A new California State Rail Plan specifies just that, with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit making its way from Novato to Fairfield-Suisun or near Vallejo then hooking into Capitol Corridor service. The 170-mile Capitol Corridor extends to Auburn and San Jose and links into other transit lines.
“At the state level they are now looking at SMART as a way for connecting communities and they are looking at how to connect SMART to the Capitol Corridor,” said Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager. “They see SMART as part of an entire state system. That’s the significant part of this.”
In part, the state report reads: “Evaluate expansion of rail service from San Rafael, Sonoma, and Napa Counties to Solano County, considering rail service primarily on existing rail alignments with potential connections to the statewide network at Fairfield-Suisun or near Vallejo.”
SMART owns roughly 25 miles of track eastward adjacent to Highway 37 which would help make the connection referenced by the state. Trains would go east from the Ignacio Wye in Novato near Highway 37.
“Going east presents an interesting opportunity,” said Bill Gamlen, SMART’s chief engineer, who would be tasked with figuring out how to get it done.
The rail agency is not sitting idle. SMART has applied for an $836,000 state planning grant to look at the feasibility of sending trains eastward.
“We are very excited to go north, but also start looking to connect east,” Mansourian said. “We see this as a tremendous opportunity that the state has provided us.”
The line wouldn’t be built for some time. It would be 2040 before the connection from Marin and Napa counties to the state network at a Solano County hub would be built.
The plan also calls for half-hourly peak and hourly off peak service between Cloverdale and Larkspur corridor with express bus connections from San Rafael to San Francisco and Richmond by 2040.
Plans to go east could be upset by sea level rise. The report notes SMART’s line San Rafael to Petaluma and its line parallel to Highway 37 are at risk.
The rail plan assesses funding and notes the new state gas tax — which went into place last week — as a funding source along with California’s Cap-and-Trade program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Locally, Marin and Bay Area residents will likely be asked to approve a toll hike for state-owned bridges, including the Richmond-San Rafael, in 2018. If approved, it could provide money for rail in the region. If the toll increase — known as Regional Measure 3 — gets on the June 2018 ballot and is approved, a $3 toll increase would raise $381 million annually. A toll increase could also be phased.
The rail report sees a bright future for trains in the state.
“The creation of a railroad network in California in the 19th century connected us to the rest of the nation with what was then the highest-speed form of transportation,” the report says. “Continued rail investments in the 20th century helped California’s rapid economic development. For the 21st century, California is again poised to put ‘high speed’ back in rail.
“By 2040, Californians will have access to an integrated, state-of-the-art rail system that will revolutionize personal mobility and enhance quality of life.”
There is a conviction among transportation planners and Chambers of Commerce that additional lanes on freeways and highways reduce congestion and are good for business. This is a myth.
Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that adding a lane decreases congestion only temporarily. The new lane stimulates sprawl development with comes with additional cars and trucks. In one or two years the lane is filled, congestion returns to the freeway or highway but now there are more cars to dump onto city streets and interchanges. The ultimate results are predictable: loss of open space, more congestion, more accidents, more pollution, more noise pollution, more climate change and horrendous amounts of money squandered on a non-solution. It is a principle of ecology: if you create more habitat the species will come.
The real solution is better transit, especially rail transit. Addition of more rail transit is less expensive, can carry far more people, is safer, can reduce pollution, uses far less open space, stimulates transit-centered development and housing. With sufficient investment, rail travel can be made more convenient and lest costly to the traveler than driving.
Transit-centered development places housing and commercial businesses within already developed city infrastructure lowering the cost to the cities of installation and maintenance. It allows citizens to access local businesses without a car.
And it is better for tourism. Western Marin and Sonoma Counties are heavily impacted by tourist traffic, especially in the summer months. Climate change caused by autos and trucks (about one half of carbon dioxide emissions in California come from cars and trucks), will disrupt everything that tourists come to experience in Marin and Sonoma Counties: the ocean’s fisheries will deplete due to sea acidification, beaches will flood due to seal level rise, agriculture will suffer due to erratic and extreme weather, forests and cities will burn due to wildfires driven by ferocious winds, and salmon spawning will be diminished by increased flooding.
Yet our political leaders do not seem to have received the message yet. For example, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority/Regional Climate Protection Authority just approved just approved plans that include additional lanes for Highway 101. This is a $6,000,000 quick fix with very dangerous consequences. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s new Bay Area Plan 2040 includes money for additional lanes on other Bay Area freeways. Our elected leaders need to hear for their constituents, “More trains, no more lanes!”
A safer route for bicyclists who perilously pedal along Alexander Avenue to get to Sausalito is part of the latest iteration of the county’s bicycle and pedestrian master plan.
The 175-page master plan maps bicycle and pedestrian use in the county for the coming years with a goal of creating safer routes that ultimately ease traffic. Introduced in 2001, the master plan was last updated in 2008.
“The main focus is closing gaps where you have known (safety) issues,” said Dan Dawson, a county planner who helped develop the latest plan.
One of the projects identified in the plan is a way around busy and steep Alexander Avenue, which leads into Sausalito.
In the past decade the number of bicyclists coming from San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausalito has proliferated. On Alexander Avenue those bicyclists mix with motor traffic that travels nearly at freeway speeds.
“It’s extraordinarily dangerous,” Supervisor Kate Sears said last week as the bike plan was reviewed
The splendor of Ring Mountain was on full display Monday as sunshine lit up a froggy marsh amid resurgent native growth — all elements of a preserve boosted in recent years by new funding.
“Ring Mountain is an incredibly beautiful place,” said Max Korten, Marin County Parks director.
Now, a freshly signed deal will help keep it that way, county officials said.
The Board of Supervisors last week signed off on an agreement with the Nature Conservancy to bring in a $240,000 grant to help support the Ring Mountain Stewardship and Habitat Restoration Program through early 2021. The program is now several years in and has done much to revive and highlight the rare natural resources on the 387-acre preserve that straddles the boundary between Corte Madera and Tiburon.
“We have amazing rare plants, interesting geology and great community involvement that have worked to really improve the preserve,” said Andy Longman, Ring Mountain’s stewardship coordinator, as he enthusiastically showed off the area Monday. “It’s a great mix here.”
Ring Mountain provides an opportunity to see rare wildflowers, a Native American grinding stone and a rock with prehistoric petroglyphs, among other sites. The Coast Miwoks once inhabited the region.
The preserve is named for George Ring, a Marin County supervisor from 1895 to 1903.
Serpentine is a mineral that creates difficult growing conditions for plants in the preserve’s soils, Longman noted. That has produced some rare species of plants, including the Tiburon mariposa lily, which grows nowhere else in the world.
All of the preserve was almost lost.
The area was once slated for development, but Phyllis Ellman, a Tiburon resident, rallied an effort to save Ring Mountain from housing. Known as “Mother Botany” for her knowledge of local wildflowers, Ellman helped preserve Ring Mountain in the late 1970s.
The Nature Conservancy eventually acquired the land in the 1980s and then turned it over to the county in 1995.
Over the years invasive plants sprung up, which threatened the rare plant species.
In 2011, the county began working with the Nature Conservancy to better protect the preserve and rid it of damaging invaders. Since then there have been 189 volunteer events and 6,000 hours of labor poured in by 3,500 volunteers. Students from Marin Country Day School, Cove School, New Village School, Marin Academy and others have worked on the mountain and removed invasives to help it heal.