Mid-Week Links: Progress

July 4th, 2009

by Brendan Landis

Marin County

  • Contract negotiations between Marin Transit and GGT are starting to pay off, though a timeline for finishing the new contract is still elusive. The MT board delayed a decision on Monday, deciding to let the negotiations play out. (IJ)
  • Structures built in the SMART right-of-way, i.e., stations, will not be required to go through the local design review process thanks to legislation introduced by Assemblyman Michael Allen and passed by the state legislature. They will, however, still be subject to local zoning ordinances. (Pacific Sun)
  • The new federal transportation bill, recently signed into law, will likely cost Marin some $500,000 in Safe Routes to School funding. Local sources of funding means the program will stay alive in the county, but with rather less robust finances. There is, of course, much more to the bill. (IJ, Streetsblog)
  • The Marin County election season is heating up again, with Sausalito’s hand-slapping Mike Kelly retiring after eight years on the council being the biggest news so far. In all, 28 positions around the county will be on the ballot come November. (IJ)
  • The venerable anchor-out community of Sausalito holds some of the most colorful, despondent, independent, thoroughly old-school Marinites in the county. With the America’s Cup around the corner, some of the anchor-outs wonder if their time is up. (Bohemian)
  • Novato’s new city office building broke ground on Tuesday, signalling an end to one of the major controversies swirling around the community, though don’t count on hearing the end of it at council meetings. (IJ)
  • Since the Pacifics began playing at Albert Park, there have been few problems, despite the vociferous arguments made during the process to approve the team’s use of the field. (IJ)
  • And…: GGT apparently runs unscheduled ferries between Sausalito and San Francisco to pick up bikers. Why not put them on the books? (IJ) … San Rafael touts the recent HOV freeway widening as consistent with its Climate Change Action Plan. (News Pointer) … Give your ideas for the Larkspur’s SMART Station Area Plan this Monday at 6:30pm. You already know my idea. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Plan Bay Area has been criticized as too oppressive and too dictatorial to communities that believe all development is character-destroying development. In trying to ameliorate these concerns, PBA may have become too weak to actually achieve its goals. (Underground Science via Google Cache)
  • The legal hurdles for California High Speed Rail got a little bit shorter this week. Five lawsuits are in settlement, and other opponents have been cowed by the project’s recent victory in the state legislature. (Mercury News)
  • Downtown Phoenix, Arizona, really isn’t that great, but it doesn’t have to be. Shade, density, non-car connections, and a grocery store would all make the core of that desert metropolis more livable. (TDG)
  • Demand for walkable neighborhoods is at an all-time high. Riding high on the trend are new urban cores like Bellevue, Washington or Silver Spring, Maryland, which have retrofitted their suburban downtowns into something much more traditionally urban. (Fiscal Times)

The Toll

  • A 60-year-old bicyclist was sent to the hospital last night after a crash involving a car driver in downtown San Rafael. The driver stayed on the scene. (IJ)
  • Jessie Garcia died Saturday while driving in Santa Rosa. A vengeful driver struck his car instead of her boyfriend’s motorcycle, which she had been aiming for, causing his vehicle to flip and burst into flames. That driver, Heather Holmes, has been charged with second-degree murder. (Press Democrat)

Have a tip? Want to contribute? Email me at theGreaterMarin [at] gmail.com.

High-Speed Rail Whiplash

The current business plan.

Given the evolving and pressing nature of the California High-Speed Rail story, Mid-Week Links will have to wait until tomorrow.

High-speed rail dominated the news and blogosphere this week, and for good reason. The California Legislature authorized – barely – releasing $8 billion in bond money so the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) could begin construction in the Central Valley. Federal Secretary of Tranportation Ray LaHood applauded the vote, as did transportation advocates, as a step in the right direction for the state and country, though acknowledging there was still another $60 billion to find.

Project opponents pointed to a lawsuit filed the day of the vote by one-time HSR booster Quentin Kopp, who argued the current business plan, which blends high-speed trains with lower-speed commuter rail, is illegal and “mangled”, but it didn’t do much to dampen advocate’s spirits.

The real bomb was let off the day after the vote.  The Los Angeles Times reported that French high-speed rail operator SNCF had approached CHSRA with a plan to privately finance and build the state’s rail line for a fraction of the cost, though along the I-5 corridor rather than the 99 as currently planned. SNCF, the report claimed, had been declined.  Though Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic had leaked an earlier memo from 2009 on the subject that seems to vindicate CHSRA, the Times piece dealt with a later proposal from 2010.

Steven Smith at Market Urbanism goes into more detail, quoting pro-HSR, anti-CHSRA activist David Schonbrunn that SNCF already actually had private backing in hand, and an anonymous source said the backing was from “major, major US banks”, though wouldn’t go into specifics. Rather than listen to the SNCF report, Smith’s source and Schonbrunn claim it was dismissed out of hand. Construction firm Parsons Brinckerhoff remained at the helm of CHSRA’s planning.

Smith speculates CHSRA stuck with the 99 plan for political reasons. For one thing, there are a number of employees working for both CHSRA and Parsons, and it would have been in Parsons’ interest to quash the SNCF plan. Another reason is the strong political clout of the eastern Central Valley. Though SNCF had planned spur lines and urban edge stations, located like airports, backers had pushed strongly for including the Central Valley’s population centers, and an I-5 alignment, while cheaper, wouldn’t have achieved the desired political result.

Alon Levy of Pedestrian Observations approached from a different angle. Not much is known about the SNCF plan, but we do know the cost – $38 billion – and the alignment change – from 99 to existing rights-of-way along I-5.  The alignment change alone, he writes, cannot possibly make up the difference between today’s $68 billion and the proposal’s $38 billion.  Rather, most of the cost savings would have to have come from better cost control, thanks to management of the project by an experienced European firm.

Levy’s takeaway, like Smith’s, is political:

The other lesson we can learn from this episode is political, regarding cost escalations and strategic misrepresentation. Too many political transit supporters downplay the issue. LightRailNow claims that a cost escalation that occurs before construction starts is not a cost escalation, but just a more accurate cost estimate; Robert Cruickshank did not quite say the same when the 2010 business plan for CAHSR revealed costs had doubled, but came close to it by describing the plan as more careful and thorough. In reality, large bombshell reports shortly after money has been obligated are a hallmark of secretive, untrustworthy planning, precisely the kind likeliest to lie about costs.

It’s likely the story will continue to unfold as the weeks wear on.

The story from Smith and Levy often spills onto Twitter, so if you’re into that kind of thing be sure to follow them @MarketUrbanism and @alonlevy @alon_levy. You can also follow me @theGreaterMarin, though I mostly leave the HSR story to them.

Mid-Week Links: Decisions

Petaluma River

Clearly this is worse than an office park. Why would SMART ever want to move here? Photo by Andrew Storms

Marin County

  • SMART will consolidate its offices in a transit-unfriendly Petaluma office park, far from downtown and far from the city’s planned rail station. A finalist property was downtown but even transit agencies can fall victim to the siren song of sprawl. The lease is up in six years. (Press Democrat, NBBJ)
  • Norm Solomon has conceded the race for Congress to Republican Daniel Roberts, all but ensuring a smooth election for Assemblymember Jared Huffman to Lynn Woolsey’s seat. (Patch)
  • Golden Gate Transit, along with a host of other regional agencies, is hiking fares on buses and ferries on July 1. Drivers, alas, will keep paying the same tolls. (IJ, GGT)
  • People are excited about closing the Novato Narrows by adding carpool lanes, the least bad kind of freeway expansion. On the downside, it’ll suck ridership away from the other big transit project on that corridor, SMART. (IJ)
  • The San Rafael Street Painting Festival is may not return again this year, or any other year. The wildly popular festival closes down Fourth Street for a day but has proven to be a money-losing enterprise for Youth in Arts, the sponsoring nonprofit, and they’ve called it quits. (IJ)
  • Nobody likes waiting in line to exit the parking lot after the Marin County Fair, so why not take the bus instead? You could even park at your local Park & Ride. (GGT)
  • And…: GGT’s bus stops are now on Google Maps as the agency continues its new-found affinity for customer service. (Google) … A Marin City housing activist will not be evicted for hosting her dying mother after all. (IJ) … On the opposite end, a Belvedere couple bought and demolished a $4.2 million home to expand their views and, presumably, their yard. (SFist)

The Greater Marin

  • Healdsburg is getting serious about bike infrastructure now that its petition to be an official Bicycle Friendly Community has been rejected by the League of American Bicyclists. (Press Democrat)
  • Housing growth projections are notoriously difficult to get right, and the numbers ABAG is using for Plan Bay Area is complicated by internal and external politics to boot. (SF Public Press)
  • SFMTA has its proposed alternatives for the Geary Bus Rapid Transit line available to browse and comment. Though the current plan is to give only the 38-Limited access to the route, GGT’s Route 92 runs as a limited-stop service along Geary, so Marin City commuters stand to benefit from the process as well.  As well, Van Ness BRT has been approved has a preferred alternative, meaning one more step to better service for Muni, as well as GGT’s Routes 10, 70, 80, 93, 101, and 101X. (Streetsblog) [edited per Viktoriya Wise's correction.]
  • California High Speed Rail faces a major funding hurdle in Sacramento today. The Legislature needs to release $2.7 billion in bond money so construction can begin on the central part of the line in the Central Valley. But lawmakers have also released a Plan B that would focus the funds on LA and San Francisco improvements instead, and there’s always the chance that no rail will pass at all. (Streetsblog)

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)

Mid-Week Links: The Subdivisions

by xspindoc

Marin County

  • LucasFilm has pulled its Grady Ranch proposal and will sell the land as affordable housing thanks to NIMBY opposition, stating, “Marin is a bedroom community and is committed to building subdivisions, not businesses.” Ouch. (Pacific Sun)
  • The Town of Fairfax has a new General Plan.  Among other things, the plan gives downtown businesses the opportunity to build second-story apartment units by right, rather than seeking special approval. (Town Manager)
  • Supervisor Arnold wants to know why growth projections for Marin have fluctuated so wildly in the Plan Bay Area draft SCS, and also why they are so out of line with historic norms. If the assumptions for Marin are flawed, she writes, then the whole process for the Bay Area is flawed. (IJ)
  • The March 28 MCCMC meeting offered opponents of housing quotas and ABAG to vent their frustrations against the regional agency. In the end, they also got leftover cookies. (Twin Cities Times)
  • Staying within ABAG is not just good for Marin – it’s good for the region, because what worries us ought to worry the rest of the Bay Area. (IJ)
  • Marin’s Local Coastal Program has gone through a four year epic journey of Coastal Commission and West Marin politics, public comments, criticism that it does too much (or too little), and even a splash of dominion theology as the county has worked to update the decades-old document. If you need some catching up, you may want to start here. (Pacific Sun)
  • And…: The AT&T Park ferry ride is getting too complicated, and too expensive, what with online reservations and a new convenience fee. (IJ) … A sidewalkless street in Homestead Valley is getting some sidewalks. (IJ) … What sort of light should a bicycle have? (Mercury News)

The Greater Marin

  • The finances and projections of California High Speed Rail are under scrutiny by noted rail opponent Representative Darryl Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee. (Politico)
  • San Francisco’s Transit Effectiveness Project SFMTA will give Muni buses signal priority by next year. I’m hoping GGT gets in on that. (Streetsblog) [edit - contrary to Streetsblog's summary, signal priority is a related but separate program from TEP.]
  • Someone in San Francisco wants to park a tiny, 130 square foot house in a driveway. The plans are actually quite nice and would make a lovely second unit, though I thought the minimum dwelling size under California state law was 160 square feet. (SFist)
  • Little City Gardens will be San Francisco’s first real urban farm now that the city has approved a zoning change for the market. It will sell and grow its produce on the same property. (SPUR)
  • Cotati’s downtown revitalization plan will move forward, but because it uses redevelopment funds the vote is up for state approval. (Press-Democrat)
  • The Southern California Association of Governments – ABAG and MTC’s Los Angelino cousin – approved its version of Plan Bay Area.  The sustainable communities strategy will spend half its transportation funding on mass transit rather than cars over the next 25 years, though a number of communities said it didn’t go far enough. Streetsblog has details. (SF Chronicle, Streetsblog)

Mid-Week Links: Colombian Roast

Medellín has a transit system unlike any other.  For the steep mountainsides there are gondolas and escalators; for the center city, there are metro trains and BRT, and for everywhere else there’s a burgeoning bikeshare system. Whenever I see movies like this, I imagine what kind of place Marin might have been if the trains had never stopped running, if BART had made it across the bridge, if we didn’t value mall parking above people and the planet.  What kind of a country would we be if, rather than putting cars before people, we put people before cars?

Marin County

  • The Ritter Center will expand into a temporary medical space, thanks to approval by the San Rafael council Monday night, but will be limited to only 60 clients per day rather than the 65 requested. (Pacific Sun)
  • Opponents of the Albert Park minor league plan have filed suit, arguing that professional baseball violates the park’s deed restriction against commercial activity. (Patch)
  • If you want to influence your town, show up to public meetings, if only to counterbalance the protestors that tend to show up instead. (Herald)
  • The Board of Supervisors delayed a vote on Lucas Valley’s Grady Ranch, pending review of environmental concerns raised by the Corps of Engineers and others. (IJ)
  • And…: Corte Madera started work on a new public plaza and cafe at its town-owned shopping center. (IJ) … San Anselmo approved a new parking lot across from downtown. (IJ) … Novato will install six electric car charging stations. (IJ) … San Anselmo is considering major improvements to Greenfield Avenue. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Congress approved a 90 day extension of federal transportation legislation, ensuring the gas tax and road construction funds did not end last weekend. The House never took up the Senate transportation bill, and the result is all kinds of bad. (The Hill)
  • Cost estimates for California High Speed Rail plummeted $30 billion under a new business plan released this week. (SFist)
  • Golden Gate/Marin Transit may not be the best transit system in the world, but at least it’s typically on time – something Muni can’t really boast. (SFist)
  • In the City often?  Need a break from the bustle?  You may want to investigate the privately owned public spaces that dot the landscape. (SFist)

Mid-Week Links: Plans from On High

image from NASA

Plan Bay Area

  • Pacific Sun has a wonderful rundown, as they so often do, of the issues surrounding One Bay Area and Plan Bay Area – from the workshops disrupted by tea party agitators to historical context to just what the plan actually hopes to achieve.
  • One Bay Area has cut job and housing growth projections for Marin, with significant housing cuts in some towns and dramatic increases in others.  Town planners will be consulted for the next draft figures, to be released in May. (IJ)
  • However, Supervisor Judy Arnold, Marin’s alternate representative to ABAG,  called Plan Bay Area’s projected job increase in Marin unrealistic, citing a shrinking, rather than growing, job pool in the county. County staff will examine the numbers, and a decision will then be made whether to proceed with an appeal. (IJ)

Marin County

  • The Downtown San Rafael BID will get a $250,000 cash infusion for advertising and events after Keep It Local San Rafael settled their lawsuit against Target and Cal-Pox. (IJ)
  • San Anselmo is still tied in knots as it tries to tighten design review ordinances.  Neighbors are still upset over the addition to Councilmember Kroot’s home. (Ross Valley Reporter)
  • Joe Casalnuevo, who successfully challenged county ordinances over whether split lots needed to pay in-lieu affordable housing fees, has taken Marin to court over the fight, alleging $60,000 in damages and time lost fighting the fee. (IJ)
  • MCBC is taking volunteers for its annual Bike Locally Challenge, though at six months it may be a bit long for a promotion.  Arlington County, VA, does a month-long Car Free Diet that involves bikes and transit – perhaps Marin Transit could cross-promote? (Pacific Sun, County of Arlington)
  • Copyright law overrode local preference in Tiburon, where the council approved CVS’s red sign, overturning the Design Review Board’s ruling that it should be a gray and white sign. (IJ)
  • And…: Fairfax will at last install cameras for town council meetings. (IJ) … Ross Valley School District residents will vote on a $149 parcel tax in June to help stave off a budget crisis in the district. (Patch) … Marin Transit tweaks Novato and Terra Linda bus routes. (IJ) … Joseph Eichler designed more than just tract homes. (Bay Citizen)

The Greater Marin

  • While the focus of California High Speed Rail has been on just about everything but its utility, Central Valley cities are clamoring for the infrastructure. (LA Times, Fresno Bee)
  • Midcoast San Mateo is struggling with Plan Bay Area, which is including a county-designated Priority Development Area in the rural region.  Regional officials insist the rural development area is about improving infrastructure, not housing development. (San Mateo County Times)
  • Transit signage in the Bay Area are poor, and that’s actually no surprise at all.  Though MTC is on it, it’s unlikely Marin will see much of the fruit of their labor given our county’s current transit state of affairs. (Transportation Nation)
  • More people took public transit in 2011 than in 2010, the most since 1957, and that bodes well for the future of transportation and our cities. (New York Times)
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