Rail: The Transportation Cannibal

Rail: The Transportation Cannibal

The SMART train here in Marin and Sonoma are not the only areas to see the building of a billion dollar train line as the solution to the areas transit needs – Houston has it’s Metro, Portland has it’s MAX light rail, and Anaheim is spending $318m for a trolley that goes a mere 3.2 miles – trains seem to be the new obsession and solution to all of our transit woes. But an analysis of the actual impact rail has had in historic case studies exposes that rail is far from the solution – and the famous Einstein quote becomes apropo: Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results Planning for Reality would like to thank Thomas Rubin for his expert insight – this article is based on his detailed analysis of rail case studies – and he is owed all credit. Rail: The Transportation Cannibal The problem with rail projects is that they have a disturbing history of causing transit agencies to eat their young – meaning that they cannibalize other far more cost effective projects capable of increasing ridership, decreasing emissions and not needlessly adding to sales or property taxes.   This is the story of Los Angeles, where the existing transportation system is in jeopardy as it is in the process of being replaced by rail. This is in area where the author, Thomas Rubin, has considerable expertize as he was the former Chief Financial Officer of Southern California Rapid Transit District from 1989 to 1993, when it was absorbed into what is now the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. After he...
Cyclists at Fault in Most Car vs Bike Collisions

Cyclists at Fault in Most Car vs Bike Collisions

While cycling is being promoted as safe, clean and energy efficient,  it is an everyday occurrence to see cyclists running stop signs, and even red lights –  seemingly as if laws do not apply to them. While the same is true of cars, the issue appears to be far more significant for cyclists. Rather than rely on anecdotal observation I went to the source to find out the real story. Thanks to the California Highway Patrol I was able to secure data for the years 2011-2012 for the entire state. Previously I had reported on accident figures for the city of San Rafael, but the numbers were arguably too small to be statistically significant. Framing the Data (1) The data only covers instances of collisions between vehicles and bikes – so it is vitally important to remember that it omits all vehicle vs vehicle collisions. I do not have this information, but I would speculate that there were far more vehicle vs. vehicle collisions than there were vehicle vs. bike collisions. (2) The data only covers instances of collisions where there was a stop sign violation, or a red light violation (3) The data combines the years 2011-2012 in order to generate more statistically significant conclusions. This is the most recently available data as of the date of publication (24th April 2014). (4) The CHP informed me that in general there has been a trend of increasing vehicle fault collisions over the past few years caused by texting and smart phone related distractions. (5) The data does not cover any collisions where there was not a stop sign or...
Transit Oriented Development’s Dirty Secret

Transit Oriented Development’s Dirty Secret

An innocent reader interested in learning about transit oriented development projects would have learned from official county and city sources that one of the major justifications was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change. Here is a selection of the justifications made to justify a number of projects in Marin: – The County of Marin told us in official documents that Priority Development Areas would “lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions” – The Larkspur Station Area plan public workshop presentation told us that we should add 920 units of high density housing in order to “minimize greenhouse gas emissions” – The SMART’s train’s measure Q, climate change whitepaper and final Environmental Impact Report told us that it would “fight global warming” But what if none of this turned out to be true? What if all of these projects actually increased emissions? What if the claims that “if we don’t build high density here then we’d increase emissions by building sprawl elsewhere?” rang hollow? Then shouldn’t we re-evaluate all those projects based on the new information? After all the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated unambiguously that the climate change crisis has become so significant that we can’t continue with business as usual. The Changing Landscape: Car Emissions Have Dropped Many of us still feel a modicum of guilty pleasure driving a vehicle – based on information such as the above we presume that while taking transit can be inconvenient, we’re doing our bit to save the planet because transit has lower emissions. But the reality is that cars have come a long way in the last few years....
Larkspur and the Transit Oriented Development Ponzi Scheme

Larkspur and the Transit Oriented Development Ponzi Scheme

If you ask the situational analysis question to anyone living in Larkspur or commuting through Larkspur “do you have traffic or parking issues?” the answer is likely to be a resounding “Yes – we need to sort out this mess”. However Larkspur has got itself caught up in what can almost be described as a planning-Ponzi scheme. Is it intentional? I would argue many involved have good intentions, and many are hamstrung by state and regional mandates driven by flawed thinking that is pushing areas like Larkspur into an endless cycle of creating acute transportation issues, then offering funds to solve the issue that only compound it. It’s like a drug-deal. Who benefits? Regional transportation agencies that gain more and more federal grants, grow in employees, executives get more responsibilities and higher salaries and grow in influence. What Does Larkspur Really Need? In normal circumstances whenever new development is added developers pay impact fees to expand the road system, pay for schools etc. However this money only pays for improvements in the immediate local area. Larkspur is a focal point for transportation for Marin and Sonoma. While development in Larkspur has been limited, the town is affected by all development happening upstream. Sure each new development in Marin and Sonoma only adds a little traffic, but it adds up. Take for example the $820m Graton Casino which opened in Rohnert Park in November which provides no less than 5,700 parking spaces for it’s patrons. The casino will draw a significant amount of evening traffic passing through Larkspur. The casino is paying $12m per year in traffic mitigation fees –...
The Myth Spreading Larkspur Station Area Plan DEIR

The Myth Spreading Larkspur Station Area Plan DEIR

Larkspur represents a focal point for transit in Marin, where the SMART train terminates, the Golden Gate Ferry and the Marin Airporter converge. The area already experiences acute parking issues either in the ferry terminal lot, or in the Larkspur Landing mall. The freeway is a choke-point for traffic – that has yet to be addressed (e.g. by the Greenbrae Corridor Project) and traffic intersections in the area fall  below the targeted acceptable level D. Special interests have been focusing on pushing through plans that would allow the building of an additional 920 dwelling units, a hotel and 77,000 square feet of commercial space. This week I reviewed the newly published Larkspur Station Area Plan Draft Environmental Impact Report – the precursor document used to inform final decisions to allow such development in the area. The Station Area Plan was funded by MTC and SMART. Here is what I discovered: Exaggerated Representation of Bike Path Usage Page 104 of the Larkspur SAP DEIR makes the following statement: “The most popular bicycle paths around and through the Plan area include the multi-use path along the Corte Madera Creek, the path along the southbound U.S. 101 on-ramp from Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, and the Cal Park Hill Tunnel Multi-Use Pathway. These paths are all heavily used by commuters and recreational users [emphasis added] alike to access such destinations as the Larkspur Ferry Terminal and the shopping centers located south of the Plan area. Compared to Car Travel, Bike Usage is Very Low The actual bike counts in the report show the following usage over a two hour period (car numbers to follow are over a 1 hour period): – Corte...