Mid-Week Links: Build It and They Will Come

mill valley

Marin County

Well it looks like the other news organizations passed right on by the development news this week, and there’s no transit news to speak of. I suppose, then, these are the highlights from this week’s IJ.

  • The Grady Ranch debacle has reached New Yorker’s ears. The game of telephone, of course, has done wonders for our county’s image as an insular enclave for the granola-munching wealthy. Back in Marin, there is still debate as to whether opponents abused the system or not, or even whether they should be to blame. (NYT, IJ)
  • In the fallout of Grady Ranch, county staff want to create a panel to cut red tape and streamline permitting, and the supervisors seem to be on board. The results likely won’t mean much for developers in incorporated areas, who often need council approval to open a sandwich shop. (IJ)
  • Fully 85% of Marin’s land is protected from development, according to a new Greenbelt Alliance study, the most in any Bay Area county. Only 12.7% of our land is urbanized, and only 0.7% is at risk of development. (IJ)
  • Michael Rock, town manager and public works director of Fairfax, has resigned in order to pursue a position in what I can only presume is the far less interesting Lomita, CA. His last day as manager will be the June 22 budget meeting. (IJ, Fairfax)
  • Sausalito will not rezone a small area of old town for housing development after all. The two parcels in question could have accommodated 18 units of affordable housing but will continue in their role as offices. (IJ)
  • Under pressure from the feds, Novato’s remaining pot dispensary will close, leaving only one dispensary operating in the county. (IJ)
  • The $950 million Highway 101 widening project chugs forward, but the last $177 million hasn’t been found. At least CalTrans still has $20.5 million to repave 8.5 miles of the freeway from Vista Point to Lucky Drive. (Press-Democrat, IJ)
  • A San Rafael native has been enlivening the streetscape of Washington, DC, by playing the violin to passersby from his rowhome’s balcony. (Patch)
  • And…: Fifteen office buildings totalling about 710,000 square are up for sale in Marin. (IJ) … Terrorism, not the threat of bridge collapse, is the reason you can’t walk across the Bridge on its 75th. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • MTC and ABAG have approved Plan Bay Area. It now goes out for environmental review before final approval in April. (SF Chronicle)
  • The San Francisco Bay Area has a surplus of capital looking for new tech start-ups but restrictive housing policies drive up rents, which drive up wages, which inflates start-ups’ costs of doing business, which drives down the number of new start-ups to invest in, and that’s bad for everyone.  (Forbes via Planetizen)
  • The State Senate will vote today on the three-foot passing law, requiring drivers pass bikers with at least three feet of clearance. (Cyclelicious)
  • The neighborhood planning battles of Seattle bear a striking resemblance to the planning issues faced by Marin’s small towns. (Crosscut)
  • Young people are moving away from the car. Has the driver’s seat lost its old magic? (Washington Post)
  • BART’s long-term plans include express trains, better stations, and shorter headways. (Examiner)
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Mid-Week Links: Until Next Time

Mt. Tam with Long Shadows

Mt. Tam with Long Shadows by cproppe

Thank you all who came out to last week’s happy hour!  We had a small group – a couple of planning commissioners, a couple of regular readers – and it was good fun.  The next one will likely be around the end of September, so keep an eye out.  In the mean time, I’m back in DC keeping an eye out for the goings-on in Marin.

It’s been two weeks with no links, so let’s get caught up.

Marin County

  • What might One Bay Area learn from other regions as it crafts its Sustainable Communities Strategy?  First of all, make sure to do good outreach, and second, make sure to invest enough in transit. ABAG’s outreach has thus far been horrifically bad, at least in Marin, but at least MTC is on the ball with transit investment. (SPUR)
  • As it turns out, San Rafael’s red light cameras at 3rd & Irving are good for safety, reducing accidents by 12% over the last fiscal year while also reducing the total number of citations. Win/win, in my book. (IJ)
  • The Board of Supervisors wants San Rafael to take its due diligence regarding the proposed San Rafael Airport sports complex. While most of the neighbors are in unincorporated areas like Santa Venetia and so fall directly under the county, the airport itself is under the city. (IJ)
  • Apparently, George Lucas was serious when he proposed building affordable housing at Grady Ranch.  I can scarcely think of a worse place for it, though the irony is rich. (Ross Valley Reporter)
  • Then again, perhaps Grady Ranch wasn’t such a slam-dunk for the environment after all… (IJ)
  • Are you a smoker living in an apartment or condo in unincorporated Marin? Better quit now – the Board of Supervisors is likely to ban smoking in apartments and condos, both indoor and outdoor, next week. (IJ)
  • West Marin tourists, park rangers, and bobcats got a pedestrian upgrade when two bridges were installed near Sausalito – one 180-foot span that bridges a creek and wetland, and another one 60-foot span. They were built so walkers could bypass nearby traffic. (IJ)
  • Sausalito’s Housing Element has been rejected by HCD, which cited a lack of 20-unit-per-acre developments and zoning. The city will take a second look and consider revisions. (Marinscope)
  • The 75th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, celebrated on May 27, will be a grand affair with no parking, so take transit!  There’s free bike parking at the Presidio, both Muni and GGT will boost their buses, there will be buses to the Larkspur Ferry (a shock!), and it will generally be a good time. Alas, Marin Transit doesn’t seem to be adding service so be prepared to walk, bike, or taxi from your bus pad or transit center of choice. Oh, and I recommend getting Clipper Cards for the family – saves you money and time boarding the bus and ferry, not to mention that it makes transfers to Muni easier. (Patch, GGB75, ClipperCard, IJ)
  • And…: The upcoming June 5 election?  Yeah, there’s an app for that. (Patch) … This week there were five DUIs on 101 in just a day. Be careful out there, people. (News Pointer) … Bus Rapid Transit on Van Ness is a go, and is set to open in 2016. (Chronicle) … Dispelling rumors on bike lanes and bike safety. (Mercury News) … The Golden Gate Bridge had its share of detractors. (SFist)

The Greater Marin

  • If you missed it (I did), there’s a proposal winding through Sacramento to consolidate MTC, ABAG, BAAQMD, and BCDC into a single agency called the Bay Area Regional Commission governed by 15 commissioners elected from new districts in the Bay Area.  Fearing a loss of influence, Napa is fighting this one tooth and nail. (Napa Valley Register)
  • Martinez may soon join the city of Napa in switching its downtown streets to two-way. Ought San Rafael follow suit? (Contra Costa Times)
  • In a move that defines ambition, Chicago declared that it would have no road fatalities in 20 years. (Streetsblog)
  • Sometimes we go so long without transit that we forget how to behave, or we are so used to transit we never unlearn our bad habits. SFist has a great series of articles on transit and walking etiquette that I heartily recommend to you.
  • If you want a better street and live in San Francisco, check their new website for info on how to get some street improvements on your own.  Marinites, well, check it out for some street envy. Perhaps one day even Novato will warm to the parklet. (Streetsblog)
  • Cincinnati is giving form-based zoning a try, allowing neighborhoods to develop along the lines of how they wnat to look, rather than just based on how buildings are used. (Cincinnati.com via Planetizen)
  • UPDATE: People that live where it’s easy to walk from home to work or stores tend to do so, and also tend to bike significantly more than their more thinly-spread compatriots. Though the study was done in some of DC’s more tony neighborhoods, I suspect you’d find the same thing in the old TOD downtowns of Marin. (Washington Post)

Mid-Week Links: Cheers!

The Second The Greater Marin Happy Hour

Cheers to transit!

Good news everyone!  The second The Greater Marin Happy Hour will be held next Thursday at San Rafael Joe’s – no more 29 bus madness (sadness?) and the ferry like last time. With GGT on Google Maps, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding your way, even if you work in Belvedere.  I’ll have some signs out around the bar like last time, but if you can’t find us just email me at theGreaterMarin [at] gmail.com and I’ll try to wave you down.  I hope to see you all there!

Who: You, me, and anyone else you happen to invite (and please do invite people!)
When: Thursday, May 10, 6pm, though you’re absolutely welcome to come late
Where: San Rafael Joe’s, 931 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA

In another bit of blog news, you’ll notice over on the sidebar that I’m open for business as a communications and planning consultant. If you want my brain working for you, get in touch with me at the email address on the right.  I’ll be in the Bay Area from May 10-15 and am perfectly willing to travel as needed.

Right, now that that’s all done with, on to the news of the week.

Marin County

  • Golden Gate Ferry workers went on strike yesterday to protest the slow pace of talks between their union and the transit district. They may call another strike on May 10 if progress remains unacceptably slow. (Chronicle)
  • San Francisco is moving towards a true BRT line on Van Ness, with center-running lanes compatible with existing buses. The line would serve Muni routes 47 and 49, as well as GGT routes 10, 70, 80, 93, and 101. It will be a boon to all riders along the corridor, though if GGT could pick up intra-San Francisco trips it would be even better. (Transbay Blog)
  • The Doyle Drive closure went off without a hitch, and the resulting roadway looks pretty nifty.  I do wonder about the eventual 12-lane configuration – neither the bridge nor the approach can handle so much traffic. (Chronicle, SFist)
  • Larkspur mulls what to do with 2.5 acres of land on the Niven Nursery site. The frontrunner idea is a new library. (IJ)
  • Marin’s population grew 0.7% this past year, rather faster than Plan Bay Area’s 0.2% housing growth prediction. And here I thought we were slow-growth (no I didn’t). (IJ)
  • The West Sidewalk of the Golden Gate Bridge is finally open again. (GGBHTD)
  • This Friday at 7pm, stop by the Mill Valley Library for a talk by noted urbanist Peter Calthorpe on Mill Valley, urbanism, and the Bay Area’s future. Let me know how it goes. (MVPL)

The Greater Marin

Just across the bridge, San Francisco is doing some truly amazing things to promote a more walkable, livable city.  What lessons can we learn from San Francisco, and how can we apply them to Marin?  Personally, I’d love to see a San Rafael Park(ing) Day. (Streetfilms)

  • While BART is finally coming to San Jose, transportation planners are cutting their own feet out from under themselves by significantly widening two major freeways in Santa Clara, one to 8 lanes and the other to a whopping 12. (Mercury News)
  • Operating costs for High Speed Rail won’t be nearly as high as opponents claim. (Systemic Failure)
  • With more cars came more people dying on the roads, and Europe and the United States took dramatically different paths.  While Europeans got mad at the cars and pushed back in favor of more pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, the United States pushed people out of the way of the cars, razing its city centers for parking and wider roads. (Atlantic Cities)
  • Ever wondered what the view is like from atop Sutro Tower? Now you know. (SFist)

Mid-Week Links: End of the Line

Marin County Line

photo by Mark Garbowski

Marin County

San Anselmo’s Easy Street Cafe will close this Sunday after struggling with the economy and the Redhill Shopping Center remodel.  There is still hope that it will reopen somewhere else, though the odds seem slim.  With this institution’s closure, speculation is running rampant that the shopping center is turning into a regular chain-dominated strip mall.  So far, eight businesses have moved out or been evicted.  You can find their letter on the Pacific Sun. On a personal note, I am quite saddened by the loss.  It’s my favorite breakfast spot in Marin and I haven’t found anyplace better in DC. Since I can’t make it to the closing, eat some bangers and scrambled eggs for me and I’ll buy you a beer at the next happy hour. (IJ, Pacific Sun)

  • Just as regulatory hurdles were cleared, Lucasfilm formerly withdrew its Grady Ranch proposal, beginning a mad scramble around the North Bay to woo what a few Marin activists said would constitute the Hollywoodization of Lucas Valley. (IJ, San Rafael Patch)
  • For Earth Day, San Rafael promoted recycling, energy efficiency, and electric cars, but remains entirely silent on walking or biking.  Perhaps next year they’ll install a bike rack or two downtown? (IJ)
  • Travel on the Golden Gate Bridge is going to be terrible next week.  Not only is Doyle Drive closing, but Occupy SF plans to close the bridge on Tuesday. (SFist)
  • SMART is exploring a station near the Sonoma County Airport, which would be at their planned maintenance facility on Airport Boulevard.  Details are still sketchy, to say the least, but it would certainly make the airport a more attractive option for Marinites. (Press-Democrat)
  • SMART has approved a more sustainable pension plan for future employees than what it has now, remedying one of the Grand Jury’s principal gripes about the system. (Press-Democrat)
  • The Board of Supervisors has formally requested an audit of Plan Bay Area growth projections, saying that the job growth numbers just don’t seem realistic. (IJ)
  • Larkspur and MTC are looking for a few good souls to fill out their boards.  MTC has four vacancies on their Policy Advisory Council, while Larkspur has openings on the Planning Commission, Parks & Rec Commission, and the Heritage Preservation Board. Take a look to see if you want get involved. (IJ, PR Newswire)

The Greater Marin

  • When you make a great place you’re making great people habitat, and that’s good for the environment and all the natural habitat we need to protect.  New Urbanism is a New Environmentalism. (NRDC Switchboard)
  • The headaches caused by private bus companies in San Francisco are starting to get noticed, and the city may start to regulate. (SFBG)
  • Electric bikes can dramatically expand the reach and audience of bicycling.  In spread-out and hilly Marin, the electric assist can be a life-saver for the unfit. (Clarendon Patch)
  • Sonoma County faces a $120 million road maintenance backlog and only $4.5 million per year to fix it.  Though the county is looking for new revenues, perhaps it could spend less money on widening 101 instead. (Press-Democrat)
  • California will soon get $100 million in new electric car charging infrastructure, part of a settlement with energy companies related to the state’s 2001 energy crisis.  (Chronicle)

Leverage the Golden Gate Transportation Monopoly

Golden Gate toll plaza // San Francisco // California // USA

photo by d4yw41k3r

You may not realize it, but the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transit District has an effective monopoly* on travel to San Francisco from Marin.  If you take transit, of course, you’re using GGT, but if even if you drive you have a toll to pay.  This gives the district enormous market power to influence the travel decisions made by Marinites, power that it should use for good.

The Marin-San Francisco transportation market has three principal products – driving, bus travel, and ferry travel.  Directly, the car has a $5 round trip toll, the bus has a $6.80 to $16.40 round trip fare, and the ferry has a $9.70 to $11.40 $17.50 round trip fare.  The car also has fuel, insurance, parking, and depreciation costs as well, but none of these are controlled (save parking costs at park-and-ride lots) by the district.

What strikes me about this situation is that the district charges the least for the most high-impact transportation mode, the car.  The negative externalities of car ownership go far, far beyond simply tailpipe pollution: the cost of car storage that get dumped into housing costs through mandatory minimums; the cost of parking lots on the pedestrian environment; the cost to our mental and physical health driving everywhere; the ongoing slaughter of drivers and pedestrians on the roads; and the sheer cost of maintaining the physical infrastructure needed to carry all these cars around.  By charging significantly less for driving than other modes, the district promotes this kind of unsustainable mode choice.

If the toll were increased to $7, making the cheapest bus fare competitive against driving, one would see a significant boost in bus trips from southern Marin.  If the toll money were plowed back into service improvements, the district would create a positive feedback loop, allowing the district to simultaneously discourage driving and provide a better transit product.  Even better, it would allow the district to move towards its goal of 50% farebox recovery, as the increased ridership would bring in more money and the right transit improvements would decrease costs.

The district did explore a congestion pricing scheme a few years ago that would have bumped the toll to $8 during peak hours.  Though I’m sure San Franciscans would have been happy to have fewer suburban drivers on their roads, the plan was dropped because it was seen as an unnecessary tax on drivers.  Hopefully the plan will be revived to help pay for the district’s $87 million Doyle Drive deficit, though given the district’s belief that ferry riders should pay it through a fare increase I don’t hold out hope.

Though this does sound like a plan to sop the driver for the rider, there are a few things to keep in mind.  First, the driver can always become a rider, and doing so would likely be better for everyone involved, especially if the bus can become competitive with the car in speed as well as cost.  Second, the drivers that don’t switch will see benefits in traffic and, if enough drivers switch to buses, see a significant decrease in travel time.  Though it would cost more for them to drive, they would get a better product than they had before.

In short, the district needs to examine its pricing schemes as a singular system, not as a set of disconnected fares and tolls, and establish a better balance between driving and riding costs.  Doing so would reap benefits for drivers in the form of less congestion, riders in the form of better transit, Marin in the form of more livable and walkable communities, and San Francisco in the form of less suburbanite traffic.

*Yes, I realize Blue & Gold Fleet operates a ferry, but its round-trip fare is double that of Golden Gate’s and so isn’t terribly important to this discussion.  If we were talking about the transit market in Tiburon, of course, they’d play on center stage.

Charge to Park, Not Ride

Sausalito
Tomorrow, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District (GGBHTD) officials will debate whether to hike the cost of ferry rides for Clipper Card holders, which would raise $2 million to help close an $87 million deficit caused in part by costs associated with the Doyle Drive reconstruction.  As long as the parking lot is free, this is the wrong move for the District.  Charging for parking would discourage driving to the ferry terminal and encourage people to bus or carpool, freeing some of the parking lot for mid-day ferry drivers, putting more people on buses and bikes, and perhaps even boosting, rather than suppressing, ferry ridership.

Marin Transit or GGT should ensure there is a convenient bus transfer in Larkspur, however.  The 15 minute, freeway-bound walk from the nearest bus pad is sometimes called the Walk of Shame, and the 29 bus from either Ross Valley or the Transit Center is about as fast as molasses on a cold day.  Sausalito, also in the plan, doesn’t fare much better with the bus route but at least its connections aren’t equated with shame and embarrassment.

Transit-oriented redevelopment

Long-term, the GGBHTD should partner with the City of Larkspur to redevelop its Larkspur Landing parking lot as a transit-oriented village.  As it stands, it’s about as far from Market Street, time-wise, as San Francisco’s Inner Sunset neighborhood, and with the coming reconstruction of the Greenbrae Interchange and SMART station it stands to become the most transit-rich point in the County outside downtown San Rafael.

My very rough calculation, based on the findings of county-wide land values in the Tiburon Housing Element, places the parking lot’s market value at between $48 million and $55 million, assuming 45-unit-per-acre housing.  If the land were leased from GGBHTD, it would add around $1 million to $2 million per year of direct income, and around $1.3 million in new fare revenue, assuming transit is the primary mode of transportation for the residents.  In all, it would equate to around 8% of the ferry’s cost.

For Larkspur, it would provide a boon in sales tax revenue from tourists and residents alike.  Indeed, if density limits were lifted, the units would likely be studios or one bedrooms, too small to put a strain on the school system and the income would be a huge boon to town coffers.

But for the moment…

Parking lot development long-term conceptual thinking.  Tomorrow’s vote is just about whether to raise the fares of ferry riders, and the answer should be a firm no.  Raising the price of parking would have a number of positive knock-on effects to commuting and parking patterns at both Sausalito and Larkspur by improving parking turnover availability for mid-day riders, while encouraging carpooling, biking, and busing, making more efficient use of the lots and the travel systems in place.

Mid-Week Links: Two Steps Back

Marin County

Image copyright 2012, The Pacific Sun

  • San Rafael, planning as it is for a revitalized Station Area, thought it a good idea to eliminate the crosswalk at Third and Cijos, calling it a danger to pedestrians.  Rather than pedestrians being the ones complaining, it was the motorists.  There has not been a single accident at the Cijos crossing, and the one-way traffic was controlled from the nearby Lincoln intersection.  In place of the crosswalk, there’s now a pedestrian barrier.  At least there are crosswalks nearby.  (Pacific Sun)
  • Seventy units of affordable housing have been announced for Marinwood at the Marin Market site.  Although near bus pads, the affordable housing site is far from amenities.  Hopefully the developer will be required to improve the crossing over the freeway to the northbound pad. (IJ)
  • SMART should buy the Whistlestop building, as the train project will render it useless to the seniors nonprofit. (IJ)
  • San Anselmo is considering how to improve its Safe Routes to School Program at a community meeting tonight, and as of press time no decision had been made. Among the proposals are adding sidewalks and crosswalks, adjusting signal timing, and a pedestrian barrier along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. (Patch)
  • The Greenbae Interchange Project and the Wincup development will both proceed roughly as planned, as MacFarlane Developers and TAM have reached an agreement on how to accomodate both projects. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • If you missed a One Bay Area planning meeting, now’s your chance to at least get your opinion in.  The Plan is soliciting online comments, and I encourage you to take the time to make your voice heard. (Sacramento Bee)
  • The Golden Gate Bridge has installed speed signs for cyclists on the western sidewalk, although there isn’t a speed limit on the bridge for bicyclists. (SF Examiner)
  • Doyle Drive’s second phase may be delayed because some state and federal funds haven’t materialized as expected. (IJ)
  • A Santa Rosa school may not open for want of a sidewalk.  The sidewalk was to be built with redevelopment money. (Press Democrat)
  • Cotati’s ambitious downtown roundabout plan, which stirred up so much controversy, is also in doubt thanks to issues stemming from redevelopment funds. (Press Democrat)
  • Sonoma County’s roads are absolutely terrible, at least according to a map prepared by the county’s Transportation and Public Works Department. Road maintenance is severely underfunded in Sonoma, and some activists are pushing hard for change. In that light, a proposed road maintenance property tax could do the trick. (Press Democrat, Petaluma360)
  • Level of Service, or LOS, is an absolutely terrible way to measure how well a city street performs its many duties, as it focuses solely on moving cars – not people – swiftly along. (Streetsblog)