Mid-Week Links: This Part Hurts

This is a rather long presentation, but it lays out the essence of how car traffic hurts culture, hurts neighborhoods, and what to do about it.  I’ve been to talks like this in DC but this is the first time I can really share one with you.  And if you work in transportation or the planner’s office, this ought to count as continuing education, so bust out the earphones and popcorn.

Marin County

  • Former Supervisor Hal Brown died this week of cancer, and the respect Ross Valley and Marin had for him was evident in editorials and memoria. (Pacific Sun)
  • Mill Valley urbanists, attention!  Have a say in the direction of your town and join one of the Mill Valley 2040 committees charged with drafting the new general plan.  Applications are due March 14, so get on it. (IJ, Town of Mill Valley)
  • San Anselmo urbanists can have a bit of their own fun, too, as this Saturday the town council will weigh resident priorities for the next 2-5 years at a special meeting from 10am-12pm.  After the meeting, a survey will be put online for people who could not make it. (Patch)
  • SPAWN, a nonprofit whose goal is to restrict construction near creeks had its own San Geronimo demonstration home red-tagged by the county for building without a permit next to a creek. Neighbors that had run afoul of the group in the past were furious at the hypocrisy. (IJ)
  • There may still be some useful Q&A to be had with Fairfax Councilmember David Weinsoff, who happens to be Fairfax’s delegate to ABAG, though the discussion may have descended into Agenda 21/CittaSlow madness. (Patch)
  • Untangling the affordable housing mess caused by redevelopment agencies’ abrupt closure on February 1 will take quite a while to untangle, but surely the State Legislature can handle it, right? (Pacific Sun)
  • Marin is the least affordable place to live in the Bay Area, if one adds the cost of transportation to the cost of housing.  A new study shows that Marinites spend an average of 56.3% of their income on housing and transportation, compared to the 39.5% San Franciscans spend. (Chronicle)

And…: Sausalito repaves a street that hasn’t seen work in 70 years. (IJ) … San Rafael’s plastic bag ban chugs along despite a threatened lawsuit by plastics makers. (Patch) … Stand Up for Neighborly Novato will merge with Novato Housing Coalition so as to better focus their efforts to promote affordable housing in the city. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Arlington County, Virginia, has a number of bikes in its vehicle fleet, saving them money on gas, car maintenance, and also on employee health benefits and sick days.  How might Marin’s communities utilize bicycles in their vehicle fleets?  (Patch)
  • SimCity 5 announced, and the shouts of urbanists around the world rose as one. (Stop and Move)
  • Amtrak wants to restrict the number of bikes allowed on Capital Corridor trains, as around 10% of riders now bring their own bicycle and it’s becoming a nuisance to non-bikers.  Amtrak ought to strongly encourage bicycling, however, as active living and bicycling culture tends to go hand-in-hand with rail ridership. (Sacramento Bee)
  • Since the ban on cell phones while driving went into effect in California, traffic deaths have dropped an astounding 22%, the largest drop since CHP started keeping records. (Mercury News via IJ)
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Mid-Week Links: Happy Hours

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

Marin County

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

The Greater Marin

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

Mid-Week Links: And He Separated Water from Water

A beautiful video from Marin photographer Gary Yost shows everything I love and miss about my home: the nature, the towns, the Bay, the culture… I miss it all. On to the nitty-gritty of running all that.

Marin

SMART, once again, features prominently in local transit news this week.  Farhad Mansourian, interim General Manager of SMART, has been hired by the agency on a permanent basis.  Critics have addressed his pay – over $300,000 per year in compensation, comparable to other agency heads – and his credentials, although they’ve also stopped saying he duped the board prior to the MTC and TAM bailout hearings, as few boards would hire a man they felt had misled them.

The board also approved the new financial report, balancing the budget at about $360 million for the construction of the line which, at $9.7 million per mile, is by far the least expensive rail transit project in the country.  Local writer Steve Stein agrees, characterizing opponents as “nostalgic for a Marin County composed of mid-century ranch houses, suburban lawns and cul-de-sacs.”  In other news:

  • Cyclists and pedestrians got a major boost when the County allocated $8.8 million for pedestrian and bicycling improvements across Marin.  Among the projects: studying reopening the Alto Tunnel between Corte Madera and Mill Valley, improving sidewalk connections between the Canal and downtown San Rafael, and, in a major victory, constructing the Central Marin Ferry Connection.
  • In affordable housing news, Assemblyman and Congressional contender Jared Huffman’s bill to allow foreclosed housing to count against affordable housing mandates is on the Governor’s desk for signature.  The bill once allowed cities to appeal their density requirements, but it’s been pared down to just the foreclosed housing portion.  Meanwhile, Novato, which pushed most strenuously for reform, is following through on a 2008 development loan to expand Eden Housing, an affordable senior center home.  Critics contended that old folks will cause crime and join gangs.
  • Terrapin Crossroads, the Phil Lesh-led music venue, was discussed at length at a Fairfax Town Council meeting.  Critics were concerned about traffic and noise at the site, while supporters saw it as a fabulous opportunity for the town to improve nightlife and remove an abandoned, but prominently placed, gas station.  Lesh had put it on hold after signs opposing the project were placed along his walking route in Ross, spooking him and his wife.  Plans are available here (PDF).
  • The Marin Agricultural Land Trust purchased a large ranch outside Tomales recently, completing the greenbelt around the town and further ensuring that West Marin is off-limits to sprawl.
  • Speaking of sprawl, the proposed Hanna Ranch development in Novato passed the city’s Design Review Board, the first step towards project approval.
  • Some anti-sprawl might come to San Rafael, as local developer Monahan Parker is looking to build a four-story, 41-unit mixed-use building at 2nd & B Streets.  Two Victorian-era homes that have seen much better days would be demolished.  The project would also include a 57-space parking garage, which is one space above the minimum for a project of its size and totally out of whack with the overall setting.  It is currently before the Design Review Board, and you can watch preliminary comments here.

The Greater Marin

  • The debate over California High-Speed Rail is still a thing, and it’s making national news.  Ezra Klein of the Washington Post provides a good rundown of current thought on the subject, while CAHSR Blog looks to BART battles in Livermore for signs of things to come.
  • BART is still fighting protestors over police brutality and cell phone censorship.  It boiled over recently with multiple stations being shut down during rush-hour.
  • In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a battle brewing over transportation funding in Congress thanks to the soon-to-expire gas tax.  Mercury News wonders what it would do the Bay Area.
  • SMART isn’t the only transit agency facing problems: Vancouver’s TransLink has funding issues, Atlanta’s MARTA system is under fire from the car-dependent, and Washington, DC isn’t sure how it should align one end of its planned streetcar line.
  • Looking to the Old World for how to structure urban spaces.
  • Someone read the entire Seattle land use code and came away with some observations.  A braver man than I.

Mid-Week Links: Delay Delay

  • In SMART news, Farhad Mansourian released new numbers this last week showing an increase in costs, causing the MTC to delay and reevaluate the critical bailout that was contingent on costs remaining steady.  According to Mansourian’s analysis, the budget remains balanced, but overall construction costs increase.  The IJ keeps up its support, but it’s right that the system needs to get its act together.  Opponents say the numbers still aren’t right and begin gathering signatures for repeal while Mansourian blasted RepealSMART for arguing that the whole train project should be built at once or not at all, but made no comment on the numbers critique.  Also unknown is why the critical system continues to shoot itself in the foot.
  • In affordable housing, a new study out of the DC Office of Planning (for the municipality, not the feds) attempts to take transportation costs into account when analyzing housing affordability.  As intuition would have it, the further you travel from work the more expensive it is to get there, decreasing affordability.  Forbes’ Joel Kotkin declares that ABAG is conducting a war on the single-family home (nevermind the fact that rowhouses are single-family homes), saying people want to live in such homes but will pay a premium to live in urban areas, citing an old Chronicle article of how the middle class are priced out of San Francisco.  Nope, no contradiction there.  Oh, and he takes a few potshots at Marinites just for kicks.
  • By the way, Novato’s awesome.
  • Elsewhere in California, Jerry Brown vetoed a bill allowing local planning authorities to require businesses help cover transit costs of its employees’ commute; Larkspur will be timing its traffic signals to help car flow around, well, everywhere, although its pedestrian facilities could use some help; bike lanes are added to the Golden Gate Bridge’s Eastern walkway, although it’s still too crowded; the MTC’s impending move to San Francisco may not be so impending; San Diego gets a new growth plan; and Lawrence Berkeley National Labs wants to find new space near transit, causing East Bay councilmembers to salivate simultaneously.
  • In other news, Frank Gruber asks why Americans implemented policies that destroyed our cities, and Grist relays a grisly reminder of what happens when drivers don’t realize that bikers are vehicles, too.  San Francisco does its own cyclists well by prosecuting the alleged driver in a hit-and-run that killed a German tourist on a bicycle.

Mid-Week Links: Baby Steps

County Proper

aja_2005_1210_010

photo from archibald jude

  • The never-ending news of rail in Marin continues with Novato’s final approval of the mighty and efficient freight train, which will now run through the city as far as Eureka.  Santa Rosa got its first new freight train this week, too.  (IJ, Patch, Press-Democrat)
  • In a mishmash of acronyms, MTC considers SMART’s pedestrian facilities for TIGER funds. (IJ, Fast Lane)
  • Work is starting to add HOV lanes to the Novato Narrows, an area of Highway 101 north of the Atherton Avenue exit.  Freeway widening is never a good answer to traffic, especially with a train on the way, but at least it’s HOV. (Patch, IJ)
  • Meanwhile, Novato declares sprawl to be the way forward, approving zoning for affordable housing at 20 units per acre instead of the State-mandated 30 units per acre.  Although 20 units per acre could do some good, as the form matters more than the density, the downgrade is a loss to the city. (IJ, Transit in Utah)

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Making Sense of Our Governmental Mishmash

Marin is governed by a huge number of overlapping governments, commissions, committees, agencies, authorities, departments and boards.  No wonder the Bay Area is so difficult to govern.

If you hadn’t noticed, there’s a new page at the top of The Greater Marin, with links to every official entity with some power over Marin County development issues, from the White House to the Bolinas Public Utilities District.

At the Federal level, things are pretty clear.  Congress has oversight over the Executive Branch, which has issue-specific Departments and Agencies to deal with whatever regulations need to be enforced or enacted.  Laws get passed, but are typically implemented by the existing structure.

Lower down the chain, the situation becomes significantly murkier.  The Bay shoreline is managed by the San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission, while the Pacific shoreline is managed by the California Coastal Commission.  Housing and urban development is even more touchy, with involvement from the Association of Bay Area Governments, the BCDC, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Joint Policy Committee, the County government, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, State regulations, and the affected city and county governments.  Transit further complicates affairs, as one or more of the Bay Area’s dozens of transit agencies gets involved, as well as the County transportation authority, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, State agencies and the US Department of Transportation.

At current count, for Marin alone I count seven unincorporated areas with governments, twelve incorporated cities and towns, four transit agencies, the Board of Supervisors and nine other regional entities with specific issue areas.

The good news is that most of the unelected bodies draw from Marin’s body of elected officials, so there is consistency of policy between them.  The SMART Board, for example, requires that some of its members sit on the TAM Board, to ensure that their policies have continuity, and that members are kept abreast of local transportation issues.

This agglomerated structure, though, leads to weakness and a sense that the unelected bodies are sent by Sacramento to intrude upon local sovereignty.  When the Clipper Card rolled out, it took a very long time for it to filter into the various member transit districts of the MTC, and even now not all transit agencies accept the card.  In the interim, local transit agencies spent millions of dollars to roll out similar cards, duplicating efforts, wasting money, and further prolonging the wait for a standardized smart card.

When Novato debated affordable housing mandates from ABAG, a continual complaint was that Sacramento was imposing its will upon the town.  When the city eventually finalized its rather modest housing plans, the chatter was that Novato had told off the State, not an Association on which its own councilmembers sit.

So what can be done?

On the one hand, Bay Area residents are fiercely independent and notoriously headstrong.  San Francisco has its own style, and it would just as soon not be lumped in with Fremont if it can be helped, Berkeley would blanche at being dictated to by Oakley, and the New York Times once called Bolinas the “Howard Hughes of towns.”  On the other hand, the Bay Area functions as a region and faces regional problems, from the Bay itself to the freeways and bridges.

One idea is to create a new office, a Bay Area Lieutenant Governor directly elected by the residents.  The official would act as advocate for Bay Area policy in Sacramento and coordinate policy between each of the disparate bodies that has authority over the region.  The election campaign of a Lieutenant Governor would unite the region in a way that is impossible under the current governmental mélange, while having someone at the top would mean greater legitimacy for the bureaucracy.

A less ambitious idea would be to simply consolidate the various bodies into a single unified hierarchy, perhaps under ABAG, and reduce overlapping mandates.  Any permitting would go through this unified structure.  The bodies would share staff, standardize forms and processes, and proximity would allow policies to rub off from one agency to another in a way that’s currently impossible.  A merger between ABAG and MTC was proposed in 2001 but eventually died due to internal opposition; the two agencies established the Joint Policy Committee instead.

But no politician or bureaucrat wants to cede power, and few people have the stomach to create government, even if it means streamlining what already exists.  There are so many sacred cows, so many little fiefdoms, in the current system that Bay Area residents will most likely be stuck with what they have for some time.  At the very least, now there’s an index to reference.