Monday Links: Go Abroad


We often imagine that the Dutch were always cyclists.  While that’s correct in some sense, the Netherlands faced sprawl and auto-centric development in the 1950s and 1960s, just as the United States did.  Unlike Americans, though, the Netherlands fought back, and the result is the Netherlands we see today.

Marin County

  • Corte Madera’s abandoned Madera Vista apartment complex will be renovated. They have sat vacant since a 2008 fire. (Twin Cities Times)
  • Infill development near freeways should take into account auto pollution and take steps to mitigate it.  This is especially important in Marin, as the SMART corridor runs parallel to 101 for much if its route, and to the One Bay Area process. (California Watch)
  • San Anselmo wants to buy Bald Hill, currently in Ross, but nobody knows how to get in touch with the owners.  The hill is owned by Asian Alliance LLC, and the founder and last contact the town had died years ago. (IJ)
  • Downtown San Anselmo is undergoing a bit of a shake-up, with a number of storefronts vacant and a Goodwill moving in.  A group wants to convince George Lucas to open a theater in town, but making that happen could be difficult (IJ)
  • Sausalito’s Housing Element is nearly complete and will be submitted officially to the City Council on January 31.  If approved, it goes to the state on February 2.  (Marinscope)
  • Mill Valley wants to update their General Plan, refocusing on transit and traffic-calming.  With sometimes half-hourly buses it stands a better chance than some areas, but hopefully it will work with Marin Transit and GGT to enhance transit options. (Mill Valley Herald)
  • Larkspur Landing might get $2 parking after all, given a tepid Board response to a premium-space idea. This will help manage demand a bit at the terminal, which tends to fill up early. (IJ)
  • West Marin’s open space portfolio will soon increase by 22 acres after a successful fundraising drive. (IJ)
  • San Rafael’s red light program will be studied to assess its impacts on driver behavior, including rolling right turns, which can be unsafe to pedestrians. (IJ)
  • A 90-year-old driver struck and killed a pedestrian at Second and G in San Rafael.  The exact circumstances are unknown. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Looks like downtown living really is good for you.  Residents of areas with a high density of businesses walk three times as much as others, but the areas need to draw in non-residents to succeed. (Atlantic Cities)
  • San Francisco’s SFPark project is dramatically increasing hourly revenue on its meters.  The project gives drivers the option of paying by credit card, phone, or cash, which is useful for the large hourly charges in popular locations. (SF Examiner)
  • California’s ability to establish cycletracks, bikeways, and other proven bike facilities is stymied by too-conservative design guidebooks that call these “experimental” facilities.  Sadly, AB 819, which would change that, is slowly being gutted. (Streetsblog)
  • The American Public Transit Association (APTA) has published a rundown of how to talk to opponents of high-speed rail projects with a new report of common criticisms and appropriate responses. (Streetsblog)
  • Head of the California High Speed Rail Authority has stepped down, as has the chairman of its board, citing personal reasons. (Sacramento Bee)
  • Caracas has a gigantic, abandoned office tower in its center, and some entrepreneurial folk have set up their own town inside. The best part, they say, is having so much transit access in the middle of the city. (Foreign Policy)
  • It’s estimated we’ve paved about 3,590 square miles for parking, about 2 spaces for every man, woman, and child in the United States, and it’s time to take them seriously not just as blight, but as public space. (NY Times)
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Mid-Week Links: Onward and Upward

Dipsea to Tourist Club

The Dipsea Stairs

It has been an extremely busy weekend apparently, with retrospectives, bond sales, HSR criticisms, new laws, and more.

Marin County

  • Mill Valley’s alleys and stairs, pedestrian shortcuts up and down the hills that cars can’t manage, are one of the signatures of the town. Photographer Skip Sandberg has taken it upon himself to document them all. (IJ)
  • Golden Gate Transit is now 40 years old.  Born out of a transit victory in 1969 that stopped a second deck on the Golden Gate Bridge, GGT – despite its many faults – has proven itself invaluable to the North Bay time and again. (IJ)
  • SMART has jurisdiction over the Measure Q repeal effort, according to the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters. This bodes ill for RepealSMART, as they have called the signature threshold SMART wants unobtainable. (IJ)
  • The monthly federal tax exemption for transit decreased on January 1 from $230 to $125 – roughly half the cost of a Marin-SF commute – thanks to Republican obfuscation in Congress. The exemption for parking increases from $230 to $240.  (SF Examiner)
  • Sausalito wants to redesign Alexander Avenue to be more bike-friendly, widening shoulders and potentially adding a tunnel.  Public comment on the plans are open until January 27. (IJ)
  • Mill Valley wants to update their 1989 General Plan in just 18 months. They met last night and will meet again on January 17 to discuss the scope of work. (Patch)
  • A driver struck a teenager in Petaluma just after New Year’s.  The boy suffered major injuries but is in stable condition. (Patch)
  • Richardson Bay’s Aramburu Island will be transformed into a nature preserve 50 years after the development that spawned it fizzled in the early 1960s. (SF Chronicle)
  • Marin’s plastic bag ban and paper bag fee are now in effect.  If changes from Washington, DC’s similar bag fee are any indication, Marin’s fee will work wonders on peoples’ habits. (IJ)

The Bay Area

  • The Sustainable Communities Strategy, branded as One Bay Area, will mean major changes for the region as regional agencies try to limit greenhouse gas emissions. ABAG and MTC are planning a tour to explain the state-mandated plan as its development gets under way. They’ll be at the Marin Civic Center on January 17. (Mercury News)
  • San Francisco now allows storefronts facing the street to build “parklets”, extensions of the sidewalk that use up at least two parking spaces, and they’re popping up everywhere. (SF Chronicle)

State of California

  • Most of California’s redevelopment agencies will likely be shut down after losing their court fight against Governor Jerry Brown’s austerity budget, although cities promise there will be more litigation. The agencies captured property taxes to fund themselves, which the Governor said was a drain on local and state budgets. (LA Times, Pacific Sun)
  • LA will soon follow San Francisco’s example and install a downtown performance parking system. While performance parking seems to be the future, it may be wise to understand parking’s past. (Los Angeles Magazine)
  • California communities can now round down their streets’ calculated speed limits, rather than being forced to round up. (Land Line)
  • CAHSR should not be funded just yet, according to a review group with heavy clout in the state Legislature.  Governor Brown may push forward anyway. (LA Times, SF Chronicle)

The Greater Marin

  • Ottawa, Ontario, is planning out the areas around its light-rail stations stations.  The city – as big and diverse as a county – specifically wants to upzone in choice areas, and doing so is just as complicated as one might think. (Ottawa Citizen)
  • Vancouver, BC, is building new micro-apartments in a trendy neighborhood and renting them for $850 a month, showing the folly of the unit-per-acre density limits ubiquitous in Marin. (Grist)
  • Don’t abandon the public process so easily – project outcomes are positively correlated with participation.  I’m looking at you, SMART. (Next American City)
  • A whole mess of new transit projects start construction starts up this year across North America.  It’s a good thing. (Transport Politic)

Mid-Week Links: Problem/Solution

As any company can tell you, the product is only as successful as the marketing, and Los Angeles took it to heart.  Not only was designing a good transit “product” important, but selling it to the public was immediately useful.  Other agencies would do well to do the same.

Marin

  • A sprawling development of 12 homes in Santa Venetia has been rejected by the Marin County Planning Commission.  The issue goes to the Board of Supervisors next. (IJ)
  • Druid Heights, an alternative community “whose members were dedicated to radical artistic, philosophical, spiritual, political and sexual experimentation,” is profiled by the IJ on news that it qualifies as an official historical site.  The irony is lost on the writer. (IJ)
  • Novato joins Corte Madera in considering a pot club ban. (IJ)
  • Downtown Novato’s Business Improvement District is doing good work to make the street a commercial destination. (Advance)
  • In what seems to be a weekly occurrence, all northbound lanes were closed on Highway 101 due to a crash.  Two people were injured. (Patch)
  • George Lucas wants to turn Lucas Valley’s Grady Ranch into anoffice complex for 340 employees in a manner similar to Skywalker Ranch. (IJ, Patch)
  • Marin’s $50 million renovation of its new Marin Commons space is slated to begin next year.  A government anchor tenant is a savior for the location. (BizJournal)
  • Marin local businesses felt the touch of this year’s surging shopping season, posting a fabulous Shop Local Saturday. (IJ)
  • The Marin City Transit Center got a $500,000 facelift and finally opened for business.  Bike parking and an information kiosk were apparently less important than trees, and will go in in the next couple of weeks. (IJ)
  • This year might be the last that Marinites will be able to sled in downtown San Rafael thanks to budget cuts (IJ)
  • Like the library?  Love infrastructure?  San Anselmo is seeking applicants for its Capital Program Committee and Library Board. (Town of San Anselmo)
  • A driver struck and injured a cyclist in San Anselmo. (IJ)
  • More inconclusive reports on the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. affects on wildlife. (IJ)
  • SMART may be controversial, but two of the most beloved bits of Marin infrastructure – the Ferries and Bridge – were controversial in their day, too. (IJ)
  • Polling suggests that SMART still enjoys strong support, but there are questions about its methodology. (IJ)
  • Tam Valley is home to a dangerous and well-traveled intersection, but one of the few that lacks sidewalks or good pedestrian and bicycling amenities.  Kathy McLeod wants to change that. (Patch)
  • Café Gratitude is closing or selling all its NorCal locations, including the one in San Rafael, but it still totally wants you to buy its stuff.  The closures are a result of multiple employee lawsuits. (SFist)
  • The Sausalito Chamber of Commerce is moving into its recently-purchased mixed-use building on Bridgeway.  I wonder if an employee will get the top-floor apartment… (Marinscope)
  • Are you prepared for the Big One? (SFist)

The Greater Marin

  • Vancouver is pursuing urban planning that makes people healthier and fights obesity.  How?  By getting people out of cars and onto sidewalks, bikes, buses and trains. (Globe and Mail)
  • Although California High-Speed Rail is undergoing some tough times, the short-sightedness of governors elsewhere means the project gets their funding. (SFist, New York Times)
  • Readers should know that zoning is important for the future and form of any city.  How important?  Edward McMahon celebrates 85 years of zoning regulations by looking at its philosophical basis, while Stephen Smith looks at the origins of zoning: New York progressivism.  (Urban Land Institute, Market Urbanism)
  • The exurb, of which the Bay Area has blessedly little, is not coming back. For Sonoma and other outer counties, the future rests in their own economic vibrancy. (New York Times)
  • Lastly, there is a pie cake, and it’s called a Cherumple.  This “dessert version of the turducken” weighs around 21 pounds.  Bring friends. (Boing Boing)

End-Week Links: Traffic Zen

Traffic calming is a wonderful concept.  Given the recent deaths and injuries around Marin caused by drivers hitting pedestrian, it may be time for cities up and down 101 to take a look at calming traffic.

Marin

Crazy times at SMART this week.  While supporters rallied last Thursday in Santa Rosa, something odd was underfoot at the agency.  Finance director David Heath was dismissed by the Board “without cause“, but is on paid leave until December 23.  That this occurred just as the Board completed authorization of $191 million in bonds and about $8 million in construction contracts is incredibly suspicious.  Typically political scandals involve the offending official to resign rather than get fired, although blatant dismissal without cause is typically illegal.  Let’s hope more details will come to light as time goes on. (Rally at IJ, Press Democrat)

  • The Commuter Times has been sold.  The weekly tabloid will begin publishing again this week. (IJ)
  • The public comment period has been extended for the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. special use permit. (IJ)
  • Conflict has erupted in one San Anselmo neighborhood over privacy, FAR, and home expansion. (San Anselmo-Fairfax Patch)
  • With the recent passage of desegregation/affordable housing measures by the Marin County Board of Supervisors, the combustable topic of race has entered the affordable housing debate.  Perhaps it should be left out entirely. (Novato Patch)
  • Despite repeal efforts, controversy and scandal, San Rafael is moving forward with a much-needed look at its Civic Center SMART station. (Mill Valley Herald)
  • Sharrows have been completed on South Eliseo Drive, a popular commuting route. (MCBC)

The Greater Marin

  • The City of Napa continues its efforts to centralize and improve its downtown experience.  The first thing it will do is traffic calming, changing its one-way streets to two-way as part of a 400-page draft Downtown Specific Plan. (Napa Valley Register)
  • Market Urbanism’s Emily Washington reviews The Gated City, a fascinating book about how rising housing costs prices out the poor from the most productive our society has: the city.  She concludes that the book makes some excellent points in describing the problem but that its solutions, but is left feeling pessimistic.  “none of [the presented solutions] seem politically viable” to her. (Market Urbanism)
  • Congress is about to kill the federal high speed rail program, which will pose yet another problem for California’s HSR plan. (NPR)
  • How many parking spaces are there in a city?  One intrepid doctoral candidate found out.

Mid-Week Links: Crashworthy

One of the reasons for SMART’s higher-than-expected cost is Federal crashworthiness standards that forced the agency to look for custom-built heavy DMUs.  Yet, as explained by Market Urbanism, the regulations were made for a time before intelligent, lightweight materials were available and force the US to forego the engineering standards used everywhere else in the world.  As shown above, the new materials are perfectly capable of keeping vehicles safe.  It’s too late for SMART to change their order, but this regulatory regime can and should be changed for all the other transit agencies looking to hold down costs.

Marin County

In case you missed it, there were off-year elections this past Tuesday.  Urbanism won the day for the most part, fending off avowed anti-city challengers in Novato and San Anselmo.  Many disagreed with San Rafael’s new mayor, Gary Phillips, on Target but he has a firmly pro-business stance and will serve downtown San Rafael well.  Across the country, Greater Greater Washington looks at what makes a candidate electable, the Center for Transportation Excellence has posted the status of transit measures nationwide and Half-Mile Circles looks at a few of the big-ticket items.

  • The County is considering regulations on smoking within multi-unit dwellings, I guess because a home is only private space when it’s got a half-acre of land around it.
  • There will be no Terrapin Crossroads, says Phil Lesh.  Fairfaxians are heartbroken.
  • A driver struck a teen in Novato last week along pedestrian-unfriendly Novato Boulevard.  He’s doing okay, although he’s also lucky to be alive.
  • SMART plans to spend up to $200,000 to polish its image and push back against opponents.
  • Novato’s Hanna Ranch development would be built without affordable housing while creating low-income jobs.  This is suspiciously inconsistent.  Deciding on final approval, meanwhile, has been punted by the Council to November 29.
  • California may have  a massive infrastructure maintenance deficit, but at least Mill Valley is behaving responsibly.
  • Mill Valley’s Chamber of Commerce plots a comeback.
  • A proposal has surfaced to create dedicated, separated bus lanes on Van Ness Avenue, speeding buses along the corridor with significantly more efficiency than currently allowed.  Since Golden Gate Transit uses Van Ness for a number of its lines, this change would benefit Marinites as well as San Franciscans.
  • Want to save a state park otherwise slated for closure? Stop by the Parks Coalition brainstorming session on November 15.
  • If there’s one thing Marin does well, it’s loving local businesses.

The Greater Marin

Using open, real-time location data, Eric Fischer mapped the speeds for the transit system. Click to enlarge.

  • Cotati is considering revamping a short stretch of Old Redwood Highway near their hexagonal downtown to make it more pedestrian-friendly and less of the car thoroughfare it currently is.  Local businesses want to entrench the 40 MPH status quo.
  • The City of Napa is considering something similar: a $38 million redesign of their downtown.
  • San Francisco apparently boasts three of the best bars in the world, and there’s no better way to enjoy a bar than to take transit.  Don’t stay out too late, of course: your last bus to Marin leaves at 12:30am.
  • Oakland residents are dedicated to historic preservation, going so far as to wield shotguns to defend their heritage.
  • Shockwaves from the $98 billion (nominal) price tag for California High-Speed Rail continue to ripple through the blogosphere.  On one side are engineers, who say it is far, far too overbuilt, and on the other are those who look at the big picture to argue it’s still a good deal.  I say, if you can save money by foregoing massive viaducts through San Jose, forego the viaducts.
  • Sacramento might not get its rail line for a while yet, but where to locate a station is still troublesome for officials.
  • We love our green initiatives.  Unfortunately one of the most popular, Cash for Clunkers, was a bust.
  • Congress did something bipartisan today and unanimously passed out of committee a two year extension of the federal transportation bill, MAP-21.
  • Bad traffic designs that create gridlock create exhaust which seems to hurt our neurological health.
  • Lastly, in a testament to how budget cuts can even cut efficient programs, the General Services Administration no longer will have the money to make their headquarters an example of solid office design and will instead remain in the big, bureaucratic office building that looks just like you expect.

Mid-Week Links: And He Separated Water from Water

A beautiful video from Marin photographer Gary Yost shows everything I love and miss about my home: the nature, the towns, the Bay, the culture… I miss it all. On to the nitty-gritty of running all that.

Marin

SMART, once again, features prominently in local transit news this week.  Farhad Mansourian, interim General Manager of SMART, has been hired by the agency on a permanent basis.  Critics have addressed his pay – over $300,000 per year in compensation, comparable to other agency heads – and his credentials, although they’ve also stopped saying he duped the board prior to the MTC and TAM bailout hearings, as few boards would hire a man they felt had misled them.

The board also approved the new financial report, balancing the budget at about $360 million for the construction of the line which, at $9.7 million per mile, is by far the least expensive rail transit project in the country.  Local writer Steve Stein agrees, characterizing opponents as “nostalgic for a Marin County composed of mid-century ranch houses, suburban lawns and cul-de-sacs.”  In other news:

  • Cyclists and pedestrians got a major boost when the County allocated $8.8 million for pedestrian and bicycling improvements across Marin.  Among the projects: studying reopening the Alto Tunnel between Corte Madera and Mill Valley, improving sidewalk connections between the Canal and downtown San Rafael, and, in a major victory, constructing the Central Marin Ferry Connection.
  • In affordable housing news, Assemblyman and Congressional contender Jared Huffman’s bill to allow foreclosed housing to count against affordable housing mandates is on the Governor’s desk for signature.  The bill once allowed cities to appeal their density requirements, but it’s been pared down to just the foreclosed housing portion.  Meanwhile, Novato, which pushed most strenuously for reform, is following through on a 2008 development loan to expand Eden Housing, an affordable senior center home.  Critics contended that old folks will cause crime and join gangs.
  • Terrapin Crossroads, the Phil Lesh-led music venue, was discussed at length at a Fairfax Town Council meeting.  Critics were concerned about traffic and noise at the site, while supporters saw it as a fabulous opportunity for the town to improve nightlife and remove an abandoned, but prominently placed, gas station.  Lesh had put it on hold after signs opposing the project were placed along his walking route in Ross, spooking him and his wife.  Plans are available here (PDF).
  • The Marin Agricultural Land Trust purchased a large ranch outside Tomales recently, completing the greenbelt around the town and further ensuring that West Marin is off-limits to sprawl.
  • Speaking of sprawl, the proposed Hanna Ranch development in Novato passed the city’s Design Review Board, the first step towards project approval.
  • Some anti-sprawl might come to San Rafael, as local developer Monahan Parker is looking to build a four-story, 41-unit mixed-use building at 2nd & B Streets.  Two Victorian-era homes that have seen much better days would be demolished.  The project would also include a 57-space parking garage, which is one space above the minimum for a project of its size and totally out of whack with the overall setting.  It is currently before the Design Review Board, and you can watch preliminary comments here.

The Greater Marin

  • The debate over California High-Speed Rail is still a thing, and it’s making national news.  Ezra Klein of the Washington Post provides a good rundown of current thought on the subject, while CAHSR Blog looks to BART battles in Livermore for signs of things to come.
  • BART is still fighting protestors over police brutality and cell phone censorship.  It boiled over recently with multiple stations being shut down during rush-hour.
  • In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a battle brewing over transportation funding in Congress thanks to the soon-to-expire gas tax.  Mercury News wonders what it would do the Bay Area.
  • SMART isn’t the only transit agency facing problems: Vancouver’s TransLink has funding issues, Atlanta’s MARTA system is under fire from the car-dependent, and Washington, DC isn’t sure how it should align one end of its planned streetcar line.
  • Looking to the Old World for how to structure urban spaces.
  • Someone read the entire Seattle land use code and came away with some observations.  A braver man than I.