SMART Train Growth Set to Overwhelm Highway 101

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

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

133  WinCups

Building shown is roughly half of the WinCup structure. ABAG and Sonoma are planning for the equivalent of 266 such structures along the SMART train tracks.

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 arterial that Sonoma and Marin residents rely on.

One of the most significant bottlenecks on 101 at present is the Greenbrae interchange (adjacent to WinCup). To address this bottleneck the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the  Bay Area transportation agency, allocated $39.6m to fix the situation. These funds originate from Regional Measure 2  – a $1 increase in Bay Area bridge tolls put into place in 2004.

$11.4m of the $39.6m from RM2 funds  was diverted to  SMART which will make no noticeable impact on 101 congestion. While highway 101 transports 25,000+ people an hour at peak, SMART will likely transport just 100 or so (600 theoretical maximum) – a rounding error that will certainty not have a material impact on diminishing congestion.

At time of writing no solution to the 101 Greenbrae interchange is on the table. Work is underway to fix the highway 101 “Novato narrows” but funding is extremely tight. However this is likely only to alleviate traffic based on current 101 usage, it’s unlikely to handle the additional traffic burden of 24,010 new housing units which will  generate 161,347 more car trips per day according to planning guidelines. 


Del Mar Station

In Pasadena, a 350-unit building sits directly over the Del Mar Gold Line station. In an LA Times survey of 225 people who got off the train on a recent evening, just one, headed toward the apartment complex.

Solutions need to consider:

  • There is a carrying capacity. Highway 101 and our water sources are only able to sustain a set population level. Once exceeded there will be a considerable imposition on existing and new residents quality of life through increased traffic congestion and water rationing.
  • High density housing near SMART train stations is not the answer. This type of building irreversibly changes areas that are currently low rise and suburban into urban areas.
  • Transit Oriented Development – the idea of concentrating development around transit so that fewer residents drive, may work for cities but it is an entirely flawed approach for   suburban areas with plentiful free parking. See the photo – an LA Times survey found that just one resident of a 350 unit apartment building in Del Mar immediately adjacent (on top of) a light rail station used the light rail.
  • Some degree of growth is not only desirable but needed. The right answer is to distribute housing – certainly filling in spaces within existing boundaries to avoid sprawl, but with lower density buildings that fit within the carrying capacity and architectural character of the area.