News

Palo Alto residents not sold on local rail station

Few express interest, many raise objections to hosting a high-speed rail station

High-speed rail officials seeking to gauge Palo Alto's interest in a local rail station received an unambiguous message from the community Thursday when not a single resident voiced support for the idea.

The station also received a cool reception in Mountain View last month, with a majority of the City Council saying they wouldn't support building it because of its impacts on the downtown.

Officials from Caltrain and the California High-Speed Rail Authority asked about 30 Palo Alto residents and local officials at the Thursday night meeting to raise their hands if they think a rail station would be compatible with downtown Palo Alto.

Not a single hand went up.

The lightly attended meeting, which coincided with the San Francisco Giant's playoff opener, underscored earlier signals from City Council members that Palo Alto probably will not be seeking a high-speed-rail station on University Avenue. Palo Alto is one of three cities on the Midpeninsula, along with Redwood City and Mountain View, that the rail authority is considering for a station. Rail officials said it's also possible that none of the three cities will end up with one.

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The authority also plans to build stations in San Francisco, Millbrae and San Jose.

Officials from the Peninsula Rail Program, which is charged with designing the Peninsula segment of the 800-mile rail line, said a local rail station could bring significant improvements to downtown Palo Alto, including improved transit connections, higher property values and greater business development downtown. Bruce Fukuji of the Peninsula Rail Program (a collaboration of Caltrain and the state authority) said the project could also potentially improve connections between Stanford University, Stanford Shopping Center and downtown Palo Alto.

Domenic Spaethling, whose firm Parsons Brinckerhoff is managing the Peninsula program for the rail authority, told an audience that Palo Alto was chosen as a possible station destination because it already has a vibrant downtown, a reputation as a destination city and a large number of train riders. The city's Caltrain station at University Avenue is second only to San Francisco when it comes to ridership.

"The idea is to have stations in activity centers where you can really take advantage of transit-oriented development," Spaethling said.

The goal, he said, is to design the station in a way so as "to make it a win-win both for the cities and the High-Speed Rail Authority." The rail authority has also offered to help participating cities revise their planning and zoning guidelines to enable construction of a rail station.

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The authority would build the station, but local officials are expected to build enough parking structures to house 3,000 parking spaces within three miles of the station. Last month, members of the City Council expressed major reservations about the parking guideline, which Palo Alto officials estimate would require six 50-foot tall garages and would cost the city $150 million.

Councilman Larry Klein, who chairs the council's High-Speed Rail Committee, said at the committee's Aug. 24 meeting that these parking structures would constitute a misuse of land and said he doesn't see how a station would ever benefit the community.

Residents also raised alarms at the Thursday meeting about the traffic congestion a new high-speed rail station would bring to Palo Alto. The rail authority estimates that the station will attract 15,600 people to the station by 2035.

Though no one voted to support a station, several people said they would like to learn more about the possible benefits of a local station. Seven people at Thursday's meeting raised their hand and said they were undecided, while 11 said they believe the station would be incompatible with Palo Alto.

Dennis Struecker, the rail authority's traffic consultant, said traffic impacts could be mitigated by locating parking structures further away from the station and by shuttling people in from other parts of the city. This strategy could, however, reduce the number of riders using the rail system.

Struecker said the authority's Project Environmental Impact Report for the Peninsula segment would evaluate both centralized and scattered parking. The report is also expected to provide more details about the system's proposed design. The authority has previously said that high-speed rail could pass through Palo Alto at-grade (street level), along an aerial viaduct, or through an open trench.

The Palo Alto council's High-Speed Rail Committee is scheduled to discuss a potential rail station at its Oct. 21 meeting.

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Gennady Sheyner
 
Gennady Sheyner covers the City Hall beat in Palo Alto as well as regional politics, with a special focus on housing and transportation. Before joining the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com in 2008, he covered breaking news and local politics for the Waterbury Republican-American, a daily newspaper in Connecticut. Read more >>

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Palo Alto residents not sold on local rail station

Few express interest, many raise objections to hosting a high-speed rail station

by / Palo Alto Online

Uploaded: Mon, Oct 11, 2010, 10:37 am

High-speed rail officials seeking to gauge Palo Alto's interest in a local rail station received an unambiguous message from the community Thursday when not a single resident voiced support for the idea.

The station also received a cool reception in Mountain View last month, with a majority of the City Council saying they wouldn't support building it because of its impacts on the downtown.

Officials from Caltrain and the California High-Speed Rail Authority asked about 30 Palo Alto residents and local officials at the Thursday night meeting to raise their hands if they think a rail station would be compatible with downtown Palo Alto.

Not a single hand went up.

The lightly attended meeting, which coincided with the San Francisco Giant's playoff opener, underscored earlier signals from City Council members that Palo Alto probably will not be seeking a high-speed-rail station on University Avenue. Palo Alto is one of three cities on the Midpeninsula, along with Redwood City and Mountain View, that the rail authority is considering for a station. Rail officials said it's also possible that none of the three cities will end up with one.

The authority also plans to build stations in San Francisco, Millbrae and San Jose.

Officials from the Peninsula Rail Program, which is charged with designing the Peninsula segment of the 800-mile rail line, said a local rail station could bring significant improvements to downtown Palo Alto, including improved transit connections, higher property values and greater business development downtown. Bruce Fukuji of the Peninsula Rail Program (a collaboration of Caltrain and the state authority) said the project could also potentially improve connections between Stanford University, Stanford Shopping Center and downtown Palo Alto.

Domenic Spaethling, whose firm Parsons Brinckerhoff is managing the Peninsula program for the rail authority, told an audience that Palo Alto was chosen as a possible station destination because it already has a vibrant downtown, a reputation as a destination city and a large number of train riders. The city's Caltrain station at University Avenue is second only to San Francisco when it comes to ridership.

"The idea is to have stations in activity centers where you can really take advantage of transit-oriented development," Spaethling said.

The goal, he said, is to design the station in a way so as "to make it a win-win both for the cities and the High-Speed Rail Authority." The rail authority has also offered to help participating cities revise their planning and zoning guidelines to enable construction of a rail station.

The authority would build the station, but local officials are expected to build enough parking structures to house 3,000 parking spaces within three miles of the station. Last month, members of the City Council expressed major reservations about the parking guideline, which Palo Alto officials estimate would require six 50-foot tall garages and would cost the city $150 million.

Councilman Larry Klein, who chairs the council's High-Speed Rail Committee, said at the committee's Aug. 24 meeting that these parking structures would constitute a misuse of land and said he doesn't see how a station would ever benefit the community.

Residents also raised alarms at the Thursday meeting about the traffic congestion a new high-speed rail station would bring to Palo Alto. The rail authority estimates that the station will attract 15,600 people to the station by 2035.

Though no one voted to support a station, several people said they would like to learn more about the possible benefits of a local station. Seven people at Thursday's meeting raised their hand and said they were undecided, while 11 said they believe the station would be incompatible with Palo Alto.

Dennis Struecker, the rail authority's traffic consultant, said traffic impacts could be mitigated by locating parking structures further away from the station and by shuttling people in from other parts of the city. This strategy could, however, reduce the number of riders using the rail system.

Struecker said the authority's Project Environmental Impact Report for the Peninsula segment would evaluate both centralized and scattered parking. The report is also expected to provide more details about the system's proposed design. The authority has previously said that high-speed rail could pass through Palo Alto at-grade (street level), along an aerial viaduct, or through an open trench.

The Palo Alto council's High-Speed Rail Committee is scheduled to discuss a potential rail station at its Oct. 21 meeting.

Comments

Electrocutioner
Castro City
on Oct 11, 2010 at 12:51 pm
Electrocutioner, Castro City
on Oct 11, 2010 at 12:51 pm

The hearts and minds of locals all up and down the peninsula have been lost wrt this particular HSR plan.


Matt
another community
on Oct 11, 2010 at 1:01 pm
Matt, another community
on Oct 11, 2010 at 1:01 pm

I live in downtown Palo Alto and I say yes to HSR on the peninsula and a station at University Ave! I believe these meetings are attended by the vocal minority, and that the bulk of Palo Altans want this.


Martin
another community
on Oct 11, 2010 at 1:35 pm
Martin, another community
on Oct 11, 2010 at 1:35 pm

If CHSRA is serious about this project, they need to be more conscientious about integrating it into the fabric of communities. No one wants their towns and communities destroyed, by an oversized industrial project.


Old Ben
Shoreline West
on Oct 11, 2010 at 2:21 pm
Old Ben, Shoreline West
on Oct 11, 2010 at 2:21 pm

We can't afford this scam.


Majority Member
another community
on Oct 11, 2010 at 2:21 pm
Majority Member, another community
on Oct 11, 2010 at 2:21 pm

No Matt, you cannot claim "The bulk of Palo Altans want this" without at least some sort of presence at these meetings. Just because you want it to be true, doesn't make it true. The feeling of the majority has been voiced for a while now while now. If there's a massive group of people who really want this, they musty live underground and have had their tongues removed.


Chucky Sneeze
Cuesta Park
on Oct 11, 2010 at 3:12 pm
Chucky Sneeze, Cuesta Park
on Oct 11, 2010 at 3:12 pm

One terminus in SF would be excellent. Ending in downtown San Jose would also be good. Treat it like a plane. One destination. From there, take local transport. For those who want downtown SF, any stops along the way are delaying nuisances. Make the service very valuable for LA-SF traffic, and it might attract enough to justify it. Try to please everyone and you'll please no one.


Don McPhail
Old Mountain View
on Oct 11, 2010 at 3:25 pm
Don McPhail, Old Mountain View
on Oct 11, 2010 at 3:25 pm

The last thing Palo Alto needs is a high speed rail station. From a transportation standpoint, it does nothing to improve life for its citizens, who can fly to LA airports from both SFO & SJC. Economically, it does nothing except cost local residents money they need not spend, reduce property values along the projected path, and totally disrupt quality of life with major construction. Politically, state officials need Palo Alto support more than PA needs their influence. The same applies to Mountain View, Menlo Park and other Peninsula cities.


Jarrett
Castro City
on Oct 11, 2010 at 4:36 pm
Jarrett, Castro City
on Oct 11, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Chuck,

Since HSR is competing against airlines it must have some kind of advantage against airlines. It obviously can't compete with the in the air speed of the plane, so it thrives on accessibility. That means terminals must be located in major urban centers, not on the periphery. As soon as stations are located outside cities, and transfers are forced, you might as well fly.

Remember, HSR will operate a mix of expresses and all stop locals so if you want to skip all stops, you can get on a train that does that. This is HSR service is done around the world.

Don,

Maybe Palo Alto residents are tired of spending 2-3 hours of pre-boarding travel, parking, and security checks before actually stepping foot on a plane. I know I won't miss that when HSR is built up the peninsula. Perhaps properties will become more desirable if they are close to a HSR station? Not to mention, the new HSR/Caltain electric trains will be quieter than the bloated Caltrain diesels. No more blaring horns and no more exhaust. The status quo will do nothing to enhance property values.


curious
Cuesta Park
on Oct 12, 2010 at 9:29 am
curious, Cuesta Park
on Oct 12, 2010 at 9:29 am

Jarrett: "Maybe Palo Alto residents are tired of spending 2-3 hours of pre-boarding travel, parking, and security checks before actually stepping foot on a plane."

What makes you think this will be different for the High Cost Rail (HCR)? The "authority" consultant in the piece says the parking will be away from the station and you have to take a shuttle-that adds an hour to taking the train. Also, you can put bombs on trains just like airplanes-imagine a high speed train de-railing as it rockets down tracks that are across the street from residential houses. So everyone will have to go through the same searches, etc as on planes.

Once they get in the open, these trains are 1/2 to 1/3 the speed of airplanes at cruising speed. So the trip on the train itself will take much longer.

Finally, the "authority" now states that tickets will cost the same as airplane tickets. At that is with a taxpayer subsidy.

This HCR scheme has no advantages and will never be built. We do not have the money. So let us kill it now and not waste the $10 billion the voters foolishly authorized (and are now getting bigtime buyer's remorse).


Jarrett
Castro City
on Oct 12, 2010 at 5:35 pm
Jarrett, Castro City
on Oct 12, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Curious,

HCR? What about expanding the runways for the barely-profitable short haul flights at LAX and SFO? That's not cheap and the airlines would rather operate more lucrative long distance flights; especially if fuel costs rise like they did in 2008. Remember when they started canceling SF-LA flights and started charging for bags? Airline travel isn't the dreamy solution that you make it out to be. It has serious drawbacks because of congestion, infrastructure infeasibility (building runways in the bay), costs associated with fuel and accessibility.

Accessibility– sure, there will be satellite parking lots at the stations. But maybe someone can drop you off? Maybe taking transit to the station isn't the dreadful experience that you make it out to be? Maybe you can take a short taxi ride because the station is much closer than the airport? On many HSR systems, the security theater is nonexistent. If it's there, it's extremely minimal and not the full cavity search that you experience in airports.

When I went to Japan, you could access the high speed trains just like we access BART today. You go to a ticket machine, get your ticket, and go through a faregate. Easy. I often did this minutes before departure.

Safety- HSR has a rock solid safety record around the world. The Shinkansen in Japan has logged 7 billion miles without a single passenger fatality. There has been one derailment, but the design of the coupling system prevented the train from leaving the tracks and there were no casualties. In France, the TGV was bombed and 2 people died, but again, the coupling system prevented the train from leaving the right-of-way. Explosions on trains simply don’t create the dramatic images of terror and helplessness that airline bombings do.

No Advantages– Go ride Eurostar, the Shinkansen, or even the Acela. You'll understand why HSR is being built around the world.


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