Neighborhood Survey on Churchill Rail Crossing

Grade crossing decisions by Palo Alto may affect your quality of life, safety and real estate prices...

Don't miss the opportunity to make your voice heard!

· Are you aware that Churchill Avenue could be CLOSED at Alma, sending 7000 more cars/day to Embarcadero Road?

A major issue is facing our neighborhoods --- the possibility that the Churchill Avenue grade crossing might be closed, flooding Embarcadero and adjacent neighborhoods with as many as 7000 additional cars per day.

The City is considering modifications of rail crossings throughout Palo Alto because of Caltrain’s long-term business plan to increase commuter rail service and frequency. While Caltrain’s plan is currently on pause due to the pandemic, it hasn’t been changed — nor has the City’s grade separation process --- though decreased ridership, remote work, and concerns about the health and safety of using public transportation present new realities.

· The City’s decision-making process and where things stand now.

Due to the projected increase in rail traffic, the City has been studying modifying Palo Alto rail crossings for a number of years, with the goal of separating pedestrian, bike, and car traffic from the tracks. The City’s Extended Community Action Panel (XCAP) is charged with making “consensus recommendations” on Churchill, Meadow, and Charleston to City Council members, who will ultimately decide. On September 2nd, XCAP voted 6-3 to recommend closing Churchill. XCAP updated the City Council on September 21st, and plans a detailed report to follow this fall.

· Changes at Churchill could affect you and the City needs your input.

A group of us in Professorville and the Embarcadero corridor neighborhoods have been working to raise awareness and increase engagement among affected neighborhoods. As things stand, feedback from residents throughout Northern Palo Alto has been limited. To give you a chance to be heard, we've created a brief survey on the most recent options for the redesign of the Churchill rail crossing.

The short 2 minute survey can be found here:

Please read through the review of the rail crossing options at Churchill below, but if you already feel well enough informed, please go ahead and take the survey. You’ll also find a link to the survey at the end of the email.

Summary of Options for rail crossings at Churchill

You can review materials related to all grade separation options for Palo Alto here. The choices for Churchill have been reduced to three (follow the links below to see relevant materials):

  • Option 1: Close Churchill: Under this option, Churchill is to be permanently closed at the tracks to all vehicle traffic, with a tunnel under Alma and the tracks for bikes and pedestrians. This option would divert cars to either Embarcadero Road or Oregon Expressway as ways to access or cross Alma. In total, between 7000 and 9500 cars would be diverted per day, with hundreds diverted during a single morning peak hour.

To mitigate the increase in traffic along already heavily traveled roads, a recent traffic study proposes changes to the Embarcadero-Alma intersection, as well as five additional traffic lights on Alma and one on Embarcadero. Follow the link to read about these changes and to see images and maps.

Follow these links (Tunnel 1, Tunnel 2) for images of what the changes at Churchill may look like. See the factsheet for images, cost, engineering detail, and assessment against City Council criteria.

  • Option 2: Viaduct: This alternative leaves the road where it is and raises the train on a concrete structure, allowing bicycle, pedestrian, and car traffic to pass underneath. Under this option, vehicle traffic will continue to have the same options for moving through the intersections that exist now. Bicycle and pedestrian traffic also will remain on the road, but they will be able to cross on their own signal while cars wait, as they do now at the Homer/Alma intersection. Visit this link to see the construction process. To see a plan elevation of the viaduct, click here. See the factsheet for images, cost, engineering detail, and assessment against City Council criteria.

  • Option 3: Partial Underpass: Under this option, train tracks remain "at grade” (at the same level they are now), while two lanes of Churchill west of Alma descend to carry traffic beneath the tracks to connect with Alma, which would also be partially lowered. Churchill east of Alma would remain at grade, as would two northbound lanes of Alma. The most common car movements would be maintained, but there would be some restrictions:

  • Cars traveling east on Churchill from El Camino will continue to have access to both north- and southbound Alma.

  • Cars traveling west on Churchill east of Alma are only allowed to turn right (north) onto Alma.

  • No through traffic will be allowed to cross Alma to continue on Churchill in either direction.

  • North- and southbound traffic on Alma will be able to turn west onto Churchill toward El Camino; however only northbound Alma traffic will be allowed to turn east onto Churchill.

  • East- and westbound bicycle and pedestrian traffic on Churchill would be rerouted to cross Alma via a tunnel at either Kellogg or Seale. Bike and pedestrian traffic traveling north and south on the west side of the tracks would use a bike bridge over the underpass connecting Southgate and the Paly bike path.

You can see drawings and images of the Partial Underpass here. In addition, see the recently created factsheet (currently coupled with the Charleston-Meadow factsheet) for images, cost, engineering detail, and assessment against City Council criteria.

Each of these options have pros and cons. All have been evaluated by an engineering firm hired by the City of Palo Alto and deemed viable.

  • An option not currently being discussed: "No Build with Safety Improvements." This option is not currently under discussion, though decreased Caltrain ridership, concerns about public transportation use, and remote work patterns reflect new realities affecting Caltrain’s plan to increase rail traffic frequency. If grade separations are no longer warranted, the City could turn its attention to addressing bicycle and pedestrian safety issues in North Palo Alto and along the Embarcadero corridor.

We are seeking your input on these options! Access the survey here: It won’t take long (1-2 minutes) and we encourage you to complete it! We will share the results with all respondents, as well as with City Council, XCAP, and City Staff.

Please note: You will be asked for your name and home address at the end of the survey. We require that information to verify neighborhood residency and to include your responses in the results. We also need your email address in order to share results with you and to reach you in case of technical problems with your responses. You can also ask to be updated on developments via email. We will not share your personal information with others.


Contact paloaltoneighorhoods @ gmail dot com to get more information or clarification