It’s Our Infrastructure that Kills Us

UK DOT statistics on vehicle/pedestrian collisions

When a car and a person collide, survival is all about speed. Almost everyone survives getting hit by a car going 20 miles per hour; at 30, survival is a bit better than a coin toss at 55 percent. Only 15 percent of people survive a crash at 40 miles per hour. Novato’s main roads are legally limited to 35 miles per hour but, given a comfortable five mile per hour margin, are effectively 40 mile per hour zones. In some places, the lanes are as wide as those on a freeway, giving the illusion of safety at 50 or 55. Novato is a dangerous place to be a pedestrian, and it’s dangerous by design.

Last Thursday, Hailey Ratliff was riding her bike home from her new middle school. A recent transplant to Marin, the seventh grader was settling in well, and it seemed like the move would be a success.

Elsewhere in the United States, the ability to ride a bike home from school is a rare privilege. Many new schools are built with only the car in mind, along wide roads that lack sidewalks, let alone crosswalks or bicycle lanes. Only 15% of American children walk or bike to school, down dramatically from even 20 years ago when half could get themselves to and from their classes.

As she was on her way home, someone else was driving into town on Novato Boulevard. As the road winds through rural Novato and West Marin, cars can speed along at 50 or 55 miles per hour, an easy five or 10 miles per hour above the posted speed limit but we typically concern ourselves with.

As the driver would have just started to slow down for the first stop sign that marks the entrance to Novato, Hailey somehow got in the driver’s path. The SUV struck her with such force it left Hailey’s helmet and shoes in the road and threw the bike back into a telephone pole.

The road where the two collided is actually wider than the rural road just before. Drivers respond to visual cues better than posted speed signs to determine a “safe” speed. We all know what it’s like to feel like we’re driving safely, only to be pulled over for speeding. The new tunnel for Doyle Drive is an example – its wide lanes and easy curves are at odds with the 35 MPH posted speed limit. Where Hailey was hit, the eastbound lane effectively widens to 15 feet as the paint delineating the shoulder is almost worn away. The center turn lane that suddenly appears makes passing cars feel like they aren’t going so fast, giving the illusion that it’s safe to drive even faster than before. Though the speed limit drops to 35 normally and 25 during school hours, that road is built for 50.

So while the collision between Hailey and that driver was probably the result of inattention by one or both of them, it was the speed that killed Hailey Ratliff, a speed that we normally shrug our shoulders about. It’s a speed that Novato encourages through roads designed for cars, not people. Hailey should be alive today, but the negligence and auto-oriented myopia of Novato’s planners made that road entirely unsafe. It’s our infrastructure that killed Hailey Ratliff, and it will keep on killing us until we say enough.

Mid-Week Links: Plaid

Now that Fairfax and Sausalito are cracking down on cyclists violating stop-signs, perhaps it’s important to ask whether current law is the best law. A bicycle, after all, is absolutely not a car – it can stop faster, gives a better field of view, and is much more efficient when moving than when stopped. Idaho allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs, to great effect. California ought to pass the same.

Marin County

  • Marin and Sonoma both dropped state parks from their park taxes after $54 million was found in the state parks department’s coffers. While Sonoma’s plan is dead, Marin’s tax plan would go to county open space instead. (Planetizen, IJ, Press Democrat)
  • Larkspur and Tiburon are both pondering library expansions, though residents in both communities wonder if the proposed buildings will be too large for the demand. (IJ)
  • HOV lanes in Novato are now open to the driving public, ensuring easy driving for a little bit until traffic catches up with capacity. (IJ)
  • A permanent farmer’s market, a roundabout, and other improvements will come to the Civic Center under a plan recently approved by the Board. Unfortunately, it’s at odds with the SMART Station Area Plan for the Christmas Tree Lot just south of the station, which calls for 4-5 story residential and retail. Planning and design for the improvements will cost about $2 million. (IJ)
  • And…: Construction has begun on SMART’s railcars. Delivery is expected in about a year. (Patch) … Novato will convert a city-owned building into art studios for around $100,000. (IJ) … A West Marin ecotopia could be shut down for running afoul building regulations, but its builders pledge to carry on. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Projections of growth are so often wrong, but they always inform whether we build new freeway lanes or rail lines or whatever. There must be a better way. (Strong Towns)
  • Activists accuse Veolia Transportation, which operates Sonoma County Transit, of human rights violations and want the county to investigate. Veolia’s parent company operates bus service between Israel and West Bank settlements. (Press Democrat)
  • MTC will study a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax on Bay Area drivers to raise money for roads and transit. The tax hasn’t gone anywhere in other jurisdictions, but boosters are optimistic a VMT would be an answer to the Bay Area’s financial woes. (Mercury News)
  • Some Chicago designers want you to help create the perfect transit app. Not only would it tell you how to get where you’re going with the schedule, it would give you real-time arrival information, allow stopovers for coffee or errands, interface with your calendar, remind you to bring an umbrella, and more. (Co.Design)

The Toll

  • You’ll notice I have this new section for the death and injury toll on the roads in Marin and Sonoma as reported by local news outlets. Why? Because in the first three months of this year, 7,280 people were killed on the road in the US, doing nothing more than living their lives. It’s the least we can do to report on the human cost of our road-centered policies in this little corner of the country. (Atlantic Cities)
  • A Tiburon man drove onto a sidewalk to hit a pedestrian whose plaid jacket he didn’t like. The suspected driver, Eugene Thomas Anderson, has been arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. (IJ)
  • Three cyclists were struck by drivers in Santa Rosa this week, though one driver claims to have lost control of her vehicle. None suffered more than moderate injuries. Separately, a driver suffered moderate injuries after running his car off the road. (Press Democrat)
  • In Marin, two people were slightly injured in a bizarre two-crash incident in Novato. Another driver drove off the road in San Rafael, giving herself minor injuries. A driver couldn’t negotiate a turn and so rolled his van about 150 feet down a West Marin hill, resulting in minor injuries to himself and one of his four passengers. Lastly, a driver lost control of his truck in Larkspur, crashing it into a nearby townhouse. The driver and passenger sufferend moderate injuries. (IJ, Twin Cities Times)

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.

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: Build to the Boom


If you have 45 minutes, listen to Chris Leinberger’s presentation in Kansas City about walkable housing development. He makes a strong argument for building more walkable centers for those that want it – exactly the sort of thing Marin and Sonoma are planning around their SMART stations and exactly the way our towns were built a century ago. (SGA)

Marin County

Golden Gate 75th Anniversary Fireworks

Apparently I missed the best fireworks show ever. Happy 75th, GGB.

  • Caltrans has allocated another $112 million to widening Highway 101 between Sonoma and Marin, not quite enough to bridge the $177 million gap in its billion-dollar widening project, duplicating much of SMART’s future service. (NBBJ)
  • Golden Gate Ferry workers went on a surprise strike last Saturday to draw attention to stalled contract negotiations. Terminal attendants want a raise as compensation for new duties they took on after ticket takers were laid off, while sailors and captains want private quarters aboard the ferries, among other complaints. (IJ)
  • The Board of Supervisors spent $75,000 in discretionary funds this quarter on items ranging from high schools to the opera. Where did your Supervisor invest discretionary funds this quarter? (IJ)
  • As expected, Novato will move ahead with its downtown office plan, voting 3-1 to proceed with construction. (Pacific Sun)
  • The Drake’s Bay Oyster Company has been farming oysters in Drake’s Bay for over a century, but the National Park Service may not renew their lease. Though the arguments for and against renewal have revolved around science, the basic question is philosophical – whether a wilderness area should have commerce. (Pacific Sun)
  • A nifty tool developed by the Greenbelt Alliance shows the various greenfield developments on open space. Though it doesn’t seem comprehensive, for what it has it’s quite useful. (Greenbelt Alliance)
  • If your bike was stolen recently, it may be in police custody. Hundreds of bikes were found after SFPD busted up a ring of thieves, and they’ve released pictures of the merchandise. (SFist)

The Greater Marin

  • As it turns out, Marinites aren’t the only ones who value their walkable town centers. Homes in walkable neighborhoods command significantly higher prices than places that are not. Even Des Moines, IA, is getting in on the action. (NYT, Des Moines Register)
  • The explosive growth and new-found prosperity of Washington, DC, is based on childless singles and couples, who each net the District about $6,000 more per year than those with children. (These are the same folks Marin excludes due to density policies.) Now that these singles are getting married, can Washington adapt? (Atlantic Cities)
  • About 25,000 San Franciscans were forced off the road when a handful of people driving private automobiles, with police escort, pushed their way into a street fair on Sunday. The action ended the celebration and opened the way for through traffic. (Examiner.com)
  • The Golden Gate Bridge was never in danger of collapsing on its 50th Anniversary, despite the spooky sight of a bridge flattened by the massive crowd in the middle. (Mercury News)
  • How hard would it be to rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge were it done today? Given environmental review, agency oversight, and a more contentious political environment, it’s safe to say it would be tough. (IJ)
  • The tallest building in the West will redefine San Francisco’s skyline and serve as the centerpiece of the new Transbay Terminal. The building was approved over objections from people concerned about shadows. (Chronicle)
  • The sector plan for Santa Rosa’s northern SMART station is coming together nicely, with a great deal of effort to move people away from cars, reconnect the street grid, and apply the kind of density this sort of project can support. Not everyone is happy, however, with Coddington Mall managers especially concerned over new rights-of-way called for in the plan. (Press-Democrat)

Mid-Week Links: Build It and They Will Come

mill valley

Marin County

Well it looks like the other news organizations passed right on by the development news this week, and there’s no transit news to speak of. I suppose, then, these are the highlights from this week’s IJ.

  • The Grady Ranch debacle has reached New Yorker’s ears. The game of telephone, of course, has done wonders for our county’s image as an insular enclave for the granola-munching wealthy. Back in Marin, there is still debate as to whether opponents abused the system or not, or even whether they should be to blame. (NYT, IJ)
  • In the fallout of Grady Ranch, county staff want to create a panel to cut red tape and streamline permitting, and the supervisors seem to be on board. The results likely won’t mean much for developers in incorporated areas, who often need council approval to open a sandwich shop. (IJ)
  • Fully 85% of Marin’s land is protected from development, according to a new Greenbelt Alliance study, the most in any Bay Area county. Only 12.7% of our land is urbanized, and only 0.7% is at risk of development. (IJ)
  • Michael Rock, town manager and public works director of Fairfax, has resigned in order to pursue a position in what I can only presume is the far less interesting Lomita, CA. His last day as manager will be the June 22 budget meeting. (IJ, Fairfax)
  • Sausalito will not rezone a small area of old town for housing development after all. The two parcels in question could have accommodated 18 units of affordable housing but will continue in their role as offices. (IJ)
  • Under pressure from the feds, Novato’s remaining pot dispensary will close, leaving only one dispensary operating in the county. (IJ)
  • The $950 million Highway 101 widening project chugs forward, but the last $177 million hasn’t been found. At least CalTrans still has $20.5 million to repave 8.5 miles of the freeway from Vista Point to Lucky Drive. (Press-Democrat, IJ)
  • A San Rafael native has been enlivening the streetscape of Washington, DC, by playing the violin to passersby from his rowhome’s balcony. (Patch)
  • And…: Fifteen office buildings totalling about 710,000 square are up for sale in Marin. (IJ) … Terrorism, not the threat of bridge collapse, is the reason you can’t walk across the Bridge on its 75th. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • MTC and ABAG have approved Plan Bay Area. It now goes out for environmental review before final approval in April. (SF Chronicle)
  • The San Francisco Bay Area has a surplus of capital looking for new tech start-ups but restrictive housing policies drive up rents, which drive up wages, which inflates start-ups’ costs of doing business, which drives down the number of new start-ups to invest in, and that’s bad for everyone.  (Forbes via Planetizen)
  • The State Senate will vote today on the three-foot passing law, requiring drivers pass bikers with at least three feet of clearance. (Cyclelicious)
  • The neighborhood planning battles of Seattle bear a striking resemblance to the planning issues faced by Marin’s small towns. (Crosscut)
  • Young people are moving away from the car. Has the driver’s seat lost its old magic? (Washington Post)
  • BART’s long-term plans include express trains, better stations, and shorter headways. (Examiner)

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)
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