03 June 2009

Crass NIMBYism

Last night, for the second time in a month, a 17-year-old Palo Alto Gunn High School student committed suicide by Caltrain at the Meadow Drive grade crossing.

Not even 24 hours later, Palo Alto HSR opponents are turning this tragedy into another tunnel-or-nothing rant. On the Palo Alto Online forums, one of the leaders of the Palo Alto anti-HSR group expounds:
Lets not let these two poor kids have died in vain (plus the ones last year, year before, year before that, and on and on..) I think it would be a very powerful message to Obama administration, FRA, and California legislators if the kids banded together to write letters or something asking for laws to require the trains to be undergrounded, kept out of neighborhoods. (...)

If they can't get the trains out of here all together (which they probably can't, or won't), they need to put them underground, sealed off and away from access to cars, pedestrians, bikes. Fences along the tracks are going to be useless to prevent people, especially kids, who have the intention of using trains for this purpose.
This is wrong on so many levels.
  • Using this tragedy so soon to advance a long-held tunnel-or-nothing agenda is opportunistic in the extreme, and betrays a profound lack of respect for the victim and those she left behind

  • Implying that trains routinely kill children and using kids in letter-writing campaigns deliberately sidesteps the root cause of these tragic events

  • Downplaying the fact that the California High Speed Rail Authority has plans to grade-separate this crossing--a measure nearly as effective as tunnels for safely separating trains from pedestrians--and demanding tunnels as the only secure solution is intellectually dishonest

  • On a cost-benefit basis, demanding tunnels that cost hundreds of millions more than the proposed grade separation, in an attempt to save the lives of suicidal pedestrians, is an enormous waste of money that could save many more lives if spent more wisely.
My apologies for the temporary deviation from more substantive blog material. May she rest in peace.


  1. Best for all ProHSR people to stay out of that comment section..let the nimbys be tacky and lowlife and make stupid comments

  2. "f they can't get the trains out of here all together (which they probably can't, or won't), they need to put them underground, sealed off and away from access to cars, pedestrians, bikes"

    And when will cars be sealed off from bikes and pedestrians? I'm more worried about car than a vehicle on a fixed guide-way such as a train.

  3. Expect more posts because of the guy who rammed his car into Caltrain last night. The at-grade crossings on the current ROW are just insane.

  4. Reality Check04 June, 2009 17:41

    The guy who ran into the side of a fast-moving Caltrain Baby Bullet train was a man on the southbound platform at the Menlo Park station. Reports are he lunged into the side of the train -- another likely suicide-by-Caltrain attempt. He's expected to survive, but it sounds like he got himself pretty busted up with two broken legs and all bloodied.

    So, this just goes to show that no amount of costly fencing or elevating or depressing or tunneling trains or horn-blowing or sign-posting can prevent pedestrian suicides as long as people can still access station platforms.

  5. The best way to cut the number of rail suicides is to stop talking about them. There is credible evidence (from Vienna) that a media moratorium on the topic reduces such events because it takes away the copy-cat stimulus that some mentally ill people need to go and find a railway.

  6. Aecn: do you have a link to the study? I'm not doubting you - just interested in reading it.

  7. Years ago the media stopped reporting suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge when the number started approaching 1,000. There was concern about the Werther effect and people trying to be #1,000.

    Reality Check might be interested to learn of a study that showed that of 515 people prevented from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, 94 percent were still alive or had died of natural causes an average of 26 years later. That's a pretty strong case for some barriers, some vigilance and some compassion.

  8. HSR doesn't save people - grade separated crossings save people.

    Clem, where' all your riteous indignation over Roberts using of teenage suicide for his political cause?


  9. AND Resident HSR will have grade Crossings...and so will Caltrain
    stop whinning

  10. @resident, whenever an event like this gets used for political purpose, it's crass, no matter who does it.

    We can all agree that grade separations improve safety, and that there will have to be an intelligent trade-off between safety and aesthetics. The events of last week don't change that.

  11. Insurance companies usually figure payouts of around $10M for wrongful deaths. The actual loss for suicides is probably closer to $5M, unless you start counting delays they cause.

    The real problem with the NIMBY argument is that it's still very easy to commit suicide. There's a chance that a tunnel could stop a few spur-of-the-moment deaths, but other than that, people who are suicidal would opt for one of many other means.