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Menlo Park: Trial changes coming to Ravenswood intersection near rail crossing

Original post made on May 6, 2015

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.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, May 6, 2015, 11:35 AM

Comments (35)

Posted by CCB
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on May 6, 2015 at 12:16 pm

This is great news. Glad to hear that the council is waiting to decide about the crosswalk. I'm concerned that people will jaywalk there anyway, even if it is eventually moved.

The next thing to tackle is the Laurel/Ravenswood intersection, which will only become more complicated once the Alma route is shut down. It's already problematic––left-turning traffic coming out of the Civic Center/Linfield area onto Ravenswood has no right of way and stacks up. Drivers come close to hitting pedestrians, particularly in challenging light conditions when they've been focused on oncoming cars.

And coming on Laurel from the north, drivers trying to cross Ravenswood have to wait in line behind a series of left turners. Police have sporadically ticketed those who try to come around on the right through the bike lane (although I habitually see police doing this themselves.)

It would be great to see the lanes reconfigured and dedicated left turn signals in all four directions.

Posted by dana hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 6, 2015 at 12:19 pm

City Council: Thanks for conducting this trial and initiating this study! These are the first steps in making good decisions. Trial data is superior to conjecture and modeling, and we need to better understand the implications of grade separations. Again, thanks. Dana Hendrickson, Editor, Re-IImagine Menlo Park.

Posted by Cyclist
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 6, 2015 at 12:22 pm

Will bicycles be prevented from turning Ravenswood E to Alma S too? That seems like a long detour for vehicles not blocking traffic

Posted by gunste
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on May 6, 2015 at 12:42 pm

When I first moved to Menlo Park area in 1964, the grade separation at ECR and Ravenswood was already a point of discussion without decision for years on end.
A Sandhill -Willow Expressway was on the books, but of course never made it, which is one basic reason that ECF-Ravenswood is has become a big problem, since traffic to the Dumbarton Bridge and East PA must wind its way through the city through that intersection and the round about way to Willow Road.
At the time (1964), we looked at a nice home on Creek Dr., just West of ECR, but decided against it, since the future Expressway was shown on the maps.
Sensible planning has never been a strong point in MP, impacted always by developers and NIMBies. - Just look how many times Santa Cruz has been reconfigured in the past 45 years and more to come?! It is never a solution.

Posted by CarefulDriver
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on May 6, 2015 at 12:49 pm

Kudos to city staff for putting out this proposal, even if just a pilot. It looks like traffic on Laurel now will include people exiting the library/gym parking lots who want to return to ECR. Perhaps signage should be installed to direct them 'around the horn' toward Laurel if their final destination is the west side. Signage also may be needed on Laurel to direct people away from Alma who are going west toward ECR. There still may be some leaving the library area who want to travel west on Ravenswood, and choose to drive east on Ravenswood to Noel beyond the new median, take a left, make a u-turn and head back. The parking lot on the east side of Burgess closest to the library will now get heavier use as if one is going to the library from the west side, one may as well drive to that lot to exit directly back to Laurel. That lot often is crowded so it may be time to figure out where to move city vehicles away from that lot to open up more spaces.The pilot project will be helped with good messaging, such as posters in the library and gym showing maps of the area.

Posted by Senioracit
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 6, 2015 at 1:38 pm

The "no right turn onto Alma St." will have a pretty big impact on many who live in the Linfield Oaks neighborhood or who traverse it on their way to Middlefield or 101 via Willow Rd. Meanwhile, traffic on Ravenswood and Laurel and congestion at the Laurel intersection are going to get a lot worse and create more danger for pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as for drivers trying to make a left turn there from any direction.

The city needs to add a "pedestrian only" signal to the light at Ravenswood and Laurel (no moving vehicles from any direction while pedestrians are crossing). Also a must: a Left Turn Only arrow for traffic bound for both Laurel and Ravenswood.

One thing leads to another. Let's not attempt to solve the problem at the crossing by creating another one down the street from it. Instead, anticipate and do what needs to be done to avoid negative impacts.

Posted by Margo
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 6, 2015 at 2:28 pm

Eliminating RIGHT turns at Ravenswood will only increase the congestion and stack back to the tracks. The right turners relieve the congestion at Ravenswood, where 2 lanes must converge to one. I agree that LEFT turns need to be eliminated, as well as crossing Ravenswood at Alma, but right turners relieve congestion instead of adding to it. Because I live in that area, I see every day how it works. This is only partially a good idea.

Posted by senioracit
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 6, 2015 at 2:52 pm

I agree with Margo that, when everything is working smoothly, right turns from Ravenswood onto Alma St. help to keep traffic flowing and are certainly much more convenient for those of us who live in Linfield Oaks or pass through it to get to Willow Rd.

Occasionally, however, as a vehicle is about to make a right onto Alma after crossing the tracks, a pedestrian or bicyclist suddenly appears and starts across Alma, walking towards or away from the tracks. When this occurs, the driver trying to turn right must stop and wait. Meanwhile, vehicles behind the driver may have already started over the tracks, not being able to see the pedestrian and not expecting the right-turning vehicle to suddenly stop.

This sometimes results in cars being "stuck" on the tracks for awhile. Of course, the obvious solution is for all drivers to wait--always--until all traffic has completely cleared the space across the tracks before starting forward. Good luck with that.

Posted by James Madison
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 6, 2015 at 3:08 pm

The left turn prohibition makes sense. The right turn prohibition is silly, except possibly for the 3-7 p.m. commute hours.

Posted by Gertrude
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 6, 2015 at 3:21 pm

I'm glad the city is finally doing something but there will definitely be repercussions.

I've noticed a lot of cars coming from Alma at the Civic center will turn right onto Ravenswood from 4pm - 7pm, when left turns are prohibited, and then turn left onto Alma Lane (between Alma and Noel on the north side of Ravenswood) or Noel Drive and then make dangerous U-turns on those very narrow streets to make a right turn onto Ravenswood. This problem will only increase.

I also agree with Margo that prohibiting right turns from eastbound Ravenswood to Alma will only increase the traffic load on Laurel.

Isn't there a way to speed up the study for grade separation? It is really the only solution.

Posted by margaret carney
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 6, 2015 at 4:20 pm

I agree with Margo prohibiting right lane turns from Eastbound Ravenswood onto Alama will increase congestion and worsen the situation. Hopefully it won't take 6 months to eliminate this restriction.

Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 6, 2015 at 6:17 pm

Be sure to continue building more housing & increasing the density to further impact streets which cannot handle even the present traffic volume.

Posted by outreach
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 6, 2015 at 7:55 pm

With discussion of grade separation, this would have been the perfect time for members if the rail subcommittee to ask questions of Caltrain staff.

Posted by John
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 6, 2015 at 8:26 pm

What about left hand turns from Ravenswood onto Alma? If they're not safe from 4-6, are they safe at 6:30? Left hand turns should be prohibited there at all times. I keep seeing cars on the tracks due to left hand turns there.

Posted by No Easy Solutions
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 6, 2015 at 8:54 pm

I'm all for the trial, but why not test the median barrier to prevent left turns first then implement the elimination of the right turn from ravenswood if the former doesn't work. If you read the full trial plan, moving the pedestrian crosswalk is an option.

Agree with other commenters that eliminating the right turn at ravenswood is going to lead to congestion on laurel and ravenswood. Installing timed traffic light at alma and ravenswd is a more expensive that could satisfy almost all the requirements.

Posted by not quite right
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on May 6, 2015 at 9:35 pm

While prohibiting left turns from Alma onto Ravenswood is a no-brainer, seems like it would be better to take away the crosswalk across Alma between the library and the train tracks than to eliminate right hand turns onto Alma from Ravenswood. Don't get me wrong I've gotten stuck when someone has stopped suddenly on Ravenswood for pedestrians crossing Alma before, but why not eliminate that crosswalk? Pedestrians could use the flagged crosswalk instead and work there way around if needed. I'd also definitely like to see an underpass as part of the Stanford project so people could use it to access the area near Safeway at El Camino from the City Center, including people who would have previously want to use the Alma cross walk. Hadn't even contemplated eliminating right hand turns on to Alma from Ravenswood - but I tend to agree that this will actually lead to worse congestion and backup on Ravenswood. Glad the City is doing something though.

Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 6, 2015 at 9:56 pm

Lack of a crosswalk won't keep peds or bikes from crossing the tracks to continue along Ravenswood on the library side. A pedestrian/bike underpass on that side of Alma would let eastbound cars to still turn right from Ravenswood onto Alma without getting trapped by crosswalk users. (Like the Palo Alto underpass @ Homer.)

Posted by lessons learned
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on May 6, 2015 at 10:58 pm

lessons learned is a registered user.

The intersection at [email protected], already dangerous, is going to become even worse. Is the city even considering adding a left turn signal? Making traffic only one direction at a time, as is the case at all other crowded intersections? I have seen accidents, fortunately not serious, at this intersection.

I agree with the comments about eliminating right turns onto Alma from Ravenswood. What was the rationale for that? Does staff not realize that forcing all the cars onto Ravenswood is going to make the pedestrian crossing even riskier, as more cars will be jockeying for position when the two eastbound lanes narrow to one? Let's not forget that this is a major route for high school children.

Good idea, horrible execution.

Posted by Horace Cunningham
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 7, 2015 at 7:21 am

It's good that "moving the crosswalk to a more inconvenient location" isn't in the immediate plan, but it's bizarre that it's even being mentioned at all. Making walking more convenient is a key part of the Downtown Plan, and the city's climate strategies. Why on earth would you make it harder to get to and from the library/gym and downtown destinations? For that matter, how is that location safer for peds? The middle of that block is where a lot of cars are speeding up to barrel down Ravenswood.

Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 7, 2015 at 7:39 am

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

Moving the crosswalk and putting up concrete barriers is exactly backwards. We need to be making walking between Caltrain/Cafe Borrone and our civic center safer and easier, not longer and more difficult. Lots of folks bike to Caltrain and if we block that access some of them may get back in their cars, which affects all of us. If we want a town with "village character" that means people walking and biking around, not zooming past concrete barriers. A traffic light is expensive but it will serve to keep the tracks clear and keep pedestrians crossing in groups rather than trickling across over a longer period of time.

Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 7, 2015 at 8:58 am

Just put a traffic signal in at Ravenswood and Alma coordinated with the trains. Like Churchill, Meadow and Charleston in Palo Alto. Simple solution and don't waste time with the nonsense staff recommendation.

Also make it two lanes on Ravenswood all the way eastbound from Alma to Laurel. North bound Laurel at Ravenswood add a lane - so you have one straight ahead and dedicated left and right turn lanes.

Coordinate the signals at ECR, Alma and Laurel with each other and the trains.

Posted by lessons learned
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on May 7, 2015 at 9:57 am

lessons learned is a registered user.

Now that I've looked at the staff report, the recommendation makes sense. This project has nothing to do with traffic flow, pedestrian safety, or civic center access. It's 100% a response to the recent death on the tracks and it's all about keeping cars off the tracks. So in that respect, eliminating all turns makes sense because you don't want cars slowing down or stopping for any reason after they have crossed the tracks.

It is a perennial problem with our city management, the inability to look at the big picture. Will there be unintended consequences of this action, including the possibility of more accidents along Ravenswood? For sure, but the city only seems to be able to focus on one detail at a time.

Posted by pedestrian
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 7, 2015 at 10:45 am

Moving the crosswalk hundreds of feet away is a very short-sighted idea. That will just discourage walking and encourage more people to drive, causing more car traffic along this route. Encouraging more walking and bicycling is a great way to reduce traffic congestion. People need safe and direct routes to walk and bike between the train station and the library and the Burgess Park.

Posted by pedestrian
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 7, 2015 at 10:48 am

I agree with some of the previous comments that a traffic light at this intersection is a great idea. Palo Alto has several traffic lights adjacent to the train tracks that coordinate with the trains and pedestrian crosswalks, so this technology is proven and should be possible to quickly deploy in Menlo Park.

Posted by Grade Seperation is best
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2015 at 11:03 am

This will just cause a nightmare of traffic! The solution is simple but costly. Grade Separation is best. I live in Belmont and it works just fine. Come on Menlo Park get it done!

Posted by pedestrian
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 7, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Grade separation is not simple, but yes, that is probably the only real long term solution. I like what Belmont has done to elevate the train tracks and allow a level pedestrian route underneath.

Posted by Margo
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 7, 2015 at 12:43 pm

Regarding RIGHT turns from Ravenswood onto Alma, It's not that much of a problem. Sure pedestrians and bikes may cross there, but it takes very little time. Warning sounds for approaching trains come well enough ahead so that the lane can clear, right turns can be made and cars safely clear the tracks. Again, the RIGHT turns have never been the problem. The problem has been the LEFT turns and those wishing to cross Ravenswood and continue on Alma.

Elimination of right turns will have a huge negative effect on users of the library and the rec center, as well as residents of that area. Additionally, many drivers use Alma to get to Willow Road. If they must proceed to Laurel or even Middlefield, the impact during the rush hour will be like 101 on a Giants game day---a parking lot. Please reconsider this unwise decision!!!!!

I've lived in this part of MP for 22 years and use that right turn almost every day. It is NOT the problem!!!

Posted by gunste
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on May 7, 2015 at 1:01 pm

Menlo Park tends to be a traffic bottleneck on ECR. Lack of a direct adequate west-east thoroughfare north of Oregon Expressway for traffic to East Menlo, East Palo Alto and to the Dumbarton bridge has been a problem for years.
Throttling the Ravenswood traffic to one lane and stopping Alma Rd turns will exasperate traffic in that area. Access to the Library will be problematic.
The unintended consequences of the planned traffic changes will cause significant congestion in MP, especially at commute times. Long term vision seems in short supply.
Solution sees to be to avoid Menlo Park, but that is often impossible, since there are few good thoroughfares.

Posted by Gertrude
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 7, 2015 at 1:07 pm

I really don't understand the comments about installing a traffic signal that coordinates with the train. How will that help? Are you saying that the light should turn red when the train approaches and green after it passes? Isn't that what the current flashing lights and crossing gate is for? West/eastbound traffic on Ravenswood already stops when the train approaches the station and proceeds after the train passes - no traffic light required. If you're worried about traffic turning left/right from Alma, will it also have to wait for the train to cross before it can make a move? And what about the pedestrian crossing? Will the pedestrian crossing also be coordinated with the traffic light/train crossing? That would mean that peds can only cross when the train goes by, which can be quite a long time to stand and wait - even five minutes is a long time to wait when standing, and 10 minutes is ridiculous. There's no way a traffic light will alleviate the current chaos.

I think the best solution for the crosswalk is to move across from Noel Drive. There is already a concrete pathway there that leads to the duck pond, library, etc. My biggest worry is that cars will pick up more speed since it's a longer distance from the current crosswalk and pedestrians will be at a greater risk.

Pedestrian: Please tell me where there is a railroad crossing in Palo Alto that is similar to the Alma/ Ravenswood crossing. I think the crossings you are referring to (Churchill, East Meadow, Charleston) cross over four lanes of Alma, which is a 35 mph expressway and not so close to El Camino. In Menlo Park, Alma is a short, two lane road that dead ends at the creek/Palo Alto a one end and the MP train station at the other. Also, the train tracks are closer to El Camino which means a traffic light could potentially cause traffic to back up resulting in grid lock. I don't believe that any of the train crossings in MPK have traffic lights, mainly because there is not an expressway running along the tracks.

Posted by Willows resident
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 7, 2015 at 1:27 pm

This is an incredibly short-sighted and ill-conceived "solution". It will cause traffic backups all the way from ECR to Middlefield. The Ravenswood-Middlefield merge is already a disaster and will now get worse. It will dump an unacceptable amount of traffic onto Laurel. Blocking Left Hand turns from Alma and Ravenswood makes sense. Blocking Right Hand turns is crazy. I hope that the City Council is reading these comments, which are overwhelming against this idea. Hopefully it's not too late for them to re-consider, or at least open this matter up to further conversation.

Posted by Try another idea
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 7, 2015 at 1:52 pm

Most of the problems are due to east-bound drivers on ravenswood who need to stop suddenly to accommodate other drivers who are turning or stopping for pedestrians on the crosswalk. Making this section of ravenswood (at least) one- way west (towards el Camino) would still allow access to/from library and Alma and remove the most troublesome problem - lack of visibility for east-bound cars as they approach the train tracks.
A trial is good but we should try a couple ideas.

Posted by No Easy Solutions
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 9, 2015 at 8:58 am

I encourage folks who are concerned with eliminating the right turn from ravenswd to alma to contact our city council. Here is the link to the city council, there is an email address for the entire council.

Web Link

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2015 at 9:51 am

The recent and, thankfully, extremely-rare-at-any-Caltrain-crossing fatal train vs. car crash involved a westbound Ravenswood motorist who pulled onto the tracks before ensuring -- as the vehicle code requires -- that there was room to get all the way across.

Had the proposed turn restrictions -- which have no effect on westbound Ravenswood traffic -- been in place on that day, they could NOT have prevented or ameliorated what happened in the slightest.

There are a few things that would have: simply obeying CVC 22526; failing that, driving the vehicle out of the path of the oncoming train (drive backward, forward or off to the sides -- breaking the gate or nudging other vehicles if necessary) or as a last resort, simply evacuating the vehicle. Eyewitnesses I heard from stated the motorist appeared to be unaware she was in any danger and looking down into her lap. Draw your own conclusions.

Posted by Hey now
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on May 11, 2015 at 9:02 am

@reality check
THis has been discussed before on this forum.: a west/bound driver can be an attentive, rules-of-the-road kind of person, wait to make sure they can clear the tracks, only to get cut off from someone else illegally changing lanes in front of them. Leaving a car totally blocked in and on the tracks. This is not a rare occurrence.
I won't presume to know what a victim of a train collision was doing or not doing during the last seconds of her life, but I certainly won't blame her for her own death.
In terms of "simply evacuating the vehicle", we know of one family where one person made it out in the panic, and the other did not (different train crossing).

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on May 11, 2015 at 10:17 pm

@Hey now: I guarantee you or anyone cannot get me (or any other modestly competent, capable, safe driver) "totally blocked in" going westbound (or eastbound) on Ravenswood (or any other crossing I know of -- and I know of many!).

Try making a scale diagram and you'll see there is *always* room to get out harm's way as long as all other lanes are not completely blocked. You also can always back up through the gate behind you ... or at least enough to then go forward and pull make a U turn across to the other direction of travel and off the crossing without even touching a lowered gate. All RR crossing gates are _designed_ to easily swing and/or break away precisely for that reason.

Use graph paper and make a scale diagram, and you will very quickly see that being blocked in is utter nonsense unless there are literally stopped cars up against your front and rear bumpers and also on both sides of you (which means they are also in the train's path).

Stop with this nonsense already -- you are scaring me!

I am prepared to demonstrate this to anyone who cares to simulate using chalk lines on an empty parking lot to represent the gates, the tracks, the lanes, the island and everything at a 1:1 scale. The train arrival time at the crossing is at least 30 seconds or more after gate (lights and bells) activation.

It is truly frightening to think there are licensed drivers sharing the roads with the rest of us who cannot understand this and believe that (1) getting trapped is unavoidable, and (2) apparently do not have any idea or confidence they can themselves and their vehicle out of harm's way after they manage to allow themselves to become "totally blocked in".

If you unfortunately fall into this group, for your own sake and the safety of locomotive engineers, train riders, innocent bystanders and fellow motorists and anyone you might carry in your car with you, do the safe and responsible thing and take the extra time to the nearest grade separated crossing (e.g. 5th Avenue or University Ave.) instead of using an at-grade crossing such as Ravenswood! You have no business so carelessly taking everone's life into your hands in addition to your own.

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