Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Cycling advocates say a last-minute agreement hammered out with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit officials will prioritize a bike and pedestrian path that voters demanded in 2008 when they approved construction of the commuter rail line.
The agreement, brokered by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, calls for establishing a list of higher priority pathway segments and identifying funding sources for those projects.
Cycling advocates had been threatening to sue SMART over a section of pathway planned in San Rafael, a dispute that more generally speaks to concerns the rail agency is failing to meet its obligations to build the promised network. The agreement, for now, appears to have addressed those concerns.
“Overall, this is a very, very positive development. It increases hope that the path will actually be built,” said Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.
Read more at: SMART settlement paves way for bike, pedestrian path | The Press Democrat
There is much to relish about the Bay Area, from the intoxicating landscape to the blissful lack of humidity.
One thing is not perfect, though: the daunting nature of the region’s public transportation system, a patchwork of more than 20 operators spread across nine counties and 101 municipalities that have yet to spawn a cohesive map.
As housing costs here continue to escalate, with growing numbers of people moving farther afield in search of affordability, the disjointed nature of the region’s transportation fiefs, each with its own fare structures and nomenclature, has become the topic of increasingly intense debate among transportation policy experts. A study released this year by SPUR, a Bay Area urban planning and policy think tank, encapsulated much of the public frustration on the subject and has been widely discussed on blogs and in public forums, including one at the venerable Commonwealth Club of California.
“Ninety percent of the people in the Bay Area are essentially tourists when it comes to transit,” said Ratna Amin, SPUR’s transportation policy director. “They don’t use it.”
The study recommends a variety of changes, from better trip-planning tools to smoother transfers. But there are roughly two dozen transit agencies in the region, and each operates and plans its system independently, with its own funding sources, which makes any uniform change difficult.
Read more at: Bay Area’s Disjointed Public Transit Network Inspires a Call for Harmony – The New York Times
Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Imagine arriving after work at a commuter rail station in Rohnert Park and walking to your condominium through Seed Farm Square. You stop at an outdoor market for something to eat, or at a pub for a pint of beer.
Such is the vision put forth this week by a Southern California developer, whose revised plans for Rohnert Park’s central core, including the site of the vacant former State Farm campus, are receiving a much warmer reception from city leaders.
“I’d say, ‘Well done. Thanks,’ ” Councilman Jake Mackenzie told representatives of SunCal during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
The Irvine-based developer’s original plans for the 30-acre State Farm site were criticized by city leaders last year for emphasizing single-family housing and not including enough retail and commercial use to attract visitors.
In response, the developer unveiled an updated plan for what it refers to as “Rohnert Crossing,” including 400 higher-density housing units, such as condominiums, and a 40,000-square-foot retail village of mixed commercial use anchored by a restaurant or pub to lure people downtown.
The plan also calls for a transit hub, dubbed Seed Farm Square by SunCal, built around the station that will be used by the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit commuter train.
Santa Rosa has signed off on the design of a 72-unit apartment complex near the future SMART rail station downtown, the first transit-oriented development to move forward under new zoning rules encouraging higher density housing in the area.
After years of talking about the need to build transit-oriented housing downtown, Santa Rosa may finally be close to getting some.
A developer won approval Thursday for a 72-unit apartment complex called Pullman Lofts just a few blocks north of the future Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit station in Railroad Square.
The project proposes to wedge a three-story complex on the long, narrow 2-acre site of a former lumberyard between the rail line and Wilson Street.
That kind of higher-density housing near a transportation hub is precisely the kind of project the city has tried to encourage for years, but the economy and other factors have made it tough for developers to deliver.
“The marketplace is now catching up with the Downtown Station Area plan of eight years ago,” said Bill Rose, the city’s supervising planner.
The project is the brainchild of Phoenix Development president Loren Brueggemann, who for years built urban redevelopment projects in Minneapolis but since 2010 has lived in Santa Rosa.
He said he is excited about turning a vacant eyesore into vibrant housing that will appeal to young, urban-oriented people who want to live near transit, restaurants, bars and shopping.
Read more at: 72-unit apartment complex near Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square | The Press Democrat
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
County supervisors on Tuesday are set to authorize a $2.2 million expansion of county bus service along existing routes serving Healdsburg, Sonoma Valley and communities along the lower Russian River.
The move is expected to boost access to transportation for low-income people, seniors and those with disabilities who struggle to secure transportation to essential services such as doctor visits, as well as day-to-day access to food outlets and reliable travel to work.
Upon approval, the funding would decrease wait times for riders during busy morning and evening commute hours, officials said, as well as help the county purchase two new energy-efficient buses.
County supervisors hailed the expansion as a much-needed link between rural communities and the North Bay’s planned passenger rail line, set to begin service by the end of next year.
“It’s been a challenge to figure out how we link SMART service to people in Sonoma Valley, along the river and in Healdsburg who may be far removed from the spine of Sonoma County,” said Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Gorin. “This is very critical — I hear from many constituents about how difficult it is to reach services, whether it’s health care, food or education.”
Bryan Albee, a manager with Sonoma County Transit, said the county likely will roll out the bus system expansion by the end of 2016, coinciding with the current timeline for the start of service on the 43-mile SMART line.
“We’re expecting great demand for the new rail service and increased ridership on all of our bus routes,” Albee said. “So as we get closer, we’re looking for ways to fund expanded services and additional buses.”
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Bill Kortum, Sonoma County’s premier environmental activist, was remembered Saturday as a family man, home winemaker, veterinarian, croquet enthusiast and a personal inspiration to others who joined him in defending the landscape here and along the entire California coast.
More than 700 people, representing a who’s who of the local environmental community, attended a celebration of Kortum’s life at the Sonoma Mountain Village Event Center in Rohnert Park, 4 miles north of the Kortum family home, known as Ely Hill, on the outskirts of Petaluma.
Kortum, who spent most of his life fighting to rein in urban sprawl and protect public access to the coast, died at home Dec. 20 after a three-year battle with prostate cancer. He was 87.
Read more via Hundreds turn out to pay tribute to Sonoma | The Press Democrat.
Matt Brown, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The agency tasked with building the North Bay’s commuter rail line is about to embark on a $1.9 million environmental restoration project that will create new wetlands, protect valuable habitat for endangered species and help the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit authority meet the conditions of its construction permits.
Without discussion, the SMART board Wednesday approved a deal with contractor Stacy and Witbeck/Herzog to restore the former Mira Monte marina site — 56 acres of marshland straddling the Sonoma-Marin county line at the spot where San Antonio Creek joins the Petaluma River.
The agency last year spent $2.5 million on the land that is a key piece of the Petaluma Marsh ecosystem, supporting an array of bird, plant and animal species including the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse and California clapper rail. The habitat work is required by a slew of state and federal agencies that issued environmental permits to SMART as it builds the 43-mile commuter rail line from Santa Rosa to San Rafael. Service is expected to begin in late 2016.
Read more via SMART gives go-ahead to large wetland restoration | The Press Democrat.
Matt Brown, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Two-thirds of Sonoma and Marin county residents surveyed recently in a poll commissioned by SMART said they would consider riding the North Bay’s future commuter train, an indication that agency officials said reflects the possibility of commuters’ high interest in the rail service.
The telephone poll of 900 residents in the two counties found that 91 percent of those who would consider riding the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train said they would do so if the service and schedule fit their travel needs.
SMART is currently constructing tracks in preparation for service to begin in 2016 between Santa Rosa and San Rafael. Critics have predicted that trains will run nearly empty, especially since the first phase of service will not connect to the Larkspur-San Francisco ferry due to a lack of funding.
SMART officials suggested the poll results bolster their case that the service will have a thriving ridership within the North Bay.
Read more via SMART poll shows high interest among potential riders | The Press Democrat.
With a little twisting and a lot of heavy lifting, the rare Cotati chimera redwood was hoisted out of the ground Thursday and loaded on a flatbed truck for a short move to its new home across the street, much to the delight of preservationists who fought for months to save the unusual tree.
“It’s a nice, happy ending,” said Tom Stapleton, an arborist who studies the rare green-and-white trees. He and Cotati historian Prue Draper led the effort to protect the Cotati specimen from the log pile.
The 56-foot tree, planted in the 1940s, was growing inside the federal safety zone for a second side track planned for SMART commuter train service that is planned to begin running in 2016.
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit initially planned to cut the tree down, based on its original arborist report that said the tree wasn’t particularly rare and moving it or working near it would kill it. After community members raised concerns and steadily pushed SMART for months with scientific evidence of the tree’s uniqueness, the agency agreed to relocate the tree and care for it on SMART land.
On Thursday, after more than a week of prep work, a huge crane lifted the tree using straps linked under the tree’s mesh-encased root ball and moved it — in an upright position — to a waiting truck.
Efforts to connect the North Bay’s upcoming passenger rail system to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal took a major step forward Wednesday after a regional Bay Area transportation authority allocated what amounts to half of the necessary funds.
The $20 million award from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which redirects a pool of bridge toll funding once slated for a discarded highway interchange project between the Richmond–San Rafael Bridge and Highway 101, is the most significant boost yet for the proposed southernmost stretch of Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit.
SMART is currently planning to begin service on a nearly 40-mile segment between Santa Rosa and San Rafael, a stretch expected to account for the majority of passenger volume in the system. Yet the Larkspur extension remains a priority, with those MTC funds raising the likelihood for additional federal grants and the possibility of a ferry connection at or near the expected start of rail service in 2016.