SMART to Delay Hundreds of Thousands of 101 Users

SMART will serve just 231 riders to Larkspur, yet it will delay 362,390 daily 101 users. Absurd? Help apply some common sense. Read More >>

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SMART Train and Downtown San Rafael Survey Results

San Rafael traffic may become significantly worse when SMART is extended to Larkspur. This survey captured residents’ attitudes to SMART and the impact on downtown San Rafael.



A Tale of Two Cities, And Their Trains

SMART and Toronto are using the same Diesel Multiple Units – Toronto is Turning into a success story, does that mean SMART will be a success too?

SMART Pricetag to Exceed $1 billion; Additional $622m Requested

SMART has announced new additional costs amounting to $622m, this is on top of the existing anticipated costs of $695. Together this takes the project to a cost of over $1.3 billion.  More >>

A Response to Global Site Plans’ Nick Danty

Every  now and then an article is published by those advocating rapid growth that is so poorly grounded on facts that one almost hesitates to respond. One such article is “Social Equity Or NIMBYism? Marin County’s Battle With Affordable Housing” on Global Site Plans written by Nick Danty, a recent CSU Chico graduate. I’ve known of this post for a while, but it has almost not seemed worthwhile responding due to the nature of its inaccuracy and because it has slide down to the depths of ad hominem attacks – typically a strong indication of a lack of defensible arguments. Writer Nick Danty responds to one commenter: please keep your posts mature and without offensive language Yet his article sets the tone by descending to name calling – labeling opponents NIMBYs. I find this offensive as it falsely simplifies a wholly complex and nuanced topic with a smear intended to distance observers. Such readers might otherwise read up on the topic, become informed and discover that Danty’s arguments are completely misplaced.  Inaccuracies – Where to Start? Moving onto the topic of inaccuracy, where to start? I shall endeavor to be precise and include citations. First let’s get the most obvious, and blatant inaccurate statement by Danty out of the way: ultra right-wing community groups continue to believe that Plan Bay Area is the extension of a global agenda to rob Americans of their freedom. Groups such as Citizen Marin… Danty might be surprised to learn that Citizen Marin was co-founded by Marin Democratic Central Party committee member Susan Kirsch: Frank Egger, former seven time mayor of Fairfax – a town known for being ultra liberal – and director for the Ross Valley Sanitary District regularly attends Citizen Marin meetings and writes on the same exact topics: Bob Silvestri […]

The Supervisors Priority of Convenience: Climate Change

On December 31st 2014 the Marin IJ posted an article: Starting 2015: A Chance to Reboot Priorities that shared that the Marin County supervisors have decided “Topping their list are local priorities aimed at climate change”. My response – how very very convenient for a group of people with an agenda of rapid development and pet transit projects such as extending SMART. I ask, why isn’t one of the following the #1 priority: Dealing with the unfunded pension crisis Dealing with increasing traffic & congestion (an issue affecting the most people, with SMART Sonoma County is planning 25,888 new housing units, placing even more burden on highway 101) Drought (we may have rain now, but we are in a long term extreme drought) Dealing with / helping the  homeless If the #1 Priority is Climate Change Why Don’t Agendas Align With This? If climate change is indeed the supervisors #1 priority then we should expect the Marin IJ article and the supervisor’s focus to be about the #1 method of abating greenhouse gases according to Marin County’s own Climate Action Plan Update: Promoting the use of solar panels. However far better to tie the #1 priority to a “sounds right” we have to fight climate change to save the planet policy, and not mention solar panels. Why? Because then the supervisors can tie their favorite projects du jeur to priority #1 – climate change – and many uninformed sheeple will go along with it. Just look at the county’s own draft climate action plan analysis of how we can make the biggest difference to climate change and assess if they are truly acting on this agenda.  If they are being honest then the news and policy should be dominated by the top programs: – encouraging and promoting rooftop solar (abates 7,036 tons […]

UK to Invest $78 Billion in Roads

We’re told by Sacramento politicians, by county supervisors, by cyclists and transit advocates we need to accept high density housing near transit. We are sewn a story that we can be just as quaint as those progressive, green Europeans. Only here’s the reality check – the UK government just announced a $78 billion road building program. See if any of this  sounds familiar. Over here in the US you may have heard the same rationale made for investing in transit. Here’s what the UK Transport Secretary has to say on the matter: Roads are key to our nation’s prosperity…Better roads allow us to travel freely, creating jobs and opportunities, benefiting hardworking families across the country. The British Government Transportation Whitepaper Read the British government white-paper. This is not some site run by a blogger, not some mere county, this is the British national government recognizing that if one sticks ones head in the sand and bets all the chips on transit, as they had done, it significantly inhibits economic growth and jobs. Excerpt – by the UK Secretary of State for Transport: We need to maximise every one of our economic advantages, and deal with every factor that holds us back if we are to succeed in the global race. Transport is one of the most important factors in making our country prosper. As a densely-populated island, we should benefit from being better connected and more compact. This government has already committed to a major transformation of the rail network. However roads remain the most heavily used mode of transport for people and businesses and we need to give them the same attention.   In June, we announced in Investing in Britain’s Future the biggest-ever upgrade of our existing roads, worth up to £50 billion [$78 billion] over the next […]

The Fantasy of TOD Exposed in Los Angeles

While Transit Oriented Development advocates would have us believe a major shift has been happening to transit, in Los Angeles the figures reveal the opposite story. New Geography’s Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox separate TOD fantasy from reality. Read the full story >>

Moving the Goalposts: Marin Climate Action Plan

The Marin County Climate Action Plan 2014 Draft Update raises many questions. Recently I submitted a freedom of information act request to which I received this response (zip file). The Climate Action Plan proposes that Marin can reduce CO2 emissions by making a major push to switch travelers from cars and light trucks (known as light duty vehicles or LDVs) to transit. This is predicated on transit emissions being lower than cars – but if this foundational math isn’t correct the plan falls apart. Planning for Reality has major questions about this – if the county adds additional transit as proposed then the result is not a reduction in CO2 but more likely an increase for the following reasons: Expanding Transit Reduces Average Ridership: The most frequently used peak time arterial routes are already well served by Golden Gate Transit buses and ferries. Expanding transit as proposed by the plan will result in adding more routes at shoulder periods. This will have the effect of reducing ridership, reducing emissions per passenger mile. Omitting Consideration of Advances in Car Emissions: The Climate Action Plan does not appear to be sufficiently considering enacted CAFE (54.5mpg by 2025) and Low Carbon Fuels legislation. Planning for Reality believes that in the future – cars will emit less per passenger mile than transit. The Marin Climate Action Plan 2014 Draft Update  was prepared by outside consultants ICF. The county is spending in excess of $100,000 on this engagement (if you know the exact amount please do let Planning for Reality know, it’s surely out there somewhere). Expanding Transit, Yet Average Ridership Doesn’t Drop The records request response affirms the error that despite the plan’s push to expand transit services it fails to consider that average ridership/occupancy will drop and consequently emissions per passenger mile will […]

Powerpoint Slides from Nov 13th Citizen Marin Presentation

Many of you have inquired about obtaining my presentation from the recent Citizen Marin event held on November 13th at San Rafael City Hall. Here is the presentation in both pdf and ppt format: Powerpoint Presentation (pdf) >> Powerpoint Presentation (ppt) >> Note: You may use the slides on websites and presentations on condition that you credit the source as follows: “Created by Richard Hall,”

The $68m Bridge Too Far

Many Marinites and East Bay residents suffer at the hands of acute delays on both 580 and 101 in the evenings caused by the evening backup on the Richmond San Rafael Bridge. The fix is on the way drivers have been told thanks to a $70.3m project set to: add an additional third lane that operates during the evening peak towards Richmond construct a bike path the length of the bridge span Planning for Reality questioned just how this $70.3m was allocated between the additional lane – likely a striping and signage exercise – and the bike path.  Today the Metropolitan Transportation Authority – the Bay Area’s regional transit authority – responded. The $68m Bike Path (was $53m) The breakdown, shown right in MTC’s response is as follows: Bike path: $53m Peak period third car lane: $15m Initial project development costs: $2.3m Not shown – cost to replace bike access path: $15m UPDATE: Note at the bottom of page 12: Please note that the peak period (3rd) lane use may result in the loss of existing bicycle access in Contra Costa County from Pont Molate to Richmond on I-580 shoulder. The estimate cost to replace this access is $15 million and was not included in the $70 million estimate Take a look at those numbers again, now consider the number of people who would benefit from the projects: Cars on 580 peak hour: 6,100 Cars on 101 peak hour: 14,000 Avg #car occupants: 1.13 #hours peak commute: 2 Total people affected: 45,426 According to the latest 2013 Walk Bike Marin bike counts the average Marin bike path has 53 riders per hour, so here’s the bike path math: Cyclists on the Richmond  Bridge peak hour: 53 Riders per bike: 1 #hours peak commute: 2 Total people affected: 106 The figure […]

The Richmond Bridge Bike Path – A Bridge too Far?

While acknowledging that bicycle infrastructure is behind the curve and merits increased expenditure, we are seeing bike path projects where expenditures have been getting out of hand. Transportation funding is dwindling, the SMART train already diverted $11.4m of funding earmarked to solve congestion at the 101 Greenbrae interchange. Thanks to highly effective bicycle lobbyists and “transit oriented development” Marin’s commuters face another diversion of transportation funding.  The Cal Park tunnel  project works out at a cost of $675,000 to remove one car from our roads. That’s quite an extraordinary expense.  And we now look set to follow this boondoggle with another bike path costing even more over the Richmond San Rafael Bridge. The Cal Park Tunnel – the $27m Bikers Boondoggle SF Streetsblog, a pro-cycling and TOD site, reports: After 17 years of planning, the Cal Park tunnel will open to Marin County cyclists today, providing a shorter, safer route between San Rafael and the Larkspur Ferry for an estimated 800,000 riders a year. The 1.1-mile project includes class 1 bike lanes to connect the 1,106-foot bore with Sir Francis Drake Boulevard on the south and Anderson Road in San Rafael So how much did the project cost? The initial estimate was $3m but by completion the cost had ballooned to $27m. Claim: 800,000 Annual Riders. Reality: 40 an Hour at Peak It’s claimed that tunnel will be used by 800,000 riders a year –  a seemingly enormous number. This translates to 2,191 riders today if the claim is to be believed. Consider for perspective that the population of Marin is only 258,365 according to the latest US Census figures. This 800,000 figure is conveniently manipulated – inflating ridership into an annual figure. Google does not reveal any source or basis from which this figure were derived as a future projection. […]

The “Sinister Marin” Housing Survey

Over the last week residents across the county experienced the “sinister Marin” telephone housing survey asking questions that might as well have been “are you a racist?” to find out which angle of attack would be the most effective to push through high density housing across our county. The survey’s backer was not disclosed, but the exercise  clearly involved big money. My contact at CALM – a loose coalition that has been pushing for high density development in Marin – denied it was their doing. Those with market research insight told me that a simple 300-400 respondent telephone survey costs in the realm of $25,000+. What was most puzzling is the number of friends who have been active in the high density housing discussion who were contacted. There are 100,000 households in Marin. The likelihood of being one of the (say) 400 respondents should be 0.4%. However a survey of 50 friends across Marin involved in high density housing revealed that over 6 had taken the survey – that’s 12%. Others thoughts on the matter are: Coincidence: after a highly active email thread we were all primed the survey was happening so we grabbed the phone quickly. (This is my belief, I’m not convinced of any conspiracy) Pre-Targeted Respondents:The organization conducting the survey pre-seeded respondents with those they identified as involved in the high density housing wars. They wanted to build a profile and understanding of their opponents that they could use later. (This was the belief of others, they pointed to the 12% sample when statistics suggest that of our group of 50 only one of us should have been called) A very large sample size: Perhaps the survey sought 2,000 or more respondents. This would suggest a backer with very deep pockets. If the ballpark cost was about $25,000 for […]

Novato Narrows Widened – Huge ROI Compared to Bike Paths

This coming Friday Caltrans is set to open up a new section of carpool lane northbound from Atherton Avenue/San Marin Drive exit to the Birkenstock warehouse, about 1.3 miles in length. This carpool lane will increase the capacity of 101 by 1,200 cars per hour – which at 1.67 occupants per hour (US DoT figure) and 3 hours of peak hour travel equates to 6,012 people getting where they need to go faster in that lane – not withstanding the additional congestion removed that speeds up the other lanes. This means $9m was spent helping 6,012 people = $1,497 per person Comparison to Bike Path ROI per Person Walk Bike Marin and the Nonmotorized Transportation Program identified three locations where $27.7m was spent to build bike (and pedestrian) paths. On average locations transport 53 riders an hour or 159 riders. This means $9.2m was spent helping 159 people = $58,071 per person This is 3,779% higher than the cost per person to improve 101 via a carpool lane. (although some of this was pedestrian so this gives bikes an unfairly low number) According to the Marin County Bicycle Coalition the total estimated cost for building Marin County’s complete bicycle and pedestrian network is over $100 million (Source). Comparison to SMART Here are the ingredient numbers. SMART will cost $1.2billion, at best using highly optimistic figures, it might transport 330 people daily. I’ll let readers do the math. Moral of the Story Our county supervisors and planners need to keep their eye on the ball and recognize that job #1 for dwindling, hard earned transportation funding is to move as many people around as possible. A secondary priority is to reduce emissions – but now that cars have lower emissions than transit, that gap is widening, and transit within the county increases […]

Marin’s Climate Action Plan – Moving into Checkmate Position

Fighting climate change is important – but what seems to have become even more important to special interests groups is placing significant impositions on the greater population, sometimes for profit, but also in the simple belief that everyone should make sacrifices to fight climate change, no matter how imposing and how minimal the actual impact is. These impositions surface as: High density housing appearing in your neighborhood, and you discover all ability to oppose it has been undermined (we have to do it to save the planet!) Noise and polluting transportation projects appearing right next to your house that encourage further development, cause congestion and ultimately a negative spiral towards apartment blocks served by trains and trolleys Money that could have been used to address severe traffic congestion problems is instead diverted to pet transportation projects that are entirely cost-ineffective at fighting climate change or moving any significant number of people Higher taxes, cap and trade funds used to pay for the above (high density housing, cost-ineffective transportation projects) Special Interests Moving into “Checkmate” Position What few know about, or realize, is that transit advocates, housing advocates and local government have been getting busy drafting their plan for how Marin should do it’s fair share to fight global climate change. Only a few of us realized what’s been happening – but it’s now time to pull the alarm cord and expose what’s going on. The drafting of Marin’s  Climate Action Plan 2014 Update is akin to special interests playing a game of chess, and moving their queen into position for checkmate. This action plan can be used in a plethora of ways, and referenced as chapter and verse policy that must be adhered to in documents such as: Future County Housing Elements Planning documents and planning decisions, e.g. approving what […]

SMART – Quiet Zone and Financial Update

Many hundreds of San Rafael and Novato residents stand to be impacted or significantly impacted by 100 dB SMART Train horns that will commence at around 5:45am every weekday. Most of these residents remain unaware. Test soundings of horns along the line can be heard “loud and clear” 1 1/2 miles away. Over 390 cities have implemented “Quiet Zones”. These require not insignificant expenditure – millions by the train operator, possibly tens of thousands by cities – and that cities apply to the Federal Railroad Administration for a Quiet Zone. Quiet Zones remove trains obligations to blow their horns for 15-20 seconds as they approach railroad crossings. San Rafael has sufficient railroad crossings that this means the train will be sounding it’s horn near continuously. There will be 22 trains per day concentrated to morning and evening peaks. Even though Quiet Zones eliminate these horns  considerable noise will remain: The train is required to blow it’s horn when departing each station  (E.g. Civic Center) Bells will ring at each crossing as crossing arms go up or down The diesel engine and wheels will make noise San Rafael Quiet Zone Update 1) In a July presentation SMART made to Sonoma County Alliance, it stated the following which is concerning and might signal a backtrack on Quiet Zones: If the FRA or CPUC require additional capital outlays as part of a jurisdiction’s QZ application, those expenditures are not covered by SMART. 2) A specific cost that we know is part of the Quiet Zone process is the “diagnostics” that need to be submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Nadar Mansourian, the city of San Rafael’s public works director (and brother of Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s General Manager) has mentioned that these have already been performed. This implies that SMART may have done […]

New State Planning Guidelines Disregard Traffic Impact

If you live within 1/2 mile of a “major transit stop” – meaning a stop served by buses running at a frequency of every 15 minutes or less at peak, or within 1/2 mile of a train station or ferry terminal  – then you should be aware of a new change to transportation analysis. Effective January 1st 2015 areas meeting  this criteria – which spans most of Eastern Marin – can henceforth exclude traffic delay, parking impact and building aesthetics as considerations that may block development or impose mitigation measures. Even if you’re outside of a Transit Priority Area (TPA) you should still be concerned – Senate Bill 743 provides the option for the new law to apply citywide or countywide. So a pro-development city or county such as Marin, whose supervisors’ plans to build far exceeds ABAG’s quota, can apply the new rules much more extensively. The result is that in effect the entire map shown, or county of Marin could be considered a Transit Priority Area. Transit Priority Area is exactly what it says – an area where transit trumps cars. Residents are expected and encouraged to use transit instead of driving. This is where planners whims and residents reality diverge. What Does this Mean Where I Live? If a developer plans to build high density housing in your neighborhood – an occurrence happening with alarmingly increasing frequency in neighborhoods that previously thought they were insulated such as Strawberry in Mill Valley – then even if the new development causes acute traffic congestion, parking issues or the building just looks ugly there’s not much residents can do about it. Their prior ability to contest on these grounds under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) – a last line of defense – will be removed as of January 1st […]

SMART Train Posts Platform Plans

SMART has  posted  plans of the platforms at Civic Center and Downtown San Rafael. They’re fairly basic with a shelter and a few seats. It’s important to understand that the arrival of the train in Downtown San Rafael is going to have significant ramifications on the current transit center requiring extensive reconfiguration. This will not only cause disruption but  is also likely to cost a significant amount to Golden Gate Transit who own the transit center and who is responsible for covering the costs of reconfiguration. Conceivably additional costs such as reconfiguring traffic signals may fall to San Rafael. The city already has a fairly tight budget not aided by unfunded pensions.  

SMART Train Growth Set to Overwhelm Highway 101

Thanks to the SMART train, a project we were promised would alleviate congestion on Highway 101, towns in Sonoma County have planned a whopping 24,010 housing units in the Priority Development Areas (PDAs) along the train line — equivalent to a city the size of San Rafael appearing in Sonoma County. In Marin Downtown San Rafael remains a PDA. The giant WinCup complex in Corte Madera has 180 units. This new growth planned by Sonoma, focusing on high density growth, is equivalent to no less than 133 WinCups.  Will All of the New Residents Be Taking the SMART Train? Do Marin’s planners really think the 60,000-plus new residents of suburban Sonoma County who work in Marin or employment centers in Oakland or San Francisco will be taking the train? No, many more will  drive down 101 rather than take the train. What About the Water for 60,000 More People? Do the planners not recognize that they will drink water coming from the same reservoirs that serve Marin? Can Marin County’s planning really be a good plan if it effectively ignores the massive growth already planned to our north? While Marin has squashed PDAs in Marinwood, Civic Center and Strawberry the sheer numbers of units in the remaining Priority Development Areas dwarf the units that were removed (see map). But SMART Told Us That it Would Alleviate 101 Congestion Many voted for SMART based on the ballot measure’s promise that it would alleviate 101 congestion. However the reality was quite the opposite as the presence of a train opened up the entire rail corridor for development – targeting more than a dozen 1/2 mile wide PDA areas  for intensive development and what ABAG describes as “significant growth”. This growth is going to put tremendous pressure on highway 101 – the one […]

A Sign of the End of the Line for SMART?

Today, August 5th, the Marin IJ’s Dick Spotswood published an article “Marin close to state cap for sales tax measures”  that Marin’s county and city sales taxes are about to reach their limit of 2% (on top of the existing 7.5% state sales tax).  If (when) sales taxes reach this ceiling this potentially has serious, possibly disastrous consequences for SMART, if not all of Marina and Sonoma’s taxpayers. SMART  polled voters and even though it needed 1/2c to build and run scaled back to 1/4c as the polls showed 1/4c tax raise is all voters would support. But if the sales tax limit cap is reached – and the planes for new taxes that would reach this limit are already stacked up and lining up to land – then this may not be feasible. The alternative is to hike property taxes – which are much harder to get through and place a much greater burden on homeowners(as opposed to people who work in or who are passing through the county but do not live here). Excuse #1: “But It’s Because of the Recession” Already SMART is blaming 2 year delays and cutting line length in half  on the recession. This  is a *phony* argument. Supervisors Arnold and Sears used it just last week in an op ed entitled “SMART’s making steady progress toward starting service“. Then the same excuse was used again today, August 5th, by the chairman of “Friends of SMART” in a Sonoma Press Democrat “In response to the grand jury criticism“. Analyzing the Excuse Sure, the recession reduced sales, but only temporarily. But the recession also significantly benefited SMART: SMART’s bonds were locked in at much lower interest rates reducing bonded indebtedness. Construction costs were reduced due to the high unemployment during the construction period, and when construction […]

Walk Bike Marin’s $28m+ Failure Rewritten Into Success!

While I enjoy cycling and support extending bike paths and trails, residents such as myself have found themselves facing off against bicycle coalitions and bike groups that serve as the vanguard for pushing high density housing. Frequently these groups claim to represent thousands of cyclists and speak  out against the wishes of their membership as covered in another Planning for Reality article. As someone who has been involved in many market research projects I am a big fan of statistics – when used correctly – but nothing could have horrified me more than the manipulation of  Walk Bike Marin and the associated Congressional report deeming the $28m Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program a success. This was further heralded by coverage in an article in the June 30th  Marin Independent Journal “Feds Hail $28m Bike Path Program“. What Should We Be Trying to Achieve? We do need to fight climate change,  reducing vehicle miles travelled. More importantly we should spend our dollars as cost effectively as we can to focus on the most critical resources – road and freeway usage during peak weekday commutes.  It may help with emissions to reduce off-peak trips, but if we can switch people from cars to alternative commute methods that would be the real win – saving time for those who do need to commute by car, and maximizing economic benefit. The economic benefit of reducing peak hour congestion is measured in multiple ways: People can commute to jobs that would otherwise be out of range Children can be taken to activities Additional shopping trips may occur (these may be part of multi-leg trips incorporated into the commute) To achieve this critical goal of switching people from cars to other methods we need to consider which alternatives will be most effective, for instance: Encouraging / subsidizing […]

Why Solar Makes Sense

As many readers will know, the author is a high tech product manager who applies economics and rigorous business model analysis to understand if claims of “sustainability” are valid. Recently I began to investigate whether solar panels are genuinely sustainable – meaning that they cost effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The answer is an unequivocal “YES”. Planning for Reality will  be publishing a series of articles  helping readers understand the issues around solar – and whether installing solar panels is a good choice for your specific situation. The High Level Summary Solar Panels are sustainable – CHECK Solar panels save money – CHECK Solar panels are strongly pencilling out as positive for most homeowners.  There are some situations where it may not make sense – articles will be published here that cover this. Where Can I Get Solar Panels for My Home?       Lately the author has been reviewing two specific vendors as he considers installing solar in his own home: Solar City – PFRs quick take: Quickly delivers  up front savings compared to alternatives without any up front investment. Contact: Bill Utnehmer,, 415-202-5282. Sun Power – PFRs quick take: A higher initial cost per kWh but a cost that’s locked in mean that SunPower provide the highest saving over 20 years. According to independent third party Frauenhofer tests they offer the most robust solar panels with the least power generation degradation. Contact: 415-686-3877 and let him know that you found out about Sun Power through Planning for Reality.

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Whichever provider you choose solar helps the planet. You’ll be reducing the burden on the last, least efficient power stations that are turned on – in California these are coal powered and generate a lot of CO2.

It’s Time to Redefine “Sustainability”.

Planning for Reality provides a 21st century guide encouraging a healthy, skeptical and informed approach to planning decisions.

On this site you will find:
- a guide on common planning pitfalls for for councilors, planning commissioners and advisory committee members
- the tough questions to ask to understand if a project is genuinely "sustainable"
- a reference to rapidly changing transportation and land use legislation
- the latest news on "sustainable" transit oriented development and high density housing

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