Mid-Week Links: Get a Car

There’s a major threat to walkable living, transit, biking, and even our highways brewing in the House of Representatives in the form of a terribly written transportation reauthorization bill, HR 7.  Although we know Congresswoman Woolsey is firmly against the plan as written, it’s important to keep in mind what is happening on Capitol Hill.

Marin County

  • Novato cracked down on unsafe driving this past weekend, resulting in 44 citations.  It’s a good move for a city that has seen a number of pedestrian accidents in the past few months. (IJ)
  • County planners have approved the Grady Ranch development in Lucas Valley and, unless opponents appeal to the Board of Supervisors, the project will go ahead as planned. (IJ)
  • West Marin may help the county satisfy some of its affordable housing requirements by allowing ranches and farms to build workforce and owner housing on-site, cutting down driving commutes into the region. (IJ)
  • SMART ceremonially broke ground on its transit system, marking the beginning of real construction and the culmination of years of work. (Patch)
  • San Rafael’s Ritter Center expansion is on hold pending an appeal by Gerstle Park residents. The expansion would be a medical center housed in a temporary building, though Ritter says they will look for a new when it lease expires in 2015. (IJ)
  • West End is apparently a quirky place for the young and hip to shop in San Rafael, not to say that it doesn’t have challenges: auto-oriented businesses on the north side of Fourth, the half-dead Yardbirds strip mall, too-wide streets, lack of continuity with downtown, and an anti-development bias keep the neighborhood from really thriving. (Reporter, New Pointer)
  • Albert Park and the San Rafael Pacifics are go thanks to a judge’s ruling against Gerstle Park opponents of the planned baseball field who had sought to block the team. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • MTC has rejected political appeals of projects that do not meet its required cost-benefit floor, putting common sense above more narrow local interest. (TransForm)
  • Intuition is correct: parking minimums encourage driving, and I think it’s high time for Marin to abandon the unscientific minimums posthaste.  (The Atlantic Cities)
  • The Americas Cup has downsized its plans for San Francisco and will not renovate Piers 30 and 32 after all thanks to regulatory issues.  Still, the Cup is a great excuse for the City to invest in its waterfront and should be a strong incentive for Sausalito to do the same. (SFist, SPUR)
  • Bicyclists like the same routes drivers do, and for the same reasons. I suspect that making it safer for bikers to use main roads would do more for cycling mode share than shunting them onto side roads.  In other words, bike lanes belong just where planners may not want to put them: Sir Francis Drake, Delong, and Fourth Street. (The City Fix)
  • Luxury car drivers, take note: you may be driving like a jerk and not even notice it. (SFist)
  • In case you missed Smart Growth America’s webinar on sustainable communities, they have their materials up for perusal. (SGA)

Walkable Centers, Walkable Stations

If our local transit agencies ever revamp their bus maps or create supplements like my spider map, they should mark important stops as walkable centers, branding them like rail stations even if SMART will never go anywhere near them.

Inspired by David Klion’s metro station walkability rankings for the DC area I decided to make my own.  I was curious how our various bus pads and transit hubs stack up against one another in part out of curiosity, and in part to see whether major improvements could be made around our town centers and bus pads.  Using Walkscore, I got the following rankings, in order:

  1. Santa Rosa Town Center, 98
  2. Mill Valley Town Center, 97
  3. Fairfax Parkade, 95
  4. San Rafael Transit Center, 94
  5. Copeland Street, Petaluma, 94
  6. Terra Linda Bus Pad, 86
  7. Larkspur Town Center, 83
  8. San Anselmo Hub, 82
  9. Sausalito Ferry, 82
  10. Rohnert Park, Town Center, 82
  11. Ignacio Bus Pad, 80
  12. Cotati Town Center, 80
  13. Tiburon Town Center, 78
  14. Strawberry Transit Center, 75
  15. Novato Transit Center, 75
  16. Marin City Transit Center, 75
  17. Rowland Avenue Bus Pad, 74
  18. Lucas Valley Bus Pad, 74
  19. Corte Madera Town Center, 72
  20. Civic Center, 72
  21. Paradise Drive Bus Pad, 71
  22. Larkspur Landing, 71
  23. Ross Town Center, 69
  24. Delong Bus Pad, 68
  25. Lucky Drive Bus Pad, 68
  26. Tiburon Wye Bus Pad, 68
  27. Canal (Average), 67
  28. Seminary Drive Bus Pad, 66
  29. College of Marin 63
  30. Manzanita Bus Pad, 60
  31. N San Pedro Road Bus Pad, 58
  32. Spencer Avenue Bus Pad, 55
  33. Atherton Bus Pad, 51
  34. Alameda del Prado Bus Pad, 34
  35. Marinwood Bus Pad, 18
  36. Manor, 12

A few things stick out to me.  First, bus pads are far less walkable than town centers, though most of them are walkably close to amenities.  Especially surprising was the Lucas Valley bus pad, which is within walking distance of quite a few commercial outlets.  It is apparently more accessible than bus stops in downtown Ross and Corte Madera.  Second is the high accessibility of older towns and low accessibility of newer areas.  Third is that Marin’s development is remarkably walkable compared to that of the DC metro area.  The average score for Marin is just a hair under 71, the same as DC’s subway station average of 71, though some of the suburban counties have averages in the 40s. Lastly, there is no stop in Marin with a perfect 100.

One should keep in mind that Walkscore doesn’t include the actual pedestrian environment. I’d much rather spend an afternoon in downtown Corte Madera than around the Smith Ranch Road office parks. Rather, Walkscore tells us that the bones of a real, metro-esque system are already in place, and that these neighborhoods, if retrofitted for walkability and served properly by transit, could take off.  It also tells us that development and the bus system have gone hand-in-hand: the various walkable (or at least accessible) centers around the county are served by the bus.

And these are the places that should be branded as transit hubs.  In DC, unlike the Bay Area, metro stations are the centers of a huge amount of development.  Cities market their metro stations as potential downtowns, and conversations about urban planning, office development, and more revolve around transit accessibility.  DC’s metro map makes it easy for people to know how to get where they want to go, and businesses can market themselves with ease.  The carless Washingtonian may never get on the bus, but they know how to get where they need to go if it’s next to a Metro station.

The same sort of branding and mapping could bring investment to the various gray fields around our bus hubs.  The Hub, for example, has an abandoned construction project not more than 500 feet away.  It’s built into the hillside, so a taller building of four stories or more is certainly feasible.  Something similar might be built around Smith Ranch Road on either side of the freeway, while the huge parking lots around downtown Tiburon and Larkspur Landing could be put to far better use than car storage.

Because these centers are already walkable, they could in theory support more transit than is currently in place.  Marin’s buses are blessed with walkable areas and mostly simple routes.  They just need that push to succeed.

Mid-Week Links: Not Quite Paradise

TiburonMarin

  • Traffic along Tiburon’s main road is getting worse, but its bus line is one of the least-used routes in the Marin Transit system.  TAM, MT, and the town think improving school-time bus service may do the same trick it did in Fairfax, although they’re exploring other options as well. (IJ)
  • The historic building that housed Amazing Grace Music, the old instrument shop in the Redhill Avenue median, is gone. The San Anselmo landmark business has moved up the street thanks to George Lucas, who funded the project and lives a block away. (IJ)
  • Fairfax has its gateway supermarket back, now that the Good Earth has opened on the east edge of town. The corner has undergone a major transformation over the past few years, and the store looks set to become even more of an anchor for the town. Not to say that everyone’s happy – a local merchant dialed 911 to complain about a lack of parking. (Patch)
  • Neighbors were up in arms over CVS’s plans for a lit sign in Tiburon, but it turns out businesses are already flaunting local regulations. (IJ, Mill Valley Herald)
  • MALT’s housing-oriented cousin, CLAM, has a new director with an eye towards smart growth and the particular human/nature balance that marks West Marin’s villages. (IJ)
  • The Marin Board of Supervisors were busy this week dissolving the county redevelopment agency, reallocating funds for road repair, rescinding the priority development zone for homes around San Quentin, and bolstering their rainy day fund. (Patch, IJ)

Bay Area

  • The Metropolitan Transportation Commission wants high school interns this summer, and is actually willing to pay them. I’d be all over this were I 18 again. (Patch)
  • Parking in San Francisco could get even more expensive if SFMTA extends parking hours to Saturday evenings and Sundays.  That GGT ride just keeps looking more and more attractive. (SFist)
  • SMART’s rolling stock is on track for a 2013 delivery, and it turns out they’re not the only customer.  Toronto will purchase the same vehicles from manufacturer Nippon-Sharryo, and SMART, as a partial designer of the heavy DMUs, is getting a cut of the profits. (Press Democrat)
  • Rohnert Park’s SMART station has officially been relocated to the city’s center, much to the joy of all parties. Rohnert Park plans on building a downtown based around the station. (NBBJ, Press Democrat)

The Greater Marin

  • Raleigh, NC, is pushing the envelope when it comes to getting people to walk. But it’s not the city doing the push – it’s people who care enough about Raleigh to do what needs to be done, and sometimes that’s just signage. (BBC)
  • Google has been instrumental in bringing transit data into the digital age with its GTFS protocol, allowing people to plan trips using transit instead of just cars.  Golden Gate Transit and Marin Transit are not currently participants, but are actively working on getting online. (Xconomy)
  • Nashville has gone for the gold and released a new downtown zoning code that essentially does away with much of the zoning.  No more parking minimums, no more prescribed uses, no more setback requirements. (Old Urbanist)
  • Norfolk, VA’s The Tide light rail is going like gangbusters, beating ridership expectations in only six months. It faced much the same criticism as SMART, although the two systems will be rather different, and only time will tell how our rail system pans out. (Virginian-Pilot)
  • Building good bike infrastructure means more than painting sharrows, as Marin loves to do, and sometimes it means giving bicyclists their own traffic signal. (SanFranciscoize)

Leaving ABAG Would Be a Mistake

Image from the Town of Corte Madera

Over the last year, rage against the Bay Area’s alphabet soup of regional authorities has simmered just below the surface of Marin politics.  Although the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) got its share of hate for banning fires over Christmas and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) caught flack for housing mandates around SMART, it was the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and its Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process that drew the most fire by forcing localities to zone for more housing.  Marinites think their cities are already built out and so were incensed that an unelected agency could tell them to zone for more development.  The frustration has finally boiled over in Corte Madera, and there’s a push for the town to leave ABAG.  It would be a mistake if it did.

Background: The State of Local Control

The RHNA process comes once every seven years, driven by a state mandate to accommodate affordable housing within the state’s regions.  Sacramento directs regional agencies – ABAG in the Bay Area, SANDAG in San Diego – to assess housing needs in the area and assign a number of housing units regional towns, cities, and counties must zone for.  Marin has had trouble keeping up with the RHNA cycle and only now are the last towns finishing their housing plans.  Unfortunately, they took so long to finish that the next RHNA cycle is about to begin, dropping voters with more homes to zone for just as they figured out how to zone for the last bunch.

This cycle will be different.  ABAG is working with MTC, BAAQMD, and the Bay Coastal Development Commission (BCDC) to develop a regional Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS), tying housing allocations to transportation, air quality, and water quality.  This unprecedented level of regional coordination means communities will need to work within the still-incomplete SCS or face financial penalties, as the regional agencies control and disburse a great deal of federal and state funds.  After going through a round of grueling negotiations over the last cycle’s allocations and angst over the loss of local control, the SCS is just one more thing for local politicians to worry about.

Pulling Out

Into this walked Corte Madera’s ABAG representative, Councilwoman Carla Condon.  For months she has argued that the association is trampling local rights, pursuing a social engineering project to make Corte Madera look like Oakland.  Mayor Bob Ravasio concurs, and would rather receive housing allocations directly from Sacramento.

I’m on record against these allocations – they distort the housing market and do rob cities of local control.  Yet I also know these allocations can do a great deal of good.  The densities mandated are not excessively high, and are met or exceeded in many parts of Marin, and they can give municipal councils an excuse to add housing near transit and historic downtowns.

Withdrawing from ABAG, as Corte Madera is considering, would not change either of those realities.  By dealing directly with the state, Corte Madera would be setting itself up to deal with a bigger bureaucracy with less chance of coming out on top.  As well, pulling out of ABAG could create a logistical mess for Corte Madera at other regional agencies, as transportation funding and support will be tied to the RHNA process, making even more work for town staff to sort out the inconsistencies with every other government in the region.

Far better would be for Corte Madera to spearhead a Marin County housing subregion.  ABAG allows localities to create subregions that can assign their own affordable housing needs.  Although ABAG still gives the subregion a total number of units, the subregion can assign those units however it likes.  A hypothetical Marin subregion would reestablish a modicum of local control over the allocations, allowing amenable cities, like Mill Valley or San Rafael, to take more units while others, like Corte Madera or Novato, would receive fewer.  Allocation would happen through the Marin County Council of Mayors and Councilmembers, so all localities would have a say in how allocations are made.

Alas, such a subregion would apply not to this coming RHNA cycle but the next, as the deadline for subregional formation passed last March.  As well, it’s unlikely Corte Madera would be able to pull out of ABAG for this coming cycle either, meaning any reform will need to come from within ABAG or be in preparation for the rather distant future.  Given the major bureaucratic reforms coming with One Bay Area, it’s too soon to say if the regional agencies will be too difficult for Marinites to handle.  In the interim, Councilwoman Condon should focus more on shaping the final RHNA numbers to Corte Madera’s liking than trying to pull the city out of the ABAG altogether.

Mid-Week Links: Back to the Future

Contraflow bus lane on US 101 in Marin County (1973)

Contraflow bus lane on US 101 in Marin County. A shame they didn't stay. (1973)

Thanks to some filename snafus, you may have missed my San Anselmo Spider Map, which you can now grab here without hassle.

Got a tip?  Email me at thegreatermarin [at] gmail.com. Link round-ups are hard work, and I can’t read everything.

Marin

  • Last week, Mill Valley kicked off its general plan update, Mill Valley 2040.  The next year will consist of brainstorming by three committees on community vitality, land use and mobility, and natural environment, as well as input from the general public. It’s the first update since 1989. (Mill Valley Herald)
  • Wincup’s developers will donate $250,000 to Corte Madera’s traffic fund to mitigate negative traffic impacts of its development.  Staff have yet to identify a use for the funds. (IJ)
  • A Sausalito entrepreneur has plans to start a shuttle for bike-renting tourists who find themselves semi-stranded in Marin after biking over the Bridge.  Sadly, the service will avoid bus routes, disconnecting the system from existing mobility options. (Marinscope)
  • The Good Earth opens in Fairfax today at 10:30am in its new location. The store marks a new beginning for that corner of town, removing a major downtown blight. (IJ)
  • Ugly, noisy, crowded, and a foot in the door: these are what opponents are calling Lucasfilm’s Grady Ranch development, a large complex of stages, studios, visitor housing and support infrastructure in Lucas Valley. (ABC)
  • Looks like San Quentin will not be a priority development zone after all, as environmental activists hated the idea even though the land is state-owned and won’t sell unless the prison closes. (IJ)
  • The County Planning Commission has approved a West Marin plan, tightening rules for development on the coast and loosening some ranching restrictions.  A discussion on the subject will be held on March 4 in Point Reyes, followed by a review by the Board of Supervisors. (IJ)
  • MALT will get a new executive director for 2013 as Bob Berner, head of the Trust since its inception, is retiring. (Pacific Sun)
  • The Ritter Center wants to expand its medical services to an on-site trailer.  The San Rafael Planning Commission heard the proposal last night. (Patch)

The Greater Marin

  • Rather than repair the Petaluma River swing bridge, SMART staff want to buy a used drawbridge from Galveston, Texas. The cost would be considerably less, and the bridge is projected to last 80 years. (Press Democrat)
  • The House is proposing a roads-only transportation bill, and that’s bad news for anyone that cares about moving around – including drivers. (Sacramento Bee)
  • Healdsburg is moving ahead with its main street roundabout plan, despite opposition from car-centric businesses and a dearth of redevelopment funding. (Press Democrat)

Bringing the Spider Map Home

The San Anselmo Hub Spider Map and Graphic. Click for full-sized PDF.

The greatest problem with bus lines is that nobody knows where they go.  While light rail or streetcar tracks are not for every route, they do let people visually understand where transit goes.  Buses, however, travel along the same roadways as cars, leaving drivers in the dark as to where they go.  Communicating a route properly is extremely important to pulling back the veil of our transit system, and for showing people how transit is freedom from the car.

To address this problem in at least one corner of Marin, I’ve designed a draft spider map for the San Anselmo Hub (PDF).  We discussed spider maps previously; in short they are schematics of where buses intersecting a certain point run.  Such diagrams are used most successfully in London where they integrate with Tube stations, although DC has made some forays into this field of late by putting bus line schematics at bus stops and huge Transit Information Displays, or TIDs, in their metro stations.  (If anyone can find me a PDF of those TIDs, I’ll be forever grateful.)  The point is to simplify a bus map by pulling out any unnecessary clutter and isolating just the bus routes, showing where riders can go without transferring.  It is, at least to some degree, a map of the freedom available to you from a given point.

My Hub spider map don’t show all the stops, as those can change.  Rather, the map shows primary stops that are unlikely to change, such as Marin General Hospital.  The route lines and stop circles are displayed differently depending on levels of service to give riders a clear visual of where they can always go and where they may need to check a schedule.

As people generally don’t care what service they use to go from point A to B, I included all possible transfers along with easily-identifiable logos at all stops where applicable.  This is best seen at the San Rafael Transit Center, which has transfers to all over the North Bay. Transfers in San Francisco, such as connections to the Cable Car, may be valuable to families that want to spend a weekday as tourists in the City.  Including such data also helps riders start to build a mental map of transit beyond Marin, adding connection points to knit them all together.  Plus, it provides advertising for the other agencies.  I had  never bothered to take the bus to the Oakland Airport, but now I know I can.  If I want to take a bus to the City of Sonoma, I know I can take the 38S, even if I don’t know when.  The regional transit network map is intended to be an aid in that process.

Giving people a destination-based frequency guide shows riders how they could go from A to B.  If I’m in San Anselmo and I want to get to San Rafael, I don’t care if it’s I take the 23 or the 22.  The two lines complement one another along that corridor, and the frequency table reflects that.  Given space restrictions I did not include a full-fledged timetable, but I’m assuming other signage is nearby.  Timetables will still be necessary, as this map is for outbound trips only; the 22 doesn’t always leave from Sausalito and once per weekday winds through Mill Valley on its way north, but never does going south.  These inbound trips are not visualized, and could confuse travelers.

The rest of the design is taken from MTC’s TIDs (PDF), which are sadly missing in Marin.  The orange i logo, the headers, the green were added to visually identify this map with those more common maps.  A San Franciscan visiting San Anselmo would instantly recognize the visual vocabulary, knitting together in their mind that the Hub is still part of the regional transit network even if MUNI doesn’t run buses there, and a San Anselmoan would feel a similar sense of recognition when leaving the county.

I chose to map the Hub mostly because I know San Anselmo best, but also because of the location’s flexibility.  With some modifications it could be adapted for use up and down Ross Valley.  Used in conjunction with broader system maps and timetables, it would be a powerful tool for Marinites.

Since it’s a draft, I’d appreciate any comments and criticisms.  You should know that I added a small border around the map, which is why things look a bit more squished inward than they otherwise ought.  If you think it’s good enough as it is, feel free to print (and laminate!) a copy and put it at the Hub.  If you do, send me a picture: thegreatermarin [at] gmail.com.  I designed it on tabloid-sized paper, less than half the size of a traditional TID, so you can print it out without much hassle.

What do you think?  What TIDs and maps should come standard at any Marin transit hub?

Mid-Week Links: Two Steps Back

Marin County

Image copyright 2012, The Pacific Sun

  • San Rafael, planning as it is for a revitalized Station Area, thought it a good idea to eliminate the crosswalk at Third and Cijos, calling it a danger to pedestrians.  Rather than pedestrians being the ones complaining, it was the motorists.  There has not been a single accident at the Cijos crossing, and the one-way traffic was controlled from the nearby Lincoln intersection.  In place of the crosswalk, there’s now a pedestrian barrier.  At least there are crosswalks nearby.  (Pacific Sun)
  • Seventy units of affordable housing have been announced for Marinwood at the Marin Market site.  Although near bus pads, the affordable housing site is far from amenities.  Hopefully the developer will be required to improve the crossing over the freeway to the northbound pad. (IJ)
  • SMART should buy the Whistlestop building, as the train project will render it useless to the seniors nonprofit. (IJ)
  • San Anselmo is considering how to improve its Safe Routes to School Program at a community meeting tonight, and as of press time no decision had been made. Among the proposals are adding sidewalks and crosswalks, adjusting signal timing, and a pedestrian barrier along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. (Patch)
  • The Greenbae Interchange Project and the Wincup development will both proceed roughly as planned, as MacFarlane Developers and TAM have reached an agreement on how to accomodate both projects. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • If you missed a One Bay Area planning meeting, now’s your chance to at least get your opinion in.  The Plan is soliciting online comments, and I encourage you to take the time to make your voice heard. (Sacramento Bee)
  • The Golden Gate Bridge has installed speed signs for cyclists on the western sidewalk, although there isn’t a speed limit on the bridge for bicyclists. (SF Examiner)
  • Doyle Drive’s second phase may be delayed because some state and federal funds haven’t materialized as expected. (IJ)
  • A Santa Rosa school may not open for want of a sidewalk.  The sidewalk was to be built with redevelopment money. (Press Democrat)
  • Cotati’s ambitious downtown roundabout plan, which stirred up so much controversy, is also in doubt thanks to issues stemming from redevelopment funds. (Press Democrat)
  • Sonoma County’s roads are absolutely terrible, at least according to a map prepared by the county’s Transportation and Public Works Department. Road maintenance is severely underfunded in Sonoma, and some activists are pushing hard for change. In that light, a proposed road maintenance property tax could do the trick. (Press Democrat, Petaluma360)
  • Level of Service, or LOS, is an absolutely terrible way to measure how well a city street performs its many duties, as it focuses solely on moving cars – not people – swiftly along. (Streetsblog)
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