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Editorial: Tough choice on grade separations

Original post made on Oct 16, 2007

It is difficult to imagine a more difficult decision for Menlo Park and Atherton than deciding what to do about grade separations along the Caltrain line that bisects the two cities.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, October 17, 2007, 12:00 AM

Comments (10)

Posted by notinterested, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 16, 2007 at 12:16 pm

Menlo Park should pass on this money. We have already done a grade separation study a couple of years ago.

The only possibility that makes any sense is a tunnel, which would keep elevated tracks from splitting our community in half. CalTrain has no interest in paying for a tunnel.

It is simply bad government to use the argument, if we don't take the money, it will will go away. The money is taxpayer monies, and it should be placed somewhere where a community wants grade separations; that is not in Menlo Park.

What we need are quiet zones




Posted by ForFindingSolutions, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 16, 2007 at 9:04 pm

It's easy to say let's do nothing, but not so easy to deal with the consequences. So how will Menlo Park deal with high-speed rail and more frequent trains backing up traffic at intersections? I'm not claiming to have an answer to that and other related questions, but I'd like to hear a real discussion about it.


Posted by big picture please, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 16, 2007 at 11:40 pm

Almost a $half-billion for four grade seps? Something is seriously broken in our system.


Posted by go bears, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 17, 2007 at 4:26 pm

Why should we indulge Stanford's development ambitions with even more traffic funneled through Menlo when Palo Alto won't even open up Alma to cross traffic. North Palo Alto has been effectively sealed off from commute cut through traffic to Middlefield. That should happen first before any changes are made to Menlo's crossings. Guess as long as Paly gets the cash flow "sales taxes" while Menlo gets the traffic "flow" gridlock on ECR no one cares. Just watch the exit from Stanford in the late afternoon as it crawls north thru Menlo on ECR. Grade separations won't do a thing to reduce that gridlock. Time for Menlo to say NO to grade separation follies and get Palo Alto to take its fair share of the burden. Maybe we could make no U turn at Cambridge?


Posted by mo money, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 17, 2007 at 5:20 pm

Anyone wonder why San Mateo and Burlingame aren't jumping at the $250K study money? Maybe they don't want any more grade separations to ruin their downtowns!


Posted by wants focus, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 19, 2007 at 3:55 pm

This is another diversion of limited staff resources to create a study that would be outdated by the time anything comes to pass, if ever.

The city needs to get down to business - expediting the El Camino plan and development (why it takes a full year to have a consultant make a presentation about the past is beyond me), creating and implementing an economic development plan (not getting involved with a privately held theater), managing an adequate and stable police force, addressing the structural problems with the city budget (the rationale behind the Utility Users Tax).


Posted by letsmoveahead, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 20, 2007 at 7:00 am

Having just looked at Tuesday's meeting where public works director Steffens presented and was lobbying for our City to take the money and do a study, you just wonder why our council didn't just say no. We did a study in 2003; did a Charette afterwards; how many times can this issue be studied.

I did not know, as mentioned above, that San Mateo and Burlingame had passed up these funds. Good for them if this is true. San Mateo a number of years ago made their position clear by stating they would not even consider grade separations until they could be done correctly (trenching and electricifaction as I understand).

Steffens gave 20 year old numbers on cost estimates claiming about 25 million / crossing. Realistic costs are about 100 million / crossing, so about 400 -500 million for Menlo Park. Since there is only half that amount of money for grade separations for the whole county, why should our city take our very limited staff time to do another study. Silly

very poor Staff report -- our council need much better input.


Posted by Roxie, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Oct 23, 2007 at 1:40 am

Of course we need grade separations. Our planet is practically melting, we need to reduce greenhouse gases and the best way to do that is get people out of their cars. To get people out of their cars you need mass transit. Our city has a "green" committee, so we acknowledge the danger of global warming, but changing a few lightbulbs is window dressing compared to the good done to the planet by keeping a car off the road.

When I worked in San Francisco, I wanted to take the train all the time, but it took longer and when I missed the fast train, I would end up really late for work. Sometimes I ended up driving just because I slept late or knew I would be working late and would miss the faster trains home. I liked the train, most people do, but it is hard to commit to always using them when it adds several hours to your workday.

Only a small group of people are against grade separations. These are people who bought houses next to the train tracks and now they do not like the noise. Once we have grade separations Menlo Park will be a quiet zone by default--trains only need to blow thier whistles at intersections where traffic may be crossing the tracks, with a grade separation there won't be anymore intersections like that in Menlo Park. When someone says "quiet zone", whether they realize it or not all they are talking about is the train whistle blowing.

Even if global warming were not such an urgent issue, mass transit would reduce traffic and help improve our air quality and quality of life. We can not have a society where the needs of thousands, if not millions or billions, are outweighed by a few people who made a decision to live next to the railroad tracks and now expect the trains to stop running because it bothers them. They should just sell their houses and move elsewhere if it is so bad. Instead they donate money to some city council candidates and try to influence the decisions that should be made for the good of the whole city.

Let's get serious about being a "green" city and do something meaningful instead of symbolic. Mass transit is essential to solving our pollution problems quickly, and for the system to work here we need grade separations.


Posted by Lets get real, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Oct 23, 2007 at 12:05 pm

Roxie, as one who is pro-transit and anti-grade seps, there are a couple of issues here. First, let's stop flogging the green horse. Grade seps won't make it easier to take the train, but they will make it a whole lot easier to get from one side of the town to another in a car. I don't see them reducing pollution one iota. Second, when people talk about noise pollution, they aren't just referring to the whistles/horns but to the sound of those massive 19th century trains roaring through the middle of town. Caltrain seems wedded to old technology, and too invested in protecting their political turf to switch to cleaner, more modern options.

As an side, note that Caltrain often does not have room to accommodate cyclists. My friends who cycle from work to the train station sometimes have to wait for several trains to pass before one stops with enough room for their bicycles. So much for being pro-green; those Caltrain riders would be better off if they drove.

Ideally, we could have subways, but that is not going to happen for many reasons, first and foremost that it is way too expensive. Similarly, we are never, never going to have grade seps given the price tag. Who is giving Menlo Park that half billion dollars? No, the worst case scenario is for MP to accept the $250k and then waste a year or more of staff time, while all other needs are ignored, to study a "solution" that is going to gather dust on a shelf in City Hall.

P.S. I don't live near the train, but have noticed that you can hear the locomotive noise from the far side of 101.


Posted by Martin, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 23, 2007 at 1:20 pm

Grade separations? I don't see anything wrong with that.
Dig up downtown Menlo Park for three years or more? I don't see anything wrong with that.
Have many businesses close downtown? I don't see anything wrong with that.
Have even greater traffic chaos in downtown MP and along El Camino for three years or more? I don't see anything wrong with that.
Widen the rail corridor for four tracks with eminent domain adverse takings of private property along the rail corridor for construction easements? I don't see anything wrong with that.
Run temporary (shoofly) tracks for over three years along side the rail corridor for Caltrain? I don't see anything wrong with that.
Cut down most of the trees on both sides of the rail corridor and prune back the survivors to accommodate electrification? I don't see anything wrong with that.
Increase cross-town traffic into Atherton and along El Camino? I don't see anything wrong with that.
Raise the track beds along the rail corridor 15 more feet than they are now? I don't see anything wrong with that.
Create a "Berlin Wall" separating east and west Menlo Park, with one side the "good" side and the other side the "other side of the tracks?" I don't see anything wrong with that.
Have our city look like San Carlos down it's central corridor? I don't see anything wrong with that.
Have the high-speed train flying through Menlo Park on a wider and elevated rail corridor? I don't see anything wrong with that.
Convert Menlo Park into a high rise, high-density urban ghetto along the expanded tracks? I don't see anything wrong with that.
Make all the lobbyists, contractors, consultants, developers, rail bureaucrats, and other empire builders rich on publicly paid pork barrel funds? I don't see anything wrong with that.
Watch the cost over-runs, the corruption and fraud as Parsons Brinkerhoff score another big money grab? I don't see anything wrong with that.
I don't live anywhere near the rail corridor. It's not my money. It doesn't concern me.
Or, does it?


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