Downtown Novato is a better place for a train station

Novato's old station. Image by Jeff on Flickr.

Novato’s old station. Image by Jeff on Flickr.

Novato is reconsidering its decision to push SMART out of downtown Novato and adjacent to Fireman’s Fund. While the calculus seems to be based around the decision by Fireman’s Fund to move, population and jobs numbers today show a downtown location makes much more sense.

Generally speaking, planners define the the catchment area of a train station as a 15 minute walk, or a roughly half-mile radius circle around the station location. Using this metric, the Fireman’s Fund station hosts about 650 jobs, down quite a bit from its peak of 2,400 jobs in 2000. It’s also near 571 people who might want to take the train north or south. Around the downtown station, however, there are still 2,400 jobs and nearly 1,100 people.

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The injustice of bundled parking

The other day, we looked at a new apartment building proposed for downtown San Rafael with mindbogglingly expensive parking and tried to determine how the project could be improved. One big way that deserves a second look is allowing people to rent homes and apartments separately.

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Checking in DC/Baltimore Railways in 1921

t’s been many weeks since the last update on the mapping projects – it will be weekly from here on in – but there has been considerable progress made on the DC/Baltimore map.

When last we met, I had finished up Baltimore and was on my way to Washington. We’ve made it way, way out of Washington now, with service patterns to Hagerstown, Richmond, and York all laid out. I’ve finally started to chart out river ferry service, which means laying out geography, and that means I can start putting together service to the Eastern Shore and Delaware.

So much progress.

So much progress.

With 950 or so stops to cover, this has been the largest single project I’ve done. Given that it’s nearly August, and the expected delivery was June, this is also taking much longer than I thought it would. And, it’s only getting larger, with additional railway service in the Eastern Shore, where there’s room for it, and a new connection between Winchester, Martinsburg, and Hagerstown.

In the end, this will show nearly all of the railway networks of Maryland and Delaware and about a quarter of Virginia’s, along with slivers of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. I’d like to revisit these states and do state-isolated maps at some point, but not for a long while.

The purpose of maps like this is to show some of the underlying travel patterns that informed our built environment. As well, when activists consider whether to convert an old railway to a trail, or to build a new rail line, they may want to look at old rights-of-way to see whether there’s some latent transit potential there.

This map is available for pre-order in the Map Store, alongside finished prints of the Marin County Interurban in 1939 and the San Francisco Bay Area in 1937.

How to improve the San Rafael apartment proposal

On Wednesday, news broke that San Rafael could soon find itself home to another 162 households, thanks to a proposed redevelopment of the Third Street garage and a couple ancillary buildings. This is the kind of development San Rafael needs more of, and the unique parking situation means it could get even better.

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Grady Ranch, two years on

With Marin’s housing crisis in the national spotlight, and the Grady Ranch affordable housing proposal light attracting the journalistic moths, perhaps it is worthwhile to revisit the assumptions made when Grady Ranch was first proposed.

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Will anything ever change?

With the death of Aura Celeste Machado on Point San Pedro Road still fresh in our minds, neighbors and safe streets activists are again calling for traffic calming on the high-speed thoroughfare. But they did the same two years ago when a driver killed Hailey Ratliff on her way home from school in Novato, and there were no substantial changes. Others rallied when a driver killed Olga Rodriguez on Heatherton in San Rafael last year, but nothing changed there, either. Will Celeste’s tragic death be the last straw?

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Marin’s traffic in the decline – except at peak

On Marin’s roads, driving is down, daily traffic is down, and morning commutes are worse. The odd and seemingly contradictory data helps shed light on some of the core problems of congestion and travel in our county, and helps us confirm (and dispel) some myths about the state of driving.

Introduction to the data

On state and federal roads in Marin (highways 1, 37, 101, 137, and 580), Caltrans keeps track of average daily traffic volumes over the course of a year, average daily traffic volumes in the busiest month, and peak hour traffic volumes. The latest dataset is from 2013, and there’s no data for 2009 or 2010.

California’s Air Resources Board (ARB) keeps track of the vehicle miles travelled, or VMT, throughout the county. When combined with data such as number of vehicles and number of people, we can know how many miles the average driver puts on their vehicle.

Broad trends

The broadest trend in Marin is faster traffic growth at the peak hour than during the rest of the day. This is most pronounced in Highway 101 north of Larkspur, where peak volumes rose an average of 9 percent between 2012 and 2013 while daily volumes are essentially flat.

This strongly implies people are driving to work more, that work is further away, and that more people are commuting to Marin from other counties.

Data from the ARB and Census backs up these hypotheses. Per capita VMT and trips per day has declined substantially since 2000 even while average distance to work has climbed, both for Marin’s working population and its workforce.

Trips per capita have seen steady declines since 2007, while VMT has only perked up in the past two years since its high in 2002.

Trips per capita have seen steady declines since 2007, while VMT has only perked up in the past two years since its high in 2002.

Travel distance has continued to grow,at the expense of the shortest commutes under 10 miles.

Travel distance has continued to grow,at the expense of the shortest commutes under 10 miles.

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