On Tuesday, several dozen people who live and work in Palo Alto came to learn about how Caltrain can keep up with ridership growth and capacity needs. Caltrain ridership has well over doubled in the last decade, and ridership in Palo Alto has increased by over 30% in the last three years alone.
Ridership growth is driven by broad trends including a) the region concentrating growth near transit including the Caltrain line, b) cities including Palo Alto fighting traffic and parking problems by encouraging the use of transit, and c) changing preferences to drive less.*
Caltrain electrification is scheduled for 2020/2021, and improvements for basic electrification can help Caltrain keep up with expected growth. However, increasing train frequency puts stress at intersections. There will be opportunities this year for Palo Altans to get involved in these decisions.
The challenge for PA is that in 2009, PA City Council stated as policy that electrified trains could not be elevated. This favors trenching (most expensive option) and precludes a Belmont/San Carlos style split. Also, council stated that no local funds could be dedicated.
The best major souce of upcoming funding are three 2016 county transportation bond measures. (Another regional measure may happen in 2018.)
- In Palo Alto, improvements would come from the Santa Clara bond measure, which typically requires 2/3 vote to pass. (A version from 2015 would have raised about $3.5 billion over 30 years.)
- Palo Alto has an opportunity to influence the structure of the Santa Clara transportation ballot measure in two ways (through Envision SV):
a) Greater % allocation of funds for Caltrain improvements
b) Advocate for funding structure like San Mateo county: Put Caltrain grade separation funds in a bucket to allow cities to apply for funding as project designs are finalized (instead of assigning PA a fixed amount on the ballot. PA currently doesn't know which option it wants to pursue and how much it will cost.)
Ready to do something?
- Participate in local discussions (coming soon!) about grade separation design and policy options.
- Ask Palo Alto and Mountain View city councils and major companies to insist on a strong Caltrain package in the Santa Clara County transportation ballot measure.
- Extra Credit: Urge Caltrain, SF, San Mateo and Santa Clara County to work together on a plan to fund ridership doubling.
* Is your household “car-light”? Over 50% of the presentation attendees say they have a car but prefer alternatives where practical. Does this describe your household?