Council wrestles with grade separation designs


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.

In 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."


Like this comment
Posted by Mary
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 11, 2012 at 2:11 pm

So you ditch the Palo Alto Humane service because you could "maybe" save 40,000 a year. Then you spend 500,000 for a "study" for high speed rail that should now happen anyway. Hmmmmmm

Like this comment
Posted by Mary
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 11, 2012 at 2:12 pm


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Posted by Laurence
a resident of Whisman Station
on May 11, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Elevating Calderon might work, except that where would it go on the other side? There is no north-south street to align with on the north side. This also would be a massive bridge, just as tall (even if narrower) than the Shoreline and Whisman overcrossings so that the trains could clear underneath.

Separating Rengstorff is absolutely necessary due to safety and congestion concerns. That is one of government's primary missions, keeping citizens safe, and this is a tricky corner because of the multiple jurisdictions [city street, county expressway, Caltrain]. It's only a matter of time before something horrible happens there.

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Posted by Dr. Collateral
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 11, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Dr. Collateral is a registered user.

@Mary: That's $500K to study grade separation of the CALTRAIN corridor, which will be there regardless of whether high-speed rail shows up.

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Posted by Dr. Collateral
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 11, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Dr. Collateral is a registered user.

In my opinion, I always hoped that pushing Caltrain below grade would help to extend the downtown corridor across Central towards Moffett, but I could be wrong.

Like this comment
Posted by Jes' Sayin'
a resident of Blossom Valley
on May 11, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Day-to-day the intersection at Central and Rengstorff is probably the worst one in Mountain View for congestion.

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Posted by tommygee54
a resident of Rex Manor
on May 11, 2012 at 3:05 pm

A grade separation for Caltrain and HSR usage at Rengstorff at Central Expressway is ABOUT TIME. This intersection is my most hated intersection in Mtn. View. I will be real happy when the work is finished.

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Posted by pedestrian
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 11, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Is it possible to create a grade separation that is friendly to pedestrians? Existing grade separations like San Antonio Road are really awful for pedestrians. Grade separations turn neighborhood roads into the equivalent of freeway interchanges with cars coming at pedestrians from all directions and at high speeds. I am not convinced that this is a real safety improvement for the city.

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Posted by IMHO
a resident of Rex Manor
on May 11, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Hooray! Get it done! Yes, Rengstorff & Central is the worst intersection in MV. I sometimes wonder how much of the air quality improvement due people riding the train is offset by the idling vehicles delayed at grade crossings like Rengstorff. And electrify it too! It's appalling that the city Google calls home has a 19th century railroad running through it.

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Posted by Jen
a resident of Rex Manor
on May 11, 2012 at 7:38 pm

HSR will never happen. This is all just a waste of money. I agree that an underpass on Rengstorf will turn the street into an expressway.

Like this comment
Posted by Doug Pearson
a resident of Blossom Valley
on May 11, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Thank you, City Council for finally taking grade separation seriously. In my opinion, grade separation is needed for every Mountain View street that crosses the Caltrain tracks.

The study for the Rengstorff crossing is a good start but it should be a guide for the Castro crossing, and I'd like to see the San Antonio crossing improved as well. In all three cases, my preference is for the street to go under the tracks but I expect the Council to make their decision based on the study results, not my preference.

The Council has apparently decided that the Caltrain corridor will stay at its current elevation whether High Speed Rail comes or not. That may be correct, but the rail bed is more likely to be raised than lowered, and the Council should be prepared to rebuild San Antonio, Shoreline, Stevens Creek Trail and Whisman, not to mention the biggies, 85 and 237. Luckily, 85 and 237 are not Mountain View responsibilities.

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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on May 12, 2012 at 10:14 pm

@Doug: I don't think that's right.

Web Link

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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on May 14, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Central Expressway needs to be made a city street, an interchange where it meets Middlefield Rd. Improvements to Middlefield Rd will have to be done.

What I read on the Caltrain site, a platform needs to be built so riders can enter and exit northbound trains without crossing southbound tracks, this is a must even if we don't get High Speed Rail.

Do we lose the 1 block section of Castro St, do we teardown some buildings, or take Evelyn St where it would meet up with Villa St, if so where would this meet take place.

Tress will be cut down, so do we start figuring out how many and what trees.

The Cost will be high, what will it look like, will impact the residents, drive businesses out.

Study now, lets see some options and some plans

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