Stay On Track Blog Series: Recap of the November 7 Rail Community Meeting, Online Comment Card Available, and New Ways to Join the Conversation Coming Soon

City of Palo Alto
Nov 27, 2019 · 6 min read

“Stay On Track” is a blog series sharing information about the process to inform and engage the community on designing Palo Alto’s rail corridor for the future

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Thanks to the over 160 community members who recently attended the November 7 Connecting Palo Alto community meeting to learn and share input about the City’s community-driven process to evaluate rail grade separation alternatives.

Follow along in this series to learn about the rail grade separation process, share your input, and gain an understanding of the options currently being evaluated by a community-based panel. Our first blog shared details about what a grade separation is, why this discussion is important, and how the community can stay informed, learn more, and provide input. Our second blog detailed which rail crossing options are still on the table. Read the first and second blog posts, if you haven’t already, and then come back to this one.

The third blog in our series recaps the November 7 Community Meeting, discusses the current phase of Connecting Palo Alto, and how the public can provide in-depth feedback to inform the City Council as they seek to make a decision in May 2020. Read on to learn more about ways to get involved, provide input and stay up to date.

November 7 Community Meeting Recap

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The November 7 community discussion launched the current phase of the Connecting Palo Alto community-driven process, called Community Conversations. This phase provides several ways for the community to share their thoughts and provide input into the rail separation options the City is exploring.

For the past year and a half, Connecting Palo Alto was focused on understanding the options, performing engineering analysis, receiving initial input from neighbors and other stakeholders, and ensuring clarity in describing the issues. After reducing the list down from 37 options to 7, the community-based process is moving to community conversations.

The November 7 meeting represented the first of four community-wide meetings planned, and one of over a dozen meetings available to discuss the rail grade separation issue between now and May 2020 when City Council is expected to make a decision. At the meeting, City staff and representatives from the consulting firms AECOM and Apex Strategies presented the project background and brought the community up to speed from the last community meeting (held in spring of 2019). Consultants provided an overview of the different rail grade separation options including Churchill Ave and South Palo Alto alternatives, and answered questions from attendees. The focal point of the meeting was dedicated to attendees being able to meet with City staff and the project team around the room to see detailed materials and get their more detailed questions answered. The stations around the room were focused on different topics, including:

· Other Crossings City Staff Station (other ideas, screening process, update on tunnel, general questions)

· Charleston /Meadow Hybrid

· Charleston /Meadow Viaduct

· Charleston /Meadow Trench

· Both South Palo Alto tunnel options

· Churchill Viaduct

· Churchill Closure (including pedestrian and bicycle options)

· Creeks and Drainage

· Noise and Vibration

· Traffic

· Evaluation Matrix

· A station with all the animated videos for the options

After thirty minutes of station time, the facilitator gathered the attendees back to the seats to hear a report out. A summary of the community meeting report out is included below:

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November 7 Community Meeting Summary Report Out

The meeting attendees were also encouraged to fill out a comment card. Submit an online comment card and let the City know if you have enough information or if you have more questions about the rail grade separation process.

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A few questions from the community, with staff/consultant answers included:

Were there criteria established for emergency response?

Yes, the city staff met with the police and fire department. With a grade separation, you will see improvement with a decreased response time at most crossings, just not during construction. If Churchill Ave is closed, the police and fire departments are aware that they have one less access point.

Is “no build” still an option?

Yes, doing nothing is still an option and it will be considered in any environmental document that moves forward.

What is the timing of electrification?

Electrification is going on right now. We would have to accommodate the electrified track, and the shoofly will be built after electrification is done. Thus the trains and the shoofly have to be able to accommodate this.

Why was Embarcadero area no longer in the scope and whether any traffic solutions for Churchill closure were in the cost estimates presented?

The Team chose to investigate the Embarcadero/Alma interchange because they had to look at mitigation measures if Churchill Avenue was closed. Costs are included for the sliver bridge widening in the fact sheet. Every improvement discussed at the community meeting is included.

For the viaduct options at Meadow/Charleston and Churchill, will these be connected or kept as two separate viaducts?

Currently we do not show them as one connected viaduct. The Team did not look at this full viaduct option because of issues with funding for such a long distance and the constraint of conforming back for the California Ave Caltrain Station.

For other frequently asked questions, go here.

If you were unable to attend, you can watch the full November 7 community meeting online here, including a recap of what was discussed at each break-out session.

For other meeting materials, go to the “Community Meetings” tab on this Presentations and Reports page.

New Ways to Join the Conversation about Rail

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In addition to over one dozen scheduled meetings planned, the community conversations phase includes additional outreach and new approaches to gain feedback from the community. Staff will also be providing new materials and information to make sure the community has what they need to provide feedback, regardless of if they have followed along from the beginning or are new to this issue.

Since the start of the Community Conversations phase, a new website for Connecting Palo Alto has launched (go to connectingpaloalto.com), this blog series began, and new fact sheets were created. Other materials are being developed to help inform the community and are coming soon.

Our next blog in this series will share Town Hall dates, informal conversations available to discuss transportation issues, online and printed surveys planned, and more!

Get Up to Speed and Stay Informed

Whether you are a community member who has followed along from the beginning of this process or new to this issue, the City is interested in gaining your input! Caltrain’s modernization and electrification efforts are underway, and their 2040 Business Plan calls for increased train service throughout the corridor.

Rail Fact Sheets were presented at the community meeting.
Rail Fact Sheets were presented at the community meeting.

· Submit an online comment card and let the City know if you have enough information or if you have more questions. This will help staff understand what information the community still needs to get up to speed on this issue.

· Couldn’t attend the November 7 community meeting? Watch the meeting video available here. View the full presentation online, and check out other meeting materials listed under the “Community Meetings” tab here.

· Download the latest fact sheets for bite-sized information to get caught up quickly. Then learn more at connectingpaloalto.com.

· Sign-up for email updates and meeting notifications delivered to your inbox so you can always be informed.

· Contact City Council, the Expanded Community Advisory Panel (XCAP), or City Transportation staff with any comments or questions.

· Starting in 2020, the Office of Transportation will be hosting open office hours in neighborhoods called “Word On the Street.” Dates and more information will be available soon.

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