Housekeeping

First, let me say thank you to those that came out to the Happy Hour on Tuesday!  It was good to see you face-to-face.  There was some discussion about lane width and LOS in San Rafael, my pie-in-the-sky ideas about cycle tracks, and some consideration of how to focus development into downtown Santa Rosa.  Apologies if you missed the sign, but I’m glad at least some of you recognized my smiling face.  The (in)famous John Parnell was supposed to show, but, alas, had a family to attend to.  Next time, expect it at the Mayflower at 4th & D; no need to brave the punishing 29.

Second, you should notice a few new links over on the right-hand side of the blog.  They are:

  • Pedestrian Observations: Written by mathematician Alon Levy, Pedestrian Observations is a heady, technical blog on transit and urban design that always produces solid work.  The commentariat is intelligent, well-informed, and just as interesting to read as Alon himself.
  • Human Transit: Written by transit consultant Jarrett Walker, Human Transit is his professional blog, dealing with the basic, underlying issues that form how we understand transit design and policy.
  • Planetizen: Not really a blog, Planetizen is a blog and a news links page, with articles on urban and transportation affairs from across the world.

Lastly, I’m back in DC.  I have a few irons in the fire that may or may not pan out for the blog, such as a new contributor and some small-time syndication beyond Patch.  If you want to contribute a tip, idea, or article, send me an email at thegreatermarin [at] gmail.com.

It was encouraging to see Marin doing its thing, and I can’t wait to go back.  Until then, you’ll always find me here.

Mid-Week Links: Bike for Your Life

The most baffling thing about Marin is how unbikeable its thoroughfares are.  Sir Francis Drake, Second & Third Streets, Miller Avenue, Redwood Boulevard – they’re all sorely lacking in bicycle amenities.  We shunt our cyclists onto side roads or put down sharrows but it’s honestly not enough.  The video above highlights the progress made in New York City, and they’ve done absolutely spectacular things in the past five years.  But why should they have all the fun?  Marin County invented the mountain bike and Safe Routes to School.  Our cafes are hangouts for spandex-clad biker gangs.  We have the culture, we have the towns, but we just need the will.

We’ve done the flashy projects – CalPark Tunnel, the Novato north-south path – but they’re out of the way.  Instead, I want to bike down Miracle Mile and Third Street.  I want to lock my bike to something other than a tree in San Rafael.  I want to feel safe biking in Tam Valley and on Delong Avenue.  Marin is still one of the best places to live, but New York is showing us up.  In 2012, let’s show New York what we’re made of.

SMART

SMART featured prominently in the news this week.  Rohnert Park officially (wait, no, unofficially) moved its station north to be closer to housing and commercial development, which allowed SMART to reintroduce the Atherton Avenue station [Patch] to the IOS.  SMART had cut Atherton because it relies on MTC funding, which requires that an average of 2,200 housing units to be zoned for within a half-mile of the system’s stations.  Atherton has very few housing units nearby, as it is located to bring workers to the Fireman’s Fund office park, and so lowered SMART below the minimum TOD threshold.  Rohnert Park’s move added enough housing units to the system that Atherton could be added back in, and that’s good news for everyone.  (Patch, IJ, Press Democrat)

In other news, SMART has rehired their old CFO to replace her own replacement.  Erin McGrath is taking over once David Heath, who was fired for undisclosed reasons, leaves on Friday.  As well, the District wants to run shuttle buses on the deferred parts of its line, from Santa Rosa to Cloverdale and San Rafael to Larkspur.  This would duplicate current Sonoma County and Golden Gate bus service, but the District is in talks with GGT about coordination, raising hopes that they won’t waste money creating a sixth bus service in two counties. (IJ)

Marin County

  • Ross Valley’s Flood Control District has been awarded $7.66 million to retrofit Phoenix Lake into a water detention facility, decreasing the odds of flooding downstream. (IJ)
  • San Rafael will spend $213k to repair a bump in Anderson Drive that slows down cars, although I think the bump is more of a feature than a bug. (IJ)
  • Marin County supervisors have discretionary funds, and they’re giving away $38,650 at the end of the year.  Prince William County, Maryland, has something similar but is considering ending the practice. (IJ, Washington Post)
  • Marin has pumped another $1 million into litigation against SAP and Deloitte Consulting for the wretched accounting system they installed for the County. (IJ)
  • The County needle-exchange program will not expand as planned. Congressional Republicans reinstated a ban on federal funding for needle exchanges, meaning AIDS testing and prevention money from the CDC will not be forthcoming. (IJ)
  • A four-car collision on the Golden Gate Bridge resulted in no serious injuries, but shut down all northbound lanes for 30 minutes. (IJ)
  • More bizarrely, a driver ran a car through a Sausalito living room.  No injuries were reported. (IJ)
  • A third crash this week came from Novato, where a driver crashed into a telephone pole along Highway 101. (Patch)
  • The Ross Valley Sanitary District will borrow up to $1.5 million to fund repairs and upgrades to the valley’s waste water systems. The District plans to replace 200 miles of pipe at the glacial rate of 2 miles per year. (IJ)
  • Caltrans shut part of the Manzanita Park and Ride lot due to high tides, but reopened it on Monday.  It’s unclear why the tides would be a problem last week, but not this week. (IJ)
  • Doyle Drive’s Phase I is almost complete, and it will include a temporary signalized intersection. It will be interesting to see if the traffic gets as bad as people think it will. (Spotswood)

The Greater Marin

  • What does it take to make good downtown retail?  A bit of rule-bending. (PlaceShakers)
  • Transit agencies should sell personal mobility if they want to compete with the car, the ultimate mobility machine. (Human Transit)
  • Mode share: Apparently, teens rely on cars if they live in spread-out, rural environments.  But the town in question, Owens Sound, ON, has room to improve, as it seems to have little bike infrastructure and only a roundabout bus system. (Owen Sound Sun Times)
  • Environmental considerations have been cut from the federal TIFIA transportation loan program, part of a deal cut by Sen. Barbara Boxer to get Republican support for the transportation funding extension.  The considerations may still be amended into the bill, as it has not yet passed the Senate. (Huffington Post)
  • Eliminating California state funding of school transportation funding is made at the expense of broadly-spread rural school districts that need busing but can’t afford it on their own. (Sacramento Bee)
  • The City of Sonoma wants to ban “formula [i.e., chain] stores” after a Staples moved into town, but the town doesn’t seem to be addressing the zoning codes that encourage the blandness they want to ban.  The Council is deeply divided on the issue, which will be taken up at the next council meeting. (Sonoma News)
  • Work to widen Highway 101 in Sonoma has sucked up $720 million so far and needs another $250 million to get through the Novato Narrows, all for more developments like Deer Park and Hanna Ranch.  SMART will cost $280 million less at full build-out. (Press Democrat)

Novato sprawls with Hanna Ranch

The planned architecture.

Two weeks ago, Novato approved the Hanna Ranch project, the city’s newest commercial development.  Squashed between Highway 37 to the southeast, Highway 101 to the southwest, wetlands to the northeast and the Village Oaks big-box development to the northwest, Hanna Ranch is the epitome of sprawl development.  Inaccessible to anyone without a car, its only access road dead-ends within the development, rendering bus access impractical, and the only connection to the city proper is a freeway overpass a mile to the north.  New utility lines will need to be built, and emergency services will need to go out of their way to serve the development – an expensive prospect.

What will the city get for their trouble?  A hotel, some retail and a few restaurants on an eight acre site akin to an office park, far from any of the amenities that define Novato.  Income from the development will be equivalent to around $650,000, but that doesn’t count the added expenses described above.

Given the push in the city to improve downtown, this is a step backwards.  Hotel visitors will be socked away in neighborhood that could just as well be in San Jose, Boise, or Dallas – a forgettable corner of Novato if there ever were one.  Locating a hotel downtown would leave patrons with the small-town feel the city wants to foster and drive customers to local businesses rather than the chains that will doubtless move into the Hanna Ranch development.  Adding more restaurants and retail downtown would continue to concentrate commerce in the core, promoting vitality for all of downtown.

Although councilmembers promoted this project as a way to combat blight, it will likely do the opposite.  In promoting development far from downtown, Novato encourages people to come off Grant’s sidewalks and drive to chains at Vintage Oaks and Hanna Ranch.  Traffic gets worse, downtown patronage declines, and everyone loses.

Novato is often seen as the black sheep of the Marin family of communities.  Recent decisions to move city offices downtown was supposed to be a turning point for the city, but by approving Hanna Ranch the Council has shown itself unwilling to abandon its sprawling ways to the detriment of all Marin.

Mid-Week Links: Happy Hours

Wonderful news!  The Greater Marin (i.e., me) will be throwing a Happy Hour at the Marin Brewing Company on Tuesday, Dec. 27th, at 7pm!  Come by, talk transit, and enjoy Marin’s home brews.  Until then, though, a lot has happened in the County, so on to the links:

Marin County

  • Negotiations between Marin Transit (MT) and GGT will continue for another two years.  MT believes GGT is overcharging by $2.5 million per year to operate its local Marin routes. (IJ)
  • RepealSMART has gathered 7,500 signatures for its repeal effort, although how many signatures are required is still up in the air: RepealSMART says it needs only 15,000 but under some formulae it would need double that number.  The deadline for signatures is January 27. (Press Democrat)
  • A new bikeway opened in Novato between the north and south halves of the city, allowing bikers to avoid the 101 shoulder. (IJ)
  • Performance parking isn’t performing well in San Francisco, forcing broader spreads between cheap and expensive blocks. SFPark disputes the idea that it won’t work, citing the fact that the zones are still just pilot projects, and new ones at that.  Sausalito is running a similar program in its downtown. (Greater Greater Washington, Streetsblog)
  • SMART could lead to traffic and safety problems at San Rafael’s Bettini Transit Center, according to the Golden Gate Bridge District.  Officials cited concerns regarding transferring passengers crossing Third Street and bus delays caused by passing trains. (IJ)
  • SMART sold $191 million in construction bonds this past week, netting $171 million for the project.  The money will be kept in escrow until the RepealSMART effort is resolved. (Press Democrat, IJ, Patch)
  • Bus service will be restored between Sir Francis Drake High and West Marin next semester.  Coastal residents sought the route after Marin Transit officials eliminated the extremely underused Route 62. (IJ)
  • County planners panned development plans at the Golden Gate Seminary in Strawberry, saying the proposed 117 new residential units were “so out of sync” with the seminary’s 1984 Master Plan they “cannot imagine approving” the development. (IJ)
  • Canal residents demanded better lighting, sidewalks, and crosswalks in the neighborhood at a march last Wednesday.  San Rafael city planners said they had received no specific complaint. (IJ)
  • Caltrans will fix a sinking Highway 101 overpass in Corte Madera with $1.2 million in state funds.  The money was accompanied by $28 million for  SMART construction. (IJ)
  • “She was a very special lady who touched many lives… She will be greatly missed.”  Jomar Lococo died on Highway 101 as her husband tried to avoid another driver that had drifted into their lane. (Patch)

The Greater Marin

  • On-time performance is extremely difficult for bus systems to achieve.  Whatever my gripes about GGT, at least they have this down. (Transit Manager)
  • The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) only works when the right questions are asked, as Mountain View discovered in their draft Environmental Impact Report.  As it turns out, building houses near jobs actually is good for the environment. (Atlantic Cities)

Unsuck Golden Gate Transit

Some effective branding at the Hub, telling the world of GGT’s competence, class, and lack of a laminator.

For those of you that don’t know, I’m a Marinite that lives in Washington, DC, so commuting by GGT isn’t exactly normal for me.  (If you’re wondering why I blog on Marin issues while living across the country, my FAQ has a bit more detail.)  But, I’m home in Marin for the next two weeks for Christmas, giving me a golden opportunity to try the GGT.  I’ve written about maximizing our bus system before, but there’s nothing quite like on-the-ground experience.  My few days have been eye-opening.

There were a number of general problems with GGT that I noticed immediately.  As one that lives on transit – I don’t own a car – proper wayfinding, signage, and branding is really important to me.  For the same reason some people want nice cars, I want nice transit that’s clean, efficient, pleasing to look at, and a pleasing experience to wait for.  What I got instead was this:

  • Poor signage.  The transit pylons are ugly, not weatherproof, and the signage typically consists of timetables printed on office paper, which melts when the rain gets inside and turns brown when in the sun too long.  There are often no route maps, no system maps, and no regional maps.  There were system maps at the San Rafael Transit Center and the Lucas Valley Bus Pad, but GGT had printed them so small I almost needed a magnifying glass to see where routes stopped.  As well, there were no timetables for routes that didn’t come to that stop, forcing me to check on when the various exceptions to routing occur and leaving me in the dark as to whether I could switch to that service.
  • Poor shelter.  I boarded GGT at Polk & McAllister, which is the last primary stop for the service in San Francisco, but here is no shelter and no bench.  Despite its prominent position in timetables and relatively high volume of traffic, GGT treats the stop like an afterthought.  All they gave us was a pylon on the sidewalk with water-damaged route numbers and timetables.
  • Poor lighting.  I stopped by the Transit Center Saturday night and found the advertising far superior and better lit than the cheapo signage.
  • Lack of next bus departures.  Although I had brought with me a departure timetable, I had no way of getting this information otherwise, nor did I know if the bus had been early and I had missed it.
  • Lack of next stop information.  Despite long distances between stops and long headways, GGT chooses not to have its buses display which stop is next.  Given that the technology that enables this is the same technology that enables next bus departure information, this should be a top technology priority for the system.
  • Slow boarding and exiting.  The back doors of some GGT buses are almost vestigial, as they are not for boarding – despite the presence of Clipper readers – and they have signs imploring customers not to exit via them.  This means all boarding and exiting must occur at the front, forcing boarding passengers to wait for exiting ones to exit and forcing Clipper owners to wait while other passengers fumble for proper change.  Frustratingly, the buses that do allow rear exiting don’t have Clipper readers, so Clipper users still need to exit the front to tag out.

An old regional transit diagram from MTC, conspicuously absent from GGT’s stops.

Why is it like this?  GGT sells a valuable commodity – mobility – but it treats its customers like a burden.  The cheap and ugly signage screams to customers that the service is similarly cheap and ugly.  The lack of shelter tells customers they aren’t wanted.  The poor lighting says GGT doesn’t even care about what signage is there.  The incredibly inefficient boarding and exiting tells me that they either prioritize the needs of the bus driver over those of the passenger or that they bought the wrong buses.

Many bus stops have shelters, but some of the major ones don’t.  There is money to buy shelters, but the distribution seems haphazard.  The same goes for lighting – properly lighting one’s signs and shelters goes a long way to ensuring the experience is pleasant for the passengers.

Real-time arrival (next bus) kiosks are inexplicably absent.  Although GGT equipped its buses with GPS to enable accurate Clipper Card payments and with WiFi internet, two major parts of a next bus system, the back-end infrastructure to enable next bus information is not in place.  GGT makes up for this by being highly punctual, which could, in theory, enable next bus displays to count down to the next scheduled departures instead.  MTC uses just such a display using GGT information in its style guide examples, but the district ignores what MTC developed and I saw no next bus kiosks anywhere except MUNI and BART.

The most advanced and useful piece of technology used is the booklet available on every bus, complete with route information and system maps.  While better than nothing, the maps don’t include a regional transit map or even a list of other transit services, rendering them less useful than they might otherwise be.  In addition, the schedules are inconsistent as to which stops are listed.  For example, the Lucas Valley Road bus pad is listed in some routes (the 49) but not others (the 70, 71, 80, and 101), leading the inexperienced passenger to believe those other routes bypass the pad when that’s not the case.  GGT should choose which stops appear in the schedules and list them consistently.

This is made all the more frustrating because it doesn’t need to be this way.  MTC has a signage design document (PDF) that includes the Transit Center in its examples, so something better already exists on the MTC servers.  GGT need only spend a little money to have it installed, which would be part of the MTC Hub Signage project.  Other information, such as route numbers and timetables, could at least be laminated to prevent destruction by water and sunshine; using translucent plastic tiles would be even better.  Installing monitors to count down the next arrivals and departures would enable passengers to wait in peace rather than in trepidation.  Allowing Clipper Card holders to enter through the back door would encourage adoption of the card, and allowing passengers to exit through the back to speed boarding and offloading.

GGT isn’t trying.  Although it is the only possibility for good access to Marin, although it is the only way for carless San Franciscans to find Marin and although it is the cheapest way for Marinites to move around the Bay Area, GGT seems to deliberately ignore or overlook simple solutions, many of which MTC has already developed.  Indeed, some of the recommendations here were made five years ago by MTC itself (PDF).  The return on investment could be huge, but for some reason the Board relies on cheap half-measures and ignores the effects on its image.  Marin and Sonoma are incredibly wealthy counties, lands of the Cadillac, but their transit service sells itself as a Gremlin.  The North Bay deserves better.

Mid-Week Links: Popup Surprise

A group of retailers are moving into abandoned storefronts in Old Downtown Oakland in an effort to revitalize the neighborhood in a concept called Popuphood.  The idea of pop-up stores, where abandoned storefronts are temporarily occupied by retailers, is not new.  They attract foot traffic to areas that don’t see many pedestrians and shoppers, giving a run-down neighborhood new buzz and new life.  Applying it to a whole neighborhood, with multiple storefronts, is a much larger application.  Check it out at 9th & Washington.  If you’re going by transit, the nearest BART is 12th Street Oakland City Center, which you can get to via GGT to Richmond or San Francisco.

Marin

  • The Novato Design Review Commission chairwoman resigned mid-meeting to allow a downtown strip mall to proceed without her approval. (IJ)
  • Last night, Novato debated food trucks and Hanna Ranch. No news as of press time as to decisions made. (Novato Patch)
  • Lucas Valley: George Lucas’s proposed Grady Ranch development drew fire from local residents at a Marin County Planning Commission hearing on the subject. (San Rafael Patch; IJ)
  • Golden Gate Ferry is now on the winter schedule, cutting a couple of trips per day. (IJ)
  • Marin County’s controversial tree-cutting proposal for West Marin has been scaled back. (IJ)
  • Last night, the Corte Madera Planning Commission heard details on the WinCup development and Nordstrom’s expansion plans at The Village shopping center. The WinCup development was told to push for more sustainability measures. (Larkspur-Corte Madera Patch; IJ)
  • Anti-chain Marin may end up with a Subway shop in downtown Mill Valley.  One commenter: “Declasse”. (Mill Valley Patch)
  • Ross is demanding that an extraordinarily wealthy family fulfill its obligations to the town and remove a fish barrier in Ross Creek on their property.  The creek is a spawning habitat for steelhead trout. (IJ)
  • At long last, the Novato Theater is under new management that plans to reopen the downtown theater to the public. (IJ)
  • The ongoing controversy in West Marin regarding oyster fishing in Drake’s Bay may be a moot point if former Assemblyman Bill Bagley is right and the operations are already legal, per action in the 1970s. (IJ)
  • Sometimes a coffee shop can stir up quite a bit of trouble: Peet’s wants to open up shop in Tiburon but faces opposition from residents who claim the coffee niche is already well-served by local stores.  The town’s Planning Commission will discuss the issue tonight at 7:30. (IJ)
  • Some bloggers have uncovered a marvelous bike map of California from the 1890s. (Grist)
  • The Marin County Board of Supervisors spend the most per-capita on office expenses of any comparable county in the State: $2.7 million. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • It’s been a banner week for biking in the Bay Area, with plans for a multi-use path over the Bay Bridge, new bike lanes in Sonoma drawing praise for calming traffic, and new bike infrastructure in Napa. (Chronicle, Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register)
  • California’s shifting demographics means shifting housing demand, too, with 75% of it being for rental, transit-oriented development – just the sort of housing Marin has been reticent to approve. (Urban Land Institute)
  • San Francisco’s performance parking isn’t working quite as well as expected, although the experiment is far from over. (Greater Greater Washington)
  • Cotati is in far better shape than other cities in the region, with a balanced budget, restored programs and active revitalization efforts for downtown and elsewhere.  You can see its signature roundabout plan in action. (Rohnert Park Patch)
  • A Napa cyclist is in a coma after being struck on Thursday.  He was in a crosswalk when he was hit by a 70-year-old driver. (Napa Patch)
  • Americans aren’t nearly as attached to their cars as people think, as research shows a strong connection between transit mode share and gas prices. (The Atlantic Cities)

Slugging: Bringing Casual Carpooling to the North Bay

Casual carpooling, wherein strangers carpool with one another to and from job centers, could be viable in the North Bay, but it will take coordination from citizens and government to make it really take off.

When examining the modes of commuting, typically absent from the conversation is carpooling. Either it happens or it doesn’t, but governments and citizens will fixate on accommodating more traditional modes of transportation: single-occupant vehicles (SOVs, i.e., cars), buses, and trains, rather than actively trying to encourage carpooling.

There are a number of reasons for this, but I suspect a big one is that there is no ribbon to cut, no new lane or train to inaugurate. Another big one is the perception that carpooling only rests on social networks outside the reach of government intervention, where coworkers discover by happenstance that they live near enough to one another that carpooling becomes an option. Besides, interfering in carpooling takes attention away from the big capital projects that make headlines.

In spite of apathy from officialdom, the phenomenon of casual carpooling does arise in certain locales. Known in the Washington, DC, region as “slugging”, casual carpooling entails passengers forming lines at pickup areas, usually commuter lots or bus stops. A driver will approach the line, shout their destination (“Pentagon!” “Civic Center!”) and those bound for the area will hop in. It works both ways, and situating near bus stops gives passengers the option of a commuter bus if they’d prefer.

Casual carpooling gives drivers and passengers certain advantages over SOV driving. It allows them to use HOV lanes, saving time, and it allows passengers to save on driving costs such as gas and maintenance. For those who aren’t in a carpool, carpooling means there’s more for them: every passenger is one less car on the road and one less parking space taken. It’s a win for everyone. So why does it pop up in some locations but not others?

East Coastin’

The Washington, DC, region makes an interesting test case. Straddling as it does three states (DC, Maryland, and Virginia), we can see how different policies effect the outcome. Virginia has an active and large slugging community dating back to the 1970s, while Maryland’s community is relatively small. The principal difference, according to David LeBlanc, author of Slugging: The Commuting Alternative For Washington DC, is that Maryland uses HOV-2 lanes, where having only one passenger qualifies, while Virginia uses HOV-3 lanes, where two passengers are necessary to use the lane. He argues that HOV-3 lanes give passengers a sense of safety when getting into a car with a stranger, and spurs drivers to more actively pursuit warm bodies to fill their vehicles.

Dampers on casual carpooling include high-occupancy toll, or HOT, lanes, as Virginia will soon discover when its primary HOV corridor into DC is partially converted to HOT. If a driver can simply pay a toll to qualify, they will be less likely to detour to a slug line for passengers and clog the lanes with SOVs. The lack of HOV lanes, of course, will remove the incentive for the driver to pick up passengers as well.

North Bay Slugs

In other words, the North Bay, with its HOV-2 lanes that stop after Sausalito, is not ideally suited to casual carpooling. While Northern Virginia has an entire reversible highway dedicated to HOV-3 that extend all the way from suburbs to job centers in Arlington and the District, complete with their own exits and with limited access, the North Bay has only a single HOV lane in either direction that requires drivers to slow from top speed to the speed of traffic in order to merge over to the exit, and which stops before reaching either the East Bay or San Francisco. Although it’s conceivable that a small, Maryland-style community could spring up in the North Bay with the right tools – an app, say, allowing potential carpoolers to mark off their home and destination – true casual carpooling will require a bit more intervention at the governmental level. As with everything, there are cheap and expensive solutions.

On the cheap side, just switching our HOV lanes to HOV-3 would be a boon, giving drivers a greater incentive to pick people up. Following up the switch with congestion pricing on both bridges applicable only to SOVs would prove a high-profile shot in the arm for any casual carpooling system. Given the hubbub over the last attempt to institute congestion pricing on the Golden Gate Bridge, the press would be wonderful. Instituting a peak-only HOV lane on the southbound side of the bridge would be another major reward for carpoolers: no more waiting in line at the toll plaza. Instituting congestion pricing at the Sonoma/Marin border or just north of Marinwood* would stimulate casual carpooling among Sonomans coming to Marin – our largest in-commuting population – and would raise millions for transit projects between the two counties.

On the expensive side, CalTrans might consider combining Highway 101’s two carpool lanes into a single, reversible HOV freeway, complete with limited access and dedicated on/off ramps. This would make carpooling significantly safer and faster, and would have the added bonus of improving bus access along the freeway. The cost, however, would likely be upwards of $1 billion given the technical challenges of HOV exits and the cost so far just to extend regular HOV lanes.

It has been suggested that the app described above would help drive a casual carpooling renaissance, but the truth is that these networks typically form in response to everyday commute pressures – heavy traffic, centralized job centers – that ultimately come from structures either put in place by government or arising out of commuting physics. That’s not to say technology does not have a role to play – casual carpool networks often have websites to guide potential participants and there are a number of apps already in existence – but a truly robust system will be one that arises organically. Drivers will only take the time to pick up passengers when they can clearly see that it is worth their time or money to do so.

Casual carpooling in Virginia has been described as another transit system by the Virginia Department of Transportation, complementary to the existing Metrorail and bus systems. It certainly has a place in the highway-centered transportation systems of the US, but it will take work to implement in the North Bay.

—————

*Most freeway traffic in Marin actually comes from Novato, not from Sonoma; although instituting congestion pricing there would be a political nonstarter, it would make the most sense from a practical standpoint.

For information on casual carpooling in the Bay Area, RideNow.org has a website dedicated to the local network. For information on ridesharing in the Bay Area, you might want to look into eRideshare.com. For information on how the slugging system works in Virginia, local NPR affiliate WAMU aired an hour-long segment on the subject, while local transit blog Greater Greater Washington has a number of posts on the subject.

End-Week Links: Fantastical Connections

Photo from Novato Advance/Marinscope Newspapers. Click for Google Streetview.

Ordinarily, not much happens in the great wide world of Marin’s urban affairs, but sometimes a lot happens.  When that happens, you get an overdose of linkage.  One article deserves special attention, though. Novato city planners are celebrating the soon-to-open Chipotle burrito shop in a downtown strip mall, saying that anything that happens in downtown is an improvement.  This is the opposite of true, and I would hope that professional planners would have an understanding of what makes a vibrant downtown.

Does the building engage the sidewalk?  Nope, it puts the trash next to the corner it abuts.  Does the business promote local vitality?  Nope, it’s a fairly bland national chain.  What’s most infuriating, to me, is that the building was gutted and rebuilt like some sort of historic landmark rather than being rebuilt as something that could really improve downtown.  What’s suffocating downtown are businesses and structures like this and the planners that enable them to continue.

Marin

A small, $10 billion bit of the plan. By Jack Coolidge, 2011

  • A recently approved home in Sausalito was originally supposed to include a second unit made of two shipping containers but owners were forced by the Planning Commission to cut it from plans due to neighbor concerns. Simultaneously, Sausalito is emulating Novato’s push to legalize second units as a way to meet affordable housing mandates. (Marinscope)
  • Sausalito Councilwoman Carolyn Ford – famous for getting her hand smacked by Councilman Mark Kelly and pressing battery charges – wants a parliamentarian to keep order at the Sausalito Council’s contentious meetings. Given an almost unheard-of split vote on mayor, this might be wise. (IJ)
  • Environmental activists celebrated the death of a planned renewable energy project in West Marin, proving cognitive dissonance knows no ideology. (IJ)
  • Corte Madera’s WinCup apartment complex will go back before the planning commission on the 13th. (Twin Cities Times)
  • Brad Marsh, who won third place in the recent Larkspur City Council election, has been appointed to fill the seat vacated by Joan Lundstrom retirement. (IJ)
  • SMART was debated for the umpteenth time last Wednesday. (IJ)
  • An 11-year-old bicyclist was struck by a driver (or maybe the cyclist struck a car?) on a residential street in Mill Valley and hospitalized with possible spinal injuries. (Bay City News via Marinscope)
  • Novato’s school board contemplates school enrollment boundary changes, taking it as an opportunity to rebalance the socioeconomic makeup of the schools. One unexpected item: school trustees expect enrollment to shrink over the next five years. (IJ)
  • One more step forward for aspiring suburban bee-keepers and chickenherds in Corte Madera. (IJ)
  • Expanding Gnoss Field makes sense, says the IJ Editorial Board. (IJ)
  • San Rafael’s Ritter Center gets grant, makes good: the community wellness center is expanding its services and has become a Federal Qualified Healthcare Provider thanks to the Affordable Care Act. (Pacific Sun)
  • Gerstle Park residents defend their decision to take legal action over Albert Park. (IJ)
  • Ever wonder what used to be where 101 is now in San Rafael? Salt baths and a freight port. (Patch)
  • Everybody loves a fantasy map: imagining BART to Marin and beyond. (Muni Diaries)
  • You might not to be able to tell, but a $10 million water project was just finished in Kentfield. (Ross Valley Reporter)
  • Might SMART avoid some of the mistakes other transit agencies have made? It’s unlikely, but not impossible. (Forbes)

The Greater Marin

  • Smart growth is about more than livability, walkability and emissions. It’s about keeping that parking lot out of paradise.
  • Rather further south on Highway 101, Facebook is posing a major problem to Menlo Park commuters as it tries to squeeze 6,600 employees onto its transit-inaccessible campus every day. (SFist)
  • Retail and transit fit together so well, urban retailers are saying more transit less parking. (GlobalST)
  • One of my favorite transit experts and blogger at Human Transit, Jarrett Walker, talks buses vs. trains, mobility, and more. (Willamette Week)
  • Opponents to Cotati’s plan to humanize its main street are threatening the city with a ballot measure to ban roundabouts within city limits. Merchants claim the redesign would hinder drivers and, therefore, decrease business. (Press Democrat)
  • What to do with Santa Rosa’s downtown mall? (Press Democrat)

Mid-Week Links: Buffering

MCBC does wonderful work on bike paths, getting the whole county connected, but it neglects the needs of better on-street bike lanes and what they could do to improve the streetscape for all users.

Marin County

Novato’s city council meeting Monday night was four hours of non-stop affordable housing policy excitement. In sum, the city will allow second units to be built at market rates but, citing concerns over current residents of illegal second units, will not give amnesty to those illegal units. The fee to build the second units will come down, and the city will look into how to encourage second unit construction. The city will not implement an affordable housing fee on commercial developers, known as a commercial linkage fee, but did not rule out exploring it in the next housing element in two years. (City of Novato, IJ)

  • Fairfax is concerned that expanding White Hill Middle School will add more traffic to the town’s roads. Unfortunately, the school’s remote location 1.5 miles from downtown means mitigation will be tough. (IJ)
  • Once again, a car accident closed a direction of Highway 101. This time, all southbound lanes were closed. Only minor injuries were reported. (IJ)
  • Marin Transit will reevaluate its Novato bus lines over the next week to determine how to improve ridership. Ideas include extending the 49 and combining the 51 and 52. GGT should work with Novato to improve access, perception, and urban form in the area. (News Pointer)
  • It’s official: Gary Phillips is mayor of San Rafael, Gary Lion is mayor of Mill Valley, and Denise Athas is mayor of Novato. (IJ)
  • San Rafael extended a moratorium on opening new group homes of seven or more people. (IJ, Patch)
  • Another week, another pedestrian struck in Novato. The man suffered minor injuries while crossing De Long Avenue near Sherman Avenue, a block from downtown. (IJ)
  • Apparently Marinites like their government and are willing to pay to keep it going at current levels. (IJ)
  • Safe Routes to School has dramatically altered the behavior of students in Marin, shifting 8% of single-student car trips to walking, biking, transit, or carpooling. (IJ; TAM report available here [pdf] on page 183)
  • Mill Valley is testing a way to electronically comment at city council meetings, which can be done here. A certain blogger you know will probably take full advantage. (IJ, City of Mill Valley)
  • San Anselmo is showing its community colors by supporting a woman who has had a particularly tragic year: foreclosure, breast cancer, and the tragic death of her husband while on vacation. (IJ)
  • Cutting trees is a big issue in San Geronimo Valley, where tree-cutting fees are up to 30 times what they are in incorporated Marin. (IJ)
  • The eviction of Fairfax’s medical marijuana dispensary will go forward. (IJ)
  • The Transportation Authority of Marin approved about $1 million in bike/ped projects at its last meeting. (IJ)
  • Peaking of bike/ped projects, the IJ editorial board wonders whether the $15 million bike/ped bridge over Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is worth the money. (IJ)
  • Just to be clear: Stand Up for Neighborly Novato doesn’t like the idea of housing at Hanna Ranch. If you want to comment on the sprawl development, please do: Novato City Council has scheduled discussion on the project for December 13. (IJ, Patch)
  • The runway at Novato’s Gnoss Field could be extended without major environmental impact. (IJ)
  • SMART and other projects are now evaluated under a cost-benefit and target analysis from MTC. The results were mixed. (Press Democrat)

The Greater Marin

  • San Francisco will soon allow drivers to pay for parking via cell phone. Since Sausalito is emulating the city’s performance parking practices, might cell phone parking come to Marin soon as well? (SFGate)
  • Cotati’s HOV lanes are now open to vehicles. (North Bay Business Journal)
  • The suburban office park – a la Marin Commons, Fireman’s Fund and Hanna Ranch – is disappearing. (Times)
  • Marin is better poised than most to take advantage of the shift away from suburban office parks and towards centralized development: with the SMART train, strong downtowns and some local political will, commerce might still look to Marin to relocate, even if not in the typical places.
  • ABAG and MTC have been awarded a $5 million federal grant to promote sustainable communities. (Transportation Nation)
  • Population growth has slowed dramatically in California. While the state grew at a rate of 0.7% per annum, Marin grew only by 0.53%.
  • In planning there is a concept known as Level of Service, or LOS, which is widely used and places auto traffic at the top of the planning pyramid.  In San Francisco, that metric is being challenged at last. (The Atlantic Cities)
  • SANDAG has released a Sustainable Communities Strategy under Senate Bill 375.  How long until ABAG does the same? (ClimatePlan)

Not Just Bedrooms Anymore

Slowly, Marin County has transformed from a bedroom community to a working destination, yet residents still view their county otherwise.  It’s time to change.

The old stereotype for a Marinite is easy to trace.  Looking for a new life, someone moves to San Francisco.  She’s young and vivacious, she enjoys the city and all its grit.  When she finally makes it big, though, it’s time to settle down, and there’s no better place to settle down than Marin County.  She keeps commuting to the City but lives in Mill Valley with the family.  Her friends and neighbors have similar stories, and so southbound 101 is a mess every day.

True though narrative is for thousands, it neglects a key fact: more people commute to Marin than commute from it every day.  We have become a destination, and that has implications for how we approach the form and development of our cities.

The Destination

In digging through the commuting numbers, there are some surprising finds.  Marin residents were estimated to make 60,051 commute trips to other counties every day in 2010, while residents of other counties were estimated to make 87,573 work trips to Marin every day.  That means that 45% more people commute to Marin than from Marin every day.  The only counties that had a net in-commute from Marin were San Francisco and San Mateo; all others gave more commuters than they got.

This shows up in Highway 101 load numbers.  Through Sonoma, the load peaks through Santa Rosa but declines sharply until leveling off near the Sonoma/Marin county line.  The sharpest increase is at Novato, which adds 79,000 cars per day, and peaks at San Pedro Road.  After that, 101 shows a sharp decline in load to the bridge, from this point shedding 82,000 southbound vehicles per day.  If we include Novato and Terra Linda, 101 is only 25,000 vehicles heavier when it leaves the county than when it enters from Sonoma.

(When we try to include 580, things get a bit trickier because of the lack of temporal granularity in the available Caltrans numbers, but this quick-and-dirty analysis shows where the principal destinations in Marin are: San Rafael, Highway 131, and Bridge/Donahue.)

The Response

So what?  Marin is a destination; what does that have to do with form and transit?  It starts when county leaders and residents change how they think about their home.  Golden Gate Transit, for example, has strong commuter links to San Francisco, but doesn’t coordinate morning departures from the City, and its links to the East Bay are woefully inefficient.  As well, SMART is denigrated as a “train to nowhere” because it stops in San Rafael, which should be seen for the insult it is.  Altering this perspective would lead to three big changes in urban form and transit.

First, we would encourage our downtowns as places to work, not just play and live, and we would find new places to build them.  At the moment, office development focuses on suburban office parks, such as Marin Commons.  Downtowns, meanwhile, are left as alternatives to the mall, quaint places that serve residents’ shopping needs rather than rich and active working destinations.  Building up downtowns as working destinations by building offices – government, as in Novato, or otherwise – would give retailers and restaurants all-day clientele.  Even small town centers, like Fairfax, have space for appropriately-sized office development.

Second, we would improve our inward transit links to serve the transit-oriented and carless residents of the rest of the Bay Area.  Currently, only 2.4% of in-commuters use transit.  Although much of this is likely due to perception rather than actual service, the long headways and lack of inbound commuter coordination is a needless barrier.  We already boast 20-50 minute travel times from the City and 30 minute travel times from BART, but the atrocious state of inbound routes shows that GGT hasn’t even thought about accommodating inbound commuters.

Third, we would start to redesign our cities as places to stay rather than simply pass through.  The most egregious symbol of the pass-through mentality is the Second-Third Street corridor.  The timed lights, speeding one-way traffic, and narrow sidewalks implicitly tell pedestrians that they aren’t wanted there, deadening the streetscape and what developments could come.  Almost as bad are Novato Boulevard, Tam Junction and South Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.

Marin will never supplant San Francisco, but its cities can capitalize on their role as satellites of that regional anchor.  Strong towns would decrease commute times and encourage transit use; strengthen government coffers; and bolster the small businesses that call downtown their home.  Marin has already moved in this direction; it’s just a matter of whether it can capitalize on its success.

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