Mid-week links: Marin Transit

Marin County

by jay d, on Flickr

The latest Marin Transit board meeting was one full of change and surprise. Amid increasing ridership (though it fell in June), MT posted a $1.5 million surplus, which will go into a rainy day fund. To keep ridership on the up and up, the agency hired a new communications and advertising consultant, who will manage MT’s branding, website, social media, and communications strategy. IJ reporter Nels Johnson, however, seemed to think the $300,000 consultant was taking the agency “for a spin.” And, in the name of efficiency, the MT board cut Route 222, which got less than 3 riders per hour in June. Elsewhere:

  • There was so much public comment about Marin’s new housing element that the Board of Supervisors had to postpone its debate until next week. (Patch) On a side note, whoever’s idea it was to bring in a saxophonist to lead the potentially rancorous crowd in singing, “There’s still a lot of love in Marin!” is brilliant. (IJ)
  • The Civic Center Drive upgrades look fabulous, but now that they aren’t in a PDA TAM may need to rescind its funding. (Patch)
  • A driver hit a bicyclist in Fairfax yesterday by turning left through a bike lane, sending the bicyclist to the hospital with a broken collar bone. Though the circumstances seem like they warranted an investigation or a failure-to-yield citation, the driver was not cited by police. (IJ)
  • The costs of demand-responsive bus service, promoted by Bob Silvestri as the ideal transit, make it an ineffective replacement for traditional bus service. (Listen Marin)
  • The lack of BART in Marin is apparently because we’re classist and racist and always have been. (The Grid) Except, y’know, that’s not at all why we don’t have BART.
  • TAM should take on all the causes of congestion on Highway 101, not just cars, according to Corte Madera Mayor Diane Furst. She sat on a working group to draft an alternative plan to flyovers on the freeway. (Marin Voice)
  • The Golden Gate Bridge will close for a full weekend next year for the installation of a new movable barrier. This will be the first time in the bridge’s history it will be closed for more than a few hours. (IJ)
  • Parking minimums can severely constrain construction, either driving up rents in the building or preventing new construction altogether and contributing to a housing shortage. Affordable housing advocates take note. (Sightline)

Politics

  • San Rafael council candidate Randy Warren hits rival Maribeth Bushey-Lang hard, saying her need to recuse herself over issues like SMART make her unfit for service. (IJ)
  • The move to recall Supervisor Susan Adams failed to attract enough signatures, and Save Marinwood is not happy. Interestingly, no signatures were submitted to the county, so we’ll never know how far short the recall came. (IJ, Save Marinwood)
  • Paul Mamalakis examines the race for Novato City Council. (Advance)

GGT offers a thin lifeline in the BART strike

BART is on strike. I’ll spare you the gory details of why, as they’re covered much more extensively in other news media. However, now’s a good time to refresh minds about bus service through Marin. Though not ideal, it could be better than nothing for those who can get to Richmond or Del Norte BART stations.

GGT routes 40 and 42 head to San Rafael, where a commuter can transfer to San Francisco-bound 27, 44, 70, 80, and 101. If you don’t want to wait, or if you think you’ll get lost in the crowd, you can head down the freeway on routes 17, 36, or 71 to one of the other commuter lines. As usual, pack the 101 service pocket guide.

The thing you probably won’t want to do is head to the Larkspur ferry. Parking is cramped as it is, and direct bus access is minimal. If you insist on a ferry, get on almost any bus heading south (17, 27, 36, 70, 71, 80) and hop off at the next stop. You have a ¾ mile walk from there. That, or drive to the ferry before 7am.

GGT has a much more extensive listing of how to get to SF. The fastest way may be to take a commuter bus from north of San Rafael so as to avoid the general traffic lanes through as much of Marin as you can. However, south of Marin City, the HOV lanes end and you’ll get stuck in traffic. At least you can sleep through the stop-and-go.

Good luck out there. It’s brutal.

 

Mid-Week Links: Past to Present

The View From Work

photo by deminimis via flickr

SF Public Press continues its series on smart growth in the Bay Area. Though spotty at times, the series has shown a light on the issues facing our vast region now that Plan Bay Area is en route to its final approval.  This week:

  • Former Patch editor Kelly O’Mara chronicles Marin’s rebellion against Plan Bay Area. From Corte Madera’s bogus claim of build-out to Fairfax’s fight against three-story buildings, the piece explores the lay of the land though not its roots.
  • Sprawl’s 50-year march across the Bay Area is clear in a new map, showing each community’s “growth rings”. The East Bay, Delta, and Santa Clara grew the most.  Inner-ring suburbs and San Francisco grew the least.
  • The foreclosure crisis was exacerbated by transportation costs. Even in Marin, this is clear from unstable housing prices in Novato vs. stable housing prices in South Marin.

Marin County

  • Belvedere City Hall got all shook-up last week. Four staff members, two planners, the building chief and the city manager, have quit. Though criticized for conflicts on interest, the staffers’ departure was apparently a coincidence. (Pacific Sun)
  • MALT snatched a 126-acre dairy farm from the market just as it was receiving interest from non-agricultural buyers. The land is now permanently off-limits to development. (Pacific Sun)
  • San Rafael is gaming out residential parking permits, as street parking has become increasingly scarce on unmetered residential streets. Perhaps, rather than a blanket prohibition on non-permitted cars, streets could be metered and time-limited for non-permitted cars. (IJ)
  • One Bay Area officials got an earful of ugly at a meeting intended to solicit input on Plan Bay Area, now going through environmental review.  Rather than anything constructive, they got protests against human settlement gulags and global warming fabrications.  Have any of these listening meetings have yielded useful feedback? (Patch)
  • Closure of the Novato Narrows got another $56 million in state funds, enough to extend the carpool lanes three miles. The project is part of a $700 million plan to widen the freeway in the area. The cost is roughly double that of SMART, and for a far shorter distance. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Santa Rosa has approved dramatic zoning changes to its Coddington Mall area, ensuring transit-oriented development around the new SMART station. Over a millions square feet of office space, nearly 3,000 housing units, and a whole lot of retail will feature in the infill development. (Press Democrat)
  • Roundabouts, central to Cotati’s planned (but floundering) downtown road diet, would be illegal in city limits if a ballot measure passes. (Press Democrat)
  • A county, divided into rural west and urban east, questions what its future should be. Held in thrall by a development-happy Board of Supervisors, the county now faces whether the region’s urban metro system should extend into its borders for the first time. Loudoun County, Virginia, is an alternative future of Marin, facing many of the same challenges we dealt with in the 1960s but without the geography and coalitions that were so instrumental to our success. (Washington City Paper)
  • A transportation bill has finally passed the House and Senate, but it’s not exactly what was hoped for. The transit tax reimbursement remains half that of the parking reimbursement, funds for transit have been slashed, and dedicated funding for active transportation like walking and bicycling have been cut in half. About the only consolation is that things aren’t nearly as bad as they could have been. Oh, and it blocked $850 million in funding for Muni’s Central Subway while gutting Safe Routes to School. (Streetsblog, Examiner, Pacific Sun)
  • And…: The ATF has ruled last month’s BART-disrupting fire as arson, but there are no suspects. (SFist) … People seem to like Muni’s new all-door boarding policy. Now if only GGT had all-door exiting… (SFGate)

Where’s the Outreach?

After BART died, AC Transit had to deal with this mess.

A massive fire in Oakland blew a hole in yesterday’s commute, shutting down the Transbay Tube and leaving AC Transit and East Bay ferries to pick up the slack.

It was carmaggeddon.

Now, when something goes horribly wrong in the East Bay, Marin will often get a surge of people trying to get to the City, so I expected to hear something out of our local transit agencies. Directions, guidelines, how to go from the two BART stations GGT serves to San Francisco.

Instead, I heard crickets. Absolute silence.

Located as I am in Washington, DC, I’m forced to comment on what I read rather than on what I hear. I have contacts in a few agencies (and if you ever have a tip make sure to email me at thegreatermarin [at] gmail.com), but for the most part I’m on Twitter and news sites. So when I heard that transbay was down I jumped online to see what the contingency plans were. It was around 6am for the Bay Area, so things were just starting to heat up. AC Transit had been called into service, every ferry in the various East Bay fleets were called up and Golden Gate Transit’s website was overloaded.

Clearly there was demand for information and a demand for a better way to cross the Bay. People who are used to BART and AC Transit wouldn’t know how to get to the City without one of those two means of transportation. I stepped in and gave some route information on how to get to SF without using the Bay Bridge, but there wasn’t anything for them directly.

The point of a Twitter account, and GGBHTD has three (bridge, bus, and ferry), is to disseminate information in a timely fashion. In Washington, DC, Twitter is a vital link for riders of our subway system and our bus system. Just this past year, the local transit agency began tweeting bus delays. Since the line is manned by an actual person, the agency can answer short questions from riders, activists, and journalists easily. In smaller agencies, Twitter and other channels are used to communicate moved stops, service disruptions, severe delays, and emergency notifications, though they may not be able to afford a full-time social media staffer.

Compare this to GGT and Marin Transit. @GGBridge’s last tweet was June 1, @GoldenGateBus’s last tweet was May 22, @GoldenGateFerry’s last tweet was June 13, and @MarinTransit’s last informational tweet was July 29, 2010. This is unacceptable. Marin Transit has ongoing meetings regarding Tiburon’s transit needs and has made major route changes since 2010, while Golden Gate Transit often faces delays and service disruptions as it moves people through the region.

If Marin Transit and GGT want to be taken seriously as a viable means of transportation in Marin, it needs to step up its game. When an emergency strikes, they should be ready to provide direction. When there are disruptions, meetings, or route changes, they should make an announcement through all modes of communication available. Anything less does disservice to the system and riders.

Mid-Week Links: Build It and They Will Come

mill valley

Marin County

Well it looks like the other news organizations passed right on by the development news this week, and there’s no transit news to speak of. I suppose, then, these are the highlights from this week’s IJ.

  • The Grady Ranch debacle has reached New Yorker’s ears. The game of telephone, of course, has done wonders for our county’s image as an insular enclave for the granola-munching wealthy. Back in Marin, there is still debate as to whether opponents abused the system or not, or even whether they should be to blame. (NYT, IJ)
  • In the fallout of Grady Ranch, county staff want to create a panel to cut red tape and streamline permitting, and the supervisors seem to be on board. The results likely won’t mean much for developers in incorporated areas, who often need council approval to open a sandwich shop. (IJ)
  • Fully 85% of Marin’s land is protected from development, according to a new Greenbelt Alliance study, the most in any Bay Area county. Only 12.7% of our land is urbanized, and only 0.7% is at risk of development. (IJ)
  • Michael Rock, town manager and public works director of Fairfax, has resigned in order to pursue a position in what I can only presume is the far less interesting Lomita, CA. His last day as manager will be the June 22 budget meeting. (IJ, Fairfax)
  • Sausalito will not rezone a small area of old town for housing development after all. The two parcels in question could have accommodated 18 units of affordable housing but will continue in their role as offices. (IJ)
  • Under pressure from the feds, Novato’s remaining pot dispensary will close, leaving only one dispensary operating in the county. (IJ)
  • The $950 million Highway 101 widening project chugs forward, but the last $177 million hasn’t been found. At least CalTrans still has $20.5 million to repave 8.5 miles of the freeway from Vista Point to Lucky Drive. (Press-Democrat, IJ)
  • A San Rafael native has been enlivening the streetscape of Washington, DC, by playing the violin to passersby from his rowhome’s balcony. (Patch)
  • And…: Fifteen office buildings totalling about 710,000 square are up for sale in Marin. (IJ) … Terrorism, not the threat of bridge collapse, is the reason you can’t walk across the Bridge on its 75th. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • MTC and ABAG have approved Plan Bay Area. It now goes out for environmental review before final approval in April. (SF Chronicle)
  • The San Francisco Bay Area has a surplus of capital looking for new tech start-ups but restrictive housing policies drive up rents, which drive up wages, which inflates start-ups’ costs of doing business, which drives down the number of new start-ups to invest in, and that’s bad for everyone.  (Forbes via Planetizen)
  • The State Senate will vote today on the three-foot passing law, requiring drivers pass bikers with at least three feet of clearance. (Cyclelicious)
  • The neighborhood planning battles of Seattle bear a striking resemblance to the planning issues faced by Marin’s small towns. (Crosscut)
  • Young people are moving away from the car. Has the driver’s seat lost its old magic? (Washington Post)
  • BART’s long-term plans include express trains, better stations, and shorter headways. (Examiner)

Mid-Week Links: Cheers!

The Second The Greater Marin Happy Hour

Cheers to transit!

Good news everyone!  The second The Greater Marin Happy Hour will be held next Thursday at San Rafael Joe’s – no more 29 bus madness (sadness?) and the ferry like last time. With GGT on Google Maps, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding your way, even if you work in Belvedere.  I’ll have some signs out around the bar like last time, but if you can’t find us just email me at theGreaterMarin [at] gmail.com and I’ll try to wave you down.  I hope to see you all there!

Who: You, me, and anyone else you happen to invite (and please do invite people!)
When: Thursday, May 10, 6pm, though you’re absolutely welcome to come late
Where: San Rafael Joe’s, 931 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA

In another bit of blog news, you’ll notice over on the sidebar that I’m open for business as a communications and planning consultant. If you want my brain working for you, get in touch with me at the email address on the right.  I’ll be in the Bay Area from May 10-15 and am perfectly willing to travel as needed.

Right, now that that’s all done with, on to the news of the week.

Marin County

  • Golden Gate Ferry workers went on strike yesterday to protest the slow pace of talks between their union and the transit district. They may call another strike on May 10 if progress remains unacceptably slow. (Chronicle)
  • San Francisco is moving towards a true BRT line on Van Ness, with center-running lanes compatible with existing buses. The line would serve Muni routes 47 and 49, as well as GGT routes 10, 70, 80, 93, and 101. It will be a boon to all riders along the corridor, though if GGT could pick up intra-San Francisco trips it would be even better. (Transbay Blog)
  • The Doyle Drive closure went off without a hitch, and the resulting roadway looks pretty nifty.  I do wonder about the eventual 12-lane configuration – neither the bridge nor the approach can handle so much traffic. (Chronicle, SFist)
  • Larkspur mulls what to do with 2.5 acres of land on the Niven Nursery site. The frontrunner idea is a new library. (IJ)
  • Marin’s population grew 0.7% this past year, rather faster than Plan Bay Area’s 0.2% housing growth prediction. And here I thought we were slow-growth (no I didn’t). (IJ)
  • The West Sidewalk of the Golden Gate Bridge is finally open again. (GGBHTD)
  • This Friday at 7pm, stop by the Mill Valley Library for a talk by noted urbanist Peter Calthorpe on Mill Valley, urbanism, and the Bay Area’s future. Let me know how it goes. (MVPL)

The Greater Marin

Just across the bridge, San Francisco is doing some truly amazing things to promote a more walkable, livable city.  What lessons can we learn from San Francisco, and how can we apply them to Marin?  Personally, I’d love to see a San Rafael Park(ing) Day. (Streetfilms)

  • While BART is finally coming to San Jose, transportation planners are cutting their own feet out from under themselves by significantly widening two major freeways in Santa Clara, one to 8 lanes and the other to a whopping 12. (Mercury News)
  • Operating costs for High Speed Rail won’t be nearly as high as opponents claim. (Systemic Failure)
  • With more cars came more people dying on the roads, and Europe and the United States took dramatically different paths.  While Europeans got mad at the cars and pushed back in favor of more pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, the United States pushed people out of the way of the cars, razing its city centers for parking and wider roads. (Atlantic Cities)
  • Ever wondered what the view is like from atop Sutro Tower? Now you know. (SFist)

How Fantastical Is the Fantasy?

Copyright Brian Stokle

The plans for Marin: 80R, 29R, and, of course, SMART

The fantasy transit map of the Bay Area I brought up on Wednesday had me thinking a fair amount about Marin’s transit options.  Though we are typically the odd county out when it comes to fantasy transit improvements – though Napa certainly gets the short end of this particular map’s stick – Brian Stokle’s map adds two thoughtful improvements to the county’s transit system, and I think we’d do well to explore them, as well as a third.

I should mention that I appreciate the value of bus-only lanes to a degree, but in suburban settings it is sometimes better to mix them with three-person carpools as well.  In Northern Virginia, the casual carpool system functions as another transit system, vastly improving the efficiency of private cars and, therefore, the existing car-based infrastructure.  Mixing buses and cars isn’t always the best idea, but I think for Marin it makes perfect sense, both for political and practical reasons.

The 29R Rapid Bus

The 29R rapid bus line runs in a kind of loop between Fairfax, San Anselmo, Greenbrae, Larkspur Landing, the Canal, downtown San Rafael, Miracle Mile and finally back to the Hub, where I assume it would turn around.

Rapid bus isn’t the bus rapid transit (BRT) system that we’re used to hearing about – it doesn’t have its own lanes or stations.  Rather, the rapid bus concept functions as an express, limited stop bus with some structural changes beneath the surface, mostly to how the bus handles intersections.  These, along with high frequency (every 15 minutes, maximum), makes the bus a viable alternative against the car.  Even without the frequency improvements, adding speed to a bus line makes it less expensive to run and more attractive to potential riders.

The 29R route makes sense.  The Fairfax-San Rafael corridor is the county’s densest, and the narrow valley makes it well suited to a rapid bus line.  The Greenbrae stretch, though not nearly as dense, is an important transportation corridor, and building a rapid bus line here would serve populations that are otherwise left behind by SMART.  Greenbrae is also the kind of suburban strip that is easily converted to higher, more urbanist uses.

The drawback to a rapid bus line that it doesn’t have its own corridor.  Sir Francis Drake gets backed up during the morning rush between Fairfax and the Hub, as well as though Ross and near the Greenbrae Interchange, and a rapid bus shouldn’t be allowed to get stuck in that mire.  The same goes for Second Street in San Rafael.

To compensate, the 29R should be complemented with limited dedicated lanes.  Center, the old rail right-of-way between San Anselmo and Fairfax, might be re-purposed as a rush-hour bus and carpool lane.  It’s odd to imagine a surface street being carpool and bus only, but it would take a great deal of pressure off Sir Francis Drake and speed service along the corridor.  Yolanda and Landsdale Stations, the old light-rail stops, could be reactivated as bus stops.

Though we can’t do much about the Sir Francis Drake through Ross, the boulevard widens enough at College of Marin for dedicated lanes, though an initial segment of lanes should be built from El Portal Drive to the interchange.

The Canal’s traffic patterns are less familiar to me, but it is imperative the bus not travel the narrow streets in the neighborhood, sticking instead to the much wider and straighter roads closer to the freeway.  It’s close enough to the Canal that it will be accessible, but it will keep the bus moving fast enough to justify its “rapid” moniker.

The ultimate cost would likely be in the tens of millions, and building such a system will require more forward-thinking on development issues, but the ultimate reward would be much improved Central Marin circulation.

The 80R Bus Rapid Transit

Much more ambitious is the 80R Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line, running from Santa Rosa to the Transbay Terminal.  Presumably, the line would have limited stop service on its own dedicated lanes for the whole trip, and would share the BRT lanes with other buses running along the corridor.  It would duplicate SMART’s service between Santa Rosa and Larkspur Landing, so I wouldn’t recommend building the line north of San Rafael.

A small portion of this line is already being built by SFMTA on Van Ness, which is getting its own dedicated lanes.  Presumably other streets will be similarly improved, but that’s just for San Francisco.  The Marin and Sonoma stretch will be extraordinarily expensive, involving rebuilt or widened freeway overpasses at minimum and possibly even new tunneling in the Marin Headlands.

The first portion of a BRT system is its dedicated lanes.  Ideally, these lanes will be permanently off-limits to private cars, and would certainly be off-limits to single-passenger only vehicles, and they would stretch along the entire length of the line.  This includes the stretch of freeway south of Marin City, which could mean some extremely expensive tunneling projects or a narrower freeway.  The Golden Gate Bridge itself would need dedicated bus lanes, which in theory would double the capacity of the bridge but would be politically challenging to build.

The other portion of a BRT system is its stops.  Like a train system, the stops would be located along the right-of-way; for the 80R, that would mean building new ramps directly between its lanes and freeway overpasses, where the BRT stations would be constructed.  Alternatively, passengers might board the bus at the freeway level in an enclosed station, and access would be provided from the street level.  These would be expensive as well, and the 80R would likely rival SMART in its costs.

Once finished, though, the system would be a transit lifeline for San Franciscans working north and North Bay residents working south.  As it stands,San Francisco’s Marin-bound buses leave only every hour or so in the morning, making transit commutes rather inconvenient.  BRT would need to run every 5-15 minutes to make the investment worthwhile, tying the City to the county in a way it has never been.

What’s Missing? BART

The missing piece is a strong connection from the Transit Center to the Richmond BART station and its Amtrak connections.  Though today the 40 and 42 buses don’t get a lot of ridership, building a rapid bus or BRT line with direct connections between San Rafael and Richmond would be a boon to Contra Costa County, one of the largest sources of Marin’s in-commuters.

A rapid bus line would start at the Transit Center and proceed along Francisco Boulevard, entering 580 at the bridge.  It would make a straight shot to the Richmond station and turn around, altogether taking 30-40 minutes.  A BRT line would run exclusively on the freeway, with its only stops being at Richmond, the Marin side of the bridge, and San Rafael.  Such a run would take about 20-30 minutes.

Though it would face the same challenges as the 29R and 80R, I like this route because it would provide easy transit between the Delta, the East Bay, and Marin while connecting Marinites with existing rail options the county doesn’t have.  Given that the balance of commuting is East Bay to Marin, it might make more sense to build it as an AC Transit system, freeing Golden Gate Transit from making such a huge investment for residents outside its district.

In Sum

In sum, the two improvements, plus mine, are strong service improvements for Marin.  Other parts of Marin could use a rapid bus system similar to the 29R, especially the Mill Valley to Sausalito corridor.  Less plausible is a SMART service improvement, providing 30 minute headways all day, and even less would see the system double-tracked and electrified with 5-15 minute headways, which would likely require another ballot initiative.

Fantasy maps like Stokle’s aren’t meant to be entirely practical, of course – they’re meant to make us imagine what our cities can be like, and what they might be like if we ever get around to it transit improvements.  I’d like to see more of this – how about you?

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