Microblogging, expanded

gum wall

by 1yen, on Flickr

Yesterday, I realized I have more ideas for blog posts than I have time to do them. I’m in the middle of a series of posts on Larkspur Landing – I have two more to go – and the issue of affordable housing has reared its ugly and nonsensical head once again in Marin. I’ve also started blogging about the broader region at our sister site, Vibrant Bay Area. Unless one of you wants to pay me, you’re probably not going to get as much analysis as you or I would like to see.

Thankfully, I’m on a microblogging site you may have heard of called Twitter, so I condensed them down into a series of hypotheses. Though I’m confident there is enough data to back up these statements, I haven’t investigated them to confirm that my hunches are correct.

Pardon the swear here. Bicycling, if it’s going to take off in the US, needs to be more than some paint on the side of the road. Known in California as the Class II bike lane, the bike lane is far better than nothing but far worse than ideal. To me, if you’re uncomfortable riding a cargo bike on it, or if you wouldn’t send your 8-year-old to school on it, then it’s not good enough to put cars and bikes at parity.

Cities are not isolated pockets around subway stations. They are integrated fabrics. San Francisco is walkable even far from BART stations, when the only transit is a bus. Since most of the Bay Area is designed around retail strips like El Camino Real, upzoning plans need to take that into consideration. Bubbles of walkability, like Santana Row in San Jose or the BART transit villages, don’t encourage people to live car-free lifestyles, only a car-free commute. By connecting high-density rail-oriented areas with moderate density bus-oriented areas, the Bay Area could improve its mode share mix immensely.

The term “hipster” has become so over-used it’s lost what little meaning it once had. Hipsters are supposed to save the city (a simplification of Richard Florida’s theory of the creative class) and destroy the city (a simplification of Joel Kotkin’s opposite theory). They’re poor and unproductive one moment, rich and entitled the next. The latest in this devolving debate has Richard Florida positing that a lot of creative class types in a single city lowers income inequality. Joel Kotkin responded with a glorified, Told you so, which led to a Florida response of, No, idiot.

Through it all, I just wish people would leave the poor/rich/entitled/gentrifying/unproductive saviors of our society alone. Income inequality is more complicated than theories of cities, and no single class of people is the salvation or damnation of our society.

And stop calling them hipsters.

Actually, it probably won’t. In occurred to me that urbanism was the pursuit of maximum efficiency of access within the constraints of the age. In our age, those constraints are principally about preservation of land, character, history, and preexisting residential neighborhoods. In other ages these were sunlight and fresh air; defensibility; or access to water.

I define access as the number of destinations within a given travel time by a given mode, and I define efficiency as minimizing negative externalities and maximizing positive externalities in the course of one’s daily routine. That’s too technical. In other words, how much does our urban design pollute? How much does it make us healthier or sicker? How much land does it use up? How much does it cost? And so on.

My definition could be rephrased. Urbanism is the pursuit of the most access at the least cost to ourselves and to our environment within a community’s chosen or necessary constraints. Decisions from transportation to zoning hang from this.

The East Bay has a wealth of rail infrastructure. It has two parallel passenger rail lines running from Richmond to Fremont and branches going in all directions, while the Peninsula has only one rail line going north-south. The Peninsula’s rail capacity will be constrained by the blended Caltrain-High Speed Rail plan, while the East Bay’s capacity will not be.

Rather than pursue BART expansions and inefficient ferry service to San Francisco, it should bolster its Amtrak and ACE service to be true rapid transit in parallel to BART and Caltrain. It should restructure its zoning to encourage new neighborhoods to develop for San Franciscans fleeing ludicrous rents. And it should invite tech companies to build new neighborhoods around their train stations instead of new office parks in the middle of nowhere.

Each of these ideas should be pursued, but I fear I must decline the call. That shouldn’t stop you from heeding the call, of course. If you agree, or even if you disagree, pitch me a story on one of these themes. I might end up running it.

New bike share plan suitably cautious

Capital Bike Share (Ballston)

Capital Bike Share (Ballston) by Arlington County, on Flickr

Last Thursday, TAM released a cautiously optimistic report (PDF) on implementing bike sharing in Marin. The preliminary report’s caution is well-warranted, as the county’s infrastructure and urban form are far different from bike share pioneers Paris and Washington, DC. If Marin can thread the needle and create a quality bike share program, it could be a pioneer for other suburbs.

Introduction to bike share

Bike share, the system examined by TAM, is a bicycle rental/transit hybrid. Bikes are stored in stations, like the one pictured at right, which are scattered through the area. Users purchase a membership for a certain amount of time, usually just a day, week, month, or year. While a member, users can pick up a bike from any station and drop it off at any other station. If done within a certain time, like 30 minutes, the trip is free. If the trip goes over that time limit, a fee is levied for every subsequent half-hour.

The point isn’t to check out a bike for a round-trip but rather for each short leg of a short journey. Want to get from downtown MillValley to Whole Foods? Check out a bike, ride it to Whole Foods, dock it there and do your shopping. After you’re done, check out another bike from the station and ride it back downtown or wherever you want to go next.

I’ve been a member of the Washington, DC, system for most of the time it’s been active. Capital Bikeshare, or CaBi, is used by tourists to get between museums on the National Mall, commuters to get to work, revelers to get around after the Metro system closes, and for general trips around town. I’ve used it for all those purposes and it works great for all of them.

The key is to have bicycles and docks always available at a given station, and to have stations conveniently located. There’s nothing worse than arriving at a station to find the bikes are all gone or to find there’s nowhere to dock your bike, especially if there’s nowhere nearby that does have a bike or dock.

The company contracted to operate the system will “rebalance” the bikes from one station to the other. In DC, the operator pays a fee if any station is empty or full for more than two hours. Users know where bikes, docks, and stations are by looking at screens on the stations or with a smartphone app.

The Marin system

Bike share phases 1, 2, and 3

Bike share phases 1, 2, and 3

TAM wants a bike share system to serve primarily the commuting public, to solve what transit planners call the Last Mile Problem. When a rider hops off a bus, they’re at a location that might a ways away from their final destination. To get to the final destination, riders typically walk, though bikes are a common sight on Marin’s bus fleet. With bike share, a rider doesn’t need to bring their own bike.

With that in mind, the first stations would be focused on moving people from downtowns to ferry terminals and transit centers. Twelve stations, one in most of the downtowns and one at the two ferry terminals, would provide a way to get commuters around the county. Subsequent phases would make more stations around activity centers, which would make the system more like CaBi.

Total cost would be around $720,000 for the first phase and $2.2 million for full build-out.

Obstacles

A major barrier to the success of the bike share system will be the paucity of quality bike facilities between downtowns and activity centers. Though it is possible to ride through most of Marin, it isn’t always pleasant, and the safest route is sometimes far out of the way.

Between most downtown pairs lies a few miles of bike-hostile arterial roads. Though most have safer parallel routes, those parallel routes don’t access the businesses that grew up along the arterial. Since bike share is a utility rather than leisure system, the separation of businesses and bike routes diminishes just how much utility bikers can get from the system. Given how low density Marin’s origins and destinations already are, the last thing we need is to diminish separate bikes from businesses.

Marin’s demographics are another potential obstacle. The foundation of most bike share systems is the 25-34 age group. Though they’ve been growing in Marin, the group is a fraction of the size it is in DC or San Francisco. Planners want to harness the 35-45 age group instead, though they’ve been reticent about adopting bike share elsewhere.

Opportunities

The bike share report seems to underestimate the power of tourists in Marin. Particularly in Sausalito, a major driver of use will be tourists. DC’s system was never designed for tourists, but once the system opened on the National Mall the bikes became ubiquitous. Sausalito already gets thousands of tourists. If Marin’s system is integrated with San Francisco’s quite delayed plan, I suspect a huge number of tourists and day trippers will use bike share to hang out around Sausalito and Tiburon. As well, commuters to the City will be able to use their bike share membership at home and for their commute, taking away some of the demand for bike space on ferries and buses.

Bike share is its own best advertiser. Once a small system is up and running, demand springs up elsewhere. People, even transit-savvy New Yorkers, often don’t understand what bike share does before it’s active, but once it is people know it and love it. Richmond, Novato, and maybe even the closer-in West Marin villages like Bolinas and Stinson will want in on the action.

As a nifty indirect effect, bike share puts people in touch with the infrastructure in their communities. A street looks different from a bike. What feels like a narrow lane behind a windshield can feel like a broad avenue on a bike, and what feels slow in a car feels fast to a biker. Advocacy for better bicycling facilities can come from a well-used bike share system.

Oddities

The report isn’t without its problems. The draft plan doesn’t adjust the projected level of usage over time which, frankly, doesn’t make sense. People will use the system more as more stations become available and as people get used to the idea of bike share. It looks like they copied the final station proximity numbers into Phase 1 and Phase 2 but kept the introductory usage numbers for each phase. It would be good to get that sorted out.

The first phase includes only one station in Novato, a small loner in the middle of downtown more than an hour from the next nearest station. Though it is census area with the most bike commuters in the county (6.1 percent!), it doesn’t make sense to add only one station. Riders who arrive and find the station full will be stranded in the middle of nowhere with the clock ticking on their bike.  Stations in Tiburon and Mill Valley are similarly isolated.

There are missed opportunities for new stations in San Anselmo and Mill Valley. In San Anselmo, the commercial centers along Center, namely Yolanda Station and Lansdale Station, should be quality sites for infill. Miller Avenue at La Goma and Tam High should score higher as places for expansion.

It is a true shame that College of Marin doesn’t get a station until Phase 2. Young people form the core of any bike share program. Leaving out a major destination for them until later in the program is foolish in the extreme. One of the more isolated stations – Novato or Tiburon – should be placed there instead.

National context

Bike share is sweeping the nation. It is transforming cities across the country and will soon reach the Bay Area. Marin should not get swept up in the trends for their own sake, and I’m glad the county is proceeding with caution. The next phase of planning is another baby step – $25,000 to find sponsors and study the potential subscriber base, which will put more flesh on the report’s bones.

If Marin’s system does pan out, it will mean bike share is far more flexible than the high-density systems that launched the wave. That means suburbs like Marin, from Surrey, BC, to Staten Island, NY, will have an example of a functional system to hold up as an example. The good news for Marin, then, would mean good news for the country.

Well, that SMARTs a little…

On December 10th, 2012, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority Board of Directors approved programming $6.6 million of the County’s $9.9 million pot of federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) funds to Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) for the purchase of an additional train set.

We know you are probably having some feelings about this decision, among them anger and confusion.

SCBC’s here to provide for you some context, describe the circumstances around the vote, explain what the vote means for bicycling in Sonoma County, share our position on the vote, and our strategy moving forward.

The Context

Sonoma County Transportation Authority (SCTA) coordinates transportation planning and funding throughout the County. Most of the transportation funding that SCTA receives is programmed through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), SCTA’s Regional counterpart, which manages transportation planning and funding for the 9 Bay Area Counties.

SCTA works to bring to Sonoma County funding for highways, roads, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian projects. This is a complex and wonky process comprising many pieces. There are various “pots” of federal and state money that filter through MTC to SCTA.

One of these pots is CMAQ. These federal funds can be used for projects that help reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. A variety of project types are eligible for CMAQ funding, including, but not limited to, transit, bicycle, and pedestrian projects. In Sonoma County, CMAQ has historically been a significant (if not the top) source of funding for bicycle pedestrian projects. SCTA programs these funds to eligible projects through a competitive process in 2-4 year cycles.

The concerned $9.9 million pot of CMAQ funding (mentioned in the introduction) is for projects through 2016, and is set to be programmed starting in 2013. Over the past year, each of the nine cities in Sonoma County, the County of Sonoma, and SMART itself, have been able to submit projects to be considered for CMAQ funding. These jurisdictions submitted to SCTA by a November 30th deadline $38 million worth of projects deemed eligible for CMAQ funding. Under the normal SCTA process, these eligible projects in 2013 would have to compete for shares of the $9.9 million of available CMAQ funding.

The Vote

On Thursday, December 6th, Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition learned that SMART was to make a special request to the SCTA Board of Directors at the latter’s December 10th meeting. Based on our understanding, other stakeholders and the members of the SCTA Board of Directors learned of this request the same day as did SCBC.

SMART’s request was that the SCTA Board agree to put ahead of all other CMAQ-eligible projects its own eligible request for $6.6 million to purchase an additional train set. The SCTA Board was asked to vote on whether to program this funding without putting SMART ‘s request through SCTA’s regular competitive process.

SMART asserted that it needs the train set in order to provide full service to the North Santa Rosa station at the time the Initial Operating Segment (the “IOS” – North Santa Rosa to San Rafael) opens in 2015 or 2016. SMART asserted that full service to this station (rather than the 2/3 service possible without it) is critical because North Santa Rosa station represents 80% anticipated ridership for the Sonoma County portion of the IOS.

SMART argued that going outside the normal SCTA process was necessary because SMART must order the train set by the end of 2012 for two reasons: 1) SMART will be able to get the additional train set for the same price as those it has already ordered; and 2) If SMART does not order now, the new train set will not arrive until 2018, well after SMART begins service on the IOS.

After asking some good questions, hearing public comment by 7 people (including SCBC Outreach Director Sandra Lupien), and a good amount of discussion, the SCTA Board voted 10-2 to approve SMART’s request. Almost every member of the Board said they were unhappy with the ramifications of their decision for available bicycle/pedestrian funding, and expressed that it was a very difficult decision to make.

What it means for bike/ped

By approving SMART’s request for $6.6 million, the SCTA Board has left just $3.3 million in CMAQ funds available for about $31 million in CMAQ eligible projects. It is hard to tell based on the project list overview what portion of the projects submitted by cities and the County are bicycle projects. It looks like most of them are multi-use projects that include some combination of roadway improvements that may include bicycle lanes, sidewalks, and crosswalks. There are a few multi-use Class I projects on the list. The largest share of bike/ped projects on the list are segments of the SMART Multi-use Pathway.

These bicycle-pedestrian projects will, through SCTA’s normal process, have to compete against each other and the other eligible projects for a much smaller pot of money. That could mean that important bicycle-pedestrian projects could be more likely to be delayed until a later funding cycle.

When voting on SMART’s request on December 10, several members of the Board expressed hope that SCTA would prioritize the bicycle-pedestrian projects for the remaining $3.3 million in funding. The Board also directed staff to allow jurisdictions to re-submit their CMAQ-eligible projects to enable jurisdictions to prioritize projects based on the smaller pot of money.

Finally, SCTA staff did mention that there is $1.4 million in potential bike/ped funding through the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), and $11.4 million available in Surface Transportation Projects (STP) funding that can be used for bike/ped.

SCBC’s position

This decision SMARTs for sure, but we want to be sure that SCBC’s position is clear. There are parts of this whole situation that we don’t like, parts we think are not a huge deal, and parts that we think need a little clarifying.

What we really don’t like

1. SMART jumped the queue with an 11th hour request – Based on the conversation on December 10th, SCBC can understand why SMART needs to buy the train set by the end of the year, particularly because a 2018 arrival of the train set would be too late. What we don’t understand is why SMART waited until the last minute to make the request. When SMART announced in early 2012 that it was able to add the North Santa Rosa Station to the Initial Operating Segment, it announced that it could only offer 2/3 service to that station with its budgeted equipment. That left nearly a year to figure out how to get the train set needed to offer full service to North Santa Rosa. A few months – rather than a few days — lead time on SMART’s request would have allowed the SCTA Board of Directors to make a more well-reasoned decision, explore other options, etc.

2. SMART did not notify stakeholders (other agencies, public works departments, SCBC) that it planned to make this significant request. The lack of communication left SCBC – and probably other stakeholders – feeling blindsided.

3. This process has made clear that SCTA’s CMAQ-eligible project list does not include a satisfactory number of competitive, deliverable bicycle projects. This, in spite of the fact that each municipality has excellent bicycle/pedestrian projects planned. This means that jurisdictions are not submitting their bike/ped projects for funding.

4. This vote by the SCTA Board threatens to delay some projects for several years. We don’t like to see any bicycle/pedestrian project delayed. We think that the need to increase safe bicycle access must be prioritized and that jurisdictions must build out their bike/ped plans.

What is not that big of a deal:

1. Using CMAQ money to support important transit project in our County — SMART — is a legitimate use of this funding source.

What is worth noting:

1. The availability of the $1.4 million in TAP funds is a good thing, and so is the potential availability of $11 million in STP funds. Both of these funds are also competitive and by no means limited to bike/ped projects.

What SCBC is going to do

1. Status of the Multi-use Pathway (MUP)
Many people appear to be under the mistaken notion that this decision somehow means that SMART has cut the multi-use pathway from the project. This decision is not related to the MUP in any way. That said, SCBC does hear concerns from the bicycle community as to whether SMART does in fact intend to build the pathway as planned. While we are aware that segments of the MUP are currently under construction, and more will be under construction in the Spring, we believe that SMART owes the bicycle community a strong and direct commitment. Therefore, we will meet with SMART next week and demand that SMART provide public assurances that the MUP is, was, and always will be a part of the SMART project. We will also urge SMART to make a public statement as to the status of the various segments of the MUP and when they’re expected to be completed.

2. SMART as a community partner
We will explain to SMART that the agency must be a transparent, communicative community partner that engages key stakeholders in key decisions.

3. Urge SCTA to prioritize bike projects
As noted above, some members of the SCTA Board expressed hope that bike/ped projects would be prioritized for the remaining CMAQ money. We will push SCTA to honor this sentiment with action. We will also push SCTA to fund bike/ped projects with the $1.4 million in available TAP funds, and with some of the $11m in available STP funds.

4. Push for more, deliverable bike projects
As noted above, this decision has made clear that for some reason, the various jurisdictions are not submitting their compelling bike projects for CMAQ funding. We are going to work with public works departments to find out why they’re not bringing forth their bike projects, and to provide support and encouragement to help them do so moving forward. Every community in Sonoma County has great plans for bikes; we need the jurisdictions to prioritize getting those projects funded, implemented, and open to the public!

Thank you for taking the time to read and understand this situation. Here is what you can do to help:

1. Join Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. We are your voice! We’re here to fight for bicycle projects. Your membership makes SCBC more influential.

2. Get everyone you know to join Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

3. Make an end-of-the-year donation to Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. We’re not kidding around. Donations and membership dues make it possible for us to represent the bicycle community. We get grants for programs like Safe Routes to School, but grants are not available to fund our advocacy efforts. It’s up to you!

4. Write to your elected officials, to the SCTA Board of Directors, and to the SCTA Executive Director. Let them know you want them to prioritize funding for bicycle projects in Sonoma County and in your city. If you need help finding these email addresses, please contact SCBC.

Please call us at 707-545-0153 if you have any questions. You may also email Sandra@BikeSonoma.org.

SCBC is here to fight to create the safe, accessible, amazing bicycle community we want to see; together with you, we’re making it happen!

This piece was cross-posted from the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition blog.

End-Week Links: Hills

Sunset on a Masterpiece, by C. M. Keiner, on flickr

Sunset on a Masterpiece, by C. M. Keiner, on flickr

Marin Lesser and Greater

  • Peter robbed; Paul under investigation: Sonoma granted SMART $6.6 million of $9 million in bike/ped funding. The funds, from a federal congestion mitigation grant, will be used to purchase an additional train for the extended IOS. Sonoma bike activists are angry, to say the least unhappy, understanding, and moving forward. (Systemic Failure, SCBC)
  • Tilting at windmills: Wind turbines could be allowed in West Marin under the latest revisions to the Local Coastal Plan. Environmentalists oppose the measure, saying it would industrialize the rural region. (Pt. Reyes Light)
  • Tackling homelessness in San Rafael: Through mental health services and jobs, San Rafael is doing more to fight homelessness than just crack down on nuisance behavior. Here’s hoping it does good. (IJ)
  • Another study coming down the track: Transit feasibility in the Fairfax-San Rafael corridor is on its way yet again. TAM and MTC will examine whether BRT, rapid bus, or a full-fledged streetcar line would be best to serve the 5-mile strip. (Pacific Sun)
  • RHNA is almost as fickle as thought: Despite 43 years of affordable housing mandates, California remains woefully short on affordable housing. ABAG has tried to adjust to the demands of cities, but such a scattershot approach doesn’t make up for the state process’s shortcomings. (Bohemian via Scott Alonso)
  • Get your son on a bike: Research from the UK shows that it’s far safer for young men to ride a bike than to drive. Given that driving is the number one cause of death among teenagers, perhaps those Every 11 Minutes campaigns could be supplemented by some good old-fashioned bike lessons. (Red Orbit, CDC)
  • Hybrids really aren’t so green: Hybrids, at least if you look at their entire life-cycle, really aren’t as green as their reputation. The batteries are difficult to dispose of; the mileage really isn’t so great; and their battery will only last about 80,000 miles, meaning one will need to buy a new vehicle far sooner than otherwise. Perhaps Marin needs a new family car, like a bike. (Streetsblog)
  • Do the council shuffle: San Anselmo picks Kay Coleman for mayor. (Patch) … There’s still time to apply for San Rafael City Council. (IJ)
  • And…: Despite the threat of financial receivership, Detroit’s downtown is positively booming. (NY Times) … Local transit has published their holiday schedule. (GGT) … San Rafael Airport developer compares their sports complex project to Grady Ranch. (IJ) … The libertarian take on land use planning. (United Liberty)

The Toll

At least five people, and possibly a sixth, were injured this week.

  • Yes, a hit and run is indeed a felony: Jared Whisman-Pryor, who prosecutors say hit and seriously injured bicyclist William Schilling, has turned himself in to Rohnert Park Police. As it turns out, he will be charged for felony hit-and-run. (PD)
  • Obituary for mother killed last week: Barbara Rothwell accidentally killed herself in a car crash last week near Bolinas. The Point Reyes Light paints a portrait of her life cut short. She was 48.
  • Marin Injuries: A driver hit a woman while she was crossing the street in Novato, sending her to the hospital. (IJ) … A driver seriously injured himself by crashing into a power pole in Terra Linda. (Patch)
  • Sonoma Injuries: Ben Rhoades seriously injured himself and another driver by driving under the influence and colliding head-on with the other driver near Cotati. (Patch) … A driver rolled their minivan in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, though whether they injured themselves wasn’t immediately reported. (PD) … An 87-year-old driver seriously injured Wilfred Lewis, who was crossing the street in Santa Rosa. The driver said he never saw Lewis. (PD)

Got a tip? Want to write an article? Email us at theGreaterMarin [at] gmail.com or send a tweet to @theGreaterMarin.

Why cyclists need police understanding, not crackdowns

Kelly O’Mara granted permission to re-post her op-ed on the interplay between bikes and law enforcement. If you’ve ever ridden a bicycle, it rings true.

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Earlier this summer, a number of local police jurisdictions had big crackdowns on cyclists. It was supposed to be a targeted enforcement on lawbreakers on two wheels. Some police departments even focused just on cyclists for a couple weekends.

For a number of reasons — the targeting of a specific segment of the population and the ongoing hostilities towards a group of people on the road who are more vulnerable than others — this really seemed wrong.

I wrote an op-ed about it at the time, which was supposed to run in the paper. But, there were some disagreements.

So, I’m posting it here:

We have a lot of laws. We have laws about not driving while holding pets. We have laws about crossing the street in crosswalks. We even have laws banning smoking at bus stops, which are widely ignored.

What laws we choose to prioritize or actively enforce reflect our choices as a community. While immigrating to the U.S. without proper paperwork may be illegal, regular raids in Marin would likely cause an outcry against the ugly racism inherent in those enforcement policies.

When multiple police agencies in the county make it a public priority to target cyclists, it reflects no different an ugly bias.

It has been argued that Fairfax, San Anselmo, and Sausalito’s decisions to crackdown on cyclists doesn’t target cyclists but only lawbreakers. If that were true, then it would have been publicly announced as a crackdown on all traffic infractions. In fact, it was just the opposite. San Anselmo’s traffic enforcement division focused solely on cyclists one weekend. Evidently, leaving drivers free to do whatever they wanted.

Yes, I bike. I also drive. I even walk.

And, I understand how annoying a group of cyclists racing through town can be. But, the obsessive focus on cyclists coming to a complete stop at every sign, even if no one’s around, is a red herring issue.

We continue to insist on ‘separate but equal’ treatment, repeating that bikes must follow the exact same rules as cars, instead of acknowledging they are different vehicles with different expectations. Truly following the exact same rules on a bike would get you killed and hold up a lot of traffic. Let’s not lose sight of the intent of our laws: to make roads safer for everyone.

There are around 700 cyclist deaths every year. There are over 50,000 injuries. Yes, some of those accidents are caused by cyclists not stopping at stop signs. But, most are caused by simple misunderstandings between cyclists and drivers or by a lack of awareness or by blatant hostility that leaves someone blacked out after a hit-and-run.

Most accidents are caused by an attitude that treats a segment of the population as second-class citizens and targets them based on how they look.

Nearly every cyclist, particularly if they wear spandex, has been sworn at, called names, forced off the road, or been in a crash because a driver didn’t see them or didn’t think they deserved to be there – as if driving to ride a stationary bike at the gym is somehow more worthwhile. Hit-and-run accidents in West Marin are not uncommon and, often, the police either can’t or won’t do anything. Many cyclists who find themselves in the hospital are then faced with another battle that, to the best of my knowledge, has never ended with a driver being charged with anything in Marin.

I hear over and over that cyclists are arrogant and entitled. But, many are just frustrated.

When our police make it a priority to target cyclists they teach the community that it’s ok to target cyclists. When it becomes official policy to go after a segment of the population, it implicitly condones hatred of that segment. In this case, that makes drivers more likely to view cyclists as an annoyance and more likely to take an attitude that puts those cyclists in harm’s way – cyclists who now, more than ever, feel they will not have the support of the very people who are sworn to protect them.

When our police agencies make it a priority to target just cyclists, instead of everyone who make the roads unsafe, it makes the road a dangerous place.

This post originally appeared on Kelly’s blog about just about everything, Almost as Good as TV. She is a freelance writer living in Marin County.

San Rafael Bikeway under official consideration… in San Anselmo

There are details for each of the segments on Google Maps. Click to go there and browse. Green lines mean sharrows (Class III), brown means cycle track (Class I) without parking, red means Class I with parking, and blue means a traditional bike lane (Class II).

Long-time readers of The Greater Marin will likely remember my proposal for a protected/Class I bike lane through downtown San Rafael. I hoped the San Rafael Bikeway would spark some discussion about integrating bicycling infrastructure into the primary arteries of Central Marin, and I got a bit of positive response from the blog but not much officially.

Now, the San Anselmo Quality of Life Commission has taken up my proposal and could endorse it at tonight’s meeting, which would be a first step to making the Bikeway a reality.

The San Anselmo Quality of Life Commission doesn’t have much pull on San Rafael policy, but the work of the commission is taken seriously by the San Anselmo Council. An endorsement by the town council would be a next step, and I’ll be lobbying for it when I’m in town for the holidays.

So consider this an action alert. Though I sadly won’t be able to attend and advocate on behalf of the Bikeway plan, I’ve submitted a letter urging the commission to adopt the resolution, and a show of support would be most appreciated.

The San Rafael segment of the East-West Bicycle Plan is woefully inadequate, forcing cyclists far from downtown so as to avoid Third and Second. The San Rafael Bikeway would not take away any traffic lanes during commute hours. It would spur far more bicycling along the whole corridor – studies have shown that protected bicycle lanes double the number of cyclists along a given corridor – and would help support downtown business.

Since residents of San Anselmo would be just as likely to use the Bikeway as the people of San Rafael, the quality of life in San Anselmo is very much tied to how San Rafael designs its infrastructure. Show your support, and tell the commission to vote yes tomorrow.

What: San Anselmo Quality of Life Commission meeting
When: 7pm, Monday, November 19
Where: San Anselmo Historical Museum, 525 San Anselmo Ave., San Anselmo
Agenda: Here
Plans: The San Rafael Bikeway Proposal

Mid-Week Links: Novato Moving

Looking at Novato and Beyond

Looking at Novato and Beyond by udpslp, on Flickr

Things are starting to move in Novato, six weeks after the tragic crash that killed Hailey Ratliff. A memorial walk two weeks ago saw hundreds turn out, with city officials and residents expressing support for safer streets. Elisabeth Thomas-Matej joined my call for protected bike lanes in the city while a neighborhood group is investigating ways to lobby for safer streets. And, now that the driver who killed Hailey was cleared of wrongdoing, the Ratliff family has decided to sue Novato for negligence. The suit argues that poor road design, high speeds, and untrimmed vegetation all contributed to the tragedy.

Only time will tell if this movement is permanent. For the sake of the city and its people, I hope it is.

Marin Greater and Lesser

  • Marin County has the second-lowest number of people commuting alone to work in the Bay Area, bested only by San Francisco itself. Though it’s still somewhat high at 65.2 percent, fully 19 percent don’t drive, take transit, or carpool at all, and that probably means a lot of walking and bicycling. (CoCo Times)
  • Santa Rosa faces a tough decision with its Coddingtown SMART rail crossing. It can spend $1.7 million for a pedestrian overpass, or close one at-grade crossing so state regulators would allow the city to open a new at-grade crossing here. (PD)
  • Parklets could come to Fairfax, that is if the concept passes through all the governmental hoops alterations to parking usually have to jump through. (Patch)
  • The Italian Street Painting Festival is back! After a hiatus and concerns it wouldn’t return, organizers received enough seed money to revive San Rafael’s biggest street festival of the year for next summer. (Patch)
  • Sprawl in Tiburon is being subsidized by Marin and the costs are skyrocketing. A court ordered the county to pay half the cost of a housing development’s EIR, and the cost has now reached $468,000. (IJ)
  • Larkspur has the worst roads in the Bay Area. While not much of a problem for drivers, bicyclists have a tough time navigating the cracked and buckled pavement. (Bay Citizen)
  • Marin’s mountain biking history and culture is on display at the SFO gallery, so stop by next time you pass through. If you really want your fix, don’t forget that we have an express bus; for a $40 round-trip, it’s actually not much more than a high-class theater. (Pacific Sun)
  • A fighter pilot is trained to keep watch for any movement and to use his or her eyes to maximum effect. Drivers and cyclists, who aren’t trained in the fine art of attention, should be. An RAF pilot has some tips for how to detect cyclists if you’re a driver, and how to avoid getting missed if you’re a cyclist. (London Cyclist)
  • And…: Caltrans hit with record fine for breaking water quality rules in 101 construction. (PD) … A new Boston rail station is being funded by New Balance. (Archpaper) Could Fireman’s Fund do the same for SMART in Novato? … Fare hikes and service cuts are coming to Santa Rosa’s CityBus. (PD) … Marin Transit’s Muir Woods Shuttle awarded for excellence. (NBBJ) … Corte Madera’s long-awaited park cafe has finally opened. (IJ)

The Toll

One person died and two others were injured this week.

  • Richard Giacomini drowned after crashing his truck into a West Marin reservoir this week. The well-known rancher was 71. (IJ)
  • Joe Kwai Lee, the driver accused of killing Alvine Heese with his car last week, has plead not guilty in Santa Rosa court. He was driving to a doctor’s appointment on a suspended license. (PD)
  • A woman was injured by a driver backing out of their driveway in Santa Rosa. (PD) … A motorcyclist injured himself by crashing his bike in Sonoma County. He suffered only minor injuries. (PD)

Mid-Week Links: Get Up


What’s it like to be a bus driver? How’s it different from a bus passenger? How we get where we go shapes our perspectives and our understanding in ways we miss.

Marin Proper and Greater

  • BioMarin opened its new downtown San Rafael headquarters to much fanfare, with the mayor and lieutenant governor in attendance. The move brings 300 workers to the most transit-accessible place in the county; here’s hoping they take advantage. (IJ)
  • Novato’s new economic development director has some big ideas for Novato, especially downtown, and that could mean some positive change is on its way for the beleaguered city. (IJ)
  • Tam Valley residents spoke out against zoning for 34 new residences at Tam Junction, saying they would cause illness, environmental harm, traffic chaos, and injury to neighbors. (Herald)
  • Road maintenance, housing, and the county safety net will get the bulk of a $5 million surplus allocated by the Marin Board of Supervisors. Still to be decided is how to split $46 million in funding for pension and health liabilities. (IJ)
  • Protected class I bicycle lanes reduce injuries by up to 90 percent where installed, according to a new survey out of Toronto. (Streetsblog)
  • Amtrak continues its move toward moderate-speed trains with a successful 110-mph test in Illinois. That segment is expected to cut about an hour off of the Chicago-Saint Louis travel time. (The Hill)
  • And…: Cotati broke ground on its new transit center, which will include the SMART station. (PD) … A 20-room hotel is coming to Sausalito. (IJ) … New affordable housing is on its way to Hamilton. (NBBJ) … Superman declares a war on cars, slums, and takes it a bit too far. (Planetizen)

The Toll

Our transportation system killed two people and injured two others this week.

  • Alejandro Torres was killed by a driver in Santa Rosa while crossing the street. The driver, Sebastian Valdoz, who was uninjured, says he didn’t see Torres, who was well into the crosswalk. Santa Rosa police are investigating the cause but accused pedestrians of being over-confident when they have the right-of-way and have traditionally laid fault at the feet of the dead. Torres was 24. (PD)
  • Dorothy Buechy, who injured herself in a car crash last Wednesday, died of her injuries in Santa Rosa on Saturday. She was 86. (PD)
  • The IJ reports that the rash of accidents in Monday’s rains slowed down the commute but writes not a word about injuries.
  • The Tiburon man who tried to run down a pedestrian because of the pedestrian’s plaid shirt was banned from driving for three to five years. This is on top of a one year jail sentence. (IJ)
  • A big-rig driver lost control of his truck in the rain and crashed it in Santa Rosa, spilling diesel fuel and injuring himself. (PD) … A bicyclist was hit by a driver in Sebastopol on Friday and suffered major injuries. (PD)

If you’d like to contribute, shoot me an email at theGreaterMarin [at] gmail.com. I need your expertise, your voice, to keep TGM consistently informative and relevant to Marin’s changing urban and transportation landscape.

Mid-Week Links: Oops

las gallinas creek, marin county

las gallinas creek, marin county by on2wheelz, on Flickr

Marin and Beyond

  • SMART is owning up to its failures at Gallinas Creek, admitting that it misinterpreted its own guidelines for construction work and violating state and federal protected species and habitat laws in the process. The agency is now seeking the proper permits to continue construction work. (IJ)
  • The Marin Board of Supervisors approved a sprawl development just past Santa Venetia, allowing ten homes to be built far from just about anything. (IJ)
  • That GGT/MT contract isn’t quite as finished as we’d hoped. While staff tried to finalize language, Marin Transit raised concerns that it doesn’t give MT the flexibility to choose which routes GGT would operate, leading to an impasse. (IJ)
  • India issued, then rescinded, an arrest warrant for Vijay Mallya, owner of Marinscope newspapers. His airline, Kingfisher, bounced $1.9 million worth of checks; the warrant was withdrawn when Kingfisher agreed to pay the outstanding bills. (IJ)
  • Every time you use a Clipper card, a computer records that data, and that data can be subpoenaed. There’s also a smartphone app that allows a Clipper card to be read and travel history retrieved. (Bay Citizen)
  • The Federal Housing Administration has loosened restrictions on financing for mixed-use development. Under old rules, which I discussed a while ago, FHA wouldn’t fund developments with more than 25% commercial space. Under new rules, that goes up to 50%. (Streetsblog)
  • Though some Marinites call anything above 4 units per acre “extremely high density housing“, a development in Los Angeles shows that even 40 units per acre can be suburban and walkable. (Greater Greater Washington)
  • And…: American AgCredit plans to build a new office park in Sonoma County, thankfully near a planned SMART station. (NBBJ) … Our Presidential election season utterly ignores car-free issues. (Greater Greater Washington) … MCBC is hosting a family bike workshop this Saturday at 10am in Larkspur. You should definitely be there. (IJ) … Fairfax’s Biketoberfest was a roaring success, as always. (Patch)

The Toll

This week, our transportation system killed three people and wounded 14 others.

  • A man killed himself when he crashed his SUV into a tree in Santa Rosa on Thursday. Police aren’t sure why he lost control of the vehicle, and his name hasn’t been released. (PD)
  • Joseph Von Merta was killed by a driver in Santa Rosa, the ninth pedestrian to die in the city this year. He was hit while crossing the road early Monday morning, and died Wednesday night. The driver, Emanuel Morales-Rodriguez, suffered minor injuries, and fault has not been determined. Von Merta was 57. (PD)
  • A driver died in a single-car crash in Windsor early Sunday morning while she exited Highway 101. Sheryl Greenlee may have suffered a medical emergency that killed her and caused the crash, but the investigation is ongoing. Greenlee was 43. (PD)
  • A driver lost control of their vehicle near Marinwood and spun out on wet pavement. The result was an 11-car crash and eight injured people, six of which had to go to the hospital. (Patch)
  • Cassandre Jade seems to have seriously injured herself in Lucas Valley. She drove off the road and into a creek before dawn on Thursday and was only extricated four hours later. (IJ)
  • Three people were injured in a three-car collision in Healdsburg. (PD) … A bicyclist was seriously injured by a driver in Santa Rosa on Saturday. (PD) … A car flipped on Highway 101 in San Rafael on Wednesday morning. No injury or other information was released. (IJ)

How to Make Safe Novato Streets

If last month’s tragedy taught Novato anything, it’s that residents need to take road safety as seriously as they do housing elements. Lives, not just town character or property values, can hang on things we hardly ever think about. Where should the first stop sign be when we enter Novato? What about this road makes the speed limit seem so low? There are easy ways to reform Novato’s streets to be safer for drivers, bikers, and pedestrians, but they only take us so far. Going further would require Novato to rethink the fundamental purpose of its roads. But let’s start easy.

The Gateways

The points of greatest danger are the approaches into the city, where people transition from highway to city driving. In these areas, speeds officially fall from 45+ miles per hour down to 25 or 35, though roadway design and culture tack on another 5-10 miles per hour.

To bring people from highway mode and into city mode, Novato has employed stop signs and stop lights, but these are insufficient. Coverage of the Ratliff crash included quotes from people grousing about high vehicle speeds where she was killed, yet the only indication of a falling speed limit was the speed limit sign. Everything else about the road screamed at the driver, “It’s safe to drive fast here.”

European cities use a combination of special road paint, stop signs, and roundabouts to calm traffic and get drivers into urban driving mode. Roundabouts would be a bit much for a conservative city like Novato, but paint and stop signs certainly aren’t.

This design slowed cars by 5-10 miles per hour. Image from University of Naples.

Different shoulder paint tells drivers that a change is coming, while a stop sign would clearly delineate where the change actually is. The key is to get drivers out of what is essentially an automatic driving mode and into a more attentive mode. On a rural road or Highway 101, one never expects things to jump out in front of the car. The road, through paint and a stop sign, will alert drivers to this change, making them more attentive to the increased complexity of city driving.

The Arterials

Novato’s streets are themselves unsafe. At a typical driving speed of 40 miles per hour, pedestrians hit have a very low chance of survival. At the same time, the streets can have lanes as wide as those on a freeway (about 12 feet), putting drivers back into a highway mode. These arterial roads should be redesigned for safety. Above all, that means narrowing lanes to 10 feet in a process called a lane diet.

Unlike a road diet, which removes lanes to provide space for a center turn lane or a median, a lane diet just narrows the existing lanes and gives the excess space over to parking, biking or sidewalks. Novato roads already have center turn lanes, medians, and parking.  It’s hard to imagine using 28 feet (two lanes plus narrowing existing lanes) for anything useful without land accompanying land-use reforms.

But four 10-foot lanes with a center turn lane would do plenty of good for street safety. Lane diets reduce crash rates, sometimes as much as 43%. Vehicle speeds, too, are reduced by road diets and lane diets, meaning those crashes that do occur are less likely to be serious. The fact that street capacity would remain essentially unchanged is an added political bonus. Introducing lane diets to Novato arterials would make them objectively better roads.

The Bike Lanes

A cycletrack in Portland, OR. Image from NACTO.

We still need to deal with 8 feet of extra road width on our dieted streets. Rather than using it on sidewalks, Novato should convert its class II bicycle lanes to class I cycle tracks.

Cycle tracks are fully separated bicycle paths that have buffers or barriers between them and the automobile traffic and are best suited for roads with high traffic volume or high vehicle speeds, i.e., arterial roads.

NACTO’s bicycle lane guide recommends cycle tracks widths of at least five feet with a three foot buffer. If we combine the width removed from our road lane diets with the width of existing class II bike lanes, there is enough space for a cycle track going in either direction. This improvement would increase safety for bicyclists by getting them away from car traffic without banishing them from the street entirely, increase safety for pedestrians by putting space between them and traffic, and increase bicycling by providing infrastructure appropriate to the road.

Costs are relatively minimal, at least compared to what we spend on road infrastructure. Cycle tracks typically range from about $100,000 to $165,000 per mile. For about $3.35 million, Novato could install cycle tracks on every arterial street in the city; it could do every rural arterial for about $970,000 more. Considering that we’re spending 270 times that on highway expansion, it might be worth more attention from TAM and city hall.

Such an expansive investment in bicycling in Novato would be transformative. While transit and walking aren’t terribly efficient modes of transportation through most of Novato, the bicycle is. If the city provided the infrastructure for in-city trips, it would cut down on traffic and improve the health and quality of life any resident that can ride. At least one study found that cycle tracks increase bicycling by 250% and that in turn increases safety for all road users, from driver to pedestrian, by making drivers more aware of vulnerable users and calming traffic.

Last week’s post exhorted Novato to stand and say enough: enough death, enough apathy. Rather than leave it up to the process, Novatans should tell the council to fix gateways roads, shrink lanes, and invest in bicycle infrastructure that fits the needs of the road. It’s not an issue of road capacity, for it would hardly change. It’s an issue of political will on the part of Novato’s councilmembers, city staff, and residents. They have the power to make safe their city’s streets. Or they could call deaths on their streets inevitable and do nothing at all.

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