Drivers will need to find alternate routes to the Civic Center in Menlo Park, when the city launches a 6-month trial of prohibiting turns to and from Alma Street at the Ravenswood Avenue intersection near the rail crossing.
The council voted 3-0 on Tuesday, May 5, to let the trial proceed. The changes, temporary for now, will use physical barriers to prohibit left turns from Alma Street and right turns from Ravenswood Avenue at that intersection in hopes of improving the safety of the at-grade railroad crossing.
Council members said they were worried about possible unintended consequences of the shift in traffic patterns that eliminating the turns will create.
"I think we are going to get a lot of flak over that," Councilman Peter Ohtaki said, particularly with regard to blocking right turns from Ravenswood Avenue.
Mayor Catherine Carlton asked how, if the city's data shows that 200 to 300 cars make that right turn during peak hours, all those cars are expected to squeeze onto Ravenswood Avenue instead. "They won't fit," she said.
Transportation Director Nikki Nagaya said it was a great question, and that the trial installation will determine how traffic patterns adjust. The trial will also provide data to help the staff determine whether moving the pedestrian crosswalk at the intersection is necessary; at the moment, no decision has been made to relocate it.
The city's staff is now working on figuring out when the trial will begin. The council opted to give staff the flexibility to adjust the installations if necessary before the 6 months are up.
Also with an eye on improving safety, the council agreed to modify the city's grade separation policy to allow the study of a split configuration that would partially elevate the railroad tracks and partially depress the roadway at the crossing.
Previously, Menlo Park had opposed any elevation of the railroad tracks, and as Mr. Ohtaki noted during the meeting, the city remains opposed to any type of four-track, entirely elevated rail system.
The grade separation study, expected to commence in July and to take up to 18 months, will also consider an option that would depress the road without elevating the tracks. However, according to Public Works Director Jesse Quirion, that option would have more impact on adjacent property owners, as the city would need to acquire more private property than it does under a split configuration.
"We're not saying we're going to do it," the mayor said, referring to elevating the tracks to any degree. "We're just going to study it."
Council members Rich Cline and Ray Mueller were unable to attend Tuesday night's meeting.