Menlo Park unveils three conceptual plans for Middle Ave bike/ped crossing

A rendering of the proposed "Concept 1," for a bike and pedestrian Caltrain crossing at Middle Avenue, looking north. (Image courtesy AECOM/city of Menlo Park.)

Menlo Park transportation engineers and consultants unveiled three conceptual designs for a bike and pedestrian crossing beneath the Caltrain tracks at Middle Avenue on Monday, May 13.

Concept 1 would take up the smallest amount of land, so was established as the preferred option of the city staff. It would have a curved out-and-back ramp and a staircase, leading down about 12 feet into a tunnel with a height of about 10 feet.

Early estimates indicate it could cost between $20 million and $25 million, but with significant cost-minimization efforts, the cost could be lowered to $14 million to $18 million. It could be built using a method that limits impacts to the Caltrain line to a four-day weekend. The cost estimates cover construction, moving utilities, acquiring the needed right-of-way, design services, a construction manager, and additional expenses for the project in 2022.

Concept 2 is the most expensive option, at an estimated $35 million to $40 million. With this option, the tunnel would be lowered to a deeper level, but the construction could be done using a method that wouldn't disrupt Caltrain operations. The ramps and stairs would have to be significantly steeper to accommodate the deeper tunnel, however.

Concept 3 is similar to Concept 1, with a similar cost estimate – $20 million to $25 million – but would move the tunnel about 200 feet north of the Concept 1 location, which would minimize the impacts on the rail's crossing track. But it would require other utilities to be relocated and cause more right-of-way impacts, so cost-savings options would be more limited.

Each concept design also has options to make the ramps more curved or straight, and to make turns right angles or switchbacks.

Cost savings are relevant for this project because in the city's negotiations with Stanford, the university committed to provide $5 million or half the cost of the tunnel – back when the project was estimated to cost around $10 million.

Where the rest of the funding for constructing the tunnel would come from is a question still under discussion. According to Senior Transportation Engineer Angela Obeso, the project is currently funded by a grant from the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, which is expected to carry the project through its environmental analysis phase and plans that are 30% complete. If the tunneling portion of the project gets lined up in time for Caltrain's current electrification process, the city could also save some money, Obeso explained.

According to Assistant Public Works Director Nikki Nagaya, other funding sources include county sales tax revenue from Measures A and W, as well as private funding. The city has also asked for funds from Stanford as part of its negotiations with the university in its general use permit application process. "We have limited resources. We want to make sure we're investing them smartly," Nagaya said.

Community members in attendance at the May 13 meeting expressed preference for separate ramps for cyclists and pedestrians as well as facilities to accommodate wider e-bikes and cargo bikes. Some objected to curved ramps, bollards and tight hairpin turns.

When asked how the project would be affected by whatever the city decides to do about grade separations at the city's vehicular crossings with Caltrain, Obeso noted that it's something staff and consultants have been thinking about a lot: She's project manager of both, she said.

Whatever happens, she said, the goal is for the crossing to be compatible with a hybrid or fully elevated grade separation. The city can get this bike and pedestrian crossing built in the next two or three years, while, even in the best-case scenario, a grade separation project will take eight to 10 years to build, she explained. Having bike and pedestrian access at Middle Avenue will be a big benefit to the community during whatever construction phase lies ahead for the grade separation plans for city roads, she added.

The goal is to bring the project to the Complete Streets Commission on June 12, to the City Council in July to choose a preferred concept, and for construction to be complete around the time Stanford's new buildings are ready for occupancy, likely sometime in 2022, according to Obeso.


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11 people like this
Posted by Wrong Location
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 15, 2019 at 12:25 pm

Why isn't the tunnel closer to the park and library? It seems this will exit onto Alma in a residential area. Also spending $20M to eliminate the need to walk 2 blocks, to Ravenswood, seems like a waste of taxpayer money. City Council please remember it is not your money, it is the taxpayers who are footing the bill.

16 people like this
Posted by Linda U
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2019 at 12:34 pm

As a former MP resident I question why not make Middle Avenue extend under the tracks too? The majority of the traffic problems come from the cars using the Ravenswood Ave crossing. Yes, spend that amount of money, but include auto traffic too!

3 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2019 at 1:18 pm

It's more important to spend this money on grade separations for the rest of Menlo Park so that Caltrain can speed by unimpeded in advance of electrification. If MP is going to spend a ton of money, put it to good use, not this vanity project.

5 people like this
Posted by Mark
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 15, 2019 at 1:19 pm

A "Linda U" from another community asks why Middle Avenue isn't extended to Alma, under the railroad tracks, for vehicular traffic as well as for pedestrians and cyclists. Apart from the engineering impracticalities of getting trucks and buses below the tracks with sufficient clearance and returning them to road level in the very short space between the railroad ROW and Alma street (all but impossible without usurping a chunk of Burgess Park and perhaps other property east of Alma) and the added cost of such an undertaking (it would be, what, 2-3 times the estimates above without eminent domain?), there is the small matter of my Linfield Oaks neighborhood welcoming thousands of extra car trips each day. Welcoming the very notion with litigation, that is. The idea of a Willow Expressway connecting to El Camino and/or Sand Hill is decades old but is pretty much a non-starter these days, as is the suggestion to allow vehicular access via a tunnel just to the Stanford project parking garage(s).

2 people like this
Posted by John Kadvany
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 15, 2019 at 2:24 pm

John Kadvany is a registered user.

When I was on the planning commission the informal cost estimate was $17 million.

6 people like this
Posted by Jenson
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 15, 2019 at 3:46 pm

@ wrong location

It appears, if you believe the rendering, the bike tunnel will be positioned near the little league field. It is in the park and just a short walk to the library. Putting it closer to the library will put it in the area where the street is to narrow. This is a good location to reach the pool, gym, gymnastics center and playing fields. Not everyone’s priority is the library

9 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 15, 2019 at 4:20 pm

$20 million plus for an effing ped/bike tunnel!What an immense waste of our tax dollars.

9 people like this
Posted by Catherine
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 15, 2019 at 7:30 pm

Catherine is a registered user.

I'd love to see actual mock-ups but I'm liking the idea. Sending kids on their bikes to M-A if you live in Central Menlo (a ridiculous addition of car trips from our standpoint) was terrifying. Ravenswood is horribly designed for all users: the two-lane car traffic goes into a funnel right past the tracks, people turn from Burgess, and scores of cyclists have to be on the same stretch as cars at the very same time. Perhaps people who live east of ECR and send their kids to Hillview would welcome knowing that there is a safer option as well. And if they don't bike now because it is too scary for young cyclists, perhaps a safer option would make that possible.

8 people like this
Posted by No Easy Solutions
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 15, 2019 at 11:15 pm

Definitely not a vanity project and see benefit for the overall community, as a faster and safer route then via Ravenswood/Alma intersection. Families walking or biking to activities at Burgess, students biking to school and home, bike commuters needing to get to work, etc.

However, it is pricey at $20M. The Homer st bike/ped tunnel in Palo Alto, opened in 2005 and it cost $5M. Web Link. Why does the Middle project cost significantly more?

3 people like this
Posted by George Fisher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 16, 2019 at 9:14 am

George Fisher is a registered user.

The usability of this tunnel will be restricted by the number of pedestrians and bicyclists willing to pragmatically attempt to cross El Camino Real, or the even more foreboding task of safely and efficiently getting to or from the Middle/ECR intersection across the Stanford project or to and from west of ECR.. Any review of tunnel cost and design should be combined with review of cost and design of pedestrians and cyclist routes accessing and crossing El Camino, with goal of maximizing use of both.

Like this comment
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 16, 2019 at 12:27 pm

A Middle-Alma bike and pedestrian connections is greatly needed and long overdue. However. I doubt that it can be completed by the time Middle Plaza opens and that is extremely unfortunate.

It needs to be flexible enough to work with whatever grade separation is ultimately approved and funded.

I recommend that it connect to Alma at Burgess Drive and a traffic light be added at this intersection.

I am confident the city can secure funding beyond what Stanford has committed.

Let's avoid unnecessary delays and make this project TRULY a high priority.

Good Luck!

3 people like this
Posted by Tell Me More
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on May 16, 2019 at 2:37 pm

Dana, please elaborate about outside funding sources. Is your confidence merely a hope or does it have teeth? Is there funding you know about and can share with the rest of us? The city has already gotten $500,000 from the county transportation bucket and that was to design the options we are now seeing.

Stanford has an endowment of $24 Billion but the university has decided to not pay property tax on either the office or the housing because Stanford affiliates will use both. Why doesn't the university cough up the cost of this one project - the undercrossing?

Palo Alto's School District is now facing Stanford's request to expand the campus construction of buildings and the negotiations don't seem to be going well. It is ironic that an institution whose mission is to educate would choose to not pay for the education of children whose parents work at or attend the university.

Tell us what you know. This is not a time for secrets or misinformation or empty promises. Why doesn't the City put a stop to this project now and wait until the buildings are built and occupied. After a few years Stanford will realize that their office and housing tenants want a safe route to our beautiful Burgess Park and all the amenities it offers. Our Public amenities that these Stanford tenants will use for free and we the property owners in Meno Park will subsidize them as we will subsidize the children of these tenants who will attend our schools. That's OUR property taxes, our sales taxes will subsidize a university with an endowment of $24 Billion.

6 people like this
Posted by middle cyclist
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 16, 2019 at 11:44 pm

Concept 2 should be a no-go because of safety and security concerns. Tunnel entrance must be observable/visible from ways away...
Also lighting is important to consider, so there is no space for stalkers and pervs to hide out.

1 person likes this
Posted by Missing element
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 17, 2019 at 2:40 am

The big missing element is what Fisher mentions: how will bicyclists safely get down Middle and across El Camino? Unless and until that is clear, no decision can be made responsibly about the train crossing.
Not addressing the whole picture is a giant failure of our city’s decision making process.

Like this comment
Posted by George Fisher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 17, 2019 at 3:05 pm

George Fisher is a registered user.

Update. The City Council on May 16 posted agenda for May 21 meeting which includes review of a staff report that addresses bike and pedestrian routes along Middle from Olive to El Camino Real (attachment B). Web Link

Attachment B is a diagram of the project on a page which looks promising, and worthy of review in connection with the proposed undercrossing of train tracks. The connecting route through the Stanford project is not clear.

1 person likes this
Posted by Crazy plan
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 22, 2019 at 7:46 am

Why on earth does anyone think it would be safe for bikes to be headed in two directions across the driveway to Safeway? Drivers are distracted and not looking for bikes zooming by from both directions. Unsafe

Why also does the proposal suggest something similar near the San Mateo bike bridge street?

This design needs thorough discussion and plenty of outreach

Like this comment
Posted by George Fisher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 23, 2019 at 12:39 pm

George Fisher is a registered user.

Crazy plan is right. Traffic in an out of Safeway on Middle is a huge problem for cyclists and pedestrians. Plenty of outreach and review at the same time with access design from Middle to the proposed Stanford project undercrossing is essential to avoid two white elephants.

Like this comment
Posted by That will work
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 23, 2019 at 7:57 pm

Making cyclists cross Middle Twice within 3 blocks, that is.

Most cyclists can't even be bothered to ride on the right/correct side of Middle right now.

I see some lawsuits in the MP future.

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

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