Sunday, April 12, 2009

An Interesting Story From Menlo Park

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

For nearly a year now we've been told by Menlo Park residents that an above-grade structure along the Caltrain ROW is somehow going to destroy their tightly-knit community, that there's just no way to provide methods to cross under the tracks that can preserve community, that unless the CHSRA gives them the tunnel they demand, well, they'll just have to oppose the whole project in order to ensure their community's very survival.

Those claims have always been overwrought and questionable. And now those claims may be shown to be hypocritical, as a group of Menlo Park residents demand a planned pedestrian bridge be canceled because of concerns it will draw the wrong kind of people - i.e. the poor - to their community:

A Menlo Park neighborhood is circulating a petition asking the city council to rescind a decision made 16 months ago to build a new bridge that connects them to the low-income Belle Haven community after the old, existing one is demolished.

Once the 53-year-old Ringwood Avenue pedestrian bridge over Highway 101 is demolished by Caltrans as part of the state's $81 million project to add a freeway auxiliary lane, no overcrossing should replace it, say residents of the Flood Triangle neighborhood west of 101 between Marsh and Willow.

They trot out the familiar "property value" and "nobody told us" arguments:

"Literally everyone I'd talked to about this petition had not heard of this issue, or had heard of it in the last couple weeks," said Flood Triangle resident Mark Throndson, one of the petitioners. He said his house has been broken into, and police subsequently arrested someone who came over from the east side of the bridge....

But residents such as Cathy Tokic argue the project also affects homeowners farther from the overcrossing and insist that most residents are just now learning of the council's decision.

"The people in this neighborhood have spent millions of dollars remodeling their homes," Tokic said. "People's homes have been broken into multiple times; windows broken multiple times."

And then propose inane and unworkable "solutions" designed to give the appearance of meeting existing needs but that in fact do no such thing:

Ideally, she said, residents would prefer that the Willow Road overcrossing be rebuilt to and made safer, although that bridge is about a half-mile away from the Ringwood Avenue walkway. In addition, she said Menlo-Atherton High School students, who make up a majority of the bridge's roughly 50 daily users, should be given better bus access across the freeway.

[Menlo Park Transportation Manager Chip] Taylor said the bus option would be costly and it is inconvenient for pedestrians to travel out of their way to Willow, the closest access across the freeway from Ringwood.

Why does none of this surprise me? Belle Haven is a part of the city of Menlo Park - but apparently it doesn't quite count as much as the wealthier parts do. In one breath Menlo Park residents say they don't want transportation infrastructure to divide their city. In the next breath they say that's exactly what they want - gotta keep the poor, presumed by some Menlo Park residents to be carriers of crime, out!

I find it difficult to take Menlo Park's concerns about HSR seriously when so many of their residents are actively trying to keep other members of their out of their neighborhoods. The HSR project is designed to improve mobility AND the community by making it easier to cross the Caltrain ROW. What they have run up against in Menlo Park is a community of wealthy people who believe it's government's job to keep their individual property values high even if it means gutting the state's efforts to solve global warming, dependence on oil, joblessness and congestion, and even if it means an entire city neighborhood is cut off from the rest of the city.

Menlo Park's more vocal anti-HSR activists are good at dressing up their arguments. But when you look at the city's overall attitude towards infrastructure, it seems to be typical NIMBYism in a different guise. I don't see any reason why we should let these people dictate to the rest of the state how to build and implement passenger rail.


Bay Area Resident said...

East of 101 in Menlo Park is the same as East Palo Alto. I actually thought it was EPA but I see through some zoning mishap it is actually part of Menlo Park. Not sure what your post has to do with anyhing, they don't want a bridge over a freeway for crime reasons- I would feel the same if they built a bridge over a freeway near me. All this story indicates is that ***major transport corridors*** really are boundaries and Caltrain is not, which is what we have said all along.

Robert Cruickshank said...

What I'm hearing from you, BAR, is:

1. An acknowledgement that class perceptions play an enormous role in Menlo Park's thinking about what their "community" consists of, much more than aesthetic concerns

2. The notion of what is a "major transport corridor" and a "boundary" is entirely subjective, dependent on whether or not it suits the purposes of wealthy Menlo Park residents.

Jack said...

hey BAR, Robert is merely pointing out the inconsistency and perhaps hypocritical nature of the NIMBY stance in Menlo Park.

One of the Menlo NIMBY's chief argument against the elevated HSR is that it "divides" their neighborhood. However, when it comes to infrastructure that "connects" their city, such as this pedastrian overpass, apparently the NIMBY now don't want it because it's connecting the wrong people on the east side.

Seriously, I bet if the reality in Menlo park were that rich (Right) people lived on one side of Caltrain track, and the poor (wrong) people lived on the other (think highway 101), then the right people will have no problem building a super skyscrapper wall to keep out the wrong people.

this attitude is stagnant, regressive, and short-sighted. not to mention environmentally unfriendly.

Anonymous said...

This comes as no surprise to me. As I've said before, all the BS aside, everyone knows exactly what kind of people live in PA MP and Atherton and exactly how they think because they reek of their own self involvement. They are free to do so, but not at the expense of the rest of us. The train is coming.

Spokker said...

I would be embarrassed to have my name on that petition.

Andrew said...

All of this banter about the Peninsula just fills me with bile and venom.

BruceMcF said...

Bay Area Resident said...
"All this story indicates is that ***major transport corridors*** really are boundaries and Caltrain is not, which is what we have said all along."

Ah, so if the present Caltrain corridor is not a boundary, then improving access across the Caltrain corridor will be a benefit, helping knitting the community close together.

Add that economic benefit to the transport economic benefits, and what people living on the corridor are concerned about is that their relative property values will decline while property values town-wide are improved.

Its not the threat of absolute changes in property values that they object to, but losing ground in the game of keeping up with the Joneses.

The question, of course, is that since the majority of the residents of the town are the Joneses, and are economic beneficiaries, why THEY would object to a windfall gain in wealth.

BruceMcF said...

And I do want to add the comment that I made when this was raised in a prior comment thread (this blog or another? I forget) ...

... that only those residents who are opposed to the cycle/pedestrian bridge and argue against the upgrade of the rail corridor based on specious "barrier effect" arguments are being hypocrites.

All residents who say they are against the rail corridor upgrade because they are opposed to improved transport access, opposed to US energy independence, and opposed to economic growth in their community would be entirely consistent in also opposing the cycle/pedestrian bridge. There would be absolutely zero hypocrisy in that.

Andre Peretti said...

If I understand Menlo residents' grievances, thieves use the pedestrian bridge to come and plunder their houses. I suppose they then walk all the way back with their booty (wide-screen TVs, etc...) on their shoulders. How respectful of the air quality! Burglars in the rest of the world are more backward and still use pick-ups or vans.

Anonymous said...

So in California you guys got earthquakes right. Wouldn't it be safer to elevate the track rather than bury it incase of an earthquake. Logic to me would be that rather it fall over than cave in.... This is the point where government should say right we will be building this track here, California voted for it and they will get it. If anything this system will up property values because of it's close proximity and create a "Active Centre" which if managed and planned right could be a cash cow.

Spokker said...

"Wouldn't it be safer to elevate the track rather than bury it incase of an earthquake."

Subways hold up pretty well in earthquakes, at least in California. Market street subway, Transbay Tube, Los Angeles subway, they suffered no damage in the earthquakes they went through, while freeways crumbled topside.

Not to say that is reason enough to tunnel HSR on the peninsula.

Bianca said...

Thanks for posting this, Robert. I've been hearing grumblings about this for the last few weeks, and while I cannot say with absolute certainty that people who oppose the pedestrian bridge also oppose HSR on the peninsula (after all, the neighborhoods in question are different; the most vocal opposition to HSR in MP comes from Caltrain's neighbors) there is certainly a common thread: fear. Fear that the bridge, or HSR, will bring "the wrong kind of people" into their communities. It's wrong-headed and pretty repugnant in my view.

A moment of rational consideration is all that is needed to understand that living east of the freeway does not automagically make one a criminal. Or that lots of criminals have cars and use them in their criminal endeavors. Getting rid of a pedestrian bridge just makes life harder for pedestrians and bicyclists. Menlo Park is hard enough to get around in as a pedestrian/cyclist as it is. We ought to be making it easier, not harder, to be car-free. And our schools are facing budget issues just like everywhere else- now we should waste money on buses for high school students? I'd rather the schools use that money on teachers.

As you rightly point out, one of the favorite arguments HSR opponents use is that HSR will somehow divide the community in a way that Caltrain currently doesn't. It's an argument that does not hold water, and when that obvservation is made, the response is essentially "La La La I've got my fingers in my ears I can't hear you La La La." Because that argument is specious and they know it. The real reason HSR Opponents don't want HSR to run on the Caltrain tracks is because it brings in Outsiders. Currently those tracks are just for their communities, so they can live with the inconvenience of noisy horns and loud diesels and train crossings because they get a benefit that is reserved just for themselves.

The other common argument that the bridge opponents and the HSR opponents both use is that they were caught unawares, as if government bureaucrats were making decisions and keeping residents in the dark. In both cases it's simply not true; the decision to build the pedestrian bridge was made over a year ago, and I got emails from the City of Menlo Park about the meetings to discuss bridge design with residents. Just like discussion of bringing HSR up the Peninsula on Caltrain tracks has been in the local press for over a decade. I don't understand why people who claim to care so much about their communities don't bother to read the local paper.

Ken said...

Robert and others who pre-judge and stereotype people in a single category and twist any story to make a point, you are so way off about Menlo Park as a community it's laughable. Or really sad, I don't know. Stick to your all-consuming promotion of HSR and stop trying to psycho-analyze 30,000 people based on a few news stories.

Ken said...

And Bianca, come on, HSR will not bring in "Outsiders" (whoever that may be) to Menlo Park; it won't be stopping here. Bad reasoning.

The 20 foot high 80 foot wide structure won't necessarily divide the community. It won't keep anyone "in" or "out". It will, however, be a big, ugly scar that we would have to drive, walk or bike under. And avoid looking at so as to not get physically ill thinking about why this nice little town has a big concrete monolith chunked down in the middle of it.

Bianca said...

Ken, the current plans are to have a stop at either Redwood City or Palo Alto. No HSR won't stop in Menlo Park proper, but there almost certainly will be a stop nearby.

It will, however, be a big, ugly scar that we would have to drive, walk or bike under.

I read that and think "finally! We will be able to cross the tracks safely, and in more places!" In my view, grade separation is a Very Good Thing and is long overdue. Do you categorically oppose grade separation? Are you familiar with Caltrain's 2025 plan, which includes grade separation at all existing grade crossings?

It doesn't have to be a "big, ugly scar." It doesn't necessarily have to be 20 feet high either. A lot of the final design details have yet to be determined, and I see this as an opportunity to work constructively so that the final design is something reasonably acceptable to our community.

Ken said...

No, I'm not categorically opposed to grade separations. Conceptually, they make a lot of sense for convenience, circulation and safety. But a four track grade separation is a bigger deal than a two track, both visually and in terms of the possible options & construction impacts. With how much this thing is going to cost, it's hard for me to imagine that the CHSR will build anything but the cheapest, least visually attractive structure. I'm by nature an optimistic person but I just have a bad feeling about this.

On the "outsider" thing I was pulling your chain a bit regarding no Menlo Park stop. However, it's still a specious argument. Anyone getting off the train in PA or RC will either have business to do there (a good thing), have people to visit there (a good thing), go to school or work (a good thing), be a tourist (a good thing), etc., etc. Everyone on both sides should just drop that argument. (If there ever really was one...I think it's an invention to distract from the real issues).

Bianca said...


I am glad to see you are open to grade separations. I know that grade separations can be ugly, and certainly something built in Soviet-style heavy concrete would be an eyesore and out of place. But we are at the early stages of the process, and there are still opportunities to work constructively.

I'd love to see some local design competitions for the grade separations. If local architects put their skills to use to design something attractive that fits into the local aesthetic, that would be a wonderful thing.

(If there ever really was one...I think it's an invention to distract from the real issues)

Regarding the whole "Outsiders" thing, I'll point you to an example of the kind of commentary I'm thinking of. Over on the Palo Alto Online website there are lots of threads about HSR, and one of the comments from this thread is an over-the-top example of the "fear of outsiders" thinking. The comment was posted at 2:53 pm on March 20, in case it gets deleted there I'll paste in the relevant text here:

Unless the same security and cabin attendants are maintained on the train that we have on air travel, we may just give gangs and smugglers an elegantly efficient way to ply their trades. Imagine: In SJ for a hit job and back in LA with alibi in an 8-hour work day. Or, if it is cheap enough could the homeless and the disconnected just ride the rails? Have you ever taken the bus between Marin and Mendocino and been harrassed by a drugged out, slightly dangerous, character who has just peed all over himself? If there is any chance of a devolution to that state what do you think the well-heeled will ride? HSR could become very expensive to maintain and to ride.

I certainly hope such sentiment is in the minority. It is not even internally consistent, much less rational or defensible. But it is exactly that sentiment that is shared by the folks in Flood Triangle who are opposed to the bridge over 101 being replaced.

Menlo Park Taxi said...

There may be some generalization here - about the overall opposition. Complaints though about "have not heard about it" aren't good enough... now people have heard about it.