No homes will be claimed through eminent domain to make way for a Caltrain grade separation at Scott Street in San Bruno, according to a decision from city officials responding to concerns raised by residents.
Instead, the San Bruno City Council agreed Tuesday, Nov. 26, to advance planning for a bike and pedestrian crossing at the rail tracks, but access will be closed to cars at the intersection near downtown.
Officials made the decision before a crowd who came to the meeting with their hackles raised, fearing dozens of nearby homes and properties could be seized to clear space for a more substantial project separating the road from the raised rail line, allowing cars to pass underneath. But before residents could air their grievances in public comment, Mayor Rico Medina made clear the intent of officials to pursue alternative recommendations from an option which would have required triggering eminent domain.
The announcement came as a relief to resident Phillip Fitting, who spearheaded a neighborhood rally persuading officials to consider options which would have saved homes and properties, including his nearby apartment building.
“I’m happy nobody will lose their homes,” he said.
In the wake of the initial determination, the conversation turned to whether to move ahead with the bike and pedestrian crossing or preserve the status quo — the preferred outcome of many neighborhood residents.
“The bottom line is, leave our neighborhood alone,” said resident Ruby Ross, downplaying concerns regarding traffic congestion and safety threats posed by allowing cars, bikes and pedestrians to pass through the at-grade crossing.
And while other residents shared similar sentiments, officials could not get on board.
“I don’t believe in the do-nothing approach,” said Medina.
Vice Mayor Irene O’Connell shared a similar perspective.
“Doing nothing — I don’t think that will make you all happier or safer,” she said.
Officials want to separate both Scott Street in San Bruno and South Linden Street in South San Francisco from the Caltrain tracks to improve safety and traffic congestion caused by gate down time. The intersections have been studied together because of their close proximity to one another.
The discussion comes in advance of the uptick in expected train traffic brought by Caltrain electrification as well as a high-speed rail line planned to share tracks along the Peninsula. The rise in activity is projected to result in enhanced gate down time — potentially twice as long as currently encountered.
While acknowledging the doubts raised by residents regarding the inconvenience of closed gates or safety threats posed to drivers and pedestrians crossing the tracks, Councilman Marty Medina offered an opposing perspective.
“Increase in train traffic is going to happen and with that increase there will be an impact on safety,” he said.
Furthering the concerns regarding traffic and safety, officials agreed more study is needed to assure access will be preserved for emergency response vehicles to the neighborhood around Scott Street once the crossing is closed to cars.
Looking ahead, officials expect studies will continue for the crossing, in advance of an environmental review and fundraising effort. The Scott Street grade separation has been examined for more than a decade, and officials anticipate similar projects will also be considered in other parts of San Bruno.
In the immediate term though, Councilman Michael Salazar said the focus of officials will be fixing the crossing and hopefully improving the quality of life for neighborhood residents through the process.
“Let’s start working on a safer crossing there,” he said.
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