News

Menlo Park plans next steps to improve rail crossing safety

 

People disagree on whether railroad tracks should be elevated above the street or buried underground in Menlo Park, and whether it's crossing design or inattention that causes the most problems, but based on comments at recent meetings, everyone agrees: Even after the Feb. 23 fatal collision at the Ravenswood crossing, drivers still get stuck on the railroad tracks on a daily basis, and something needs to be done.

The council rail subcommittee, made up of Vice Mayor Rich Cline and Councilwoman Kirsten Keith, met on Wednesday, March 18, to start answering the question of what can be done, both near-term and long-term.

Caltrain representative Marian Lee said the rail agency had conducted a hazards assessment of the Ravenswood intersection a couple months ago, and plans to meet with city officials in early April to further analyze the issues, but changes are at least 18 months away.

Ms. Keith said she thought that partnering with Caltrain would shorten the timeframe, given the agency's engineering expertise.

But Ms. Lee said the problem isn't technical, it's the amount of community outreach needed to even get a working problem statement. "It's the level of dialogue that's necessary," Ms. Lee explained, adding that San Bruno, which now has elevated tracks, took 10 years to implement above-grade crossings, she added, and whatever solution Menlo Park chooses, "the expense is great" and will require a lot of fundraising.

"You can say this is already a 10-year process," Ms. Keith noted. Menlo Park first started looking at grade separations in 2002. Now, the city has a $750,000 grant from the San Mateo County Transportation Authority to study the Ravenswood crossing, and the rail subcommittee's support for changing council policy to allow consideration of elevated tracks.

The expense will indeed be great: Transportation Manager Nikki Nagaya said that a 2009 study estimated the cost at $100 million to $400 million to elevate a two-track system at Ravenswood Avenue. Now, with Caltrain's plans for electrification, the number of tracks could be increased to three or four, which along with inflation would raise the cost.

Mr. Cline noted that no one really discusses building a tunnel instead. "We wouldn't be having these conversations if we tunnel ... It's safer," but the cost estimates scare everyone away, he said.

Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman said the district would love to partner with the city on installing signal pre-emption technology so that the coordination of green lights on Ravenswood at El Camino Real with train traffic would help keep vehicles moving.

Other near-term options the city will evaluate:

• Adjusting the Ravenswood pedestrian crosswalk, which is about 105 feet away from the tracks. One possibility is moving the crosswalk farther from the intersection.

• Posting electronic countdown signs that indicate when the next train will pass through the crossing.

• Prohibiting left turns from Alma Street onto Ravenswood Avenue entirely, rather than just during commute hours. Mr. Cline asked that a parking evaluation be included, as many of those now using Alma Street are patrons of the city's gym; he suggested looking at whether they could be encouraged to park in a location that would reduce traffic on Alma Street.

Ms. Nagaya told the Almanac that many of the suggested near-term changes "would result in changes to local circulation patterns, so it's important that we assess what those would be and understand how they may impact the community as we move forward in considering the modifications."

For grade separations, she said, the amount of work that's already been done may help expedite the city's review. Updates on the process will be posted on the city's website.

Comments

2 people like this
Posted by Stan
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Mar 19, 2015 at 6:13 pm

Train track crossing signals at Ravenswood
The following event sent a bit of a chill through me.
On Tuesday 3/17 at ~12:30 PM I was waiting for traffic on Ravenswood westbound to clear so that I could make a left turn from eastbound Ravenswood onto northbound Alma. A SAMTRANS bus bus heading westbound pulled up to the tracks and stopped but didn't proceed. Grumping at the driver a little bit I pulled forward and completed a semi "U" turn around the back of the bus. Only then did I notice that the rail crossing lights were flashing and the arms coming down. The key point here is that I didn't HEAR the ringing bells until I had passed the bus and was at the beginning of Alma. I was quite surprised that I didn't hear the bells ringing before I completed my turn and it makes me wonder in view of the recent tragedy here if all of the bells are actually functioning.
I don't know if the back of my truck was hanging over the tracks but all things considered I'm glad I didn't wait longer for the bus to move forward as the Northbound train came speeding up just about the time I entered the beginning of Alma.


23 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 19, 2015 at 9:56 pm

If the city had started work on elevating the tracks in 2002, it would have been done years ago. We need city leaders that will stand up to the NIMBYs and go ahead with projects that will improve the city as a whole.


11 people like this
Posted by Aaron
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 20, 2015 at 12:38 am

Aaron is a registered user.

I couldn't make the meeting, the timing of it could have been communicated a bit better. Couldn't two major improvements -- coordinated traffic lights on El Camino, and abolishing the left turns at Alma -- be done much sooner than an 18 month time frame? People can still get to the city gym: take Laurel and loop around. Inconvenience of a small detour to save lives at the crossing.


11 people like this
Posted by lessons learned
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Mar 20, 2015 at 7:59 am

lessons learned is a registered user.

Left turns from or to Alma should be prohibited at all times, with appropriate street barriers to prevent them. Period. And the Laurel/Ravenswood intersection, one of the most dangerous in the area, badly needs a new light, one that permits travel in only one direction at a time. Right now, cars exiting the civic center area (park, library, gym) have no incentive to go over to Laurel to turn left onto Ravenswood because it's just as hard to do so as to turn left from Alma. So you see a line of northbound cars on Alma waiting to turn left, ready to jump into whatever gap becomes available.

Easy. Doesn't take 18 months. Or require hundreds of millions of dollars. Who profits from these ridiculous costs, by the way?


12 people like this
Posted by bigger picture
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 20, 2015 at 8:51 am

with the incredible growth of the midpeninsula, in several decades we will need more tracks than an elevated can provide. Let's do the right thing NOW, working with Palo Alto and Atherton, to underground the trains. This is what cities in Europe have done, especially in the middle of residential communities. Use of the at-ground and air rights should provide plenty of opportunities for new revenue and for new routes for bicyclists and pedestrians, open spaces, adding value to our downtown and nearby properties - including those the developers are planning right now. The undergrounding can begin in Redwood City near Atherton border and in south PA. We can do this.

We should look really hard at changing the flow of traffic on Ravenswood/Menlo. For example, making it one-way westbound from Laurel, and make Oak Grove one-way east-bound between University and Laurel. This would make the Ravenswood pedestrian crossing near Alma more safe, and not cause east- bound cars to stop unexpectedly.
This also should improve the intersections with El Camino and Alma, and possibly the train, because all would then only need to accommodate one-way, not two-way traffic. Urban cities use one-way streets; we can learn from them.

In the interim, for more immediate safety, let's do simple temporary things like banning left turns at Alma and Ravenswood and make plans to synchronize lights with the train so there's less backup onto the tracks westbound (what contributed to the recent accident).


3 people like this
Posted by Caltrain Commuter
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 20, 2015 at 10:41 am

Dear bigger picture,

In a big city like San Francisco, the density (and political influence) can support funneling billions of dollars into a project where entire city blocks are removed to make room for the new transit center and underground tracks. There are currently no trains running the short distance (one mile) from the 4th and King station to the new transit center.

On the Peninsula, we we have 50 miles of track from San Jose to San Francisco, and we have over sixty thousand people riding Caltrain on weekdays. Unless several local billionaires are willing to buy up all the homes and businesses next to the current right-of-way, there is no place to operate the current system while building this new mega-trench. With all the creeks running from the hills to the bay, this trench will need to be fairly deep underground.

We could probably run BART around the bay (elevated in the 101 median), and completely grade-separate Caltrain for much less that the cost of your proposed trench.


11 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 10:48 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The way to put it underground is to bore a tunnel or two. Trench and cover is not the solution because it does not provide a right of way during construction.

Deep tunnel boring is being done all over the world. Not cheap but clearly the best long term solution.


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.

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


6 people like this
Posted by Caltrain Commuter
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:58 am

When I ride on the train (along with 65 thousand other commuters), I enjoy looking out the windows. I don't particularly notice the 36 homes along the tracks in Atherton that zip past in an instant. Most of the current Caltrain system exists is at ground-level (the least expensive option), the same technology used to build railroads at the turn of the century. The proposed tunnel is clearly the most expensive option. If the needs of the few (22 home owners in Atherton) outweigh the needs of the many (65 thousand), the town of Atherton should work to underwrite this tunnel project.


11 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

commuter - you missed the part about " The undergrounding can begin in Redwood City near Atherton border and in south PA. We can do this. "

And I am totally unconcerned with your window view while traveling in this corridor.


12 people like this
Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 20, 2015 at 12:18 pm

I never, ever, agree with Peter Carpenter about anything. But, in this case, I will certainly make a very strong exception.

Some of us have been actively promoting Peninsula rail tunneling for ten years or more. Yes, it's expensive. Humungous cost over-runs have become the norm for all large public infrastructure projects. Boston Big Dig comes to mind, but our more recent Bay Bridge debacle is already a cost embarrassment, and they are far from finished.

You can bet that, if it ever does get built, the high-speed rail system will be hundreds of billions, not the $60 billion + now under discussion. Not yet off the planning tables, the projected costs have already sky-rocketed from the initial $40+ billion. Just wait until construction realities sink in!

Having said that, the Peninsula is doomed to become a high-density urban megatropolis, solidly high-rise, concrete and asphalt from San Francisco to San Jose. Population increases can only be speculated but they will be enormous.

Cities around the world that have elevated rail have already under-grounded some and will continue to pursue that direction. See New York City (the urban paragon) and their conversion of elevated trains into an elevated garden: The High Line. Most major cities have their public mass transit rail underground. It's what cities do.

Yes, do it right the first time. Tunnel techology has become amazing in speed and efficiency. See what they are doing in Switzerland. Of course there will be cost over-runs, corruption, mis-management, and all the other wonderful features of large government construction projects. Can't that be controlled better by far more active public attention to what's going on? Having been at this for over ten years, I continue to be appalled at the public indifference and inaction over the high-speed rail boondoggle. However, that's a different discussion. In short, Ravenswood isn't the problem, it's only a symptom.

Creative, imaginative, honest, transparent government -- that is, the lack thereof -- is the problem. The opportunity to do this public mass transit project right is knocking at the Peninsula's door. Will we screw this one up as we have so frequently done before?

I agree with Peter that we should, finally, approach all our transit and transportation problems in a strategic, holistic, integrated way. That takes integrity and vision. So far, that's been in very short supply.


10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 12:38 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The very fact that Martin and I agree on this approach suggests the real possibility that lots of citizens, each having different perspectives and persuasions, can encourage/cajole/force our elected leaders to take the long view and Dig Deep - and not take the cheap short term approach.

It will require courage.


6 people like this
Posted by forward
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 20, 2015 at 12:54 pm

Since the new CEO of Caltrain has a background in both HSR and city government, hopefully he can use both those experiences to implement a true long term solution to grade separations. Also, hopefully this can be implemented quickly, cutting through the stalling and delaying tactics that the HSR opponents are using. We don't want to wait another 10 years before we see any progress.


8 people like this
Posted by bigger picture
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 20, 2015 at 4:09 pm

@ caltrain commuter - I said underground, not trench. The undergrounding can occur while the trains still run. There would be a changeover time at some point, just as there would be for any other option other than keeping the train tracks at grade just as they are now.

@ Carpenter and Engel - I agree with the two of you - let's do it right! The "cheap short term approach" would be far more expensive in the longer run when the cheap approach no longer works. Let's challenge the Councils to get courage.


4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 20, 2015 at 5:11 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

"Since the new CEO of Caltrain has a background in both HSR and city government, hopefully he can use both those experiences to implement a true long term solution to grade separations"

Fat chance. He has virtually no experience running transit. San Mateo cronyism at its worst.


3 people like this
Posted by Aaron
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 20, 2015 at 5:39 pm

Aaron is a registered user.

@Caltrain Commuter - I would say that the needs of the many (65K commuters) would be better served by a grade separated rail line (or tunneled rail). The delays and inconvenience to passengers with each accident on the tracks (seems to be at least one every few weeks) is a lot of lost productivity. Those costs are dispersed among the 65K riders, but I'm sure that if you add up those costs over the future decades vs. the cost of the grade separation (or even tunneling), the latter would come out ahead. Keep in mind, HSR will eventually come, and if we plan this right now, we can prepare for a seamless system that will not continue to split our downtown and will improve safety in the face of many tens of passing trains per day.


2 people like this
Posted by Caltrain Commuter
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 21, 2015 at 12:30 am

@Aaron, Caltrain commuters aren't daft, we understand that a fully grade separated system is better. I don't consider "tunneled rail" a viable way to get grade separation because there is no money for it. The idea of increasing Caltrain rates to pay for a tunnel under Atherton offensive.

San Francisco has the financial resources and political willpower to underground rail to the financial district. There will be no diesel Union Pacific freight trains running underground to the new transit center. In comparison, Atherton is struggling for the resources and political willpower to approve and pay for a new town center.


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 21, 2015 at 1:43 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

commuter - you missed the part about " The undergrounding can begin in Redwood City near Atherton border and in south PA. We can do this. "

And other cities to the North and South can join in.


Like this comment
Posted by No Easy Solutions
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 21, 2015 at 7:41 pm

Putting a traffic light at the intersection timed with El Camino is the best short term solution as drivers and pedestrians will both benefit from it.


Like this comment
Posted by Caltrain Commuter
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 21, 2015 at 9:05 pm

@Peter - you missed the part about "diesel Union Pacific freight trains," respectfully. As long as diesel freight trains are sharing the tracks, a three mile tunnel won't work.

If we're going to make an enormous investments in transit, we should instead run BART elevated down 101/87 to Diridon Station. Just leave the tracks as they are for Union Pacific. If HSR ever makes it to the Peninsula, my grandchildren's grandchildren can worry about this rail tunnel.


6 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 22, 2015 at 9:59 am

Building a new train line down the Hwy 101 corridor is not practical. Then we would also have to build a new series of train stations along Hwy 101, along with all the infrastructure needed to support the train stations (like public access, parking lots, bus routes, etc). People do not just get on at San Francisco and get off at San Jose, many stations along the peninsula are very heavily used by train riders. If you really want to change the train route, building it above El Camino Real would make a lot more sense, since infrastructure already exists along that corridor.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 22, 2015 at 10:38 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"As long as diesel freight trains are sharing the tracks, a three mile tunnel won't work."

Railroads long ago learned how to swap locomotives to adapt to right of ways that do not permit diesel locomotives.

A tunnel from the southern end of Palo Alto to the northern end of Atherton would be far longer than 3 miles. And hopefully cities north of Atherton and south of Palo Alto will also endorse the tunnel approach.


2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 22, 2015 at 11:57 am

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

Tunnels can also be ventilated to allow the use of diesel locomotives.


Like this comment
Posted by Bike Tunnel?
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 22, 2015 at 3:32 pm

So what's going to happen to the bike tunnel now? How will Stanford make a significant contribution to create a bike pedestrian tunnel if there is nothing to tunnel under anymore? I thought this was Keith's major accomplishment in her negotiations with Stanford regarding their El Camino project. It seems pretty misleading that she negotiated for something that could end up being totally irrelevant and unnecessary.


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Posted by dana hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 23, 2015 at 2:33 pm

First, I think rail separation is a great idea and could live with either approach. But money , knowledge and influence not "council courage and boldness" are required. Our city should talk to Palo Alto - and perhaps it already has - as I believe it is currently studying separations along Alma Street. Menlo Park could piggyback on their knowledge and possibly join its efforts.

Next, we do NOT need another rail system near 101; it would be more beneficial to run BART down 280. That would remove a lot of vehicle traffic from our highways, arteries and street especially those drivers who travel to/from Stanford and Palo Alto. It would also relieve a lot of traffic between San Francisco and the west side of Silicon Valley. Creating adequate parking at stations would likely be not a big problem.

PS. Anonymous personal attacks of any kind diminish the sender.


4 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 24, 2015 at 10:08 am

Long term, grand plans such as a properly elevated (or tunneled) 4-track system (aka be ready for the 22nd century) are well worth pursuing.

Short term, we can get a significant safety improvement, at the cost of minor inconvenience to a handful of drivers (at least the small handful that were doing so legally) by stopping ALL left turns from Ravenswood to Alma. Forget enforcement, just run a Jersey barrier down the middle.

This will have the added benefit of improved throughput (illegal left turners not blocking traffic), improved safety, and minimal cost (a quick Google search shows precast high-quality examples going for about $100/foot in quantity one, I'm sure they're much cheaper ordered in bulk like any sensible highway department does)

It's also completely reversible with minimal effort / hassle when we collectively come up with a better idea.


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Posted by Caltrain Commuter
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 24, 2015 at 1:08 pm

@dana_hendrickson, I agree that rail separation is a great idea and can also live with either approach. We need only look to San Carlos to learn how the elevated approach has been funded and implemented. A tunnel like the one proposed has never been built for Caltrain because of the cost. Atherton and surrounding communities could certainly put a new "tunnel" parcel tax on the ballot, but very few voters are directly impacted by the train.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 24, 2015 at 1:26 pm

My understanding is that some of the recent grade separations in San Mateo County were paid for with county sales tax money. Menlo Park was offered some of this money, but that went nowhere.


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Posted by Caltrain Commuter
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 24, 2015 at 1:54 pm

Most state and federal funds are restricted to capital expenditures. Web Link

Oct 20, 2011 - $3.5 million federal grant boosts San Carlos Caltrain Station Web Link

On Monday, the Federal Transit Administration announced the first funding allocation for the project — a $3.5 million grant from its discretionary spending program. Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said the grant requires a local match, but it is still too early to tell how much the total project will cost and where all the funding will come from.

Dec 12, 2014 - San Carlos Transit Village Project Cleared For Development Web Link

A portion of the Transit Center project will be paid for by a federal grant. As part of the development arrangement, SamTrans will receive $750,000 annually for the first five years of the agreement. After five years, the annual compensation to SamTrans will be supplemented by a to-be-determined percentage of gross revenues generated by the project.


10 people like this
Posted by Carab1n3r
a resident of Encinal School
on Mar 24, 2015 at 4:24 pm

# There are currently no trains running the short distance (one mile) from the 4th and King station to the new transit center. On the Peninsula, we we have 50 miles of track from San Jose to San Francisco

This is an unreasonable representation (1 mile) of the work needed in SF. Achieving the required 1-2% grade requires tunneling that is far longer than the 1 mile you imply. And there is a huge amount of infrastructure under SF (plumbing/sewer, stormdrains, electrical, pylons keeping skyscrapers upright). The engineering work needed for tunneling in the areas discussed on the peninsula is a piece of cake compared to SF. And you don't hear the SF issues cited as a deterrant to construction...ever.

The money to be used for tunneling in SF is taxpayer money, and the peninsula is every bit a contributor to that pool of money as SF, so demanding equitable treatment is a very reasonable stance.


# the 36 homes along the tracks in Atherton

# the needs of the few (22 home owners in Atherton) outweigh the needs of the many (65 thousand)

This is grossly inaccurate. First of all, it's impossible for this to just be an Atherton issue. Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton are all interested and/or exploring the 3 grading options available. Trains require gradual grade changes that force inter-community cooperation.

Also, the people affected by the current grading is far greater than the 65k commuters using Caltrain. People live and commute east<->west at least as much as they go north<->south. And these people are negatively impacted by the current grading on a daily basis, and sometimes lose their lives because of it.

While I'm a proponent of the tunneling solution, I do think the 3rd option...roads tunneled under the tracks...is not cited enough as a viable option. Road underpasses have been successful in Palo Alto, and I think this approach would be viable at many crossings in Menlo Park and Atherton.


# San Francisco has the financial resources

Somewhat true, though it's not like the peninsula is some typical 'burb. The south bay and peninsula are the economic powerhouse of the Bay Area.


# and political willpower

On that, we agree. And we should hold our representatives more accountable to represent our needs as well as SF's representatives.


12 people like this
Posted by steve schmidt
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:18 pm

The idea of trenching or tunneling Caltrain through Menlo Park has been a convenient distraction from what is practical and affordable for a number of years. The discussion itself has become an excuse for inaction.

Building roadway underpasses at the four MP grade crossings will require condemnation of some of the most valuable properties on the Peninsula and disrupt established circulation serving the Downtown and Caltrain Station area.

Roadway flyovers are aesthetic nightmares and share the same problems as underpasses.

The only viable option for Menlo Park elevates the Caltrain tracks so that there is room for vehicular traffic below without interfering with site development on adjacent parcels or with the existing street pattern.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:29 am

Without sounding like too much of a pessimist, MP will still be discussing this 10 years from now. If and when they do decide on a solution, it will take too long to build, have cost overruns and by then many of us will be gone. By then, the train may even be obsolete..... And don't forget we need to add more housing to further complicate the number of people who will need to get around.

Examples of local projects -- how long did it take to debate and finally build the Devil's Slide tunnel? how long did it take to build the Bay Bridge span after changes and multiple delays and cost over runs?

I agree that the traffic situation needs to be addressed especially at hazardous/dangerous locations.


4 people like this
Posted by Senioracit
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:43 pm

Willow Rd. ends at Alma, where a sign is posted directing drivers to turn right on Alma St. "To El Camino Real," with an arrow pointing to the right. The city thus encourages drivers to take Alma to Ravenswood and turn left, cross the tracks, and proceed to El Camino Real.

Left turns onto Ravenswood from Alma St. are a big part of the problem at that intersection.

Instead, the existing sign at Willow and Alma should be removed and signs should be placed at Willow and Laurel directing drivers to "TURN RIGHT HERE to El Camino Real." Another sign should be placed at Laurel, directing drivers to turn left at Ravenswood to reach El Camino.

A 4-way left turn light at Laurel would also be helpful, with or without the sign changes, especially during morning and afternoon/evening heavy traffic hours.


8 people like this
Posted by voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 27, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Voters need to demand that grade separations be an issue in the next city election, then only vote for candidates who promise to take prompt action. Past city councils have been entirely opposed to grade separation, but clearly that is the wrong direction toward the future.


4 people like this
Posted by bigger picture
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 28, 2015 at 9:10 am

For an immediate safety improvement, the city should ban left turns from Ravenswood onto Alma. At a minimum, in the east-bound direction. Just yesterday, the car driver in front of me turned on his left signal light and stopped suddenly to turn left onto Alma, both actions taken just after he crossed the tracks. Fortunately, I always approach this intersection very cautiously, but still had to stop very suddenly to avoid stopping on the tracks myself. I could see that there were no pedestrians in the crosswalk ahead, but couldn't read the mind of the inconsiderate and unsafe driver ahead of me. I am glad the driver behind me was paying attention so I wasn't rear-ended.

The longer term option of undergrounding the train needs to be studied in depth. It's always dismissed out of hand without looking at the offsetting revenue potential for other uses at ground level and without evaluating the investment three of the wealthiest communities in the country might be willing to make. There is value to residents and commercial property owners to avoid the blight and noise of elevated tracks and trains, avoid the use of eminent domain to seize residential and commercial properties, and to gain the revenue, aesthetic, and bicycle/pedestrian value of a wide swath of land in the middle of our towns.


2 people like this
Posted by morris brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:35 am

The concept of elevating the tracks should not even be considered. This is what HSR and CalTrain desire; they could care less about what is good for the cities.

Everyone please note. The 4 track option is still on the table, despite assurances from our local political leaders that the "blended system" will prevent 4 tracks here. That is pure nonsense.

The handwriting is on the wall. CalTrain filling up all the available space with more trains and less time separation between trains. HSR simply won't fit along the tracks by the time HSR is due to be coming here. The HSR Authority refused to remove the 4 track option from the EIR; this is the option that HSR and CalTrain will eventually stuff down our throats.


4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:59 am

@morris brown - better public transit is good for cities and residents. More residents taking the trains to work means less crowded and safer streets.


2 people like this
Posted by J.D. Stevens
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 28, 2015 at 11:25 am

Raised tracks work great in San Carlos, Belmont, and San Bruno. This is not rocket science! They reduce deaths and improve train service. With electrification, they also limit noise, since quieter locomotives no longer have to blow horns at every crossing. Let's think positively and get it done!


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 1:14 pm

Quick solution there. Build a couple of bike/ped tunnels under the tracks until a more permanent solution can be found. One tunnel for eastbound, the other westbound and wide enough. Remove crosswalks and bike lanes because non motorized track crossing will be banned. No jaywalking, no pedestrian or bike movement within track area and use of fencing should do the trick.

Better signaling and warning lights that could be installed at eye level.


2 people like this
Posted by bigger picture
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 28, 2015 at 5:13 pm

@ resident - Anyone who knows Morris Brown knows he is not against transit but IS against elevating or widening the tracks.

@JD - the tracks in the other cities are not sandwiched against residential neighborhoods as in PA, MP, Atherton, and don't bisect the downtown as in MP. The other cities cited are not a fair comparison.

A Mayor and Council who think strategically and long term will evaluate the best long term design for trains through our town. I fear this Council is too short-sighted to do so.


4 people like this
Posted by Carab1n3r
a resident of Encinal School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 8:22 pm

"They reduce deaths and improve train service. With electrification, they also limit noise, since quieter locomotives no longer have to blow horns at every crossing."

All 4 options do that, there's nothing special about a berm in that regard. And a berm is more expensive than a road underpass. And a berm requires moving the tracks during construction, just like a trench.

I don't see the appeal of the berm option. It's neither the cheapest option nor the best. Palo Alto and Redwood City use underpasses with success. Others have mentioned property takeovers would be needed for an underpass at Ravenswood, but a map doesn't support that assertion.


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Posted by reality check
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 29, 2015 at 1:21 pm

@Carab1n3r, elevating the tracks is always the least expensive option, while digging a trench or underpass is always the most expensive.


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Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Mar 29, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

To keep the track at grade and drop Ravenswood underneath it would also require dropping the intersection of El Camino Real and Ravenswood- there is not enough space to drop down twenty feet between El Camino and the tracks, so that would have to be depressed as well. And then the folks who own property on Alma near Ravenswood would be unable to access their property from a road twenty feet down, so the city absolutely would have to compensate those property owners. That happened in Palo Alto when the grade separation at Embarcadero was built. A split-level design, where the track is partially raised and the street is partially depressed, minimizes the impacts on the adjacent property owners at Alma and Ravenswood, eliminates impacts to the intersection at El Camino, is smaller visually than a full elevation, and has the virtue of being significantly cheaper than a trench or a tunnel.


2 people like this
Posted by Carab1n3r
a resident of Encinal School
on Mar 29, 2015 at 5:16 pm

"elevating the tracks is always the least expensive option, while digging a trench or underpass is always the most expensive."

"always" is a very strong word.

I'm skeptical an underpass at Ravenswood would cost more than a berm. Many nearby communities chose underpasses, and they're just as constrained on finances (or more) as Menlo Park. Yet the nearby communities of Palo Alto, Redwood City and San Mateo have many road underpasses.

By the way, keep in mind that "...The San Mateo County Transportation Authority has $225 million earmarked for grade separation projects, enough to fund four to five projects when combined with state and federal grants."

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