Marin’s towns are destinations

Population is a statistic everyone knows about a town. It’s an important stat, as it tells us how many residents there are, roughly how many taxpayers there are, how many voters, etc. However, especially for large cities, it’s extremely important to know how many people are in the city during the day. Commuters swell San Francisco’s daytime population to over 950,000, a fifth more than actually live there.

Daytime Population-County Chart

Breakdown of daytime population by county. Population on the left is what’s lost to out-commuting. Population on the right is daytime population.

For smaller cities and towns, the daytime population numbers tell us how mobile people are and how much of a destination a place is. If there are a lot of workers coming in, it’s an employment center. If there are a lot going out, it’s a bedroom community. And if there are both a lot coming in and a lot going out, there is a mismatch between a city’s jobs and its people.

The US Census Bureau ran the numbers on cities and places with a population of 2,500 or more, and the Atlantic Cities covered what the data means for big cities and regions. I’m curious about what it means for Marin.

Daytime Population-City Chart

Marin’s cities by daytime population.

Marin has been undergoing a transformation for the last 30 years, moving away from being a bedroom community for San Francisco and more toward being a jobs destination in its own right. Though the shift has been slow, Marin now has more jobs than workers, owing in part to a decline in the workforce and in part to an increase in jobs. The number of people commuting in has grown 3 percent; the number of people commuting out has shrunk 12 percent; and daily change in population has swung from -1.6 percent to +1.2 percent.

Data from other sources says most of Marin’s 45,000 in-commuting workers live in Sonoma and Contra Costa, but we get some from San Francisco and Alameda as well. All told, these folks hold 37 percent of Marin’s jobs.

There is a sense, however, that Marin is a collection of bedroom communities. While this isn’t true in aggregate, every town and place in Marin sends a large portion of their workforce off to work elsewhere.

Daytime Population-Employment Ratios

Just worker numbers. Blue are local workers; red are in-commuters. As before, population on the right is in-city, while population on the left is out-commuting.

Most interesting in this regard are towns like Corte Madera, which actually grow during the day but whose local workforce overwhelming leaves the city during the day. While the place itself is a destination, the voting constituency sees its town as principally an origin rather than a destination. When asked to choose which transportation investments to make, they will probably choose the ones that will facilitate their own commute out of town rather than the investments that will facilitate the commute to their town.

Also emerging from this data is San Rafael’s place as Marin’s downtown. Its population grows by almost a quarter, more than San Francisco, from 57,000 to over 70,000. Novato, with a similar number of residents, doesn’t change at all during the day, sending out as many workers as it takes in.

So what?

These data imply that most Marin commutes are between towns rather than between counties, as every town in Marin has more of their workforce leaving than staying while the county has a whole has more of its workforce staying than leaving. This has implications for Marin’s transportation and housing planners.

First, it means transportation infrastructure investments should principally focus on short-hop transportation: bike lanes, better intra-county transit, and walk-appeal improvements. Each of these will encourage short-haul commuters to bike, take transit, walk, or any mix of those. This would leave roads and parking lots open for those who really need or want to drive.

Second, it means transportation officials should examine how to facilitate long-haul transit commutes. Morning transit from San Francisco to Marin is pitifully bad. Hour-long bus headways make sure someone is always either late or early, while Larkspur Ferry drops commuters off in the middle of a parking lot with minimal transit service. From Contra Costa, 28-minute headways are better but the travel time is longer than it needs to be. Midday headways get as high as 60 minutes.

And third, it means the linkage between housing and jobs growth is best done on a county-wide, rather than city-wide, basis. Municipal boundaries are arbitrary, and it’s clear Marinites ignore them when it comes to jobs and homes. A Marin County subregion for RHNA allocations would make far more sense than the city-by-city allocations ABAG is now forced to make.

This new dataset from the Census will be extremely useful to the big cities, but it can also open a window into the behavior of our little corner of the country. Marin is maturing into a proper inner-ring suburb, drawing commuters all its own. Planners and residents need to shift their thinking, and their projects, to match that reality.

UPDATE: If you want to examine the data yourself, you can find full tables on the Census website. I’ve also isolated the Bay Area county data and the Marin town, city, and place data into a single spreadsheet. There have been some significant shifts since 2000 at the place level, but considering  margins of error on the 2010 data I hesitate to read too much into them for the smaller places.

Marin: The original smart growth county

San Anselmo from Red Hill. Photo by the author.

San Anselmo from Red Hill. Photo by the author.

Last weekend I had the privilege to attend the annual New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Kansas City. Mayors, activists, councilmembers, and the odd blogger came out to share successes and failures in their communities in the hopes that others could learn from their examples. And after it all, one thing is clear: Marin has it pretty good.

Smart growth came about in the early 90s as the response to auto-oriented sprawl. Though it can mean many things, the basic purpose is improving access for walking and bicycling. Within a 15 minute drive is a certain number of residences and businesses. Within a 15 minute walk there is less. In a place with high access for walkers, however, there is too much density for everyone to move around in cars, leading to congestion if that demand isn’t well-managed. Similarly, in a place with high access for cars, there is too little density for people to be able to walk with any efficiency.

While there have always been low-density places for the people who want peace and quiet away from the town center, the last 60 years has seen a great proliferation of such places. In cities like Tulsa or Houston, the city centers themselves were transformed to improve automobile access at the expense of walking access. What activists term sprawl was the outward growth of this style.

In Marin, we rebelled in the 1960s after we saw what freeways were doing to the rest of the Bay Area. Though our beloved trains and ferries were long gone, destroyed by the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway 101, we refused to allow West Marin to be built over. We developed our landmark Corridors plan, ensuring sprawl would not rule our day.

A centerpiece of smart growth is a commercially strong and walkable town, and almost every city and community in Marin has one. These are spaces where you can walk from a nearby neighborhood or park your car once and stroll the strip. They are places with a high density of destinations. They define their community. After all, what would Mill Valley be without Miller Avenue? Or San Rafael without Fourth Street?  Other cities aren’t so lucky.

But a place where you can walk isn’t much good if you can’t walk anywhere else, or if it’s unsafe to bike around town. On this, too, Marin has a leg up on its peers.

Surprising though it is, the fact that we have sidewalks on nearly all but the most rural streets and arterial roads is a rarity, and it shows in the pedestrian fatality rates. Across the US, there are 1.38 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people. In California, it’s 1.6 per 100,000, but in Marin it’s less than half that. In 2008, Marin only had 0.6 pedestrians die per 100,000 people. Though every death is a tragedy, Marin is doing far better than the country at large.

Our focus on smart growth – not to mention the transit-oriented bones left by that rail system – has paid off in how we commute. Our county has the second lowest rate of car commuters in the state, surpassed only by San Francisco. If we add carpools, we are tied with San Mateo County for third. One in three Marin commuters travel by a means other than a single-occupant vehicle. One in ten take transit, third best in the state.

That’s not to say Marin doesn’t have its shortcomings. Our bicycle infrastructure is good but not complete. Our zoning codes needlessly inhibit small units and drive up housing costs. And between those walkable town centers are drivable strips, meant more to be sped through than lingered in.

But Marin has a lot to teach the rest of the country. I was raised on the Marin sense of pride, the understanding that if only the United States would be more like Marin we’d have a more sustainable, prosperous world. Marinites should smile that the movement towards smart growth around the world is in essence an attempt to take the path Marin took 40 years ago. We should smile, that is, and roll up our sleeves.

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)

Mid-Week Links: Perfect Storm

San Francisco Bridge Before the Storm

Photo on flickr by Matt Muangsiri

A ludicrous amount of stuff is happening this week in the City. Though much of the week has already gone by, Fleet Week and America’s Cup, along with others and your regularly-scheduled weekend fun, are still to come.

So take transit and spare yourself the pain of hunting for parking (though if you do, download SFPark and get your passengers to tell you where to go). If you don’t live near a stop, use one of the park & rides. Golden Gate Transit has the rundown for its added service. Unfortunately, that won’t include Route 29 to Larkspur Landing, so you’ll have to bike, drive, or walk from Lucky Drive.

So for the sake of your sanity, your nerves, and the good people of San Francisco, leave the car in Marin.

Marin and Beyond

  • Regional transit service to and from Marin will be the subject of a new study funded by the Community Transportation Association of America. All transit options are on the table, but whether anything will come to fruition is another story. The study is to be completed by 2013. (News-Pointer)
  • If your home shares walls with another, you’ve got a year to quit smoking. San Rafael will ban smoking in attached homes like apartments, as well as on downtown sidewalks, starting next October. (Pacific Sun)
  • 75,000 square feet of downtown Tiburon has been sold to real estate investment firm for an undisclosed sum. The sale means the buildings will likely receive some long overdue renovations. (IJ)
  • The stink of rotting algae at Spinnaker Point in San Rafael has raised the ire of residents and BAAQMD, though nobody who can do anything about the problem wants to pay for it. (IJ)
  • San Anselmoans took back downtown from the car for last Sunday’s Country Fair Day, bringing out the young, the old, and the stormtroopers. (Patch)
  • Y’know that new train control system on Caltrain being paid for by High Speed Rail money? Yeah, it’s a gigantic waste of money and won’t do anything it’s supposed to do. Just like the last train control system. (Oakland Tribune, Systemic Failure)
  • Apparently, President Obama wants to keep freeways out of the suburbs. The position Marin took 40 years ago has reached the White House. Sadly, Congress has yet to get the memo. (Washington Post)
  • And…: San Rafael needs a new parking manager, and it seems there’s room for the office to do some reform. (City of San Rafael) … Forcing people to wear bicycle helmets is a sure way to harm bicycling and make everyone less healthy and every bicyclist less safe. (NYT) … The Ross Police Department faces dissolution if Measure D doesn’t pass.  (IJ)

The Toll

This week, Hailey Ratliff was struck and killed by a driver. Eight others were injured.

  • Dalton Baker, a high school student, critically injured himself when he was clotheslined while riding his bike in Healdsburg. He ran full-speed into a parking lot cable that he apparently didn’t see. He’s lost part of his liver and may lose both kidneys. (PD)
  • Two pedestrians crossing the road were injured by a hit-and-run driver in San Rafael. The driver rear-ended another car, which in turn struck the pedestrians. Police are searching for the culprit. (IJ)
  • A four-year-old was injured after a driver pulling out of a driveway bumped him in Mill Valley. It’s extremely important not to dismiss such incidents, as children are frequently killed this way. (IJ, Kids and Cars)
  • A woman whose tires disintegrated on the road lost control of her vehicle, crashing it and injuring herself in Novato. (Patch) … A woman crashed her car into a Petaluma fire hydrant, injuring herself and causing a geyser. (PD) … Two were injured when a driver wasn’t paying attention to the road and caused a three-car crash in Santa Rosa. (PD)

Mid-Week Links: Back to School

Max's 14 speed Rohloff

Max’s 14 speed Rohloff by Richard Masoner

If back-to-school traffic seems bad, that shouldn’t be surprising. Nationwide, only 13% of kids walk or bike to school, and 75% get a car ride. The inevitable result is more traffic, more congestion, and a worse commute for everyone. As the birthplace of Safe Routes to School, Marin County has it better than most, with few schools isolated from neighborhoods with busy streets and an active bicycling culture. Walking and biking to Wade Thomas was one of my favorite parts about growing up in San Anselmo. Consider sending your kid off to school tomorrow on a bike, or biking with them. Maybe you’ll find out how close things really are on two wheels.

Marin County

  • There is a lot going on with the Civic Center Station Area Plan: new heights, different densities, and a new “promenade” around the station’s neighborhood, and opponents who object to half of it. At the core of the current dispute lies the question, How urban should Marin’s Urban Corridor actually be? (Pacific Sun)
  • Given the sprawl that would be any affordable housing at Grady Ranch, and given the outcry over envisioning new housing near the Civic Center, the IJ wonders where Marinites actually want to put affordable housing.
  • As Marin City ponders incorporation, perhaps Marin ought to consider reincorporating into the City and County of Marin. The dozens of overlapping boards and districts, not to mention the baker’s dozen local governments could get a haircut and consolidation, saving taxpayers at all levels some money. I wonder if town character could be maintained with such amalgamation. (IJ)
  • Transit ridership hit record levels last year around the Bay Area as the local economy continued its recovery. GGT was not immune: the Ferry hit a record 2.2 million riders last year, and even Golden Gate Bus saw a third straight year of increasing ridership, to 6.7 million. (Mercury News, GGT)
  • It’s the definition of selective attention that drivers coming from 101 are complaining about the blight of a 17-foot blank firewall being erected by the Ritter Center in downtown San Rafael. Perhaps they haven’t bothered to walk down Second recently. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Cutting car usage isn’t just about the environment or public health. Given the sheer amount of space we need to use to accommodate cars, cutting the use of cars is just common sense. (Greater Greater Washington)
  • A freeway bypass is coming to Willits in Mendocino County. The 5.9-mile project, which will cost $210 million, is intended to skirt the town and remove a frequent backup on Highway 101. Environmentalists call the project wildly unnecessary and damaging. (Press Democrat)
  • After introducing all-door boarding on all Muni routes, it turns out that people haven’t been cheating the agency out of money as feared. Instead, it’s been all positive, with people boarding more quickly and buses moving faster along their routes. (SFist)
  • Downtown Santa Rosa apparently had a spare 400 spots available, as parking income has surged from city-owned garages in the city center. The income seems to be from the 400 or so downtown workers that used to park at the mall’s free parking garage but have stopped now that the mall has started to charge after 90 minutes. (Press Democrat)
  • And…: Napa inaugurated VINE Route 25 this week, restoring a bus connection between the City of Napa and the City of Sonoma. (Napa Valley Register) … The luxury Embarcadero development 8 Washington will go before San Francisco voters in November, 2013. (SFist)

The Toll

This week, one man was killed and four people were injured from driving in Marin and Sonoma.

  • Last weekend, Kevin Kight crashed his motorcycle near Windsor, killing himself. The father of three was 44. (Press Democrat)
  • A car driver pulled onto River Road in Sonoma and a motorcyclist ran into the car. The victim, Joe Oliver, suffered moderate to major injuries. The car driver was unhurt. (Press Democrat)
  • The man who crashed his Vespa and launched off the San Rafael Skyway is a 42-year-old man named Timothy Bergman. Bergman survived the 40-foot fall with a laundry list of broken bones and is now recovering at Stanford Hospital. (Patch)
  • Harry E. Smith, the 82-year-old Oakmont man who ran down 47-year-old bicyclist Toraj Soltani with his car on a golf course, has been charged with attempted murder. (Press Democrat)
  • A man crashed a stolen car into a bank in Santa Rosa, causing himself minor injuries and wrecking a good deal of the bank. He is being held in Sonoma County jail. (Press Democrat)
  • A crash on southbound 101 in North San Rafael on Tuesday resulted in no injuries. (IJ) … A driver was injured after he and a truck driver collided near Forestville. (Press Democrat) … A 22-year-old woman severely injured herself by crashing her car at the Tiburon Wye on Saturday. She was given a DUI citation at the scene. (IJ) … An 86-year-old man injured himself by crashing his car into two others in Novato. The drivers of the other cars were not injured. (Patch)

Got a tip? Want to contribute? Get in touch at theGreaterMarin [at] gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook using the links on the right, and don’t forget to get up-to-date transit news at #NorthBayTransit.

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