The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (JPB), which owns and operates Caltrain, proposed the construction of a traffic signal at Rengstorff and Crisanto avenues as part of a Peninsula-wide effort to improve safety conditions around railroad tracks, a spokeswoman said. The new signal became operational two weeks ago, after construction on the project began in June.
While the new signal promises safer train tracks , the traffic patterns surrounding the Rengstorff at-grade crossing are now markedly different. With the new signal, there are now two stoplights within less than one block of each other, and traffic patterns have been redesigned to eliminate a left-turn lane and modify many through- and right-turn lanes.
Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said that the Rengstorff Avenue crossing is "one of the most complicated areas" of the JPB's larger project to improve railroad safety.
"People have probably noticed the addition of a pre-signal," Dunn said, referring to the new traffic light at Rengstorff and Crisanto. "The pre-signal detects that a train is coming, so the lights on Rengstorff will turn red and the lights on the streets running parallel will turn green."
Irene Schwartz has lived in the Parkview West condominium complex on Rengstorff for 15 years and sits on the Parkview West homeowners' association board. She said she worries that the new traffic signal may be causing problems by tripping up drivers accustomed to the old signage around the tracks.
"You've got the new stoplight, you've got the 'keep clear' sign for Crisanto, the train tracks, and then the old signal," Schwartz said. "For people right now, it is confusing."
Schwartz was concerned that such confusion could lead to traffic blockages on Rengstorff and even danger for drivers with old habits.
"When the city was working on installing new lights, traffic was backed up from the train tracks almost to California Street," she said. "I think they have created a right-hand turn lane ... and someone wanting to make a right-hand turn, they could (get) stuck on the tracks."
Several of her fellow board members and surrounding neighbors have expressed similar concerns about effects of the new signal, she said.
"Any improvements in signal timing or lane configuration would be an improvement to safety throughout that area," said Saul Jaeger, Mountain View police department's press information officer. "That area is a challenge for the police department because of the volume of vehicular traffic in that area, as well as the nearby park and a lot of pedestrian traffic.
Jaeger said that any changes to traffic patterns are based on years of study data compiled by traffic engineers.
Dunn acknowledged that the new traffic pattern will require some adjustment for drivers and pedestrians, but she emphasized that the change is worthwhile and that Mountain View city officials and the JPB will work to help to ease this process.
"I think that (the city and the JPB) will be monitoring it; that is one of the things they plan for," Dunn said. "It is going to take some time for people to get used to, but it allows more time for traffic to clear and is a major safety improvement."