Marin Phone: (415) 419-3510
Sonoma Phone: (707) 583-2323
Mail: 90 Digital Drive, Novato, CA 94949
ABOUT THIS UPDATE: Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) provides periodic updates to interested members of the public. Please send us your questions or comments by contacting us by phone, e-mail or regular mail. We want to hear from you.
IN THIS ISSUE:
Station Area Planning Work Begins
SMART In The News
Help Spread the Word
The Federal Transit Administration is currently reviewing the first draft SMART Alternatives Analysis. This document describes the specific alternatives to be studied during the environmental review process, e.g., the No Build Alternative, which includes no additional rail or transit services, Bus Alternative and Passenger Rail Alternative for North Bay residents. SMART is working with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the project’s consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff, to develop the EIR/EIS. The Administrative Draft of the EIR/EIS is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2004.
Other project work includes a preliminary assessment of the NWP’s grade crossings and bridges to evaluate their current condition and to determine what repairs need to be done for passenger rail service. The team is also conducting simulations of service run times.
A Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee has also been organized to assist SMART in the design of a parallel bike and pedestrian facility. The committee’s first task is to identify areas along the corridor where it will be easy to build the bicycle-pedestrian path and areas where it will be more difficult to build due to space constraints within the right-of-way. The committee should complete this evaluation and have a final report by June. If you are interested in the work the committee is doing, or wish to comment on proposals as they are developed, meeting packets (including meeting agendas and minutes) will be posted on the SMART web site www.sonomamarintrain.org.
The next scheduled meeting for the Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee is May 20th at SMART’s Project Office, 90 Digital Drive in Novato.
Recent coverage of the SMART Project in the Marin Independent Journal and Press Democrat generated op-ed responses and additional public response. Since many of you don’t have easy access to both papers, we have incorporated them in this update.
Several readers have already responded to the Marin Voice column by Nancy McCarthy, which described the direction of land use and transportation planning in Marin as a “developer’s ploy to destroy Marin for their own profit.” There are still a few more glaring misconceptions from that column that require responses.
Myth1: We can choose not to create affordable housing in Marin. The state of California has mandated that every county will provide affordable housing. The exact number required for Marin, as well as other Bay Area counties has been finalized through negotiations with the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). The “regional housing needs determination” for Marin is that we shall provide 6,515 total units by 2006; almost 2000 of these must be affordable to those with “very low” to “low” incomes. Penalties for not providing this housing can range from the county and cities defending themselves in court (ala Corte Madera), to losing all state funding for any development at all, including roads. For more information, go to ABAG’s Web site (www.abag.org).
Providing affordable housing in Marin is not optional. It is not a nefarious scheme by real-estate developers or anyone else. Those in the Consortium for Affordable Workforce Housing are working together to plan where this housing is going to go so that we don’t end up with Ms. McCarthy’s vision where “we will be Fremont or Pleasanton or Bakersfield.” Hundreds of those units might have been at St. Vincent’s, in an ecologically sensitive plan focusing on pedestrian and bike transportation, with 85 percent left to open space.
Now that Susan Adams’ election has frightened local politicians into not pursuing that option, this will require housing will be wedged into a neighborhood near you. Don’t like it? Complain to you state representative, but stop attacking your local planners; they aren’t making this up.
Myth 2: The SMART rail will terminate in San Rafael, tangling traffic in downtown. The project mission of SMART is that “Rail service will be provided from Cloverdale to the San Francisco bound ferry terminal in Marin County” (see www.sonomamarintrain.org).
There are two factors leading to the recent confusion about where the train will terminate. First there is some question about where the ferry terminal will ultimately be. Currently, it is at the Larkspur Landing. The two other proposed locations for either additional or substitute ferry terminals are Port Sonoma and San Quentin. Because the ultimate location is currently in question, there has been some ambiguous verbiage about the location of the terminus, leading to the erroneous idea that the rail will end in San Rafael. It will not.
The second factor leading to this misunderstanding is the last survey of the public regarding rail. The question on the survey was “Would you support rail from Cloverdale to San Rafael?” No rational personal would want the train to end in San Rafael. Due to the wording, the positive response was low, thus we had no tax measure to support rail on the last ballot. This badly worded survey has led to a general misunderstanding about where the rail is intended to end. Answer: it will end at the ferry bound for San Francisco.
While the choice of car is not final, the current focus is on the Colorado Railcar “diesel multiple unit” (DMU). These cars are 90 feet long. The planners for SMART are well aware of the distance between the blocks where the rail station may be placed. There will be a limit of three DMUs for the trains going to central San Rafael so that traffic is not impeded when the train is in the station.
Myth 3: Rail should pay for itself. Ms. McCarthy also complains of the cost of the train. I refer her to the SMART Web site for figures and projections on costs and ridership. I would remind her that highways are not free either. Caltrans’ 10-year Highway System Rehabilitation Program states that “increased vehicle miles traveled results in a faster rate of pavement deterioration,” requiring $8.6 billion to repair (1998-2008). That’s where your transportation taxes are currently going. Now add up the cost of cars, gas, maintenance and insurance we each pay to meet our basic transportation needs in this county. That is your current personal transportation tax. Could that ever come close to the proposed sales tax increase?
No public transit pays for itself. If we are to prevent the scenario she describes – unlimited sprawl across Marin, the loss of open space and deterioration of air quality – we need start reallocating our transportation dollars, both individually and at the city, county and state level to providing safe, convenient and environmentally friendly transportation for all our citizens, drivers and non-drivers alike. SMART is an essential part of fulfilling that vision, in combination with local buses, the ferry and a network of bike and pedestrian paths.
Along with the other respondents to Ms. McCarthy’s article, I invite her to participate in the messy work of planning the land use, housing and transportation for Marin County. It is neither simple nor easy, but it is transparent and open to anyone who cares to roll up their sleeves and grapple with hard questions.
Valerie Taylor is a board member and transportation liaison for the Santa Venetia Neighborhood Association and a co-founder of the North Bay Pro Rail Forum
By Tim Smith
While I appreciate the recent extensive coverage and editorial attention to the implementation of passenger rail by the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit District, there are several corrections that need to be made.
First, the SMART train will not end in San Rafael; we are actively planning to create a seamless rail-ferry connection to San Francisco (and eventually the East Bay) at one of three possible locations (Larkspur Landing, San Quentin or Port Sonoma).
Second, your articles and editorial fail to mention the rigor and proven accuracy of Carl Schiermeyer's previous ridership analyses.
As opposed to the "critics" whose theories you quote, Schiermeyer has a solid record of correctly predicting actual ridership. In fact he did the forecasts for the other two routes you referenced: Inland Empire from Riverside to Oceanside and the Altamont Commuter Express.
In both instances Schiermeyer's forecasts, done in advance of the service implementations were right on target, accurate within 5 percent of the actual ridership counts. Further, Schiermeyer does not start with a priori assumptions related to urban versus suburban environments. His ridership forecasts are based purely on the type of service offered (peak headways, reverse commute figures, off peak service levels), parking and shuttle availability, and the amount of jobs convenient to the station locations.
In other words, the distinctions are not suburban to suburban vs. suburban to city center assumptions, but numerical inputs into his forecasting model. His track record of proven results lead the SMART board to select him for our work in an effort to provide the public with the best analyst available for commuter rail forecasting work.
In addition, your coverage failed to note the significant distinctions between the operating environments of the different systems. Whereas the Altamount system is limited to three one-way trains per day (based on controls imposed by owners of the track), SMART does not have those restrictions as the rail right-of-way is in public ownership. Hence, more trains can be scheduled, with no accompanying "trackage fees", thereby contributing to the higher ridership forecast for SMART.
Furthermore, the story did not fairly compare SMART to Altamount Commuter Express; the story should have highlighted the fact that ACE has approximately 85 percent occupancy and if they were to add trains, they would be full as well, resulting in even higher ridership numbers.
Your discussion of the differences between the San Diego Area Coaster train and SMART are also misleading in that the size and location of cities along both the Coaster and SMART rail corridors are much more alike than your article and editorial imply.
An additional concern raised by your articles was the feasibility and timing of getting SMART up and running.
As opposed to other transportation projects, the SMART rail right of way is already under public ownership and the bulk of the rail infrastructure is already in place, i.e. station sites, tunnels and bridges.
Repairing and replacing ballast and rail is not a complicated or difficult process, given the alignment is currently in place and station locations are within city center sites. Existing bridges and tunnels must be rehabbed and upgraded, but the lead time for rail rehabilitation is much less than a project that begins with no infrastructure at all. With completion of the environmental draft documents and preliminary engineering over the next 18 months, and assuming approval of a tax measure by voters in November, 2004, SMART could begin construction in less than two years.
In addition, I take exception to the editorial characterizing this project as lacking careful and complete analysis.
On the contrary, the SMART Board, our dedicated staff and project team have done a very thorough job in every assignment they have undertaken and have made these analyses public through our Web site. The SMART project has also benefited from input provided by the public, especially in Sonoma County. We have received nothing but the highest praise from the experts in the field on the quality of our work.
On behalf of the SMART Board I want to express our pride in being associated with such a highly qualified and hard-working group of individuals. At a time when the nation and the world are looking to alternatives to the single-occupant automobile -- in light of fuel costs, availability and environmental impacts -- SMART understands it's role in spearheading a cost-effective rail alternative for North Bay residents.
We look forward to continued public dialogue as we move the project forward.
Tim Smith is a Sonoma County supervisor and the chairman of the SMART board of directors.
Please forward this email update to your friends, neighbors and co-workers. Better yet, send us the name of anyone (including email lists) who you think ought to know about the train and we’ll make sure to include them in future updates. If there are any topics of interest you would like to have us cover, let us know with a quick call or email or letter at:
Marin Phone: (415) 419-3510
Sonoma Phone: (707) 583-2323
Mail: 90 Digital Drive, Novato, CA 94949