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Grade Separation Study Incomplete

From: domainremoved <Steve>
Date: Wed, 4 Oct 2017 20:37:07 -0700

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 $750,000 funded by the County on this study deserves to be used to investigate all practical alternatives. 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?

Grade separating all four MP crossings utilizing an open viaduct is a clear value to Menlo Park and to Caltrain.

1. Elimination of Noise - The greatest source of train noise in Menlo Park is the sounding of horns at each at-grade crossing required by federal railroad regulators. This nuisance would be eliminated by grade-separating all four of our existing crossings. At-grade crossings at Watkins in Atherton and Alma/Palo Alto Ave in Palo Alto would remain minor sources of noise in Menlo Park and nothing like what we now experience

Mechanical noise from the rail interacting with the wheels can be buffered with a 18 inch curb along the viaduct edge. The electric propulsion system will be considerably quieter than the diesel engines currently in use.
2. Increased east-west connectivity - A viaduct would offer increased opportunities for pedestrian and bicycle circulation in the vicinity of the Caltrain right-of-way which is now a barrier. A viaduct is more a series of doorways versus a solid wall, which would indeed separate the east from the west. In addition we would miss opportunities to utilize the land underneath. Four grade-separated crossings would complete the vision of the Specific Plan and Safe Routes to School. The design of Stanford’s ped/bike under-crossing at 500 El Camino would also be simplified by this approach. With a viaduct design a bike route parallel to El Camino could be included in the project.

3. Increased safety - With increased frequency of Caltrain service, there will be more conflicts with cars, bikes and pedestrians at all remaining at- grade crossings. Elevated tracks on a viaduct offer less opportunity for those in distress seeking to end their lives or for the inattentive to endanger themselves.

4. Elimination of gates - Warning bells currently associated with at-grade crossings are another source of noise. Back-ups and clogged turning movements of vehicles occur whenever the gates are down and will increase with greater frequency of trains. A viaduct at all four crossings will eliminate this problem in Menlo Park.

5. Protection of property access - The 2003-4 grade separation study concluded that property access impacts are significantly reduced as the Caltrain track elevation is raised: a fully elevated Caltrain viaduct would be of greatest benefit to all adjacent property owners (short of a tunnel).

6. Construction Impacts -The best approach for a project of this magnitude would be to construct all four grade separations in a logical sequential order to reduce the severity of construction impacts that will disrupt the City for years.

The Atherton position that Caltrain remain at grade through their town seems a political one and subject to future negotiation.

Staff has stated that separating Encinal is not feasible because a hybrid at that site would cut off street access to one or more residential properties in Felton Gables and that the tracks could not be returned to grade before reaching the Atherton town limits. Calculations on Google maps combined with the track elevations and required gradients question this conclusion.

However for the sake of complete evaluation, assuming there a limited vertical clearance at Encinal, a grade separation for pedestrians and bicycles use only is an option that must be considered. This type of grade crossing would be preferable to closing the street, depriving access to residential properties, or keeping the at-grade crossing.

Also a concern raised in both Atherton and Menlo Park is the issue of privacy for residents along the ROW. There currently exists smart glass technology for train cars that allow the windows to switch instantaneously between opaque and transparent modes. When a train travels through sensitive residential neighborhoods, opaque windows can solve privacy issues.

I hope that MP Staff and Council takes this issue up with the Town of Atherton, reminding them of the benefits to their residents of cooperating with us and possibly grade-separating Watkins, which is already about 4’ above grade and a source of horn noise for Atherton as well as Menlo Park. We should have the resolve to lobby for what is best for Menlo Park.

Maintaining the Status Quo is not an option. Menlo Park should have the benefit of a study that includes a viaduct over all four Menlo Park crossings.

Steve Schmidt
Henry Riggs
Received on Wed Oct 04 2017 - 20:41:49 PDT

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