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SMART mulls early renewal of sales tax, reduction in fares for low-income riders

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The North Bay’s commuter rail service will consider a plan to reduce fares for low-income riders as part of a larger proposal from SMART staff to next year seek voter renewal of the 20-year sales tax measure that’s funded the system since 2009.

The moves come as Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, which launched service in August 2017, assesses its long-term financial picture with an eye on restructuring debt and accelerating its delayed full build-out.

It expects to complete the southern-most station in Larkspur by year’s end, expanding its operating line to 45 miles of the planned 70-mile corridor. But guaranteed future funding in the form of an earlier tax renewal could help the agency speed up its extension of service north to Healdsburg and Cloverdale, according to SMART staff.

“The reality is we’re a transit operation, and we need to plan ongoing operations, we need to plan expansions,” Erin McGrath, SMART’s chief financial officer told SMART’s 12-member board at its Wednesday meeting. “We can’t have ballot box uncertainty in our future. We can’t have our revenues stopping in 10 years.”

Voters in Marin and Sonoma counties together in 2008 passed the quarter-cent sales that represents SMART’s primary funding stream. Measure Q will sunset in 2029, and the agency’s staff is recommending pursuing its renewal as early as the 2020 general election, ensuring, if passed by a two-thirds majority, funding for another 20 years through 2049.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9464429-181/smart-mulls-early-renewal-of

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Op-Ed: What will we do about Stony Point Road?

Eris Weaver, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Richard Burns. Lusiano Garcia. Mathew Eck. Jennell Davies. Sidney Falbo. Three pedestrians and two cyclists have been killed by motor vehicles on Stony Point Road within the past eight months.

That’s one death, on this one street, in this one city, every six weeks. At this rate, we could expect another fatality sometime around Cinco de Mayo.

What are we willing to do to stop these deaths?

After each of these incidents, law enforcement officers call for pedestrians and cyclists to change their behavior: Be more watchful, wear different clothing, walk farther to a crosswalk. Why do we immediately blame the victim?

These soft, unprotected human bodies were struck by heavy, fast-moving machines. Why aren’t we calling for changes in how and where and how fast we operate the machines?

These deaths are preventable. Yes, some of the victims made errors in judgment. But people do.

The Dutch — residents of the most bike-friendly country in the world — recognize human error in their urban design principles. They acknowledge that small children will run around erratically, drivers will become distracted, and they design for it. They separate fast-moving entities from slow-moving entities.

People will always do stupid things, but designing safer infrastructure can keep them from getting killed. For example, requiring seat belts and airbags has saved lives.

We can alter the width of lanes and the timing of lights; add physical barriers between cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles; add controlled crosswalks at those spots where people are crossing anyway because it’s where they need to go and they don’t want to walk an additional mile, and that’s what people do.

Why aren’t we taking this approach to improving safety on Stony Point Road?

We don’t even have to look to the Dutch across the Atlantic for examples of a different approach to traffic safety. We can just look across the Golden Gate.

Within one week of San Francisco cyclist Tess Rothstein’s death, a protected bike lane along the stretch of Howard Street where she was killed was created with temporary barriers. San Francisco Mayor London Breed has made it a priority to fast-track traffic safety projects on the city’s high-injury corridors.

Five deaths in eight months, and we’ve done nothing.

Our community can do better. I urge our city officials to take action now to prevent more deaths on Stony Point Road.

Eris Weaver is executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/9417564-181/close-to-home-what-will?sba=AAS

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With only 16 miles finished, cyclists upset by SMART’s delays in completing promised bike path

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Nearly a year and a half since the North Bay rolled out its commuter rail, cyclists in the region feel slighted over how little of the paved path SMART promised along the tracks is finished.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit is scheduled to extend by year’s end its train operations more than 2 miles south to Larkspur, completing 45 miles of the planned 70-mile line that will eventually stretch up to Cloverdale.

However, just 16.2 miles of the separated bicycle and walking trail linking each of the stations has been built. That includes short segments totaling about 5 miles across Novato, San Rafael and Cotati completed in the past two years.

Another 1-mile segment northwest of the downtown Petaluma Station is set to be built this summer.

Still, that will represent about a third of the 54 miles SMART pledged as part of Measure Q, a ¼-cent sales tax hike Sonoma and Marin county voters approved more than a decade ago to create the North Bay commuter rail system. Another 16 miles of existing trail next to the train corridor is to receive upgrades.

Critics, including two cycling advocacy groups in the region that boast thousands of members, contend what’s accessible now falls far short of SMART’s obligation.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9413042-181/with-only-16-miles-finished

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, TransportationTags , , ,

Could a green new deal benefit the North Bay?

Robert Girling & Chris Yalonis, THE SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Sustainability Enterprise Conference 2019

REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN: northbaysec.org
Please join educational, business, government, and community leaders for the 14th Annual Sustainable Enterprise Conference on April 5 at Sonoma State University. This year we will gather transformational and engaged leaders from the North Bay counties to discuss pathways to Economic, Social, and Environmental Resilience.

Link to the Green New Deal Policy

There is a good bit of talk about a Green New Deal (GND), a plan to address climate change by directing federal dollars to restructure the economy, protect us from further disasters, create high paying jobs and reduce social inequities.

Among the goals of the GND are to move America to 100% clean and renewable energy. We are already leaders in this arena with Sonoma Clean Power and Marin Clean Energy providing much of the region’s energy.

But there is still much to be done. Think for a moment about the thousands of gasoline-powered vehicles clogging our freeways each day. Nearly 60% of North Bay emissions are from the transportation sector. Think also about the possibility of placing solar panels on thousands of roofs and using the energy to power our cars. Consider the opportunities that might be provided by electric and autonomous vehicles as well as technologies to reduce commuting. Consider how solar and wind energy, designing and building smart cities and smart roads could reduce the threat of fire and flood and improve the quality of our lives.

Read more at: https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/could-a-green-new-deal-benefit-the-north-bay-sustainable-enterprise-conference-2019

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SMART’s review of ticket prices could come next month — or next year

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“We need to look at how we’re going to make our train public transit for everybody, because I think it is not affordable for some people,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who has served on the SMART board for nine years. “We’re seeing that our numbers are still primarily white men working at good paying jobs who can afford the fares. I do want to talk about diversity in terms of ridership and what we’re doing to achieve that.”

The North Bay’s commuter rail service has been in operation for a year and a half, with a stable ridership, slightly higher-than-expected fare revenues, and work continuing on extension of the line to its southern terminus in Larkspur.

But a key dilemma remains unaddressed: How to diversify its passenger base beyond the current set of predominantly white, well-off riders?

Some board members of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency last year publicly speculated on whether system’s pricing structure was impacting the makeup of riders, serving as a detractor for low-income commuters.

The SMART board had previously committed to re-evaluating the fare structure after the first year of operations. But now 18 months since it began service, the agency has yet to bring the matter forward for a public discussion.

Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager, has been noncommittal this year and last on when exactly that step would come.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9326457-181/smarts-review-of-ticket-prices

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Bikeshare coming to Sonoma County SMART stations

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

Sonoma County transportation planners are looking to solve a major dilemma that has potentially suppressed SMART ridership in the rail system’s first year: How do you get riders from the station to their final destination?

For the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, the solution may be a new bikeshare program. The agency received an $800,000 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to launch a one-year bikeshare pilot.

“There is a lot of interest in how people get to and from trains, and whether station parking is adequate,” said Dana Turrey, a planner with the transportation authority.

The agency is accepting proposals through March and will evaluate them in the spring. The format of the program will depend on the winning bid, but models in other cities include dock-based bikes, which are rented and returned to a fixed dock, and others that can be locked to any location and found using GPS.

The program will initially focus around SMART stations in Sonoma and Marin counties, Turrey said. In Petaluma, that would mean a passenger arriving at the downtown SMART station could pick up a public bike and ride it the last mile to a restaurant or concert in downtown. Other bikes could be stationed at the Petaluma Community Center for riders on the east side, according to the proposal, which calls for about 300 bikes overall.

Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/news/9307583-181/bikeshare-coming-to-sonoma-county

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Stalled Corona development sparks debate over housing density

Yousef Baig, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

As the future of the east Petaluma SMART station remains entangled in litigation, the developer tied to the deal is weighing a housing proposal that critics say falls short of the city’s need for maximum density projects at transit-oriented sites.

Representatives from Lomas Partners presented site plans at last week’s Know Before You Grow development forum that feature 112 single-family homes for a 6.5-acre parcel at the corner of Corona Road and North McDowell Boulevard.

If the pending lawsuit between SMART and the developer can be settled amicably, a portion of the property would be set aside for a 150-space parking area to accompany the long-awaited suburban train stop.

But with the fate of the terminal uncertain, attendants at the forum criticized a housing proposal that offered for-sale residences starting at $600,000, pitched as entry-level homes for young families struggling to find market-rate options in Petaluma.

Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/news/9326515-181/corona-development-sparks-debate-over

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Santa Rosa to replace free downtown shuttle with parking pass

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Plagued by low ridership, a free Santa Rosa bus service will shuttle passengers to and from the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit station in Railroad Square for the last time Friday as the city moves to replace it with a discounted parking permit.

The City Council in late November decided to end the ParkSMART shuttle on March 1, a little more than a year after it began in December 2017.

Low ridership and relatively high trip cost were consistent problems for the shuttle. City staff previously determined that at its peak in September about 20 people rode the shuttle on a given day.

To partially offset the loss of the shuttle, the City Council in January approved a new permit allowing commuters who regularly use public transportation to park in the First Street garage for $31 a month. That’s half the cost of the regular monthly permit for the garage.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9327651-181/santa-rosa-to-replace-free

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Santa Rosa planning commission approves ambitious bike pedestrian plan

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A Highway 101 overcrossing connecting Coddingtown Mall to Santa Rosa Junior College and a contentious railroad crossing with an uncertain future are among the bicycle and pedestrian projects proposed in an aspirational city plan that would more than double the number of bikeways in the city.

“It is an ambitious list,” said Nancy Adams, a city transportation planner. “Once you get the road map, now we have to start talking and having the hard conversations on how do you start and get something accomplished.”

The updated bicycle and pedestrian master plan, which contains dozens of projects meant to make it easier to travel around Santa Rosa without a car, won unanimous approval from the Planning Commission on Thursday. It is set to go before the City Council in March.

The plan is inherently optimistic about the city’s ability to pay for future expansions of its walking and biking network. But cash-strapped Santa Rosa’s leaders have devoted recent budget discussions to cutting spending and replenishing reserves depleted by the October 2017 wildfires to pay down pension liabilities.

The city doesn’t have funding for all of the plan’s projects at this time, Adams acknowledged. The proposed Highway 101 crossing connecting the mall and college campus in north Santa Rosa has funding for its design, but the city hasn’t identified how to pay for its construction, she said.

In all, the city has proposed adding 129 miles of bikeways throughout Santa Rosa, increasing its network of bike paths to 242 miles. Alongside the expansive list of potential projects comes data showing that bikes and feet are far from the most popular ways to get to work in Santa Rosa.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9289467-181/santa-rosa-bike-path-plan

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Major fixes for addressing traffic, sea level rise on Highway 37 identified

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

Imagine driving along a four-lane elevated causeway above the brackish San Pablo Bay, shaving more than an hour off the normal Highway 37 commute.

Transportation planners have for years envisioned remaking the 20-mile route from Novato to Vallejo into the North Bay’s most important east-west corridor. Now, they are ready to act.

Officials in Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties have been meeting for several years, pondering solutions to Highway 37’s notorious bottlenecks, where 45,000 cars per day stretch the normal 20-minute commute to as much as 100 minutes. They have also acknowledged that traffic improvements will be irrelevant without addressing sea level rise — without action, the highway will be underwater in 30 years.

The first fixes will be completed within the next seven years, officials say, and a new formal partnership defines the roles various agencies will play and sets the process in motion.

Branded as Resilient State Route 37, the program that includes the transportation agencies of the four counties plus Caltrans and the Bay Area Toll Authority, is planning vast changes to the highway. The Sonoma County Transportation Authority signed onto the partnership on Monday.

Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/news/9236578-181/major-fixes-for-addressing-traffic