Residents came out in droves at Tuesday's Menlo Park City Council meeting to support a quiet zone along the train tracks, sharing stories of incessant horn noise disrupting their quality of life.
People speaking at the May 9 meeting asked the council to add funding for a citywide quiet zone to city's capital improvement plan, an element of Menlo Park’s current budget planning for the coming fiscal year. Seventeen residents spoke about the city’s need for quiet zones, along with 15 residents on Zoom who used the name “Quiet Zone supporter." Other meeting attendees stood up to show their support but didn’t speak.
Resident Alex Johnson said that he was supposed to host a guest from Germany last summer for a month, but after the first night his guest said he couldn’t stay due to train horns that woke him in the middle of the night. The guest measured the decibels of the train horn on the porch and said that the levels were higher than what is legally allowed in Germany.
Johnson also said that he’d attempted to rent the extra bedroom in his home but wasn’t able to due to train horns.
“(Potential renters) left before even entering my home because they were so disturbed by the horns while they were parking,” Johnson said. “This is upsetting for me because I'd love the extra income a renter would provide and should disappoint you as well because I know this city desperately needs all the affordable housing options that it can get.”
Carrie, who did not provide a last name, said that she has lived in Menlo Park for 16 years and has never gotten used to the train horns. Carrie listed several ways the noise has negatively impacted her life, from an inability to host events in her backyard to needing to pause work meetings when horns interrupt her.
“We now virtually have no waking hours without excessively loud, nearly constant horns going off,” Carrie said.
Transportation Director Hugh Louch said that the city would only need to construct improvements to two of the railroad crossings at Ravenswood and Oak Grove avenues in order to meet Federal Railroad Administration standards and establish a quiet zone throughout the city. The railroad crossings at Encinal and Glenwood avenues have lower traffic volumes and fewer collisions, so the city does not have to make modifications.
“In the time that we have been on this call ... about three hours, I have heard the trains pass by and the horns ring about 19 times,” resident Jeff Jacks said. “It is a pervasive part of daily living.“
The city is considering establishing an assessment district to generate the estimated $4 million needed to build the quiet zone, and city staff is conducting an analysis to see if the district would be valuable. The quiet zone was ranked as a "Tier I" priority among capital improvements. The city added $150,000 from the downtown public amenity fund toward the project for a total of $450,000 toward the project.
In capital improvement plan discussions, the city also added purchasing electric leaf blower equipment to the operating budget.