Election season is in full swing in Palo Alto, where campaign signs are increasingly visible throughout the city.
To help local voters with their decision at the polls, the weekly asked the seven candidates for this year’s city council to complete questionnaires about their qualifications, their vision for the city and their priorities should they be elected. They also explained their position on housing, climate change, railroad crossings, policing and crime, among other topics.
Candidate responses on all of these topics will be published as separate articles, one per day, until September 19. Here’s what they had to say when asked: What designs do you support for the Palo Alto crossings? How can we actually make this work?
I currently support the following comprehensive approach:
• Palo Alto Avenue and transit center crossings should be coordinated and part of the downtown plan to ensure consistency.
• Churchill will be better served by a partial underpass to reduce impacts to surrounding streets and neighborhoods and should include a bicycle/pedestrian crossing near Seale.
• East Meadow and Charleston should be treated the same and at the same time due to their proximity to each other. I support an underpass for both.
• There should be additional pedestrian/bicycle crossings near Loma Verde/Matadero Creek and near Adobe Creek.
However, before final decisions are made, we need to assess the results of ongoing geotechnical testing and work with Caltrain to resolve the issue of upgrading their technical requirements and the issue of track overrun.
Given the scale, cost and complexity of the project, the three pedestrian/bicycle crossings should be constructed first. This is in line with the bicycle and pedestrian master plan and will provide additional crossing options during the long construction period.
I support Business Tax in order to have local funding to access 2016 Measure B money and pursue state and federal funding opportunities. Throughout the development of these projects, we need to have strong communication and resident engagement.
Palo Alto’s at-grade (street-level) railroad crossings pose a threat to public safety and cause traffic delays, which will worsen when Caltrain electrification increases the number of trains. To solve this problem, we should eliminate level crossings and separate trains from other modes of transport, such as cars, bicycles and pedestrians. Whether trains are ascending or descending, other modes pass under the tracks, or roads are closed, there are different trade-offs in different neighborhoods.
At the Churchill crossing next to Palo Alto High School, I support the continuation of the community-generated partial underpass option, where the turn lanes to Churchill from Alma would pass under the tracks and a separate bicycle/pedestrian crossing would be built nearby. To further evaluate this option, we need the results of the geotechnical assessment, and we need to continue to work with key stakeholders, including the school district, the Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, and Stanford.
At the Meadow and Charleston crossings, I prefer to explore underground options instead of raising the trains, if the geotechnical analysis confirms this. I lean towards the vehicle underpass designs under consideration due to the expense of trenching to get trains below grade and the dewatering required. However, we need to refine and integrate the related bike/pedestrian designs. Like Churchill, we need continued community outreach and working with Caltrain to consider how updated technical standards could help improve the designs being considered.
The Palo Alto Avenue intersection is close enough to the University Avenue station to be considered as part of a coordinated area plan.
For this to happen, in addition to the above, we need to access funding from the proposed business tax, dollars earmarked for Measure B, and state and federal dollars dependent on local dollars and having a plan.
It is a fact that the CalTrain will be electrified throughout the corridor before Palo Alto completes its grade separations, which will bring more trains per hour to our city, which will result in an outright gridlock to our four level crossings, as well as harmful emissions and public safety risks.
Alas, this horse has left the stable!
Of 113 crossings in the corridor, at least 71 are made. Clearly, other cities have made their tough choices. Why not us ? As a foreigner, this strikes me as a clear example of trying to serve many masters accustomed to local control and failing to lead.
We need to take immediate action to begin construction of the partial underpass alternative at the Churchill intersection, where traffic may back up to increased lines of 10-12 minutes with no grade difference. At the Charleston and Meadow intersections, the city council narrowed the options to hybrid, underpass and trench. I am concerned about the effect of the trench on streams and water flow. I think the visual barrier created by Hybrid will further segment and separate the east of the city from the west. That’s why I prefer the underpass. It keeps the train where it is and allows cars, bicycles and pedestrians to pass under well-designed routes with
proven, logical and safe roundabouts. Before Charleston and Meadow construction begins, however, we need to put in place bike/pedestrian crossings at Seale and Matadero/Loma Verde so students can get to Gunn.
One of the most urgent things Palo Alto needs to do is create plans for grade separations at Caltrain’s four Palo Alto crossings at Meadow, Charleston, Churchill, and Palo Alto Ave. I favor designs that increase safety and convenience for bikes and pedestrians – ideally with completely separate paths – while providing vehicle access.
The city council must approve a specific design as soon as possible and allocate funds.
I support the business tax project which will provide funds for these grade separations. Palo Alto can then tap into its $350 million allocation from Santa Clara County’s 2016 Measure B. With a ready-made project, the city can also apply for additional state and federal funds.
With design and financing, we have what we need to start construction.
I support continuing to upgrade the partial underpass for Churchill because it accommodates vehicle needs without moving cars to another neighborhood. The bike/pedestrian part specifically needs refinement, and I support a strong outreach process in close collaboration with stakeholders including PAUSD, PABAC and Stanford.
Caltrain is updating its technical standards, and ongoing geotechnical work will help continue to inform alternatives for Meadow/Charleston. In the meantime, we must prepare for years of construction. That’s why I’m supporting additional bicycle/pedestrian crossings in the Loma Verde/Matadero Creek area, near Adobe Creek/Alma and at Seale/Alma, before the grade separations are built, to ensure safe passage during the planned years of construction. This has been a priority for years in the Global Plan, Cycle Transport Plan and Rail Corridor Study as well as XCAP.
How can we actually make this work?
+ We need to ensure that Caltrain updates its technical and operational standards as soon as possible. Modernizing standards can help REDUCE costs and improve the design of all grade separations along the line. For some city decisions and processes, including construction cost estimates, we remain dependent on what they ultimately decide.
+ For the Palo Alto Ave./Alma crossing, we need to fund the work necessary for a coordinated downtown area plan to consider transportation and land use in a cohesive and cost-effective manner.
Palo Alto will receive $350 million from Measure B. This money requires a home game.
A voter-approved business tax would provide approximately $3.3 million per year for 35 years = $115 million.
Together, these sources of funding would allow us to pursue significant state and federal funding opportunities to complete these critical projects.
It’s a very simple question for me. We have to bury the railroad tracks. I realize that the Council has already ruled out this option, but I think that was a mistake. All other options split the city in half or create an unreasonable traffic load. Getting the train underground is definitely an expensive proposition, but I think it’s worth it.
The Palo Alto Avenue intersection has not been studied at all, and it should be part of the downtown plan, which involves looking at land use and transportation issues together.
Churchill Crossing: Churchill’s closure may not be practical as Embarcadero’s also needs to be investigated, and I don’t know if Embarcadero can handle the additional traffic that would be routed from Churchill. We need to know a bit more about the status of Embarcadero: historical status, lifespan of this underpass, etc. The partial underpass for Churchill may be a good compromise for now and it appears that the current city council has approved this concept.
East Meadow and Charleston: Additional work is required on the cycle and pedestrian portion of the underpass. This one interests me as a dad, in that it completely separates bikes and pedestrians from cars and trains, so it’s safe for kids. I think we need more cost details and further refinement of the design/flow. The hybrid solution could be an option and it’s the cheapest, although I’m a bit skeptical since the cost is listed at $190-230m compared to the underpass at $340-420m.
In particular, we should work with Caltrain and neighboring cities to reevaluate engineering standards to improve design and reduce costs. Corporate tax dollars will help us access County and State/Fed funds: $3.3 million per year, over 35 years, plus $350 million from Measure B, then we request state funding. Overall, we need about $300M/crossing, for a total of $1.2B.
Although the tunnel option is my first preference (less intrusive for residential neighborhoods), due to high cost and environmental limitations, I opt for the above options/designs.
Check back on Palo Alto Online tomorrow for the candidates’ perspective on another city issue.