Posted on Categories TransportationTags , ,

SMART board highlights gains in commuter ridership while contesting overall dip in second year

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

SMART board members on Wednesday sharply defended the North Bay rail line’s passenger numbers, touting gains in weekday ridership they said reflected the 28-month-old system’s growing popularity. At the same time, they rejected a recent analysis of passenger records by The Press Democrat that revealed overall ridership decreased in SMART’s second year.

The meeting marked the first time the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board met to publicly discuss detailed passenger data, including daily and weekly ridership, which had never before been disclosed by SMART until two weeks ago. The records were released after agency officials denied they kept such figures, which The Press Democrat sought for months to help evaluate the rail system’s use as SMART pitches an early sales-tax renewal to voters in March.

Agency staff presented an analysis that showed SMART’s ridership has only increased based on reviews of calendar and fiscal years. The hourlong presentation underscored the rise in weekday ridership — capturing the commuters SMART was launched to serve.

“I’m sort of tired of arguing over numbers. Anybody can slice and dice them any way they want,” said Windsor Councilwoman Deb Fudge, a two-time SMART board chairwoman. “The story here is that there’s been an upward trend in weekdays year over year in the 2½ years that we’ve been in service. That’s the story.”

The Press Democrat analysis showed for the first time that SMART ridership declined 2.2% in its second year of operations, which ended last August. The decrease was driven by lagging weekend use, which fell 30% from the first year, and continues to drop in the first three months of the agency’s third year of service.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10559318-181/smart-board-highlights-gains-in

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SMART ridership declined in 2nd year, but weekday use growing, newly obtained records show

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Ridership on the SMART train dropped 2.2% in its second year of service, but is slowly starting to recover, according to newly disclosed passenger data that provides unprecedented detail about use of the region’s $600 million commuter rail system.

Daily ridership figures show that just over 706,000 passengers rode Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit in its second year of operations, or 15,600 fewer than its inaugural year that began in summer 2017.

The data was obtained by The Press Democrat under the California Public Records Act after SMART repeatedly refused to release the figures, claiming the agency did not break out daily or weekly passenger totals commonly reported by other transit systems.

The decline in ridership during the second year of service stemmed from a 30% drop in weekend ridership. That slide has continued in the first three months of its third year, when weekend ridership fell another 7.4%, a Press Democrat analysis found.

However, the data shows that SMART is building ridership on weekdays, making progress toward one of its main objectives — providing an alternative for commuters driving to work on Highway 101. Weekday ridership rose 4.2% in the second year and was up another 4.2% in the first three months of the third year.

Until now, SMART has not provided any data to the public or its governing board showing any declines in ridership. SMART has only announced the total number of passengers who have boarded its trains since service started Aug. 25, 2017, a figure that increases every month and exceeded 1.6 million riders through November.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10518434-181/smart-ridership-declined-in-2nd

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, TransportationTags , ,

Woody Hastings – Environmentalist of the Year!

Tish Levee, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

On December 5th, at its Holiday Networking Party, the Sonoma County Conservation Council gave Woody Hastings the Ernestine I. Smith Environmentalist of the Year award, for his work organizing against new gas stations being built in the County — one of the great success stories of 2019.

For the last decade, Woody has worked at the Climate Center, formerly the Center for Climate Protection, using his organizing skills to promote the formation of Sonoma Clean Power, our local CCA, and Community Choice Aggregation in general.

In April, Jenny Baker’s article in the Gazette alerted Woody and the community to a proposed mega-gas-station at Highway 116 and Stony Point Road. The 16-pump gas station, car wash, and minimart would operate around the clock, all year long. Contacting Jenny, Woody offered his assistance. Together they began organizing the community to oppose the station, which would have been one of six within two miles — with an additional two car washes less than two miles away.

Their efforts culminated in a public meeting on June 25th; all the speakers were opposed to the gas station. Less than two weeks later, the developer withdrew the application. Woody proclaimed, “sometime we win!”

Although that battle was won, the war against building more polluting gas stations continues. Key to winning the war is getting the County Board of Supervisors to adopt an ordinance to put new applications for gas stations on hold until the rules for permitting new gas stations have been reviewed and revised. There’s no way to argue that any of the recently proposed stations are needed — all the proposed gas stations are in areas where there are already several gas stations within a small radius.

For nearly two decades Sonoma County has been commited to responding to the climate crisis, starting with a 2002 resolution that committed the County to reduce greenhouse gases from internal operations. Additional actions in 2005, 2006, and 2008, were followed in 2009 when the County and all nine cities formed the Regional Climate Protection Authority to coordinate countywide climate protection efforts, the first such authority in the US. In 2018, the County adopted the “Climate Change Action Resolution” to pursue local actions supporting goals including “encouraging a shift toward low-carbon fuels in vehicles and equipment” and “switching equipment from fossil fuels to electricity.” Our County leaders appear to be committed to a meaningful and effective response to the climate crisis, but why we are now facing proposals for new gas stations? How does that not make a mockery of these past efforts?

We’re still permitting new gas stations using outmoded 20th century rules while we’re in the midst of a 21st century climate crisis. Contact your Supervisor and urge them to adopt 21st century rules.

For more information see Woody’s op-ed piece in the August Gazette. Check out the Facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/NoMoreGasoline for current information on opposing new gas stations in the County.

Source: https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/woody-hastings-environmentalist-of-the-year

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

Sonoma County airport feels crush of holiday travel during another record-breaking year

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The forecast 10% rise in passengers over last year burnishes the airport’s standing as one of the fastest growing in the nation, based on rate of passenger increase over the past four years, according to airport officials. It also extends a now nine-year streak of gains, stretching back to the sluggish years following the nation’s economic recession.

The holiday rush this week at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport was another symptom of the regional hub’s clear growing pains, reflecting its rising popularity among air travelers but also laying bare the need for a planned terminal expansion.

Through November, the airport had already set another record this year for passenger traffic, surpassing the 440,000 people who flew in and out last year. Once December’s numbers are added, airport leaders expect nearly 500,000 passengers will have passed through the facility in 2019.

But with the swelling passenger totals, waits in security and check-in lines have increased inside the 52-year-old building, which operates with one small baggage claim and a single queue for passenger screening.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10508867-181/sonoma-county-airport-feels-crush

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SMART marks opening of new $55 million Larkspur station

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Leaders and supporters of the North Bay’s commuter rail line cheered the grand opening Friday of SMART’s new southern terminal in Larkspur, marking what they said would be the next chapter linking the train with ferry service to San Francisco.

They cut a ceremonial ribbon to commemorate completion of the $55.4 million, 2.1-mile rail extension leading from San Rafael, hailing it as a transportation solution for generations to come.

“We’re here to celebrate the progress that we’re making for those in Marin and Sonoma, not only for ourselves, but certainly for our children and our grandchildren,” said San Rafael Mayor Gary Phillips, chairman of the SMART board. “It also is the next step in a ‘promise’ that was made some number of years ago to the community, and this is one more step in satisfying that. We’re not giving up on those commitments that were made by SMART, and this is evidence of that.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10445374-181/smart-marks-opening-of-new

Posted on Categories Air, Climate Change & Energy, TransportationTags , , , ,

California considers sweeping electric truck regulation

Skip Descant, GOVERNMENT TECHNOLOGY

The most populous state in the country is poised to adopt a sweeping new set of regulations that would require medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses to transition to zero-emission vehicles.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) spent roughly four hours Thursday hearing testimony from more than 100 organizations, government officials and residents related to the proposed Advanced Clean Trucks Regulation that could require the gradual phasing of big-rig and other trucks over the next decade.

The proposal is billed as landmark in its ability to transform a major component of the transportation sector, and one that is credited with producing a disproportionate amount of air-pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is a very important, and as far as we know, groundbreaking piece,” said Mary Nichols, CARB chair, in her opening comments at the meeting. “because it focuses on the production of the vehicles, to make sure that they will be there.”

Read more at https://www.govtech.com/fs/transportation/California-Considers-Sweeping-Electric-Truck-Regulation-.html

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SMART to begin train service to new Larkspur and Novato stations in mid-December

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

SMART plans to launch service to Larkspur, the rail system’s gateway to San Francisco via the nearby ferry, by mid- December after finishing testing on the extension, helping set the stage for an expanded schedule that agency officials branded “a game changer.”

The 2-mile extension is Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit’s first completed expansion since it began operating in 2017 on 43  miles of existing track from San Rafael to Santa Rosa’s northern outskirts. Completion is a watershed moment for the taxpayer-supported transit system voters approved in 2008. Design, construction and planning service took about 2½ years for the $55.4 million project that includes an accompanying bicycle and pedestrian pathway adjacent to the tracks that is expected to be finished by the end of next year.

The timing of the station’s opening next month and expansion of train service the first week of January is not lost on officials with SMART, who again seek voter support in March for renewal of the sales tax that funds the 2-year-old passenger rail system. Without extension of the commuter rail agency’s primary funding source about a decade early, staff has warned of a need to burn through financial reserves or make deep cuts to SMART’s workforce and service over the next three years.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10340941-181/smart-to-begin-train-service?ref=moststory

Posted on Categories Land Use, TransportationTags , , , ,

Studies criticize wineries’ effect on rural Sonoma County

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Click here for links to traffic studies

Sonoma County wineries should bear the bulk of the responsibility for improving relations with rural neighbors, according to a pair of recently released county studies calling for fewer events, more coordination and a higher standard of review for new or expanding wineries.

The studies, which waded into the county’s most persistent land-use fight, encompass three of the most popular wine growing and tasting areas: Dry Creek Valley and Westside Road, as well as Sonoma Valley. In the reports, GHD, a private company with offices in Santa Rosa and Walnut Creek, looked at traffic counts, crashes and other symptoms of a long-running battle over the character of rural Sonoma County and expansion of its signature industry.

The reports include some of the strongest criticism of the industry to emerge from the county’s prolonged look at wineries’ rural footprint, including the profusion of events and promotional activities now held by many winemakers. About 450 wineries exist in unincorporated Sonoma County.

Many in the wine industry are not convinced of the need for more strict regulations.

DaVero Farms and Winery owner Ridgely Evers said it’s about balance. The No. 1 problem is a lack of enforcement for current rules, he said. And bad actors will ignore more restrictive rules just like they do now, he added.

“This is a classic issue that you run into any time you intermingle residents and commerce,” said Evers, a 35-year county resident whose winery sits at Dry Creek Road and Westside Road, near the epicenter of the fight. “If you look at it from that perspective, obviously the right thing is some kind of balance.”

But neighbors say the study recommendations don’t go far enough to reduce cumulative impacts, and say many of the suggestions already are standard practice for nearly the past decade.

Judith Olney, co- chairwoman of Preserve Rural Sonoma County and chairwoman of the Westside Community Association, two organizations at odds with continued winery growth in rural areas, said recommendations like expanded shuttle service could actually increase traffic.

And she worries about undue influence from industry leaders, who want to authorize more winery events — and with them, more traffic, Olney said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10273278-181/sonoma-county-studies-take-issue

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Sonoma County supervisors back study of Fulton Road SMART station

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday capped a month of speculation about behind-the-scenes jockeying over a third Santa Rosa-area SMART station, voting 4-1 to fund a study of a new stop in north Santa Rosa.

The discussion had initially pit supervisors Lynda Hopkins and James Gore against Supervisor Shirlee Zane and board Chairman David Rabbitt, as Hopkins and Gore favored a Fulton Road location in north Santa Rosa and Zane favored a station in southwest Santa Rosa, near Roseland or Moorland Avenue. Rabbitt wanted to know where the $11 million to build such a station would ever come from before agreeing to study it.

In the end, Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents parts of eastern Santa Rosa and the entire Sonoma Valley, was the lone board member to vote against the $50,000 study of the Fulton site.

Supervisors began the discussion with an attempt to dispel reports they had been squabbling about the location. But they ended with a threat from Gorin that Sonoma Valley likely wouldn’t support tax renewal for SMART because it doesn’t directly serve her constituents. Hopkins chimed in that deliberations reflected the board’s need for a therapy dog.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10151507-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-back-study

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State rail regulators to decide fate of Santa Rosa’s Jennings Avenue SMART crossing

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State rail regulators in San Francisco are set to vote Thursday morning on Santa Rosa’s request to restore a ground-level pedestrian and bicycle pathway over the railroad tracks at Jennings Avenue.

The city has sought the return of the historic east-west crossing in northwestern Santa Rosa since receiving the California Public Utilities Commission’s approval to build it in September 2016. It is seeking a two-year extension to work out a deal for it with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, which now owns the rail right of way. A legal arbitrator for the state agency last month recommended granting the request to construct the footpath through September 2021, stating that the city’s plan for added enhancements met public safety requirements.

SMART, the North Bay’s commuter rail agency, opposes a ground-level crossing at Jennings Avenue, citing ongoing safety concerns.

In 2015, two years before the launch of service, SMART fenced off the pathway, which dates to at least the early 20th century.

SMART previously supported the city’s plan to build an overcrossing at the location, submitting a letter of support as part of a regional transportation grant application for $8 million toward the $9 million project. Santa Rosa ultimately reverted back to a ground-level crossing, noting the access challenges for disabled people and the overcrossing’s general incompatibility with the neighborhood. It returned the grant funding.

SMART submitted [a] letter in support of the city’s updated plans before reversing course once passenger service started. SMART did not return a request for comment Monday about the Public Utilities Commission’s upcoming vote on the crossing. If approved Thursday, the two-year extension would place the ball back in the court of SMART and the largest city along its rail line, leaving the two entities to come to an agreement over the long-disputed issue.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10147543-181/state-rail-regulators-to-decide?sba=AAS