the right lane) after waiting for space to open up on the other side in front of me and then someone changes from the left to right lane and leaves me stuck on the tracks. I don't think these people are even breaking a law. Lane markers allow lane changes there. Of course it's the people who wait for room at the other side of the intersection who are most likely to be cut off like this.

There is a a combination of factors that encourage people to change lanes immediately after the crossing
- signage about turning lanes is only visible after the crossing so people cross the tracks first and then realize what lane they should be in
- it's the last place you can change lanes before El Camino, the solid lane markers start about 100 yards past the rail crossing.
- the empty space left by cars waiting to cross tracks safely might look like a good lane changing opportunity to some.

Why can't we move the signage about left being a turning lane at El Camino to an earlier spot before the track crossing and Alma and also make lane changes illegal after the track crossing? I'm not suggesting this instead of a grade change but this seems like something we could get going tomorrow while waiting for a grade change.



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Posted by Aaron
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 24, 2015 at 10:25 pm

Aaron is a registered user.

This has happened before, it will happen again:

Web Link

We've seen this enough. Too many have been inconvenienced, injured, or even killed. City Council, it's well past time to act. This needs to be pushed up on your list of priorities.


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Posted by LocalRes
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2015 at 4:12 am

LocalRes is a registered user.

Personally, I agree with the posters who note that this can be a challenging intersection for the best and most alert drivers and this particular accident is enormously sad. Let's not judge what did or did not occur.

The other element of the issue generally is not about the complexity of the intersection, but about the amount of time between when the guards come down and the train comes through and the actual speed of the train. The Almance cited that the train in this instance was traveling at 79 MPH. think about that, 79 miles per hour through the middle of a busy downtown area where kids and cars are passing all day long. None of this is to fault the train personnel, but just an observation on the other part of the challenge. In the event that the intersection causes someone to be caught under or in gates, there is virtually no time to react since the train is quite close and traveling at a high rate of speed. In theory, suppose that the gates came down 2 minutes early and the train speed was reduced. There would be more time to react for both drivers and train personnel. Of course, the argument is that commute times extend and traffic gets backed up at the gates and surrounding streets. To me, the solution lies in considering both the intersection issues and the warning/speed issues. As a resident of this town and a frequent user of CalTrain, I'd take a longer commute and some more traffic from time to time in MP in order to contribute to less risky intersections.


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Posted by Steve Follmer
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Feb 25, 2015 at 4:17 am

Steve Follmer is a registered user.

Could we not just sell or lease Caltrain to Google, get rid if the inefficient train, and replace it with a corridor for self-driving cars. And housing for all their H-1B’s. Eliminate all the deaths, all the noise, and curb high-speed rail while we’re about it.


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Posted by SandyB
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 25, 2015 at 12:40 pm

SandyB is a registered user.

First of all, my condolences to the family and friends of the young women who lost her life on the Ravenswood train crossing. Also, my sympathy goes to the bystanders and first responders on the scene who witnessed this tragedy.
If this and other Peninsula crossings are not safe for the Baby Bullet, what does that say for High Speed Rail (HSR)? Any safety project must take the possibility of HSR into account.


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Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 25, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Brian is a registered user.

Aaron,

Glad you chose not to argue. I do think that requiring helmet and seat belts for adults is wrong. If someone chooses to knowingly risk their own well being it should be their choice. Note I say for adults, I think it makes sense to require it for minors. What is next, make it against the law to smoke or use any form of tobacco? Why not, we know for a fact that it harms people, why do we allow that? Same with hard alcohol. There is scientific proof that it is harmful and leads to many accidents, liver damage and unwanted pregnancy. Let's not let people have that choice, let's outlaw it. Shall I go on? Where would you put the limits?

My point is that it is not the job of the government to step in and prevent people from hurting themselves in any way. We have to rely on common sense and people obeying the laws that exist.


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Posted by KB
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 25, 2015 at 1:54 pm

KB is a registered user.

Aaron posted a link to the San Mateo County Transportation Authority's (TA) Staff Report of 11/13, stating that the TA denied funding to MP to analyze grade separation at the Ravenswood crossing. It was a helpful link, and I'm glad he posted it, but, upon review, I discovered that his information is actually out of date and incomplete. I did some research into the TA's subsequent meeting minutes to see whether funding was actually denied, and if so why, and the current status of the TA's grade separation program. I saw that the Board had only denied funding in 11/13 to MP because MP's proposal was flawed in not making clear that it would also study an alternative that would accommodate an overtake track consistent with the High Speed Rail/Blended System, as required. MP worked with the staff to revise its proposal to make this clear. According to the TA Board Meeting Minutes, dated 5/1/14, the TA then unanimously APPROVED $750K in funding to study grade separation at Ravenswood Ave. I thought that everyone would be interested to know that grade separation is apparently currently under analysis.

My heart too goes out to the family and friends of this poor woman. So sad.


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Posted by ki
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Feb 25, 2015 at 2:33 pm

ki is a registered user.

To those urging no community action to help prevent tragic situations like this one: I would just like to point out that the driver in this sort of situation is not the only one affected. Many of us have been completely thrown off our game by the event. The poor Caltrain driver...his/her life will be deeply changed, probably forever. I would wager that every single bystander to the accident was profoundly affected.

That's the thing about living in a community: we all affect each other. That's why we ALL (including our city and regional governments) have a responsibility to try to make this community a great place to live--and that includes taking (collective) action to make our roads as safe as possible.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2015 at 2:40 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"I would wager that every single bystander to the accident was profoundly affected."

And don't forget the ten firefighters who had to cut her out of the wreckage and, having found a child seat, kept digging and digging until they could be sure that no child was involved.


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Posted by Aaron
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 25, 2015 at 3:38 pm

Aaron is a registered user.

@KB, thanks for the up-to-date information. The Almanac has posted a new article on this:

Web Link

Let's all hope this means we can make some progress on making our community safer with regard to this matter. It would be nice to know what's been the progress on this subject since the funding approval in May (I imagine the council was fairly distracted with Measure M and elections, but it's been 9 months since the board meeting that you cited).


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2015 at 8:31 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Ki, I agree. Many, many people have been badly affected by her death. The bystanders and those that ran to help especially come to mind. Thank you for your observations.


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

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