Menlo Park City Council considering quiet zone plan

On Tuesday, July 12, 2022, the Menlo Park city council will vote on approving the scope of work for a “quiet zone” implementation plan for quiet zones at the noisy Caltrain crossings in Menlo Park and adjacent Palo Alto. Menlo Park would be following in the footsteps of Atherton, Emeryville and San Jose which have also recently implemented quiet zones.

The Ravenswood, Oak Grove, Glenwood, and Encinal avenue railroad crossings in Menlo Park are very close together, only spanning around a mile in total length. With trains having to blare their horn for 15 seconds before each crossing, this results in the horn being blared up to 16 times in Menlo Park alone for a single train. The next at-grade crossing is also nearby at Palo Alto Avenue in Palo Alto.

The loud and frequent horn noise led to complaints from residents for years, which intensified as Covid-19 forced people to work from home, hearing the horns during the workday. The City Council responded on Jan 25, 2022 by voting unanimously on plans to seek contractor bids to study the feasibility of creating a “quiet zone” along the Caltrain Corridor in Menlo Park. With requests from Palo Alto residents and the City, Menlo Park agreed to explore the opportunity to partner with Palo Alto on the Palo Alto Avenue crossing as part of the project.

“Quiet Zone” Qualifications

In order for a “quiet zone” to be established, improvements must first be implemented, making it safe enough to operate without the train blaring its horn before passing. Such safety measures include new double-arm safety gates, flashing lights, medians for cars, fences, warning time devices, pedestrian crossing signals, and sidewalks. The “quiet zone” railroad crossing must also not be located within ¼ mile of a non-quiet zone crossing, otherwise it cannot legally be deemed a “quiet zone”.

On Tuesday, Menlo Park City Council will consider approving funding for consulting firm Kimley-Horn and Associates, including $75,000 in funding from city coffers and $300,000 allocated from the Springline development under construction at 1300 El Camino Real.

The plan will include research on traffic volumes, train frequencies, crash history, and surrounding streets and walkways in order to determine the optimal placement and design of safety additions such as quadrant gates and medians on each of the the four Menlo Park at-grade crossings (Ravenswood, Oak Grove, Glenwood, and Encinal), as well as the pedestrian crossing 250 feet north of the Ravenswood crossing.

For the Palo Alto Avenue crossing, which is located in Palo Alto with noise affecting residents on both sides of the city border, that staff report notes that “Palo Alto will contribute funding for both the overall conduct of the study as well as specific additional scope required to add the Palo Alto Avenue crossing to the scope of work. This enables both cities to develop a study at lower cost than either one could develop on their own.”

If this plan is approved, it will enable crucial additions to be made to these crossings which will satisfy “quiet zone” safety requirements in the Menlo Park Caltrain corridor while also improving pedestrian, bike, and driver safety.

If approved, Kimley Horn is expected to develop a draft implementation plan for Menlo Park “quiet zones” by September 26, 2022, and the project would take 12-15 months.