Go to the Friends of Caltrain for the most current actions to save Caltrain.
On January 14, the South San Francisco City Council voted unanimously to allocate $5.9 million of city infrastructure reserves, to provide a local match for $49 million of San Mateo County Measure A funding, to cover an overhaul of the bleak and underutilized South City Caltrain station. With the funding project could be completed as soon as four years from now.
The station move is a centerpiece of the city’s Downtown Plan, intended revitalize the downtown and make better use of the station. The project would add a tunnel connecting downtown to the station, and would add barriers gates preventing passengers from crossing when a train is coming. Currently without the gates, a Northbound and Southbound train can’t be in the station at the same time, since passengers could walk in front of a moving train. The project would also improve the bus and shuttle dropoff area.
Currently to reach the station, passengers need to climb several sets of stairs and cross a major freeway entrance; passengers with wheelchairs or strollers need to traverse a long and steeply banked sidewalk beside a freeway onramp.
On January 8, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority reviewed about plans to allocate $49.1 million for the project; nearly the full amount of Caltrain funds currently available; the funding will be presented for approval at the TA’s February 5th meeting.
South City staff said that the station design was complete and ready for Caltrain to bid out for construction; the project could be done as soon as four years from now, having the new station ready for Caltrain electrification.
The project would use about half of the city’s capital improvement fund. Council Member Addiego asked for the finance committee to review how the funds would be replenished, and other uses of the fund, before he gives the final vote to spend the money. The city is applying for grant funds that may cover some of the project.
On Wednesday night at 6pm, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority is hosting a meeting gathering feedback on transit improvement connecting 16th street in the Mission to Mission Bay. The meeting will be held at Marshall Elementary School, 1575 15th Street.
The proposal would extend the 22 Fillmore to Mission Bay, adding transit only lanes on 16th and 3rd to make the bus up to 25% faster, and creating a safe and attractive bicycle route along 17th street.
The 22 Filmore may take 5 years to build, because of the time needed to add the overhead wires. In the mean time, Muni plans to add a new diesel bus line on 16th, the 55-16th, which follows the 22-Filmore on 16th, and will continue on 16th Street, then North on 3rd Street to UCSF.
In a discussion in comments to the Streetsblog article, several people asked whether the 16th street routes should be connected to Caltrain 4th and King (or 22nd Street). What do you think? Come to the meeting or share your thoughts online here. If you want to see the Caltrain connectivity, leave a comment or send us a quick note at firstname.lastname@example.org, so we can encourage support.
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On Monday night, Palo Alto City Council heard a presentation from Caltrain regarding the electrification project. Council members expressed several concerns with the electrification EIR, and also an intention to work with Caltrain to resolve the issues, including working to secure funding for grade separations.
There is one issues with the visual appearance of electrical station that seems solvable – community members opposed one proposed location, which hasn’t been taken off the list until an alternative has been verified.
There are concerns that the additional service would add delay at the intersections at Charleston, Meadow, and Churchill. For example, Alma and Churchill, without electrification there would be 84 seconds of delay by 2020, and an additional 25 seconds with more frequent electric service. Council members and community members spoke in support of grade separations that would improve safety and improve crosstown connections.
Council Member Kniss, formerly on the Caltrain board, recalled that San Mateo County has funding for grade separations because it was earmarked in a ballot measure, whereas Santa Clara County does not have such funding.
Council Member Burt suggested that increased service at California Avenue and San Antonio stations might mitigate some of the car traffic, since more convenient train service will help more commuters choose not to drive.
While a majority of community members (including this blogger) spoke in favor of moving electrification forward while working on future funding, a couple of commenters recommended holding up electrification, in the hope that this would help $500 million or more to be found for grade separations.
In 2016, Santa Clara County will put a measure on the ballot to fund transit improvements. Palo Alto residents vote, and so do Mountain View residents. Palo Alto and Mountain View, and their major employers have leverage to affect what goes into the ballot measure. Peninsula Cities also have an opportunity to partner with San Francisco and San Jose on funding to increase Caltrain capacity and grade separations, so it can keep up with ongoing growth in ridership.
This morning, the Caltrain board approved the Environmental Impact Report for the electrification, allowing the project to move forward. With recent changes, the project is now scheduled to be completed in late 2020/early 2021.
To mitigate to impacts raised in the environmental report, Caltrain modified pole designs to minimize tree removal, will make signal and roadway improvements at some intersections that are affected, and will make pedestrian improvements at 4th and King in partnership with San Francisco.
While grade separations are not part of the electrification project, Caltrain plans to support future local and regional efforts to fund grade separations. Similarly, to mitigate noise, Caltrain plans to contribute fair share to noise and vibration mitigations such as quiet zones and building insulation.
While a majority of comments were positive, there are some strong objections to the project. Transdef, a transportation nonprofit, opposes the project and is considering litigation, based on an argument that Caltrain should not be able to complete EIR for electrification, because eventually the line will also be used for High Speed Rail, and therefore Caltrain should wait to do an EIR for the entire High Speed Rail project. Transdef also is participating in other litigation against the High Speed Rail project.
The City of Palo Alto also communicated concerns that the city hopes can be addressed. Richard Hackman, city staff member who works on rail issues, said in public comment that “We believe there are partial or full mitigations at little or not cost to Palo Alto or Caltrain that can address unmitigated impacts.” According to a letter sent from Palo Alto City Council on December 31, Palo Alto was seeking removal of one of the electric station options that residents thought was visually unacceptable, and other mitigations for visual impacts. Palo Alto also wants Caltrain to pay for the design of grade separations, although Palo Alto is already in the midst of a multi-phase, locally funded effort to study grade separation options. On Monday, Caltrain will provide a presentation about the EIR to Palo Alto City Council where the issues are expected to be discussed.
The SAP Center in San Jose, which was last seen wishing to increase the amount of parking for the Diridon Station Area Plan, is also wanting Caltrain to provide more parking, to address the needs of Arena fans who arrive by driving. Caltrain responded that less than 30% of Caltrain riders at Diridon drive to the station at park. At the board meeting, Board Member Yeager encouraged the SAP arena to work on the issue through VTA committee meetings.
As with the Arena’s desire to increase parking in other parts of the station area, we hope that over time, City of San Jose will set expectations that the Arena will provide stronger support for non-car transportation to games, just as San Francisco set expectations of the Giants when they moved from car-centric Candlestick Park to urban AT&T park. The Sharks, of course, are not moving, but the area is changing around them to become more urban and less car-centric.