Short-term improvements to Churchill-Alma intersection approved

The railroad tracks at Churchill Avenue in Palo Alto. Google Streetview photo.

Daily Post Staff Writer

For years Palo Alto officials have been talking about what they’re going to do about the Caltrain crossing at Churchill Avenue when the frequency of trains is expected to increase and cars back up more often — do they close it, build an overpass or a viaduct?

But such a change at Churchill may take years. So what should be done about the intersection now?

City Council made a short-term decision about the intersection of Churchill and Alma Street last night that’s intended to increase the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists before the final change to the crossing is made years from now.

Council approved a $4.5 million plan that would widen the sidewalks on the northeast and northwest corners of the intersections, add ramps to the crosswalks, put bike markings to the pavement and adjust the stoplights to give more time for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross the street.

The crossing is used by kids going to and from Palo Alto High School.

Council had two alternatives on the table. The second alternative that council turned down would have removed the the right-turn-only lane from southbound Alma to westbound Churchill. That would have freed up room for a concrete pedestrian area at the northwest corner of the intersection, and landscaping in the former right-hand-turn lane that would be designed to catch stormwater.

Mayor Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth, Lydia and Greg Tanaka supported the first option that kept the right-hand turn lane.

Councilwoman Alison Cormack made a motion for the second option. Her motion failed with only three votes: Cormack, Greer Stone and Vice Mayor Pat Burt.

“Clearly improvements need to be made. Unfortunately with the very limited amount of land that’s available to make these adjustments, almost every alternative is going to have trade-offs. This seems to be a good balance,” Burt said in favor of the second option.

Burt said he wanted the same option as Cormack, but later changed his vote with the rest of the council “because I think that either option is a significant improvement over the current conditions. I still think that option two is probably the better one.”

City Planning and Transportation Commission member Cari Templeton said the commission voted unanimously in favor of the second option because “the root of this recommendation is really about safety.”

The second option offered more space for pedestrians and cyclists, Templeton said.

DuBois said, “I was truly torn between these two options” and voted for the first one.

Resident Susan Newman said she supported the first option because the second option would have increased the length of the green light for drivers on Churchill and shorten the green light time on Alma, “and I don’t see a need for it.”

And resident Michael Price said he favored the first option because the second option “will reduce the safety of the intersection for car traffic by eliminating the right turn pocket.”

This short-term work at Alma and Churchill could be done in six to eight months.


  1. If we’re in such a budget crunch, why didn’t the city just change the traffic light timing — something that’s been requested for years — instead of spending all that money on work that will have to be redone??

  2. Increasing bike/ped safety “will reduce the safety of the intersection for car traffic by eliminating the right turn pocket”!?

    This would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad. You can’t (and evidently don’t need to) make such rubbish up. Where do they find these people!? … and why do ostensibly wise and well-read electeds listen to them?

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