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January 22, 2018 - City Council reviewed with staff the grade separation project and with new Council make up and membership. The resulting motion is here:
A. Direct Staff to separate from study all alternatives for the Palo Alto Avenue crossing (closure and hybrid) and include Palo Alto Avenue in a separate comprehensive planning effort with a priority on transportation;
B. Direct Staff to separate from study the bicycle and pedestrian crossing of the Caltrain corridor in the vicinity of Loma Verde Avenue and incorporate this into the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan process;
C. Direct Staff to present the tunnel alternative at the Community Advisory Panel (CAP) and March Community meeting, and outline assumptions and alternatives for a citywide tunnel and further explore (the Scope and Budget) for an alternative with freight trains on the surface and passenger trains underground (for the Meadow and Charleston crossings);
D. Adopt a modified list of grade separation alternatives:
1. South Palo Alto | Rail Tunnel;
2. Churchill Avenue | Full or Partial Closure and add Improvements (CAX);
3. Meadow Drive and Charleston Road | Hybrid (MCL);
4. Meadow Drive and Charleston Road | Rail Trench (MCT);
5. Meadow Drive and Charleston Road | Viaduct (MCV);
6. Citywide Tunnel (WBP);
E. Direct Staff to return to Council with a strategy for Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) and Stanford University, especially around funding;
F. Direct Staff to study multi-modal mitigations for existing grade separations, taking into consideration both current conditions and future impacts;
G. Direct Staff to restore “maintain or improve local access” evaluation criteria; and
H. Direct Staff to return to Council soon to review evaluation criteria and timeline with a funding and polling strategy.
Note the important item F. It is important that we research traffic mitigations as soon as possible at other grade separations to see what can be done there.
These presentations were given at the Community Meetings and are invaluable in helping to get up to speed on this complex, multi-faceted project:
Learn About Rail Grade Separation
Caltrain's Future Plans
By 2021, Caltrain plans to electrify its trains. There are many benefits to electrification: less noise, faster trains, less pollution. However, the result of this electrification means that there would be approximately double the amount of trains traveling on existing tracks. This would make some of the intersections unusable as trains would be crossing at a rate that would not let cars to pass.
In order to address this projected traffic issue, the City has initiated a project (Connecting Palo Alto) to explore ways to disconnect the rail and traffic intersections, thus reducing traffic congestion. There are several different ways to achieve this so-called “grade separation” (see below), which are currently being considered by the City. Each approach has unique consequences of financial expense, community impact, safety and the environment, and each intersection has unique circumstances. We are particularly concerned about the enormously detrimental impact of one of the proposed solutions at Churchill Avenue. We are explicitly opposed to a Road Underpass solution for two primary reasons.
Primary Problems with a Road Underpass at Churchill Avenue
Issue 1 (of 2): Destruction of the neighborhood
Currently, Churchill Ave is a 2-lane residential street situated in the heart of Old Palo Alto’s extremely slow-paced, residential neighborhood. On the East Side of Churchill, the street is only 7 blocks long and is a small, indirect artery to Alma and El Camino (it has nowhere near the volume, capacity of its peers at Charleston, Meadow, Embarcadero or Oregon Expressway). Churchill Avenue has the charm and character of a residential street with sidewalks and trees, and many children who bike to their various nearby schools every morning.
If a tunneled underpass thoroughfare like those existing at Oregon Expressway or Embarcadero Road were to be built at the Churchill Ave and Alma intersection, it would have a radiating effect on the entire North Old Palo Alto community. Not only would the tunnel draw more cars at higher speeds, but the massive buried concrete construction project would bring infrastructure blight, removal of dozens of trees, and generally deprecate the quality of the surrounding neighborhood for blocks around. The old Palo Alto neighborhood that you know would irreversibly change!
Imagine if an underpass resembling Oregon Expressway's underpass were to be built at Churchill/Alma:
Source: Google Maps Satellite View.
Issue 2 (of 2): Destruction of Residential Housing and Community Members’ Homes
Source: South Palo Alto Grade Crossings - Impact of Road Underpass on Google Maps.
A grade separation via Road Undperass also will require the seizure of dozens of neighborhood homes to accommodate the massive, multi-year construction project. Specifically, an underpass must be dug to at least 25 feet of depth and at no more than 6% grade, which means demolishing homes and trees nearly 400 feet in all directions approaching the intersection. This will change the entire topography and landscape of the community, destroy neighborhoods, and take many dozen family homes. In a City suffering from a major housing crisis, this is unacceptable.
Using the City’s own analysis, the projected impact of a Road Undperass at the Churchill/Alma intersection would have the following eminent domain impacts to local properties and Paly High School:
Do you own a property encircled by yellow or blue? If you do, your house may be partially or fully impacted by eminent domain if a grade separation is built at the Churchill/Alma intersection!
Research on Possible Options for Intersections
Here are some recent research reports provided by the City of Palo Alto:
Types of Intersections
Images courtesy of Californians Advocating for Responsible Rail Design
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