Cycling club looks for student feedback on Churchill intersections

Brennen Ho and Sophia Yang

Palo Alto City Council plans show a potential option to lower Alma and Churchill streets to accommodate a vehicle-only underpass, as shown in the rendered image. According to Palo Alto Council of Parent Teacher Association’s Safe Routes to School Chairperson Arnout Boelens, the city of PA is currently in the process of deciding on designs for the intersection that best balances the needs of motor vehicles and pedestrians. “They are [the city] still at the planning phase where they are looking at the designs,” Boelens said. “Currently they’re refining other designs. They finished [planning] for motorized vehicles, and now they’re looking into all the details of making it better for pedestrians and bicyclists.” (Photo: City of Palo Alto)

In light of future plans to modify the Churchill and Alma intersection, the Palo Alto High School Cycling Club is collecting student feedback through an ongoing survey to share with the City of Palo Alto. 

Although the changes are years from being implemented, modifications are likely to impact future Paly students, according to Cycling Club President Phela Durosinmi.

“It will definitely make it harder for students to get to school,” Durosinmi said. “They [students] should just be aware of it because it’s a big impact, especially since such a large percentage of Paly students bike to school.” 

According to the City of Palo Alto’s Connecting Palo Alto website, the preferred plan for the intersection is to lower a section of Alma and Churchill. This will allow the streets to run under the railroad tracks for motorized vehicles and remove the at-grade crossing. 

Arnout Boelens, Palo Alto Council of Parent Teacher Association’s Safe Routes to School Chairperson, said that moving the intersection under the railroad tracks will be safer and more efficient.

“Many crashes have happened on the railroad tracks just because it’s so busy there, but on top of that, as Caltrain gets electrified, high-speed rail will potentially go through the corridor,” Boelens said. “There will be more and more trains, so on top of safety there’s also the concern that traffic will come to complete gridlock if there’s no great separation between the train tracks and the road.”

According to Boelens, the city is also considering closing the intersection to motorized traffic.

“The current preferred alternative is the option to close Churchill for motorized vehicles and just build a pedestrian bicycle underpass there,” Boelens said. 

Boelen said the construction process may cause street closures, posing potential problems for students commuting to school.

“There’s the construction phase, which can take quite a long time, and the cheapest way to do it would be to close everything [surrounding streets] at the same time,” Boelens said. “Students would have to take either Embarcadero or the California Avenue tunnel and then [the construction] can be a significant detour if you want to walk or bike.”