Mid-Week Links: The Right Kind of Parking

So people sometimes think I’m a geek; I bore them to death with talk about LOS and bike lanes and units per acre, but when so much can be done with just bike parking I can hardly shut up.  Marin, despite its cycling culture, has very little bicycle parking in its downtown cores.  Replacing one car space every other block with bike parking in downtown San Rafael, for example, would add 50 bicycle parking spaces for only 5 car spaces.  As well, putting the bikes where drivers need good sight lines would make the program even better.

The North Bay

SMART construction has officially begun!  For the moment it’s just survey teams and a sign, but the $103 million contract has sparked the first construction work of the project.  Construction will be from Santa Rosa’s Jenning’s Road station, added back in during contract negotiations and now relocated to Guerneville Road, to the Civic Center.  Meanwhile, RepealSMART is turning to paid signature-gatherers to qualify for what they claim is the qualifying target: 14,902. They’ve acknowledged they wouldn’t be able to meet either of the two higher proposed numbers: 30,000 or 39,000. (Press Democrat, IJ, Business Journal, Watch Sonoma County)

  • Tea party protesters interrupted a One Bay Area public planning meeting in Santa Rosa.  I hope Marin’s meeting will be more civil. (Press Democrat)
  • There is a problem with the Wincup development in Corte Madera.  Apparently the parking garage is going where a new freeway ramp – part of the Greenbae Interchange Project – is supposed to go, and TAM isn’t happy. (Pacific Sun)
  • Larkspur has a pedestrian bridge design. (Patch)
  • BioMarin is expanding to the San Rafael Corporate Center, lowering the city’s office vacancy rate from 40% to 12%. While office employees only support 4 square feet of retail, it is a chance to build more street life in eastern downtown. (Patch)
  • The Novato pot club has done what the Fairfax club could not: survive. Although neighbors and city and federal officials want to shut down the club, owners are soldiering on after winning an eviction suit from their landlord, who complained there was marijuana smoking on the premises. (IJ)
  • The driver of an Aston Martin caused a four-car crash on Highway 101 after losing control of his vehicle and clipping another driver’s car.  The highway closed for 30 minutes. (IJ)
  • Larkspur Landing could get parking fees on 160 of its “prime” parking spots for only $65 per month.  GGT is mulling the move to help close the Bridge District’s 5-year, $87 million deficit, although the program would only amount to $625,000 over that time frame. (IJ)
  • A cyclist severely injured himself on Alexander Avenue on Wednesday when he lost control of his bike and crashed into a guardrail.  Sausalito wants to redesign Alexander Avenue to make it safer for the many cyclists who use it to get to and from the Golden Gate Bridge. (IJ)
  • Terrapin Crossroads lives, and it’s heading to the Canal to take over the site of Seafood Peddler. The approval process is expected to be handled administratively, as Seafood Peddler already had most of the appropriate permits. (Pacific Sun, IJ)
  • Design and zoning issues could become a political issue in San Anselmo now that Councilman Jeff Kroot is involved in a spat with a neighbor over a planned expansion of Kroot’s home. (IJ)
  • High-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes are not financially viable on Highway 101 through Marin, according to a TAM study, without upping the carpool requirement to 3 passengers. It’s just as well, as HOT lanes would cripple any casual carpooling initiative in the county. (IJ, The Greater Marin)
  • Healdsburg wants to fix an old bridge for $12 million, but don’t have the money to do it.  Federal officials are skeptical of the plan and appear to prefer replacing the bridge for $25 million. (Press-Democrat)

Mid-Week Links: Crashworthy

One of the reasons for SMART’s higher-than-expected cost is Federal crashworthiness standards that forced the agency to look for custom-built heavy DMUs.  Yet, as explained by Market Urbanism, the regulations were made for a time before intelligent, lightweight materials were available and force the US to forego the engineering standards used everywhere else in the world.  As shown above, the new materials are perfectly capable of keeping vehicles safe.  It’s too late for SMART to change their order, but this regulatory regime can and should be changed for all the other transit agencies looking to hold down costs.

Marin County

In case you missed it, there were off-year elections this past Tuesday.  Urbanism won the day for the most part, fending off avowed anti-city challengers in Novato and San Anselmo.  Many disagreed with San Rafael’s new mayor, Gary Phillips, on Target but he has a firmly pro-business stance and will serve downtown San Rafael well.  Across the country, Greater Greater Washington looks at what makes a candidate electable, the Center for Transportation Excellence has posted the status of transit measures nationwide and Half-Mile Circles looks at a few of the big-ticket items.

  • The County is considering regulations on smoking within multi-unit dwellings, I guess because a home is only private space when it’s got a half-acre of land around it.
  • There will be no Terrapin Crossroads, says Phil Lesh.  Fairfaxians are heartbroken.
  • A driver struck a teen in Novato last week along pedestrian-unfriendly Novato Boulevard.  He’s doing okay, although he’s also lucky to be alive.
  • SMART plans to spend up to $200,000 to polish its image and push back against opponents.
  • Novato’s Hanna Ranch development would be built without affordable housing while creating low-income jobs.  This is suspiciously inconsistent.  Deciding on final approval, meanwhile, has been punted by the Council to November 29.
  • California may have  a massive infrastructure maintenance deficit, but at least Mill Valley is behaving responsibly.
  • Mill Valley’s Chamber of Commerce plots a comeback.
  • A proposal has surfaced to create dedicated, separated bus lanes on Van Ness Avenue, speeding buses along the corridor with significantly more efficiency than currently allowed.  Since Golden Gate Transit uses Van Ness for a number of its lines, this change would benefit Marinites as well as San Franciscans.
  • Want to save a state park otherwise slated for closure? Stop by the Parks Coalition brainstorming session on November 15.
  • If there’s one thing Marin does well, it’s loving local businesses.

The Greater Marin

Using open, real-time location data, Eric Fischer mapped the speeds for the transit system. Click to enlarge.

  • Cotati is considering revamping a short stretch of Old Redwood Highway near their hexagonal downtown to make it more pedestrian-friendly and less of the car thoroughfare it currently is.  Local businesses want to entrench the 40 MPH status quo.
  • The City of Napa is considering something similar: a $38 million redesign of their downtown.
  • San Francisco apparently boasts three of the best bars in the world, and there’s no better way to enjoy a bar than to take transit.  Don’t stay out too late, of course: your last bus to Marin leaves at 12:30am.
  • Oakland residents are dedicated to historic preservation, going so far as to wield shotguns to defend their heritage.
  • Shockwaves from the $98 billion (nominal) price tag for California High-Speed Rail continue to ripple through the blogosphere.  On one side are engineers, who say it is far, far too overbuilt, and on the other are those who look at the big picture to argue it’s still a good deal.  I say, if you can save money by foregoing massive viaducts through San Jose, forego the viaducts.
  • Sacramento might not get its rail line for a while yet, but where to locate a station is still troublesome for officials.
  • We love our green initiatives.  Unfortunately one of the most popular, Cash for Clunkers, was a bust.
  • Congress did something bipartisan today and unanimously passed out of committee a two year extension of the federal transportation bill, MAP-21.
  • Bad traffic designs that create gridlock create exhaust which seems to hurt our neurological health.
  • Lastly, in a testament to how budget cuts can even cut efficient programs, the General Services Administration no longer will have the money to make their headquarters an example of solid office design and will instead remain in the big, bureaucratic office building that looks just like you expect.

Transit in Marin

Terrapin Crossroads, Phil Lesh’s proposed music venue in Fairfax, CA, has been talked to death lately and, despite the fact that no formal design has been reviewed, is drawing quite a bit of excitement from the town.  Very rarely in Marin does a project of this relative scale bring more vocal support than opposition, but Fairfax is a rare town.  Still, one item itches: transit access.

Getting to and from Fairfax by transit is, to put it mildly, difficult.  Golden Gate Transit (GGT), Marin’s principal transit system, only operates a few lines outside the County.  This is a problem if you’re among the 28% of San Francisco households that have given up the automobile and rely on transit and your bike to get around.  To get from San Francisco to Fairfax, the best-case scenario will take 1:20 at $5.25, and the last bus home leaves at 9:30pm.  That’ll probably mean you’d have to leave the town well before any Terrapin Crossroads shows begin.  Getting between Fairfax and the East Bay is even worse, as there are no direct routes.

Most Marinites probably don’t care.  Why bring more San Franciscans up to Marin, and shouldn’t they own a car anyway?  The people that choose San Francisco and Richmond are the people that start new businesses, the young people who are poor in cash but rich in talent and enthusiasm.  They are also the people high tech companies want to attract.

Digital Domain Productions, Inc., a digital effects and animation company spun started by Industrial Light and Magic alumni, is moving to Larkspur Landing, but they’re concerned about attracting the young people that come to San Francisco to live in the city, not the ‘burbs.  Digital Domain likely chose a location by the Ferry so they could access the car-free employees they want to attract.  They’ll contribute to the city coffers, but those employees will probably never venture outside of that neighborhood.

How could they, and why would they?  Fairfax has so much to offer, but it’s locked away.  A carless San Franciscan thinks of Fairfax as impossibly far away, and even those Digital Domain employees that would come into contact with Marin daily are stuck on a car-centric island wedged between two freeways.  Odds are high they’d never even see downtown Fairfax, despite its proximity, and that means lost sales, lost interest, and lost opportunities.

How could Marin break out of its self-imposed exile?

In the short-term, GGT and Marin should market the Marin Experience.  Open hills, good hiking, good food and villages away from it all – these are things a city dweller will trek to find.  Pushing the time of the last bus departure to midnight would give visitors a chance to enjoy dinner before becoming stranded.

Often suburban buses carry a lot of unknowns about them.  Making a simplified map showing what goes where, like my simplified road map at right, can go a long way to demystifying the routes and drawing new riders in.  Washington, DC, has a bus called the Circulator, which operates as an express connecting activity centers to one another.  A GGT circulator could move from Market and hit the major downtowns between the City and Fairfax.  This further simplifies the route and gives GGT a chance to brand each stop with the town’s character: antiques for San Anselmo, redwoods for Mill Valley, the Mission for San Rafael.

Longer-term, Marin needs to move to a more transit-oriented form.  It is laid out in corridors, meaning most new construction in Central and South Marin will be along a transit lane, and it’s high time for Marin’s cities to build with the buses in mind.  Eventually, ridership would improve enough that GGT will be able to become a viable alternative to the car and build better connections with the regional transportation network.  By then Terrapin Crossroads will be years old, and hopefully be a draw north for young San Franciscans looking for good music in the country.

Mid-Week Links: Room with a View

a Sausalito view

photo by Robert B. Livingston via Flickr

  • Marin’s bayshore towns, especially Tiburon and Sausalito, are hoping they don’t get swamped by the America’s Cup, a 20-day event scheduled for next summer, and have requested an EIR on the impacts the increased boat and tourist traffic could have on their communities.  Included in Sausalito’s letter is this telling line: “It is not uncommon for the ferries to reach bicycle capacity and strand bicyclists in Sausalito to find other modes of transportation back to San Francisco.”  Yikes.
  • If your “other mode of transportation back to San Francisco” involves that bike, and if you’re starting to get tourist/gawker fatigue, the Golden Gate Bridge has good news: the Western sidewalk is reopening Saturday.
  • Sausalito might build a “hip” bathroom downtown.  It sounds like it’ll be a markedly different design than San Francisco’s proposed pooplets.
  • If you eventually arrive in the City, you might get a good ride down Market: San Francisco might shut down Market Street to car traffic in the near future, prioritizing cyclists, pedestrians and transit.
  • Old news now, but San Rafael’s Albert Park may soon be home to a minor league baseball team.  Think it sounds too cool to be true?  You may be right.
  • Elsewhere in San Rafael, electoral season’s endorsements begin with the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce giving its stamp of approval to mayoral candidate Gary Phillips and Council candidate Andrew McCullough.
  • Fairfax’s held a big town meeting on Terrapin Crossroads, the proposed major music venue in downtown.  Patch’s Kelly Dunlevy was there to record it: Part I and Part II.
  • Although we normally don’t recommend bikes and beer together, I think we can make an exception for Biketoberfest.
  • Work on Larkspur’s Doherty Drive has been delayed once again, this time because none of the bids were low enough and the city rejected them all.
  • And finally, in inevitable SMART news, the agency’s new GM Farhad Mansourian is getting paid quite a bit to run the organization, and the Press-Democrat editorial board thinks the deal sucks.  In response to criticism from another source, RepealSMART, Mansourian fired a shot across their bow in his first real, full-throated defense of the SMART project.  Shame it had to be over his salary.

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.