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)

Mid-Week Links: Bike for Your Life

The most baffling thing about Marin is how unbikeable its thoroughfares are.  Sir Francis Drake, Second & Third Streets, Miller Avenue, Redwood Boulevard – they’re all sorely lacking in bicycle amenities.  We shunt our cyclists onto side roads or put down sharrows but it’s honestly not enough.  The video above highlights the progress made in New York City, and they’ve done absolutely spectacular things in the past five years.  But why should they have all the fun?  Marin County invented the mountain bike and Safe Routes to School.  Our cafes are hangouts for spandex-clad biker gangs.  We have the culture, we have the towns, but we just need the will.

We’ve done the flashy projects – CalPark Tunnel, the Novato north-south path – but they’re out of the way.  Instead, I want to bike down Miracle Mile and Third Street.  I want to lock my bike to something other than a tree in San Rafael.  I want to feel safe biking in Tam Valley and on Delong Avenue.  Marin is still one of the best places to live, but New York is showing us up.  In 2012, let’s show New York what we’re made of.

SMART

SMART featured prominently in the news this week.  Rohnert Park officially (wait, no, unofficially) moved its station north to be closer to housing and commercial development, which allowed SMART to reintroduce the Atherton Avenue station [Patch] to the IOS.  SMART had cut Atherton because it relies on MTC funding, which requires that an average of 2,200 housing units to be zoned for within a half-mile of the system’s stations.  Atherton has very few housing units nearby, as it is located to bring workers to the Fireman’s Fund office park, and so lowered SMART below the minimum TOD threshold.  Rohnert Park’s move added enough housing units to the system that Atherton could be added back in, and that’s good news for everyone.  (Patch, IJ, Press Democrat)

In other news, SMART has rehired their old CFO to replace her own replacement.  Erin McGrath is taking over once David Heath, who was fired for undisclosed reasons, leaves on Friday.  As well, the District wants to run shuttle buses on the deferred parts of its line, from Santa Rosa to Cloverdale and San Rafael to Larkspur.  This would duplicate current Sonoma County and Golden Gate bus service, but the District is in talks with GGT about coordination, raising hopes that they won’t waste money creating a sixth bus service in two counties. (IJ)

Marin County

  • Ross Valley’s Flood Control District has been awarded $7.66 million to retrofit Phoenix Lake into a water detention facility, decreasing the odds of flooding downstream. (IJ)
  • San Rafael will spend $213k to repair a bump in Anderson Drive that slows down cars, although I think the bump is more of a feature than a bug. (IJ)
  • Marin County supervisors have discretionary funds, and they’re giving away $38,650 at the end of the year.  Prince William County, Maryland, has something similar but is considering ending the practice. (IJ, Washington Post)
  • Marin has pumped another $1 million into litigation against SAP and Deloitte Consulting for the wretched accounting system they installed for the County. (IJ)
  • The County needle-exchange program will not expand as planned. Congressional Republicans reinstated a ban on federal funding for needle exchanges, meaning AIDS testing and prevention money from the CDC will not be forthcoming. (IJ)
  • A four-car collision on the Golden Gate Bridge resulted in no serious injuries, but shut down all northbound lanes for 30 minutes. (IJ)
  • More bizarrely, a driver ran a car through a Sausalito living room.  No injuries were reported. (IJ)
  • A third crash this week came from Novato, where a driver crashed into a telephone pole along Highway 101. (Patch)
  • The Ross Valley Sanitary District will borrow up to $1.5 million to fund repairs and upgrades to the valley’s waste water systems. The District plans to replace 200 miles of pipe at the glacial rate of 2 miles per year. (IJ)
  • Caltrans shut part of the Manzanita Park and Ride lot due to high tides, but reopened it on Monday.  It’s unclear why the tides would be a problem last week, but not this week. (IJ)
  • Doyle Drive’s Phase I is almost complete, and it will include a temporary signalized intersection. It will be interesting to see if the traffic gets as bad as people think it will. (Spotswood)

The Greater Marin

  • What does it take to make good downtown retail?  A bit of rule-bending. (PlaceShakers)
  • Transit agencies should sell personal mobility if they want to compete with the car, the ultimate mobility machine. (Human Transit)
  • Mode share: Apparently, teens rely on cars if they live in spread-out, rural environments.  But the town in question, Owens Sound, ON, has room to improve, as it seems to have little bike infrastructure and only a roundabout bus system. (Owen Sound Sun Times)
  • Environmental considerations have been cut from the federal TIFIA transportation loan program, part of a deal cut by Sen. Barbara Boxer to get Republican support for the transportation funding extension.  The considerations may still be amended into the bill, as it has not yet passed the Senate. (Huffington Post)
  • Eliminating California state funding of school transportation funding is made at the expense of broadly-spread rural school districts that need busing but can’t afford it on their own. (Sacramento Bee)
  • The City of Sonoma wants to ban “formula [i.e., chain] stores” after a Staples moved into town, but the town doesn’t seem to be addressing the zoning codes that encourage the blandness they want to ban.  The Council is deeply divided on the issue, which will be taken up at the next council meeting. (Sonoma News)
  • Work to widen Highway 101 in Sonoma has sucked up $720 million so far and needs another $250 million to get through the Novato Narrows, all for more developments like Deer Park and Hanna Ranch.  SMART will cost $280 million less at full build-out. (Press Democrat)

Mid-Week Links: Divide and Conquer

We intuit it, but we don’t always realize it: a busy street is a pedestrian-dead street.  That’s why you never walk down lower Miller Avenue, or Third Street, or, if you can avoid it, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.

Marin

  • A Marin City woman is facing eviction from her public housing for hosting her dying mother without prior approval.
  • Food Truck Crush might be a permanent after-work fixture at the Larkspur Ferry.
  • The split-lot fee saga continues, which County Supervisors continue to adjudicate on a case-by-case basis.
  • Golden Gate Bridge workers are engaged in a rather heated renegotiation of their contract with the District.
  • If SMART is repealed, the sales tax that funds the project will remain in place until all outstanding contracts and bonds are paid off.  Dick Spotswood doesn’t think this is such a great deal.
  • SMART supporters are reviving to fight the repeal effort.
  • There’s a fight afoot to prevent the San Rafael Airport from also hosting a recreation center.
  • Plans to expand Ross Valley’s White Hill Middle School have been approved.
  • Redhill Shopping Center merchants are taking it in the gut as the beloved San Anselmo strip mall undergoes renovation and beautification.
  • Larkspur’s low-density infill development at Niven Nursery near the city’s downtown is proceeding apace.
  • Mill Valley loses a hardware store and a bit of its past.
  • The Hanna Ranch sprawl project is set to go before the Novato City Council without affordable housing.  At least it has that going for it.
  • Novato approved the design of its new city offices, with some caveats.

The Greater Marin

  • Local transit agencies are urged to work together more closely ahead of an MTC-led push for a transit gas tax.
  • If you commute by bus to the City, no doubt you know that the Transbay Terminal is gone.  What you may not know is that in its place will be a 61-story tower atop the new transit center along with a number of other fine projects.  Have some opinions?  Stop by San Francisco City Hall at 5:30 Thursday evening.
  • Highway 101 widening around Rohnert Park will be completed this month, part of a $172 million widening scheme along the thoroughfare’s Sonoma reaches.
  • Looks like California High-Speed Rail will cost a helluva lot more than planned.  Atlantic Cities waxes sanguine on the subject, and Alon Levy looks at the cause of the cost overruns: cantankerous residents officials at either end of the line.
  • Why do Congressional Republicans hate bikes?

Mid-Week Links: Room with a View

a Sausalito view

photo by Robert B. Livingston via Flickr

  • Marin’s bayshore towns, especially Tiburon and Sausalito, are hoping they don’t get swamped by the America’s Cup, a 20-day event scheduled for next summer, and have requested an EIR on the impacts the increased boat and tourist traffic could have on their communities.  Included in Sausalito’s letter is this telling line: “It is not uncommon for the ferries to reach bicycle capacity and strand bicyclists in Sausalito to find other modes of transportation back to San Francisco.”  Yikes.
  • If your “other mode of transportation back to San Francisco” involves that bike, and if you’re starting to get tourist/gawker fatigue, the Golden Gate Bridge has good news: the Western sidewalk is reopening Saturday.
  • Sausalito might build a “hip” bathroom downtown.  It sounds like it’ll be a markedly different design than San Francisco’s proposed pooplets.
  • If you eventually arrive in the City, you might get a good ride down Market: San Francisco might shut down Market Street to car traffic in the near future, prioritizing cyclists, pedestrians and transit.
  • Old news now, but San Rafael’s Albert Park may soon be home to a minor league baseball team.  Think it sounds too cool to be true?  You may be right.
  • Elsewhere in San Rafael, electoral season’s endorsements begin with the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce giving its stamp of approval to mayoral candidate Gary Phillips and Council candidate Andrew McCullough.
  • Fairfax’s held a big town meeting on Terrapin Crossroads, the proposed major music venue in downtown.  Patch’s Kelly Dunlevy was there to record it: Part I and Part II.
  • Although we normally don’t recommend bikes and beer together, I think we can make an exception for Biketoberfest.
  • Work on Larkspur’s Doherty Drive has been delayed once again, this time because none of the bids were low enough and the city rejected them all.
  • And finally, in inevitable SMART news, the agency’s new GM Farhad Mansourian is getting paid quite a bit to run the organization, and the Press-Democrat editorial board thinks the deal sucks.  In response to criticism from another source, RepealSMART, Mansourian fired a shot across their bow in his first real, full-throated defense of the SMART project.  Shame it had to be over his salary.