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The Campanile

City ought to consider student input in Churchill rail redesign

The intersection between Churchill Avenue and Alma Street is used every day by walkers, bikers and drivers, including hundreds of students getting to school in the morning. Often, the buzz of commuters is interrupted by the blare of a train, forcing drivers to wait up to 30 minutes to simply cross the railroad tracks at Churchill.

However, this may change with the controversial proposal to redesign the rail crossing at Churchill, which supporters say will alleviate traffic backups after Caltrain increases its service in the 2020-21 year.

The Campanile thinks the city should better inform students of the potential changes to the intersection and take into account students’ opinions, as a redesign would directly affect students’ everyday lives for many years. We call on the city to offer a direct means for students to provide input, such as an open forum or a district-wide survey.

Palo Alto and its residents have debated this issue since 2017, cycling through numerous rail crossing redesign ideas. Before last week, the city narrowed potential solutions down to two main proposals — a viaduct, which is a bridge-like structure separating cars below from trains above, or the closure of Churchill at the Alma intersection. Last week, however, Southgate resident Michael Price proposed a new design — a modified underpass which would submerge the Churchill and Alma intersection, slope Churchill east of the railroad and give bikers and pedestrians a path separate from traffic and the train tracks.

While no solution or redesign can fully address all concerns, The Campanile supports Price’s proposal, as it reasonably maintains connectivity, decreases traffic and increases pedestrian and bike safety — goals that all residents seek in a design, according to Professorville resident Rachel Kellerman, who has distributed flyers to hundreds of households to increase awareness regarding the redesign. Kellerman retired from her position as Paly librarian last year.

In comparison to the other alternatives, Price’s design does not involve raising or lowering the tracks, which makes it less costly than a viaduct. The modified underpass design also still allows the hundreds of students and teachers who drive to school through the Churchill intersection on a daily basis to continue to do so, which closing Churchill would prevent.

Additionally, The Campanile thinks the city should consider constructing an underpass at the intersection between Seale Avenue and Alma. This would provide more options for pedestrians and bikers to safely cross Alma, as well as decrease the amount of bike traffic at Churchill. While adding an underpass would increase costs, doing so would be beneficial in the long run.

The Campanile urges the city to consider student input and to implement Price’s proposal to ensure student safety and maintain full access into the school for pedestrians, bikers and vehicles.

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