This Saturday: Palo Alto kicks off community soulsearching on grade separations

On Saturday, May 20, the City of Palo Alto is kicking off a community process to consider options for the places where the Caltrain tracks cross the roadway.  Separating the train tracks from the roads would improve safety and convenience for people driving cars, walking and bicycling.  Grade separations could also create new options to use the land near the tracks for recreation and possibly for buildings.   In the long run, separating more of the busy crossings can help the corridor carry more people in trains.

Do you live near these crossings, or use the roads?  Do you have thoughts about what would make your experience more safe and convenient?  How to use the land near the tracks? How separating the train from the road could affect your experience of these parts of the city?

When the High Speed Rail project was proposing a now long-dead plan for a 4-track viaduct along the corridor, Palo Alto had strong opposition to that plan version, and in response the City Council established policies (now somewhat loosened), to prohibit any elevation of the rail, and to strongly favor a trench.  A high level study of a trench alternative showed a price tag of $1Billion (or $500Million if constraints for the grade that trains can use).

Interestingly, Burlingame, which had preferred a trench in the same High Speed Rail Viaduct era, studied its own options for grade-separating Broadway.  To their surprise, after considering a variety of options, Burlingame residents and Council members realized that they also disliked the look of the fencing that would be needed to protect people from the trains’ future electric wires, and that at their location a trench would be very hard to keep drained. In the end, residents and Council preferred a split alternative instead.

The inclusion of $700Million in funding from Santa Clara County VTA Measure B for Caltrain grade separations is intended to help Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Sunnyvale move forward with these valuable but costly projects.

VTA’s conditions will require some local funding, and cities that prefer especially expensive options may need to come up with a higher local share. If Palo Alto prefers a more expensive option, how could the city fund the preferred choice?

Deciding how to grade separate requires building agreement about preferences and values regarding these and other issues.  To join the conversation, learn and share your thoughts, the first session will held on  Saturday, May 20, 2017, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. at Mitchell Park Community Center, Palo Alto Room, 3700 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto. Registration starts at 9:30 There is parking for bikes and cars, and VTA’s Route 35 stops nearby.

To follow the city process including upcoming meetings and to share ideas with the city, see this page.