Mountain View Voice

News - May 11, 2012

Council wrestles with grade separation designs

Rengstorff to go under tracks but no plan yet for Castro

by Daniel DeBolt

Facing plans for increased use of the Caltrain corridor by Caltrain and high-speed rail, City Council members adopted an official line Tuesday to separate the train tracks from Rengstorff Avenue. But dealing with a grade separation at Castro Street proved much more difficult.

On a 6-1 vote, the council approved a design policy written by member Ronit Bryant indicating support for a grade separation at Rengstorff.

"The grade separation shall be designed to support improved connectivity across the rail tracks for all modes of transportation, pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers alike," the policy says. "The design shall focus on minimizing disruption to the neighborhood context, encouraging multi-modal use and improving the safety to all users."

Facing a $500,000 price tag for a study, the council decided not to study any design that doesn't lower both Rengstorff Avenue and Central Expressway under the tracks, which would remain at ground level.

"Where you go in and where you come out, you make it a place, you make it a plaza, you create a sense that you are somewhere," Bryant said of pedestrian access under the tracks along a sunken Rengstorff Avenue. "It would clearly be more expensive but this is a part of our city. It should be developed for our residents and not just for the cars."

Council member Laura Macias was opposed, saying that depressing Rengstorff was "the worst option" and that every other option should be studied so Rengstorff would not simply become a thoroughfare.

Council members have had plenty of time to think it over as a design for a grade separation at Rengstorff was created by the city years ago, though Bryant has called it an "engineer's design" that is not acceptable to her.

The council members also was set to approve a policy for Castro Street, but could not reach a consensus after apparently concluding that their preferred "railroad-in-a-trench" alternative is too expensive.

Resident Don Ball pushed the council to drop the option to sink Castro Street along its historic 100 block which would allow Castro to run under the tracks.

"Keep Castro at grade so we don't destroy the character of the downtown we worked so hard on," Ball said.

But doing so would require an aerial platform for the tracks or closing Castro Street off as the remaining alternatives.

"With Castro I would say let's take a deep breath and maybe wait until something has to be done, maybe close the street to cars," Bryant said.

That raised concerns for Macias.

"We shouldn't definitively say that if we can find no good solution for Castro we have to just close Castro," Macias said, calling it "the street that gives us life. That is completely shooting ourselves in the foot."

Council members briefly discussed other options for connecting the downtown across the train tracks, possibly by widening Villa Street to better connect with Shoreline Boulevard, though there may not be enough room. Or by putting a bridge across the tracks at the north end of Calderon Avenue, a plan that was in the works years ago, recalled council member Jac Siegel.

"We do have a transportation circulation problem downtown," Bryant said. "We have never looked at it seriously."

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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