Mid-Week Links: Not Quite Paradise

TiburonMarin

  • Traffic along Tiburon’s main road is getting worse, but its bus line is one of the least-used routes in the Marin Transit system.  TAM, MT, and the town think improving school-time bus service may do the same trick it did in Fairfax, although they’re exploring other options as well. (IJ)
  • The historic building that housed Amazing Grace Music, the old instrument shop in the Redhill Avenue median, is gone. The San Anselmo landmark business has moved up the street thanks to George Lucas, who funded the project and lives a block away. (IJ)
  • Fairfax has its gateway supermarket back, now that the Good Earth has opened on the east edge of town. The corner has undergone a major transformation over the past few years, and the store looks set to become even more of an anchor for the town. Not to say that everyone’s happy – a local merchant dialed 911 to complain about a lack of parking. (Patch)
  • Neighbors were up in arms over CVS’s plans for a lit sign in Tiburon, but it turns out businesses are already flaunting local regulations. (IJ, Mill Valley Herald)
  • MALT’s housing-oriented cousin, CLAM, has a new director with an eye towards smart growth and the particular human/nature balance that marks West Marin’s villages. (IJ)
  • The Marin Board of Supervisors were busy this week dissolving the county redevelopment agency, reallocating funds for road repair, rescinding the priority development zone for homes around San Quentin, and bolstering their rainy day fund. (Patch, IJ)

Bay Area

  • The Metropolitan Transportation Commission wants high school interns this summer, and is actually willing to pay them. I’d be all over this were I 18 again. (Patch)
  • Parking in San Francisco could get even more expensive if SFMTA extends parking hours to Saturday evenings and Sundays.  That GGT ride just keeps looking more and more attractive. (SFist)
  • SMART’s rolling stock is on track for a 2013 delivery, and it turns out they’re not the only customer.  Toronto will purchase the same vehicles from manufacturer Nippon-Sharryo, and SMART, as a partial designer of the heavy DMUs, is getting a cut of the profits. (Press Democrat)
  • Rohnert Park’s SMART station has officially been relocated to the city’s center, much to the joy of all parties. Rohnert Park plans on building a downtown based around the station. (NBBJ, Press Democrat)

The Greater Marin

  • Raleigh, NC, is pushing the envelope when it comes to getting people to walk. But it’s not the city doing the push – it’s people who care enough about Raleigh to do what needs to be done, and sometimes that’s just signage. (BBC)
  • Google has been instrumental in bringing transit data into the digital age with its GTFS protocol, allowing people to plan trips using transit instead of just cars.  Golden Gate Transit and Marin Transit are not currently participants, but are actively working on getting online. (Xconomy)
  • Nashville has gone for the gold and released a new downtown zoning code that essentially does away with much of the zoning.  No more parking minimums, no more prescribed uses, no more setback requirements. (Old Urbanist)
  • Norfolk, VA’s The Tide light rail is going like gangbusters, beating ridership expectations in only six months. It faced much the same criticism as SMART, although the two systems will be rather different, and only time will tell how our rail system pans out. (Virginian-Pilot)
  • Building good bike infrastructure means more than painting sharrows, as Marin loves to do, and sometimes it means giving bicyclists their own traffic signal. (SanFranciscoize)
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Mid-Week Links: Good Times

10000 trips through 10000 points

Image from Eric Fischer.

Local techno/transit geek Eric Fischer wrote a program to approximate travel routes from geotagged Twitter posts, revealing the desire lines of area.  Looks like he forgot Marin is there, but apparently we don’t have a whole lot of Twits to track anyway.

Marin

  • Glad that’s over with: The RepealSMART effort failed to meet its minimum signature requirements and will not be on the next ballot.  This frees SMART to use $171 million it had in escrow, although the effort may return for November. (Press Democrat)
  • Then again…: Whistlestop has filed suit against SMART over the loss of its parking spaces and the effective loss of its building.  SMART and San Rafael are reportedly willing to strike a deal to solve the problem, but there are no details yet. (IJ)
  • Novato will give up its affordable housing oversight role to Marin Housing Authority, as it cannot afford the administrative costs without redevelopment funds. (IJ)
  • Today, Novato will unveil a model of its new downtown offices, which are proceeding despite newly-elected Councilmember Eric Lucan’s opposition. (IJ)
  • The Marin History Museum has received an anonymous 1 to 1, $50,000 matching gift pledge to restore the Boyd House.  If you care at all about Marin’s history, and about San Rafael’s old housing stock, this is your time to donate. (IJ)
  • The Muir Woods Shuttle, aka the 66 bus, is slated for a fare hike, but the exact details aren’t known yet.  A $5 round-trip fare, complete with bus day pass, is the likely outcome. (IJ)
  • SMART and California High-Speed Rail are getting their knocks, sometimes deservedly so, but they’re nothing new: BART faced similar criticism before it opened, and Marin lost out as a result. (IJ)
  • Marin will upgrade its library lobbies into “market places” for its most popular material. I’ve always figured, though – if Border’s died because people treated it like a library with a coffee shop, why not get coffee shops in the libraries? (IJ)
  • San Quentin, currently zoned for 1,500 new homes, could get “priority status” in order to deflect ABAG mandates elsewhere in Marin.  It doesn’t change the fact that adding 1,500 homes at San Quentin is, to put it mildly, a little daft. (IJ)
  • Marin tweaked its zoning rules, adding an exemption from affordable housing requirements for some unincorporated communities, including Strawberry. Other changes were made to permitting and smart growth planning areas. (Pacific Sun)
  • Sausalito will include some of their harbor docks as affordable housing in their Draft Housing Element, as live-aboards pay significantly less rent than their land-lubbing fellow Sausalitans. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Windsor has approved their downtown station-area plan, although they won’t see any train service until after 2015. (Press Democrat)
  • The House and Senate are moving forward with their respective Transportation Reauthorization bills.  Activists, including myself,  aren’t so keen on the House version. (The Hill, Streetsblog)
  • Nationally, the number of renters has grown significantly, while the number of homeowners has declined, meaning cities are likely well-equipped for the demand.  (Atlantic Cities)
  • The BART extension to Livermore is giving voice to an existential question facing the system: should it expand ever outward, or should it keep what it already has?
  • Mountain View rejected bus rapid transit because it would have taken up left-turn lanes.  This is a step back for the city’s efforts to put moving people, not cars, first.

And…: A beautiful new subway in Kazakhstan. (Architizer)… One Bay Area falls flat in San Ramon, too. (San Ramon Express)… Stockton Street survived just fine without any parking for a week. (Streetsblog)

The SMART Area, Part 2: All Those Cars

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 parking. Subsequent posts will examine mobility, and the future of the area. So far, we’ve covered land use.

With all these homes, all this retail, and all these commuters, parking could turn terrible without mitigation.  Although the transit options will be the richest of anywhere in Marin, the rest of Marin will likely remain just as transit-poor as it is today, so the Advisory Committee explored ways to deal with incoming traffic and where to put all the cars.

Overview

As you probably can guess, I’m not one in favor of parking.  You could call me a Shoupite, I suppose: parking has its place, but it should not be required, and where there is a shortage of parking it should be priced until there is no longer a shortage.  For regular drivers, this ensures they will always have a space roughly where they need it, mitigating the need for circling.  For commuters, it means the commuter lot won’t fill up by some God-forsaken hour.  For cities, it means new revenue to plow into their neighborhoods and transit systems.

Excluding the 68 spaces that will be removed after SMART rolls into town, there are 144 metered on-street parking spaces (56 removed by SMART) in the Area Plan’s study area that hit 50% occupancy at peak usage and 395 off-street, free all-day spaces (12 removed by SMART) that hit 90% occupancy by 11am.  This puts the total demand for off-street parking at for on-street parking at 100 and total demand for all-day parking at 389 spaces.  It’s that second one that’s awfully tight, and likely why there is overflow.

This poses a parking problem: how can the city accommodate new residences, retail, and offices while providing sufficient parking for new commuters and new shoppers without wrecking the transit-orientation of the area?  The Area Plan believes it can be done by adding more parking, including the area within the downtown shared parking district, and through demand mitigation.

More Parking!

Click to enlarge. Red are parking lots & garages

I’m not entirely convinced there’s a need for more parking given the huge number of lots – over 110 by my count – within a half-mile radius of the station.  Much of this is probably due to parking minimums imposed by zoning regulations, but there is still a plethora of parking.  I’d wager that around half the buildable space south of Mission is taken up by parking.  Look especially at the north side of Third Street!  It’s just a long line of parking garages.  Little wonder nobody says, “Oo, let’s check out that cool place on Third Street!”

As well, with over 90% occupancy of lots that are free, it would seems sensible to me to simply start charging for parking at the various commuter lots, and encourage owners of private parking to open it up to the public, or provide a mechanism for developers to purchase shared parking from those with a surplus, diminishing their own requirements.  As for spillover areas, setting up parking meters with a residential parking permit system should ensure commuters don’t park in residential areas, while the city could allow  enterprising residents to rent out their driveways for the day.

Alas, the politics and mechanics of parking are a bit more complicated.  Everybody wants free parking right in front of their destination.  Downtown Tiburon, for example, is often accused of having no parking, but when the city actually looked they found scores of spots, just a little off the beaten path.  As well, with luck, San Rafael’s surface parking supply will continue to decrease.  Pricing the parking supply implies that there are competitors to parking, such as transit, cycling and walking, but those are the topic of our next installment.  Decreasing supply implies the same.  The Area Plan takes non-car mobility seriously, but also suggests additional parking, as well as demand mitigation through car sharing.

More Parking, Less Demand

Car sharing is absent in Marin, mostly because our low-density cities and towns can’t support it, but studies have shown it dramatically reduces the need for parking. A single car share vehicle removes 14 cars from the road. The plan suggests allowing developers to forgo some parking if they support on-site car sharing. This is an excellent idea, as the more flexibility a developer has in its parking, the better the city will be. Still, I’d go one step further. As part of the car sharing rollout, San Rafael should give every household within walking distance of the redevelopment area free membership for a year, which would cost a pittance at around $184,000. Marinites are unfamiliar with car sharing, and this could serve to get people out of their cars and onto the sidewalks.

Even with demand minimized, this is still a transit-unfriendly county, and parking will be needed for residents, commuters, and customers.  To keep the burden off the developers, the Area Plan recommends including the area in the downtown shared parking zone, which allows retailers to count spaces in parking garages against their parking minimums, and building another parking garage along Third.

I would hate to see San Rafael add yet another garage onto Third, especially in the middle of an important walking area and so close to other parking garages and lots.  If a garage is really deemed necessary, a better location would be east of the freeway and extending the shared parking zone out to San Rafael High School and Unity Street.  Montecito Shopping Center is overflowing with cars, and they’d probably like having a bit more breathing room.  Besides, the newly tall buildings along Irving will want good access to a garage if they are to be built with less parking than normal.

I’d recommend extending the parking zone to residences as well.  With on-street parking at only 50%, some demand for off-street retail parking could be absorbed by the street, freeing up space in the garages and lots for residents to store their cars.

Parking will be seen as a problem anywhere one goes outside of the mall, but properly managing it will make the place actually attractive rather than just giant parking lots and garages.  Through demand mitigation (carsharing, transit, bicycling), innovative policies to broaden the parking supply, and parking pricing, San Rafael should be able to manage the influx of people to the area.  If parking will truly be a problem, a garage east of the freeway will open up that area for business and support the high-density development planned along Irwin.

Generally, a car is anathema to transit-oriented living, but there’s little transit to orient around.  It is difficult to balance the needs of a transit-poor community with the needs of its transit system, but the problem of parking will remain a very real one for the area.  I hope the city will strike that balance – managing demand and providing mobility without encouraging car usage.

Monday Links: Go Abroad


We often imagine that the Dutch were always cyclists.  While that’s correct in some sense, the Netherlands faced sprawl and auto-centric development in the 1950s and 1960s, just as the United States did.  Unlike Americans, though, the Netherlands fought back, and the result is the Netherlands we see today.

Marin County

  • Corte Madera’s abandoned Madera Vista apartment complex will be renovated. They have sat vacant since a 2008 fire. (Twin Cities Times)
  • Infill development near freeways should take into account auto pollution and take steps to mitigate it.  This is especially important in Marin, as the SMART corridor runs parallel to 101 for much if its route, and to the One Bay Area process. (California Watch)
  • San Anselmo wants to buy Bald Hill, currently in Ross, but nobody knows how to get in touch with the owners.  The hill is owned by Asian Alliance LLC, and the founder and last contact the town had died years ago. (IJ)
  • Downtown San Anselmo is undergoing a bit of a shake-up, with a number of storefronts vacant and a Goodwill moving in.  A group wants to convince George Lucas to open a theater in town, but making that happen could be difficult (IJ)
  • Sausalito’s Housing Element is nearly complete and will be submitted officially to the City Council on January 31.  If approved, it goes to the state on February 2.  (Marinscope)
  • Mill Valley wants to update their General Plan, refocusing on transit and traffic-calming.  With sometimes half-hourly buses it stands a better chance than some areas, but hopefully it will work with Marin Transit and GGT to enhance transit options. (Mill Valley Herald)
  • Larkspur Landing might get $2 parking after all, given a tepid Board response to a premium-space idea. This will help manage demand a bit at the terminal, which tends to fill up early. (IJ)
  • West Marin’s open space portfolio will soon increase by 22 acres after a successful fundraising drive. (IJ)
  • San Rafael’s red light program will be studied to assess its impacts on driver behavior, including rolling right turns, which can be unsafe to pedestrians. (IJ)
  • A 90-year-old driver struck and killed a pedestrian at Second and G in San Rafael.  The exact circumstances are unknown. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Looks like downtown living really is good for you.  Residents of areas with a high density of businesses walk three times as much as others, but the areas need to draw in non-residents to succeed. (Atlantic Cities)
  • San Francisco’s SFPark project is dramatically increasing hourly revenue on its meters.  The project gives drivers the option of paying by credit card, phone, or cash, which is useful for the large hourly charges in popular locations. (SF Examiner)
  • California’s ability to establish cycletracks, bikeways, and other proven bike facilities is stymied by too-conservative design guidebooks that call these “experimental” facilities.  Sadly, AB 819, which would change that, is slowly being gutted. (Streetsblog)
  • The American Public Transit Association (APTA) has published a rundown of how to talk to opponents of high-speed rail projects with a new report of common criticisms and appropriate responses. (Streetsblog)
  • Head of the California High Speed Rail Authority has stepped down, as has the chairman of its board, citing personal reasons. (Sacramento Bee)
  • Caracas has a gigantic, abandoned office tower in its center, and some entrepreneurial folk have set up their own town inside. The best part, they say, is having so much transit access in the middle of the city. (Foreign Policy)
  • It’s estimated we’ve paved about 3,590 square miles for parking, about 2 spaces for every man, woman, and child in the United States, and it’s time to take them seriously not just as blight, but as public space. (NY Times)

Mid-Week Links: Onward and Upward

Dipsea to Tourist Club

The Dipsea Stairs

It has been an extremely busy weekend apparently, with retrospectives, bond sales, HSR criticisms, new laws, and more.

Marin County

  • Mill Valley’s alleys and stairs, pedestrian shortcuts up and down the hills that cars can’t manage, are one of the signatures of the town. Photographer Skip Sandberg has taken it upon himself to document them all. (IJ)
  • Golden Gate Transit is now 40 years old.  Born out of a transit victory in 1969 that stopped a second deck on the Golden Gate Bridge, GGT – despite its many faults – has proven itself invaluable to the North Bay time and again. (IJ)
  • SMART has jurisdiction over the Measure Q repeal effort, according to the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters. This bodes ill for RepealSMART, as they have called the signature threshold SMART wants unobtainable. (IJ)
  • The monthly federal tax exemption for transit decreased on January 1 from $230 to $125 – roughly half the cost of a Marin-SF commute – thanks to Republican obfuscation in Congress. The exemption for parking increases from $230 to $240.  (SF Examiner)
  • Sausalito wants to redesign Alexander Avenue to be more bike-friendly, widening shoulders and potentially adding a tunnel.  Public comment on the plans are open until January 27. (IJ)
  • Mill Valley wants to update their 1989 General Plan in just 18 months. They met last night and will meet again on January 17 to discuss the scope of work. (Patch)
  • A driver struck a teenager in Petaluma just after New Year’s.  The boy suffered major injuries but is in stable condition. (Patch)
  • Richardson Bay’s Aramburu Island will be transformed into a nature preserve 50 years after the development that spawned it fizzled in the early 1960s. (SF Chronicle)
  • Marin’s plastic bag ban and paper bag fee are now in effect.  If changes from Washington, DC’s similar bag fee are any indication, Marin’s fee will work wonders on peoples’ habits. (IJ)

The Bay Area

  • The Sustainable Communities Strategy, branded as One Bay Area, will mean major changes for the region as regional agencies try to limit greenhouse gas emissions. ABAG and MTC are planning a tour to explain the state-mandated plan as its development gets under way. They’ll be at the Marin Civic Center on January 17. (Mercury News)
  • San Francisco now allows storefronts facing the street to build “parklets”, extensions of the sidewalk that use up at least two parking spaces, and they’re popping up everywhere. (SF Chronicle)

State of California

  • Most of California’s redevelopment agencies will likely be shut down after losing their court fight against Governor Jerry Brown’s austerity budget, although cities promise there will be more litigation. The agencies captured property taxes to fund themselves, which the Governor said was a drain on local and state budgets. (LA Times, Pacific Sun)
  • LA will soon follow San Francisco’s example and install a downtown performance parking system. While performance parking seems to be the future, it may be wise to understand parking’s past. (Los Angeles Magazine)
  • California communities can now round down their streets’ calculated speed limits, rather than being forced to round up. (Land Line)
  • CAHSR should not be funded just yet, according to a review group with heavy clout in the state Legislature.  Governor Brown may push forward anyway. (LA Times, SF Chronicle)

The Greater Marin

  • Ottawa, Ontario, is planning out the areas around its light-rail stations stations.  The city – as big and diverse as a county – specifically wants to upzone in choice areas, and doing so is just as complicated as one might think. (Ottawa Citizen)
  • Vancouver, BC, is building new micro-apartments in a trendy neighborhood and renting them for $850 a month, showing the folly of the unit-per-acre density limits ubiquitous in Marin. (Grist)
  • Don’t abandon the public process so easily – project outcomes are positively correlated with participation.  I’m looking at you, SMART. (Next American City)
  • A whole mess of new transit projects start construction starts up this year across North America.  It’s a good thing. (Transport Politic)

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)

End-Week Links: Traffic Zen

Traffic calming is a wonderful concept.  Given the recent deaths and injuries around Marin caused by drivers hitting pedestrian, it may be time for cities up and down 101 to take a look at calming traffic.

Marin

Crazy times at SMART this week.  While supporters rallied last Thursday in Santa Rosa, something odd was underfoot at the agency.  Finance director David Heath was dismissed by the Board “without cause“, but is on paid leave until December 23.  That this occurred just as the Board completed authorization of $191 million in bonds and about $8 million in construction contracts is incredibly suspicious.  Typically political scandals involve the offending official to resign rather than get fired, although blatant dismissal without cause is typically illegal.  Let’s hope more details will come to light as time goes on. (Rally at IJ, Press Democrat)

  • The Commuter Times has been sold.  The weekly tabloid will begin publishing again this week. (IJ)
  • The public comment period has been extended for the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. special use permit. (IJ)
  • Conflict has erupted in one San Anselmo neighborhood over privacy, FAR, and home expansion. (San Anselmo-Fairfax Patch)
  • With the recent passage of desegregation/affordable housing measures by the Marin County Board of Supervisors, the combustable topic of race has entered the affordable housing debate.  Perhaps it should be left out entirely. (Novato Patch)
  • Despite repeal efforts, controversy and scandal, San Rafael is moving forward with a much-needed look at its Civic Center SMART station. (Mill Valley Herald)
  • Sharrows have been completed on South Eliseo Drive, a popular commuting route. (MCBC)

The Greater Marin

  • The City of Napa continues its efforts to centralize and improve its downtown experience.  The first thing it will do is traffic calming, changing its one-way streets to two-way as part of a 400-page draft Downtown Specific Plan. (Napa Valley Register)
  • Market Urbanism’s Emily Washington reviews The Gated City, a fascinating book about how rising housing costs prices out the poor from the most productive our society has: the city.  She concludes that the book makes some excellent points in describing the problem but that its solutions, but is left feeling pessimistic.  “none of [the presented solutions] seem politically viable” to her. (Market Urbanism)
  • Congress is about to kill the federal high speed rail program, which will pose yet another problem for California’s HSR plan. (NPR)
  • How many parking spaces are there in a city?  One intrepid doctoral candidate found out.