Boost connectivity with integrated scheduling

The principal problem with Larkspur Ferry parking is really that it has poor connections to other modes, especially bus. Though there used to be a shuttle system in place, it didn’t do well and was cut years ago. While the Wave has taken a step toward reintroducing the shuttle, Golden Gate Transit has ignored regular bus service from the 29, as well as daytime and weekend trips to and from the ferry.

To help riders get a visual of their options, I’ve created an integrated bus/ferry schedule (PDF) for routes 17, 25, 29, and 228 – all of which serve Larkspur Ferry Terminal at some time or another. The Interurban light rail schedule (PDF) did the same thing with the Sausalito Ferry.

On the weekdays, what stands out to me is the very long connections for people coming from San Francisco. Though the 29 does pretty well for those heading to the ferry during the day – most require waits of only 10-15 minutes – it’s awful for connections from the ferry. Most connections are between 20-30 minutes, a couple leave only a minute to spare, and just a handful are in the sweet spot between 5 and 10 minutes. Optimizing the time points between the bus and ferry could boost ridership all on its own, without any need for new service.

Study the schedule yourself and you’ll see what I mean. And, if you’re a frequent ferry rider, print it out and keep it in your schedule book.

Being Marin again

A high-density development is planned around a railroad station in Marin. There will be more than 150 housing units and a vast expansion of commercial space. Supported by the railroad, it will be an hour-long ride from the train station to the ferry to San Francisco. Behind it is a monopoly developer with unrivaled power in the state capital.

This is what we’d say if we were talking about downtown San Anselmo if it were being built today. We’d have similar conversations about each of our downtowns: new railroad station, new houses, new commercial development. The Northwestern Pacific Railroad, a subsidiary of Southern Pacific, was behind them all.

And yet these are the areas we value most in Marin: dense, walkable, quaint. Though some look at all of Marin and think it’s perfect as it is, with strip malls and downtowns and freeways all coexisting in one great smear of suburbia, I’ve always felt that it was these downtowns, and that history of building for accessibility to transit, that made Marin unique.

Opponents have done their best to paint the plan as a reckless regional power grab. It ignores congestion, they say. It’s part of a scheme to “urbanize” Marin. It is out of step with our traditions, our heritage, and our character as a San Francisco suburb.

Carol Brandt, in a December 1 Letter to the Editor, wrote that protecting Greenbrae was part of protecting our small-town character and our nature as a suburb.

While I understand the trepidation and concern people have regarding the Larkspur Station Area Plan, it is in the best traditions of Marin to build near a ferry and a rail station. To my ears, the urge to keep Marin as a car-oriented bedroom community defined by strip malls is at odds with those traditions.

Yesterday’s Marin Voice put it best: “Taking advantage of a new train station and a popular ferry terminal is literally built into the DNA of our towns and our county’s identity. It’s only natural we’d want to do again what our county’s forebears did a century ago.”

The traditional transit-oriented development our forebears built has served us extremely well. Not only is its centerpiece, the downtown, the focus of civic pride for every city and town in the county, but it has proven remarkably practical.

Our traditions give us the third-highest transit usage in the state and the second-lowest rate of people driving alone to work. Our traditions have literally saved lives, as Marin has less than half the traffic deaths per capita as than the national average. We are the original smart-growth county.

Dick Spotswood wondered if the transit-oriented development model could work in Marin. It does work, and Marin is the living, breathing proof that it doesn’t just work here. It thrives here. A progressive Larkspur Landing Station Area Plan is a chance for Marin to be itself again. To steal a motto, it’s time to Be Marin (Again).

Write to the Larkspur City Council and the Marin IJ editorial page if you support a progressive future for Larkspur Landing.

Final Larkspur Station Area Plan goes before the community

The reexamination of the Larkspur Landing neighborhood is proceeding apace, and the city will start to consider the SMART Station Area Plan’s final documents tomorrow. However, the forces opposed to change in Marin are mobilizing opposition already, fueled by some ill-chosen words in the IJ and ideological misgivings about transit.

What is the Station Area Plan?

The station area plan (SAP) was put together by a citizen advisory committee over the course of about a year, with public meetings and community input the whole way. It studied the possibility of new office, housing, and retail development, and its possible impacts on traffic, parking, and transit. It described ways to ameliorate some of the existing problems and ways to ease the introduction of new development.

While it was described in the IJ as a housing plan for 900 new units in the Larkspur Landing neighborhood around the ferry terminal, this is inaccurate. It studied how up to that amount might accommodated in the neighborhood, but does not plan for this number. At best, it is a conceptual document with plans for infrastructure investment. A real housing plan would likely come as part of a new housing element or a broader zoning reform.

This is not a housing plan.

Why Larkspur Landing?

Larkspur Landing is a drivable bit of Larkspur centered around the once-eponymous Larkspur Landing Shopping Center, now called Marin Country Mart. It has the second-fastest-growing transit line in the county in the Larkspur Ferry and in all likelihood will soon be home to a SMART station. Plans for the Greenbrae Interchange will add a connection to the Highway 101 trunk line buses, giving easy access to the rest of Marin by transit.

It is a pass-through neighborhood. Commuters use it to travel to the Richmond Bridge, causing massive backups during the evening commute that spill onto northbound 101. The recently-approved Greenbrae Interchange Project will likely fix many of these issues, but fitting them into a broader plan to make the neighborhood a more livable one is important.

As well, Larkspur Landing is a good candidate for infill development. While the SAP is not a housing (or office, or retail) plan, it targets improvements with the idea of improving circulation and infrastructure in the neighborhood. It will be a transit and transportation hub, with easy access to the ferry, SMART, the region’s major trunk bus lines, and the North-South Greenway, our county cycling superhighway.

If the city ever decides it would be a good idea to add development or encourage new business to grow in that part of the city, the SAP’s studies of capacity and circulation at multiple population and job levels will be invaluable to that decision-making. Though that time is not now, advocates and opponents should know what they’re supporting and opposing.

How can we support a progressive Station Area Plan?

Opponents of any growth and change in Larkspur will fight for any mention of development in the SAP, believing it to be a “housing plan” and crippling its ability to improve the neighborhood. Supporters of a livable Larkspur should argue strenuously for maximizing the flexibility of the plan.

This means defending the land use portion of the SAP, which rests on the commonly accepted understanding that transit-oriented development promotes transit ridership. Though opponents have tried to tear down the concept, it holds true in the settings where it has been applied rigorously.

A recent study of rail-oriented development in New Jersey found that it is the density of bus stops – not proximity to rail or the newness of development – that is best correlated with transit use. The Larkspur SAP, by its proximity to the 25, 28, 29, and soon the 101 bus trunk, will fit that category.

The old-school TOD in Marin, oriented around buses, has led to the highest transit mode-share in the Bay Area outside of San Francisco, showing the truth of this concept in Marin’s suburban setting.

Arlington County, VA, dramatically increased its population in 40 years by growing only on the 5 percent of its land immediately next to transit. The result has been no increase in traffic. Though its densities are more suited to the Peninsula than Marin, there’s no reason for the model to fail on a smaller scale in the Marin setting.

Most importantly, the real traffic savings in transit-oriented development isn’t in moving trips from car to transit; it’s from moving trips from car to foot and bike. Not every trip can (or should) be so moved, but well-designed places give people the opportunity for productive use of their feet. If you lived in downtown Larkspur, your kids could walk to school; you could walk to get a haircut, get coffee, get a book, get new pet food, or do some light grocery shopping. Doing each of those trips on foot saves a mile or two from the roads and gives that road space to people who need or want to travel further.

A progressive SAP will give Larkspur the flexibility to build this way if it chooses but will not lock the city into this way of thinking if it feels the shopping center model is better than its downtown.

The SAP should aim for the best transportation future for the area: ameliorate traffic, promote the ferry-SMART connection, promote strong 101 bus connections, activate Sir Francis Drake and Larkspur Landing Circle as walking and biking streets, and examine ways to bring more counter-commuters to the ferry terminal.

What are the logistical challenges in Larkspur Landing?

A few of the challenges faced by Larkspur Landing are not within the scope of the SAP.

The biggest is the ferry’s legal capacity limits. At the moment, it may only do 42 catamaran trips per day, and it’s currently doing 37, not including ballgames. This is a problem that needs to be resolved, but it can only be done through a revised environmental impact report on the high-speed catamarans.

The next is traffic, which will be addressed by the Greenbrae project. Unfortunately, the project as passed didn’t include much benefit analysis, so it’s unknown at the moment how much traffic will be ameliorated by the bus, bike, and road improvements.

The last is the location of the SMART station, which is currently too far from the ferry terminal. Doing it right would mean moving the station either to the Marin Country Mart parking lot, which has space to spare, or to the ferry terminal itself. The SAP should keep this option open and encourage the SMART board to change its station site.

If you go (and you really should), the IJ published these details:

Larkspur will host a workshop about the Draft Station Area Plan and Station Area Plan Draft Environmental Impact Report from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 400 Magnolia Ave.

The workshop will explore the major land use policies, plans for various types of transportation and open space and recreation opportunities for the area.

From 4:30 to 5:25 p.m., an open house will be held with informational displays for viewing and opportunities for conversation with project consultants and city staff. From 6 to 7:30 p.m., there will be a formal presentation and question-and-answer session.

For more information, call 927-5110.

Parking charge coming to Larkspur Ferry Terminal

In a stroke of good news, GGT will begin charging $2 for parking at the Larkspur Ferry Terminal (LFT) on January 6.

The charge is part of a progressive plan to manage access at LFT. Last year, there were few ways to get o LFT without a car, but the parking lot filled up after 8:30am, leaving mid-day travelers stranded and depressing ridership.

GGT tackled this high demand by implementing a shuttle bus in Ross Valley, called the Wave, to give people an alternative to driving. With the $2 charge, GGT is also trying to encourage people to use the shuttle or bike. In short, rather than try to boost parking supply by building garages, GGT is trying to reduce parking demand.

It’s a smart plan. Travel from LFT is highly “peaked,” with a lot of people taking the ferry for commutes to and from San Francisco but hardly anyone taking it in the middle of the day. Boosting the parking supply would further overwhelm those morning ferries.

It’s cheaper to encourage people to take the bus to and from the ferry or to and from the city with a parking charge. The result is a parking lot with space for afternoon riders and essentially the same number of commute riders.

GGT staff should monitor the situation carefully and establish a goal of a certain percentage of spaces available after the morning rush. With such a goal in mind, the Board could raise or lower the parking charge as needed to attain that goal.

The next big thing for Marin-San Francisco LFT riders are new bus pads under the 101 overpass at Sir Francis Drake. Approved as part of the Greenbrae Interchange Project, the pads will mean travelers on the 101 trunk line routes (17, 36, 70, 71, 80, and possibly 101) will be able to easily transfer to the ferry, unlike the current trek from Paradise Drive. SMART will likely come soon after that.

Combined with the parking charge, LFT will be able to accommodate more years of booming ridership growth and allow it to become the all-day service the Sausalito ferry is. Though it will bump up against the limits of its ferry infrastructure eventually, that is a far better problem than being limited by a parking lot.

Golden Gate Ferry promotes reverse travel to Larkspur

In an attempt to get more reverse travel from San Francisco to Larkspur Landing’s Marin Country Mart, Golden Gate Ferry is giving away tickets for some of its trips* for the month of August. Here’s hoping this will lead to more reverse-ferry trip promotions.

It’s no secret that counter-commute ferry travel is, well, sparse. Survey show that some trips in the middle of the day have as few as 10 passengers for ferries equipped to carry 350. While this monumental waste of capacity won’t be solved entirely until Larkspur develops the Larkspur Ferry Terminal (LFT) parking lot, that doesn’t mean Larkspur Landing is only a desolate parking lot.

Marin Country Mart is the principal destination for the neighborhood. For a long time it was just another outdoor mall, but now the shopping center is trying to transform itself into a hipper destination, with jazz on Fridays and the Folkish Festival and food trucks on Sundays. The beer snobs among us have the always-wonderful Marin Brewing Company to visit, too.

People who want to participate print off an SF-Larkspur ticket (PDF click on the big image of a ticket on that page) at home, take one of the off-peak trips to Larkspur,* and get a return ticket from a Marin Country Mart retailer for an off-peak trip home.

All in all, it’s an ingenious way to get more reverse travel. It’s easy to think of Marin as Over There, out of reach for most people. By lowering the cost barrier, GGF could attract more regular riders and bring Larkspur Landing into the imagination of San Franciscans as a place they can actually go. There’s no guarantee these new passengers will stay with the ferry after the promotion is over, but some may start to think of Larkspur Landing as someplace as close as another San Francisco neighborhood.

Other promotions should draw in employees of Larkspur Landing businesses, who may drive today but could take the ferry instead. This promotion would help workers that commute north in the morning, provided they get something at Marin Country Mart before heading south.

GGF’s promotion, combined with the ferry shuttle, paid parking, and the new 7:30am departure, shows that GGF understands the challenges faced by its Larkspur ferry service and isn’t afraid to be creative in its solutions. I only wish its bus service was so bold.

*On weekdays, its any northbound departure between 8:30am and 3pm, and any southbound departure between 10:10am and 8:50pm. On weekends, it’s the northbound 12:40pm and southbound 4:45pm.

When transit affordability and convenience are at odds

Last week, an IJ editorial on pricing ferry parking took a cautious note. “The bridge board needs to maintain a focus on keeping the ferry affordable to all and a convenient and dependable way to get to and from work.” The IJ is concerned that charging for parking will make the ferry unaffordable. But the aim shouldn’t be more affordability; it should be for efficiency. And, the best way to manage a scarce resource efficiently, including ferry parking, is to put a price on it.

It’s a basic principal of economics. Supply can meet demand only when the resource has the right price. Higher prices discourage consumers from using the resource and encourage producers from making more of it. When it comes to a relatively fixed resource (inelastic supply), like parking, the price just regulates demand.

In the real world, a price forces someone to consider whether that resource is actually worth paying for. Is a parking space worth $2? Those who answer no will either get to the ferry another way or take another mode of transportation to the City. This leaves room for others who are willing to pay but who couldn’t find a space before.

Here’s the neat thing. By putting a price on parking, suddenly accessing the resource, while more expensive, is actually more convenient and dependable. Today we have a shortage of spaces, and someone who doesn’t show up by 7:30am is probably not going to get a parking space. If the price is such that, say, 5 percent of parking spaces are free each day, that means there will always be parking available, even in the middle of the day.

The IJ should concern itself not with how cheap we can make a ferry trip but how efficiently we can manage the ferry’s infrastructure. Thankfully, GGT is concerned about this. So rather than spend tens of millions to boost the parking supply, GGT wants to regulate it with a fee. People can still get to the ferry for free if they want to, with a shuttle, foot, or bike, but there is room to spare there. If GGT wants to operate with efficiency, this is where people need to go.

GGBHTD responds to my series on ferry parking

A couple of months ago, I wrote a four-part series on Larkspur Landing’s parking and access problems. I discussed the possibility of a parking district, a shuttle, transit-oriented development, as well as the constraints on the terminal’s passenger capacity. When the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District (GGBHTD) called for comment on access to the ferry terminal, I summarized the first two into a two-page letter, complete with cost/benefit table, and sent it to the Board and staff.

Last week, I got a response from GGBHTD responding to some of my proposals. Here’s what they sent me:

Dear Mr. Edmonson [sic]:

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District (District) is in receipt of your letter, dated April 23, 2013, addressed to the members of the Board of Directors, expressing your concerns relative to the “Strategic Vision for the Golden Gate Ferry Larkspur Service (Strategic Vision.” Staff has researched the issues you raise din your letter regarding your assessment of unused parking in the vicinity of the larkspur Ferry Terminal, and your interest in a shuttle from San Rafael Transit Center (SRTC) to the ferry terminal.

With regard to parking in the vicinity of the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, the Larkspur Station Area Plan did identify a large amount of surface parking at the various parcels within a radius. However, the examination of that parking was looking in the context of increasing the density of the existing surface spaces. These surface parking spaces were identified for future opportunities to provide for mixed use development and structured parking opportunities. Presently, these parking spaces are needed by the various commercial tenants on these properties. Staff has communicated with various property managers in the area who indicated that their office occupancies are in the low ninety percent range and rising. Although the District did lease some surface spaces many years ago, property managers indicated that they could not consider that possibility at this time, due to their rising demand.

With regard to the shuttle form the SRTC to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, limited parking in the vicinity of the SRTC would be a barrier to its use. The District operated a midday ferry shuttle from the SRTC to and from the Larkspur Ferry Terminal during 2007 as a demonstration project that, unfortunately, was not successful. Among the reasons cited for passengers not using this service were lack of parking in the vicinity of the SRTC and the inconvenience of using other Golden Gate Transit routes to access this shuttle, due to the need to transfer twice to reach the ferry.

As you may be aware, the Board of directors (Board) approved adoption of the Strategic Vision at its meeting of May 10, 2013, with the understanding that staff would bring individual projects forward to determine cost, feasibility and implementation on a case-by-case basis. The Strategic Vision includes both near-term strategies to address current increasing demand, as well as longer-term strategies to allow for the capacity for ridership to continue to increase. Both parking considerations and a possible demonstration project to test the reinstatement of a ferry shuttle route in the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard corridor will be brought back to the Board for review and possible action this summer.

Thank you for taking the time to express your concerns and for your interest in the District’s Strategic Vision.

Sincerely,

James C. Eddie
President, Board of Directors

I’m glad they took the time to talk with local parking owners, as that would be the easiest way to address the parking crunch, but it’s a disappointment that they were asked whether they’d be willing to lease spaces to the District instead of participate in a parking district. A parking district gives owners control over how many spaces to have available on a daily basis, whereas a lease locks up spaces for years. Though the SMART parking survey showed there would be enough space even with 100 percent occupancy, it’s understandable that parking owners wouldn’t want to risk their parking spaces with a lease.

The 2007 shuttle from SRTC failed not because of little parking, though that would be a problem for some, but because it competed with free parking at the ferry terminal. But no matter. Marin Transit will service the Ferry Terminal via SRTC come next year, and the ferry shuttle along Sir Francis Drake will be accompanied by paid parking at Larkspur Ferry Terminal.

Overall, I’m happy the staff took the time to look into the issues I raised, or at the very least to draft a coherent response. It means they are taking public input seriously, and it validates citizen technical activism. That’s a pattern other agencies, especially SMART, should take note of.

 

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