Golden Gate Transit disses Novato commuters

Service meltdown.

Service meltdown.

Last month, Novato transit rider Danny Skarka reported on a bus driver’s claim that, due to a lack of drivers, commute Route 54 would often have cancelled buses under the new schedule. I never heard back from Golden Gate Transit (GGT) about the claim, but it seems Skarka’s driver was right.

For a number of days since the start of the new schedule, Route 54 has cancelled runs without prior notice, apparently on both the southbound and northbound trips. Another rider, Andrew Fox, reports:

[T]he last two 54s I’ve been on have been absolutely jam-packed. Last Wednesday there were numerous standees due to a canceled bus (I took Thursday and Friday off, so I don’t know about those days), and then of course you know about the situation this morning. We had 9 standees, all of whom got on at the busy Alameda del Prado bus pad/park-and-ride.

In my experience the 54 is a very busy bus. Commuters in Novato like me really rely upon it, especially given how miserable traffic has become in the last few years. I for one refuse to drive into the city anymore. Novato commuters have the choice of two different commute bus routes: the 56 or the 54, but the majority of them use the 54 due to the fact that it stops in more locations than the 56. This is a pretty lousy way to encourage transit use.

It’s irksome to see these buses canceled, especially when we hear news of new routes in Southern Marin (“the Wave Bus”) and see buses to Mill Valley (the 4) fly by every 5 minutes or so.

It also seems as though the problem is not isolated to the 54. Sonoma commuter Kathryn Hecht, who rides the 74, reported a cancelled evening run that meant an hour-long delay in San Francisco, as well as a cancelled morning run:

In any other industry, spotty quality is a sign of either a collapsing business model or inept management. The customer service experience is paramount to building a strong brand and strong customer base. For a scheduled service, like transit, this is even more important. People expect consistency, and they expect the schedule to be a promise, not a maybe.

We’ve discussed GGT’s failures in the past, but this is far worse than avoiding real-time arrival systems or not allowing rear-door exits. Simply put, GGT is making a stealth cut to Northern Marin and Sonoma service to expand Central and Southern Marin service. This is bad business and a further sign of GGT’s lack of managerial skill. If it continues, it will lose customers and turn what should be a premium transit product into a product of last resort.

GGT is burning its brand, and for no reason. It should immediately hire new drivers to staunch the bleeding and issue a very public apology to its Northern Marin and Sonoma commuters, perhaps with free rides for a month on the effected routes.

There are deeper structural problems to GGT’s service model, of which this is just a symptom. GGT needs to staunch this bleeding and change its operating model to ensure problems like this never happen again.

Marin Elections: Endorsements all around

The Marin County election cycle is coming to a close in two weeks. Though there is not much on the ballot that deals specifically with urbanism, there are plenty of candidates who have some strong opinions on the subject.

For the most part, I’m in agreement with the endorsements of the Pacific Sun. Progressive, thoughtful political reporting has always been their specialty, and their endorsements show how much they weighed the issues.

That said, the IJ makes some compelling cases as well. While their reporting can stir the pot at times, their editorial board has always been a bastion of calm. For endorsements, they go out of their way to interview each of the candidates and make a well-balanced decision.

Or, you may want to figure it out yourself.

Below you’ll find all the council races with Pacific Sun and IJ endorsements, links to candidate websites, video debates, and, for some races, a nugget that might have been overlooked.

Corte Madera Town Council

Three seats, three incumbents, four candidates.

LWV debate | Marin IJ Endorsement | Pacific Sun Endorsement

Carla Condon (incumbent)
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun
Writing: “Investing in Kids Pays Off”; “We Need a Local ‘Council of Governments’ “; “Challenging Push to ‘Urbanize’ Our County”

Michael Lappert (incumbent)
Endorsed by Marin IJ

Diane Furst (incumbent)
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun
Writing: “TAM Should Support Working Group’s Freeway Plan”

David Kunhardt (challenger)
Campaign website
Endorsed by Pacific Sun

Though the Pacific Sun endorsed Carla Condon over Michael Lappert, as they seem to consider him arrogant, I think he is marginally less anti-urbanist than Condon. Condon has come out with fire against Plan Bay Area. Her Marin Voice pieces regarding development have, to paraphrase the Sun, bordered on the conspiratorial, which can be worse for governing than bombastics.

Fairfax Town Council

Three seats, three incumbents, four candidates.

Marin IJ Endorsement | Pacific Sun Endorsement

Barbara Coler (incumbent)
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun

Chris Lang (challenger)
Campaign website

John Reed (incumbent)
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun

David Weinsoff (incumbent)
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun

Larkspur Town Council

Three seats, one incumbent, four candidates.

LWV debate | Marin IJ EndorsementPacific Sun Endorsement

Kevin Haroff (challenger)
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ

Dan Hillmer (incumbent)
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun

Daniel Kunstler (challenger)
Campaign website
Endorsed by Pacific Sun

Catherine Way (challenger)
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun

Mill Valley Town Council

Two seats, no incumbents, four candidates.

LWV debate | Marin IJ EndorsementPacific Sun Endorsement

George Gordon

Jessica Jackson
Campaign website

Dan Kelly
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun

John McCauley
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun

Though neither the IJ nor the Pacific Sun endorsed Jessica Jackson, given her inexperience, Jackson is the most progressive of the four on transportation issues. She has called for greater investment in bicycle lanes and sidewalks, and an expansion of Bay Area Bike Share to Marin.

Jackson would be a strong voice for progressive transportation in Mill Valley, and she would bring that voice to county and regional agencies, too. TAM and GGBHTD both could use another progressive. It doesn’t hurt, either, that she would be the first millennial elected to a municipal council in Marin.

Novato City Council

Two seats, two incumbents, four candidates.

LWV debate | Marin IJ Endorsement | Pacific Sun Endorsement

Denise Athas (incumbent)
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun

Pat Eklund (incumbent)
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun

Steve Jordon (challenger)

Eleanor Sluis (challenger)
Campaign website
Writing: Extensive Patch comments; “Entrance to Novato versus New Bus Transit Hub’s Location versus Mission Lodge, a Park, and Parking”

San Anselmo Town Council

One seat, no incumbents, three candidates.

Marin IJ Endorsement | Pacific Sun Endorsement

Matt Brown
Campaign website

Steve Burdo
Campaign website
Endorsed by Pacific Sun

Doug Kelly
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ

Something to keep in mind about Doug Kelly, from the Pacific Sun: “Kelly has the most to say about Plan Bay Area and ABAG—he’s not a fan—but understands that if he’s elected he’ll ‘need to work with them in a positive manner regardless of [his] views.’ “

San Rafael Town Council

Two seats, two incumbents, four candidates.

LWV debate | Sustainable San Rafael debate | Marin IJ EndorsementPacific Sun Endorsement

Greg Brockbank
Campaign website
Endorsed by Pacific Sun

Maribeth Bushey-Lang
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ

Kate Colin
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun
“Making San Rafael a Sustainable City”

Randy Warren
Campaign website

Lots to keep in mind in San Rafael’s race:

Maribeth Bushey-Lang’s deep technical experience with railroad issues, especially railroad crossings could prove valuable for the city, county, and region. The city of San Rafael has seats on the boards of SMART, TAM, and MTC, all of which will deal with rail issues. And, while she can’t vote on the SMART-Andersen Drive crossing because she ruled on it as a judge, she believes she will be able to deal with all other SMART issues.

Kate Colin brings a wealth of experience about planning matters. Having someone from this background, who deeply understands these issues, would be of value to the city.

Randy Warren reneged on his blanket opposition to all PDAs by cautiously half-endorsing the one in downtown San Rafael, or at least promising not to oppose it if the mayor thinks it’s a good idea in three years. He did this in the Sustainable San Rafael debate so you can see it yourself, and it signals some flexibility to his heretofore inflexible anti-urban rhetoric.

Greg Brockbank is an unabashed urbanist and environmentalist, two hats that are difficult to find together in Marin. That, paired with his long history of public service, would make him a good fit to return to the Council.

Mid-week links: Marin Transit

Marin County

by jay d, on Flickr

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

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

Politics

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

Personalized mapping

Transit maps in Marin are, well, not very good. Especially for the uninitiated, they can be confusing spaghetti.

About a year ago, I was contacted by a young man in Novato who had his drivers’ license suspended for some reason and wanted to know how to get around to his destinations. He went to school in College of Marin, worked in Petaluma, and hung out with his friends in the East Bay. How was he supposed to get out of Novato without a car?

After an abortive attempt at a Novato spider map, I realized all I needed were the various connections between the destinations so he could know exactly how he could get from A to B without all the mess of geography. The map below is the result.

GGT Novato-2

Click to enlarge.

It’s simple, so it doesn’t include things like frequency or span of service. Instead, I wanted to show how to get from place to place, major stops, and where those routes went after transfer points and destinations, without all the fuss of a more detailed map. Were I to make this again, I would probably place 49/49K to the west of the 101 corridor north of Ignacio and east of it to the south to reflect actual geography, but as it stands I think there’s enough hints for the user to see where the bus goes.

I’ve never followed up with him to see how it went, though he seemed pretty excited to see it. Perhaps it will be of some use to you as well, as it’s now up in the Map Room.

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.

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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