Monday Links: Long Weekend

Art on the Farm: "Historic L Ranch Beach"

Art on the Farm: “Historic L Ranch Beach” by cproppe, on Flickr

Marin Lesser and Greater

  • Hard winter: It’s harder to providehousing for the homeless this winter thanks in part to San Rafael’s crackdown on the homeless. The city has barred pick-up of the homeless in front of St. Vincent’s kitchen this year, and organizers have yet to find a church to house people on Thursday nights. (IJ)
  • The marriage continues: The final contract between MT and GGT has been approved, allowing GGT to continue on as MT’s local service contractor. The deal shaves costs by 3.7 percent and cuts the annual cost increase from 5 percent to 2.7 percent. (IJ)
  • MTC shifts priorities: MTC shifted $20 million earmarked for local rail station planning grants to Congestion Management Agencies like TAM. Normally not a problem, the motion was passed spur-of-the-moment without a staff report or motion text, so it’s unclear if CMA’s would be required to spend the money in any particular way. (Greenbelt Alliance)
  • Seminary delays development: A 117-unit redevelopment in Strawberry is on hold pending a review of the plans by Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. The seminary had faced opposition from the Board of Supervisors and is likely retooling the plan to address supervisors’ concerns. (IJ)
  • Faster trip to the Headlands: Muni’s 76-Marin Headlands got a makeover last weekend, with faster and more thorough service to sites in the famed recreation area. Marinites can catch the bus Saturday and Sunday at the Golden Gate Bridge. (Muni Diaries)
  • Aged out: Elderly drivers disproportionately cause car crashes, but it can be difficult for them to give up the keys when they’re no longer safe behind the wheel. In areas like Sonoma and Marin, where alternatives are few or expensive, it can be even more difficult. (PD)
  • And…: A special tax district that requires developers to actually pay for city services is under attack in Santa Rosa. (PD) … Just because a ridiculous proportion of California drivers are drunk or on drugs, legal or otherwise, while driving doesn’t make it any less of a bad idea. (SFist) … Dave Alden is only cautiously optimistic on community-funded real estate, saying it could open the door to exactly the kinds of abuses the SEC wants to avoid. (WDWGfH?)

The Toll

The roads killed two and left 16 injured since the 15th.

  • Emile Smith severely injured himself and killed his passenger, Selena Ross, after Smith crashed his car on Friday in Santa Rosa. Selena Ross was 33. (PD)
  • An unnamed man rolled his car and killed himself in Tiburon last Friday. Nobody else was injured. The driver was 53. (IJ)
  • Marin’s Injured: A driver caused one minor injury while trying to pull into the Drake High School parking lot in San Anselmo. (IJ) … A driver injured himself in South Marin by striking a rock in the 101 shoulder, causing his car to flip. (IJ) … A teen driver injured himself and five others while speeding through Novato last week. He has been arrested under suspicion of driving while drunk and high. (IJ) … A police officer on a motorcycle injured himself in Tiburon by crashing his bike into a driver in another car. The other driver was unhurt. (IJ) … A drunk driver stopped on Highway 101 and was swiftly struck by two others, one of which was injured in the pile-up. (Patch)
  • Sonoma’s Injured: A speeding and reckless driver crashed into two cars and flipped his own in Petaluma, injured himself and one of the other two drivers. (PD) … A driver injured himself by crashing his tanker truck in Salt Point State Park. His accident spilled oil and antifreeze into the sensitive area. (PD) … A driver crashed his car in Sonoma County last week, injuring himself and no others. (PD) … A driver struck and injured a pedestrian in West Sonoma. (PD)

Have a tip? Have an article idea? Email us at theGreaterMarin [at] gmail.com.

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Mid-Week Links: Novato Moving

Looking at Novato and Beyond

Looking at Novato and Beyond by udpslp, on Flickr

Things are starting to move in Novato, six weeks after the tragic crash that killed Hailey Ratliff. A memorial walk two weeks ago saw hundreds turn out, with city officials and residents expressing support for safer streets. Elisabeth Thomas-Matej joined my call for protected bike lanes in the city while a neighborhood group is investigating ways to lobby for safer streets. And, now that the driver who killed Hailey was cleared of wrongdoing, the Ratliff family has decided to sue Novato for negligence. The suit argues that poor road design, high speeds, and untrimmed vegetation all contributed to the tragedy.

Only time will tell if this movement is permanent. For the sake of the city and its people, I hope it is.

Marin Greater and Lesser

  • Marin County has the second-lowest number of people commuting alone to work in the Bay Area, bested only by San Francisco itself. Though it’s still somewhat high at 65.2 percent, fully 19 percent don’t drive, take transit, or carpool at all, and that probably means a lot of walking and bicycling. (CoCo Times)
  • Santa Rosa faces a tough decision with its Coddingtown SMART rail crossing. It can spend $1.7 million for a pedestrian overpass, or close one at-grade crossing so state regulators would allow the city to open a new at-grade crossing here. (PD)
  • Parklets could come to Fairfax, that is if the concept passes through all the governmental hoops alterations to parking usually have to jump through. (Patch)
  • The Italian Street Painting Festival is back! After a hiatus and concerns it wouldn’t return, organizers received enough seed money to revive San Rafael’s biggest street festival of the year for next summer. (Patch)
  • Sprawl in Tiburon is being subsidized by Marin and the costs are skyrocketing. A court ordered the county to pay half the cost of a housing development’s EIR, and the cost has now reached $468,000. (IJ)
  • Larkspur has the worst roads in the Bay Area. While not much of a problem for drivers, bicyclists have a tough time navigating the cracked and buckled pavement. (Bay Citizen)
  • Marin’s mountain biking history and culture is on display at the SFO gallery, so stop by next time you pass through. If you really want your fix, don’t forget that we have an express bus; for a $40 round-trip, it’s actually not much more than a high-class theater. (Pacific Sun)
  • A fighter pilot is trained to keep watch for any movement and to use his or her eyes to maximum effect. Drivers and cyclists, who aren’t trained in the fine art of attention, should be. An RAF pilot has some tips for how to detect cyclists if you’re a driver, and how to avoid getting missed if you’re a cyclist. (London Cyclist)
  • And…: Caltrans hit with record fine for breaking water quality rules in 101 construction. (PD) … A new Boston rail station is being funded by New Balance. (Archpaper) Could Fireman’s Fund do the same for SMART in Novato? … Fare hikes and service cuts are coming to Santa Rosa’s CityBus. (PD) … Marin Transit’s Muir Woods Shuttle awarded for excellence. (NBBJ) … Corte Madera’s long-awaited park cafe has finally opened. (IJ)

The Toll

One person died and two others were injured this week.

  • Richard Giacomini drowned after crashing his truck into a West Marin reservoir this week. The well-known rancher was 71. (IJ)
  • Joe Kwai Lee, the driver accused of killing Alvine Heese with his car last week, has plead not guilty in Santa Rosa court. He was driving to a doctor’s appointment on a suspended license. (PD)
  • A woman was injured by a driver backing out of their driveway in Santa Rosa. (PD) … A motorcyclist injured himself by crashing his bike in Sonoma County. He suffered only minor injuries. (PD)

Mid-Week Links: Oops

las gallinas creek, marin county

las gallinas creek, marin county by on2wheelz, on Flickr

Marin and Beyond

  • SMART is owning up to its failures at Gallinas Creek, admitting that it misinterpreted its own guidelines for construction work and violating state and federal protected species and habitat laws in the process. The agency is now seeking the proper permits to continue construction work. (IJ)
  • The Marin Board of Supervisors approved a sprawl development just past Santa Venetia, allowing ten homes to be built far from just about anything. (IJ)
  • That GGT/MT contract isn’t quite as finished as we’d hoped. While staff tried to finalize language, Marin Transit raised concerns that it doesn’t give MT the flexibility to choose which routes GGT would operate, leading to an impasse. (IJ)
  • India issued, then rescinded, an arrest warrant for Vijay Mallya, owner of Marinscope newspapers. His airline, Kingfisher, bounced $1.9 million worth of checks; the warrant was withdrawn when Kingfisher agreed to pay the outstanding bills. (IJ)
  • Every time you use a Clipper card, a computer records that data, and that data can be subpoenaed. There’s also a smartphone app that allows a Clipper card to be read and travel history retrieved. (Bay Citizen)
  • The Federal Housing Administration has loosened restrictions on financing for mixed-use development. Under old rules, which I discussed a while ago, FHA wouldn’t fund developments with more than 25% commercial space. Under new rules, that goes up to 50%. (Streetsblog)
  • Though some Marinites call anything above 4 units per acre “extremely high density housing“, a development in Los Angeles shows that even 40 units per acre can be suburban and walkable. (Greater Greater Washington)
  • And…: American AgCredit plans to build a new office park in Sonoma County, thankfully near a planned SMART station. (NBBJ) … Our Presidential election season utterly ignores car-free issues. (Greater Greater Washington) … MCBC is hosting a family bike workshop this Saturday at 10am in Larkspur. You should definitely be there. (IJ) … Fairfax’s Biketoberfest was a roaring success, as always. (Patch)

The Toll

This week, our transportation system killed three people and wounded 14 others.

  • A man killed himself when he crashed his SUV into a tree in Santa Rosa on Thursday. Police aren’t sure why he lost control of the vehicle, and his name hasn’t been released. (PD)
  • Joseph Von Merta was killed by a driver in Santa Rosa, the ninth pedestrian to die in the city this year. He was hit while crossing the road early Monday morning, and died Wednesday night. The driver, Emanuel Morales-Rodriguez, suffered minor injuries, and fault has not been determined. Von Merta was 57. (PD)
  • A driver died in a single-car crash in Windsor early Sunday morning while she exited Highway 101. Sheryl Greenlee may have suffered a medical emergency that killed her and caused the crash, but the investigation is ongoing. Greenlee was 43. (PD)
  • A driver lost control of their vehicle near Marinwood and spun out on wet pavement. The result was an 11-car crash and eight injured people, six of which had to go to the hospital. (Patch)
  • Cassandre Jade seems to have seriously injured herself in Lucas Valley. She drove off the road and into a creek before dawn on Thursday and was only extricated four hours later. (IJ)
  • Three people were injured in a three-car collision in Healdsburg. (PD) … A bicyclist was seriously injured by a driver in Santa Rosa on Saturday. (PD) … A car flipped on Highway 101 in San Rafael on Wednesday morning. No injury or other information was released. (IJ)

Mid-Week Links: Streaks

Bicycling has exploded everywhere in the past five years, and every time I go down Miracle Mile I see at least a few bicyclists en route. In the 1990s, they would be a rare sight indeed. In San Francisco, families are turning to the bike as a means of moving kids, groceries, and the rest, and it largely works. But the rapid expansion of bicycling has not been met with similarly rapid expansion of bicycling infrastructure. Advocates in more urban areas, such as San Francisco, insist this is the way forward, while guerrilla infrastructure shows just how easy it can be to make a bike lane, and therefore a street, safe.  Miracle Mile is wide enough for a protected bike lane, and Marin is an ideal place for others. Perhaps we should try, too.

Apologies for the spotty update schedule. Personal scheduling made it impossible to devote as much time as needed for a good blog, so I’ve been on something of an unplanned hiatus. But, much happened over the past two weeks, and here’s the best of it.

Marin County

  • Marin Transit ran slightly less of a deficit in FY2011-2012 than expected, but budget crunch isn’t stopping minor capital improvement projects or expanding its volunteer driver service for the elderly. Meanwhile, contract negotiations with GGT are going “really well” and are expected to be completed by the end of the month. (IJ)
  • SMART plans to spend $12 million to create “quiet zones” where its trains won’t have to blow their horn while crossing streets. If the district had chosen to operate a transit line instead of a mixed passenger/freight railroad, it wouldn’t need to spend the money in the first place. (Systemic Failure)
  • Despite neighbor opposition, San Rafael unanimously approved the Civic Center Station Area Plan. The plan, however, would have neighbor concerns attached to the report to inform debate over future development in the area. (IJ)
  • San Rafael owes California almost $1.6 million in redevelopment agency funds, at least according to the state. San Rafael and other cities are protesting the bill which they say unfairly excludes bond obligations. (IJ)
  • Grady Ranch is apparently zoned for 240 affordable housing units, though it would be a sprawl project run amok, far from the freeway, amenities, transit, and anything resembling “walkability.” (IJ)
  • Sausalito councilmembers Carolyn Ford and Mike “Hand-Slapping” Kelly will not run for reelection this year, leaving only one incumbent – Linda Pfeifer – in the race. She will be joined by six others in a fight for three at-large seats on the famously contentious body. (Pacific Sun)
  • And…: Patch wonders if distracted pedestrians are victims of natural selection when they get hit by traffic… GGT is moving some bus stops in North Beach to make way for Central Subway construction. (GGT)… Fairfax will hold Streets for People this Sunday, 12-4. (Patch)

The Greater Marin

  • Easier transfers, more direct routes, and shorter headways are in store for Napa’s transit-riding public. NCPTA wants to double ridership on its VINE bus system to 1.2 million trips per year and thinks this may be the way to do it. (Napa Valley Register)
  • California has another $43 million it can spend on any transportation project it likes. The US Department of Transportation released the money from unspent earmarks as part of a national $470 million initiative. Whether Caltrans will spend that money wisely, of course, is anyone’s guess. (Sacramento Bee)
  • The presidential race is absolutely a study in contrasts, and transportation policy is no exception. In short, the Obama Administration wants to dramatically boost spending on transportation, though whether Congress will allow him to do so is another story. A hypothetical Romney Administration, in contrast, would dramatically shrink federal spending in the sector, and would likely have a Congress amenable to such a plan. (Transportation Politic)
  • And…: Clipper Cards to cost $3 after September 1. (Sacramento Bee)… Santa Rosa reconnects its grid with a new 6th Street underpass. (Press Democrat)

The Toll

Over the past two weeks on our transportation system, one man died, eight people were seriously injured and 12 people suffered minor injuries. The details:

  • Scott Reyna died after crashing his truck on Highway 101 near Petaluma early Monday morning. The crash caused a huge backup later in the commute, and subsequent crashes in the resulting backup sent a woman to the hospital with minor injuries. Scott was 43. (Press Democrat)
  • That same morning, another man seriously injured himself while driving under the influence on Highway 101 near Marinwood. (Patch)
  • A bicyclist, Toraj Soltani, was chased down and struck by an elderly driver last Thursday in Santa Rosa. Soltani tried to avoid the driver by moving to a golf course, but the driver pursued off-road and ran him down, inflicting serious injuries on Soltani. 81-year-old Harry Smith was later arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. (Press Democrat, IJ)
  • On Sunday, a man drove north in the south-bound lanes of Highway 101. Eventually, he struck another vehicle near Cotati, inflicting major injuries to himself as well as the driver and passenger of the other vehicle. (Patch)
  • A woman injured herself and the four children in her car when she crashed into the back of a parked truck in Novato. Thankfully, all injuries were minor. (IJ)
  • A man hit a woman with his car in downtown San Rafael. The woman suffered pelvic injuries as a result, and the driver was arrested for driving on a suspended license. (IJ)
  • And…: Someone hit a telephone pole on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in San Anselmo, but no report of injuries. (Patch)… A 2009 bike-on-pedestrian crash in Sonoma goes to trial. (Press Democrat)… A man seriously injured himself while lane-splitting on a motorcycle in Novato. (IJ)… A man suffered minor injuries when his garbage truck crashed into a gym in Novato; no word on whether he had control of the vehicle he was driving. (Advance)… Five people were injured in a three-car pileup in Rohnert Park. (Press Democrat)… A cyclist injured himself in Santa Rosa. He was trying to avoid a car that apparently had the right-of-way. (Press Democrat)

Mid-Week Links: Progress

July 4th, 2009

by Brendan Landis

Marin County

  • Contract negotiations between Marin Transit and GGT are starting to pay off, though a timeline for finishing the new contract is still elusive. The MT board delayed a decision on Monday, deciding to let the negotiations play out. (IJ)
  • Structures built in the SMART right-of-way, i.e., stations, will not be required to go through the local design review process thanks to legislation introduced by Assemblyman Michael Allen and passed by the state legislature. They will, however, still be subject to local zoning ordinances. (Pacific Sun)
  • The new federal transportation bill, recently signed into law, will likely cost Marin some $500,000 in Safe Routes to School funding. Local sources of funding means the program will stay alive in the county, but with rather less robust finances. There is, of course, much more to the bill. (IJ, Streetsblog)
  • The Marin County election season is heating up again, with Sausalito’s hand-slapping Mike Kelly retiring after eight years on the council being the biggest news so far. In all, 28 positions around the county will be on the ballot come November. (IJ)
  • The venerable anchor-out community of Sausalito holds some of the most colorful, despondent, independent, thoroughly old-school Marinites in the county. With the America’s Cup around the corner, some of the anchor-outs wonder if their time is up. (Bohemian)
  • Novato’s new city office building broke ground on Tuesday, signalling an end to one of the major controversies swirling around the community, though don’t count on hearing the end of it at council meetings. (IJ)
  • Since the Pacifics began playing at Albert Park, there have been few problems, despite the vociferous arguments made during the process to approve the team’s use of the field. (IJ)
  • And…: GGT apparently runs unscheduled ferries between Sausalito and San Francisco to pick up bikers. Why not put them on the books? (IJ) … San Rafael touts the recent HOV freeway widening as consistent with its Climate Change Action Plan. (News Pointer) … Give your ideas for the Larkspur’s SMART Station Area Plan this Monday at 6:30pm. You already know my idea. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Plan Bay Area has been criticized as too oppressive and too dictatorial to communities that believe all development is character-destroying development. In trying to ameliorate these concerns, PBA may have become too weak to actually achieve its goals. (Underground Science via Google Cache)
  • The legal hurdles for California High Speed Rail got a little bit shorter this week. Five lawsuits are in settlement, and other opponents have been cowed by the project’s recent victory in the state legislature. (Mercury News)
  • Downtown Phoenix, Arizona, really isn’t that great, but it doesn’t have to be. Shade, density, non-car connections, and a grocery store would all make the core of that desert metropolis more livable. (TDG)
  • Demand for walkable neighborhoods is at an all-time high. Riding high on the trend are new urban cores like Bellevue, Washington or Silver Spring, Maryland, which have retrofitted their suburban downtowns into something much more traditionally urban. (Fiscal Times)

The Toll

  • A 60-year-old bicyclist was sent to the hospital last night after a crash involving a car driver in downtown San Rafael. The driver stayed on the scene. (IJ)
  • Jessie Garcia died Saturday while driving in Santa Rosa. A vengeful driver struck his car instead of her boyfriend’s motorcycle, which she had been aiming for, causing his vehicle to flip and burst into flames. That driver, Heather Holmes, has been charged with second-degree murder. (Press Democrat)

Have a tip? Want to contribute? Email me at theGreaterMarin [at] gmail.com.

Some solid recommendations for Tiburon

Tiburon

photo by Yun Huang Yong

Marin Transit (MT) recently began to study how to improve service on the Tiburon Peninsula. I addressed the current situation and the various options in a previous post I wrote a few weeks ago, so I won’t go into them here.  Now, though, MT staff have released their draft recommendations for comment, and I’m extremely impressed.  Nearly all of my recommendations were taken, or were arrived upon separately.  There were some changes, however, so let’s look over the highlights.

Item 1: Implement a Tiburon Community Shuttle program.

The route will run between downtown Tiburon and Strawberry every 20-30 minutes, timed with the ferry, and run between 6:00am to 10:30pm.  The last run of the day would run through Mill Valley to Marin City.

Though I like the service span and frequency, MT proposes deviating the route eastbound from Strawberry.  Going east, the bus would serve Belvedere Drive through Strawberry, hitting a currently unused bus stop at Belvedere & Ricardo while bypassing the eastbound stop at Tiburon & N Knoll.  Splitting service like this is strange and makes for a worse transit system in general.  Bus stops should be paired with each other wherever possible, even when the geometry of turning around makes that difficult.  Residents living on Knoll probably won’t need to go to Strawberry; they’ll probably need to head to Tiburon, and need to take the bus in that direction. Diverting the bus would mean an extra half-mile walk for them to the nearest eastbound bus stop.

Strawberry residents face the same problem, but only one new bus stop would be served, and it wouldn’t be far from another, at Tiburon & Belvedere.  The only way this would be of use would be if there is a minimal pause at Strawberry, allowing N Knoll travelers to ride west to Strawberry before continuing their eastbound journey to Tiburon.

The projected cost for the new route would be around $473,000, down from $629,000 for the current routing.

Item 4: Make Blue & Gold Public

The ferry route in Tiburon is vital to the health of the transit system and, though it should be better integrated into the transit system, it is largely working well.  Blue & Gold is a privately run company with higher-than-average fares and a parking fee. Despite that, the ferry runs a profit and sees 625 passengers per day ply the route between Tiburon and The City.

MT staff recommend turning the route over to a public agency, either the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) or GGT.  I dislike the idea.  Though it would improve the amount of service on the route, what is currently offered is well-used and well-liked.  I fear that GGT or WETA would make the parking free and lower fares while increasing service, ensuring an ongoing operating deficit.  Though it may attract more riders, free parking would also attract more traffic onto Tiburon Boulevard and put pressure on the town to build more parking in its already parking-saturated core.

Better would be to work with the system in place.  Blue & Gold should arrange with WETA and MTC to be part of the 511.org system, take Clipper, and still operate as a for-profit company.  Any additional service should be operated by Blue & Gold and paid for with an operating subsidy from the interested agency.

Items 5 & 7: Improve Connections to Regional Services & Implement Passenger Access and Transfer Improvements.

A very strong recommendation is to improve access to Highway 101 (p 14, PDF). As I wrote, Tiburon’s transit needs to be integrated into the greater transit system of the county, especially to the 101 trunk.  The Tiburon Wye, sadly, is extremely unfriendly for transfers to and from Strawberry or Tiburon.  Though I proposed something of a patch over the issue, to extend the new shuttle route out to a turnaround at Tower Drive, it turns out that Caltrans already has an answer.

For $3 million, Caltrans has some preliminary plans to reposition the bus stops at the Wye so they’re closer to the overpass and won’t require pedestrians to cross the on or off ramps.  At the west side of the freeway, a turnaround would actually allow both surface street and freeway buses to share a single stop, knitting the two services together in a way I hadn’t even thought would be worth proposing.  This is a superb design, and may even allow GGT to cut commuter Route 8.  Rush service at the Wye is good enough that any wait would likely be only a few minutes.

Item 8: Marketing

It will be absolutely necessary to market these new services to the people of Tiburon.  Transit usage is very low on the peninsula, and I suspect people won’t flock to the new service because it just won’t be a viable option for most.  The recommendation is to develop a flyer and to distribute it around the peninsula.  If it’s like any other pamphlet I’ve seen, it will be placed in little displays but rarely taken.

More expensive, but more effective, would be a mass mailing to every household in Strawberry, Tiburon, and Belvedere, but go beyond simply the pamphlet.  Enclosed in each or in a random selection would be a $10 Clipper card and a note encouraging people to try transit.  Only 6.3% of Route 19 riders use Clipper at the moment, so there is a lot of room to grow. If Blue & Gold is interested, it could also include a free round-trip ticket aboard the ferry for a commute.

Many of the tickets and Clipper cards wouldn’t be used, but some of those that do use them would find transit so much easier than they imagined and would become frequent or semi-frequent users.  Boulder, CO, found that giving away transit passes helped build strong transit usage in their bus-only system.  Given the poor connections to 101, MT may want to wait until the system is fully built and the Wye reconstructed before asking people to come on board.

Other Item: Real-Time Arrival

Something particularly exciting, which I’ve pushed for in the past, is the use of a real-time arrival system and signs.  MT wants to place the signs at high ridership stops at Strawberry and Tiburon & Main downtown, as well as in shops near particular stops.  The shops would be especially handy, as it would give riders the ability to get morning coffee while waiting for the bus so they would know exactly when to leave.  The real-time system is online, so people could take to their computers and smart phones to find out when the next bus is arriving and when to leave the house.  Ideally, this system would also include Blue & Gold Ferry departures and arrivals.

MT should ensure the system is included in its marketing materials, as GGT-operated routes don’t have real-time arrival systems yet and so would likely be unfamiliar to casual users.

In Sum…

MT has some solid recommendations.  Though some need improvement, such as those for Blue & Gold, but most are good or better than I even though were under consideration, as with the Tiburon Wye.  After reading the draft, I’m highly optimistic about the chances of transit on the Tiburon Peninsula.

Frequency 101

Transit Center

Keeping time. Photo by Egan Snow.

Though Marin has done a really fine job with what bus resources it has – indeed, its service puts Washington, DC’s suburban service to shame – it doesn’t do justice to its geographic blessings, or the transit-oriented towns it serves. To get Marin on the move, GGT should reconsider the basic structure of its service.

The ideal transit system is a grid of high-frequency corridors. Though it requires transfers, if the bus or train comes every five minutes it’s not that much of a problem. San Francisco, Vancouver, and even Tallahassee , Florida, have designed highly successful transit grids.

Alas, Marin’s valleys preclude development of a high-frequency grid. Instead, our geography is in a trunk and feeder system. Just like the streams that made our valleys all fed into the Bay, our feeder roads all lead to the Highway 101 trunk. Only two town centers, those of Novato and San Rafael, fall along the trunk, and the rest are at least half a mile up the valleys from the freeway. Though not ideal, this system gives us a number of advantages.

Foremost among these is that our trunk is a freeway. From an urban design perspective 101 is atrocious, but from a speed perspective this is wonderful. Unlike surface streets that require constant stopping and going and cars parallel parking and red lights and pedestrians and all the other nonsense that makes buses drive slowly and a city worth living in, a freeway is empty of all but cars, freeing drivers to push their buses far beyond their normal surface speed. As well, bus stops are relatively infrequent, only as often as an on- or off-ramp, so they don’t slow down the bus much.

Secondly, our branches aren’t twisty little things that look great only on a drafting board. There’s not enough room for that. Instead, we have fairly linear arterials along valley floors with towns positioned right along them. Even sprawling Novato has only a couple of real arterial roads. Most anywhere you want to be is within a half-mile of these roads.

Lastly, nearly all our local buses intersect the trunk. There are very few valleys coming off of valleys like Sleepy Hollow and Sun Valley to muddle things. This means that one could run a bus along the branch from one end to the other and always, either at the endpoint or the midpoint, there will be a transfer to a fast north-south line, which where the real distance is in the system.

A simplified Marin road map

Sonoma, also part of the GGT system, doesn’t have quite the same linear structure as Marin, but the county’s principal town centers lie along 101 and so are similarly well-served (in a manner of speaking) by the freeway.

As an added bonus, our towns are compact. Walkable destinations are easy to find, and office parks are clustered. San Francisco isn’t too far away, sitting at the base of our trunk, and the East Bay is easily accessible from Central Marin.

While our bus lines generally follow this system, the trunk lacks true high frequency. A common complaint among commuters to Marin from San Francisco is the awful northbound frequencies. All three all-day routes – 70, 80, and 101 – leave at the same time from the City, and each is a different level of express. Within Marin, wait times are inconsistent, fluctuating between 6 minutes and 30 minutes for most of the weekday. In Sonoma, GGT runs consistent, though infrequent, one hour headways.

The Frequent Trunk

Golden Gate Transit and Marin Transit should set a goal of no more than 30 minutes between San Francisco and Santa Rosa, and 15 minutes between San Francisco and Novato. This minimum level of service should go from 6am to 9pm weekdays and 9am to 9pm on weekends, roughly when service levels drop off in the existing service. The weekday service works out to about 268 revenue hours – 97 hours for the Novato-SF route, 171 hours for the Santa Rosa-SF – about 83 hours more than GGT currently runs. Weekend service would need 214 hours, about 62 more than currently available.

According to GGT’s latest operating reports, our weekday service increase would cost about $3.3 million per year, and the weekend would cost $1 million, increasing annual operating costs by 6%. It may be possible to roll some commuter bus service into the morning schedule to decrease costs as well, which may go into an express service like what the 101 and 101X do now. Revenue from congestion pricing on the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as general toll hikes to bring them in line with transit fares, could easily cover the cost.

The Frequent and Accessible Feeder

This is a bus network, not simply a bus line, and we ought not forget about the feeder lines.

Of the feeders, the most prominent are those centered around San Rafael’s Bettini Transit Center. Not only do they have cross-platform connections (to borrow a rail term) to 101 bus service, but they serve the most densely populated areas of Marin – Ross Valley, Central San Rafael, and the Canal – and the East Bay. These should be high priorities, with a minimum combined headway of 20 minutes on each axis. The Canal, which already has 15 minute headways, should maintain them.

(Though under the current system reliability and speed should come before frequency, I do agree with last week’s commenter Jarrett Walker that frequency is more important overall. If paired with an improved 101 bus system, my concept for Route 580 should absolutely put frequency ahead of style.)

Other valleys should seek minimum headways of 30 minutes between their town centers and the freeway. North San Rafael and Hamilton have uniquely transit-unfriendly designs but the bulk of Marin’s population could be well-served by semi-frequent service along valley-floor arterials.

Just as important as frequency are the connections between 101 and the local feeders. Bus pads are typically awful things, and some routes – such as Tiburon’s Route 19 – don’t even connect well with the bus pads that are available. GGT and Marin Transit must push for stairs, better shelters, paved paths, clear signage, and onramp underpasses to facilitate transfers between local feeders and the 101 trunk as well as to surface streets. They should design each interchange as a single transfer area and provide maps for each, similar to the Larkspur Ferry map (PDF). Improvements like this are sometimes provided already, but should be standard. Though luxury isn’t necessary, customers should be comfortable when transferring and when waiting. That is the glue that makes the network really hum.

You’ll notice I haven’t touched on density, signal priority, BRT, SMART, or the speculative Fairfax-San Rafael streetcar. While each of these things could dramatically improve service along the 101 corridor, they aren’t necessary to make a successful system. Using the infrastructure we have today it’s possible to make a high-class transit system for the North Bay. GGT should focus on network-wide improvements, and the key to a better bus system lies along Highway 101.