The 101 corridor: Transportation myopia in practice

Last week, Systemic Failure called out the Greenbrae Interchange Project as a waste of money when we already have an under-funded rail project not far away. Why spend $143 million on a road project that won’t even add capacity?

While the Greenbrae project isn’t the best project, it’s about rearranging ramps, not adding capacity. While the Drunk Engineer is a great watchdog of Bay Area transportation policy, he’s looking at the wrong project. For that, we need to look a bit further north, to the billion-dollar freeway investment underway in Sonoma.

Let’s step way back to two things, money and problems, and restrict our potential solutions to roads and rail. Fresh on our desk is a dictate from The Man saying the transportation system between Windsor and Larkspur doesn’t have enough capacity to meet the demand for travel, and we have $1.4 billion ($1 billion from roads, $404 million from rail) available to fix it.

Adding two carpool lanes for the length of freeway that currently doesn’t have any will cost $1 billion, we know, and will add about 4,000 people per hour worth of capacity through the area. We can add about another 1,000 with a $500 million rail project*, but we can’t afford it, so we’ll truncate our line at San Rafael and Santa Rosa.

What if we pumped all $1.4 billion into the road? Lanes only have so much capacity, and that decreases as the freeways get wider. We might be able to add travel lanes at the most congested part of the road, but all the merging could just gum up the works more.

What if we flipped all $1.4 billion into rail? As it turns out, this would give us almost as much capacity.

  • Base SMART: $680 million, 650 passengers per hour (164 seats per train, 2 trains running in either direction per hour)
  • 7.5 minute service with three-car trains: $1.2 billion, 3,936 passengers per hour or 5,280 with standees**.

If SMART were to get a clearance from the FRA to run European trains, the cost of 7.5 minute service drops to $1 billion, leaving us with $400 million to spend on years of operations, grade separations from traffic, or a 10-mile extension to Richmond’s BART and Amtrak station. Success! Not only did we meet our goal, we added capacity much further north and south than the 101 project and have some money left over for other projects. That’s pretty damn good.

Alas, this is not how we do things. Instead, we’re spending 40% more money than we need to for a worse transportation product. That the most efficient project, SMART, cries poverty – much of its own making, true – is even more egregious. All the while, local and state authorities pump almost double the cost of the entire project for parallel road capacity. Rather than a truly transformative investment, SMART will be relegated to only a shadow of its potential.

This is the height of what Cap’n Transit calls transportation myopia, and something that happens all the time in the Bay Area. Caltrans and MTC tend to see road capacity problems as vehicle problems rather than transportation problems. When they do take transit into consideration, they just duplicate efforts in parallel to the road project because they forget that transit a means of transportation, not a goal to be achieved on its own, and functions in competition to cars. That means that nobody takes SMART seriously as transportation in its own right. Even SMART views itself as a supplement to driving.

MTC, TAM and SCTA need to cut off funding to the Highway 101 project and invest it in SMART. Caltrans is hunting for funds now, and none of these agencies should cough up the cash. Not only will the train add more capacity than the freeway, but it will also strengthen towns up and down the 101 corridor in a sustainable way, attract employers, and knit together the North Bay in a way a wider 101 never could.

We spend so much energy in the North Bay talking about the environment. Let’s actually do something for the environment and save money in the process.

*The cost of the IOS + Windsor is about $500 million.

** The maximum length of a train is limited by the size of a city block to three cars, so that’s how many we can put on a single train. The Sharryo train cars SMART will use have 82 seats with space for 28 standees, so a three-car train has space for 330 riders. The 7.5 minute headway is the minimum allowable without widening the Puerto Suello tunnel, and it means 8 trains per hour per direction. The cost of sidings to allow that much frequency is about $180 million more than the current system. Each Sharryo car costs $3.3 million, and 7.5 minute headways requires 34 trains. Add together the cost of 34 three-car trains and more sidings to the base cost of $680 million and you have about $1.2 billion.

UPDATE: If you’re wondering where I got my costs, I detailed a double-track system here and a cheaper sidings-based system here.

About David Edmondson
A native Marinite working in Washington, DC, I am fascinated by how one might apply smart-growth and urbanist thinking to the low-density towns of my home.

48 Responses to The 101 corridor: Transportation myopia in practice

  1. Richard Hall says:

    Let’s keep perspective and avoid a different kind of myopia that may be occuring.
    – 101 *connects* via a single road network, without changing between networks (causing transition time), to millions of destinations including the major employment centers of San Francisco and Oakland and also gets to SFO
    – SMART goes to none of these places / does not easily connect with them
    – 101 carries an immense amount of traffic; even with SMART’s best projections the train will carry a tiny fraction of 101 traffic – near the same as an improved bus service that can be provided at a tiny fraction of the price
    – SMART is costing $1.2bn (and counting) for a system projected to carry peak boardings of 902 in 2025. This is such a tiny amount of traffic (and using an optimistic estimate) it’s nearly a rounding error compared to usage of 101. We could achieve more with a smaller investment in a bus

    So perhaps the non-myopic math is how does $143m go into 902. I get $153k per rider. Compare this to the per road passenger.

    Clearly this would be a different conversation if we were discussing BART.

    • In the shortest terms, a maximum SMART (which sounds cool enough that that’s what I’ll call it from now on) would take the trips, both work and non-work, that could come off the freeway off of the freeway, freeing road capacity for trips that can’t be taken by SMART. Your point about the roles played by roads vs. transit is worth a follow-up post, so I’ll save my full response on that subject for that. It was a point I thought would make this article too long, but it’s worth exploring.

      Regarding current costs, ridership, and the utility of SMART, rather than this beefed-up version, you have your numbers wrong. The IOS will cost $404 million and carry about 4,800 passengers per day (PDF) by 2035 (assuming the full build-out isn’t completed by then), or 2,900 by 2015. The fully built-out SMART, as conceived, will cost $680 million and carry rather more: 5,050 with the Narrows project and 6,550 if the Narrows aren’t closed (as good an argument against widening as any). An older ridership study showed that 15 minute headways would attract 24,000 riders per day. Even if you cut this number in half, on account of it being a study some found suspect, that still adds to the cost-effectiveness the line:

      – IOS: $404 million for 4,800 pax/day = $84,000 per passenger
      – Full SMART w/o Narrows: $680 million for 6,550 pax/day = $103,800 per passenger
      – Full SMART w/ Narrows: $680 million for 5,050 pax/day = $134,600 per passenger
      – Full SMART w/ 15-minute headways: $800 million for 12,000-24,000 pax/day = $66,600 or $33,300 per passenger

      The reason the full build-out as conceived is not cost-effective is because the extensions to Healdsburg and Cloverdale don’t see very high ridership for their cost, and the terrible alignment at Larkspur further depresses ridership. Fixing Larkspur would boost ridership back up, though I haven’t seen a study on exactly how much good it would do.

    • Also, I’m intrigued how this conversation would be different if we were discussing BART. Riders and dollars are the same no matter what system they ride upon or pay for, after all.

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  3. Richard Hall says:

    I believe your costs are without bond interest payments, so we’re likely both right. My understanding is with interest SMART will cost, for the shorter line (initial operating segment (IOS) as you say – others might say half of what was promised) is now $1.2bn including bond interest. However we’re seeing lots of foreseeable (but claimed as unforeseen) issues emerging that will cost yet more money. So perhaps we will see SMART back on the ballot increasing sales tax to 1/2c which will only serve to repress economic growth in Marin and Sonoma.

    Granted, your numbers look more up to date (but IMHO highly optimistic). Rather than both of us speculating in an area neither of us may claim victory until reality prevails, I would propose a better measure of success be:

    i) Make SMART’s ongoing operation *contingent* on achieving equivalent ROI to a bus system, and also contingent on not diverting money away from bus or cycling projects.

    ii) Set milestones where if SMART ridership isn’t hitting reasonable ridership and farebox recovery figures by 2020, 2025, 2030 it gets pulled rather than creating disproportionate inertia via higher (regressive, hurt the poor the most) sales taxes and reducing county and city services. It also seems to be diverting budget away from more economic buses and also from Sonoma cycling projects.

    Ultimately though it’s hard to get people out of their cars. Population growth in Marin is consistently under 1%. Many people like Marin the way it is, and they do accept a modicum of growth continuing in the character of development that has occurred already.

    What is most concerning is that the train appears to be coming with an agenda of “transit oriented development” requiring transforming Marin into a 5-story urban area like Fremont and not the current beautiful rolling hills with spaced out residences that fit into the environment. This agenda has become very apparent of late and voters are now beginning to understand the ramifications that they voted for a train from Cloverdale to Larkspur, instead they’re getting half that line and the project is being used as an excuse to justify extensive development that changes (IMHO for the worse) the character of Marin.

    I may have gone off topic with the development [but this is a major concern in our area] but conversely you didn’t really address the issue of how difficult it is to get from arbitrary point to arbitrary point using SMART versus a car.Most trips will remain shorter via car. Here’s a list of car trips I did last week – how many could have really been done with SMART? I would argue this is fairly typical…
    – took the kids to school 5 times from Terra Linda to another part of Terra Linda
    – went to Costco, returned with 4 large boxes of shopping
    – visited friends in Novato from Terra Linda who live deep in Hamilton Field, left at arbitrary time after midnight, it was heavy rain (walking a long distance to public transport would have been undesirable)
    – visited Home Depot, purchased a number of large items (garden tools)
    – went to the supermarket, purchased 8 bags of groceries

    • If you want to drive, that’s fine. Transit, under the current regime, must be complimentary. The purpose of transit isn’t to take ALL trips off the road but rather to take SOME trips off the road, leaving the roads available for those trips that are best accomplished by a personal vehicle. Even in the most transit-oriented places in the world, car-sharing is popular for some of the more awkward trips you describe.

      Your part of Marin was designed to maximize auto usage. Superblocks, unsafe roads, and the fact that you’re at the end of what amounts to a big ol’ cul-de-sac lengthens the time and discomfort of trips taken by other means. While the roads can be retrofitted to be bicycle-friendly, enabling people to substitute car trips with bike trips, it cannot, without major redesign of the urban form (more than the station area plan even), become transit-friendly. In other parts of Marin, your kids’ trips and your grocery shopping could have been done by other modes (though you’d have to space out the shopping trips like most non-drivers, doing it while walking home from the bus stop). In urban areas, all those trips could have been done either by car-sharing or other modes.

      But that your neighborhood is almost irredeemably transit-hostile is no reason to have to share to the road with people whose trips aren’t so constrained, and that’s also no reason to stop pushing for a more robust transit system that can serve more trip pairs.

      • Richard Hall says:

        I’m unconvinced everyone wants to live in what you call a transit friendly environment. What is being proposed in Marin is jamming 5 story high density housing right up against train stations and overhead freeways – not only unhealthy and unfair on residents, this just isn’t the reality people want. It’s a myopic dream. Most people want (and do) live 1/4 to 1/2 a mile away from these pollution and noise sources. The areas immediately around transit are zoned commercial where the noise and pollution are less of an issue.

        Even in the “transit friendly” UK most people still drive to the supermarket. Frankly people seek to avoid the trains as they are extremely overpriced and can be unreliable.

        Biking again may seem like a great ideal for someone between 20-35 , but it’s just not practical for people outside those demographics.

        • Not everyone wants to live in a transit-friendly environment (which, by the way, I consider most of Marin to be), it’s true, but one shouldn’t begrudge the other for their lifestyle choices. Neither should someone who wants to live in a transit-hostile environment expect transit to be just as useless for others as it is for them, nor vice versa.

          Of course people still drive to the supermarket everywhere, but that doesn’t mean everyone does everywhere. In the UK, 33% of households don’t have a car and so don’t drive to the supermarket. 5.1% of Marin households are in the same place.

          Regarding biking, it’s not really an age thing as a cultural thing. The Danes bicycle well into their 70s. 22% of all trips are for shopping.

          Since the conversation is more about the usefulness of transit outside a commute, then I must answer emphatically yes. If the project is well-designed, meaning it stops in walkable activity centers (like downtowns), serves job sites well, integrates with other transit service, and runs along a major axis of travel, then yes, it will likely be used well.

          VTA fails because it runs through unwalkable areas, moves soooo slowly, doesn’t integrate well with other transit service, and cannot by dint of the design of Santa Clara connect with jobs, activity centers, or housing well. Most of the SMART corridor doesn’t look like Santa Clara, with the twin exceptions of North San Rafael and North Novato; it will run quickly; it will connect with job centers (despite MTC’s best efforts); and will connect with local bus service (though it needs a better connection to the ferry).

          Yet that’s basically just re-hashing the ridership study, which already analyzed all that and found 6,550 riders per day on a the line as conceived and 24,000 on a more frequent line. Those riders must be going somewhere.

          • Richard Hall says:

            Do you know how fast the SMART train will actually go? I recall hearing somewhere that it will run very slowly along the last stretch into San Rafael where it is close to /on roadways. Also there are many stops where it has to speed up and slow down.

          • I had a very long Twitter conversation on the subject, so absolutely.

            Top speed: 79 mph / 127 kph
            Average speed: 45 mph / 72 kph
            Acceleration: 0.3 mph per second / 0.1 m/s/s
            Time to top speed: 240 seconds
            Distance to top speed: 2.6 miles / 4.2 km
            Deceleration: avg 2.1 mphps / 0.9 m/s/s
            Time from top speed to full stop: 38 seconds
            Distance to full stop: 0.4 miles / 0.7 km
            Time lost from a stop: 2.5 minutes (compared to travelling the same distance at full speed and including a 10 second dwell time)
            Slowest segments: Full – San Rafael-Larkspur, 15 mph average, 9 minutes; IOS – Guernville Rd-Santa Rosa, 22 mph average, 3 minutes
            Fastest segments: Full – Healdsburg-Cloverdale, 63 mph average, 16 minutes; IOS – Rohnert Park-Santa Rosa, 51 mph average, 6 minutes

            You can blame the slow acceleration on SMART’s decision to run FRA-compliant trains, which means they are far, far heavier than they need to be. DMUs in other places have faster acceleration. You can probably blame the slow running segments on regulations, too, given that these are the more heavily-populated areas. There’s little other reason to run SMART so slowly to Larkspur or through Santa Rosa.

  4. DJ says:

    I think part of this myopia is the focus on rail. As much as I like the idea of SMART, the ridership and service projections are pretty pathetic. I fear that a $400M investment in full-on BRT with luxury Silicon Valley wifi buses, limited stop service, dedicated 24 hr HOV/HOT lanes, and direct routes to San Francisco would lead to a greater increase in capacity and reduction in VMT. The fatal flaw with SMART is that even if it is connected to the Larkspur Ferry or Richmond BART, it does not provide a fast, efficient connection to San Francisco. The system therefore will rely on connections to a slow bus system that is bleeding cash and a sprawling built environment not conducive to transit ridership, so it’s no wonder that ridership will be low. Doubling down on bus service and providing real time savings would have probably been a more worthy investment. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the choice wasn’t SMART vs. BRT, it was transit vs. status quo, so I’ll settle with SMART in that circumstance.

    • John Murphy says:

      DJ – If I were a transit hating Marin-ite I would absolutely vote for 24 hour dedicated bus lanes secure in the knowledge that once the asphalt was in place, we could complain that they are underutilized and get them converted to single occupancy vehicle usage. Especially if we are discussing adding another lane to the Novato Narrows and dedicating it to transit.

      As someone who takes GGT express buses into SF, the buses slow to an utter crawl once we cross the Bridge. I take my bike on the bus, get off the bus at the Bridge, and routinely beat the bus to the Financial district by 5-10 minutes.

      From Santa Rosa to San Rafael, the buses are stuck in gridlocked traffic starting at 6 AM. A train is not stuck in such traffic. I would be surprised if SMART from Santa Rosa to Larkspur and then a Ferry was not faster to “Market Street” than the buses. Don’t try to avoid the fact your comparison is a bit shady – unless you work directly on the GGT line you are still connecting to MUNI, a large percentage of my co-riders get off the bus and then head to another transit system.

      • DJ says:

        There’s nothing wrong with dedicated HOV or HOT lanes that have built-in bus stations–look at the Silver Line in LA (not perfect, but also underfunded). Most 101 commuters (and the ones with the greatest impacts) are heading to downtown San Francisco, so direct bus service that shares the Van Ness BRT lanes could be pretty quick. My point is that $400M could buy a lot more for the corridor than just a San Rafael-Santa Rosa line. Yes, it’s positive investment for the region, but is it the best bang for your buck? Probably not.

        • Nathanael says:

          You’re thinking short term. If you compare apples to apples — a rail line to an effectively identical busway — you find:
          (1) The busway requires wider lanes than the railway. More right-of-way purchase, more construction.
          (2) The busway requires either more grade separations, or it runs slower. This is because California doesn’t allow crossing gates for a busway, but does for a railway. See Orange Line, LA
          (3) Laying the asphalt is initially cheaper than laying rail, but more expensive in the long run, because it has to be replaced more often. See Orange Line, LA
          (4) The buses are initially cheaper than railcars, but last *half as long*, so end up being more expensive. See Orange Line, LA
          (5) The buses have lower capacity than the railcars and so don’t scale up.
          (6) A significant percentage of people will turn their nose up at the bus but will ride rail. Compare the crummy ridership of the Silver Line in LA with the enormous ridership of the *parallel* Blue Line.

          In short, rail is a better bang for your buck than a busway. Period. Buses are good if you are going along uncrowded roads where you don’t need a busway. If you think you need a busway, you practically always actually need a rail line. As Ottawa figured out (it’s converting its busway to rail; would have been cheaper to build rail initially); and as Seattle figured out (ditto).

          • Richard Hall says:

            You’re might consider…
            a) The train is still going to be fairly empty (doesn’t go to employment centers or SFO). This cancels out your point #5 and #6.
            b) The train crossings will seize up Central San Rafael and backup traffic onto 101, and cause similar (needless considering the passenger loads) disruption all the way up and down the line. Or show me the impact report that proves otherwise (that we keep asking SMART and San Rafael to produce…)
            c) Buses cost a fraction of the money (even if you add in all the extras in the video!). How much is a bus? How much does a train cost?
            d) Regarding point #4, buses may last half as long, but I suspect they cost a tiny fraction of the train engine (ignoring tracks/track engineering…)

        • Nathanael says:

          (By the way, if you’re suggesting putting rail service over the Golden Gate Bridge, yeah, that’s a good idea.)

  5. Ian says:


    The point of the denser development near the rail line is so that the pastoral beauty of Marin can be preserved. It’s not as if we’re building a new subdivision on virgin land — and building denser development should help avoid subdivisions or more suburbia, which I think you agree, don’t fit in to the landscape.

    The problem with 101’s capacity is during rush hour. All SMART needs to do is take enough people off 101 during peak times, and the traffic could be greatly decreased. (None of the trips you specified were inter-Marin/Sonoma commute trips, so SMART isn’t for you.) With shuttles to/from stations to employers (or better yet, employers located near the stations), this should be achievable. Traffic is not a linear function, as you might know, as was recently reported:

    I think you’ll also agree that making wider and wider freeways makes us more like Fremont and less like Marin. A rail line is very low-impact, is good for the environment, and can absorb the extra peak capacity that could free up space on 101. No doubt Marin drivers won’t all start taking the train, but as long as some commuters do, everyone can keep driving (hopefully with electric cars, eventually), and not have to deal with the same traffic.

  6. Richard Hall says:

    Again this notion seems misconceived. If the majority of the new residents use the train for their commute and most of their trips then I might agree. But when you look at SMART as a true “transit network” this seems, well naive.

    The heavy housing concentrations being proposed (in the name of justifying the train) are going to add 820+ residents immediately around us. The train happens to serve a tiny minority of employers of these new Marin residents. So where will these residents be travelling to on this train when they are just one stop from the end of the line? The major employment centers are in SF and Oakland which are impractical to reach via the train.

    So all these new residents are simply going to use their cars and add to the mayhem – sure a tiny minority may take the train. This is notwithstanding the major traffic congestion that rail crossings will cause when they cut-off downtown San Rafael several times an hour backing traffic up even worse onto 101. But this all serves to actually reversing the claims of saving greenhouse gases and 101 congestion. If these are the stated goals then I can’t imagine anything that could do greater damage in these respects.

    Please confine these misguided experiments to other locations.

    • John Murphy says:

      Richard – where do you propose new human beings live? Or are you proposing we start a one child per family policy right now?

  7. Richard Hall says:

    @Ian: Interesting that you reference a San Jose Merc article. The VTA light rail that’s there even after 25 years has proven a failure. This is in an area with a considerably higher population catchment than SMART:

    • John Murphy says:

      SMART runs through downtown areas and near job centers. The VTA light rail takes a meandering run through the middle of nowhere at 15 MPH with no signal priority.

      SMART is more akin to Caltrain which is setting record ridership levels every month. The biggest problem with SMART will be that if it is successful as it can be, it won’t be able to scale the ridership higher without major investments. But if it gets to that point, it will have already been well worth the $$$

    • Nathanael says:

      VTA Light Rail is the worst-designed light rail system in the country. I could catalog the reasons why, but the meandering route to Mountain View is the most extreme of the many problems.

      Instead of looking at that, I suggest looking at nearly any other passenger rail system in the country. (Except Austin, which is also terrible. You should also do better than Nashville and better than Minneapolis’s Northstar line.) The San Diego Trolley is doing great; if you say that San Diego has more and denser population, then perhaps the systems in the Salt Lake City area would be better examples.

      There is one, and only one, “VTA-like” problem with SMART, which is that funding has not yet been found to actually get to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal. That needs to be done.

      • Richard Hall says:

        The Salt Lake City line goes to the *center of a major city* without connections / as part of a common transit network.

        Didn’t we get sold a train that went to Larkspur, did someone lose the money? I recall an apropro Seinfeld sketch which I might paraphrase…

        [SMART]: I’m sorry we don’t have a station at Larkspur at the moment,

        [SMART Voter]: I don’t understand, I voted for a train with a station at Larkspur, don’t you have a station at Larkspur?

        [SMART]: Yes, we received your vote, unfortunately we ran out of money

        [SMART Voter]: But the vote was for a station in Larkspur the car here. That’s why you had my vote.

        [SMART]: I know why we have voting.

        [SMART Voter]: I don’t think you do. If you did, I’d be able to go to the station in Larkspur. See, you know how to take the vote, you just don’t know how to *uphold* the promise you made to the voter and that’s really the most important part of the voting, the upholding. Anybody can just take votes.

  8. Richard Hall says:

    Dave – what happened to the YouTube video I posted – did you censor it? (What’s that about)

  9. Richard Hall says:

    This video presents how preposterous the expenditure of $1.5bn is in Portland,OR for Milwaukie Light Rail. Consider this in the light that SMART is almost the same price (OK, $1.2bn after bond interest) and does not connect like this light rail to a major employment center (Portland, population 593k) but San Rafael (population 58k).

    So if the expenditure in Portland, Oregon on a light rail seems preposterous – then it’s 10x as preposterous for rural Marin and Sonoma for a train only connecting to a comparatively tiny employment center. Combine this with the history lesson of VTA in San Jose being a failure…

    • Let’s bring this back to the topic at hand.

      This video says one could provide the same level of service in Portland with significantly less money. Okay, cool.

      The blog post we’re commenting on makes the same argument, but instead of a light-rail line we have HOV lanes and instead of luxury buses we have a rail line. Ultimately – leaping to include the interest payment figure you mention – we’ll spend $2.2 billion on transportation capacity between Cloverdale and Larkspur. Even if we borrowed the entire $1.2 billion cost of maximum SMART, that’s still $100 million less than the cost of SMART as conceived plus the Narrows project. If SMART were funded like the Narrows, we’d save $1 billion.

  10. Stephen Nestel says:

    An honest discussion of the environmental efficiency of mass transit needs to reflect the real world. An nearly empty bus or light rail car is far more polluting than a 52mpg Prius or even a 16mpg SUV, Transit advocates always argue theoretical efficiencies based on full capacity. For those of us who do not simply go back and forth to a single destination, mass transit will never provide a realistic alternative to make a living, shop or reach destinations “off the beaten path”.

    I’d rather take one of those luxury buses mentioned in the video above to a San Francisco office any day over driving. Unfortunately, I am one of those people that must go to far flung destinations daily as part of my work.

    • John Murphy says:

      OK, Stephen, let’s be honest.

      A bus that runs sometimes full and sometimes empty, at the end of the day requires a parking spot that takes up the space of 3 52 MPG Prius’, and it gets used every day and is parked infrequently, and always in the bus yard.

      Meanwhile, a 52 MPG Prius means that during the day you have an empty parking spot at home. At night you have an empty parking space at work. Every day outside of the peak hours of Christmas Shopping you have thousands of empty parkins spaces at stores.

      The embedded cost of all that parking swamps the cost of a bus that is running off peak and under capacity. Energy costs. Opportunity costs of the land – which forces us to build housing less dense as we provide parking, which results in longer commutes.

  11. Stephen Nestel says:

    Okay, John Murphy I’ll be honest, if you’ll be honest. I am going to take a wild guess that you grew up in the suburbs like 80% of America and currently live in an urban area. If you are not single, you likely don’t have kids.

    The reason, I make these guesses, is because your arguments confound what some of us call real life.

    When I was younger I lived in downtown San Francisco with the woman who was to become my wife. We happily walked to work, took Bart, the Ferry, Muni. I had a little motorscooter that probably got 100 mpg or more. We were happy and it was all we needed.

    We got married and eventually had kids. Car seats don’t fit well on the back of a scooter. Midnight diaper runs are impossible on mass transit. We got a car. My wife kept her job downtown but we eventually moved to Marin so that our kids could have a safe place to play, build a treehouse, have a swing under the tree in our front yard. To others zooming down the freeway, perhaps we live in the faceless “sprawl” along the 101 corridor even though our neighborhood has been established 60 years. To us we call it home.

    Now, apparently, the self styled Urban elite have a better idea for suburbanites- become more Urban. The very idea that your idea of living standards and mass transit don’t work for my family is of little concern to you. You speak of “opportunity cost” as though it is something you personally pay but fail to recognize what you force on others to pay to conform to your urban lifestyle.

    Back to the real world. How do you think a contractor or plumber, salesperson, deliveryman, pizza shop will thrive in your Smart Growth utopia?

    Don’t you think your vision of the future should include us?

    The freeway provides the access and choices that a modern competitive economy requires. We should invest in transportation that provides real world effficiencies for all people.

    • John Murphy says:

      Stephen – I grew up in a rural area, and now live in Healdsburg which I don’t really consider a suburb. I am not single and I do have a son. We live in Healdsburg and only have one car. Surprisingly it isn’t that gosh darn difficult to ride 2 whole miles to downtown and pick up a gallon of milk – and diapers. Your failure to plan for diapers until midnight is your problem you wish me to pay more taxes to subsidize. My son very much enjoys the seat on the back of the bike when I take him to preschool. Many of his classmates arrive on bike and live in Hoity Toity Healdsburg. Some of his classmates are driven in from Cloverdale and Santa Rosa and complain about the cost of gas and time spent and wonder why they can’t afford Healdsburg in the same sentence – the cost of their second car is the difference in their down payment.

      Let me ask you – why do you feel there was no safe place to play in San Francisco? Was it because there were more parking lots and not enough parks? Because the accommodation of drivers meant that the streets were full of high speed traffic?

      There are more pizza shops making more money in Noe Valley than there are in Healdsburg.

      More density in places like Windsor, San Rafael, Santa Rosa, is great for all of those trades because their customers are closer to them. Already at $4 a gallon the guy who helps me prune my fruit trees bought an old Honda because he wants to save the gas money from his truck. I pointed at my bike and said “Zero gallons, zero dollars”.

      When gas goes to $10 per gallon – and it will – we’ll have an empty freeway and no train if you have your way.

      • Stephen Nestel says:

        I used to ride my kids on the back of my bike to school too. It was a great way to start the day. I do prefer to ride my bike whenever feasible but unfortunately that doesn’t include most of my workday.

        I consider Healdsburg a suburb of Santa Rosa and it sounds like you have a nice lifestyle. The point is not EVERYONE wants to live in a city.

        My sister lived in Noe Valley with her young son on Guerroro St near an affordable housing project. The neighborhood was funky with coffeeshops and cafes. A great place to live if you are single. When my nephew went to the park however, they had to be on the lookout for syringes and sketchy street people. It is definitely not the carefree life you want for children. They eventually moved.

        The New Urbanist/Smart Growth model wants everyone in urban environments. That means fewer tree houses, no labrador retrivers, building forts in the woods and waiting in line for public transit. You are free to choose a neighborhood like that if it meets your taste. I prefer a differnt lifestyle.

        The talk of “efficiency” and “opportunity cost” is a very subjective thing. Can’t we all get along?

        Also, keep in mind that EVERYONE of US will have limited mobility at some point in our lives either through Infirmity or Old Age. Would you want to be forced out of your home because you can’t bike ride to the store?

        We need to have planning that allows for many tastes and personal priorities. That is freedom.

        • John Murphy says:

          Your sister lied to you, or her realtor lied to her. Guerrero Street is the Mission.

          We lived in Noe Valley before moving to Healdsburg. The only thing we found in the parks in Noe Valley were other children and dogs. You had to be on the lookout for lost toys, which people would post about on the internet and be reunited with their owners.

          We left not because we wanted to – that’s a long story. The trends are showing that in 5 years the Mission will be indiscernable from Noe Valley. While there, we did not have a tree house but we were a quick – no waiting in line needed – MUNI ride from Glen Canyon Park. And give me a break – there were so many dogs in Noe Valley it was ridiculous.

          You can have your different lifestyle – but do not expect it to be subsidized. The residents of San Francisco pay for those freeway widenings and the under-tolling of the Golden Gate Bridge for you.

          I am hoping that when I cannot ride to the store, I can live somewhere that is a short walk to a store. That is the difference between a sustainable community and a bunch of houses where everyone drives 4 miles to the Super Walmart.

          And Healdsburg is the sticks. Santa Rosa is another planet.

  12. dw shelf says:

    ^need to cut off funding to the Highway 101 project and invest it in SMART.

    That’s just silly.

    We need to “finish” 101 first. When there’s not much more that can be done, then and only then would a train project be potentially appropriate.

    • Richard Hall says:

      I agree with the spirit of this. But you’re making the same error and jumping to the same invalid conclusion that a train is the answer; instead of stepping back and performing a careful analysis. I would suggest that had any real analysis been performed (at all) the smart answer would have been to increase bus services.

      But hey, there are developer interests at stake, and trains are just so cool… so who cares if we overspend by $1bn (when the same could have been achieved for well under $200m).

      • Nathanael says:

        As noted above, you’re making a major calculation error: you’re only considering upfront costs. Buses have to be replaced *twice* as often as trains, and asphalt has to be repaved significantly more often than tracks have to be redone. In the long term, if you have any sort of volume of passengers at all, trains are more efficient. Plus, there are many people who will ride trains and not buses, which adds to the advantage of trains.

        And if you don’t have any sort of volume of passengers, you won’t be running many buses. Rural areas do need private cars.

    • Nathanael says:

      101 is finished. It stretches the whole way from one end of the state to the other.

      It’s finished.

      Road widening has been shown repeatedly to have a really terrible cost/benefit ratio.

  13. The purpose of bringing up SMART in this particular post is because it will be built, whether we want it to be or not. The sales tax has been levied, the bonds have been sold, and construction is under way. Re-litigating its effectiveness as a system in general doesn’t change that fact.

    Using the best information we already know about the system allows us to measure it against other systems, from freeways to busways to a more ideal SMART system. Speculation that what information we do know is wrong substitutes data for gut and prevents meaningful comparisons.

    • Richard Hall says:

      Well for $1.2bn you get yourself a train to nowhere used by a handful of people that adds to congestion on a freeway used by the majority (by far). For $1.4bn you improve a freeway junction used daily by an exponentially greater number of people where there is already congestion and a problem.

      None of what’s being proposed, even building near freeways, really addresses the lifestyle choices Stephen and I have been covering. You are forcing on people choices and believing, sorry hoping that they will follow your logic.

      All the while cars are becoming more efficient, less polluting, Google is automating them so perhaps one day cars can drive in chains very close together increasing freeway capacity and reducing accidents.

      Getting beyond ideals, explain how the majority of Marinites will feel compelled to switch from car journeys to rail?

      • Actually, for $1 billion we get about 4,000 people per hour of peak capacity for 30 miles of corridor. For $1.2 billion you get 70 miles of about 5,000 pph of peak capacity. For $1.4 billion you get 30 miles of about 4,000 pph parallel to 37 miles of 1,000 pph. In 30 years, you’ll have spent $2.2 billion for 30 miles of 4,000 pph and 70 miles of parallel 1,000 pph.

        If you don’t believe the ridership numbers, then say so and we can agree to disagree on that and close the conversation here. Without common ground, a fruitful discussion is impossible and we’ll keep going round and round trying to say the same things to one another. If you DO believe the ridership numbers, then I don’t understand how shifting trips from one mode to another isn’t equivalent to adding capacity and, therefore, supportive of those who want to live a car-dependent lifestyle.

        • Richard Hall says:

          There’s capacity and actual usage – *big* difference.

          101 is used to its capacity (we might both agree it’s used well beyond this). The SMART ridership projections seem remarkably optimistic – you mentioned 4800 passenger trips per day – this seems remarkably high. The freeway serves that in today’s reality per hour.

          No I don’t buy the ridership numbers…. yet, they seem preposterously high – I need to better understand the underlying assumptions and I’m willing and open to believe them if the assumptions are valid/stand up to reason.

          I’d like to see how these assumptions line up against actual in place trains that serves equivalent areas (e.g. where the train connects to a single employment center with a population of only 57k).

          Show me the ridership of an actual train serving a similar catchment area of 700k population spread across a largely rural and partially suburban area serving a single primary employment destination with a population of 57k (but most destinations having far less than that).

        • Stephen Nestel says:

          David, You are a good sport putting up with us skeptics. I also agree that your ridership numbers are well, a complete fantasy. You say that peak capacity is 4000 per hour? How long is peak capacity? 10 hours a day? If so, then you are saying 40,000 people will be traveling between San Rafael and Santa Rosa or almost the entire population of San Rafae! Of course you must mean, that 4000 seats per hour (capacity) is possible. But capacity and use are two totally different things. Where will 40,000 people do when they get their destination? Has anyone calculate the actual number of commuters willing to take public transportation to/from their jobs from Sonoma/Marin. I think the bus ridership could provide a clue. They have actually REDUCED bus service in recent years.

          I assume you earnestly believe in a Greater Marin, through planning and mass transit. I hope you know that ultimately it is a tiny few that will profit from this boon doggle. We could stop SMART today and pay off all of the outstanding contracts and employee buyouts, invest the remainder in buses and a modern BRT (bus rapid transit) service and be millions ahead.

          Phew! I had to get that off my chest. Have a great weekend.

          • Whew, good to get that out of the way. I’ll get back to you and Richard about the parallel systems, though the ridership was a study done by a company contracted by SMART – I’m not just pulling out numbers!

            But I did want to clarify what I meant by “peak capacity per hour”. Basically, a freeway or transit system’s maximum throughput is X. This capacity is almost never met outside of the two-hour commute time. While a system could, in theory, move that many people around all day, it almost never does.

            Highway 101 is an eight-lane freeway, with four lanes in either direction. Let’s say, to very roughly estimate for the sake of conversation, that means 8,000 vehicles per hour per direction. With about 1.25 passengers per vehicle, that means 10,000 people per hour of capacity per direction at any given point. The numbers in this piece and my comments added both directions together, so to keep things consistent let’s call this 20,000 people per hour. Since the freeway is only at peak capacity for about 4 hours per day, the real daily “ridership” is necessarily less.

            SMART will have less capacity than the freeway in any of the four scenarios discussed in this thread and in the post. When I say 4,000 pph of peak capacity, that means it can move 2,000 people per hour each direction through a given point, not necessarily that it will. Ridership of the freeway and SMART might be higher, as people get on and off either system, but neither system can move more than its capacity through a given point at a given time.

            The ridership numbers that I stand by (which I acknowledge you don’t and don’t want to get into here) say SMART will move 4,800 people per day in the IOS, 6,550 in full build-out, and 24,000 if it operated with 15 minute headways all day, so definitely not 40,000.

          • Richard Hall says:

            I believe that the figures SMART generated were already optimistic. They then proceeded to halve the length of the line, cutting out Larkspur – a gateway to a real employment center of SF – but for this IOS only reduced the traffic figures by 20%. Without the Larkspur connection San Rafael is the largest employment center destination.

            How very convenient and easy to reduce by 20%, maybe reducing 60
            % would be more accurate.

  14. Stephen Nestel says:

    David, I know that you have data to support your opinion just as others have data to support theirs. in time, our money for these programs will run out. I suggest you pay closer attention to light rail systems actual performance in the real world. Likewise examine actual transportation data and real world politics without the spin of any particular point of view. I trust you will join the skeptics in time.

    Thanks for hosting a stimulating conversation.

  15. Pingback: Community Marin Plan is at odds with itself | The Greater Marin

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