Largely supportive, full-house crowds gathered to hear updates, ask questions and make comments at the Dumbarton Rail meetings in Fremont, Redwood City, and Menlo Park, with a variety of local and regional political leaders in the crowd.
Your blogger attended the Menlo Park meeting in person at the Onetta Harris Senior Center in Belle Haven, and got reports from people who attended the Redwood City and Fremont meetings. The presenters from SamTrans, and their private partners – Facebook and Plenary, working together under the name Cross Bay Transit Partners – gave the same talk, and responded to questions and comments from the audience.
Patterns emerged among the many questions and comments, similar to the earlier meeting in Newark:
Residents who live near the corridor expressed concerns about noise, and wanted clean, non-polluting trains. Winsome Bowen of Facebook responded to these questions saying saying that a technology has not yet been chosen, but they are looking for solutions that will be clean and environmentally friendly,
Corridor neighbors wanted the project to provide benefits for local residents, not only for longer-distance commuters. In North Fair Oaks (unincorporated San Mateo County next to Redwood City), several residents were interested in a local station, which was an option proposed in earlier studies. The Cross Bay partners said that they would consider a North Fair Oaks option. Local residents also brought up the idea of a station near the Friendly Acres/Marsh Manor neighborhood in Redwood City a couple of miles from Facebook.
A number of residents at the West Bay meetings supported the opportunity for a bike/pedestrian trail alongside the train tracks (similar to the trail in Marin and Sonoma Counties that being built alongside the SMART train).
In Fremont, similarly, residents of the Centerville area were interested in a station, an option that had been called out in earlier studies.
Along with interest in stations, attendees mentioned concerns about land use – residents from lower-income communities along the corridor expressed concerns about potential gentrification and displacement. Some East Bay residents spoke about wanting the rail service to help attract more jobs to the East Bay.
On the West Bay side of the corridor, the train tracks cross several roads that are heavily trafficked highway access routes: University and Willow, with about 60,000 cars per day, and Marsh which sees over 30,000 cars per day. Middlefield Road and 5th Avenue in North Fair Oaks see less car traffic but heavy pedestrian use, and at-grade crossings will pose a safety risk. Residents were concerned about the at-grade crossings and interested in potential grade separations.
Audience members raised questions about funding. Dale Bonner of Plenary Group said that to construct the system would require a budget number starting with a B, perhaps $1-3 Billion; the financial analysis will create an estimate.
At the Fremont meeting, the Crossbay partners answered questions about possible service levels – the consortium is aiming for ~10 minute frequency during peak hours and hourly during off peak hours.
Transit supporters were eager to see the system developed with good connections: on the East Bay side with BART, ACE and Capitol Corridor; on the West Bay side with Caltrain, and potential bus connections to cities were many transbay commuters work, including Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale. The East Bay connections would require a deal with Union Pacific about access to right of way the freight railroad owns: the Crossbay partners said they are talking with Union Pacific.
A few commenters expressed interest in having the bay crossing built as tunnel, instead of rebuilding the bridge. Proponents argued that a tunnel would reduce sea level rise risks, reduce impacts to wildlife, and potentially avoid some of the at-grade street crossings. However, it would be a challenge to get the project to consider a tunnel, because the Plenary/Facebook public/private partnership has been chartered by SamTrans, owner of the right of way, to consider options for the right of way that SamTrans owns, and SamTrans doesn’t own land that would be needed to dig a tunnel.
There were a some skeptics of restoring Dumbarton Rail service. One resident expressed doubt about commuters choosing alternatives to driving, saying “you’ll get the guns out of Texas before Californians out of our cars.” A couple of others wanted to see the corridor converted fully to a pedestrian and bicycle train, following the “Rails to Trails” model used for abandoned railways, rather than the “Rails and Trails” strategy used by SMART.
Overall, though a majority of comments were generally supportive, and wanting to see a project that had the most benefits with the fewest negative side effects.
Now, the Cross Bay Transit Partners have a lot of analysis and permit applications to work on, and the community will be awaiting information on the conclusions.