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)

How Fantastical Is the Fantasy?

Copyright Brian Stokle

The plans for Marin: 80R, 29R, and, of course, SMART

The fantasy transit map of the Bay Area I brought up on Wednesday had me thinking a fair amount about Marin’s transit options.  Though we are typically the odd county out when it comes to fantasy transit improvements – though Napa certainly gets the short end of this particular map’s stick – Brian Stokle’s map adds two thoughtful improvements to the county’s transit system, and I think we’d do well to explore them, as well as a third.

I should mention that I appreciate the value of bus-only lanes to a degree, but in suburban settings it is sometimes better to mix them with three-person carpools as well.  In Northern Virginia, the casual carpool system functions as another transit system, vastly improving the efficiency of private cars and, therefore, the existing car-based infrastructure.  Mixing buses and cars isn’t always the best idea, but I think for Marin it makes perfect sense, both for political and practical reasons.

The 29R Rapid Bus

The 29R rapid bus line runs in a kind of loop between Fairfax, San Anselmo, Greenbrae, Larkspur Landing, the Canal, downtown San Rafael, Miracle Mile and finally back to the Hub, where I assume it would turn around.

Rapid bus isn’t the bus rapid transit (BRT) system that we’re used to hearing about – it doesn’t have its own lanes or stations.  Rather, the rapid bus concept functions as an express, limited stop bus with some structural changes beneath the surface, mostly to how the bus handles intersections.  These, along with high frequency (every 15 minutes, maximum), makes the bus a viable alternative against the car.  Even without the frequency improvements, adding speed to a bus line makes it less expensive to run and more attractive to potential riders.

The 29R route makes sense.  The Fairfax-San Rafael corridor is the county’s densest, and the narrow valley makes it well suited to a rapid bus line.  The Greenbrae stretch, though not nearly as dense, is an important transportation corridor, and building a rapid bus line here would serve populations that are otherwise left behind by SMART.  Greenbrae is also the kind of suburban strip that is easily converted to higher, more urbanist uses.

The drawback to a rapid bus line that it doesn’t have its own corridor.  Sir Francis Drake gets backed up during the morning rush between Fairfax and the Hub, as well as though Ross and near the Greenbrae Interchange, and a rapid bus shouldn’t be allowed to get stuck in that mire.  The same goes for Second Street in San Rafael.

To compensate, the 29R should be complemented with limited dedicated lanes.  Center, the old rail right-of-way between San Anselmo and Fairfax, might be re-purposed as a rush-hour bus and carpool lane.  It’s odd to imagine a surface street being carpool and bus only, but it would take a great deal of pressure off Sir Francis Drake and speed service along the corridor.  Yolanda and Landsdale Stations, the old light-rail stops, could be reactivated as bus stops.

Though we can’t do much about the Sir Francis Drake through Ross, the boulevard widens enough at College of Marin for dedicated lanes, though an initial segment of lanes should be built from El Portal Drive to the interchange.

The Canal’s traffic patterns are less familiar to me, but it is imperative the bus not travel the narrow streets in the neighborhood, sticking instead to the much wider and straighter roads closer to the freeway.  It’s close enough to the Canal that it will be accessible, but it will keep the bus moving fast enough to justify its “rapid” moniker.

The ultimate cost would likely be in the tens of millions, and building such a system will require more forward-thinking on development issues, but the ultimate reward would be much improved Central Marin circulation.

The 80R Bus Rapid Transit

Much more ambitious is the 80R Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line, running from Santa Rosa to the Transbay Terminal.  Presumably, the line would have limited stop service on its own dedicated lanes for the whole trip, and would share the BRT lanes with other buses running along the corridor.  It would duplicate SMART’s service between Santa Rosa and Larkspur Landing, so I wouldn’t recommend building the line north of San Rafael.

A small portion of this line is already being built by SFMTA on Van Ness, which is getting its own dedicated lanes.  Presumably other streets will be similarly improved, but that’s just for San Francisco.  The Marin and Sonoma stretch will be extraordinarily expensive, involving rebuilt or widened freeway overpasses at minimum and possibly even new tunneling in the Marin Headlands.

The first portion of a BRT system is its dedicated lanes.  Ideally, these lanes will be permanently off-limits to private cars, and would certainly be off-limits to single-passenger only vehicles, and they would stretch along the entire length of the line.  This includes the stretch of freeway south of Marin City, which could mean some extremely expensive tunneling projects or a narrower freeway.  The Golden Gate Bridge itself would need dedicated bus lanes, which in theory would double the capacity of the bridge but would be politically challenging to build.

The other portion of a BRT system is its stops.  Like a train system, the stops would be located along the right-of-way; for the 80R, that would mean building new ramps directly between its lanes and freeway overpasses, where the BRT stations would be constructed.  Alternatively, passengers might board the bus at the freeway level in an enclosed station, and access would be provided from the street level.  These would be expensive as well, and the 80R would likely rival SMART in its costs.

Once finished, though, the system would be a transit lifeline for San Franciscans working north and North Bay residents working south.  As it stands,San Francisco’s Marin-bound buses leave only every hour or so in the morning, making transit commutes rather inconvenient.  BRT would need to run every 5-15 minutes to make the investment worthwhile, tying the City to the county in a way it has never been.

What’s Missing? BART

The missing piece is a strong connection from the Transit Center to the Richmond BART station and its Amtrak connections.  Though today the 40 and 42 buses don’t get a lot of ridership, building a rapid bus or BRT line with direct connections between San Rafael and Richmond would be a boon to Contra Costa County, one of the largest sources of Marin’s in-commuters.

A rapid bus line would start at the Transit Center and proceed along Francisco Boulevard, entering 580 at the bridge.  It would make a straight shot to the Richmond station and turn around, altogether taking 30-40 minutes.  A BRT line would run exclusively on the freeway, with its only stops being at Richmond, the Marin side of the bridge, and San Rafael.  Such a run would take about 20-30 minutes.

Though it would face the same challenges as the 29R and 80R, I like this route because it would provide easy transit between the Delta, the East Bay, and Marin while connecting Marinites with existing rail options the county doesn’t have.  Given that the balance of commuting is East Bay to Marin, it might make more sense to build it as an AC Transit system, freeing Golden Gate Transit from making such a huge investment for residents outside its district.

In Sum

In sum, the two improvements, plus mine, are strong service improvements for Marin.  Other parts of Marin could use a rapid bus system similar to the 29R, especially the Mill Valley to Sausalito corridor.  Less plausible is a SMART service improvement, providing 30 minute headways all day, and even less would see the system double-tracked and electrified with 5-15 minute headways, which would likely require another ballot initiative.

Fantasy maps like Stokle’s aren’t meant to be entirely practical, of course – they’re meant to make us imagine what our cities can be like, and what they might be like if we ever get around to it transit improvements.  I’d like to see more of this – how about you?

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)

The SMART Area, Part 3: Mobility

Over the next few days I’ll be posting my impressions and comments regarding the San Rafael SMART Station Area Plan. It’s such a large, complicated, and potentially game-changing document that it needs more than just a single post. Today we tackle the interplay of cars, bikes, and pedestrians. So far, we’ve covered land use and parking, and the last post will cover buses and the future of the site.

The current pedestrian environment. From the Station Area Plan

The SMART Downtown Station Area is set in a car-centric environment, complete with an elevated freeway and its ramps, pedestrian barriers, dead street frontage, narrow sidewalks, and open lots. There is no traffic calming, little in the way of bicycle infrastructure, and a push to move more and more cars through. This is a transit-oriented development, deliberately focused around means of getting around that don’t include a car. While it does not address needed bus improvements, the Station Area Plan tackles the other issues by building needed infrastructure for walking and cycling. It takes a step back by altering the street network to accommodate more traffic, giving one San Rafael Planning Commissioner “heartburn”, but overall the plan is solid where it chooses to look.

Cars

Highway 101, built as an upgrade to the old Redwood Highway to speed cars to the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, bisects San Rafael. Irving and Heatherton are functionally the frontage roads, one-way strips running north and south respectively, and Second and Third are the on and off ramps, running one-way east and west respectively. This poses immense problems for active living, as a glorified freeway ramp is no place to put a pedestrian or a bicycle.

Car lanes are 12 feet wide, as wide as a freeway lane, but facilitating speed. Timed lights to keep traffic moving and encourages driving at the speed limit but contributes to noise and the perception of danger. There are no traffic-calming measures that I can think of.

For a transit-oriented community this is problematic, but it is understandable given the geography. In most other cities, traffic is funnelled through specific arterials on a wide grid, though if there is a problem on one street, others nearby can soak up the spillover. San Rafael is the primary freeway entrance for Ross Valley, and the whole of downtown is only five blocks wide. Speeding 24,000 cars per day on and off the freeway is a huge challenge for San Rafael, and this is a way to address the problem.

With more density coming to this area, the Area Plan has proposed adding right-turn lanes off Heatherton to Third, increasing the outbound capacity and allowing the roads to keep flowing freely. Unfortunately, the plan proposes doing this while removing a crosswalk along Heatherton to prevent pedestrians from interfering with traffic flow. This is foolish in the extreme, despite the improved bus travel times. Most traffic through this area is pass-through, and there is more than enough capacity on Mission, Fifth, and Fourth to absorb the increase in westbound traffic from these projects. San Rafael needs to focus on calming Second and Third rather than simply pushing more cars through, especially here.

Proposed bicycle improvements. Click for full size.

Bicycling

I remember reading a blog comment once to the effect of, “I’ve been car-free in Fairfax for years, but only because I have a bike.” Golden Gate Transit has somewhat thin service for being a car replacement so bicycle ownership is a must for the car-free, and this is almost as true in San Rafael as it is in Fairfax.

Improving the bike-unfriendly areas around San Rafael, especially under the freeway and along Second and Third, are absolutely essential to allow car-free travel around Marin, and the bike lanes included in the plan accomplish at least a bit by facilitating the bicycle connection between Irwin and the multi-use path behind the San Rafael Corporate Center. MCBC has called for a Class I bike lane (or multi-use path, what the rest of the country calls a cycletrack) on West Tamalpais instead of the planned bike lane on East Tamalpais. This is another good idea to be explored, as cycletracks would go a long way to promoting bicycling in all parts of Central Marin, and a good one on West Tamalpais could be a model.

Pedestrians

Present pedestrian barriers to be resolved. Click for full size.

Walkability is the foundation of a livable neighborhood, a fact acknowledged by the Area Plan. Walking around the Transit Center is a pain, with missing crosswalks, long curb-cuts, and pedestrian barriers at key intersections. Walking under the freeway is unpleasant, especially at night, and the narrow sidewalks put the cars far too close to pedestrians. To solve this, the Area Plan calls for more crosswalks, removal of extraneous curb-cuts, and widening or adding sidewalks throughout the area.

Unfortunately, the most pressing pedestrian problem is handled in an astonishingly ham-fisted sort of way. When SMART arrives, it will be directly across Third from the Transit Center, and there are huge desire lines running between the two facilities. San Rafael, concerned that people would run across Third to catch their bus, wants to erect a pedestrian barrier along most of the length the station’s Third Street side, forcing pedestrians to cross at either Heatherton or West Tamalpais, eliminating mid-block crossings from East Tamalpais by commuters desperate to catch their bus. This is the opposite of pedestrian-friendly.

A far better solution would be to initiate a block-long crossing, starting 30 seconds after a train pulls up and lasting 45 seconds, during which time cars would be unable to turn right. As SMART will run only once every half-hour, it would not be too disruptive of bus and car traffic, and Heatherton traffic would still be able to move south during the crossing. To prevent commuter desperation, buses should be instructed to wait a short time after the train arrives, and SMART itself should have real-time departure information displayed in the train for buses at whatever its next stop is.

Overall, the mobility issues addressed by the Station Area Plan are quite large and are handled competently.  Beyond the bizarre pedestrian barrier, removed crosswalk, and new right-turn lane at Third and Heatherton, walkability and bikeability are improved dramatically under this plan.  In our fourth and final installment, we’ll tackle buses and the future of the area.

Mid-Week Links: The Right Kind of Parking

So people sometimes think I’m a geek; I bore them to death with talk about LOS and bike lanes and units per acre, but when so much can be done with just bike parking I can hardly shut up.  Marin, despite its cycling culture, has very little bicycle parking in its downtown cores.  Replacing one car space every other block with bike parking in downtown San Rafael, for example, would add 50 bicycle parking spaces for only 5 car spaces.  As well, putting the bikes where drivers need good sight lines would make the program even better.

The North Bay

SMART construction has officially begun!  For the moment it’s just survey teams and a sign, but the $103 million contract has sparked the first construction work of the project.  Construction will be from Santa Rosa’s Jenning’s Road station, added back in during contract negotiations and now relocated to Guerneville Road, to the Civic Center.  Meanwhile, RepealSMART is turning to paid signature-gatherers to qualify for what they claim is the qualifying target: 14,902. They’ve acknowledged they wouldn’t be able to meet either of the two higher proposed numbers: 30,000 or 39,000. (Press Democrat, IJ, Business Journal, Watch Sonoma County)

  • Tea party protesters interrupted a One Bay Area public planning meeting in Santa Rosa.  I hope Marin’s meeting will be more civil. (Press Democrat)
  • There is a problem with the Wincup development in Corte Madera.  Apparently the parking garage is going where a new freeway ramp – part of the Greenbae Interchange Project – is supposed to go, and TAM isn’t happy. (Pacific Sun)
  • Larkspur has a pedestrian bridge design. (Patch)
  • BioMarin is expanding to the San Rafael Corporate Center, lowering the city’s office vacancy rate from 40% to 12%. While office employees only support 4 square feet of retail, it is a chance to build more street life in eastern downtown. (Patch)
  • The Novato pot club has done what the Fairfax club could not: survive. Although neighbors and city and federal officials want to shut down the club, owners are soldiering on after winning an eviction suit from their landlord, who complained there was marijuana smoking on the premises. (IJ)
  • The driver of an Aston Martin caused a four-car crash on Highway 101 after losing control of his vehicle and clipping another driver’s car.  The highway closed for 30 minutes. (IJ)
  • Larkspur Landing could get parking fees on 160 of its “prime” parking spots for only $65 per month.  GGT is mulling the move to help close the Bridge District’s 5-year, $87 million deficit, although the program would only amount to $625,000 over that time frame. (IJ)
  • A cyclist severely injured himself on Alexander Avenue on Wednesday when he lost control of his bike and crashed into a guardrail.  Sausalito wants to redesign Alexander Avenue to make it safer for the many cyclists who use it to get to and from the Golden Gate Bridge. (IJ)
  • Terrapin Crossroads lives, and it’s heading to the Canal to take over the site of Seafood Peddler. The approval process is expected to be handled administratively, as Seafood Peddler already had most of the appropriate permits. (Pacific Sun, IJ)
  • Design and zoning issues could become a political issue in San Anselmo now that Councilman Jeff Kroot is involved in a spat with a neighbor over a planned expansion of Kroot’s home. (IJ)
  • High-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes are not financially viable on Highway 101 through Marin, according to a TAM study, without upping the carpool requirement to 3 passengers. It’s just as well, as HOT lanes would cripple any casual carpooling initiative in the county. (IJ, The Greater Marin)
  • Healdsburg wants to fix an old bridge for $12 million, but don’t have the money to do it.  Federal officials are skeptical of the plan and appear to prefer replacing the bridge for $25 million. (Press-Democrat)

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: Happy Hours

Wonderful news!  The Greater Marin (i.e., me) will be throwing a Happy Hour at the Marin Brewing Company on Tuesday, Dec. 27th, at 7pm!  Come by, talk transit, and enjoy Marin’s home brews.  Until then, though, a lot has happened in the County, so on to the links:

Marin County

  • Negotiations between Marin Transit (MT) and GGT will continue for another two years.  MT believes GGT is overcharging by $2.5 million per year to operate its local Marin routes. (IJ)
  • RepealSMART has gathered 7,500 signatures for its repeal effort, although how many signatures are required is still up in the air: RepealSMART says it needs only 15,000 but under some formulae it would need double that number.  The deadline for signatures is January 27. (Press Democrat)
  • A new bikeway opened in Novato between the north and south halves of the city, allowing bikers to avoid the 101 shoulder. (IJ)
  • Performance parking isn’t performing well in San Francisco, forcing broader spreads between cheap and expensive blocks. SFPark disputes the idea that it won’t work, citing the fact that the zones are still just pilot projects, and new ones at that.  Sausalito is running a similar program in its downtown. (Greater Greater Washington, Streetsblog)
  • SMART could lead to traffic and safety problems at San Rafael’s Bettini Transit Center, according to the Golden Gate Bridge District.  Officials cited concerns regarding transferring passengers crossing Third Street and bus delays caused by passing trains. (IJ)
  • SMART sold $191 million in construction bonds this past week, netting $171 million for the project.  The money will be kept in escrow until the RepealSMART effort is resolved. (Press Democrat, IJ, Patch)
  • Bus service will be restored between Sir Francis Drake High and West Marin next semester.  Coastal residents sought the route after Marin Transit officials eliminated the extremely underused Route 62. (IJ)
  • County planners panned development plans at the Golden Gate Seminary in Strawberry, saying the proposed 117 new residential units were “so out of sync” with the seminary’s 1984 Master Plan they “cannot imagine approving” the development. (IJ)
  • Canal residents demanded better lighting, sidewalks, and crosswalks in the neighborhood at a march last Wednesday.  San Rafael city planners said they had received no specific complaint. (IJ)
  • Caltrans will fix a sinking Highway 101 overpass in Corte Madera with $1.2 million in state funds.  The money was accompanied by $28 million for  SMART construction. (IJ)
  • “She was a very special lady who touched many lives… She will be greatly missed.”  Jomar Lococo died on Highway 101 as her husband tried to avoid another driver that had drifted into their lane. (Patch)

The Greater Marin

  • On-time performance is extremely difficult for bus systems to achieve.  Whatever my gripes about GGT, at least they have this down. (Transit Manager)
  • The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) only works when the right questions are asked, as Mountain View discovered in their draft Environmental Impact Report.  As it turns out, building houses near jobs actually is good for the environment. (Atlantic Cities)

Mid-Week Links: Buffering

MCBC does wonderful work on bike paths, getting the whole county connected, but it neglects the needs of better on-street bike lanes and what they could do to improve the streetscape for all users.

Marin County

Novato’s city council meeting Monday night was four hours of non-stop affordable housing policy excitement. In sum, the city will allow second units to be built at market rates but, citing concerns over current residents of illegal second units, will not give amnesty to those illegal units. The fee to build the second units will come down, and the city will look into how to encourage second unit construction. The city will not implement an affordable housing fee on commercial developers, known as a commercial linkage fee, but did not rule out exploring it in the next housing element in two years. (City of Novato, IJ)

  • Fairfax is concerned that expanding White Hill Middle School will add more traffic to the town’s roads. Unfortunately, the school’s remote location 1.5 miles from downtown means mitigation will be tough. (IJ)
  • Once again, a car accident closed a direction of Highway 101. This time, all southbound lanes were closed. Only minor injuries were reported. (IJ)
  • Marin Transit will reevaluate its Novato bus lines over the next week to determine how to improve ridership. Ideas include extending the 49 and combining the 51 and 52. GGT should work with Novato to improve access, perception, and urban form in the area. (News Pointer)
  • It’s official: Gary Phillips is mayor of San Rafael, Gary Lion is mayor of Mill Valley, and Denise Athas is mayor of Novato. (IJ)
  • San Rafael extended a moratorium on opening new group homes of seven or more people. (IJ, Patch)
  • Another week, another pedestrian struck in Novato. The man suffered minor injuries while crossing De Long Avenue near Sherman Avenue, a block from downtown. (IJ)
  • Apparently Marinites like their government and are willing to pay to keep it going at current levels. (IJ)
  • Safe Routes to School has dramatically altered the behavior of students in Marin, shifting 8% of single-student car trips to walking, biking, transit, or carpooling. (IJ; TAM report available here [pdf] on page 183)
  • Mill Valley is testing a way to electronically comment at city council meetings, which can be done here. A certain blogger you know will probably take full advantage. (IJ, City of Mill Valley)
  • San Anselmo is showing its community colors by supporting a woman who has had a particularly tragic year: foreclosure, breast cancer, and the tragic death of her husband while on vacation. (IJ)
  • Cutting trees is a big issue in San Geronimo Valley, where tree-cutting fees are up to 30 times what they are in incorporated Marin. (IJ)
  • The eviction of Fairfax’s medical marijuana dispensary will go forward. (IJ)
  • The Transportation Authority of Marin approved about $1 million in bike/ped projects at its last meeting. (IJ)
  • Peaking of bike/ped projects, the IJ editorial board wonders whether the $15 million bike/ped bridge over Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is worth the money. (IJ)
  • Just to be clear: Stand Up for Neighborly Novato doesn’t like the idea of housing at Hanna Ranch. If you want to comment on the sprawl development, please do: Novato City Council has scheduled discussion on the project for December 13. (IJ, Patch)
  • The runway at Novato’s Gnoss Field could be extended without major environmental impact. (IJ)
  • SMART and other projects are now evaluated under a cost-benefit and target analysis from MTC. The results were mixed. (Press Democrat)

The Greater Marin

  • San Francisco will soon allow drivers to pay for parking via cell phone. Since Sausalito is emulating the city’s performance parking practices, might cell phone parking come to Marin soon as well? (SFGate)
  • Cotati’s HOV lanes are now open to vehicles. (North Bay Business Journal)
  • The suburban office park – a la Marin Commons, Fireman’s Fund and Hanna Ranch – is disappearing. (Times)
  • Marin is better poised than most to take advantage of the shift away from suburban office parks and towards centralized development: with the SMART train, strong downtowns and some local political will, commerce might still look to Marin to relocate, even if not in the typical places.
  • ABAG and MTC have been awarded a $5 million federal grant to promote sustainable communities. (Transportation Nation)
  • Population growth has slowed dramatically in California. While the state grew at a rate of 0.7% per annum, Marin grew only by 0.53%.
  • In planning there is a concept known as Level of Service, or LOS, which is widely used and places auto traffic at the top of the planning pyramid.  In San Francisco, that metric is being challenged at last. (The Atlantic Cities)
  • SANDAG has released a Sustainable Communities Strategy under Senate Bill 375.  How long until ABAG does the same? (ClimatePlan)

Not Just Bedrooms Anymore

Slowly, Marin County has transformed from a bedroom community to a working destination, yet residents still view their county otherwise.  It’s time to change.

The old stereotype for a Marinite is easy to trace.  Looking for a new life, someone moves to San Francisco.  She’s young and vivacious, she enjoys the city and all its grit.  When she finally makes it big, though, it’s time to settle down, and there’s no better place to settle down than Marin County.  She keeps commuting to the City but lives in Mill Valley with the family.  Her friends and neighbors have similar stories, and so southbound 101 is a mess every day.

True though narrative is for thousands, it neglects a key fact: more people commute to Marin than commute from it every day.  We have become a destination, and that has implications for how we approach the form and development of our cities.

The Destination

In digging through the commuting numbers, there are some surprising finds.  Marin residents were estimated to make 60,051 commute trips to other counties every day in 2010, while residents of other counties were estimated to make 87,573 work trips to Marin every day.  That means that 45% more people commute to Marin than from Marin every day.  The only counties that had a net in-commute from Marin were San Francisco and San Mateo; all others gave more commuters than they got.

This shows up in Highway 101 load numbers.  Through Sonoma, the load peaks through Santa Rosa but declines sharply until leveling off near the Sonoma/Marin county line.  The sharpest increase is at Novato, which adds 79,000 cars per day, and peaks at San Pedro Road.  After that, 101 shows a sharp decline in load to the bridge, from this point shedding 82,000 southbound vehicles per day.  If we include Novato and Terra Linda, 101 is only 25,000 vehicles heavier when it leaves the county than when it enters from Sonoma.

(When we try to include 580, things get a bit trickier because of the lack of temporal granularity in the available Caltrans numbers, but this quick-and-dirty analysis shows where the principal destinations in Marin are: San Rafael, Highway 131, and Bridge/Donahue.)

The Response

So what?  Marin is a destination; what does that have to do with form and transit?  It starts when county leaders and residents change how they think about their home.  Golden Gate Transit, for example, has strong commuter links to San Francisco, but doesn’t coordinate morning departures from the City, and its links to the East Bay are woefully inefficient.  As well, SMART is denigrated as a “train to nowhere” because it stops in San Rafael, which should be seen for the insult it is.  Altering this perspective would lead to three big changes in urban form and transit.

First, we would encourage our downtowns as places to work, not just play and live, and we would find new places to build them.  At the moment, office development focuses on suburban office parks, such as Marin Commons.  Downtowns, meanwhile, are left as alternatives to the mall, quaint places that serve residents’ shopping needs rather than rich and active working destinations.  Building up downtowns as working destinations by building offices – government, as in Novato, or otherwise – would give retailers and restaurants all-day clientele.  Even small town centers, like Fairfax, have space for appropriately-sized office development.

Second, we would improve our inward transit links to serve the transit-oriented and carless residents of the rest of the Bay Area.  Currently, only 2.4% of in-commuters use transit.  Although much of this is likely due to perception rather than actual service, the long headways and lack of inbound commuter coordination is a needless barrier.  We already boast 20-50 minute travel times from the City and 30 minute travel times from BART, but the atrocious state of inbound routes shows that GGT hasn’t even thought about accommodating inbound commuters.

Third, we would start to redesign our cities as places to stay rather than simply pass through.  The most egregious symbol of the pass-through mentality is the Second-Third Street corridor.  The timed lights, speeding one-way traffic, and narrow sidewalks implicitly tell pedestrians that they aren’t wanted there, deadening the streetscape and what developments could come.  Almost as bad are Novato Boulevard, Tam Junction and South Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.

Marin will never supplant San Francisco, but its cities can capitalize on their role as satellites of that regional anchor.  Strong towns would decrease commute times and encourage transit use; strengthen government coffers; and bolster the small businesses that call downtown their home.  Marin has already moved in this direction; it’s just a matter of whether it can capitalize on its success.

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)