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)

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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.