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With clock ticking, city considers another rail committee

Original post made on Aug 16, 2019

As Santa Clara County prepares to distribute funding for rail projects in north county, Palo Alto is looking to create yet another citizen committee to advise city leaders on the complex and contentious topic.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, August 16, 2019, 12:00 AM

Comments (34)

14 people like this
Posted by Cart Before the Horse?
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 16, 2019 at 5:17 am

"The 2016 county measure .....didn't specify how much each city would get and what the process would be for allocating the funds."

"Fine noted that many in Palo Alto, including some council members, were under the impression that money would be parceled out according to the number of grade separation projects in the three cities."

Who gave Fine that impression if it wasn't in the ballot?

Besides, wouldn't you need some sort of plan before even applying for that money?


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2019 at 8:06 am

Yay !


8 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 16, 2019 at 8:46 am

There's a sea change in Sacramento where the Assembly is looking to redirect the rest of the existing HSR funding away from the Central Valley towards projects at the end points, namely the LA Basin and SF Bay Area which could be positioned as making those areas HSR ready but geared for local transit improvements.

I hope the Palo Alto City Council is on top of this and is advocating for more funding for a better grade-separation solution than what is being considered today.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2019 at 9:06 am

I honestly believe we should be looking for Federal grants for this. There seems to be a lot of money about for infrastructure improvements but as far as I can see it is all going to East Coast. California is such a huge economy bringing so much trade to the US economy as a whole, that we must be entitled to a piece of the cake.


9 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2019 at 10:25 am

Nobody knows what to do at Churchill and Alma/PA Ave. Let's just do the hybrid version for East Meadow and Charleston, making sure the right-of-way is fully utilizable for future multi-tracking, and figure out the north side later. Ensuring pedestrian and bicycle safety and security** for East Meadow/Charleston is critical. Alma/PA Ave and Churchill are just too physically difficult, and therefore contentious and/or expensive, for a "citizens committee" to be able to resolve in time to capture some of the funding. We'll just have to put those off. Let's get the south PA hybrid solution done and move on.

** = security wrt crime. Avoiding the "no man's land" effect that San Carlos has.


15 people like this
Posted by Cur Mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 16, 2019 at 11:57 am

"As Santa Clara County prepares to distribute funding for rail projects in north county, Palo Alto is looking to create **yet another** citizen committee to advise city leaders on the complex and contentious topic."

Apparent gridlock on this topic, just like the local traffic. How long already now?


18 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 16, 2019 at 12:11 pm

How much money has the city council already authorized for studies by highly paid consultants for this? I think it's more than $4,000,000 by now. [Portion removed.]


13 people like this
Posted by Concerned PA
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 16, 2019 at 12:56 pm

Meanwhile, electrification moves forward which will mean complete gridlock during morning and evening commutes!
Our city council is inept, this should have been addressed years ago.


15 people like this
Posted by DTNResident
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 16, 2019 at 1:00 pm

Face it, nothing we want, we can afford. This has been "studied" to death and every time it is studied, what we "want" is a 50 trillion dollar alternative that will cost every resident 20 million dollars.

It aint gonna happen. Meanwhile, the peons in San Carlos and Belmont have been gridlock free for 20 years, 20 years!, because they accepted the possible and built a cheap landscaped berm that didn't end life on the planet as they know it. And more importantly, it didn't require all the sewer and water lines in the city to be rerouted through pumps, nor a trench that would require endless water pumping to keep dry. The nerve of those peons to choose an affordable option, when it is much more productive to keep dreaming of one that cannot be paid for!

But, will we change? Never! Now we will just go looking for some other sucker to pay for our affordable luxury using their hard earned money. "How about the feds?" "How about the county?" How about we deal with reality and just do it the way everyone else does and be done with it. Build sound walls on either side of a landscaped, raised berm and get on with it.


18 people like this
Posted by Dennis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 16, 2019 at 3:35 pm

What Palo Alto needs is a Rail Oversight Committee (ROC) to oversee the deliberations of the two committees. That would certainly get the job done quickly.


4 people like this
Posted by Staying Young Through Kids
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 16, 2019 at 4:46 pm

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

We have 7 crossings in Palo Alto. Closing Churchill and Alma would bring that down to 5.

We have to be looking at options which either maintain or increase the current crossing capacity.

Any solutions which might shrink the current geographic distribution of our crossings will only make Palo Alto traffic worse than it already is.

If solving for the two South crossings will be easier and less expensive we should absolutely charge forward and make it happen. But, ignoring or eliminating 1/2 of our North crossings will only make Palo Alto worse.

And...Has anyone weighed in on the remaining life span of the University Ave, Embarcadero, and Oregon/Page Mill rail overpasses? Are they all seismically strong, HSR ready, and good for at least another 30+ years?

Should alterations to these grade-separated crossings be considered as we upgrade local rail access.


30 people like this
Posted by Get it in gear
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 16, 2019 at 5:16 pm

Yes. By all means. Let's put together another committee. The whole world will wait while Palo alto puts this through their process. No rush.
Get your act together and make a decision. No Matter who is on the council, they can never reach a Timely decision.


18 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 16, 2019 at 6:38 pm

Given the above decision to remove part of my post above, maybe the editors can inform us which council members and city employees have been responsible for the various commissions and multi-million dollar contracts awarded?


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2019 at 7:01 pm

The train, or as I like to call it "Victorian Nellie" is just old.
Riders need to get with the times
Sad !


4 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Aug 17, 2019 at 1:47 am

Caltrain are about to formally adopt a policy position that would effectively rule out the construction of a trench or tunnel between Palo Alto station and Mountain View station, so that should simplify the work of the committee.

Caltrain policy will also require any grade separation designs in South Palo Alto to accommodate an eventual 4 track system, so more payments to the consultants for new studies.

These policy positions should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. Caltrain's long term vision foresees the need for a passing track at the ¾ distance under the "high service level" scenario, Caltrain therefor must preserve its right of way in that area.

Caltrain staff recommendation Web Link is to not preclude such high service levels as they specifically relate to:
• The sale or permanent encumbrance of JPB land.
• The design of grade separations in areas where 4-track segments may be required.

A two track tunnel in South Palo Alto would be the mother of all encumbrances.


13 people like this
Posted by another collision
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 17, 2019 at 9:09 am

How is Palo Alto rewarded for its decades of stalling on grade separations? There was another Caltrain vs car collision last night the Charleston Road crossing. These are getting so commonplace these days that Palo Alto Online doesn't even cover them anymore. Mercury-News report: Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 17, 2019 at 12:28 pm

"Caltrain are about to formally adopt a policy position that would effectively rule out the construction of a trench or tunnel between Palo Alto station and Mountain View station, so that should simplify the work of the committee."

Not even close to adopting. These are draft recommendations. There's still a long way to go before any adoption of this plan.

Furthermore, you're (intentionally?) misunderstanding the four-track recommendation. In the moderate growth scenario, they need only one of four "northern Santa Clara County" stations to be four-tracked - MV, San Antonio, Cal Ave or Palo Alto. The *stations* are four-tracked, not the lines between stations.

Trenching / tunneling in South Palo Alto can still be on the table.


1 person likes this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 18, 2019 at 4:48 am

"How about we deal with reality and just do it the way everyone else does and be done with it. Build sound walls on either side of a landscaped, raised berm and get on with it."

This would require the taking of how many existing residences?

What would be the FMV of each residence? Is $3 million a realistic figure? We could double it to $6 million as an incentive to the homeowners. Offering premium prices for those properties might be cheaper than building a shoofly track on Alma street. A shoofly track would be needed during construction of a trench or tunnel.


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 18, 2019 at 5:30 pm

Good ol' Victorian Nellie.
Sad !


8 people like this
Posted by Rob
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 18, 2019 at 5:57 pm

"Fine noted that many in Palo Alto, including some council members, were under the impression that money would be parceled out according to the number of grade separation projects in the three cities."

Fine has NOT been paying attention, or is playing some sort of game here, neither is impressive nor inspires any confidence in his governing or decision making process. Period. Measure B was noteworthy in how it specifically did NOT allocate collected tax revenues. Timelines of valid applications seemed to be the ticket to secured funds from Measure B, not pleasing a misunderstanding.


11 people like this
Posted by Rob
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 18, 2019 at 6:08 pm

With the Silicon Valley Leadership Group about to get involved, I think city council best bevwary of a bait and switch. Web Link
BART and San Jose is and has always been their priority. North county Palo Alto is not.

I would be very wary of advice they offer.


6 people like this
Posted by TMB
a resident of another community
on Aug 19, 2019 at 3:08 am

The proposed road-underpass grade separations at Rengstroff Avenue, Mountain View and Rose Avenue, Sunnydale can be seen as better value for money because they:
• Grade separate high volume streets.
• Have reasonable cost.
• Preserve Caltrain's 4 track right of way.

Even Palo Alto's cheapest proposed option for Charleston and Meadow, the 'Hybrid', would involve vertically relocating the rail over a distance of several miles which is an expensive way to grade separate two minor roads.
If Caltrain ever needed to build the 5 miles of passing track imagined under the "high service level scenario", they would need to duplicate the two track berm at significant expense.

Limited funds will tend to gravitate toward best value for money. That puts Palo Alto at a disadvantage.


2 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 19, 2019 at 9:14 am

Palo Alto's response should be "bye, we don't want your money anyway". This is an unneeded project that residents don't want. Nobody in town wants elevated train tracks in their backyard, projecting train sounds for miles. It's a destructive project that should never be built.

The one project that almost everyone can agree on is one or more bike overpasses / underpasses across Alma and the train tracks somewhere around Charleston, Meadow, Loma Verde. That's the project the city should focus on. It's a project that improves Palo Alto and doesn't benefit the 1% at the cost of residents.


4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2019 at 9:26 am

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

(Not this Anon, obviously.)

>> The train, or as I like to call it "Victorian Nellie" is just old. Riders need to get with the times

Modern commuter rail is the most efficient high-speed people transporter available today, and uses rights-of-way 4-10X more efficiently than autos, can be fully electrified, reducing and/or eliminating all pollution. And, in this case, the ROW already exists, often wide enough for 4 tracks. Riders clearly agree, since it is SRO at rush hour every weekday.

>> Sad !

What is sad is that there is no way to quickly connect to the East Bay. I know someone in the East Bay who lives almost exactly 40 miles from the California Ave area. About 40 minute trip by car at 2 AM. At 2 PM it is already 1 hr 20 minutes. Then 1 hour 40 minutes. And peak rush hour it is 2 hours. Now, THAT is "sad". Too bad there is no modern high-speed commuter rail from the 680 corridor area over here. People are stuck sitting in traffic burning fossil fuels in their old-fashioned 20th-century cars to get over here. Tesla's don't move any faster in a traffic jam, but, at least they aren't creating GHGs while they sit there.


2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 19, 2019 at 2:00 pm

"If Caltrain ever needed to build the 5 miles of passing track imagined under the "high service level scenario", they would need to duplicate the two track berm at significant expense."

The important word in your statement is "IF."

The "high service level" scenario is completely BS - HSR is dead and the last mile still is a problem that Samtrans and VTA still can't solve without cities completely rezoning the peninsula. Even the moderate growth scenario is suspect because of this problem.

Designing for a fantasy scenario is a waste of public funds.


1 person likes this
Posted by Staying Young Through Kids
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 19, 2019 at 4:32 pm

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

We have SEVEN crossings in Palo Alto and each one should be studied.

A corridor upgrade of this size will happen incrementally, but the overall plan should be established now. So, any group studying this must include close examination of the current train overpasses.

OREGON EXPRESSWAY: with 4 lanes functions reasonably well. What is it's lifespan? It is prone to flooding. It's the site of regular accidents, and is very unsafe for cyclists. With its proximity to the Cal Ave station and the wide right of way to the South, will it need to be reworked?

EMBARCADERO RD: Ugh!! Just 3 lanes! It's a mess in nearly every way and is only getting worse. The traffic to Stanford, the entrance to Paly, T&C, the Paly Pedestrian crossing & the pedestrian/bike bridge. ADA inaccessible steps from Alma. This is ripe to be redone!

UNIVERSITY AVE: Our 2nd best crossing- with a tight 4 lanes & sidewalks. It's showing its age and who knows about seismic considerations. I'm sure the "Downtown Plan" will want to make something to create a transportation hub @ the station. Even money they'll want to rebuild this crossing as part of that plan.

Our two "minor crossings" for pedestrians & bikes deserve a shout out as well...

ALMA / CAL AVE: Heavily trafficked and useful. Dangerous lack of separation for cyclists and pedestrians. Terrible slope for ADA access. The right lawsuit could require it to be reworked or closed.

HOMER / ALMA: Extremely functional (other than Homer being a one way street). We could use 4-5 more just like it within the city.

To whomever is looking at this plan. PLEASE look broadly with your eyes WAY down the road. IMPROVE and INCREASE access for pedestrians, bikes, and, yes, cars and trucks to cross (under or over) our train corridor.

This is a golden opportunity to do something to benefit our community for the next 100 years.






6 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Aug 20, 2019 at 2:51 am

@ "close examination of the current train overpasses."

When you make a small change to an existing crossing, the law requires that the whole area must be brought into compliance with current standards.

Embarcadero underpass has a non-compliant height restriction, so any modification would require it to be dug deeper, a deeper underpass requires longer ramps which could mean some properties lose their driveway access.

Modern road standards generally require a larger footprint on the ground for wider lanes, minimum curves, bicycle lanes, ADA compatible sidewalks etc.

What starts as a small improvement can snowball into a $100 million project that takes 10 years to litigate.

If the city has $100 million to spend, better to spend it on a new crossing.


4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2019 at 9:54 am

Posted by Me 2, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> The important word in your statement is "IF."

It actually isn't "IF". It is "WHEN". And, it might be quite a while -- which you dismiss as "BS" and "fantasy". But, it isn't. It just will take a while.

>> without cities completely rezoning the peninsula. Even the moderate growth scenario is suspect because of this problem. Designing for a fantasy scenario is a waste of public funds.

But, it isn't a fantasy. It is just a long-term goal. It makes perfect sense to plan for that long term goal so that work doesn't have to be re-done in the next decade or two. In some instances, we have seen where the long-term goal can be addressed by acquiring a few thousand square feet here and there along the right of way. Not needed for the next ten years, but, needed after that. I applaud that long-range planning. It will save 10's and 100's of millions of dollars later on.


2 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 20, 2019 at 10:29 am

"When you make a small change to an existing crossing, the law requires that the whole area must be brought into compliance with current standards."

"What starts as a small improvement can snowball into a $100 million project that takes 10 years to litigate.
"
Is the rail committee/PACC aware of this?

It makes a good case for leaving University, Embarcadero, Churchill and Oregon ALONE.


2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 20, 2019 at 10:54 am

"But, it isn't a fantasy. It is just a long-term goal. It makes perfect sense to plan for that long term goal so that work doesn't have to be re-done in the next decade or two. "

Did you read the plan? It's Caltrain's *2040* vision.

That is in your timeframe. And the high-growth scenario is fantasy in that timeframe. HSR is a non-entity for the next 20 years (or forever), so any planning assumptions that include HSR in that timeframe is complete horse hockey.

Passing tracks outside of stations is *only required for HSR*. Caltrain only needs passing tracks on stations to meet its (nonsensical) goals.

And that isn't even mentioning the last mile issue that Caltrain, VTA and Samtrans can't solve that would be required to even meet the moderate growth projections. We can't even get the Fry's site developed near the Cal Ave station in the near future!

As long as we have people who have to drive to a Caltrain station from, say, the Duveneck-St. Francis to a Caltrain station and that we are dependent on employers on the peninsula using private shuttles, there won't be major growth in Caltrain usage. As long as residentialists rule the roost along the Caltrain ROW, there will never be enough transit-oriented development for housing and jobs to justify any major growth scenario for Caltrain.

Build it and they will come is hope as a strategy. And that won't work.


1 person likes this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Aug 20, 2019 at 11:40 am

@"It's Caltrain's *2040* vision... its a fantasy."

Nevertheless, the default scenario is that Caltrain will adopt the vision recommendations as policy before PA get around to adopting a grade separation plan.
Caltrain's no-encumbrance policy puts another a nail in the coffin of Palo Alto's 2040 vision to cover the Caltrain ROW with tennis courts and bicycle trails.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2019 at 3:45 pm

Posted by Me 2, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> Did you read the plan? It's Caltrain's *2040* vision.

We need to start now to reach 2040 goals. I don't think we disagree about that.

>> And the high-growth scenario is fantasy in that timeframe.

You seem very focused on CA-HSR. Let's just look at local use. Demand at rush hour is already at SRO. Electrification and ATC will decrease minimum headway to accommodate more growth, but, there may be demand for even more as people realize all the benefits, from speed, from reduced GHG emissions, and from land-use efficiency. Commuter rail is the most efficient use of land "period", and the most efficient (non-human-powered) energy-wise. The peninsula has the population and jobs density to support rail. I'm confident that demand will greatly increase as long as operational costs and fares don't increase and deter ridership.


2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 20, 2019 at 10:07 pm

"You seem very focused on CA-HSR."

Yes, because the need for passing tracks outside of stations is only needed with HSR. Without HSR, any Caltrain passing can be done at the stations. TBM is claiming the need to reserve the ROW from MV to Palo Alto Station for passing tracks, which is complete and utter nonsense when we all know that HSR is dead.

"Let's just look at local use. Demand at rush hour is already at SRO."

I ride during rush hour. People are standing, but it's not completely SRO. Trains are designed to have people seated *and* standing. What do you think the handles on the aisle seats are for?

"Electrification and ATC will decrease minimum headway to accommodate more growth, but, there may be demand for even more as people realize all the benefits, from speed, from reduced GHG emissions, and from land-use efficiency."

Hope is not a strategy. And Residentialists will never never ever ever allow land-use changes. Again, see the current Fry's / Ventura problem.

"Commuter rail is the most efficient use of land "period", and the most efficient (non-human-powered) energy-wise."

Not when the housing and office sites are distributed along the peninsula the way they are today. There is an intractable n-to-n problem that Caltrain can't solve without rezoning. Caltrain was designed to funnel people to SF and back. However, the largest tech companies in the Bay Area all are on the peninsula NOWHERE NEAR A CALTRAIN STATION. Facebook? Google? Apple?

"The peninsula has the population and jobs density to support rail."

I'm amazed you can type that statement out without laughing. If there's enough density, then why can't VTA even serve north county effectively? Oh, that's right. There's not enough density. VTA can't afford to have service to feed Caltrain.

The peninsula is in the worst possible situation - just dense enough for traffic, but not dense enough for effective public transit. Heck, SF is dense enough, and the service still sucks.

"I'm confident that demand will greatly increase as long as operational costs and fares don't increase and deter ridership."

Well, I guess you don't have confidence. Fares for Caltrain are going up as we speak.


5 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2019 at 12:10 am

Passenger rail is a one-dimensional system conceived to serve the largely rural landscape of Victorian England. Despite decades of trying, passenger rail has never been able to evolve into a technology that efficiently serves the highly networked two-dimensional landscape of the modern world.

When rail supporters argue for density they are basically saying if we could only turn Palo Alto into Dickensian London, with all of its filth and squalor, rail would become relevant again!

And, if you think Palo Alto cannot devolve into Dickensian London, just take a look at what has happened to San Francisco in just the last 25 years. Walking eight blocks of Market street just this afternoon I saw sights, and smelled odors, that were right out of Dickensian London.




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