Planning for Reality check: Larkspur conspiracies

Image from Planning for Reality

An apropos image from Planning for Reality

The Larkspur Landing Station Area Plan (SAP) is all the rage nowadays, and for good reason. People apparently don’t want to see any development or any changes to their community, and it looks like the development aspects of the plan are heading to the dustbin.

But there’s a myth Richard Hall, a leader in anti-development circles and writer of Planning for Reality, told me about yesterday on the IJ. He said the Larkspur SAP was necessary so SMART would get funding. Let’s fact-check this gem.

The claim

Under the Metroplitan Planning Commision’s (MTC) Resolution 3434, a commuter rail line like SMART can only get regional funding if it has an average of 2,200 housing units with a half-mile radius of its stations. MTC is in charge of dispersing regional funding from a variety of sources, and it’s entirely in its prerogative to disperse funds how it sees fit. Resolution 3434 is intended to promote transit-oriented development around train stations to limit sprawl out into the East Bay hills, farms, or elsewhere far from anything.

SMART, Hall claims, does not meet this requirement and needed to add 920 housing units around Larkspur Landing to qualify for MTC funding. Somehow Larkspur got involved, developed the plan, and now we’re headed for a train wreck of a plan.

The reality

There are a number of problems with this claim, highest on the list being that SMART has already qualified for regional funding under Resolution 3434. In fact, it was determined 4 years ago, in December, 2010, that SMART qualified for regional funding. SMART has since received funding and is using it to fund construction.

The finding was that SMART, excluding Corona Road and Novato North stations, had 15,251 housing units built or planned within a half-mile radius of its 7 planned stations. This is 99 percent of the required 15,400 units, and it was deemed sufficient.

Including Corona Road and Guernville Road, which was not the chosen plan MTC approved, there were 17,295 housing units out of 17,600 needed. It’s close, but not quite there.

Let’s say nothing happens in Larkspur except for a new station is built there. Let’s also say the planned Sonoma County Airport station is built and that SMART decides to open Corona Road. This means SMART will have 12 stations on tap, which means it needs at least 26,400 housing units within a half mile of its collection of stations.

Since I can’t find data on housing around either Novato North or the Sonoma County Airport, I’m going to say those have 0 units, just for the sake of argument. Adding up all the rest of the existing housing units gets us 19,796 housing units, well short of our needed 26,400.

However, San Rafael, Santa Rosa, and Petaluma have all completed station area plans. San Rafael plans for 272 more units downtown. Petaluma plans for 1,716 more units downtown and 523 more around its northern station. Santa Rosa plans for another 3,409 units around its downtown station and 2,680 around its northern station. This gets us to 28,396 total units, or 107 percent the needed amount.

A Rohnert Park SAP is also in the works, but it hasn’t been completed yet.

If there is a conspiracy afoot to get SMART to qualify for more regional funding through a Larkspur SAP, the conspirators are really bad at math. But if the author of Planning for Reality, a computer programmer, is similarly bad at math, perhaps we shouldn’t be so hard on them.

In sum: Hall’s claim is false.

What if there were no SAPs at all?

It’s important to note here that, when presented with this information, Hall shifted his tune both in email and online, choosing to criticize Sonoma for implementing SAPs and saying it was part of a bigger conspiracy for regional funding for construction. He also asked whether Larkspur Landing could have been included if no SAPs had been passed.

This question poses a highly improbable set of circumstances. First, Sonoma cities actually want to change, Rohnert Park especially. They believe their future lies in their downtowns, in the kind of places that Marin takes for granted. It is extremely likely they would have planned around their stations even if there were no MTC grant money, and likely would have planned even if SMART never existed.

Second, it was Larkspur, not SMART, that applied for SAP grant money. Anti-development activists believe MTC and SMART colluded to pressure Larkspur into taking that money against their will years before the Larkspur Landing station seemed possible. This was, they claim, to allow SMART to qualify for regional funding, even though it had already qualified for said funding.

But let’s indulge them. Adding Larkspur Landing would have dropped the number of housing units from 99 percent of qualifying to 94 percent. However, as link of regional significance, it would be extremely unlikely that MTC would have allowed this to disqualify SMART. It was still largely in line with Resolution 3434, and there would have been strong pressure to keep the funding.

But there were SAPs passed, and SMART is going to open with 10 stations, not 7. It can easily add Corona Road for 11, and it looks like Larkspur Landing will open in 2017 for 12 stations. But perhaps we should forgive SMART for building itself. After all, it was voters - a more insidious force than any regional body - who put them up to it.

SMART will be a net negative on greenhouse gas emissions

The SMART train, now under construction, was marketed to voters as a climate change solution, and a rough analysis of the initial operating segment seems to substantiate that claim. Unfortunately, the advantage evaporates with the inefficient second operating segment to Cloverdale.

Critics have decried everything about SMART, but one of the most pernicious ones that has remained unexamined was the critique of SMART’s fuel efficiency. At only 1.1 miles per gallon of diesel fuel, the cars seem like the height of inefficiency. How could SMART claim its operations would reduce transportation greenhouse gases when it’s so clear it won’t?

SMART’s initial operating segment, from San Rafael to Santa Rosa, will serve 28.5 million weekday passenger miles every year and travel about 332,000 miles doing it.* At 1.1 gallons of diesel per mile, that means it will get about 42.8 passenger miles per gallon (pmpg). Since diesel emits more CO2 per gallon than gasoline, we’ll need to revise it down to the equivalent of 37.4 passenger miles per gallon (pmpg-e), roughly the same as a hybrid. Not bad.

According to MTC, cars’ fuel efficiency will get up to 32.2 mpg over the next 20 years. But this is the sticker value. Realistically, cars get about 13 percent less mileage than that (according to Consumer Reports), and in stop-and-go traffic it can be cut down another 40%. With 1.2 passengers per mile, that adds out to 26.9 pmpg during commute hours.

In other words, SMART will very likely emit fewer greenhouse gases than the cars its trips will replace, at least for the initial operating segment (IOS). The full line, however, won’t be quite so great.

The IOS is actually the most efficient part of the SMART line, at least according to official ridership figures. Adding extensions to Cloverdale and Larkspur will lower the train’s efficiency by quite a bit, to 26.3 pmpg-e. This is only as good as a car. We can cross off the full system for greenhouse gas emission reductions, at least if CAFE standards have anything to say about it.

Had SMART not been so financially constrained, it might have pursued electrification from the beginning, a $70 million investment that would have provided cleaner (and faster) service to the corridor.

This is not an indictment of the SMART system. It does not measure how the system will encourage people to swap car trips for walking trips, which happens when people use transit. It also does not take into account the annual mobility benefits for users, which will likely be worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

Indeed, individual transit lines are not meant to be climate change solutions on their own. They are like fax machines, enhanced by and enhancing other lines nearby. The accrued benefit of the network, as a whole, is enough to change how people live and travel. And that is what the SMART effort is about: not a final solution to our carbon footprint, but another link in the chain.

*People have complained that the Dowling ridership estimate was overoptimistic, and was not “accepted” by the SMART Board. Given that the latest numbers are used in financial planning and therefore underpin much of the financial structure of the system, I’m more confident in them than speculation from critics. However, if you wish to reduce ridership by some percentage, the precise weekday passenger miles estimate is 28,457,926 per year, assuming 265 working days.

Where do the PDA funds go now?

The future downtown station area will need some work. Image from City of San Rafael.

The future downtown station area will need some work. Image from City of San Rafael.

Now that the Civic Center Priority Development Area (PDA) has been rescinded, TAM is left with a bucket of PDA-designated cash and even fewer places put it. While Mayor Gary Phillips says downtown San Rafael’s PDA is a logical place to put it, none of the proposed projects in the area are at a stage where they need funding.

Part of the delay is due to San Rafael Public Works (DPW) Director Nader Mansourian’s reported insistence that any road alterations wait until after SMART starts service in 2016. As a result, anything that might disrupt a road’s or intersection’s capacity, or level of service (LOS) will have to wait until the needed capacity is known. That includes bike lanes, traffic lights, crosswalks, bus lanes, etc.

PDA funds must be dedicated to improving the transportation infrastructure within a PDA. While they can target projects outside of a PDA, the project must have a direct positive effect on transportation service within the PDA.

It’s up to the Council and staff to get a slate of needed improvements to the area, from the small to the large. Some possible proposals:

Study which projects in the Downtown Station Area Plan would and would not impact traffic. This is probably the most basic study that would need to be conducted, given that it will be three years before SMART runs and likely another year beyond that before traffic patterns start to emerge. This would give a slate of small projects that could be priced, studied, and built before the train.

Link traffic lights to the rail crossings, done in concert with SMART’s work on the rail crossings themselves. When trains start moving through downtown, they will need to coordinate with traffic flow By linking traffic lights to the crossings, San Rafael could prepare for the trains’ arrival today. The linkage will need to happen on Day One of train operations, and so cannot wait for traffic studies to even begin.

While they’re at it, link traffic lights to bus service. Buses currently crawl through downtown San Rafael, especially northbound trunk service like routes 71 and 101. By allowing traffic lights to sense approaching buses and turn green, a system called signal priority, San Rafael could improve speeds for all bus travelers and improve transit access to and through the downtown station area. While DPW will no doubt want a traffic study to find out precisely how the system should work after SMART, the study will only show how to tweak the system once SMART runs. Benefits could flow long before then.

Fix the Andersen Drive/SMART crossing. One of the principal barriers to getting SMART down to Larkspur is not the station or track but the at-grade intersection of SMART tracks and Andersen Drive. The angle of approach for the train is too shallow for state regulators and so will need to be fixed before the train can proceed south to the ferry terminal. Given that the problem was caused by San Rafael when they extended Andersen, it’s on San Rafael’s head to fix the $6 million problem.

Begin a comparison study of how people move through and shop in downtown. How do shoppers get to downtown? How many people move through downtown? This will give San Rafael planners a snapshot of how SMART and the Station Area Plan changes San Rafael and how to target improvements in the future.

The other pressing projects, even under-freeway parking garages (proposed by the Station Area Plan), will change traffic flow and so won’t pass Mansourian’s muster without a Council mandate. However, staff should draw up a decision tree and timetable for implementation of bike, parking, transit, and other traffic-impacting roadway improvements before SMART begins,

What else would be a good fit for TAM’s PDA-dedicated funds?

Note: I reached out to TAM to determine which of these projects are fundable with PDA money and which are not, but staff have been in a crunch time and haven’t been able to answer. I’ll post an update when they reply.

Report: the FRA makes trains less safe, more expensive

A new report out by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (and I suspect you’ll recognize half the byline), says the FRA’s safety regulations, enforced in the name of safety, perversely make us less safe. Rather than use the best practices of Europe or encourage train manufacturers to innovate, the FRA’s rules prescribe antiquated crash management technology from the 1910s. Dangerous and more expensive trains are the result.

To find out why, you’ll need to read the report for yourself. It’s an easy read, just six pages, and it details how SMART, in the West, and Acela, in the East, have been dramatically affected by the FRA’s regulations, though they aren’t the only victims. You can see the stark difference between the two regimes in a crash test video that went into the FRA’s report on its own safety measures. The top train is FRA-compliant, while the bottom is compliant with European regulations from the International Union of Railways (UIC):

The top train experiences something called an “override”, which you’ll find mentioned in the report. It’s what FRA-compliant trains too-often do in a crash. And, on the bottom train, you can even watch how, for a split second during the crash, the oncoming train pauses to absorb the crash energy. That’s UIC crash safety in action.

Something I realized after the report had been written, too, was that the FRA’s rules hurt domestic train manufacturers. FRA-compliant trains are illegal overseas, as they don’t meet UIC standards, just as European trains don’t meet American safety standards. This forces domestic manufacturers to choose between serving the tiny US market or the much larger global market.

Though bashing the FRA is a favored pastime among more technically-minded bloggers, desperately needed regulatory reform seems to have gained little traction where it matters most. Here’s hoping CEI’s white paper can change that.

Larkspur has a second chance to do SMART right

Elevated Ferry Station

The original plan for an elevated station. Image from SMART.

While Sonoma gets to reap the benefits of SMART, including a $15 million expansion of the IOS to the Santa Rosa Airport, Marin’s commuting public rightly grouses that it doesn’t serve their needs. Yet by ignoring Larkspur Landing for now, SMART has a chance to do what it should have done from the start and plan for a station in the ferry terminal.

A core principal of transit planning is connectivity. Any network is only as good as the strength of its connections, and transit is not excluded. The strongest sort of transit connection is the cross-platform connection, which allows you to hop off your train or bus, cross the platform to your transfer and be on your way. It’s like switching planes in an airport by walking one gate over.

In contrast, a weak transit connection forces riders to leave one station, walk a couple of blocks, and enter another station. Rather than boarding a connecting flight at the gate next to yours, we need to hike across the airport to another terminal entirely. Though this may be tolerable once in a while, as a daily commute it can crush even the hardiest transit enthusiast.

Sadly, SMART has opted against convenience and in favor of soul-crushing. Current plans call for locating the ferry station a half mile from the ferry terminal, requiring transferring riders to either walk along parking lots and unfriendly streets or wait around for a shuttle. A commute that might already involve 2 transfers will become one involving 3.

Larkspur residents, most of whom who won’t even get direct SMART access, rightly complain that this makes little sense. The Station Area Plan for the Larkspur Landing neighborhood calls for relocating the station into the terminal and decries the poor site chosen by the SMART board.

SMART’s draft environmental impact report contained a draft plan (very large PDF) to put the station in the ferry terminal. Back when station sites were being planned, staff created four alternate proposals for Larkspur, including two with better access to the ferry. The best one placed the station adjacent to the current terminal entrance at the end of a half-mile of elevated track. Given the current going rate for elevated rail, this option would cost about $30 million plus land acquisition costs. That’s about one-fifth the cost of the Greenbrae Interchange Project next door.

Yet at the request of the Larkspur City Council (PDF), SMART went for the station plan staff explicitly recommended against. The city complained that the removal of two buildings would require modifying the plan that governs Marin Country Mart, and that an elevated rail line would obstruct views of the Bay. They also were concerned about cost, though Larkspur wouldn’t need to pay for the extension. Another concern raised earlier by staff is that a station in the ferry terminal would make extensions to Corte Madera or San Quentin more difficult.

Though these concerns are well-intentioned and should be addressed in any plan to relocate the station, it’s foolish to scuttle a dramatic service improvement over parking lots and fantasy expansions that are decades from reality.

And here is where we have a new opportunity. By splitting construction of the line in two, SMART has given Larkspur residents a chance to change that seven-year-old bad decision. Nobody likes to run across an airport to catch a plane, and no commuter likes to walk across a half-mile of parking lots and traffic to make a transfer. Larkspur needs reverse its earlier request and demand a world-class transit connection, and residents should ask for the same. And SMART should listen.

Next time, I’ll examine the city council’s original concerns and how they might be addressed.

The 101 corridor: Transportation myopia in practice

Last week, Systemic Failure called out the Greenbrae Interchange Project as a waste of money when we already have an under-funded rail project not far away. Why spend $143 million on a road project that won’t even add capacity?

While the Greenbrae project isn’t the best project, it’s about rearranging ramps, not adding capacity. While the Drunk Engineer is a great watchdog of Bay Area transportation policy, he’s looking at the wrong project. For that, we need to look a bit further north, to the billion-dollar freeway investment underway in Sonoma.

Let’s step way back to two things, money and problems, and restrict our potential solutions to roads and rail. Fresh on our desk is a dictate from The Man saying the transportation system between Windsor and Larkspur doesn’t have enough capacity to meet the demand for travel, and we have $1.4 billion ($1 billion from roads, $404 million from rail) available to fix it.

Adding two carpool lanes for the length of freeway that currently doesn’t have any will cost $1 billion, we know, and will add about 4,000 people per hour worth of capacity through the area. We can add about another 1,000 with a $500 million rail project*, but we can’t afford it, so we’ll truncate our line at San Rafael and Santa Rosa.

What if we pumped all $1.4 billion into the road? Lanes only have so much capacity, and that decreases as the freeways get wider. We might be able to add travel lanes at the most congested part of the road, but all the merging could just gum up the works more.

What if we flipped all $1.4 billion into rail? As it turns out, this would give us almost as much capacity.

  • Base SMART: $680 million, 650 passengers per hour (164 seats per train, 2 trains running in either direction per hour)
  • 7.5 minute service with three-car trains: $1.2 billion, 3,936 passengers per hour or 5,280 with standees**.

If SMART were to get a clearance from the FRA to run European trains, the cost of 7.5 minute service drops to $1 billion, leaving us with $400 million to spend on years of operations, grade separations from traffic, or a 10-mile extension to Richmond’s BART and Amtrak station. Success! Not only did we meet our goal, we added capacity much further north and south than the 101 project and have some money left over for other projects. That’s pretty damn good.

Alas, this is not how we do things. Instead, we’re spending 40% more money than we need to for a worse transportation product. That the most efficient project, SMART, cries poverty – much of its own making, true – is even more egregious. All the while, local and state authorities pump almost double the cost of the entire project for parallel road capacity. Rather than a truly transformative investment, SMART will be relegated to only a shadow of its potential.

This is the height of what Cap’n Transit calls transportation myopia, and something that happens all the time in the Bay Area. Caltrans and MTC tend to see road capacity problems as vehicle problems rather than transportation problems. When they do take transit into consideration, they just duplicate efforts in parallel to the road project because they forget that transit a means of transportation, not a goal to be achieved on its own, and functions in competition to cars. That means that nobody takes SMART seriously as transportation in its own right. Even SMART views itself as a supplement to driving.

MTC, TAM and SCTA need to cut off funding to the Highway 101 project and invest it in SMART. Caltrans is hunting for funds now, and none of these agencies should cough up the cash. Not only will the train add more capacity than the freeway, but it will also strengthen towns up and down the 101 corridor in a sustainable way, attract employers, and knit together the North Bay in a way a wider 101 never could.

We spend so much energy in the North Bay talking about the environment. Let’s actually do something for the environment and save money in the process.

*The cost of the IOS + Windsor is about $500 million.

** The maximum length of a train is limited by the size of a city block to three cars, so that’s how many we can put on a single train. The Sharryo train cars SMART will use have 82 seats with space for 28 standees, so a three-car train has space for 330 riders. The 7.5 minute headway is the minimum allowable without widening the Puerto Suello tunnel, and it means 8 trains per hour per direction. The cost of sidings to allow that much frequency is about $180 million more than the current system. Each Sharryo car costs $3.3 million, and 7.5 minute headways requires 34 trains. Add together the cost of 34 three-car trains and more sidings to the base cost of $680 million and you have about $1.2 billion.

UPDATE: If you’re wondering where I got my costs, I detailed a double-track system here and a cheaper sidings-based system here.

SMART grade crossings and congestion

CSX Railroad Crossing Lights

by lakelandlocal, on Flickr

Some SMART opponents have been arguing that the SMART train will cause massive traffic congestion along its route whenever it closes the crossing gates.

The idea is that SMART will run most often at rush hour, when our roads are busiest, and that it would cross over some fairly busy roads at grade. The crossing gates would close for a time, backups would result, and rush hour would be ruined for everyone. This analysis deserves examination.

Federal guidelines on the subject require crossing arms to close at least 20 seconds before a train passes, and open no more than 12 seconds after the train has passed. Though most crossing arms I’ve seen open almost immediately after the train has passed, let’s say the gate will be closed at least 32 seconds.

If a 170-foot SMART train is moving at 25 miles per hour, or 37 feet per second, it will clear a 35-foot wide intersection in less than 6 seconds. If it’s slowing to a stop, such as around Fourth Street in San Rafael, it might travel at about a fifth that speed, and will cross the same intersection in 28 seconds. SMART’s design documents say it will run at the same speed as parallel streets, so these are reasonable speeds to assume. Added these times to the minimum closure time and we find a maximum an approximate wait delay of 60 seconds, roughly the same amount of time as a normal traffic light. Thanks to long headways, each grade crossing will have to endure, at most, 60 seconds of delay twice four times per hour.

In the populated areas SMART will cross through, the crossing arms will communicate with with the rest of the traffic light system. That will further minimize the effect of the train’s activities on local traffic flow.

It seems, then, that the concern is overheated. While freight trains extending thousands of feet in length would cause major congestion, the relatively short SMART trains will be speedy enough so as not to cause a problem. With intelligent traffic engineering, they won’t be any more of a pain than traffic lights are now.

This post has been updated for clarity.

Well, that SMARTs a little…

On December 10th, 2012, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority Board of Directors approved programming $6.6 million of the County’s $9.9 million pot of federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) funds to Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) for the purchase of an additional train set.

We know you are probably having some feelings about this decision, among them anger and confusion.

SCBC’s here to provide for you some context, describe the circumstances around the vote, explain what the vote means for bicycling in Sonoma County, share our position on the vote, and our strategy moving forward.

The Context

Sonoma County Transportation Authority (SCTA) coordinates transportation planning and funding throughout the County. Most of the transportation funding that SCTA receives is programmed through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), SCTA’s Regional counterpart, which manages transportation planning and funding for the 9 Bay Area Counties.

SCTA works to bring to Sonoma County funding for highways, roads, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian projects. This is a complex and wonky process comprising many pieces. There are various “pots” of federal and state money that filter through MTC to SCTA.

One of these pots is CMAQ. These federal funds can be used for projects that help reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. A variety of project types are eligible for CMAQ funding, including, but not limited to, transit, bicycle, and pedestrian projects. In Sonoma County, CMAQ has historically been a significant (if not the top) source of funding for bicycle pedestrian projects. SCTA programs these funds to eligible projects through a competitive process in 2-4 year cycles.

The concerned $9.9 million pot of CMAQ funding (mentioned in the introduction) is for projects through 2016, and is set to be programmed starting in 2013. Over the past year, each of the nine cities in Sonoma County, the County of Sonoma, and SMART itself, have been able to submit projects to be considered for CMAQ funding. These jurisdictions submitted to SCTA by a November 30th deadline $38 million worth of projects deemed eligible for CMAQ funding. Under the normal SCTA process, these eligible projects in 2013 would have to compete for shares of the $9.9 million of available CMAQ funding.

The Vote

On Thursday, December 6th, Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition learned that SMART was to make a special request to the SCTA Board of Directors at the latter’s December 10th meeting. Based on our understanding, other stakeholders and the members of the SCTA Board of Directors learned of this request the same day as did SCBC.

SMART’s request was that the SCTA Board agree to put ahead of all other CMAQ-eligible projects its own eligible request for $6.6 million to purchase an additional train set. The SCTA Board was asked to vote on whether to program this funding without putting SMART ‘s request through SCTA’s regular competitive process.

SMART asserted that it needs the train set in order to provide full service to the North Santa Rosa station at the time the Initial Operating Segment (the “IOS” – North Santa Rosa to San Rafael) opens in 2015 or 2016. SMART asserted that full service to this station (rather than the 2/3 service possible without it) is critical because North Santa Rosa station represents 80% anticipated ridership for the Sonoma County portion of the IOS.

SMART argued that going outside the normal SCTA process was necessary because SMART must order the train set by the end of 2012 for two reasons: 1) SMART will be able to get the additional train set for the same price as those it has already ordered; and 2) If SMART does not order now, the new train set will not arrive until 2018, well after SMART begins service on the IOS.

After asking some good questions, hearing public comment by 7 people (including SCBC Outreach Director Sandra Lupien), and a good amount of discussion, the SCTA Board voted 10-2 to approve SMART’s request. Almost every member of the Board said they were unhappy with the ramifications of their decision for available bicycle/pedestrian funding, and expressed that it was a very difficult decision to make.

What it means for bike/ped

By approving SMART’s request for $6.6 million, the SCTA Board has left just $3.3 million in CMAQ funds available for about $31 million in CMAQ eligible projects. It is hard to tell based on the project list overview what portion of the projects submitted by cities and the County are bicycle projects. It looks like most of them are multi-use projects that include some combination of roadway improvements that may include bicycle lanes, sidewalks, and crosswalks. There are a few multi-use Class I projects on the list. The largest share of bike/ped projects on the list are segments of the SMART Multi-use Pathway.

These bicycle-pedestrian projects will, through SCTA’s normal process, have to compete against each other and the other eligible projects for a much smaller pot of money. That could mean that important bicycle-pedestrian projects could be more likely to be delayed until a later funding cycle.

When voting on SMART’s request on December 10, several members of the Board expressed hope that SCTA would prioritize the bicycle-pedestrian projects for the remaining $3.3 million in funding. The Board also directed staff to allow jurisdictions to re-submit their CMAQ-eligible projects to enable jurisdictions to prioritize projects based on the smaller pot of money.

Finally, SCTA staff did mention that there is $1.4 million in potential bike/ped funding through the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), and $11.4 million available in Surface Transportation Projects (STP) funding that can be used for bike/ped.

SCBC’s position

This decision SMARTs for sure, but we want to be sure that SCBC’s position is clear. There are parts of this whole situation that we don’t like, parts we think are not a huge deal, and parts that we think need a little clarifying.

What we really don’t like

1. SMART jumped the queue with an 11th hour request – Based on the conversation on December 10th, SCBC can understand why SMART needs to buy the train set by the end of the year, particularly because a 2018 arrival of the train set would be too late. What we don’t understand is why SMART waited until the last minute to make the request. When SMART announced in early 2012 that it was able to add the North Santa Rosa Station to the Initial Operating Segment, it announced that it could only offer 2/3 service to that station with its budgeted equipment. That left nearly a year to figure out how to get the train set needed to offer full service to North Santa Rosa. A few months – rather than a few days — lead time on SMART’s request would have allowed the SCTA Board of Directors to make a more well-reasoned decision, explore other options, etc.

2. SMART did not notify stakeholders (other agencies, public works departments, SCBC) that it planned to make this significant request. The lack of communication left SCBC – and probably other stakeholders – feeling blindsided.

3. This process has made clear that SCTA’s CMAQ-eligible project list does not include a satisfactory number of competitive, deliverable bicycle projects. This, in spite of the fact that each municipality has excellent bicycle/pedestrian projects planned. This means that jurisdictions are not submitting their bike/ped projects for funding.

4. This vote by the SCTA Board threatens to delay some projects for several years. We don’t like to see any bicycle/pedestrian project delayed. We think that the need to increase safe bicycle access must be prioritized and that jurisdictions must build out their bike/ped plans.

What is not that big of a deal:

1. Using CMAQ money to support important transit project in our County — SMART — is a legitimate use of this funding source.

What is worth noting:

1. The availability of the $1.4 million in TAP funds is a good thing, and so is the potential availability of $11 million in STP funds. Both of these funds are also competitive and by no means limited to bike/ped projects.

What SCBC is going to do

1. Status of the Multi-use Pathway (MUP)
Many people appear to be under the mistaken notion that this decision somehow means that SMART has cut the multi-use pathway from the project. This decision is not related to the MUP in any way. That said, SCBC does hear concerns from the bicycle community as to whether SMART does in fact intend to build the pathway as planned. While we are aware that segments of the MUP are currently under construction, and more will be under construction in the Spring, we believe that SMART owes the bicycle community a strong and direct commitment. Therefore, we will meet with SMART next week and demand that SMART provide public assurances that the MUP is, was, and always will be a part of the SMART project. We will also urge SMART to make a public statement as to the status of the various segments of the MUP and when they’re expected to be completed.

2. SMART as a community partner
We will explain to SMART that the agency must be a transparent, communicative community partner that engages key stakeholders in key decisions.

3. Urge SCTA to prioritize bike projects
As noted above, some members of the SCTA Board expressed hope that bike/ped projects would be prioritized for the remaining CMAQ money. We will push SCTA to honor this sentiment with action. We will also push SCTA to fund bike/ped projects with the $1.4 million in available TAP funds, and with some of the $11m in available STP funds.

4. Push for more, deliverable bike projects
As noted above, this decision has made clear that for some reason, the various jurisdictions are not submitting their compelling bike projects for CMAQ funding. We are going to work with public works departments to find out why they’re not bringing forth their bike projects, and to provide support and encouragement to help them do so moving forward. Every community in Sonoma County has great plans for bikes; we need the jurisdictions to prioritize getting those projects funded, implemented, and open to the public!

Thank you for taking the time to read and understand this situation. Here is what you can do to help:

1. Join Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. We are your voice! We’re here to fight for bicycle projects. Your membership makes SCBC more influential.

2. Get everyone you know to join Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

3. Make an end-of-the-year donation to Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. We’re not kidding around. Donations and membership dues make it possible for us to represent the bicycle community. We get grants for programs like Safe Routes to School, but grants are not available to fund our advocacy efforts. It’s up to you!

4. Write to your elected officials, to the SCTA Board of Directors, and to the SCTA Executive Director. Let them know you want them to prioritize funding for bicycle projects in Sonoma County and in your city. If you need help finding these email addresses, please contact SCBC.

Please call us at 707-545-0153 if you have any questions. You may also email Sandra@BikeSonoma.org.

SCBC is here to fight to create the safe, accessible, amazing bicycle community we want to see; together with you, we’re making it happen!

This piece was cross-posted from the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition blog.

End-Week Links: Hills

Sunset on a Masterpiece, by C. M. Keiner, on flickr

Sunset on a Masterpiece, by C. M. Keiner, on flickr

Marin Lesser and Greater

  • Peter robbed; Paul under investigation: Sonoma granted SMART $6.6 million of $9 million in bike/ped funding. The funds, from a federal congestion mitigation grant, will be used to purchase an additional train for the extended IOS. Sonoma bike activists are angry, to say the least unhappy, understanding, and moving forward. (Systemic Failure, SCBC)
  • Tilting at windmills: Wind turbines could be allowed in West Marin under the latest revisions to the Local Coastal Plan. Environmentalists oppose the measure, saying it would industrialize the rural region. (Pt. Reyes Light)
  • Tackling homelessness in San Rafael: Through mental health services and jobs, San Rafael is doing more to fight homelessness than just crack down on nuisance behavior. Here’s hoping it does good. (IJ)
  • Another study coming down the track: Transit feasibility in the Fairfax-San Rafael corridor is on its way yet again. TAM and MTC will examine whether BRT, rapid bus, or a full-fledged streetcar line would be best to serve the 5-mile strip. (Pacific Sun)
  • RHNA is almost as fickle as thought: Despite 43 years of affordable housing mandates, California remains woefully short on affordable housing. ABAG has tried to adjust to the demands of cities, but such a scattershot approach doesn’t make up for the state process’s shortcomings. (Bohemian via Scott Alonso)
  • Get your son on a bike: Research from the UK shows that it’s far safer for young men to ride a bike than to drive. Given that driving is the number one cause of death among teenagers, perhaps those Every 11 Minutes campaigns could be supplemented by some good old-fashioned bike lessons. (Red Orbit, CDC)
  • Hybrids really aren’t so green: Hybrids, at least if you look at their entire life-cycle, really aren’t as green as their reputation. The batteries are difficult to dispose of; the mileage really isn’t so great; and their battery will only last about 80,000 miles, meaning one will need to buy a new vehicle far sooner than otherwise. Perhaps Marin needs a new family car, like a bike. (Streetsblog)
  • Do the council shuffle: San Anselmo picks Kay Coleman for mayor. (Patch) … There’s still time to apply for San Rafael City Council. (IJ)
  • And…: Despite the threat of financial receivership, Detroit’s downtown is positively booming. (NY Times) … Local transit has published their holiday schedule. (GGT) … San Rafael Airport developer compares their sports complex project to Grady Ranch. (IJ) … The libertarian take on land use planning. (United Liberty)

The Toll

At least five people, and possibly a sixth, were injured this week.

  • Yes, a hit and run is indeed a felony: Jared Whisman-Pryor, who prosecutors say hit and seriously injured bicyclist William Schilling, has turned himself in to Rohnert Park Police. As it turns out, he will be charged for felony hit-and-run. (PD)
  • Obituary for mother killed last week: Barbara Rothwell accidentally killed herself in a car crash last week near Bolinas. The Point Reyes Light paints a portrait of her life cut short. She was 48.
  • Marin Injuries: A driver hit a woman while she was crossing the street in Novato, sending her to the hospital. (IJ) … A driver seriously injured himself by crashing into a power pole in Terra Linda. (Patch)
  • Sonoma Injuries: Ben Rhoades seriously injured himself and another driver by driving under the influence and colliding head-on with the other driver near Cotati. (Patch) … A driver rolled their minivan in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, though whether they injured themselves wasn’t immediately reported. (PD) … An 87-year-old driver seriously injured Wilfred Lewis, who was crossing the street in Santa Rosa. The driver said he never saw Lewis. (PD)

Got a tip? Want to write an article? Email us at theGreaterMarin [at] gmail.com or send a tweet to @theGreaterMarin.

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)
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