Menlo Park seeks Caltrain grade separation input
- Published Wednesday, September 17, 2003, in the Menlo Park Almanac
Menlo Park residents can weigh in on railroad crossing overhaul
No one is really happy with any of the options, City Councilman Chuck
By Rebecca Wallace
Almanac Staff Writer
How do you prepare for a speeding bullet?
With more and faster trains headed for Menlo Park, community meetings
are being planned to allow residents to state their preference on
options for keeping railroad crossings safer and traffic flowing more
Over the next few months, residents will be asked to comment on two
possibilities for dealing with the city's four crossings, located at
Ravenswood, Oak Grove, Glenwood and Encinal avenues.
Anticipating "baby bullet" express trains and high-speed trains from
Los Angeles to San Francisco, some Peninsula cities have built "grade
separations," which separate roads from tracks with underpasses and
In Menlo Park, the City Council and city staff have chosen a
combination of raising the track and lowering the road as
the "preferred alternative." An example is on Holly Street in San
Carlos, where the road was lowered 10 feet and the track was raised
A second option, suggested by Councilman Paul Collacchi, will also be
up for discussion. It would involve sinking Ravenswood and Oak Grove
as much as possible in a "deep dip" under the tracks. The hope is to
keep the train tracks lower and minimize their visual impact.
If Glenwood and Encinal also got the "deep dip," several neighboring
properties would be wiped out, including the Glenwood Inn retirement
home and nearby residences. So Mr. Collacchi has suggested looking at
dead-ending Glenwood and Encinal before they cross the tracks.
At the council's September 9 meeting, Mr. Collacchi called the San
Carlos project a "god-awful" wall that would divide Menlo Park in
half. But Councilwoman Mickie Winkler said closing the streets would
be just as divisive in a narrow city that can't afford to lose any of
its east-west arteries.
Closing the roads would also push traffic over to neighboring
streets, said Dan Smith, the city's regular traffic consultant. He
added that lowering a road dramatically would require a great deal of
earth and utilities relocation and could lead to flooding.
Overall, Councilman Chuck Kinney described the council's attitude
toward all the options in this manner: "None of us (is) really happy
and jumping for joy."
Residents' mixed reviews
In the Felton Gables neighborhood of Menlo Park, which has Encinal
Avenue as one of its borders, the prospect of closing Encinal and
Glenwood is sparking mixed reviews.
"It would be fine for us, but it would be bad for the city," Bill
Wood, a former planning commissioner, told the Almanac. "Look at the
kind of congestion you see on Oak Grove. Imagine what it would be
like if Glenwood and Encinal were closed."
Bob Kelly said he saw merit in closing the streets because they have
a less commercial feel than Oak Grove and Ravenswood, but he noted
that some of his neighbors were concerned about having to drive out
of their way to cross the tracks.
Still, he said, almost anything would be preferable to raising the
"All of a sudden you feel like you're in an industrial area," he
Many residents elsewhere in Menlo Park have also voiced concern at
many or all of the options.
At the September 9 meeting, Lou Deziel urged the council to "go as
deep as possible with the road" to reduce the visual impact of a
train looming overhead, while transportation commissioner Don Brawner
said he opposes all types of grade separations.
On the other hand, transit advocate Jim Bigelow, who has been active
with the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce, said separations are
necessary because "we're going to have 20 to 25 more trains a day."
He said the San Carlos approach was sensible because it preserved
Other possibilities have been rejected by city staff and consultant
BKF Engineers of Redwood City, who reported on the matter to the
council in June.
Raising the roads above the tracks would swallow up the most
surrounding property of any of the options, affecting about 20
houses, five apartment buildings and several businesses, according to
the BKF report. Sinking the train tracks into a trench could lead to
flooding and would be difficult to build because of San Francisquito
Creek, the report states.
Dates have not yet been set for the community meetings. For more
information, go to the city's Web site at http://www.menlopark.org