Category Archives: Transportation

Bike-share program coming to Healdsburg

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Healdsburg is on the verge of becoming the first city in Sonoma County to offer a bike-share program to make it easier for people to get around on two wheels.

Described as a fun, low-cost, low-impact transportation alternative, the program was given the green light this week by the City Council.

The 30 short-term rental bikes spread among five “docking stations” is targeted at residents and workers for short trips, not tourists who want to head out to nearby valleys for scenery and wineries.

It’s envisioned for use by employees who might park at the train depot and take a bike into downtown, or for those who might want to use a bike to go to lunch from their workplace to the Healdsburg Plaza.

Vice-mayor Brigette Mansell described it as a “culture shift,” and a way to get people out of cars.

Read more at: Bike-share program coming to Healdsburg | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living, Transportation

End of the road for diesel?

David Welch, BLOOMBERG

…diesel will probably be relegated only to a hard-working class of vehicles. While hybrid electric cars can save fuel as effectively as a diesel sedan, and Tesla’s electric cars can offer plenty of zip for motoring enthusiasts, no technology gives the towing power needed for big work trucks like diesel.

It’s easy to imagine diesel will die in America. The troubles that started almost two years ago with the emissions scandal at Volkswagen AG just keep rolling on and on. With General Motors Co. now confronting a class-action lawsuit over 700,000 diesel trucks, there’s growing sense across the auto industry that the days of diesel cars are numbered, at least in the U.S.

GM calls the allegations of emission-test cheating baseless, and the lawsuit stops short of claiming a breach of clean-air regulations. But increasingly, analysts are wondering who will be willing to buy diesel cars and trucks given that many in the industry have been accused of fudging pollution standards. More to the point, how many carmakers will be willing to keep making them?

“This is accelerating the demise,” said Kevin Tynan, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “We were never into them anyway, and with alternatives like hybrids and electric vehicles, there just isn’t much of a reason to sell them.”

GM is just the latest automaker to face a civil lawsuit claiming that its diesel engines use software to meet clean-air rules while the engines pollute at higher levels. The law firm suing GM, Hagens Berman, has also sued Daimler AG, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Volkswagen, which must pay $24.5 billion in government penalties and consumer givebacks for cheating on diesel emissions.

Read more at: GM Suit Digs a Deeper Grave for Diesel – Bloomberg

Filed under Air, Transportation

Caltrain electrification grant approved by feds

Casey Tolan and Katy Murphy, THE MERCURY NEWS

The grant had divided California’s congressional delegation. Republicans opposed it, arguing it would help the state’s high-speed rail project while Democrats vocally supported the grant.

In a stunning reversal, the Federal Transit Administration said Monday that it will approve a $647 million grant to electrify Caltrain tracks, nearly doubling capacity on the overburdened San Jose to San Francisco commute route.

The approval comes after months of delays and worries by Caltrain officials and Bay Area leaders that the Trump administration would cancel the grant. If the funding hadn’t been approved by June 30, the $2 billion track electrification project would have lost key construction contracts.

The electrification work will mean faster and more reliable trains on a 51-mile stretch of the Caltrain corridor along the Peninsula, offering more than 110,000 rides per day, up from 60,000. The project will also create 10,000 jobs in California and around the country. The first electric trains are expected to be in service by early 2021, if not sooner, and construction on the project should start in 60 to 90 days.

“This news, quite clearly, is electrifying,” said Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino. “This is all the major holidays wrapped into one with a beautiful Caltrain bow around it.”

Bay Area officials have been advocating for the electrification project for decades, and the federal grant was near its final approval under the Obama administration. But after Donald Trump took office, Transportation Sec. Elaine Chao declined to sign off on it.

Read more at: Caltrain electrification grant approved by feds

Filed under Transportation

Petaluma Boulevard South road diet fully funded

Crissy Pascual and Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

Petaluma is in line to receive an infusion of regional transportation funding, which could help complete projects including a narrowing of Petaluma Boulevard South and a bike path along the SMART train tracks.

The $3.5 million for Petaluma is part of a $26 million countywide funding package announced by the Sonoma County Transportation Authority last week. Most of the funding comes from federal gas tax, though the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s One Bay Area Grant, vehicle license fees and state sales tax.

The road diet will extend work already completed on Petaluma Boulevard. The road has been narrowed from Lakeville Street to E Street. With the new funding, Petaluma Boulevard South will go from four to two lanes from E Street to the round about at Crystal Lane in the Quarry Heights development.

Petaluma’s Deputy Director of Public Works Larry Zimmer said that the project is fully approved and fully funded. The money is expected in the 2018 funding cycle and construction is expected to begin in 2019 and take about one year to complete.

“We got the complete ask,” he said. “It’s wonderful. The great thing about getting the full construction money is now we can do the full project.”

Read more at: Petaluma Boulevard South road diet funded | Petaluma Argus Courier | Petaluma360.com

Filed under Transportation

SMART revises passenger rail service after facing criticism 

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Facing public backlash over its announced schedule for passenger rail service, Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit scrambled to release a revised version Tuesday — one that officials say shortens wait times during peak commute hours, though gaps of an hour or more still exist during some of those periods.

The updated schedule — released less than a week after SMART unveiled the earlier version — still includes 34 trips on weekdays, with the same number of trains. It shortened some 90-minute waits to hourlong gaps and retained 30-minute intervals across most of the peak hours of operation.

The additional arrival and departure times are geared to appeal to more commuters, planned to be the rail line’s key group of users. The new timetable, for example, includes a new 7:30 a.m. southbound departure from downtown Santa Rosa and a new 5:29 p.m. departure northbound from San Rafael.

The adjusted timetable resulted from work over the weekend by SMART officials and representatives of regional transportation agencies following a deluge of complaints since last week on the rail agency’s social media sites. Debora Fudge, SMART’s board chairwoman and the mayor of Windsor, said it became clear that what the rail agency put out originally was not going to work.

Read more at: SMART revises passenger rail service after facing criticism | The Press Democrat

Filed under Transportation

Op-Ed: Concerns that linger about Chanate deal

Maggie Bradley, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

I have three serious concerns regarding the Chanate Road property development. The first one is about the manner in which the Board of Supervisors handled the sale and future development of the taxpayer-owned land surrounding the property. The second is the manner and way the public’s concerns were handled by Supervisor Shirlee Zane. And the final concern is about the lack of sustainability in the building and development of this new community.

The first issue has to do with accessibility and information. Who has it and how do they get it? What I know, based on the reporting done by The Press Democrat and from others, is that there were two proposals vying for the development contract. Two supervisors had only read Bill Gallaher’s proposal prior to the vote.

The property to be developed is in Zane’s district. Gallaher is a generous donor to select individuals running for public office. Zane is a recipient of Gallaher’s generosity. Komron Shahhosseini, an employee of Gallaher’s, is a member of the Sonoma County Planning Commission who was appointed by Zane. Although this project will be decided by the Santa Rosa City Council, Planning Commission members can have major influence on development projects throughout the county. Gallaher was awarded the bid and plans to build 800 new homes. Shahhosseini is now a partner of Gallaher’s and is the development’s project manager.

The other proposal, from Curt Johansen, included approximately 500 homes and was designed as a completely sustainable development.

The second concern has to do with Zane’s response to the distress expressed by the public over the traffic and scope of this development. Do the math. The impact of more than 800 new homes (most likely with two cars) making between 1,600 (one car, two trips, to and from work) and 3,200 (two cars, two trips) trips on two-lane roads must not be tossed off as unimportant. Include the traffic from the new retail area and apartment complex. Then consider the minimal public transit available in that district. It is a recipe for a traffic nightmare and certain gridlock.

Zane’s response to that legitimate concern (I’m paraphrasing) was to say that she had recently driven the road several times and the traffic wasn’t that bad.The public’s anxious concerns regarding potential development (more homes) on Paulin Creek Preserve were earlier diminished as likely irrelevant. What was disappointing was Zane’s passing the buck and blaming the mix up on “staff,” dramatically declaring that she was “blindsided” by the news (“Sonoma County signals intent to protect Santa Rosa meadow,” May 4). However, when the news broke a few months ago, it was treated as no big deal.

Zane seemed confident that something would be unearthed during the environmental review that would somehow render the issue of building on the preserve moot. What and why? If the preserve can’t be built on for environmental reasons, how can the land right next to it be developed?

Finally, the votes in favor of Sonoma Clean Power and the SMART train are strong indicators to our elected leaders that we as a community want to move more toward sustainability. I could find no mention of sustainable building in Gallaher’s proposal.The other proposal by Johansen had sustainability baked into the development on all levels.

As a medium-sized city, Santa Rosa has an opportunity to become the national model for sustainable development. Let’s grab it.

Maggie Bradley is a 40-year resident of Sonoma County whose son was born at the former Community Hospital on Chanate Road and has been closely following plans for development of the site. She lives in Santa Rosa.

Source: Close to Home: Concerns that linger about Chanate deal | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Bike to Work Day just another day for two Santa Rosa men 

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

May 11 is Bike to Work Day in Sonoma County: Refueling stations will be set up across the county. Click here for more information.

With supplies for his kindergarten class strapped to his bicycle and a pacemaker keeping things orderly in his chest, Steve Bush leaves his home in Santa Rosa’s junior college neighborhood for his morning commute.

The 54-year-old schoolteacher pedals north on Old Redwood Highway before crossing over Highway 101 on Airport Boulevard. The 7-mile journey to Sonoma Country Day School near Windsor is one Bush has made daily for years, rain or shine.

He has few alternatives. About a decade ago, Bush and his wife, Meredith, sold their car. It’s been two-wheels traveling for the couple ever since.

“It’s nice to wake up in the morning with a bike ride and to relieve all the tension in the evening on the way home,” Bush said this week. “It makes my life better.”

Thursday is Bike to Work Day across the Bay Area. But for some, like Bush, it’s just another day to keep doing what they do as a matter of routine and passion.

In recognition of Bush’s dedication, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission named the Santa Rosa man Sonoma County’s bike commuter of the year.

Bush shares the honor with Shaun Ralston, regional program manager for Sutter Health, who cycles to work from his home in the McDonald Avenue area to Sutter’s hospital at Mark West Springs Road, a one-way trip of about 4.5 miles.

Read more at: Bike to Work Day just another day for two Santa Rosa men | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living, Transportation

Bay Area officials eye future tolls as way to upgrade troubled Highway 37

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

North Bay motorists suffering through congested traffic on Highway 37 or long detours from closures of the roadway caused by flooding may wish for anything to relieve them of their misery.

But does that include paying tolls?

A fee-based future appears to be gaining traction with a key advisory group tasked with long-term solutions for traffic and flooding on the heavily traversed 21-mile highway from Vallejo to Novato.“

I think everyone acknowledges there’s few options other than tolls to generate revenue needed to do a project of that scale in that location,” said Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, chairman of the Highway 37 Policy Committee.

Rabbitt spoke Thursday following the committee’s meeting at Mare Island in Vallejo. The group includes representatives of transportation agencies in Sonoma, Marin, Napa and Solano counties, as well as the Metropolitan Transportation Agency.

Highway 37, which skirts the edge of San Pablo Bay, is increasingly at risk from sea level rise, and this winter was closed for weeks at a time as a result of storm-related flooding. The segment east of Sonoma Raceway, which narrows to two lanes, is a particularly problematic choke-point.

Read more at: Bay Area officials eye future tolls as way to upgrade troubled Highway 37 | The Press Democrat

Filed under Transportation

Op-Ed: The time has come to create ‘sustainable tourism’ standards

Janis Watkins, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s stunning rural beauty, pristine coast, charming small towns and scenic wine valleys are unique characteristics that draw visitors by the thousands. The boom in tourism has many benefits, including more jobs, increased tax revenues for the county and cities and a lively social vibrancy. But that success has also brought impacts.

Affordable housing in Wine Country has been hit hard by the tourism boom. Although tourists didn’t cause the housing crisis, tourism has exacerbated it. Residents are seeing the loss of housing stock to owners of second homes, Airbnb rentals and outside investors drawn by our local charm, who gentrify or “scrape and replace” neighborhood homes.In Healdsburg, an affluent visitor destination, 21 mostly Hispanic families suffered mass eviction by an outside investor. Some neighborhoods are hollowed out, degenerating into a set of part-time strangers. Low-paying tourism jobs are increasing, worsening the affordable housing deficit.

The increased number of tasting rooms, with evermore intense events, raises the specter of “Napafication.” Rural residents experience traffic congestion, loss of rural character, noise and out-of-scale alcohol tourism-related development. Two-lane Highway 12 is already over capacity with traffic, especially in the northern Sonoma Valley where special events attract more than 170,000 people annually. Approved and modified permits for five facilities alone will add another 25,000 vehicle trips. Similar over-concentration occurs on Westside Road and in the Dry Creek Valley.

In Healdsburg, 37 tasting rooms are concentrated downtown, and they will pay top dollar, driving up rents to where other types of businesses have a hard time competing. For about half the year, tourism swells the population, which puts stress on public services at local taxpayer expense. Sonoma, the other plaza town, has a similar pattern. These tourist-focused towns have fewer services and less space for locals, less diverse economies and are vulnerable to boom-and-bust economic cycles. As once thriving communities become more commercialized, and their assets degrade, they lose their unique qualities, and tourists move on to more charming locations.

Solutions are at hand. Increasingly, Sonoma County is looking for ways to preserve the robust benefits of agricultural tourism, while balancing tourism with local residents’ needs and promoting a diverse economy.

The Board of Supervisors directed development of zoning code amendments, siting criteria and standards for winery events to address the impacts of wine-related tourism. Supervisors have signaled that new development in areas of concentration will face greater scrutiny and guidelines to limit detrimental concentrations and impacts to rural character from business activity in the Sonoma Valley, on Westside Road and in the Dry Creek Valley. Developers have their sights on coastal areas. Luckily, county planners recently put a hold on a wine-tasting, brew pub and art venue proposal in the historic village of Freestone.

“Sustainable tourism” is also being discussed in Healdsburg and Sonoma. City and local leaders are considering how to create sustainable tourism, and the mayor of Sonoma is seeking coordination with Healdsburg on this effort. Sonoma County Conservation Action, a leader in grass-roots environmental issues, supports this collaborative approach. The process should involve broad outreach to residents, environmentalists and the lodging, wine and business sectors, and it should create specific enforceable measures that protect the carrying capacity of communities and balance the needs of tourism and residents.

Janis Watkins, a resident of Healdsburg, is a member of the board of directors of Conservation Action. 

Source: Close to Home: The time has come to create ‘sustainable tourism’ standards | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Though shovels are ready, Trump officials delay grant for Caltrain upgrade

Juliet Eilperin, THE WASHINGTON POST

The railway shuttles 65,000 people a day between San Francisco and San Jose, its cars crammed with Silicon Valley workers tapping on sleek laptops and hoisting bikes into designated cars. But the signs of aging are unmistakable — 1980s control panels devoid of digital technology, the dusting of sea-green foam that has escaped from the seat cushions and settled on the floor.

All of that was supposed to change with the launch of a $2 billion upgrade, underwritten in part by a $647 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration approved days before President Barack Obama left office. But then the Trump administration arrived, and within a month the FTA informed Caltrain that it was “deferring a decision.”

The delay has infuriated California officials, who had hoped the long-awaited project would mesh nicely with President Trump’s call for fresh spending on the nation’s aging infrastructure. But in this era of distrust and polarization, an otherwise popular initiative has become a GOP target, seen as a pet project of the former president.

The move to shelve the grant is reverberating far beyond the Golden State, alarming officials in cities across the nation. The White House wants to slice nearly $1 billion from the transportation budget this year, with the cuts aimed primarily at urban transit projects such as the Purple Line in Maryland’s Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Read more at: Though shovels are ready, Trump officials delay grant for Caltrain upgrade – The Washington Post

Filed under Transportation