Guest opinion: A test of Menlo Park council leadership | May 2, 2018 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - May 2, 2018

Guest opinion: A test of Menlo Park council leadership

by Dana Hendrickson

Menlo Park is expected to finally decide this year — possibly as soon as this month — where and how it wants to separate city streets from Caltrain tracks. It will then begin a long process to apply for future state and county funding.

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1 person likes this
Posted by danahendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 1, 2018 at 1:15 pm

Questions can be sent to me offline at

1 person likes this
Posted by Mike Lanza
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 1, 2018 at 5:45 pm

Honestly, Dana, what would lead you to believe you'll ever find any leadership in Menlo Park City Council? It just doesn't happen here.

Like this comment
Posted by dana hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 3, 2018 at 10:58 am

I encourage all residents and local business owners to attend the May 8 City Council meeting to express their preferences and concerns.

1 person likes this
Posted by Facts please
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 3, 2018 at 1:46 pm

@dana “the council should never forgo a study simply because a vocal group opposes one, especially when they lack reliable information.”
A council also shouldn’t kowtow to a vocal group -yours- that purports to represent large groups of community members and presents information about options that has no common foundation of facts, such as from a single thorough study that includes evaluation of impacts on properties and businesses, noise levels (esp of freight trains), risk assessments by first responders. I am not pleased with the council’s final alternatives, favoring undergrounding, and i know that its analysis was superficial with a focus only on costs not also benefits. But many years of studies have occurred and decisions need to be made.

Creating grade crossings will have a negative impact on Menlo Park regardless of the option selected. The longer the council daddles without making a decision, the worse those impacts will be if for no other reason than more people and more traffic will be affected. Decisions must be made.

2 people like this
Posted by Good Enough
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 3, 2018 at 3:00 pm

The half-and-half option (roads down a little, tracks up a bit) works fine in San Carlos and Belmont. Let's get it done, already!

1 person likes this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on May 3, 2018 at 3:19 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

Undergrounding is hopelessly and prohibitively unaffordable (well over $1 billion, extrapolating from the recent Mott MacDonald white paper prepared for Palo Alto) (see Web Link) and opposed by the right of way owner (Caltrain) and freight operator (Union Pacific) for numerous sound technical and operational reasons.

So with undergrounding off the table, we're left the option of completely digging up and lowering downtown streets (Ravenswood, Oak Grove, Alma, Merrill, Garwood) by up to 21 feet and cutting off access to numerous private properties to achieve the necessary 15-foot clearances for taller vehicles to safely pass under the tracks ... or to partially elevate the tracks to lessen or fully elevate to eliminate impacts to our street network and cross-town connectivity for pedestrians, bikes and motor vehicles.

Once you start elevating the train, it turns out that fully elevating it is a great option for getting it up and out of the way of daily life. The quaint and historic depot stays where it is and the 2 existing outside station platforms are replaced by a single center platform between the fully elevated tracks. But unlike Belmont and the recently finished downtown San Bruno grade separation, instead of a solid embankment (aka berm or wall), using an aesthetically designed viaduct leaves the space underneath the tracks and station platform across the heart of our downtown as a fully-open, well-lit, landscaped and useable space.

To the north of downtown, the tracks can slope back down starting at or near Glenwood and return to their current level well before reaching Atherton. The tracks would still be somewhat elevated (maybe 9 feet higher than now) across Encinal, but with minimal impact on Park Forest and Felton Gables ... which may want to either close the Encinal crossing, or leave it open to bikes and peds, or dip it down a bit more to maintain full vehicle access. Their choice.

That area is pretty well screened from the right of way by fences, trees, structures and foliage ... and wheel noise from Caltrain's quiet new Swiss electric trains (already being built) can be easily blocked by a low (hip-high) sound barrier along the outer edge of the tracks.

To the south, the tracks are already 7 feet higher than Ravenswood at San Francisquito Creek as they traverse the existing berm along Alma near Burgess Drive ... so that section only need slope up an additional 13 feet from the creek and could be any desired combination of viaduct or solid berm (as it is today along Alma) for added cross-town connectivity.


Grade separate the 3 busiest Menlo crossings in one fell swoop. No more train horns. No more crossing bells. No more traffic backups. No more bikes, peds and cars getting hit at crossings. Reduced suicide opportunities. Road network and cross-track connectivity is not only preserved — but improved. No private properties cut-off by deep freeway-style road underpasses. No need to tear up and rebuild utilities under streets.

If you're going to elevate at all across downtown, partial elevation doesn't make nearly as much sense as full elevation ... you might as well elevate all the way so that trains are fully up and out of the way with ground-level space underneath fully open and available for other uses.

BART's old clapped out 1970s era trains with their notoriously noisy howling cylindrical wheel profiles or old steel "els" like in Chicago or parts of NYC are of no relevance here, except to show that not all trains or viaducts are comparable. Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 7, 2018 at 8:52 pm

Facts please. Actually my group is simply arguing for a short but important study that would produce facts and sound arguments for a promising alternative that was prematurely discarded. This would counter the fears and misperceptions about fully elevated grade separations that are based primarily on misinformation and emotions.

Our City has shown this study could be completed in 6 months or less in parallel with planning for its current favorite Alternative C - without any negative impact on the latter. Why would you oppose having better understanding of our alternatives?

I recommend you visit Web Link to understand the relative merits and drawbacks of the two alternatives.

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

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