Atherton, Menlo Park councils blast high-speed rail plans
- Published Wednesday, February 6, 2008, by the Menlo Park Almanac
Atherton, Menlo Park councils slam plans for high-speed rail
Big concerns over impact of grade separations on local communities.
By Rory Brown
Local critics of California High Speed Rail are keyed up after city
council members from Menlo Park and Atherton blasted plans for high-
speed trains to zoom through the middle of both towns. But the fate
of the long-planned rail project isn't up to officials from two
towns -- the decision will fall in the hands of all California voters.
Council members from both cities met Jan. 29 to talk about grade
separations -- building overpasses or underpasses to separate the
Caltrain tracks from the roadway at intersections. A key variable
in the grade separation discussion is high-speed rail.
The California High Speed Rail Authority is proposing a $40 billion
train system that would transport passengers along a San Francisco-
Central Valley-Los Angeles route at speeds up to 220 mph.
The rail authority is planning to use the Caltrain corridor to
connect San Jose to San Francisco, and wants to build two additional
tracks along the Caltrain line to accommodate the faster trains.
But a four-track system requires grade separations, according to
state regulations, and that means the tracks and roadway would need
to be separated at six local streets: Ravenswood, Oak Grove, Glenwood
and Encinal avenues in Menlo Park, and Watkins Avenue and Fair Oaks
Lane in Atherton.
The required grade separations, although paid for by the rail
authority, would mean calamity to local communities, according to
most council members.
"I think high-speed rail up the Peninsula is a disaster," said Menlo
Park Councilman Richard Cline -- a notion Atherton Councilman Charles
Marsala was quick to second, comparing grade separations to the giant
asteroid in the film "Armageddon."
The strong opposition excited local critics of high-speed rail, who
have long argued that constructing grade separations would worsen
congestion, be more costly, and severely impact nearby homes and
businesses, as the state may want to obtain land outside of the
current Caltrain right of way.
"There's the NIMBY (not in my backyard) issue here, for one," said
Menlo Park resident Martin Engel after the meeting. "But this beyond-
expensive project, given the state budget, is the most incredibly
stupid idea for California, whether or not it's in [Menlo Park's]
Mr. Engel, who lives adjacent to the tracks, is starting a nonprofit
group with neighbors Morris Brown and Mike Brady called "Derail" to
oppose the high-speed rail project.
Local proponents say grade separations would allow traffic, bicycles,
and pedestrians to pass over or under the tracks, reducing congestion
and improving safety. Supporters also say the project has huge
environmental benefits, with the potential to take cars off crowded
"I think the [Menlo Park and Atherton] council members missed the
mark," said Jim Bigelow, chairman of the Menlo Park Chamber of
Commerce Transportation Committee. "There needs to be some political
reality ... and these council members need to get a lot more
Menlo Park Councilman John Boyle didn't declare support for high-
speed rail or grade separations, but after the meeting he questioned
the reasoning behind his colleagues' opposition.
"For individual council members to take a position on high-speed
rail, when we haven't had discussions about it as a council, I think
that's premature," he said. "It's better to engage and work with
[state transportation groups] rather than just say, 'Hell no.'"
Up to the voters
High-speed rail depends on the approval of a $10 billion bond measure
slated for the November ballot.
The bond needs a majority vote (50 percent plus one) to pass, and
further study and planning would get under way for the San Francisco-
to-Los Angeles connection. The rail authority has proposed building
the system as far north as Sacramento and as far south as San Diego.
Atherton Councilman Jerry Carlson said the state's efforts should
focus on improving local transit networks rather than connecting the
northern and southern parts of the state [BATN: and that big valley
filled with lots of fast-growing people-filled cities in the middle].
"It's too bad it's not a $10 billion bond measure to work on regional
transportation," Mr. Carlson said. "High-speed rail only helps some
people." [BATN: Yes, only the ones who breathe or drive or fly or
are concerned about warming or profligate transportation energy use.]
Mayors Andy Cohen of Menlo Park and Jim Janz of Atherton also opposed
plans for high-speed rail and grade separations, but had to do so as
citizens during the public comment period of the meeting. Both
councilmen own homes adjacent to the Caltrain tracks, presenting a
potential conflict of interest.
[BATN: See also:
Letter: HSR NIMBYs along Caltrain corridor incredible
Menlo Park, Atherton fear HSR, Caltrain grade seps "disaster"
Menlo Park, Atherton councils to study Caltrain grade seps tonight
Letter: Can anti-transit Menlo Park mayor Cohen lead on transit?
Menlo Park again ponders Caltrain grade crossing separations
Menlo Park to hold study session on Caltrain grade separations
Editorial: Menlo Park faces tough choice on Caltrain grade seps
Caltrain grade separation issue looms for Menlo Park
Menlo may lose funds to plan Caltrain grade seps, Dumbarton station