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thoughts on grade separation

From: domainremoved <Katie>
Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2019 19:37:43 -0800

Dear City Council,

I wanted to reaffirm my support for moving forward with a three-street
grade-separated solution. Alternative C, the hybrid option recommended by
the Complete Streets Commission earlier, seems like a sensible approach,
especially if we can learn from other communities that have already done
this, like San Carlos and Belmont. And if a fully elevated grade separation
is judged to be feasible, given our constraints at either border–and
compelling from a construction impacts/cost standpoint–I’d support that
option as well.

Below, I outline a few thoughts in more detail:


   Why grade separate at all?

      Safety: not just fatalities on the tracks but also the confusion that
      ensues when people are trying to get across and not fully aware of
      pedestrians, bikes, etc. Grade separation cleans up each of these complex
      intersections with a place for each mode.

      Convenience/efficiency: it’s been pointed out that El Camino Real is
      an even bigger bottleneck than Caltrain. That said, the impact of a dozen
      or more trains crossing per hour on traffic flow in this area will be
      nontrivial, especially once all the additional development along the
      downtown corridor is complete.

      Noise: with increased frequency of trains comes increased frequency
      of horns, which are deafening to those in close proximity.

      Improved cross-town access: done right, grade separating increases
      our ability to get across the train tracks in various places. It makes a
      bike/ped crossing at Middle easier. It improves crossing between
Oak Grove
      and Ravenswood as well. Tracks don’t have to be such a barrier.


   Why not just do one?

      Because just grade separating one crossing doesn’t solve all the
      problems we list above. This isn’t like, say, one person buying a coat to
      solve the problem of being cold, where one coat is enough to
keep you warm
      and any additional coats are just aesthetic/window dressing. There will
      STILL be chaotic intersections that snarl traffic, catch people
off guard,
      and contribute to noise pollution.

      It’s also not necessarily cheaper. Adina has pointed out that grant
      applications that grade separate multiple crossings are likely to be
      favorably viewed because grade separating all of Caltrain is a state

      If just doing one was desirable, Palo Alto and Redwood City would be
      calling it a day. Instead, they’re commissioning additional studies.

      Choosing one now and doing the rest later is kind of silly. It
      acknowledges we need to do them all at some point, and they
aren’t getting
      any cheaper. The costs don’t scale linearly. There are significant
      design/consulting/time costs associated with each time we do
this. It’s not
      like we figure it out once and then when we want to do it again, we just
      whip out the old blueprint. Again, I point out Redwood City and
Palo Alto,
      who completed some grade separations at points in the past, want to
      separate additional grades, and are effectively starting over again from

      Doing only one crossing means we have to go with Option A, the
      undercrossing, which severely limits our future options. As it
is, Option A
      cuts off access between Alma and Ravenswood but leaves Alma connected to
      Oak Grove. What happens when we want to separate Oak Grove? We end up
      cutting off Alma entirely, which means that we need to acquire all that
      land through eminent domain. We’d have similar issues with Garwood and
      possibly Mills Ct. if we wanted to do Glenwood–and we would. This would
      require, at a minimum, massive property takings through eminent domain.


   A tunnel would be amazing! So would a private jet. And yet most of us
   fly coach when we need to get somewhere. As Adina has pointed out, a tunnel
   doesn’t afford additional utility to the state beyond what they derive
   from, say, Alternative C. Public grants will not cover the $1+ billion
   delta between a basic set of grade separations and the deluxe tunnel model.
   This is before considering the challenge of aligning multiple communities
   and the technical challenges of digging under the creek. And I’m pretty
   sure our residents won’t be excited to cover it either–not when we balk at
   $20 million for a new library/council chambers. Please be fiscally
   responsible with our money and don’t throw more funding or staff time down
   this rabbit hole.


   I hear a lot about coordinating with other cities, and this makes
   sense–I’d also suggest that we learn from their experiences. Belmont and
   San Carlos completed hybrid grade separations some time ago. It was surely
   as controversial there as it is here–were resident fears expressed before
   the grade separation realized/justified? What were the benefits and
   consequences? We have a resident who was involved in the process of
   designing and implementing San Carlos grade separations. She has the
   benefit of 20 years of hindsight. You should speak with her.


   Berm concerns: I think there have been concerns about the sightliness of
   a berm and its potential to divide our community. But:

      The status quo isn’t exactly stunning, with the chain link fence, etc.

      We are already divided by the tracks, with few crossing options and
      gates coming down with increasing frequency.

      There are actually attractive ways to do this. We can do a bunch with
      landscaping, create open spaces under the tracks where bikes and
      pedestrians can cross, etc.

         San Carlos Station Area

         Undercrossing near San Carlos Station

         Berm in San Carlos


   Change is really hard and no matter what you do–including
   nothing!–people will be angry, and they will let you know. How to decide?
   It’s really not fair to our community at large to prioritize the needs of
   one developer or one neighborhood over others. Sure, Greenheart will have
   an opinion...Felton Gables will have an opinion...Linfield Oaks will have
   an opinion...the Schmidt Foundation will have an opinion...etc. We don’t
   live in a frictionless universe. There is no decision that will not incur
   costs. There is no option here–other than the decision to do nothing–that
   won’t have significant construction impacts of one sort or another.
   (Fortunately if term limits are implemented, none of you will still be on
   council by the time they occur.) I don’t envy you your decision but
   humbly suggest that you prioritize: a) safety (get it done! As many
   crossings as possible!, b) efficiency (including construction impacts,
   etc., c) fiscal responsibility (what can we actually pay for?)–and maybe
   deprioritize d) expensive aesthetics/costs or benefits that accrue only
   to small subset of our community.

Thank you so much for your thoughtful leadership and commitment to our
community’s future.

Warm regards,


Katie Behroozi
650.804.1812 (cell)
Received on Tue Jan 15 2019 - 19:35:04 PST

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