The Menlo Park City Council is currently evaluating where and how best to separate its primary east-west corridors, e.g., Ravenswood, Oak Grove, Glenwood and Encinal primarily because projected future increases in vehicle traffic and commuter trains – plus new high speed rail services – all during “peak hours” of traffic – could negatively motorists at existing crossings and nearby El Camino traffic intersections.
The City Council conduced a study of two grade separation alternatives…
Ravenswood Underpass (Alternative A) – provide separation only at Ravenswood by routing it 22 feet under the current rail grade.
Hybrid Separation (Alternative C) – provides separation at Ravenswood, Oak Grove and Glenwood by lowering the streets about 5-1 and raising the rails about X feet. The rails would rest on a continuous solid berm broken at the crossings.
The City Council dismissed a third one , an elevated viaduct, apparently due to concerns about its visual impact on nearby neighborhoods.
City Council Meeting (October 10, 2017) – The Council reviewed the trade-offs between Alternatives A and C and two council members were inclined to support C. However, lacking a quorum, the Council could not approve anything. Two members still strongly prefer a fourth alternative, a below ground rail installation, i.e., tunnel , but acknowledge this option is likely not a realistic one. The Staff Report Proposed that the City Council approve the additional study of both alternatives. View report.
My Current Impressions (December 2017)
- Divided City Council. Positions expressed at the October 2017 council meeting:
Keith (mayor) prefers hybrid separations at Glenwood, Oak Grove and Ravenswood (Alternative C).
Ohtaki prefers an underground solution or a hybrid separation at Ravenswood only (Alternative A), but would support Alternative C.
Mueller prefers an underground solution as well, and does not support either Alternative A or C.
Cline prefers an an underground solution and has not indicated acceptance of either Alternative A or C.
Carlton prefers the city evaluate a fully elevated and open rail structure prior before selecting a separation solution.
- Artificial Deadline. Keith claims the city does not have time to evaluate additional alternatives fearing that delays will potentially jeopardize non-city funding. Despite the lack of credible support for this claim she is pressing the council to select Alternative C. In fact, there is plenty of time to decide on the best grade separation solution. (See details)
- Resident Feedback. Polled residents generally dislike both Alternatives A and C but view C as the least “bad”. The Felton Gables Home Owners Association opposes any grade separation on Encinal.
- City Grade Separation Priorities. Menlo Park lacks the technical analysis that is required to justify and prioritize individual grade separations at Ravenswood, Oak Grove, Glenwood and Encinal. Instead, the City Council is relying on unsupported opinions and personal judgments.
- Better Separation Opportunity. Using a fully elevated and open rail structure (FEORS) from Oak Grove to Ravenswood would avoid the negative impact of a 10-foot high berm (Alternative C), improve east-west connectivity for pedestrians and bicyclists, cause much less traffic disruption during the construction of hybrid grade separations, and likely cost less.
- Underground Rail Separation. This is the solution preferred by most residents but is likely too costly. However, Palo Alto is pursuing this approach IF successful Menlo Park could adopt a similar one.
January 2018 Guest Opinion – Grade Separation is a golden opportunity for Menlo Park. TBD
December 2017 Felton Gables News – “Elevated tracks do not belong in residential areas, and we respectfully request that the Town of Atherton support our position that the Encinal crossing not be grade separated,” wrote Felton Gables Home Owner’s Association President Cynthia Ishler. Ishler says the train, track and electrification wires could loom more than 50 feet above the neighborhood. The track would be raised 10 to 20 feet, the train alone is about 25-foot high and the wires would run above it. The presence of an elevated train would increase ambient noise and vibration, generate visual and privacy concerns for neighboring residences and businesses and lower property values,” Ishler wrote.
November 2017 City Council Meeting – During the public comment session, Dana Hendrickson, Mile Forster, and Henry Riggs recommended the Council carefully evaluate a third grade separation alternative based on a fully elevated and open structure (FEOS) between Oak Grove and Ravenswood. A combination of FEOS and berms could be used on the grades.
October 2017 Guest Opinion – Caltrain Grade Separation Study Inadequate (View Entire Opinion)
The Almanac Post – Steve Schmidt – – October 5, 2017
A complete analysis of Menlo Park grade separations of the Caltrain right of way should include a study of a viaduct that separates all four of the city’s at-grade crossings. To do less is financially shortsighted. The current $750,000 study paid for from County Funds is insufficient as it eliminates an option that would cost the least, be the safest and serve all businesses and property owners whose access is threatened.
Within days of the February 23, 2015, tragic death of a 35 year-old motorist who found herself facing a commute train on the tracks at Ravenswood, Council Member Keith stated that “It would be a disservice to the residents of Menlo Park to not consider all options” and that the issue of elevating the tracks would be brought to the Council. What has changed since this heart-felt proclamation?
All practical alternatives should be investigated. Menlo Park should not resist a complete planning process for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Why would the City spend tens of millions on a project that will not pass the test of time and will need updating in the future?.