Mid-Week Links: Keep Moving

As Marin ages – it’s already the oldest in the Bay Area – keeping people active and involved in their communities means making the bus system work for them.  As commenter Dan Lyke often points out, GGT has done a terrible job of making itself friendly to the disabled and handicapped, and I suspect the elderly, when giving up their cars, will be in the same boat.  Improving transit service isn’t just for young urbanites like me, or the poor, but is imperative to keeping our seniors moving.

Marin County

  • A police crackdown on crime around San Rafael’s Bettini Transit Center was quite a success, resulting in 79 arrests and a marked decrease in common criminality in the area. Transit-oriented development and traffic-calming measures would help put more people on the street and keep this kind of crime from reappearing. (IJ)
  • While supporters of Lucasfilm’s Grady Ranch development rallied in county board chambers, others wondered what it would take for affordable housing to grow there, as Lucas plans to sell the property for just that purpose. (IJ)
  • A pedestrian/bicycle bridge across San Rafael Creek at Grand Avenue is in the works at city hall, though funding has yet to be secured. (Patch)
  • And…: Is an 1890s-era house in Larkspur worth saving? (IJ) … Apparently it costs $200,000 to be late with a home remodeling project in Belvedere. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Golden Gate Park was partially closed to cars last Sunday, giving residents a chance to just enjoy the park without the fear of getting hit by a car. Come out to the Mission on May 6 for more! They promise no stabbings. (SanFranciscoize, Mission Mission)
  • If you didn’t already know, Muni buses now sport cameras to record parking violations or cars driving in the bus-only lanes. Though great for bus riders and Muni’s budget, drivers need to be on the lookout. (Muni Diaries)
  • Car-dependence in Concord has claimed many lives in car crashes, but the deaths of a father and his 9-year-old daughter have shone a spotlight on the dangers of such design. The father and daughter were riding bikes on the sidewalk when they were struck by a 17-year-old driving an SUV. (Bay Citizen)

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)

Novato sprawls with Hanna Ranch

The planned architecture.

Two weeks ago, Novato approved the Hanna Ranch project, the city’s newest commercial development.  Squashed between Highway 37 to the southeast, Highway 101 to the southwest, wetlands to the northeast and the Village Oaks big-box development to the northwest, Hanna Ranch is the epitome of sprawl development.  Inaccessible to anyone without a car, its only access road dead-ends within the development, rendering bus access impractical, and the only connection to the city proper is a freeway overpass a mile to the north.  New utility lines will need to be built, and emergency services will need to go out of their way to serve the development – an expensive prospect.

What will the city get for their trouble?  A hotel, some retail and a few restaurants on an eight acre site akin to an office park, far from any of the amenities that define Novato.  Income from the development will be equivalent to around $650,000, but that doesn’t count the added expenses described above.

Given the push in the city to improve downtown, this is a step backwards.  Hotel visitors will be socked away in neighborhood that could just as well be in San Jose, Boise, or Dallas – a forgettable corner of Novato if there ever were one.  Locating a hotel downtown would leave patrons with the small-town feel the city wants to foster and drive customers to local businesses rather than the chains that will doubtless move into the Hanna Ranch development.  Adding more restaurants and retail downtown would continue to concentrate commerce in the core, promoting vitality for all of downtown.

Although councilmembers promoted this project as a way to combat blight, it will likely do the opposite.  In promoting development far from downtown, Novato encourages people to come off Grant’s sidewalks and drive to chains at Vintage Oaks and Hanna Ranch.  Traffic gets worse, downtown patronage declines, and everyone loses.

Novato is often seen as the black sheep of the Marin family of communities.  Recent decisions to move city offices downtown was supposed to be a turning point for the city, but by approving Hanna Ranch the Council has shown itself unwilling to abandon its sprawling ways to the detriment of all Marin.

End-Week Links: Fantastical Connections

Photo from Novato Advance/Marinscope Newspapers. Click for Google Streetview.

Ordinarily, not much happens in the great wide world of Marin’s urban affairs, but sometimes a lot happens.  When that happens, you get an overdose of linkage.  One article deserves special attention, though. Novato city planners are celebrating the soon-to-open Chipotle burrito shop in a downtown strip mall, saying that anything that happens in downtown is an improvement.  This is the opposite of true, and I would hope that professional planners would have an understanding of what makes a vibrant downtown.

Does the building engage the sidewalk?  Nope, it puts the trash next to the corner it abuts.  Does the business promote local vitality?  Nope, it’s a fairly bland national chain.  What’s most infuriating, to me, is that the building was gutted and rebuilt like some sort of historic landmark rather than being rebuilt as something that could really improve downtown.  What’s suffocating downtown are businesses and structures like this and the planners that enable them to continue.

Marin

A small, $10 billion bit of the plan. By Jack Coolidge, 2011

  • A recently approved home in Sausalito was originally supposed to include a second unit made of two shipping containers but owners were forced by the Planning Commission to cut it from plans due to neighbor concerns. Simultaneously, Sausalito is emulating Novato’s push to legalize second units as a way to meet affordable housing mandates. (Marinscope)
  • Sausalito Councilwoman Carolyn Ford – famous for getting her hand smacked by Councilman Mark Kelly and pressing battery charges – wants a parliamentarian to keep order at the Sausalito Council’s contentious meetings. Given an almost unheard-of split vote on mayor, this might be wise. (IJ)
  • Environmental activists celebrated the death of a planned renewable energy project in West Marin, proving cognitive dissonance knows no ideology. (IJ)
  • Corte Madera’s WinCup apartment complex will go back before the planning commission on the 13th. (Twin Cities Times)
  • Brad Marsh, who won third place in the recent Larkspur City Council election, has been appointed to fill the seat vacated by Joan Lundstrom retirement. (IJ)
  • SMART was debated for the umpteenth time last Wednesday. (IJ)
  • An 11-year-old bicyclist was struck by a driver (or maybe the cyclist struck a car?) on a residential street in Mill Valley and hospitalized with possible spinal injuries. (Bay City News via Marinscope)
  • Novato’s school board contemplates school enrollment boundary changes, taking it as an opportunity to rebalance the socioeconomic makeup of the schools. One unexpected item: school trustees expect enrollment to shrink over the next five years. (IJ)
  • One more step forward for aspiring suburban bee-keepers and chickenherds in Corte Madera. (IJ)
  • Expanding Gnoss Field makes sense, says the IJ Editorial Board. (IJ)
  • San Rafael’s Ritter Center gets grant, makes good: the community wellness center is expanding its services and has become a Federal Qualified Healthcare Provider thanks to the Affordable Care Act. (Pacific Sun)
  • Gerstle Park residents defend their decision to take legal action over Albert Park. (IJ)
  • Ever wonder what used to be where 101 is now in San Rafael? Salt baths and a freight port. (Patch)
  • Everybody loves a fantasy map: imagining BART to Marin and beyond. (Muni Diaries)
  • You might not to be able to tell, but a $10 million water project was just finished in Kentfield. (Ross Valley Reporter)
  • Might SMART avoid some of the mistakes other transit agencies have made? It’s unlikely, but not impossible. (Forbes)

The Greater Marin

  • Smart growth is about more than livability, walkability and emissions. It’s about keeping that parking lot out of paradise.
  • Rather further south on Highway 101, Facebook is posing a major problem to Menlo Park commuters as it tries to squeeze 6,600 employees onto its transit-inaccessible campus every day. (SFist)
  • Retail and transit fit together so well, urban retailers are saying more transit less parking. (GlobalST)
  • One of my favorite transit experts and blogger at Human Transit, Jarrett Walker, talks buses vs. trains, mobility, and more. (Willamette Week)
  • Opponents to Cotati’s plan to humanize its main street are threatening the city with a ballot measure to ban roundabouts within city limits. Merchants claim the redesign would hinder drivers and, therefore, decrease business. (Press Democrat)
  • What to do with Santa Rosa’s downtown mall? (Press Democrat)

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)

Mid-Week Links: Spin Cycle

Marin has one of the best recreational cycling cultures in the country and a burgeoning commuter cycling culture, but everyday travel is typically done by car – you can blame our beautiful and formidable geography for that. Cycling For Everyone from Dutch Cycling Embassy gives a vision of how Marin could look if we embraced the bike in Terra Linda as much as we do on Mount Tam.  The Pacific Sun has an excellent rundown on the political debate so far, from the Capitol to the Alto Tunnel.

The Greater Marin

It’s so easy to focus on Marin and its foibles that sometimes we forget that other places are doing awesome things.  Take Norfolk, VA, an active but small city of 242,000 people and one light rail that goes by the name of The Tide.  The Tide is brand-spanking new and underwent the same issues SMART is dealing with today: cost overruns, plans cut short, and political opposition.  After surviving that gauntlet, The Tide opened to great fanfare this past August.  One month in, the Richmond Times-Dispatch examined how the city feels about it now.  In a word, they’re proud.

Marin County

  • Of course, if RepealSMART gets its way, SMART will just be a failed dream.  The anti-rail organization started gathering signatures for its repeal measure this week.
  • In good news, MTC approved its $33.1 million SMART bailout (PDF) and recommended to the Federal Department of Transportation that it receive another $18 million (PDF) in federal funding for the accompanying bike/pedestrian path.
  • The IJ has profiles on Town Council candidates for Corte Madera and San Anselmo, and Patch will host a candidate debate for San Anselmo on October 5.
  • Tensions in Sausalito came to light when Councilmember Carolyn Ford filed battery charges against Vice-Mayor Mike Kelly for hitting her hand (rather hard) during a council meeting.  Video at the link.  Kelly has since apologized, but no word on whether the charges will be dropped.
  • The empty seat left by Joan Lundstrom’s retirement from the Larkspur City Council must be filled, either by a special election after the current election is over or by an appointment.
  • Speaking of Larkspur, Piper Park is due for a makeover.
  • San Rafael’s Design Review Board approved the Fenix Live music venue for the heart of Fourth Street.  You can hear the Board’s deliberations here.
  • Novato wants to sprawl, and, as much as it hates density, it loves its sprawl.  Planners just approved a 3-unit-per-acre subdivision.  Larkspur isn’t much better after the sale of a pre-approved 5-unit-per-acre development. That one is just one block from downtown in a prime walkable development location.  You can check out a possible site plan for Larkspur here (PDF, p. 13), although it may not be accurate because of the change in ownership.
  • Ever wondered what the deal is with that empty commercial building at 520 Red Hill Avenue?  Now you can find out.

The Golden Gate

Golden Gate issues deserve their own section this week because the sheer number of news items cries for special attention.  It cries, we answer.

  • Golden Gate Transit will install WiFi on all its buses, making it an even more attractive transit service.  Cost is cheap, too: only $610,000 for the final cost.  Take that, BART.
  • Marin Transit wants to reopen their $15 million/year contract with Golden Gate Transit to provide local bus service in Marin.  Marin Transit argues that GGT is overcharging by about 23%, while GGT argues the extra cost is due to regularly scheduled overtime.  Sounds like GGT has a staffing problem.
  • The Golden Gate National Recreation Area will be reconfigured under a preliminary general management plan with the aim of “connecting people with parks.”