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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

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

For second consecutive year, Sonoma County’s overall health ranking declines

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Read the full report here and explore rankings by county here

For the second year in a row, Sonoma County’s rank in a key national measure of community health and wellness has declined when compared with other California counties.

According to the 2019 County Health Rankings compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute, Sonoma County dropped to No. 8 in overall health outcomes of its residents among the state’s 58 counties, a slip from No. 7 in 2018 and a high of No. 5 in 2017.

The annual health ranking includes a variety of issues, such as premature death, low birth weight, education attainment, income inequality, smoking, obesity, insurance coverage and violent crime, in an attempt to show how health is influenced by where people live, learn, work and play.

This year’s nationwide health rankings report zeroed in on the burden of high housing costs and the effect on people’s health.

The report found that more than 11 percent of households in the United States spend more than half of their monthly income on housing costs.

In Sonoma County, 24 percent of county residents experience at least one of four problems with housing: overcrowding; high housing costs; inadequate kitchen and plumbing.

Read more at

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

Carpool decals set to expire for hundreds of thousands of California drivers with clean-air vehicles

Alexandria Bordas, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Clarence Dold has been a proud owner of a used Nissan Leaf electric car since 2016. Back when he was commuting to San Mateo from his home in Santa Rosa, being able to slide into the carpool lane and cruise past cars sitting idly in traffic was an added bonus to the smaller climate footprint of his electric vehicle. But as of Jan. 1, Dold and nearly 215,000 zero- and low-emission car owners in the state of California are set to lose their clean-air carpool status. That group is composed of electric and hybrid vehicles.

The state Legislature last year passed a measure that will no longer recognize the white and green carpool decals on clean-air vehicles purchased before 2017. Only vehicles purchased since then will qualify for the new passes, which are red. Those qualifying owners will have to apply to the state for the new passes.

Dold, who learned of the new law only weeks ago, said he felt the change unfairly treats drivers who have long invested in low-emission vehicles.

“What upsets me is that I thought I was going to get to use the decal for three years, and had I waited even just a few months, I would have qualified for the extension,” Dold said.

The new law is an attempt to address the overcrowding of carpool lanes — a result partly of California’s bid to spur the wider adoption of cleaner-burning vehicles 13 years ago by first offering owners of hybrid cars unrestricted access to carpool lanes. Caltrans documented the problem two years ago, pointing partly to increased carpool traffic stemming from clean-air decals.

California has the largest share of low- and zero-emission vehicles in the nation by far.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9089030-181/carpool-decals-set-to-expire?sba=AAS

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SMART to begin work on extension of commuter rail to Windsor

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board of directors Wednesday authorized spending $24 million to launch the next, highly anticipated phase of railwork needed to extend commuter train service north to Windsor.

The unanimous board decision represents a major expansion geared toward fulfilling the promise made in 2008, when voters approved a two-county, 70-mile line stretching from Cloverdale to Larkspur.

The SMART board approved the spending with two 12-0 votes, setting in motion rail safety upgrades and design work needed to expand the rail line north by 3 miles from the current northbound terminal near the Sonoma County Airport.

The work is set to begin this fall, with heavy construction in 2020 and system testing in 2021. Agency officials said SMART could start serving Windsor, with a population of 27,000, by late 2021 or early 2022.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8754419-181/smart-to-begin-work-on

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

Study: Sonoma County getting older, more reliant on commuters

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County is heading into a period of powerful change: The rising number of senior citizens will outpace growth in working-age residents, increasing the county’s reliance on workers who live in other parts of the Bay Area.

A shortage of affordable housing is compounding the demographic shift, forcing more and more people to commute into the county every day to fill employers’ need for workers.

Those projections are addressed in a new, wide-ranging report from county economic development officials. The report, the 2018 Unabridged Sonoma County Indicators, is a virtual almanac of facts about the local economy, housing market, environment and health of residents.

The report is one of many released in 2018 that offer a wealth of socioeconomic data on the county. The compilation of statistics comes in a year where officials have been studying both threats and opportunities for the county and the greater Bay Area.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/8664855-181/study-sonoma-county-getting-older

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Santa Rosa bicycle commuter beaten while riding through homeless camp on Joe Rodota Trail

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A bicycle commuter riding Tuesday along the Joe Rodota Trail was assaulted as he passed through a homeless camp on the popular bike and pedestrian path connecting Santa Rosa to Sebastopol.

Bill Petty, 42, was pedaling home when he said a group of eight to 10 people blocked his path. As he tried to walk his bike through the crowd, he said someone pulled on his shirt, an argument broke out and then a man punched him.

Petty said he suffered fractures just above his left eye and on his nose, which he had treated at the hospital.

“I didn’t even see the punch coming,” said Petty, a Roseland resident who for more than a year had been riding his bike every day to and from work on Auto Row on Corby Avenue.

He said he called out to the group as he approached on his bike but no one moved.

“They’re telling me that I should go around, I said, ‘I can’t go around because there’s tents on both sides of the trail,’” Petty said.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8337445-181/santa-rosa-bicycle-commuter-beaten

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SMART confronts crush of bike-toting commuters

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The North Bay’s new commuter rail line is proving popular among commuters with bicycles — so popular that SMART officials may eventually adjust the way they run trains to better accommodate passengers who bring their wheels on board.
Throughout September, SMART’s first full month of operations, trains usually carried about 250 to 300 bicycles daily on weekdays, and less than 100 daily on weekends, according to figures recently provided by the transit agency.
Those numbers scrambled expectations of some Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit leaders who thought more bicyclists would ride on the weekends and more commuters would choose to leave their bikes behind before hopping on a train.
“There are way more people riding their bikes than I expected,” said Deb Fudge, Windsor mayor and the chairwoman of SMART’s board of directors. “That’s a good thing. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do in Sonoma County, is get people out of cars. And they’re doing it. And they’re getting to the stations lots of different ways.”
Fudge expected to see more people use the system’s bike lockers, available at all 10 stations. But many of those lockers have sat empty as more commuters instead brought their bikes to use trains.
Read more at: SMART confronts crush of bike-toting commuters | The Press Democrat –

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Transportation, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , ,

Op-Ed: Rebuild State Route 37 to address sea level rise and traffic 

Fraser Shilling and Steven Moore, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
State Route 37 — which snakes across Solano, Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties in Northern California — is living on borrowed time.
At times, the highway appears to be impassable because of the 44,000-plus vehicles that travel portions of it every day. However, the effects of climate change will render this critical northern Bay Area crossing absolutely impassable during high tides unless we collaborate regionally on the best way to balance traffic needs and the valuable wetlands the roadway straddles.
The societal challenge we face is adapting to environmental changes in a resilient way while being ecologically sustainable. In the Bay Area, rebuilding State Route 37 to avoid its potential loss in the next 20 years because of flooding will be our first regional foray into adapting to sea level rise — an issue that will threaten most of our shoreline infrastructure, coastal ecosystems and population centers.
State Route 37 provides a critical “northern crossing” of the San Pablo Bay as it stretches from Interstate 80 in the east, to Highway 101 in the west, serving local residents, commuters and visitors, as well as freight haulers traveling between the Central Valley and the Santa Rosa area. Today the highway is built atop a berm, an outdated method of building roads across marshes and waterways that constricts the ability of the bay to improve water quality by filtering out pollutants, produce more fish and wildlife, and absorb floods.
The temptation may be to work on a quick, easy fix that reduces traffic congestion while ignoring long-term consequences. These consequences include traffic congestion returning to current levels in a few years, and the San Pablo Bay tidal marshes being cut off from the life-giving ebb and flow of the tides.
Read more at: Rebuild State Route 37 to address sea level rise and traffic – San Francisco Chronicle

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

Commuters find joys, pains of using new SMART rail system 

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Five days a week, Wally Walston rides his bike less than 2 miles to the Cotati SMART station and rolls his two-wheeler aboard the train for a 32-minute trip to southern Novato.
In the past month Shaun Ralston has cycled to and from SMART stations in Sonoma and Marin counties. He also has combined his train trips with bus and ferry rides and been shuttled by Lyft, a ride-sharing service paid for by his employer, Sutter Health.
And Sharon Bringel last week said she was going to take her first SMART trip to her job in San Rafael. The decision came after watching a northbound train with a coworker on board zip by her car as it sat stuck in afternoon freeway traffic.
“When she passed us, I said, ‘Okay, we need to at least try this,’” said Bringel, who stopped by the Petaluma station on Thursday with her husband Don to purchase a Clipper Card, the payment method accepted by SMART and other regional transit services.
The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency attracted nearly 53,000 riders in its first three weeks of service, surpassing projections for the period of 46,800 passengers.
The biggest surprise has been the 15,000 weekend patrons, which is more than seven times greater than first anticipated.Even so, the majority of passengers still ride during the week, and interviews with a half-dozen commuters offered overwhelmingly positive reviews.
Read more at: Commuters find joys, pains of using new SMART rail system | The Press Democrat –

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SMART reports higher-than-expected ridership over first three weeks of paid service 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

For more information about SMART schedule and fares, click here.

The first three weeks of operation for the North Bay’s new commuter train showed the rail line has continued to attract weekend riders in far greater numbers than initially anticipated, while the concentration of passengers with bicycles is prompting SMART officials to ponder how they accommodate those commuters going forward.
Trains carried nearly 53,000 passengers in the weeks after paid service began Aug. 26, well beyond the roughly 46,800 passengers the agency projected for that period, Farhad Mansourian, general manager of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency said Wednesday.
More than 15,600 of those riders were on weekends, Mansourian told SMART board, whose members reacted with clear surprise. The agency’s early projections foresaw just 300 daily riders on weekends.
Mansourian, in an interview after the board meeting, said during weekdays, when up to 3,000 daily riders were projected, the agency so far sees “no pattern” for ridership.“Some days are higher, some days are lower,” he said, declining to provide specifics. “Weekdays haven’t settled down yet.”
Read more at: SMART reports higher-than-expected ridership over first three weeks of paid service | The Press Democrat –