The Freeway Myth

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!”

Sausalito bike safety project included in county plan

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

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Marin gets more funds for Ring Mountain conservation

Longman talks to a hiker in the Ring Mountain preserve. Marin County has been managing the preserve since 1995. (James Cacciatore/Special to the Marin Independent Journal)Longman talks to a hiker in the Ring Mountain preserve. Marin County has been managing the preserve since 1995. (James Cacciatore/Special to the Marin Independent Journal)

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.

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A Seven-train Trip

By Rick Coates

On January 2nd and 3rd I took a seven-train trip on the San Francisco Bay peninsula, the California Central Valley and the Sacramento Valley.  This was not a tourist jaunt but rather a deliberate investigative project to determine what improvements need to be made to encourage travel by transit.  It was an eye-opener.

The trains that I took were, in order of use, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), CalTrain, the Altemont Commuter Express (ACE), the AMTRAK San Joaquin, the Sacramento Regional Transit (SRT) Gold Line, the AMTRAK Capitol Corridor, BART again and the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART).  A few bus trips and a ferry ride helped connect these segments.

Because my wife was taking a plane to Montana, we took the Airport Express bus from the Santa Rosa’s Charles M. Schultz Sonoma County Airport to the San Francisco International Airport.  After bidding my wife goodbye, I boarded BART at its airport station using my convenient Clipper Card®  to log the fare.

According to BART’s on-line map I could make connection with CalTrain at either Milbrae or San Bruno.  But the southbound line to Milbrae did not operate midday.  So I took BART to San Bruno.

But the San Bruno Caltrain station was not actually at the BART station.  I had a choice. I could wait for the next BART train to Milbrae, wait for a bus to the Caltrain Station or hail a cab.  Rather than wait, I opted to walk the four very long blocks to Caltrain. Clearly BART has not arranged its schedule for the convenience of the traveler.  This is a fundamental problem.

After a short wait for the CalTrain, I once again was able to use my Clipper Card®  to Board the train.  Onboard I discovered that I could not charge my smart phone and there were no restrooms.  And once again I had connection problems, this time with ACE.  The route from San Bruno to Santa Clara was not abnormally ugly.  It was normally ugly.  There were few trees.  Much of the blight was auto-related: parking lots, auto repair shops, muffler shops, auto dismantlers, tow services, transmission shops, tire dealers and fields where old tires go to die.

According to both CalTrain’s and ACE’s website, they shared common stations at Santa Clara and San Jose Diridon.  This is true but with one hitch.  There is no ticket machine for ACE at either station nor does ACE honor Clipper Cards.  Nor were there restrooms at the Santa Clara Station.  I ended up traveling to the San Jose Diridon Station by local bus.  The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) bus driver at the station was especially helpful suggesting the fastest most direct route.

As I mentioned, there was no ACE ticket machine at San Jose and ACE did not use the Clipper Card® (although there are future plans to implement it.)  In desperation I inquired at the AMTRAK window (CalTrain connects with AMTRAK at the San Jose Diridon Station), and discovered that they sold ACE tickets.  How one would know is a mystery.  There were no signs anywhere indicating the option.  At least they had restrooms.

San Jose Diridon is a true transit center.  It serves CanTrain, Capitol Corridor, Amtrak long-distance lines, VTA streetcar lines and multiple bus lines including Monterey-Salinas Transit, VTA and Greyhound.

Unfortunately, as a commuter train, ACE has very few morning trains to Fresno.  So I had to wait for an afternoon train. At long last I boarded the ACE train to Stockton, special ticket in hand. Because the train started so late in the afternoon, the last portion of the ride was in the dark with no scenery to see. But the first half of the ride was quite beautiful: bayside views, marshes with birds and rolling oak-studded hills.  Fortunately the ACE train did have phone charging outlets and it did have restrooms.  It was a pleasant, comfortable ride to the Stockton Station which serves both Amtrak San Joaquin and ACE .  I stayed overnight in Stockton at the University Plaza Waterfront Hotel adjacent to the beautiful McLeod Lake and Weber Point Park.  The comfortable hotel provided a convenient shuttle from the station.  They did not, however, provide complementary bicycles to ride around the plaza and park.

After breakfast the next morning, I boarded the Amtrak San Joaquin to Sacramento.  Another nice ride with mostly great scenery.  Amtrak California  is financed by the State rather than the federal government which is why this train is not underfunded.

I arrived refreshed early enough in the morning to  to catch the Sacramento Gold Line light rail to Rancho Cordova.  The Sunrise Station is a short walk from three hotels and a multi-use path extends from there to the American River.

If I had brought a bicycle which was allowed on all the trains, I could have ridden the American River trail west back to the Sacramento Amtrak station or east to Folsom.

The El Dorado trail is being expanded toward Folsom.  When it reaches Folsom, cyclists will be able to ride an off-road path all the way from Sacramento to Placerville in the gold country.

Instead of biking, I rode the Gold Line back to Sacramento Amtrak where I boarded the Amtrak Capitol Corridor traveling south to Richmond.  This is a scenic ride through Sacramento Valley farms, along the San Joaquin River, and along the San Pablo Bay.  One of the highlights of this trip is the crossing of the Carquinez Strait on a 5620 foot long Benicia-Martinez drawbridge completed in 1930.  It is the second longest bridge in the U.S. and is 70 feet above the water.

The route runs parallel to the shore line of the Strait and the San Pablo Bay.

At Richmond, I transferred to BART light rail which alternates between aerial and underground segments with stations in Berkeley and downtown San Francisco.

To get from the east side of the Bay to San Francisco, trains travel beneath the San Francisco Bay via the Transbay Tube.  BART is often crowded and exceedingly noisy.  Bring your earbuds to drown out the screeching wheels.  New BART trains will soon be in service which, we hope, will solve these problems.

BART’s Embarcadero Station is but a short walk to the Golden Gate Ferry terminal.

I took the ferry across the beautiful San Francisco Bay with full views of the Bay Bridge, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.  I landed at the Larkspur Ferry Terminal which will eventually be served by the new SMART train.  This segment of SMART from Larkspur to San Rafael is currently under construction so Golden Gate Bus 31 provides free shuttle service to the present San Rafael SMART station.

The SMART train was the best ride of the entire trip: fast, comfortable, equipped with snack bar, wi-fi, and restroom.  It traverses beautiful estuaries with many varieties of birds, along the Petaluma River, through vineyards and rolling oak-covered hills.  The route presently ends at the Airport Blvd. Station just north of Santa Rosa.  There is a shuttle to the Airport where we originated our trip.

The trip was mostly enjoyable but frequently aggravating.  The limited connectivity, the long wait times and consistent lack of trains would discourage most travelers.  Hopefully these problems will be solved in the next few years.





California bullet train cost surges by $2.8 billion: ‘Worst-case scenario has happened’

The estimated cost of building 119 miles of bullet train track in the Central Valley has jumped to $10.6 billion, an increase of $2.8 billion from the current budget and up from about $6 billion originally.

The new calculation takes into account a number of intractable problems encountered by the state rail agency. It raises profoundly difficult questions about how the state will complete what is considered the nation’s largest infrastructure project with the existing funding sources.

The new estimate was presented Tuesday by Roy Hill, who leads the main consulting firm on the project, WSP (formerly Parson Brinckerhoff). Hill said the cost increases were mainly driven by problems including higher costs for land acquisition, issues in relocating utility systems, the need for safety barriers where the bullet trains would operate near freight lines and demands by stakeholders for the mitigation of myriad issues.

“The worst-case scenario has happened,” Hill bluntly told the rail authority’s board at its regular monthly meeting.

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