Sketching out a better Muir Woods Shuttle

Residents of Tam Valley are up in arms about Muir Woods, and it’s no wonder. Their community and its two-lane road is the gateway to the popular site, as well as all the beauty and recreation of southern West Marin.

In response to the cry, the Board of Supervisors wrote to the National Park Service and asked them to explore improving shuttle service and to limit visitors.

While limiting visitors is an awfully stingy solution to the traffic problems in Tam Valley, tackling the traffic problem with transit alone is likely to be tough. How to restructure the shuttle to improve service to provide that much travel is an important question.

So, to get planners’ creative juices flowing, here’s my own sketch of a new shuttle, lifted from some brainstorming on Twitter.

Guiding questions: What is the purpose of the program? To ease traffic to West Marin through Tam Valley. To do that without limiting visitors, we need to create a shuttle that takes enough cars off the road to make traffic run more smoothly. What’s the purpose of that shuttle? To provide a car-free way for people to visit Muir Woods.

How do we make this shuttle attractive to tourists who might have rented a car and might be from areas where transit is not part of their daily lives?

Basically, like any good transit, we need to run it from a logical origin point to our logical endpoint while hitting other possible origin/destinations in the process. For tourists in San Francisco and Southern Marin, the primary destinations are Union Square, Coit Tower, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason, Lombard Street, and the cable cars in San Francisco, and Sausalito, the Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods, and Stinson Beach in Marin.

Muir Woods sits on a dead-end, so it’s probably not a good idea to go on to Stinson Beach. The time going in and out again is just too much of an inconvenience for something going on to West Marin. Hitting Sausalito makes easy sense for a shuttle. Route 66F does this now and doesn’t get enough riders, so we’ll need to press on.

The Golden Gate Bridge makes a lot of sense. Not everyone wants to take a ferry to Sausalito, but everyone wants to see the Bridge if they’re touring San Francisco. It would be a good way to make the shuttle highly visible to tourists and catch those who want Muir Woods but not the ferry ride.

What about Fisherman’s Wharf? It would certainly put the shuttle into the heart of tourist San Francisco, lending it ease of use and ease of access. The problem is how far Fisherman’s Wharf is from the ultimate destination – Muir Woods – and how much it would cost to run a shuttle with appreciable frequency that deep into The City.

Not to say it isn’t impossible, only expensive. At a typical $89 per revenue hour (the number of collective hours the shuttle vehicles operate for passengers), it would likely cost above $1 million annually to operate, less fare revenues. It may also do more to boost tourism to Muir Woods than offset driving, which isn’t something the National Parks Service wants.

So, unless there is a compelling reason for the shuttle to run all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf, I propose the shuttle run from the Golden Gate Bridge Toll Plaza to Muir Woods, passing through Sausalito (timed with the ferry), Marin City, and park & ride lots on the way. It should run consistently and frequently, with on- and off-season schedules. Every 15 minutes allows people to just show up and go. And the average wait of 7.5 minutes at the Golden Gate Bridge could easily be filled by reading plaques with facts about Southern Marin and the redwoods, not to mention fabulous views of The City and the Bridge. Shuttle should start so they can arrive at Muir Woods at its opening and end at closing.

The current Muir Woods shuttle, Route 66, typically runs to Marin City. It’s much more a parking shuttle than a tourist shuttle, as the only destinations tourists might want to be at are park & ride lots to wait for the shuttle. Infrequently, it runs to the Sausalito Ferry as Route 66F. This is the route that makes more sense from a tourist’s perspective, as it allows the tourist to chain their Marin trips together. Adding the Golden Gate Bridge would add significant value to the shuttle.

Short of that, it would add value to run all shuttles as 66F. We don’t want to ask shuttle riders to drive or transfer, but running most shuttles to park & rides forces tourists either to take Golden Gate Transit or drive.

A non-route concept might have just as much impact as good transit design: limit access to the park for people driving. If you plan to arrive by car, you’d need to reserve a timeslot for your car ahead of time. People arriving by shuttle wouldn’t face that kind of limitation, dramatically incentivizing people to take transit or at least use the park & rides.

A free transfer from the ferry, too, would help overcome the feeling that we’re just gouging the tourists: tickets for everyone for the ferry, tickets for everyone on the shuttle, then back…

Total cost to operate this shuttle? Somewhere around $1 million per year, though with fares it will probably cost the taxpayers around $750,000. With the parking limit, taxpayer cost would be significantly less.

We don’t want to limit access to Muir Woods unless we must, and right now there’s no need to do so. The alternative – a well-designed shuttle program paired with the right incentives – needs a chance to work. To say we need to limit access and solve traffic before boosting the shuttle is to display incomprehension about the purpose and power of good transit. It is not an add-on; it is a solution.

In doing so, we can keep our national heritage open for all Americans, not just the ones who got there first.

Tam Junction Isn’t Going Anywhere

There is a lot of heartburn around Tam Junction. Development, they say, is coming, development that will be ruinous to the neighborhood and anyone who moves into new homes. What’s actually going on? As it turns out, a whole lot less than imagined.

Background

Tam Junction. Click for Google Maps

Tam Junction. Click for Google Maps

Tam Junction is a 20-acre commercial strip wedged between Tam Valley and Almonte. It used to be the junction of the Interurban’s Mill Valley Line and their main lines to Central Marin, hence the name. Now, it’s the intersection of Highway 1 (aka Shoreline Highway) and Almonte Boulevard, and getting through there is suitably difficult.

Though I haven’t been able to corroborate the grade, Sustainable TamAlmonte says the intersection has a Level of Service grade of F, meaning it’s over-capacity. There’s a push in Caltrans and among neighbors to make the whole area more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly, which should take some pressure off the roads, but overall it is just a difficult intersection to traverse.

Tam Junction itself is built on flat, muddy soil, the kind that’s prone to liquefaction during an earthquake. Safe building standards, then, requires some serious reinforcement to bedrock. It’s a dusty, ugly, and semi-industrial bit of the county surrounded by some absolutely stunning scenery and some fairly charming homes.

The zoning for the strip is commercial, but it allows an FAR of 0.4, at most, and has a height limit of 30 feet. This means that it can only have 40 percent the square footage as the size of the lot – a 1000-square-foot lot could have only a 400-square-foot building, which itself can only be 30 feet tall. The northeast bit is part of the Baylands Corridor, a special protected area in the county’s General Plan that can’t be easily built upon.

What’s going on?

Tam Junction has been marked as a Project/Priority Development Area, also known as a PDA. This designation allows it to get additional funds for transportation infrastructure improvements, which it definitely needs. One Bay Area established the PDAs to help focus funding to areas that counties or cities deemed to be particularly worthwhile investments.

A common understanding is that a PDA designation is actually to focus housing development, but that’s not always the case. In essence, the purpose of a PDA is to align the transportation infrastructure with housing. That means either investing in housing development if the infrastructure is underutilized, or investing in infrastructure if what’s already there is over-capacity. Tam Junction falls mostly into the latter category.

I say “mostly” because the Marin’s state-mandated housing element points out six sites in Tam Junction that could be used for affordable housing development. These sites will in all likelihood never be developed: the high cost of construction in Tam Junction’s mud, not to mention the incredibly constrained building envelope, would scare away for-profit and non-profit developers alike. They’d be much more likely to invest in Sausalito, Miller Avenue, or San Rafael than in Tam Junction. The six sites point out the possibility of rezoning those areas to moderate densities but do not guarantee any development.

It’s important to point out that any development that would occur would not be out of character for area – 268-274 Shoreline Drive is a small strip of 30 unit-per-acre density, and Tam Junction already plays host to 30-foot-tall buildings.

Oppositional dissonance

In one sense, it’s a bit of a shame nothing would be built in the area. Sustainable TamAlmonte, a local group, strenuously opposes any residential development in the area while supporting any commercial development. Yet residents now can’t support more retail than is already there. If they could, someone would have taken over the psychic’s shop and opened something with a bit more pizzazz. The strip would need more residents to become a viable retail center. It can’t just become downtown Mill Valley because residents want it to be; it needs actual shoppers with actual money, and housing development would provide a way to do that without generating much traffic, as most new shoppers would be able to walk to their store of choice.

The other option would be to attract more shoppers from elsewhere in Marin, poaching some business from Sausalito and Mill Valley. Yet this option would attract even more traffic to the congested area, rendering it even more dangerous for residents walking, biking, driving, or simply living in the area. I hope Sustainable TamAlmonte isn’t suggesting this sort of development.

In sum, Tam Junction isn’t likely to change much more over the next decade than it has in the last decade. The barriers to development – namely mud and zoning – will make it difficult to do anything other than improve the existing infrastructure for existing residents and businesses. Given the harrowing testimonies of advocates at the last TAM meeting, that should be change enough.

Mid-Week Links: Get Up


What’s it like to be a bus driver? How’s it different from a bus passenger? How we get where we go shapes our perspectives and our understanding in ways we miss.

Marin Proper and Greater

  • BioMarin opened its new downtown San Rafael headquarters to much fanfare, with the mayor and lieutenant governor in attendance. The move brings 300 workers to the most transit-accessible place in the county; here’s hoping they take advantage. (IJ)
  • Novato’s new economic development director has some big ideas for Novato, especially downtown, and that could mean some positive change is on its way for the beleaguered city. (IJ)
  • Tam Valley residents spoke out against zoning for 34 new residences at Tam Junction, saying they would cause illness, environmental harm, traffic chaos, and injury to neighbors. (Herald)
  • Road maintenance, housing, and the county safety net will get the bulk of a $5 million surplus allocated by the Marin Board of Supervisors. Still to be decided is how to split $46 million in funding for pension and health liabilities. (IJ)
  • Protected class I bicycle lanes reduce injuries by up to 90 percent where installed, according to a new survey out of Toronto. (Streetsblog)
  • Amtrak continues its move toward moderate-speed trains with a successful 110-mph test in Illinois. That segment is expected to cut about an hour off of the Chicago-Saint Louis travel time. (The Hill)
  • And…: Cotati broke ground on its new transit center, which will include the SMART station. (PD) … A 20-room hotel is coming to Sausalito. (IJ) … New affordable housing is on its way to Hamilton. (NBBJ) … Superman declares a war on cars, slums, and takes it a bit too far. (Planetizen)

The Toll

Our transportation system killed two people and injured two others this week.

  • Alejandro Torres was killed by a driver in Santa Rosa while crossing the street. The driver, Sebastian Valdoz, who was uninjured, says he didn’t see Torres, who was well into the crosswalk. Santa Rosa police are investigating the cause but accused pedestrians of being over-confident when they have the right-of-way and have traditionally laid fault at the feet of the dead. Torres was 24. (PD)
  • Dorothy Buechy, who injured herself in a car crash last Wednesday, died of her injuries in Santa Rosa on Saturday. She was 86. (PD)
  • The IJ reports that the rash of accidents in Monday’s rains slowed down the commute but writes not a word about injuries.
  • The Tiburon man who tried to run down a pedestrian because of the pedestrian’s plaid shirt was banned from driving for three to five years. This is on top of a one year jail sentence. (IJ)
  • A big-rig driver lost control of his truck in the rain and crashed it in Santa Rosa, spilling diesel fuel and injuring himself. (PD) … A bicyclist was hit by a driver in Sebastopol on Friday and suffered major injuries. (PD)

If you’d like to contribute, shoot me an email at theGreaterMarin [at] gmail.com. I need your expertise, your voice, to keep TGM consistently informative and relevant to Marin’s changing urban and transportation landscape.

Mid-Week Links: Dusk

Golden Gate Beyond the Seat

You can actually enjoy the view if you let a bus driver do the driving. Photo by Orin Zebest.

It’s national Dump the Pump Day! Leave the car at home and take transit to work.

Driving to work costs you and Marin a ridiculous amount of time and money while degrading the environment. Switching to transit means you’ll have time to work on the bus or ferry and don’t have to worry about traffic. Switching to a bike means you can cancel that gym membership, and anytime you walk to or from a bus stop you’re making yourself healthier.

This year GGT and Marin Transit have made it easy to find a way to your job without 511.org (though the app is still handy). Google Maps has integrated the two agencies into its transit directions system, so you can figure out how to get where you need to go.

If you’re already at work, don’t worry; just take the bus tomorrow. Let us know how your commute goes in the comments.

Marin County

  • Tam Valley’s Evergreen sidewalk will be built. A judge threw out a lawsuit to stop the project, arguing that because the suit had come after construction had begun it wasn’t timely. Neighbors, though, have vowed to continue the fight. (IJ, @scottalonso, MV Herald)
  • It’s now legal to rent your home, or part of your home, for less than 30 days in Sausalito. The council voted to lift the prohibition in anticipation of the America’s Cup, but don’t get too comfortable. Participating homeowners need to pay for a $238 permit and collect the 12% transient occupancy tax, and the law expires in October, 2013. (Marinscope)
  • Sausalito resubmitted its draft housing element to the state with only minor tweaks and a letter addressing HCD’s criticism of the plan. Sausalito’s plan had been rejected by the state for a number of reasons, including over reliance on second units and liveabords. (Marinscope)
  • San Anselmo is pondering whether to ban chain restaurants and shops from downtown or anywhere in the town, but the existence of local chain High Tech Burrito has thrown the plans a bit of a curveball. (Patch)
  • SF Public Press has a wonderful series on Plan Bay Area and smart growth in general. So far the series has tackled local resistance to Plan Bay Area, reviews Forum’s conversation on the plan, and why smart growth actually is a good idea. Despite a half-bungled report on carrying capacity, the whole series is a must-read. If you can’t find a dead tree copy of the quarterly around, you can either wait for the slow drip of news online or just get it hand-delivered by the postman for $4. (SF Public Press, KQED)
  • Critics of Plan Bay Area ignore history when declaring Marin doesn’t grow, ignore environmentalism when declaring Marin must not grow, and ignore facts when declaring it a conspiracy at the highest levels. (Pacific Sun)
  • GGT’s @GoldenGateBus account tweeted about a bus service disruption caused by the Pier 29 fire. Though the tweet didn’t include a link to the site that actually described which stops were effected, it’s a good start and hopefully a sign of things to come. Great job, GGT! (Twitter, SFGate, GGT)
  • Go see West End at tomorrow’s Culture Crawl from 5pm-8pm. The neighborhood’s merchants see far less traffic than downtown San Rafael just over the hill, though the neighborhood is far from dull. (IJ)
  • And…: An unwalkable bit of south Novato is set to become home to 12-14 affordable housing units. (NBBJ) … County supervisors passed a $473 million budget for the year. An unallocated chunk of $22 million will be divvied up in coming weeks. (IJ) … It looks like San Rafael will pass a budget without cutting the Street Crimes Unit. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Plans for a car-free Market Street are chugging along in San Francisco under the aegis of Better Market Street. The plan would close Market from Embarcadero all the way down to Octavia, improving transit travel times and pedestrian and bicycle safety. If approved, expected opening date would be 2016. (SFist)
  • Apartments are booming in downtown Windsor with 1,200 units on track to open over the next five years. The rapid pace of development near its future SMART station has left some wondering whether the city can absorb such growth, and whether it even ought to allow it. (Press-Democrat)
  • Sacramento’s light rail now reaches its riverfront, part of a major redevelopment plan for the capital’s central neighborhoods. The city’s step is to get it over the river, though there’s no telling when the money will come in. (Sacramento Bee)
  • The next phase of the American Dreamwill not look like the last 50 years of sprawl as people finally learn what Marin knew so long ago: that the heart of a place is its downtown, not its shopping mall. (NYT)
  • The problems facing cities are as old as cities themselves. Ancient Rome had traffic jams, restrictions on freight travel within the city, noise pollution, slumlords, sky-high rents and poets to document it all. (The Iris via Planetizen)
  • A 10-story development in downtown Santa Rosa got another permit extension as developers continue to face financial problems. (Press-Democrat)

Got a tip? Tweet @theGreaterMarin, email thegreatermarin [at] gmail.com, or post something on Facebook.

Mid-Week Links: Problem/Solution

As any company can tell you, the product is only as successful as the marketing, and Los Angeles took it to heart.  Not only was designing a good transit “product” important, but selling it to the public was immediately useful.  Other agencies would do well to do the same.

Marin

  • A sprawling development of 12 homes in Santa Venetia has been rejected by the Marin County Planning Commission.  The issue goes to the Board of Supervisors next. (IJ)
  • Druid Heights, an alternative community “whose members were dedicated to radical artistic, philosophical, spiritual, political and sexual experimentation,” is profiled by the IJ on news that it qualifies as an official historical site.  The irony is lost on the writer. (IJ)
  • Novato joins Corte Madera in considering a pot club ban. (IJ)
  • Downtown Novato’s Business Improvement District is doing good work to make the street a commercial destination. (Advance)
  • In what seems to be a weekly occurrence, all northbound lanes were closed on Highway 101 due to a crash.  Two people were injured. (Patch)
  • George Lucas wants to turn Lucas Valley’s Grady Ranch into anoffice complex for 340 employees in a manner similar to Skywalker Ranch. (IJ, Patch)
  • Marin’s $50 million renovation of its new Marin Commons space is slated to begin next year.  A government anchor tenant is a savior for the location. (BizJournal)
  • Marin local businesses felt the touch of this year’s surging shopping season, posting a fabulous Shop Local Saturday. (IJ)
  • The Marin City Transit Center got a $500,000 facelift and finally opened for business.  Bike parking and an information kiosk were apparently less important than trees, and will go in in the next couple of weeks. (IJ)
  • This year might be the last that Marinites will be able to sled in downtown San Rafael thanks to budget cuts (IJ)
  • Like the library?  Love infrastructure?  San Anselmo is seeking applicants for its Capital Program Committee and Library Board. (Town of San Anselmo)
  • A driver struck and injured a cyclist in San Anselmo. (IJ)
  • More inconclusive reports on the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. affects on wildlife. (IJ)
  • SMART may be controversial, but two of the most beloved bits of Marin infrastructure – the Ferries and Bridge – were controversial in their day, too. (IJ)
  • Polling suggests that SMART still enjoys strong support, but there are questions about its methodology. (IJ)
  • Tam Valley is home to a dangerous and well-traveled intersection, but one of the few that lacks sidewalks or good pedestrian and bicycling amenities.  Kathy McLeod wants to change that. (Patch)
  • Café Gratitude is closing or selling all its NorCal locations, including the one in San Rafael, but it still totally wants you to buy its stuff.  The closures are a result of multiple employee lawsuits. (SFist)
  • The Sausalito Chamber of Commerce is moving into its recently-purchased mixed-use building on Bridgeway.  I wonder if an employee will get the top-floor apartment… (Marinscope)
  • Are you prepared for the Big One? (SFist)

The Greater Marin

  • Vancouver is pursuing urban planning that makes people healthier and fights obesity.  How?  By getting people out of cars and onto sidewalks, bikes, buses and trains. (Globe and Mail)
  • Although California High-Speed Rail is undergoing some tough times, the short-sightedness of governors elsewhere means the project gets their funding. (SFist, New York Times)
  • Readers should know that zoning is important for the future and form of any city.  How important?  Edward McMahon celebrates 85 years of zoning regulations by looking at its philosophical basis, while Stephen Smith looks at the origins of zoning: New York progressivism.  (Urban Land Institute, Market Urbanism)
  • The exurb, of which the Bay Area has blessedly little, is not coming back. For Sonoma and other outer counties, the future rests in their own economic vibrancy. (New York Times)
  • Lastly, there is a pie cake, and it’s called a Cherumple.  This “dessert version of the turducken” weighs around 21 pounds.  Bring friends. (Boing Boing)
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