Mid-Week Links: Back to School

Max's 14 speed Rohloff

Max’s 14 speed Rohloff by Richard Masoner

If back-to-school traffic seems bad, that shouldn’t be surprising. Nationwide, only 13% of kids walk or bike to school, and 75% get a car ride. The inevitable result is more traffic, more congestion, and a worse commute for everyone. As the birthplace of Safe Routes to School, Marin County has it better than most, with few schools isolated from neighborhoods with busy streets and an active bicycling culture. Walking and biking to Wade Thomas was one of my favorite parts about growing up in San Anselmo. Consider sending your kid off to school tomorrow on a bike, or biking with them. Maybe you’ll find out how close things really are on two wheels.

Marin County

  • There is a lot going on with the Civic Center Station Area Plan: new heights, different densities, and a new “promenade” around the station’s neighborhood, and opponents who object to half of it. At the core of the current dispute lies the question, How urban should Marin’s Urban Corridor actually be? (Pacific Sun)
  • Given the sprawl that would be any affordable housing at Grady Ranch, and given the outcry over envisioning new housing near the Civic Center, the IJ wonders where Marinites actually want to put affordable housing.
  • As Marin City ponders incorporation, perhaps Marin ought to consider reincorporating into the City and County of Marin. The dozens of overlapping boards and districts, not to mention the baker’s dozen local governments could get a haircut and consolidation, saving taxpayers at all levels some money. I wonder if town character could be maintained with such amalgamation. (IJ)
  • Transit ridership hit record levels last year around the Bay Area as the local economy continued its recovery. GGT was not immune: the Ferry hit a record 2.2 million riders last year, and even Golden Gate Bus saw a third straight year of increasing ridership, to 6.7 million. (Mercury News, GGT)
  • It’s the definition of selective attention that drivers coming from 101 are complaining about the blight of a 17-foot blank firewall being erected by the Ritter Center in downtown San Rafael. Perhaps they haven’t bothered to walk down Second recently. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Cutting car usage isn’t just about the environment or public health. Given the sheer amount of space we need to use to accommodate cars, cutting the use of cars is just common sense. (Greater Greater Washington)
  • A freeway bypass is coming to Willits in Mendocino County. The 5.9-mile project, which will cost $210 million, is intended to skirt the town and remove a frequent backup on Highway 101. Environmentalists call the project wildly unnecessary and damaging. (Press Democrat)
  • After introducing all-door boarding on all Muni routes, it turns out that people haven’t been cheating the agency out of money as feared. Instead, it’s been all positive, with people boarding more quickly and buses moving faster along their routes. (SFist)
  • Downtown Santa Rosa apparently had a spare 400 spots available, as parking income has surged from city-owned garages in the city center. The income seems to be from the 400 or so downtown workers that used to park at the mall’s free parking garage but have stopped now that the mall has started to charge after 90 minutes. (Press Democrat)
  • And…: Napa inaugurated VINE Route 25 this week, restoring a bus connection between the City of Napa and the City of Sonoma. (Napa Valley Register) … The luxury Embarcadero development 8 Washington will go before San Francisco voters in November, 2013. (SFist)

The Toll

This week, one man was killed and four people were injured from driving in Marin and Sonoma.

  • Last weekend, Kevin Kight crashed his motorcycle near Windsor, killing himself. The father of three was 44. (Press Democrat)
  • A car driver pulled onto River Road in Sonoma and a motorcyclist ran into the car. The victim, Joe Oliver, suffered moderate to major injuries. The car driver was unhurt. (Press Democrat)
  • The man who crashed his Vespa and launched off the San Rafael Skyway is a 42-year-old man named Timothy Bergman. Bergman survived the 40-foot fall with a laundry list of broken bones and is now recovering at Stanford Hospital. (Patch)
  • Harry E. Smith, the 82-year-old Oakmont man who ran down 47-year-old bicyclist Toraj Soltani with his car on a golf course, has been charged with attempted murder. (Press Democrat)
  • A man crashed a stolen car into a bank in Santa Rosa, causing himself minor injuries and wrecking a good deal of the bank. He is being held in Sonoma County jail. (Press Democrat)
  • A crash on southbound 101 in North San Rafael on Tuesday resulted in no injuries. (IJ) … A driver was injured after he and a truck driver collided near Forestville. (Press Democrat) … A 22-year-old woman severely injured herself by crashing her car at the Tiburon Wye on Saturday. She was given a DUI citation at the scene. (IJ) … An 86-year-old man injured himself by crashing his car into two others in Novato. The drivers of the other cars were not injured. (Patch)

Got a tip? Want to contribute? Get in touch at theGreaterMarin [at] gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook using the links on the right, and don’t forget to get up-to-date transit news at #NorthBayTransit.

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Mid-Week Links: Area Plans

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Pre-development North San Rafael. Image from Marin History Museum.

Marin County

  • The Larkspur SMART station should be moved, at least according to attendees of a Station Area Plan workshop. While the town can’t do much to change the station’s location, the delay in that leg of the system means it could be moved to be near the ferry terminal. (Twin Cities)
  • Up the tracks, there is concern brewing that the Civic Center Station Area Plan would bring too much traffic and detract from the iconic Civic Center itself. (Patch)
  • Test results at a number of Bay Area bridges were falsified, according to an internal Caltrans investigation. The Bay Bridge and the Richmond Bridge both were the subject of false testing, though Caltrans is sure the two spans are safe. The Golden Gate Bridge is administered by a separate agency and was not part of the testing. (IJ)
  • Fairfax passed a balanced budget for coming fiscal year. The $7 million plan is bolstered by surging sales tax revenue, thanks to the new Good Earth store, and savings from empty posts, including that of Town Manager. (IJ)
  • Robert Eyler argues for a more reasoned approach to approving new development, one that separates fact from opinion and the interests of a neighborhood from the county at large. (NBBJ)
  • And…: One person thinks former RVSD GM Brett Richards deserves some praise; another thinks the San Rafael Airport rec center absolutely doesn’t. (IJ) … Mill Valley Lumber could be saved. (Pacific Sun) … Highway signs are in the offing for The Village shopping center. (Twin Cities)

The Greater Marin

  • The Richmond refinery fire disrupted a major transportation hub, not to mention a city of over 100,000 people, and residents are pissed. Unfortunately, while other agencies announced service disruptions, GGT was, once again, silent. (SFist)
  • San Franciscans will likely vote on luxury development 8 Washington in November, 2013. Opponents dislike the size, amount of parking, and the fact that it’s for rich people. (SFGate)
  • Preliminary reports on Muni’s all-door boarding experiment show marked increases in speed on some major routes. Before GGT copies its maligned cousin, though, it may want to adopt all-door exiting like every other major transit agency. (Streetsblog)
  • Healdsburg unanimously approved a sprawl project of 28 homes far from the city center. Though the homes aren’t terribly far out, they will be far from the city center and transit. (Press Democrat)
  • If you think you know everything there is to know about Marin’s old streetcars, you might want to find out about Contra Costa’s. The Museum of the San Ramon Valley is putting a number of artifacts on display detailing the history of mass transit in CoCo. The exhibit runs through August 19. (CoCo Times)

The Toll

  • This week: one pedestrian with severe injuries, six drivers or passengers with unspecified or minor injuries, and two crashes with no injuries.
  • The man who died riding a bike in Santa Rosa last week was a PE teacher in town for an educational conference and leaves behind a young family. The intersection where Ruben Hernandez was killed will soon get a stoplight as part of a new development, though it’s unclear if the city council would have done anything otherwise. (Press Democrat)
  • Two drivers hit one other on Highway 101 last Thursday morning. No injuries were reported. (IJ)
  • A driver had a seizure and crashed his SUV into a ravine off Shoreline Highway. The driver was transporting kids to a surfing day camp, but thankfully nobody was injured. (IJ)
  • The driver of an armored vehicle lost control and crashed after nearly being struck by the driver of a horse trailer on Lucas Valley Road. The armored vehicle’s driver was hospitalized, and his passenger was treated at the scene. (IJ)
  • A semi was struck from behind on northbound Highway 101 and its driver lost control, sending the truck into the southbound lanes near Tiburon. The driver suffered minor injuries, though no word on who hit the truck. (IJ)
  • A Porsche (it’s unclear if anyone was driving it or not) hit a woman in Greenbrae after literally going under an SUV. The woman has been hospitalized with serious injuries. (IJ)
  • A drunk driver pulled in front of someone driving a Jeep in Larkfield, causing an accident. One of the drunk driver’s passengers was injured, and the other – a 4 year old girl – was unharmed. No word on the condition of either driver. (Press Democrat)
  • A motorcyclist was injured on Highway 101 in San Rafael last week, though it’s unclear how he was injured or the extent of his injuries. (Patch)

Mid-Week Links: Past to Present

The View From Work

photo by deminimis via flickr

SF Public Press continues its series on smart growth in the Bay Area. Though spotty at times, the series has shown a light on the issues facing our vast region now that Plan Bay Area is en route to its final approval.  This week:

  • Former Patch editor Kelly O’Mara chronicles Marin’s rebellion against Plan Bay Area. From Corte Madera’s bogus claim of build-out to Fairfax’s fight against three-story buildings, the piece explores the lay of the land though not its roots.
  • Sprawl’s 50-year march across the Bay Area is clear in a new map, showing each community’s “growth rings”. The East Bay, Delta, and Santa Clara grew the most.  Inner-ring suburbs and San Francisco grew the least.
  • The foreclosure crisis was exacerbated by transportation costs. Even in Marin, this is clear from unstable housing prices in Novato vs. stable housing prices in South Marin.

Marin County

  • Belvedere City Hall got all shook-up last week. Four staff members, two planners, the building chief and the city manager, have quit. Though criticized for conflicts on interest, the staffers’ departure was apparently a coincidence. (Pacific Sun)
  • MALT snatched a 126-acre dairy farm from the market just as it was receiving interest from non-agricultural buyers. The land is now permanently off-limits to development. (Pacific Sun)
  • San Rafael is gaming out residential parking permits, as street parking has become increasingly scarce on unmetered residential streets. Perhaps, rather than a blanket prohibition on non-permitted cars, streets could be metered and time-limited for non-permitted cars. (IJ)
  • One Bay Area officials got an earful of ugly at a meeting intended to solicit input on Plan Bay Area, now going through environmental review.  Rather than anything constructive, they got protests against human settlement gulags and global warming fabrications.  Have any of these listening meetings have yielded useful feedback? (Patch)
  • Closure of the Novato Narrows got another $56 million in state funds, enough to extend the carpool lanes three miles. The project is part of a $700 million plan to widen the freeway in the area. The cost is roughly double that of SMART, and for a far shorter distance. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Santa Rosa has approved dramatic zoning changes to its Coddington Mall area, ensuring transit-oriented development around the new SMART station. Over a millions square feet of office space, nearly 3,000 housing units, and a whole lot of retail will feature in the infill development. (Press Democrat)
  • Roundabouts, central to Cotati’s planned (but floundering) downtown road diet, would be illegal in city limits if a ballot measure passes. (Press Democrat)
  • A county, divided into rural west and urban east, questions what its future should be. Held in thrall by a development-happy Board of Supervisors, the county now faces whether the region’s urban metro system should extend into its borders for the first time. Loudoun County, Virginia, is an alternative future of Marin, facing many of the same challenges we dealt with in the 1960s but without the geography and coalitions that were so instrumental to our success. (Washington City Paper)
  • A transportation bill has finally passed the House and Senate, but it’s not exactly what was hoped for. The transit tax reimbursement remains half that of the parking reimbursement, funds for transit have been slashed, and dedicated funding for active transportation like walking and bicycling have been cut in half. About the only consolation is that things aren’t nearly as bad as they could have been. Oh, and it blocked $850 million in funding for Muni’s Central Subway while gutting Safe Routes to School. (Streetsblog, Examiner, Pacific Sun)
  • And…: The ATF has ruled last month’s BART-disrupting fire as arson, but there are no suspects. (SFist) … People seem to like Muni’s new all-door boarding policy. Now if only GGT had all-door exiting… (SFGate)

Mid-Week Links: Reclamation

Fairfax Festival  MichaelOlsen/ZorkMagazine

People enjoying closed streets at the Fairfax Festival. Photo by MichaelOlsen/ZorkMagazine

Marin County

  • Fairfax is hashing out how to implement Streets for People, its own version of San Francisco’s incredibly successful Sunday Streets program. The town would close Bolinas for part of the day, opening it up to anyone on foot, bike, or other human-powered conveyance. (Patch)
  • New blood on the Ross Valley Sanitary District board promises a management and policy shift. New member Mary Sylla is opposed to new bonds and rate hikes intended to speed the district’s century-long pipe replacement cycle. Marcia Johnson, who lost her re-election bid, was a supporter. (IJ)
  • Tonight, chat with Blithedale Terrace developer Phil Richardson about his proposed 20-unit condo development in lower Mill Valley7pm, The Forest Room of the Mill Valley Community Center. (Patch)
  • A new sidewalk is under construction in Homestead Valley’s Evergreen Avenue under the county’s Safe Routes to School program. People still don’t like the plan, saying it undermines the community’s semi-rural character. There may be an injunction filed to stop the project, which is designed make the route to school safer. (IJ, @mikesonn, Mill Valley Herald)
  • A new Santa Venetia subdivision will not go forward as planned, at least not yet. County Supervisors rejected the 14-unit sprawl project pending a few more months of study. Unfortunately, the area is zoned for 15 units on one-acre plots, so it’s unlikely the project can be stopped entirely. (IJ)
  • Ever wondered how much your town’s Director of Public Works was paid? Bay Area News Group has created a searchable database of all public employee salaries in the Bay Area, so you can know at last. (IJ)
  • Ross faces dramatic cuts now that the town declined to pass the $642,000 public safety tax. Two police officers, a firefighter, and a firefighting apprenticeship program are all on the chopping block. The town will cut other areas to keep the damage minimal. (Ross Valley Reporter)
  • The draft Civic Center Station Area Plan has been released to the public and to the Board of Supervisors, who are reviewing the draft now. The plan creates more housing, rezones parts of the auto-oriented neighborhood, and creates a better pedestrian circulation pattern through the area. (Pacific Sun)
  • And…: A yard that has encroached on open space for more than 20 years will finally be returned to San Rafael, though the owners have a history of ignoring officialdom on the subject, so who knows? (IJ) … In a picture of sweetness and light, a Corte Madera father and daughter spent the whole school year biking in tandem to kindergarten. (Twin Cities Times) … Brad Breithaupt goes deeper into the voting numbers from last Tuesday’s election. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • A comprehensive report on San Francisco’s multifaceted and crowded transit system has been released. The 103-year-old report details the pre-Muni world of streetcars and rails in the aftermath of the earthquake and fire. Among the recommendations? Getting rid of horse-drawn cars. (Muni Diaries)
  • Apple will stop using Google Maps on its iPhones, and it won’t include transit directions. You may have to go back to using that 511.org app… (Streetsblog)
  • It turns out Muni has been neglecting maintenance for years as the agency has sacrificed long-term financial stability for short-term savings. Be glad you have GGT managing your fleet, Marin. (SF Weekly)
  • A bill to create a statewide ceiling on parking requirements around transit has shown signs of life in the state Senate. AB 904 would force localities to require no more than one parking space per housing unit, 1,000 square feet of retail, or other measures. (Around the Capitol via @MarketUrbanism and @mottsmith)
  • If you want to encourage transit ridership, the best way is to price driving. While expanding a rail network by 10% nets a 3% gain in ridership, effective car regulations (like congestion pricing) nets a 10-20% increase in ridership and a commensurate decrease in driving. (Atlantic Cities)
  • And…: Santa Rosa mulls electing its councilmembers by district rather than at-large. (Press-Democrat) … The small-government aspects of smart growth appeal to at least some conservatives. (Next American City) … Frank Lloyd Wright hated cities. (Atlantic Cities)

Got a tip? Tweet @theGreaterMarin, email thegreatermarin [at] gmail.com, or post something on Facebook.

Mid-Week Links: Colombian Roast

Medellín has a transit system unlike any other.  For the steep mountainsides there are gondolas and escalators; for the center city, there are metro trains and BRT, and for everywhere else there’s a burgeoning bikeshare system. Whenever I see movies like this, I imagine what kind of place Marin might have been if the trains had never stopped running, if BART had made it across the bridge, if we didn’t value mall parking above people and the planet.  What kind of a country would we be if, rather than putting cars before people, we put people before cars?

Marin County

  • The Ritter Center will expand into a temporary medical space, thanks to approval by the San Rafael council Monday night, but will be limited to only 60 clients per day rather than the 65 requested. (Pacific Sun)
  • Opponents of the Albert Park minor league plan have filed suit, arguing that professional baseball violates the park’s deed restriction against commercial activity. (Patch)
  • If you want to influence your town, show up to public meetings, if only to counterbalance the protestors that tend to show up instead. (Herald)
  • The Board of Supervisors delayed a vote on Lucas Valley’s Grady Ranch, pending review of environmental concerns raised by the Corps of Engineers and others. (IJ)
  • And…: Corte Madera started work on a new public plaza and cafe at its town-owned shopping center. (IJ) … San Anselmo approved a new parking lot across from downtown. (IJ) … Novato will install six electric car charging stations. (IJ) … San Anselmo is considering major improvements to Greenfield Avenue. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Congress approved a 90 day extension of federal transportation legislation, ensuring the gas tax and road construction funds did not end last weekend. The House never took up the Senate transportation bill, and the result is all kinds of bad. (The Hill)
  • Cost estimates for California High Speed Rail plummeted $30 billion under a new business plan released this week. (SFist)
  • Golden Gate/Marin Transit may not be the best transit system in the world, but at least it’s typically on time – something Muni can’t really boast. (SFist)
  • In the City often?  Need a break from the bustle?  You may want to investigate the privately owned public spaces that dot the landscape. (SFist)

The Theory: SMART to San Francisco

San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District Route Location & Structure Plans: Marin Line General Route Plan & Profile (1961)

1961 BART Marin Line Plans. Click to enlarge.

Building a rail line to San Francisco is the Holy Grail for many in the commuting public.  By 2035, there will be an estimated 80,000 commute trips across the Golden Gate Bridge every day, and both San Francisco and the SMART district counties could be well-served by a rail line going across the Golden Gate Bridge.  It sounds like a fabulous idea, but would it actually be worth the expense?  Let’s pencil this out.

SMART, presumably, would run along the old NWP railroad tracks to Sausalito, duplicating the old rail route.  From there, would proceed as the old BART plan did, tunneling through the Marin Headlands to the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, becoming a subway thereafter to run under Geary Boulevard before finally terminating at either the San Francisco Caltrain station or the Transbay Transit Center.

The Marin section would cut through Larkspur and Corte Madera, running at surface, bypass downtown Mill Valley and most of Sausalito before diving beneath the hills.  Larkspur to Sausalito costs would likely be higher than the rest of the rail line, as the old rails have been torn up for trails.  Given the cost of renovating the Alto Tunnel as well, a cost of $174 million – $20 million per mile – is not unreasonable.  The fact that this would run through some very low-density residential neighborhoods, however, would likely mean significant neighborhood opposition.  Running along Highway 101 would be significantly more expensive, as there is no single right-of-way for SMART to operate with, and there is no freeway median for the train to run down.

Sausalito to San Francisco would be a major undertaking.  The Marin Headlands present a major tunnel project, and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge would be a huge engineering endeavor.  Since all construction would be new and involve a tunneling project, from this point on the project would cost around $150,000 between $500 million and $1 billion per mile.  The line would continue on the BART alignment once it reached the city, hitting its first station at the Presidio, serving Industrial Light and Magic, before tunneling to Geary.  Total cost for this segment would be between $3 billion and $6 billion.

San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District Route Location & Structure Plans: San Francisco and Vicinity General Routes Plan (1961)

1961 BART San Francisco Plans. Click to enlarge.

The Geary Boulevard alignment is important for this plan.  Muni bus service along the Geary route is over capacity and is the busiest bus route in the Bay Area.  The neighborhood has begged Muni for a subway but to no avail, as costs are extremely prohibitive, but from a transit perspective the project would be worthwhile.  Here, SMART has a choice.  It could stop at a Geary Boulevard transfer station, probably on Arguello or Masonic and allow passengers to transfer to Muni, or it could continue onward in the Muni tunnel.

There are costs to either choice.  Forcing passengers to transfer to Muni far from the Financial District would make the route less attractive to potential riders, but partnering with Muni to build the subway would be extremely expensive.  Despite this, the odds of actually building the subway would increase if Muni were to shoulder the cost with another transit agency, and the intra-San Francisco passengers would help to offset some of the cost to SMART.  If SMART chooses to go on, it would proceed along Geary with stops along the way until Market Street.  The cost for this segment would be around $330 million between $1.1 and $2.2 billion.

At Market, SMART again faces a decision.  It could proceed along the Central Subway to the Caltrain terminal, requiring express rails to be put in at considerable cost.  It could proceed forward to the Transbay Transit Center at an even more considerable cost, or it could stop at Union Square, allowing passengers to transfer to the Central Subway or BART and finish their trips.  The cost of the crossing under Market would likely be at least $1 billion but would provide a significant improvement in service to passengers, allowing a single rail ride from Santa Rosa to California’s High Speed Rail network, Caltrain, and a number of regional buses.

The total cost of a San Rafael to Transbay Transit Center line, using these numbers, is $2.5 billion between $5.3 and $9.6 billion.

The problem for this line is that ridership just is not there.  Already, 28% of commutes to San Francisco from Marin are made by transit.  If SMART’s numbers hold out through a whole system, only another 10% of ridership – about 8,000 – would shift to the train.  This would bring Marin in line with the mode share for San Mateo-San Francisco commuting at a total cost of $147,000 $400,000 per new rider, minimum.  To make it as cost-effective as SMART’s initial operating segment, 40,000 new riders per day would have to switch, an unrealistically high number without a significant change to growth patterns in the Bay Area an astronomically high number for Marin.

Building SMART to San Francisco would be nice, but in a world of limited resources it would be a massive waste of funds.  For that money, Golden Gate Transit could improve its bus system such that the towns it serves could begin to focus on transit-oriented development, SMART could extend to Sausalito, and there would be plenty of money left over for bike lanes, sidewalks, and a second track and electrification of the SMART route, and that only gets us through half the money.  Unless costs come down, a San Francisco SMART should stay strictly theoretical.

EDIT: After some off-line comments, I realized I had grossly underestimated the cost of subway construction without tearing up Geary, and updated the costs to reflect that.