Mid-Week Links: Rise Above

CA - Marin County: Fort Baker - Battery Spencer and Golden Gate Bridge

photo from flickr, by Wally Gobetz

Marin and Beyond

  • Most of the residents planned for in the Civic Center Station Area Plan won’t use SMART to get around in their everyday trips, but that doesn’t mean the housing won’t reduce per-capita greenhouse gas emissions; building homes within walking and biking distance to North San Rafael will do that. (IJ, Streetsblog)
  • Mill Valley has formally objected to its RHNA number, saying that 129 new housing units too many for the city to zone for. The city stopped far short of following in Corte Madera’s decision to leave ABAG, with some councilmembers questioning how that could help. (MV Herald)
  • Very small apartments, on the order of 220 square feet, are being considered by a number of cities to attract the kind of young people that are just starting their careers and who view the city, rather than just their apartment, as their living space. (Sustainable Cities)
  • Amid opposition to athletic complexes at the San Rafael Airport and Hamilton, it’s worth asking – is there actually a dearth of quality athletic facilities in Marin? (IJ)
  • If you commute to the South Bay and don’t want to drive, it turns out you can transfer from GGT to most of the Silicon Valley shuttles at Lombard & Filmore, at least according to a new map of the services. It might take longer, but at least you can avoid 101 driving, then city driving, then more 101 driving. (Noe Valley SF)
  • Traffic congestion isn’t everything, and it’s important for planners to keep in mind the broader context of transportation costs to ensure dollars are spent for maximum return. Often, that means on something other than congestion relief. (Planetizen)
  • And…: San Rafael Target begins construction. (IJ) … You don’t want to drive into the City next week – trust me – but Golden Gate Transit has you covered. (GGT) … The water taxi has arrived in Marin, offering for-hire services to Tiburon, Sausalito, and points around the San Francisco waterfront. (IJ)

The Toll

Thankfully, only one person was injured on the roads this week.

  • Three drivers, including a police officer, were involved in a three-car crash in Santa Rosa on Wednesday. It’s unclear who was at fault, and only minor injuries resulted. (PD)
  • The woman who was hospitalized after a driver crashed his SUV into a downtown San Rafael restaurant last week is in stable condition. The crash is still under investigation. (IJ)

New Visual of Highway 101 Service

Marin’s bus service is centered around Highway 101 and its “trunk” routes. From commuter lines to the basic San Francisco regional lines to the supplementary local routes, getting from one place to another on Highway 101 should be an easy task. Alas, it is not.

Not every bus pad is labeled on the freeway bus map with which buses stop where. Since not all buses stop at all bus pads, you don’t always know whether to take the bus or not. The first time I went by bus to the Lucas Valley pad on a Sunday morning, I tried to figure out which buses stopped there and would pick me up at the Transit Center. Not knowing that it was all printed in the front of my transit guide, I took the 49K and went on a long, 35-minute ride around Terra Linda. Had all the information been in front of me at once on a simple map, I would’ve known that the 70 and 80 would’ve taken me, no problem, but that I should avoid the 101.

The full map. Click for a larger image, and click here for PDF.

The bus map here is a strip map, a simplified diagram showing all stops and which buses stop and which stop when. Though it’s a design that could be improved upon, the map does show all routes and all stops along the 101 corridor. Ideally, the map would be paired with a Highway 101 timetable showing all bus departures. It and the schedule would be posted at every bus pad and major transit hub on the corridor, allowing every passenger to know which bus goes where.

At 41 inches long but only 10 inches wide, it could also be posted inside buses that run along the 101 corridor, allowing passengers to look at it and internalize it while riding, like how subway cars have a map of the subway posted.

Since this is a rather complicated trunk line, be sure to post corrections and comments for me. How, too, could this design be improved upon? What might make this a less confusing or more useful diagram?

On another topic, be sure to come out this Wednesday to the Flatiron, 724 B Street, San Rafael, CA, at 6pm for our third happy hour. It’ll be good times, I guarantee it.

UPDATE: I neglected to mention that Anthony Nachor of My Bay Area Ideas was instrumental in proofing things. He knows the 101 system like the back of his hand, so a hat tip to him for his help.

End-Week Links: Flight


photo from Flickr by Doc Searls


Marin County and Beyond

  • Marin Transit has accepted a four-year contract with Golden Gate Transit. The dealwill result in lower costs for MT and a shift in supplemental bus service to an alternative vendor. MT plans to revisit the contract in two years to ensure its viable over the long term. (Marinscope)
  • Brett Richards has a new blog about the Ross Valley Sanitary District, and he wants to make sure everyone reads it. Richards, the former general manager of the RVSD, has fallen off the radar since quitting the agency under a cloud of scandal and bizarrely unprofessional behavior. (Patch)
  • Santa Rosa has rezoned part of Coddingtown Mall in preparation for the SMART station. The zone is a compromise between mall owners, who wanted to maintain their mall car-centered, and the city, who wanted the opposite. (PD)
  • Marin General Hospital is proceeding with its rebuilding efforts, and a draft EIR is now available for comment. The $500 million project would expand the hospital to 660,000 square feet and provide 919 parking spaces. (NBBJ)
  • Complaints of racial profiling, discrimination, and unprofessional behavior were aired in a Marin City meeting with the county sheriff’s department. The county has pledged to work on the issues. (IJ)
  • To meet the environmental challenges facing Marin, from sea-level rise to car-dependency, we need to build where we’ve already built and strengthen our built and natural environments. (IJ)
  • Bikeshare got an official stamp of approval when the Federal Highway Administration released a guide of what makes a good bikeshare system. The burgeoning transportation mode isn’t a bicycling panacea, and it’s important for Marin and other cities to carefully weigh the costs and benefits. (Streetsblog)
  • And…: If the UN wants to herd us into public transit, it has a funny way of going about it. (Systemic Failure) … Eliminating streetlights is an idea crazy enough to work. (Strong Towns) … The Golden Gate Bridge will have an all-electronic tolling system by next year. (SFist)

The Toll

Five people were wounded on the road this week. Another two men died on the road, though both deaths could have been caused by medical events rather than the actual crashes that resulted.

  • A 68-year-old man crashed his SUV into a garage in Santa Rosa and died. It’s not apparent whether the crash killed him or if he suffered a medical emergency, killing him and causing the crash. (PD)
  • Paul Borré died while driving in Petaluma on Monday, though it seems he suffered a “major medical event” that killed him, causing the crash. His daughter, who was in the car with him, survived uninjured. Paul was 41. (PD)
  • In Petaluma, a woman driving a car hit and injured Thomas Williams, who was walking his bike across the street in a crosswalk. She gave Thomas $60 for his bike, then sped off. Police are searching for the suspect. (PD)
  • A woman was seriously injured when a driver used an SUV to push her into a shop on Fourth Street in San Rafael during the Thursday farmer’s market. The driver was taken in for questioning, and it’s unclear whether it was an accident or not. (IJ)
  • Richard Marshall seriously injured himself by crashing his truck (perhaps while under the influence) into a tree in Novato. (Patch) … A motorcyclist lost control of her bike and injured herself as a result on Highway 1. A driver injured another motorcyclist in the same area by making a U-turn into his path. (Marinscope) …

The Third Happy Hour

Flatiron Saloon

photo from Flickr by Andrew Westman

We have our third happy hour coming up, and this time it’ll be somewhere with a real happy hour.

Join me and fellow transit & planning geeks/activists/enthusiasts/professionals at the Flatiron in downtown San Rafael on Wednesday at 6:00pm. Come late, come early; I’ll be there with signage. If you’re looking for a person, I’ll be the bearded 20-something wearing a brown shirt about time travel. In a sports bar like the Flatiron, I suspect I’ll stick out. See you out there!

Mid-Week Links will have to be delayed by a day due to some extenuating circumstances, but they’ll be back tomorrow.

GGT’s Offer Is Good, but Leaving Ain’t Bad

Golden Gate Bridge from Coastal Ridge Trail

photo by Mark from Flickr

The impending contract vote by Marin Transit later today is extremely important to the future of transit in Marin and Sonoma. Though the final contract offer by GGT is far from perfect, its upsides are greater than its downsides, and is on balance a better deal than splitting Marin’s transit offerings even more.

If you haven’t been following the saga, Marin Transit (MT) is currently renegotiating its ongoing contract with Golden Gate Transit (GGT). GGT provides local bus service for MT, and MT tell it where to go and pays for it. GGT also provides regional service to San Francisco and the East Bay, operating the commuter routes as well as routes 40, 42, 70, 80, 101, and 101X. However, GGT’s current contract is inflexible and expensive. It’s inflexible, in that MT needs to notify GGT of service changes more than a year in advance, meaning routes that MT has marked for change won’t see change for far longer than even the decision-making process.

The cost to operate one bus for one hour, known as a revenue-hour, is $133, and that cost increases by 5% each year. This price is greater than and increases faster than comparable providers in other regions and even around the Bay Area. MT thinks it can get service for $120 per revenue hour or less.

The cost issue is what prompted the current negotiations. MT is projected to be out of money in less than five years unless its cost structure changes. With an already-expensive service steadily increasing in cost, the current system just isn’t sustainable.

The New Contract

Thankfully, nobody wants to keep the current system. While a TAM study showed that cost savings could be realized by switching to another vendor, keeping the two systems together is about cooperation as much as it is about money. With that in mind, GGT gave its final offer to the negotiating team, and it looks like a pretty good deal.

In short, for a 25% reduction in revenue hours, GGT is willing to cut its cost to $120 per revenue hour and cut its annual increase to 2.7%. The revenue hour reduction would give MT the responsibility of finding a new vendor for school service, Routes 19 and 51, and a few hours on Routes 23 and 29, likely the school day service on the former and the Fairfax service on the latter.

The reduction in hours makes a lot of sense. Currently, school service is provided by GGT, but it really doesn’t need to be. School buses, while they do have high ridership, are extremely inefficient. They’re like commuter service but with a much tighter window of arrival and departure to coincide with school’s beginning and ending. It provides a good service, but it’s not general transit, which is where MT should be focusing its resources. Finding a cheaper vendor would allow them to do so.

Routes 19 and 51 are slated for changes to their service that will take more than a year to implement under the current contract. By turning over control of the two routes to MT, the service changes can come into effect immediately, benefiting riders in Tiburon and Novato and saving MT money that will come with the improved efficiencies.

The cost cuts, meanwhile, are wonderful news. Though it’s unclear whether this increase is before or after inflation, it is a low number either way. Other transit agencies in the Bay Area have seen their costs spike for reasons ranging from pensions to fuel prices. Having costs remain steady and, indeed, below that of comparable agencies, is a fantastic deal for MT and makes planning service changes into the future significantly easier. It also means that, though $120/hour is more than the average for the region, it will increase more slowly and so will not remain above average forever.

But if MT does pursue other options, it won’t be the end of the world for the agency. More money will be available to expand local transit options, and scheduling contacts will likely remain intact. GGT could focus on its core mission of providing regional service to the North Bay, while MT could focus on its core to provide regional service to Marin. In the end, Marin’s transit network would look more like Sonoma’s, with its overlapping service, and less like San Francisco’s, with its unified Muni network. Though I’d rather see the latter than the former, with cooperation and leadership even fractured networks can be fruitful.

MT General Manager David Rzepinski thinks this GGT’s final offer is the right one to take for his agency and the county, and I’m inclined to agree. If MT dumps GGT, that will add what looks like a third transit agency to Marin (MT, Stagecoach, and GGT), and SMART will make four. Such fragmentation would be bad for Marin and bad for the region, putting lines between services that ought not be there.

In the end, MT should take the deal from GGT. They’re expensive but provide top-quality service and seamless integration with MT’s local routes. Lowering the cost per revenue hour makes it affordable, and lowering the rate of cost growth makes it affordable for the future as well. The MT meeting starts at 10am.

UPDATE: Marin Transit unanimously approved the four-year contract, calling it a stop-gap measure. It plans to revisit the contract in two years.

End-Week Links: Circling

A view of our past, this home movie was shot from a passenger airplane in 1941. Though mostly of San Francisco, what looks like a Northwestern Pacific passenger ferry can be seen, as is a still-industrial Tiburon, before landfill built up the downtown we know and love today.

Marin County

  • Contract negotiations between Marin Transit and Golden Gate Transit are drawing to a close. GGT has its final proposal (the proposal), MT is weighing what might happen if the relationship ends (PDF, page 15), and we’ll see what happens on Monday. (IJ, GGT, TAM)
  • While Marin relishes its small-town character, it’s vital that we leave the door open for new history to be written, to allow our downtowns to continue their evolution as vibrant commercial centers for more than just antiques and ice cream. (MV Herald, Joyce Kleiner)
  • There’s now a moratorium on building permits in San Geronimo Valley to protect salmon spawning streams. A judge ordered the moratorium, settling a lawsuit by environmental group SPAWN against the county which argued environmental protections lacked teeth, violating CEQA laws. (IJ)
  • The Marinship building is now on Sausalito’s register of historic places. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs owns the building, but found that it would be extremely expensive to renovate and wants it torn down. Though Sausalito hopes more money will come from the feds to fix it, Congress has begun to micromanage all real estate in the government’s portfolio; it’s unlikely House Republicans would be willing to part with the extra money. (IJ)
  • Marin Sports Academy is pondering a 78-acre sports complex in Hamilton, and neighbors are having none of it. (IJ)
  • This Wednesday, listen to some of the leading thinkers on development in Marin and how to target growth to support Marin’s conservation efforts and character. Wednesday, September 19, 7-9pm, 618 B Street, San Rafael. (IJ)
  • San Anselmo is taking applications for an open seat on the Planning Commission. (RV Reporter) … MTC released its 2012 Getting There Guide, complete with regional transit and rail maps. (Bee) … Visit West End for a culture crawl on Sept. 21, 6-8pm, and find out what you’re missing in the oft-overlooked neighborhood. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Transit is extremely popular among Americans, with fully twice as many supporting its expansion over roads. Whether living in urban or rural places, whether liberal or conservative, young or old, people choose transit over roads. Alas, politicians – local, state, and federal – continue to choose road expansion instead. (Streetsblog)
  • Bicycle lanes will be exempted from CEQA if a new law is passed in Sacramento. The environmental review process has been used to great effect by opponents of the lanes, who say they will unduly harm traffic. (Planetizen)
  • Water taxis and water buses are coming soon to the San Francisco waterfront, and possibly up to Sausalito and Tiburon. The water taxi, run by Tideline Marine Group of Sausalito, is negotiating for landing rights in Marin, and would be an on-call ferry service. The buses, run by the confusingly-named Water Taxi Co., don’t have plans for Marin. (SFGate)
  • Rohnert Park celebrates its 50th birthday this week. The city, deliberately founded as a placeless, centerless suburb, wants to shed that history and found a new town center, just like its older, more urban neighbors. (PD)
  • San Jose’s governance has not innovated like its population, leading to old-school policies that stifle innovation, support big companies over start-ups, and limit downtown to a shadow of what it could be. The suburbs, meanwhile, accommodate innovative companies in sprawling office campuses. (Metroactive)
  • There’s a battle of the parking petitions going on in San Francisco. On one side: people that don’t want to give up their flat-rate or free parking spaces. On the other, people that do. The counter-petition was formed to make the point that neighborhood organizations often don’t represent the whole neighborhood, and that a lot of people really do want things to change. As of press time, the anti-reform petition was about 70 signatures ahead. If you live or park in San Francisco, be sure to sign for reform! (Streetsblog)

The Toll

The roads claimed seven injuries this week, and one person was injured on a bicycle trail. Thankfully, nobody was killed.

  • A woman who was struck by a 13-year-old boy riding his bike on the sidewalk in the city of Sonoma was awarded $1.4 million in damages from the boy’s family and the city. The judge awarded the sum after finding Sonoma’s bicycle ordinance, which allows relatively unfettered sidewalk riding, to be unsafe. (PD)
  • Harry Smith plead not guilty to attempted murder and other charges after appearing court for the first time. He’s accused of running down Toraj Soltani with his car while driving on a golf course. (KTVU)
  • Raquel Nelson, whose child was killed by an intoxicated driver while they were crossing the road in front of their Georgia apartment complex, is still being prosecuted for vehicular manslaughter and faces three years’ prison. She chose retrial over a one year probation in an attempt to clear her name. (Streetsblog)
  • A cyclist in a crosswalk was hit and injured by a driver in Santa Rosa. (PD) … A motorcyclist t-boned a car in Mill Valley, injuring himself. The car driver was fine. (IJ) … A driver fleeing from police injured two people, one seriously, by colliding with the cars they were driving in Santa Rosa. He also hurt himself before being arrested. (PD) … A motorcyclist severely injured himself after leading police on a chase and crashing in west Sonoma County. (PD) … A bicyclist injured himself by crashing near the Marin-Sonoma border. No further details are available. (PD) … A motorcyclist was severely injured in a crash with a car in Santa Rosa. It’s unknown if there were any other injuries, or if the car had a driver. (PD)

Advertising Transit

For a while now I’ve been of the mind that if you want something that doesn’t exist you should make it. Unfortunately, I’m not a filmmaker or an advertising guru so I can’t make ads for transit that are as sexy as car ads, something I’ve always wanted but never seen and suspected didn’t exist.

Muni Diaries apparently has the same thought, but unlike me they up and found this most awesome of ads:


Midttrafik presents … The Bus!
The bus driver is cool … “I’m cool…”
Top nice seating
Gigantic panoramic windows … with impressive scenic view
Designer bells with cool functions
Free handles
It is big… and long
It has its own lane
Yeah, it’s street … and it also runs a[t] night
“I’m still cool”
Yes, the bus is cool, so get up ealier tomorrow and get a good seat
Midttrafik … we’ll handle the driving for you.

Um, wow. I want to ride that bus.

Out of Madrid came a series of fantastic ads that, while about as on-topic as a bank advertisement, certainly do what car ads do for cars: make the product, riding a subway, just as sexy as it should be.

Inject a little wonder into your commute is the message here.

Here – make the world right again on transit.

And how do you advertise night service? Well, when Copenhagan Metro started running 24/7, they ran this bit to let the train-travelling public know:

Made me yawn.

Still, there are a few transit ads here in the US. In a conversation with @AngrySean and @mikesonn we found this low-budget but tightly done ad for Butte County Transit. Ride the B-Line:


A while ago, during the national high-speed rail debates that didn’t amount to much, some of the actors from Mad Men did a spot about rail, and it made a few rounds in the wonky and fan circles, but that is, unfortunately, about it.

The train: You wouldn’t do open-heart surgery on yourself, so why would you drive yourself?

And, finally, we have a series of ads from LA’s Go Metro campaign, which is mostly known for its outstanding print and billboard segments, but it had its TV spots, too. A few particularly surreal used interpretive dancers and a beat poet. This is my favorite:


I only found one really good ad for bicycling, the other thing we transit advocates like to advocate for, but it’s American-made and embraces the full scope of the bicycling culture, though the 20-somethings riding their city bikes on the sidewalk looks a little weird.

Any ad that makes biking as American as apple pie makes me happy.

Most of these I’d take over the squeaky SMART radio spots (Flash) I’ve heard. What’s your favorite transit ad? How would you advertise transit in Marin?

Mid-Week Links return tomorrow.

GGT Seeks Bike Racks, Signage

Golden Gate Transit wants to get Larkspur Landing and the Bettini Transit Center in downtown San Rafael new bike racks and new signage, indicating the agency is serious about integrating its system with the region’s, and understands that burgeoning bicycle usage is good for business. The request for bids (PDF) went up on GGT’s website two weeks ago and, though it’s always questionable if there will be any acceptable bids, it’s an exciting development.

Bettini Bike Racks

Dero campus racks

The Transit Center has 41 bicycle parking spaces at the moment. Though at the edge of a rather bicycle-unfriendly district of the city, the spaces fill up often. Google Streetview shows bicycles locked to poles and signs, and I’ve seen more bikes locked to fences under the freeway. Clearly, there is a need.

In response, the transit agency wants to install 25 new spaces using Dero double-sided campus racks scattered around the platforms. It’s unfortunate that none of these racks will be covered. Bicycle handles and seats will bake in the summer and get soggy in the winter, which can mean an uncomfortable ride home after work. On the other hand, most bicyclists who don’t mind riding down Fourth Street – or, God forbid, those traffic sewers charitably known as Second and Third Streets – can probably deal with some heat or wet. Besides, the Transit Center was built without much regard for bicycle parking in the first place. There just isn’t a whole lot of space under the rooftops.

Larkspur Landing Bike Racks

Peak Racks’ design.

Larkspur Landing has 71 bike parking spaces – 60 outside the fare-restricted waiting area and a paltry 11 inside. GGT wants to replace the planter boxes lining some of the waiting area with 56 new bicycle spaces. The racks will be Peak Racks’ single-sided campus racks.

Given the crunch of access to Larkspur Landing, this makes a great deal of sense. For whatever reason, neither Marin Transit nor Golden Gate Transit have made Larkspur Landing bus service a priority, though this will change with the Greenbrae Interchange Project. Parking is at its limit, too, and unless there’s space to either take bicycles to the city or lock them at the terminal people will choose to drive instead.


Both the Transit Center and Larkspur Landing are going to get new signage, and this is just as exciting as the bike racks. All signage will be in the style of MTC’s regional transit hub signage initiative (PDF), meaning branding and stylistic consistency between Marin’s major transportation hubs and those in San Francisco and the East Bay, putting our transit hubs on the same level as BART stations.

If the map suite will be the same as what we find in the East Bay (PDF), we can expect four displays. First is a station map, indicating what stops where. Though the Transit Center already has such a map, theirs is rather less intuitive or stylish than the MTC version. Second is the vicinity map, showing the streets, transit stops, and points of interest within a half-mile radius. These are typically found in kiosks in the City, and would be extremely useful down Fourth Street as well. Third is the local system map, showing where transit goes in about a two mile radius. Last is the service display, showing all services with fare information, timetables, transfer information, and the like. GGT wants to add a bicycle parking map, which will be in MTC’s style though will be locally produced.

The drawback is that it seems like these signs won’t have their own internal lighting. The design documents show nothing about internal lighting or electrical systems. For those who are hard of seeing, this might be problematic. The Transit Center’s internally-lit ad kiosks look great, and it’s shameful that it’s easier to see that you should buy Chanel than it is to see how to get home.

History and Cost

The project has been in the works since at least 2009 when the Bridge District applied for $245,000 in federal highway money through MTC. A $40,000 project was approved, but the project didn’t get going until this year. Costs will be covered by FHWA if, of course, the bids that come in are acceptable, and that’s not a sure thing.

This is a move in the right direction for GGT. MTC has called on the agency to upgrade its signage and wayfinding to be in line with regional standards. Given the mediocre stuff currently on display – not to mention the moldy and cheap printouts you can find on display – this will move GGT out of the 1980s. Indeed, for the Transit Center it has been six years since MTC pushed GGT for change (PDF), so it’s great to see the agency finally taking signage seriously.

With more people riding bicycles for everyday transportation, too, more racks will mean better transit access, and more parking, for those that need it. Bicycle use is exploding across the country, including Marin. By adapting to the times, GGT makes its transit infrastructure more flexible for the whole county.

Mid-Week Links: Back to School

Max's 14 speed Rohloff

Max’s 14 speed Rohloff by Richard Masoner

If back-to-school traffic seems bad, that shouldn’t be surprising. Nationwide, only 13% of kids walk or bike to school, and 75% get a car ride. The inevitable result is more traffic, more congestion, and a worse commute for everyone. As the birthplace of Safe Routes to School, Marin County has it better than most, with few schools isolated from neighborhoods with busy streets and an active bicycling culture. Walking and biking to Wade Thomas was one of my favorite parts about growing up in San Anselmo. Consider sending your kid off to school tomorrow on a bike, or biking with them. Maybe you’ll find out how close things really are on two wheels.

Marin County

  • There is a lot going on with the Civic Center Station Area Plan: new heights, different densities, and a new “promenade” around the station’s neighborhood, and opponents who object to half of it. At the core of the current dispute lies the question, How urban should Marin’s Urban Corridor actually be? (Pacific Sun)
  • Given the sprawl that would be any affordable housing at Grady Ranch, and given the outcry over envisioning new housing near the Civic Center, the IJ wonders where Marinites actually want to put affordable housing.
  • As Marin City ponders incorporation, perhaps Marin ought to consider reincorporating into the City and County of Marin. The dozens of overlapping boards and districts, not to mention the baker’s dozen local governments could get a haircut and consolidation, saving taxpayers at all levels some money. I wonder if town character could be maintained with such amalgamation. (IJ)
  • Transit ridership hit record levels last year around the Bay Area as the local economy continued its recovery. GGT was not immune: the Ferry hit a record 2.2 million riders last year, and even Golden Gate Bus saw a third straight year of increasing ridership, to 6.7 million. (Mercury News, GGT)
  • It’s the definition of selective attention that drivers coming from 101 are complaining about the blight of a 17-foot blank firewall being erected by the Ritter Center in downtown San Rafael. Perhaps they haven’t bothered to walk down Second recently. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Cutting car usage isn’t just about the environment or public health. Given the sheer amount of space we need to use to accommodate cars, cutting the use of cars is just common sense. (Greater Greater Washington)
  • A freeway bypass is coming to Willits in Mendocino County. The 5.9-mile project, which will cost $210 million, is intended to skirt the town and remove a frequent backup on Highway 101. Environmentalists call the project wildly unnecessary and damaging. (Press Democrat)
  • After introducing all-door boarding on all Muni routes, it turns out that people haven’t been cheating the agency out of money as feared. Instead, it’s been all positive, with people boarding more quickly and buses moving faster along their routes. (SFist)
  • Downtown Santa Rosa apparently had a spare 400 spots available, as parking income has surged from city-owned garages in the city center. The income seems to be from the 400 or so downtown workers that used to park at the mall’s free parking garage but have stopped now that the mall has started to charge after 90 minutes. (Press Democrat)
  • And…: Napa inaugurated VINE Route 25 this week, restoring a bus connection between the City of Napa and the City of Sonoma. (Napa Valley Register) … The luxury Embarcadero development 8 Washington will go before San Francisco voters in November, 2013. (SFist)

The Toll

This week, one man was killed and four people were injured from driving in Marin and Sonoma.

  • Last weekend, Kevin Kight crashed his motorcycle near Windsor, killing himself. The father of three was 44. (Press Democrat)
  • A car driver pulled onto River Road in Sonoma and a motorcyclist ran into the car. The victim, Joe Oliver, suffered moderate to major injuries. The car driver was unhurt. (Press Democrat)
  • The man who crashed his Vespa and launched off the San Rafael Skyway is a 42-year-old man named Timothy Bergman. Bergman survived the 40-foot fall with a laundry list of broken bones and is now recovering at Stanford Hospital. (Patch)
  • Harry E. Smith, the 82-year-old Oakmont man who ran down 47-year-old bicyclist Toraj Soltani with his car on a golf course, has been charged with attempted murder. (Press Democrat)
  • A man crashed a stolen car into a bank in Santa Rosa, causing himself minor injuries and wrecking a good deal of the bank. He is being held in Sonoma County jail. (Press Democrat)
  • A crash on southbound 101 in North San Rafael on Tuesday resulted in no injuries. (IJ) … A driver was injured after he and a truck driver collided near Forestville. (Press Democrat) … A 22-year-old woman severely injured herself by crashing her car at the Tiburon Wye on Saturday. She was given a DUI citation at the scene. (IJ) … An 86-year-old man injured himself by crashing his car into two others in Novato. The drivers of the other cars were not injured. (Patch)

Got a tip? Want to contribute? Get in touch at theGreaterMarin [at] gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook using the links on the right, and don’t forget to get up-to-date transit news at #NorthBayTransit.

Height Isn’t Density

Courtesy of Google

Rowhouses in Washington, DC: 44 units per acre at only 2.5 stories.

Much noise has been made over the height of the Civic Center Station Area Plan (SAP). Quiet and Safe San Rafael (QSSR) has called it “very high density”, citing increases to the unit-per-acre arrangement as proof. But density is not height, and height doesn’t mean density.

I wrote about the relative densities of various properties around Marin about a year ago when it seemed the whole county was up in arms over ABAG’s affordable housing requirements and density. Though my point then was that we already have “high density” housing in some decidedly low-density areas (30 units per acre on San Anselmo’s Forbes Avenue, 20 units per acre in Novato, etc.), what wasn’t mentioned was the relationship between height and density.

In short, it’s a loose connection, and it’s easy to see how. Three story houses in a subdivision are 4-10 units per acre. Three story rowhomes, however, could be 20-45 units per acre, and three story apartment buildings could go even higher thanks to the small size of studio apartments. We typically don’t think like this when discussing density and height, but it’s important to keep in mind as we continue the great debate over the form we want Marin’s redeveloping communities to take.

The Civic Center SAP recognizes this and calls for raising the cap of units to somewhere above 44 units per acre.  This is a good thing, as 44 units is far below what a five-story apartment building could actually hold. Without this increase, which QSSR wants scrapped, the plan wouldn’t maximize residential density. Instead, the plan would maximize office density. From one standpoint, this would make a great deal of sense. Studies on the subject* show people are willing to walk further between home and transit than between work and transit. Given that SMART is designed to be a commuter rail line, putting offices right next to the train station is sensible.

But when planning how to shape development in San Rafael, this doesn’t make any sense. Office rents in Marin are fairly low and the vacancy rate is unacceptably high. Until BioMarin decided to take up a chunk of the Marin Corporate Center, San Rafael’s office market had a 25% vacancy rate. Contrast this with San Rafael’s rental market, which is positively on fire. The vacancy rate is extremely low and rents are even higher than in almost as high as San Francisco itself. If San Rafael wants to maximize something, let it be in housing rather than offices.

If we wanted to top the area out at 44 units per acre, we should implement a form-based zoning code like the one in the Downtown SAP, but with a height limit of 36 feet and no density limits. This would have allowed developers to get the most out of the building they’re permitted to build. Though office development would have been stymied, that’s okay. When limits are lifted in highly constrained markets like Marin, developers tend to build small units like studio apartments, which attracts young singles, which attracts companies that employ young singles, which increases demand for office space and improves the office market in general.

The density limit currently in place also limits the effectiveness of inclusionary zoning laws, which force developers to set aside a certain percentage of units to be affordable. To keep the project viable, a developer needs to have enough housing to offset the costs of those affordable units, but when its hands are tied with a density limit often a project is just nonviable and is never proposed.

By adding 12-24 feet to the height limit while calling for increasing the density limit, the SAP will boost the availability of smaller units to address the problems just described. If the city council lifts the density limit entirely, it will go a long way to improve the office market, satisfy housing demand, and meet affordable housing requirements. The QSSR idea to maintain the density limit and the height limit would do nothing to meet any of these ongoing issues.

When San Rafael goes to do the investigations called for in the SAP, it needs to figure out what it wants and zone for that. If it creates a compromise where heights are increased but density limits are maintained, it will create a zone that works against itself and the economic interests of the county. When it finally does zone, it must keep in mind a form-based code.

*The clearest measure is on page 43 of this presentation (PDF) by G.B. Arrington, which shows a sharper drop-off in transit usage as jobs get further away from a station than the drop-off when housing gets further away from transit. However, if you’re a stickler for studies, UC Berkeley found evidence (PDF) to back up the claim.

EDIT: The Civic Center SAP proposes investigating densities above 44 units per acre rather than setting a cap at 44 units per acre. The article has been changed to reflect the correction.