Sunnyvale considers Caltrain grade separations for Mary Avenue and Sunnyvale Ave

Sunnyvale City Council and Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee will consider options for grade separating the intersections of the Caltrain tracks with Mary Avenue and Sunnyvale Avenue, next week at a joint study session on Tuesday, October 17 at 5:30pm. See this website for background information.

Close Sunnyvale Avenue to cars, and add a bike/pedestrian crossing, a la Mountain View Castro?

The proposals for Sunnyvale Avenue include creating an roadway underpass where the road goes under the Caltrain tracks, and closing Sunnyvale Avenue to cars while building a new crossing for cyclists and pedestrians.

Sunnyvale Avenue connects from northern Sunnyvale neighborhoods into downtown. It carries many fewer car trips than Mathilda, the nearby arterial that is already grade-separated with an overpass over the tracks, carrying approximately 32,000-37,000 daily vehicles travel through the intersection at Mathilda Avenue and westbound and eastbound SR 237 on an average weekday.

In Sunnyvale’s bike map, Sunnyvale Avenue and its continuation onto Borregas provide a major North South route for people bicycling, creating a cross with  Evelyn serving as the East-West route, intersecting at the Caltrain station (see image).


The project team hasn’t yet shown detailed options for the pedestrian/bike crossing, but discussion at the Bicycle/Pedestrian advisory committee strongly favored an underpass which would add less vertical travel and added time for people walking and bicycling.

The decision about whether to close Sunnyvale Ave to cars has some similarities and differences to the decision that has already been made by Mountain View City Council to close Castro to cars at the tracks and provide a replacement underpass for people bicycling and walking.

As in Mountain View, there is an adjacent thoroughfare that is already grade-separated (Shoreline in Mountain View), and feeds drivers to and from downtown from nearby highways. Mountain View is proposing to add an on-ramp from Evelyn onto Shoreline; Sunnyvale already has an on-ramp from Evelyn to Mathilda.  

In Mountain View, staff analysis showed that fewer than 10% of people coming downtown use the Castro entrance, showing that the risk to downtown’s customer base would be low.  In Sunnyvale, staff’s analysis does not yet explicitly show the share of people who get downtown via this route.

Despite the fact that a small minority of downtown visitors get to Mountain View by driving across Castro, and an underpass would have added a trench next to some of the city’s popular outdoor dining, a number of downtown businesses expressed fear that closing Castro to cars would hurt businesses.

In Sunnyvale, some local business are circulating a petition in favor of closing Sunnyvale Avenue to cars, concerned about the impacts of a long construction project on local businesses, and eliminating or hampering access to downtown parking lots.

In addition to questions about benefits and drawbacks for businesses, Sunnyvale needs to consider access for residents and workers North of downtown, though drivers already have options to use Mathilda or Fair Oaks with minimal additional drive time.  

One concern is residents who drive from the North and park at the Caltrain station. How much inconvenience would be added by driving around on Fair Oaks or Mathilda? How much would it help to add some Caltrain parking spots North of the station so people could walk to the station?

Mary Avenue underpass

Mary Avenue crosses the Caltrain tracks in an area with some light industrial businesses, convenience stores, and homes.  

mary-neighborhoodThe staff analysis and community feedback suggest the version with the fewest impacts and lowest cost was an underpass with Mary going under the Caltrain tracks, and a jughandle reconnecting Mary and Evelyn.


What do you think? Sunnyvale study sessions tend not to include much time for public comment, so send your thoughts and questions in advance to Ria Lo with the City of Sunnyvale,  And feel free to attend the study session and bring brief comments/questions. 

For updates on other ongoing grade separation plans and decisions in Menlo Park and Palo Alto, see this blog post.

Grade separating the Caltrain corridor

Thirty-nine at-grade crossings will remain between San Francisco and San Jose after completion of the San Mateo Hillsdale project, scheduled for completion in 2020.

Santa Clara County has recently raised $700 Million for Caltrain grade separations in Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and Palo Alto (though the funding is currently hung up in a lawsuit.)

San Mateo County has pretty much run down its grade separation fund with the most recent San Mateo County projects (San Bruno and San Mateo/Hillsdale), so there is not enough money to fund construction for either of the next projects in the queue (Burlingame Broadway or Menlo Park). San Mateo County funds will regenerate somewhat over the next decade or so as more sales taxes come in under the existing transportation sales tax.

Topping up the Caltrain grade separation fund is one of the important categories for potential funding in a San Mateo County transportation ballot measure being planned for 2018.

San Francisco will address a difficult at-grade crossing at 16th and 7th with its upcoming proposals to modify the design and alignment of the Downtown Extension of the Caltrain tracks to Transbay. A proposal to remove the at-grade crossing by extending the tunnel is expected to be provided by public review shortly – stay tuned for news in the coming weeks.

The need to fully grade separate the Peninsula corridor is an important opportunity and need to stress in discussions of the Caltrain Business Plan and also the State Rail Plan, which sees frequency and capacity on the Peninsula Corridor as strategic for the state’s rail program.