Marin bike share attracts sponsors without a station in the ground

Bay Area Bike Share. Image by Andrew Nash, on Flickr

Bay Area Bike Share. Image by Andrew Nash, on Flickr

Over a year ago I reported that Marin was pondering a bike share program of its own, whether as a branch of Bay Area Bike Share (BABS) or as its own independent system. Though the initial study (performed by Alta) had some problems with stop location, overall TAM was optimistic and continued to press forward.

As it turns out, at least when it came to sponsorship, they weren’t optimistic enough.

The 2013 study predicted that the initial system, a pilot area between Larkspur Ferry Terminal and downtown San Rafael, would raise just $10,000 worth of private sponsorships, enough to express support but not enough to add serious funding to the system. As of June, the system – without a station in existence – has $247,000 worth of sponsorship pledges.

The sponsors aren’t just the typical bike shops or downtown businesses either. Bon Air Center, the huge Greenbrae strip mall, pledged $20,000, enough for a station of its own. Marin General Hospital pledged $40,000, enough for two stations. United Markets and Woodlands Markets both pledged another $20,000, and Emeryville’s Clif Bar pledged $40,000. Others pledged, too, but this gives a picture of the kind of support received.

This level of enthusiasm is a great sign for the proposed system. While Marin County Bike Share likely won’t ever get the level of daily trips per bike as Minneapolis or DC, it lends hope that bike-hungry Marin will outperform Alta’s fairly low use estimates. Such a concrete show of local support, too, will likely be helpful now that TAM has grant applications in for regional, state, and federal funding for the system.

Update: If you’re really curious about what’s going on with bike share, you can read from PDF-page 199 of the last TAM Board agenda packet.

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Now that the Civic Center Priority Development Area (PDA) has been rescinded, TAM is left with a bucket of PDA-designated cash and even fewer places put it.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.

Story update: San Rafael rescinds Civic Center PDA

As everyone no doubt heard, the San Rafael City Council voted last night to rescind the North San Rafael Priority Development Area (PDA) on a 3-2 vote. Mayor Gary Phillips and councilmembers Kate Colin and Damon Connolly voted to rescind. Councilmembers Andrew McCullough and Barbara Heller voted to keep the PDA.

Slow-growth activists decried the PDA as a high-density housing plan that would burden the city’s schools and water supply while destroying the drivable suburban character in the neighborhood. Urbanists and environmentalists said the PDA carries no strings whatsoever, that the housing guidelines were nonbinding suggestions, and was a way to fund improvements for the San Rafael that exists today.

At a county level, eyes now turn to the Strawberry PDA, which has come under attack by critics for much the same reasons other PDAs have. The argument will likely take much the same shape as it did last night, though it remains to be seen whether Supervisor Kate Sears will propose to remove the PDA or not. Given that she has not come under the same withering criticism Supervisor Susan Adams did over the Marinwood PDA, it may remain intact for the foreseeable future.

At a city level, the downtown San Rafael PDA also remains intact. Mayor Phillips and others who opposed the Civic Center PDA have said the housing suggestions make much more sense downtown and that regional money would do more good in that area anyway. Still, slow-growth advocates, convinced that the PDAs constitute a mandate for housing, are likely to attack this PDA, too. Council candidate Randy Warren, for one, has argued this designation should be rescinded, too.

A future post will look at how San Rafael and TAM could make lemonade out of the situation and the barriers to getting PDA-designated funds from TAM’s account into projects on the ground.

 

New bike share plan suitably cautious

Capital Bike Share (Ballston)

Capital Bike Share (Ballston) by Arlington County, on Flickr

Last Thursday, TAM released a cautiously optimistic report (PDF) on implementing bike sharing in Marin. The preliminary report’s caution is well-warranted, as the county’s infrastructure and urban form are far different from bike share pioneers Paris and Washington, DC. If Marin can thread the needle and create a quality bike share program, it could be a pioneer for other suburbs.

Introduction to bike share

Bike share, the system examined by TAM, is a bicycle rental/transit hybrid. Bikes are stored in stations, like the one pictured at right, which are scattered through the area. Users purchase a membership for a certain amount of time, usually just a day, week, month, or year. While a member, users can pick up a bike from any station and drop it off at any other station. If done within a certain time, like 30 minutes, the trip is free. If the trip goes over that time limit, a fee is levied for every subsequent half-hour.

The point isn’t to check out a bike for a round-trip but rather for each short leg of a short journey. Want to get from downtown MillValley to Whole Foods? Check out a bike, ride it to Whole Foods, dock it there and do your shopping. After you’re done, check out another bike from the station and ride it back downtown or wherever you want to go next.

I’ve been a member of the Washington, DC, system for most of the time it’s been active. Capital Bikeshare, or CaBi, is used by tourists to get between museums on the National Mall, commuters to get to work, revelers to get around after the Metro system closes, and for general trips around town. I’ve used it for all those purposes and it works great for all of them.

The key is to have bicycles and docks always available at a given station, and to have stations conveniently located. There’s nothing worse than arriving at a station to find the bikes are all gone or to find there’s nowhere to dock your bike, especially if there’s nowhere nearby that does have a bike or dock.

The company contracted to operate the system will “rebalance” the bikes from one station to the other. In DC, the operator pays a fee if any station is empty or full for more than two hours. Users know where bikes, docks, and stations are by looking at screens on the stations or with a smartphone app.

The Marin system

Bike share phases 1, 2, and 3

Bike share phases 1, 2, and 3

TAM wants a bike share system to serve primarily the commuting public, to solve what transit planners call the Last Mile Problem. When a rider hops off a bus, they’re at a location that might a ways away from their final destination. To get to the final destination, riders typically walk, though bikes are a common sight on Marin’s bus fleet. With bike share, a rider doesn’t need to bring their own bike.

With that in mind, the first stations would be focused on moving people from downtowns to ferry terminals and transit centers. Twelve stations, one in most of the downtowns and one at the two ferry terminals, would provide a way to get commuters around the county. Subsequent phases would make more stations around activity centers, which would make the system more like CaBi.

Total cost would be around $720,000 for the first phase and $2.2 million for full build-out.

Obstacles

A major barrier to the success of the bike share system will be the paucity of quality bike facilities between downtowns and activity centers. Though it is possible to ride through most of Marin, it isn’t always pleasant, and the safest route is sometimes far out of the way.

Between most downtown pairs lies a few miles of bike-hostile arterial roads. Though most have safer parallel routes, those parallel routes don’t access the businesses that grew up along the arterial. Since bike share is a utility rather than leisure system, the separation of businesses and bike routes diminishes just how much utility bikers can get from the system. Given how low density Marin’s origins and destinations already are, the last thing we need is to diminish separate bikes from businesses.

Marin’s demographics are another potential obstacle. The foundation of most bike share systems is the 25-34 age group. Though they’ve been growing in Marin, the group is a fraction of the size it is in DC or San Francisco. Planners want to harness the 35-45 age group instead, though they’ve been reticent about adopting bike share elsewhere.

Opportunities

The bike share report seems to underestimate the power of tourists in Marin. Particularly in Sausalito, a major driver of use will be tourists. DC’s system was never designed for tourists, but once the system opened on the National Mall the bikes became ubiquitous. Sausalito already gets thousands of tourists. If Marin’s system is integrated with San Francisco’s quite delayed plan, I suspect a huge number of tourists and day trippers will use bike share to hang out around Sausalito and Tiburon. As well, commuters to the City will be able to use their bike share membership at home and for their commute, taking away some of the demand for bike space on ferries and buses.

Bike share is its own best advertiser. Once a small system is up and running, demand springs up elsewhere. People, even transit-savvy New Yorkers, often don’t understand what bike share does before it’s active, but once it is people know it and love it. Richmond, Novato, and maybe even the closer-in West Marin villages like Bolinas and Stinson will want in on the action.

As a nifty indirect effect, bike share puts people in touch with the infrastructure in their communities. A street looks different from a bike. What feels like a narrow lane behind a windshield can feel like a broad avenue on a bike, and what feels slow in a car feels fast to a biker. Advocacy for better bicycling facilities can come from a well-used bike share system.

Oddities

The report isn’t without its problems. The draft plan doesn’t adjust the projected level of usage over time which, frankly, doesn’t make sense. People will use the system more as more stations become available and as people get used to the idea of bike share. It looks like they copied the final station proximity numbers into Phase 1 and Phase 2 but kept the introductory usage numbers for each phase. It would be good to get that sorted out.

The first phase includes only one station in Novato, a small loner in the middle of downtown more than an hour from the next nearest station. Though it is census area with the most bike commuters in the county (6.1 percent!), it doesn’t make sense to add only one station. Riders who arrive and find the station full will be stranded in the middle of nowhere with the clock ticking on their bike.  Stations in Tiburon and Mill Valley are similarly isolated.

There are missed opportunities for new stations in San Anselmo and Mill Valley. In San Anselmo, the commercial centers along Center, namely Yolanda Station and Lansdale Station, should be quality sites for infill. Miller Avenue at La Goma and Tam High should score higher as places for expansion.

It is a true shame that College of Marin doesn’t get a station until Phase 2. Young people form the core of any bike share program. Leaving out a major destination for them until later in the program is foolish in the extreme. One of the more isolated stations – Novato or Tiburon – should be placed there instead.

National context

Bike share is sweeping the nation. It is transforming cities across the country and will soon reach the Bay Area. Marin should not get swept up in the trends for their own sake, and I’m glad the county is proceeding with caution. The next phase of planning is another baby step – $25,000 to find sponsors and study the potential subscriber base, which will put more flesh on the report’s bones.

If Marin’s system does pan out, it will mean bike share is far more flexible than the high-density systems that launched the wave. That means suburbs like Marin, from Surrey, BC, to Staten Island, NY, will have an example of a functional system to hold up as an example. The good news for Marin, then, would mean good news for the country.

Mid-Week Links: Afternoon on the Bay

late afternoon above Richardson Bay, Sausalito, CA

by Stephen Hill

Marin County

  • Neighbors to the proposed Grady Ranch development have appealed the county’s approval of the project. The Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association alleges Grady Ranch would cause too much noise, light pollution, and be a general nuisance. (News Pointer)
  • The San Rafael Airport Rec Center project could run afoul of new California regulations on development near airports.  Though the project fit the old standards, a consultant has been hired to ensure it meets the new ones as well. (IJ)
  • Now that nobody is running for Ross Town Council, it’s up to potential candidates to file for a write-in candidacy.  If there’s an insufficient number of write-in candidates, the three positions will be appointees. (Ross Valley Reporter)
  • Sausalito wants to ease the problem of bike tourists getting stuck in town by setting up a ferry reservation system for cyclists, a far more efficient method than the current first-come-first-served method.  Expanding San Francisco’s bikeshare system to town may also help the more casual riders that don’t want to cross the bridge. (IJ)
  • San Anselmo’s moribund nightlife will get a boost this summer, as two wine bars are slated to open downtown – a near-first for the town. (Patch)
  • Novato’s revenues are better than expected, to the tune of $600,000.  Though the city is still in austerity mode, an expected transfer of $300,000 from the rainy day fund has been canceled. (Advance)
  • Southern Marin’s bikepaths got a $118,000 infusion of maintenance money from TAM.  Though chump change compared to road maintenance, the grant is a welcome recognition of the paths’ importance. (Marinscope)

The Greater Marin

  • San Francisco’s performance parking experiment is finally yielding positive results, with spots opening up around high-priced areas and filling up in cheaper areas. (New York Times)
  • Meanwhile, New York City is suffering thanks to its onerous parking minimums, which drive up the cost of housing in an already expensive city.  Though the practice of banishing parking minimums in favor of parking maximums is recommended in the draft Plan Bay Area, Marin’s transit districts would be wise to take heed. (Streetsblog)
  • Then again, pushing for strictly infill development and densification by loosening regulation won’t solve our housing problem given the pace of infill development, the extraordinary costs of consolidating properties, and political wrangling necessary to actually build the thing.  (Old Urbanist)
  • A 2001 study argues that transit-oriented development is not a traffic cure-all, as much of the benefits of TOD comes from densification and better location than simply better travel modes. (Half-Mile Circles)
  • If we want biking to take off, we must take it seriously as a form of transportation first and recreation second, something Americans typically don’t do. (RPUS)

Bikeshare Could Roll in Marin

This week TAM released a Request for Proposal allocating $25,000 to study whether Marin is suitable for a bikeshare system, and where it should go. If Marin eventually does develop its own system, it will join Montreal, London, Paris, New York, Minneapolis, and many other cities in implementing such a system.  

The RFP itself is not terribly interesting, though you can read it if you like.  It’s also not terribly intriguing that TAM is investigating bikeshare, as the authority has a history of investigating a wide variety of projects, no matter the project’s feasibility.  What is intriguing is that this comes as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) is preparing to launch a bikeshare system with San Francisco, San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Redwood City; as SMART is under construction; as the Plan Bay Area gets into full swing; and as a bikemaggeddon is preparing to land in Sausalito with the America’s Cup.  Each of these could push bikeshare to the front of Marin’s mind and make it likely the system will actually be built.

What the devil is bikeshare?

DC Capital Bikeshare - CaBi

By James D. Schwartz

The first successful system in the United States was Washington, DC’s Capital Bikeshare, or CaBi for short, and it’s been replicated across the country since its rollout in 2010.  Subscriptions are fairly cheap: $7 for a day, $15 for a week, $25 for a month, and $75 for a year.  A subscriber takes a bike out of a station and can dock the bike at any other station.  The trip is free for the first 30 minutes but there’s a fee if the bike is out for longer.  Although it starts fairly nominal, the fee increases quite a bit once a trip goes longer than an hour.  The point is to get the bikes circulating, to replace single trips that might be too short for transit or too long on foot.  DC’s tourists use the system all the time, and it’s quite common to see families riding along the National Mall atop the striking red bikes.

DC’s residents, including me, use the system all the time.  Riding a bike in the city is just as fast as using a car and, for short trips, faster than taking the subway.  It keeps me active, pays for itself after a month’s use, is flexible and efficient.  It reintroduced me to bicycling and opened the city in a way the bus and metro never had.  Now neighboring cities are clamoring to join the CaBi system, while neighborhoods in DC are constantly fighting for new stations.

Not to say that CaBi doesn’t have problems.  Bikeshare depends on users circulating the bikes around from station to station.  Nothing’s worse than finding an empty bikeshare station when you want a bike or a full station when you need to park (you can get your time extended if the station is full).  Stations, therefore, need to be tightly packed so that if one station is empty or full, the next one isn’t too distant.  In Paris, the stations are sometimes no more than a block apart and don’t dissipate into the suburbs – there’s a hard boundary.  In DC, the stations are rather further spaced apart, which works reasonably well though being “dock-blocked”, as its known, still happens with maddening frequency.  The city contracts with a company to manually move bikes from full stations to empty ones, but it’s not quite enough.  A more decentralized city would mean less strain on certain stations as people commute, but barring that more stations, bikes, and members would go a long way to improving circulation around the system.

The Bay Area’s plan

System overview. Click for PDF.

BAAQMD is spearheading the San Francisco plan to establish a bikeshare system in the northeastern quadrant of the city and in isolated pockets along the Caltrain corridor.  Its centerpiece is the downtown San Francisco segment, centered around Market Street, which will include 500 bikes at 50 stations spaced 300 yards apart.  It’s set to open this summer, just in time for the America’s Cup, which will bring a flood of tourists to the city – tourists that will undoubtedly flock to bikeshare.

The San Francisco pilot area. Click for PDF.

The District argues that bicycles can function as an extension of the transit network, but transporting them on regional transit agencies is discouraged.  Bicycles are not allowed on BART during commute hours, and are limited on Caltrain.  The Warm Planet bike shop at Caltrain’s Fourth & King depot is over capacity, and transit is largely maxed out around Market during the commute.  Marinites face similar problems on GGT’s commuter buses and ferries.  Having a bike ready for anyone in the commercial heart of the city (not to mention the other commercial hubs along Caltrain) will give commuters a solution, allowing them to easily transfer to bicycles in the city without the need to fret over getting a bike to and from work.  A bikeshare system would also free a commuter to bike to work but not from it, or vice versa, if they don’t want to arrive at either end a little sweaty.  This encourages more bicycle use, more transit use, and, therefore, less driving.

Eyeballing Marin’s Bikeshare Suitability

Marin’s central and southern cities are ideally suited to the bicycle.  Commercial districts are close to one another and housing, meaning most residents are well within biking distance of at least one downtown.  Bikes are also better suited than the bus to traverse sprawling Novato or Terra Linda and can be a car replacement for most trips elsewhere.

Yet Marin is not terribly dense and has fairly mediocre bicycle infrastructure.  More than almost any other place, Marin is linear, with valleys branching off the 101 corridor.  The ideal grid, with its redundancies and infinite rerouting, is impossible over Marin’s ridges.  This isolates communities to their benefit and detriment, and makes cycling more difficult than it is in DC’s suburbs – it’s fairly difficult to ride from Fairfax to Lucas Valley despite the fact that it’s only as far as downtown San Rafael, as the crow flies.  Marin is also incredibly car-centric, rendering some of the county’s major thoroughfares entirely inhospitable to bikes or pedestrians.

Marin’s employment corridor is Highway 101.  Though office and retail exist in the downtowns tucked away from the freeway, the highest density of employment is along that central spine.  Those that don’t work along the corridor probably work in San Francisco, also down the corridor.

Bikeshare needs strong bicycling infrastructure, to ensure there is a good way to ride from place to place; population density to keep the system running throughout the day; and decentralized commute patterns to ensure certain areas don’t get overloaded as everyone goes to them, or denuded as everyone leaves them.  At first blush, Marin misses all three of these criteria, but it’s not enough to convince me Marin is unsuitable to bikeshare.  Those well-spread downtowns lend themselves to bicycling, and other systems, like CaBi, have had success in areas similar to ours.

I also want bikeshare to succeed in Marin.  Beyond the health, environmental, cost, and traffic benefits, bikeshare would reap political benefits for the county’s urban cycling infrastructure.  Transportation debates in the county are dominated by the driver’s voice, as most Marinites are drivers first and cyclists second.  Bicycle improvements, then, play second fiddle to parking, roads, and other projects that maintain or strengthen our reliance on the automobile.  When bicycling does enter the debate, focus is often on its recreational aspects rather than its functionality as everyday transportation.  Since bikeshare is unabashedly functional, growing its membership means growing the political base advocating for cycling improvements.

I’m excited to see what TAM’s study will show – Marin could reap so many rewards with the system.  With luck, the study will recommend the system.

Mid-Week Links: The Right Kind of Parking

So people sometimes think I’m a geek; I bore them to death with talk about LOS and bike lanes and units per acre, but when so much can be done with just bike parking I can hardly shut up.  Marin, despite its cycling culture, has very little bicycle parking in its downtown cores.  Replacing one car space every other block with bike parking in downtown San Rafael, for example, would add 50 bicycle parking spaces for only 5 car spaces.  As well, putting the bikes where drivers need good sight lines would make the program even better.

The North Bay

SMART construction has officially begun!  For the moment it’s just survey teams and a sign, but the $103 million contract has sparked the first construction work of the project.  Construction will be from Santa Rosa’s Jenning’s Road station, added back in during contract negotiations and now relocated to Guerneville Road, to the Civic Center.  Meanwhile, RepealSMART is turning to paid signature-gatherers to qualify for what they claim is the qualifying target: 14,902. They’ve acknowledged they wouldn’t be able to meet either of the two higher proposed numbers: 30,000 or 39,000. (Press Democrat, IJ, Business Journal, Watch Sonoma County)

  • Tea party protesters interrupted a One Bay Area public planning meeting in Santa Rosa.  I hope Marin’s meeting will be more civil. (Press Democrat)
  • There is a problem with the Wincup development in Corte Madera.  Apparently the parking garage is going where a new freeway ramp – part of the Greenbae Interchange Project – is supposed to go, and TAM isn’t happy. (Pacific Sun)
  • Larkspur has a pedestrian bridge design. (Patch)
  • BioMarin is expanding to the San Rafael Corporate Center, lowering the city’s office vacancy rate from 40% to 12%. While office employees only support 4 square feet of retail, it is a chance to build more street life in eastern downtown. (Patch)
  • The Novato pot club has done what the Fairfax club could not: survive. Although neighbors and city and federal officials want to shut down the club, owners are soldiering on after winning an eviction suit from their landlord, who complained there was marijuana smoking on the premises. (IJ)
  • The driver of an Aston Martin caused a four-car crash on Highway 101 after losing control of his vehicle and clipping another driver’s car.  The highway closed for 30 minutes. (IJ)
  • Larkspur Landing could get parking fees on 160 of its “prime” parking spots for only $65 per month.  GGT is mulling the move to help close the Bridge District’s 5-year, $87 million deficit, although the program would only amount to $625,000 over that time frame. (IJ)
  • A cyclist severely injured himself on Alexander Avenue on Wednesday when he lost control of his bike and crashed into a guardrail.  Sausalito wants to redesign Alexander Avenue to make it safer for the many cyclists who use it to get to and from the Golden Gate Bridge. (IJ)
  • Terrapin Crossroads lives, and it’s heading to the Canal to take over the site of Seafood Peddler. The approval process is expected to be handled administratively, as Seafood Peddler already had most of the appropriate permits. (Pacific Sun, IJ)
  • Design and zoning issues could become a political issue in San Anselmo now that Councilman Jeff Kroot is involved in a spat with a neighbor over a planned expansion of Kroot’s home. (IJ)
  • High-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes are not financially viable on Highway 101 through Marin, according to a TAM study, without upping the carpool requirement to 3 passengers. It’s just as well, as HOT lanes would cripple any casual carpooling initiative in the county. (IJ, The Greater Marin)
  • Healdsburg wants to fix an old bridge for $12 million, but don’t have the money to do it.  Federal officials are skeptical of the plan and appear to prefer replacing the bridge for $25 million. (Press-Democrat)

Mid-Week Links: Buffering

MCBC does wonderful work on bike paths, getting the whole county connected, but it neglects the needs of better on-street bike lanes and what they could do to improve the streetscape for all users.

Marin County

Novato’s city council meeting Monday night was four hours of non-stop affordable housing policy excitement. In sum, the city will allow second units to be built at market rates but, citing concerns over current residents of illegal second units, will not give amnesty to those illegal units. The fee to build the second units will come down, and the city will look into how to encourage second unit construction. The city will not implement an affordable housing fee on commercial developers, known as a commercial linkage fee, but did not rule out exploring it in the next housing element in two years. (City of Novato, IJ)

  • Fairfax is concerned that expanding White Hill Middle School will add more traffic to the town’s roads. Unfortunately, the school’s remote location 1.5 miles from downtown means mitigation will be tough. (IJ)
  • Once again, a car accident closed a direction of Highway 101. This time, all southbound lanes were closed. Only minor injuries were reported. (IJ)
  • Marin Transit will reevaluate its Novato bus lines over the next week to determine how to improve ridership. Ideas include extending the 49 and combining the 51 and 52. GGT should work with Novato to improve access, perception, and urban form in the area. (News Pointer)
  • It’s official: Gary Phillips is mayor of San Rafael, Gary Lion is mayor of Mill Valley, and Denise Athas is mayor of Novato. (IJ)
  • San Rafael extended a moratorium on opening new group homes of seven or more people. (IJ, Patch)
  • Another week, another pedestrian struck in Novato. The man suffered minor injuries while crossing De Long Avenue near Sherman Avenue, a block from downtown. (IJ)
  • Apparently Marinites like their government and are willing to pay to keep it going at current levels. (IJ)
  • Safe Routes to School has dramatically altered the behavior of students in Marin, shifting 8% of single-student car trips to walking, biking, transit, or carpooling. (IJ; TAM report available here [pdf] on page 183)
  • Mill Valley is testing a way to electronically comment at city council meetings, which can be done here. A certain blogger you know will probably take full advantage. (IJ, City of Mill Valley)
  • San Anselmo is showing its community colors by supporting a woman who has had a particularly tragic year: foreclosure, breast cancer, and the tragic death of her husband while on vacation. (IJ)
  • Cutting trees is a big issue in San Geronimo Valley, where tree-cutting fees are up to 30 times what they are in incorporated Marin. (IJ)
  • The eviction of Fairfax’s medical marijuana dispensary will go forward. (IJ)
  • The Transportation Authority of Marin approved about $1 million in bike/ped projects at its last meeting. (IJ)
  • Peaking of bike/ped projects, the IJ editorial board wonders whether the $15 million bike/ped bridge over Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is worth the money. (IJ)
  • Just to be clear: Stand Up for Neighborly Novato doesn’t like the idea of housing at Hanna Ranch. If you want to comment on the sprawl development, please do: Novato City Council has scheduled discussion on the project for December 13. (IJ, Patch)
  • The runway at Novato’s Gnoss Field could be extended without major environmental impact. (IJ)
  • SMART and other projects are now evaluated under a cost-benefit and target analysis from MTC. The results were mixed. (Press Democrat)

The Greater Marin

  • San Francisco will soon allow drivers to pay for parking via cell phone. Since Sausalito is emulating the city’s performance parking practices, might cell phone parking come to Marin soon as well? (SFGate)
  • Cotati’s HOV lanes are now open to vehicles. (North Bay Business Journal)
  • The suburban office park – a la Marin Commons, Fireman’s Fund and Hanna Ranch – is disappearing. (Times)
  • Marin is better poised than most to take advantage of the shift away from suburban office parks and towards centralized development: with the SMART train, strong downtowns and some local political will, commerce might still look to Marin to relocate, even if not in the typical places.
  • ABAG and MTC have been awarded a $5 million federal grant to promote sustainable communities. (Transportation Nation)
  • Population growth has slowed dramatically in California. While the state grew at a rate of 0.7% per annum, Marin grew only by 0.53%.
  • In planning there is a concept known as Level of Service, or LOS, which is widely used and places auto traffic at the top of the planning pyramid.  In San Francisco, that metric is being challenged at last. (The Atlantic Cities)
  • SANDAG has released a Sustainable Communities Strategy under Senate Bill 375.  How long until ABAG does the same? (ClimatePlan)

Making Sense of Our Governmental Mishmash

Marin is governed by a huge number of overlapping governments, commissions, committees, agencies, authorities, departments and boards.  No wonder the Bay Area is so difficult to govern.

If you hadn’t noticed, there’s a new page at the top of The Greater Marin, with links to every official entity with some power over Marin County development issues, from the White House to the Bolinas Public Utilities District.

At the Federal level, things are pretty clear.  Congress has oversight over the Executive Branch, which has issue-specific Departments and Agencies to deal with whatever regulations need to be enforced or enacted.  Laws get passed, but are typically implemented by the existing structure.

Lower down the chain, the situation becomes significantly murkier.  The Bay shoreline is managed by the San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission, while the Pacific shoreline is managed by the California Coastal Commission.  Housing and urban development is even more touchy, with involvement from the Association of Bay Area Governments, the BCDC, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Joint Policy Committee, the County government, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, State regulations, and the affected city and county governments.  Transit further complicates affairs, as one or more of the Bay Area’s dozens of transit agencies gets involved, as well as the County transportation authority, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, State agencies and the US Department of Transportation.

At current count, for Marin alone I count seven unincorporated areas with governments, twelve incorporated cities and towns, four transit agencies, the Board of Supervisors and nine other regional entities with specific issue areas.

The good news is that most of the unelected bodies draw from Marin’s body of elected officials, so there is consistency of policy between them.  The SMART Board, for example, requires that some of its members sit on the TAM Board, to ensure that their policies have continuity, and that members are kept abreast of local transportation issues.

This agglomerated structure, though, leads to weakness and a sense that the unelected bodies are sent by Sacramento to intrude upon local sovereignty.  When the Clipper Card rolled out, it took a very long time for it to filter into the various member transit districts of the MTC, and even now not all transit agencies accept the card.  In the interim, local transit agencies spent millions of dollars to roll out similar cards, duplicating efforts, wasting money, and further prolonging the wait for a standardized smart card.

When Novato debated affordable housing mandates from ABAG, a continual complaint was that Sacramento was imposing its will upon the town.  When the city eventually finalized its rather modest housing plans, the chatter was that Novato had told off the State, not an Association on which its own councilmembers sit.

So what can be done?

On the one hand, Bay Area residents are fiercely independent and notoriously headstrong.  San Francisco has its own style, and it would just as soon not be lumped in with Fremont if it can be helped, Berkeley would blanche at being dictated to by Oakley, and the New York Times once called Bolinas the “Howard Hughes of towns.”  On the other hand, the Bay Area functions as a region and faces regional problems, from the Bay itself to the freeways and bridges.

One idea is to create a new office, a Bay Area Lieutenant Governor directly elected by the residents.  The official would act as advocate for Bay Area policy in Sacramento and coordinate policy between each of the disparate bodies that has authority over the region.  The election campaign of a Lieutenant Governor would unite the region in a way that is impossible under the current governmental mélange, while having someone at the top would mean greater legitimacy for the bureaucracy.

A less ambitious idea would be to simply consolidate the various bodies into a single unified hierarchy, perhaps under ABAG, and reduce overlapping mandates.  Any permitting would go through this unified structure.  The bodies would share staff, standardize forms and processes, and proximity would allow policies to rub off from one agency to another in a way that’s currently impossible.  A merger between ABAG and MTC was proposed in 2001 but eventually died due to internal opposition; the two agencies established the Joint Policy Committee instead.

But no politician or bureaucrat wants to cede power, and few people have the stomach to create government, even if it means streamlining what already exists.  There are so many sacred cows, so many little fiefdoms, in the current system that Bay Area residents will most likely be stuck with what they have for some time.  At the very least, now there’s an index to reference.

Midweek Links: Get SMART

SMART was making news this week, what with TAM voting not to rescind last month’s approval of an $8 million bailout for the transit project.  MTC then voted to approve its own transfer of $33 million.  Sonoma had already contributed $3 million.  Larkspur officially approved of the project, votes raised my eyebrows.  When the original vote deadlocked at 7-7 on whether to approve the bailout, it was Larkspur Councilwoman Joan Lundstrom who switched her vote.  She was not at the second meeting, allowing her alternate, Larkspur Mayor Larry Chu, to sit in her place.  Despite his city’s official approval of the project, he voted to rescind.  In any case, RepealSMART would have none of it, suing the organization for violating open meeting laws and general nefariousness.  All the while, the SMART board reported that they were “fundamentally sound and on track” and continued its search for a new executive director.

Meanwhile, Corte Madera and San Rafael passed their budgets.  Turns out the San Rafael gas tax doesn’t always go to transportation.

Not all budgets are in yet, with a number of cities contemplating sales taxes to close gaps that keep coming up.

Novato gets a new bicycle lane to bypass a stretch where bikers shared 101 with vehicular traffic.

Not all vehicular safety news is good.  A boy was hit by a driver outside of a crosswalk in a Mill Valley shopping area.  Police blame the kid for crossing outside of a crosswalk, but there’s a problem: there aren’t any crosswalks there.

In other local drama, Novato has revised their list of sites to zone for affordable housing.  Looks like the churches are off the hook, but I still wonder why the city insists on building single-purpose affordable units.

From here on, the only thing shocking about San Rafael’s Pizza Orgasmica is going to be the name.  Its owner has given up a fight to keep its bright yellow, Brazil-inspired hue.  SFist calls San Rafael’s objections an “Orange County-mentality“.

TAM is considering high-occupancy toll, or HOT, lanes on 101.  Despite research that congestion pricing is the only way to keep down traffic, I can’t help but think the $66-120 million required to install might go to a better use like, say, transit.  At least it makes the $8 million SMART bailout look like the chump change it is.

Lastly, and as an offering for being a day late, I bring you meaty theory.  Free parking, that ubiquitous scourge of the suburbs and thing that exists all over Marin, is really a huge drain on our local, regional, and national economies.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 966 other followers