A counter-petition starts in Strawberry

A new petition – still small – is trying to inject some sense into the Strawberry priority development area (PDA) debate. It’s about time.

The core contention of the petition is simple: the PDA is not about housing, it’s about transportation funding. To cut out the transportation funding just eliminates transportation funding, leaving any housing plans intact.

The success of Marinwood activists has been the removal of the PDA but intact housing plans. The success of North San Rafael activists was the removal of the PDA but an intact station area plan. What did they accomplish? Political victories that do nothing to advance their stated goal of downsizing housing plans.

What’s a PDA again?

As I’ve written before, a PDA, or priority development area, is a funding mechanism for a part of the region. It’s entirely voluntary and entirely without strings attached. Half of Marin’s transportation dollars must go to a PDA.

At the moment, the regional funds dedicated to PDAs are for planning, so shovels can’t go in the ground, but that just means we can start the process of building real improvements to the county’s transportation infrastructure.

What is the PDA not?

Critics, including frequent commentor on this blog Richard Hall, will point to the application process, which requires an area to have plans for more housing before it can become a PDA, to say that a PDA by definition is a housing plan.

But that’s like saying a credit card, by requiring a certain income level on the application, is income. Of course that’s ridiculous. You had your income before the card. In the same way, any housing zone or plan must be before and, therefore, separate from the PDA.

That’s why anti-housing activists have seen such failure in their stated aim of stopping housing plans.

Conflict roils Strawberry

There are two housing plans that are causing discord in Strawberry: the Seminary housing plan and the county’s housing element. Of these, the Seminary housing plan is what qualified Strawberry to become a PDA first place.

The arguments against housing are diverse but familiar – it would destroy the character of the area, add to traffic congestion and school crowding, cause crime and bring in the wrong kind of people.

Added to the mix are long-running concerns over the existing traffic. The roads in Strawberry are unsafe for anyone who isn’t in a car, especially Belvedere Drive and Tiburon Boulevard. If there are more people, the thinking goes, the problems will get even worse.

Simply put, every one of these arguments is not germane to the discussion of a PDA. Even if housing did do all these things – and, if they did, Strawberry’s high rate of rental housing would surely correlate it to having the worst crime in the county – housing plans are separate from the PDA.

Indeed, remaining within the PDA would provide money to start fixing the problems Strawberry has. Starting grants totaling $210,000 would pay for a comprehensive study of bike and pedestrian infrastructure needs in the area as well as designs for a new Tiburon Boulevard interchange.

Exceptional needs

There are serious gaps in the walking and biking infrastructure throughout Strawberry, and some of it has been the target of quite a bit of ire from local families.

Redwood Highway, Seminary Drive, Belvedere Drive and Reed Boulevard all have no consistent bike or pedestrian infrastructure. Belvedere Drive especially is a fast and dangerous road. Some segments lack sidewalks and all of it is bereft of bike lanes.

Considering that it is the principal route for kids walking from the park to the shopping center, it is an accident waiting to happen. Calming the road with more and better sidewalks and shallower turns has been on the agenda of the neighborhood for years. The PDA is the best chance to make that happen.

Tiburon Boulevard: why it matters to the rest of Marin

The interchange is the biggest project in the area. Caltrans wants to install metering lights at most interchanges up and down the 101 corridor to smooth traffic flow, especially during the evening commute. Tiburon is the start of the nightly Greenbrae corridor mess as service workers leave jobs on the peninsula and head home to Contra Costa.

With a PDA, the Tiburon interchange will be eligible for regional funding, ensuring the project will finally go forward. It would also give leverage to local needs, such as a safe bike path and sidewalk across the bridge and bus pads that don’t require riders to walk across a freeway off ramp. Caltrans has historically been quite hostile to these concerns, so any advantage in negotiating with them could go a long way.

Improving the Tiburon interchange is a project of countywide importance, as it’s key to breaking the Greenbrae Corridor jam. As well, improving that bridge would allow students to finally bike or walk to school in safety, helping ease school traffic through lower Mill Valley. Remember that traffic flow tends to drop off rapidly beyond a certain point; a drop in car travel of even a few percentage points can have enormous impact.

Time to stop fighting shadows

Citizen Marin and the (newly formed) Strawberry Community Association have done Strawberry a grave disservice by spreading myths and fear about their local PDA. Their petition is full of the patently absurd, arguing that the PDA would be a tax giveaway to developers and threaten endangered species.

It’s a glimmer of hope in this never-ending, fearful, angry debate that some people have stood up to say enough. Perhaps you’d like to sign up and join them.

Monday Links: Long Weekend

Art on the Farm: "Historic L Ranch Beach"

Art on the Farm: “Historic L Ranch Beach” by cproppe, on Flickr

Marin Lesser and Greater

  • Hard winter: It’s harder to providehousing for the homeless this winter thanks in part to San Rafael’s crackdown on the homeless. The city has barred pick-up of the homeless in front of St. Vincent’s kitchen this year, and organizers have yet to find a church to house people on Thursday nights. (IJ)
  • The marriage continues: The final contract between MT and GGT has been approved, allowing GGT to continue on as MT’s local service contractor. The deal shaves costs by 3.7 percent and cuts the annual cost increase from 5 percent to 2.7 percent. (IJ)
  • MTC shifts priorities: MTC shifted $20 million earmarked for local rail station planning grants to Congestion Management Agencies like TAM. Normally not a problem, the motion was passed spur-of-the-moment without a staff report or motion text, so it’s unclear if CMA’s would be required to spend the money in any particular way. (Greenbelt Alliance)
  • Seminary delays development: A 117-unit redevelopment in Strawberry is on hold pending a review of the plans by Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. The seminary had faced opposition from the Board of Supervisors and is likely retooling the plan to address supervisors’ concerns. (IJ)
  • Faster trip to the Headlands: Muni’s 76-Marin Headlands got a makeover last weekend, with faster and more thorough service to sites in the famed recreation area. Marinites can catch the bus Saturday and Sunday at the Golden Gate Bridge. (Muni Diaries)
  • Aged out: Elderly drivers disproportionately cause car crashes, but it can be difficult for them to give up the keys when they’re no longer safe behind the wheel. In areas like Sonoma and Marin, where alternatives are few or expensive, it can be even more difficult. (PD)
  • And…: A special tax district that requires developers to actually pay for city services is under attack in Santa Rosa. (PD) … Just because a ridiculous proportion of California drivers are drunk or on drugs, legal or otherwise, while driving doesn’t make it any less of a bad idea. (SFist) … Dave Alden is only cautiously optimistic on community-funded real estate, saying it could open the door to exactly the kinds of abuses the SEC wants to avoid. (WDWGfH?)

The Toll

The roads killed two and left 16 injured since the 15th.

  • Emile Smith severely injured himself and killed his passenger, Selena Ross, after Smith crashed his car on Friday in Santa Rosa. Selena Ross was 33. (PD)
  • An unnamed man rolled his car and killed himself in Tiburon last Friday. Nobody else was injured. The driver was 53. (IJ)
  • Marin’s Injured: A driver caused one minor injury while trying to pull into the Drake High School parking lot in San Anselmo. (IJ) … A driver injured himself in South Marin by striking a rock in the 101 shoulder, causing his car to flip. (IJ) … A teen driver injured himself and five others while speeding through Novato last week. He has been arrested under suspicion of driving while drunk and high. (IJ) … A police officer on a motorcycle injured himself in Tiburon by crashing his bike into a driver in another car. The other driver was unhurt. (IJ) … A drunk driver stopped on Highway 101 and was swiftly struck by two others, one of which was injured in the pile-up. (Patch)
  • Sonoma’s Injured: A speeding and reckless driver crashed into two cars and flipped his own in Petaluma, injured himself and one of the other two drivers. (PD) … A driver injured himself by crashing his tanker truck in Salt Point State Park. His accident spilled oil and antifreeze into the sensitive area. (PD) … A driver crashed his car in Sonoma County last week, injuring himself and no others. (PD) … A driver struck and injured a pedestrian in West Sonoma. (PD)

Have a tip? Have an article idea? Email us at theGreaterMarin [at] gmail.com.

Tiburon’s Transit Gets Wind in its Sails

“Coming About”, photo by Roy Tenant

Bus service in Tiburon is the worst-performing part of the Marin Transit (MT) system. Fares cover about 12% of the operating costs (the target rate is 20%), and a paltry 12 riders per hour take the bus. To address the situation, MT has begun the Tiburon Transit Needs Assessment, a process that will end with changed routes, better service, and more. The listed alternatives for improvement are a step in the right direction. Pursuing a blend of route changes, structural changes, and better transfers to 101 and the ferry will give residents and workers on the Tiburon Peninsula a better bus and attract more ridership.

What’s There Now

Tiburon is served by two bus lines, the commuter Route 8 and local Route 19, the Blue & Gold Ferry, and paratransit. Route 8 goes from Belvedere to San Francisco via 101 and carries about 57 passengers per weekday on its very few runs south. Other than school runs to Redwood High, Route 19 runs from Belvedere to Marin City via Strawberry and carries about 345 passengers per weekday and about 280 passengers per weekend.

Blue & Gold Ferry operates between Tiburon and San Francisco, a run that takes about 25 minutes. Though about double the price of Route 8, it takes half as long to reach the City which suits its well-heeled travelers fine.  Unfortunately, the ferry doesn’t accept Clipper Cards and doesn’t have timed transfers with buses in the middle of the day.

To address the problems of low ridership, MT has developed a whopping 15 proposed service changes ranging from a shorter, more frequent line to improving bicycle access. You can see all the proposals here.

There are three types of alternatives: the first deals with bus route length and frequency, the second with paratransit like dial-a-ride and taxis, and the third with non-bus transportation.  When presented with such a plethora of options, it’s good to keep in mind some core transit rules (most of which I unabashedly take from Jarrett Walker):

  1. Well-spaced high-frequency corridors that intersect in a grid and anchored at walkable destinations.
  2. Easy connections between transit modes and lines.
  3. People tend to stick with transit once they’re used to it.
  4. Pedestrian-friendly areas around stops and stations.

These fit well with some of the comments from ferry riders who were asked what would get them on the bus:

  1. Increase service frequency, especially around peak hours
  2. Closer bus stops
  3. Faster travel time (mutually exclusive with closer stops)

As of press time, the online survey wasn’t closed, so we don’t know for certain what their preferences are. However, Robert Betts, the Marin Transit planner charged with the changes, said preliminary feedback at workshops showed a strong desire for better service frequency, connectivity to schools, and improving Blue & Gold Ferry’s role in the peninsula’s transit network.

Let’s see how the alternatives stack up against the recommendations.

Fixed Route: Alternatives 1a-1e and 3a-3b

Draft alternatives. Click for full PDF.

Of the fixed route plans, none meet all the recommendations, though 1a comes closest. With 30 minute headways all day, the shuttle service (I hope they call it something that doesn’t connote the wretchedness of getting around an airport) between downtown Tiburon and Strawberry should be the backbone of Tiburon service. I’m not so enthusiastic about 1b (downtown to Marin City via Mill Valley) or 1c (downtown to Manzanita Park & Ride) mostly because of frequency and cost. Well-timed transfers could do it better.

Adding the school route of alternative 1e to Marin Catholic High School would complete the transit picture, giving kids an alternative to car ownership and taking a helluva lot of cars and their novice drivers off the road. I’m less enthusiastic about alternative 1d, which adds two rather roundabout school routes. I’d rather see them branded as school supplementary service rather than proper bus lines, and, given what they serve, I’d rather the cost come from an agency other than Marin Transit.

Unfortunately, 1a misses the connection to Highway 101. The freeway is the north-south artery of our transportation system. While some routes connect at Strawberry, Routes 18, 24, 36, 70, 71, and 80 all bypass the shopping center for the Tiburon Wye bus pads. This wouldn’t be a big deal if transfers were easy between 19 and the bus pads, but interchange’s horrid cloverleaf layout means anyone who needs to transfer between southbound 101 and the 17 must walk half a mile to make the connection. Transfers to northbound 101 aren’t bad at all, though the bus stops are just signs on poles in some ugly parking lots.

Such a poor connection dramatically reduces the route’s effectiveness.  This is a bus network after all, and network effects are powerful.

Redesigning the interchange isn’t in the scope of work, so routing has to be the solution. Alternative 1a should be modified to run buses across the overpass and turn them around just after the offramp’s intersection with E. Blithedale. There’s a parking lot there that would work well as a turnaround. Though the extra routing would add two to three minutes to the total round trip, it would dramatically improve the connection to southbound 101 and therefore the bus line’s usefulness.

Blue & Gold Ferry is the best way for residents to get to the city, bar none. It’s classy, it’s fast, it’s comfortable, and it drops people off in the heart of the financial district. It’s hindered by low frequency, high cost, and poor transfer to buses.

Alternative 3b addresses the frequency concerns. Tiburon is undergoing a downtown improvement project, which would address the car-oriented nature of most of its downtown, but adding more people to the tip of the peninsula would mean traffic hell further up Tiburon Boulevard. MT should push Blue & Gold to do more and cheaper runs to the City to support a more people-friendly downtown.

The other part of 3b would establish ferry links with Sausalito. While I appreciate the thought, the beauty of Blue & Gold’s routing is the effective express route to the City. The point of an intermediate link to Sausalito would be strictly for tourists, hindering the livability of Tiburon and therefore it’s attractiveness to tourists in the first place. If the route would function as a water taxi, I’d be concerned about profitability. Still, Blue & Gold is a for-profit company; they wouldn’t initiate a loss-making run.

Alternative 3a pushes Blue & Gold to adopt the Clipper Card, partially addressing the transfer issues between the two systems. I can’t see anything wrong with unifying fare media.

Demand-Response Service: Alternatives 2a-2e

No matter how Route 19 is changed, a good chunk of the Tiburon Peninsula will go without transit. The twisting, disconnected streets and cul-de-sacs make effective transit service impossible beyond Tiburon Boulevard, but there is still a need for transit in those areas. People with disabilities, the elderly, and others need to have a way to get around.

Demand-response service allows people to order transit so they don’t need to walk to a bus stop. The alternatives presented range from taxi vouchers to semi-fixed route service.  In honesty, I don’t know nearly enough about Demand-Response Service to assess these options in depth, but I do have some more surface-level thoughts.

Taxi vouchers (alternative 2d) may be the best way to get people out of their homes. Most of the households are the peninsula are relatively wealthy. Though sharing a ride with a number of people may be okay, I suspect taxi service would be more familiar and comfortable to elderly people from that background.

Advertising services that are already or will soon be in place makes sense no matter how you slice it, so I’m surprised alternative 2e is presented as just another option. The rest I have no meaningful way to evaluate, and none of them are part of the feedback I’ve heard from Marin Transit or the existing conditions report.

Non-Transit Solutions: Alternatives 3c-3e

These alternatives present options that don’t involve Marin Transit actually putting vehicles on the road or vouchers in peoples’ hands, and they’re all good.

Once tourists get to Tiburon, a bike would be the best way for them to get around. Alternative 3d proposes a bike share system, which would presumably be part of the San Francisco/BAAQMD system opening this fall. Such a system would be used by residents that don’t want to drive up Tiburon Boulevard and by daytrippers from San Francisco and the Peninsula, where the BAAQMD system will be implemented first. What it should not be is a single station in downtown. If sprinkled up the peninsula along Linear Park they could be used for regular trips. Adding a single station would be useless to residents.

Tourists like long, leisurely rides that don’t fit with the strictly utilitarian role of a bike share system. Bike rental kiosks (alternative 3c) would make more sense for them. Visitors could get up the peninsula to see the views across Richardson Bay or head to Tiburon Uplands.

For either type of bike system, it would reduce bicycle crowding on ferries and improve circulation around town for drivers (who wouldn’t have to deal with more cars on the road), residents, and visitors. We’ll have to wait for TAM’s report on bike share this fall, but there’s no reason Tiburon or MT couldn’t start marketing the town to bike rental shops.

Build a Better Route

Bus stops along the Tiburon Peninsula, not including Strawberry or Belvedere. Click for interactive map; click on the stop to find its characteristics.

The alternatives presented will only go so far in promoting transit use. The urban environment along the route is extremely unfriendly to bus travel. Sidewalks, crosswalks, and bus shelters along the route appear only every so often, rendering the pedestrian – as all bus riders are at some point – feeling like an interloper in a car-dominated landscape.

Improving the rider experience, no matter which mode, will make the bus feel less like a second-class form of transportation. At its least expensive, Tiburon should improve connections to frontage streets and paths where they’re lacking. Often the only safe way to bike or walk is on the frontage road, so it’s important they be connected to the stops.

Bus shelters, though more expensive than straight pavement, are important to keeping riders out of the elements. Tiburon Boulevard isn’t the most meteorologically friendly location for waiting at a bus stop, after all, and the combination of rain and the Richardson Bay winds can make umbrellas useless.

Crosswalks and sidewalks are more heavy-duty interventions but would give people better access to bus stops that may not be immediately in front of their street. If it did undertake the improvements, Tiburon would also improve access to Tiburon Linear Park and other services on the south side of Tiburon Boulevard.

The improvements to Route 19 are commendable, and integrating Blue & Gold Ferry into the public transit network will do wonders for the town. If Marin Transit pursues a short but (relatively) high-frequency bus line and creates a strong connection with 101 corridor, they’ll give Tiburon, its residents and workers, the kind of transit they want and deserve.

Expect another few public outreach sessions before the draft report is presented to the MT board at the end of the summer. Whatever the recommendations, implementation likely won’t start until the end of the year. In the mean time, take the survey, read the reports, and show up to those public meetings. You can sign up for a newsletter at the bottom of the reports page.

Mid-Week Links: Happy Hours

Wonderful news!  The Greater Marin (i.e., me) will be throwing a Happy Hour at the Marin Brewing Company on Tuesday, Dec. 27th, at 7pm!  Come by, talk transit, and enjoy Marin’s home brews.  Until then, though, a lot has happened in the County, so on to the links:

Marin County

  • Negotiations between Marin Transit (MT) and GGT will continue for another two years.  MT believes GGT is overcharging by $2.5 million per year to operate its local Marin routes. (IJ)
  • RepealSMART has gathered 7,500 signatures for its repeal effort, although how many signatures are required is still up in the air: RepealSMART says it needs only 15,000 but under some formulae it would need double that number.  The deadline for signatures is January 27. (Press Democrat)
  • A new bikeway opened in Novato between the north and south halves of the city, allowing bikers to avoid the 101 shoulder. (IJ)
  • Performance parking isn’t performing well in San Francisco, forcing broader spreads between cheap and expensive blocks. SFPark disputes the idea that it won’t work, citing the fact that the zones are still just pilot projects, and new ones at that.  Sausalito is running a similar program in its downtown. (Greater Greater Washington, Streetsblog)
  • SMART could lead to traffic and safety problems at San Rafael’s Bettini Transit Center, according to the Golden Gate Bridge District.  Officials cited concerns regarding transferring passengers crossing Third Street and bus delays caused by passing trains. (IJ)
  • SMART sold $191 million in construction bonds this past week, netting $171 million for the project.  The money will be kept in escrow until the RepealSMART effort is resolved. (Press Democrat, IJ, Patch)
  • Bus service will be restored between Sir Francis Drake High and West Marin next semester.  Coastal residents sought the route after Marin Transit officials eliminated the extremely underused Route 62. (IJ)
  • County planners panned development plans at the Golden Gate Seminary in Strawberry, saying the proposed 117 new residential units were “so out of sync” with the seminary’s 1984 Master Plan they “cannot imagine approving” the development. (IJ)
  • Canal residents demanded better lighting, sidewalks, and crosswalks in the neighborhood at a march last Wednesday.  San Rafael city planners said they had received no specific complaint. (IJ)
  • Caltrans will fix a sinking Highway 101 overpass in Corte Madera with $1.2 million in state funds.  The money was accompanied by $28 million for  SMART construction. (IJ)
  • “She was a very special lady who touched many lives… She will be greatly missed.”  Jomar Lococo died on Highway 101 as her husband tried to avoid another driver that had drifted into their lane. (Patch)

The Greater Marin

  • On-time performance is extremely difficult for bus systems to achieve.  Whatever my gripes about GGT, at least they have this down. (Transit Manager)
  • The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) only works when the right questions are asked, as Mountain View discovered in their draft Environmental Impact Report.  As it turns out, building houses near jobs actually is good for the environment. (Atlantic Cities)
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