(Menlo Park Grade Separation Dilemma)
In October 2017 Menlo Park conducted its most recent public review of the “project” that could have the biggest long-term impact on the quality of life in our city than anything I can remember. At the meeting the City Council expressed strong discomfort with the two alternatives for separating streets from train tracks at as many as three crossings (Ravenswood, Oak Grove, Glenwood) that have been studied. Yet the Council would have approved the “least undesirable” one if there had been a quorum. Fortunately, it did not. So how does our city get out of the bind it’s in?
Others and I are deeply concerned about the current state of the decision-making process for future grade separations in our city and find it troubling for two reasons.
First, a very promising solution, the full elevation of Caltrain tracks - with no lowering of Ravenswood, Oak Grove and Glenwood - continues to be treated as infeasible. Where is the analysis that establishes this position as either technically or politically infeasible? And how aggressively has this assumption been tested? If it is actually possible, then residents have been denied the opportunity to fairly consider a more promising alternative.
Secondly, the Council has paid too little attention to the negative impacts alternative grade separation solutions can have on the vibrancy and vitality of the Downtown/Train Area. This "core" commercial district is now enjoying a major economic transformation as developers invest in new offices, residential units and retail locations, and our city should do everything in its powers to encourage this progress. Dividing it with a physical barrier (or train trench) would be severely detrimental.
We recommend the City Council (a) truly understand the feasibility of the "full elevation" alternative and (b) carefully consider the need to enhance rather than diminish the future health of the Downtown/Train Area before deciding on a grade separation strategy.
Our comprehensive analysis of Menlo Park grade separation alternatives is available at Web Link.
Strong Council leadership is critical now, as our entire community will live with the consequences of its decisions for decades to come. Once again we invite the Council to discuss our concerns and recommendations, and we encourage residents who support a rigorous evaluation of the benefits and impacts of fully elevated grade separations to contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.