SMART ? That Depends…

9 thoughts on “SMART ? That Depends…”

  1. The problem I see with SMART is that it doesn’t connect to San Francisco. It doesn’t even connect to the Larkspur ferry. (Though the Larkspur extension is planned, as of now there’s no funding for it.) So there’s no way, beyond a transfer to a stodgy Golden Gate Transit bus that will sit in traffic, that a SMART rider can hook up with the rest of the Bay Area transit system. How many people want to go from San Rafael to Santa Rosa? Some, no doubt, but these folks aren’t the ones creating the traffic problem in Marin and Sonoma. The people going back and forth to SF (or SFO) are. I have no doubt that SMART will eventually (somehow) extend over the GG Bridge (or BART will extend north), but until then SMART’s utility will be minor. Even SMART is only projecting 5000-6000 passengers a day. (Caltrain’s average weekday ridership is 58,000.) I find it extraordinary that the SMART project expects the bike/ped path to carry 50% more people than the rail line. Another problem is that SMART will not be electric, will not be all that fast (averaging 40 mph), and will have 63 at-grade crossings, each one problematic.

    I have a similar criticism of the recent proposal to have high speed rail extend first to San Jose rather than LA. Mind-boggling. Rail already exists between Sacramento/Oakland/San Jose and Bakersfield, and once the fast tracks between Merced and Bakersfield open in 2018, trip time will drop in half. But who wants to go to Bakersfield? A connection to LA is everything.

    1. SMART will eventually connect to the ferry in Larkspur in Phase II. It’s also scheduled to extend all the way up to Cloverdale in the far north. Baby steps. While commuters to San Francisco make up a sizable portion of the traffic on Highway 101, the bulk of the traffic in Marin and Sonoma is actually intra-county. The problem with building a rail line to connect various suburban locations is that most people don’t live anywhere near a train station. Most destinations (work, medical centers, shopping) aren’t near a train station either. Connecting bus service is never frequent or convenient enough out in the sprawl. Infill development near the stations will never happen in NIMBY Land. Like I said. We’re going to have a low grade highway environment and a low grade train environment for a very long time. Not perfect. But it’s still worth doing.

    2. Tunnels under mountains and near fault lines are expensive.
      Especially when there’s the 50+ mile detour to serve sprawl in the high desert at palmdale.

      San jose was a cheaper direction.

  2. Many fond yet hazy teenage memories of 80s Coddingtown. Saw “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Indiana Jones” there. Posing with my Tony Hawk skateboard and bleached hair, hoping girls would notice 🙂

    Yeah, you’re right. It’s not going to magically transform North Bay sprawl or reduce traffic significantly. But maybe these walkable nodes can develop over time and reinforce older ones like Petaluma and Santa Rosa. A little infill here, a little over there. Move forward clumsily.

    What it does, however, is immediately provide an alternative for people commuting to Marin/SF for work. That’s a big quality of life gain. I could totally see working remote from a SMART-adjacent condo and popping into the main office a couple days a week. Sure, most people will need to park and ride. That’s life in the burbs though.

  3. The good news is that SMART is dirt-cheap by the standards of most transit or highway projects. Plus, the train-plus-bike-route combo should be a boon for tourism. It’ll create a whole new way for people to vacation in wine country.

  4. *sigh*

    It reminds me of bike lanes. Theoretically built to create a healthier, alternative commute. But who uses them? The amateur racers on their road bikes, the only people brave enough to ride alongside 4 lanes of impatient drivers.

    But maybe you’re right: hundreds of isolated, “for the best” decisions got us into this mess. Maybe it’s going to take hundreds more to build something better.

    1. How heavily a bike lane or trail is used mostly depends on how good it is and what it connects. The Burke-Gilman trail in Seattle carries 1200 people per hour during rush hour (both walking and biking), a little over half of what a lane of a major freeway carries. SMART is projecting their new bike lanes will carry 7000-10,000 people per day. This may be wildly optimistic, but if it indeed comes to pass, it would be significant given a lane of freeway generally carries about 20,000 people per day. Currently Market Street in San Francisco carries 3000 or so bicyclists per day each way, more than it does people in private vehicles. (Protected bike lanes are available part of the stretch.) The busiest bike street in Copenhagen carries 40,700 bicyclists a day (counting both directions.) It has two protected bicycling lanes in each direction, each lane wide enough for two bicyclists to ride abreast.

      1. The success of biking in Copenhagen is partly due to the infrastructure that’s been built over many years to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists. And partly it’s about the quality of the overall environment. But mostly it’s about culture. Danes have embraced biking. They’ve committed themselves collectively to both preserving their countryside and regional agriculture while simultaneously cultivating great urban settlements.

        The U.S tends heavily toward hopscotch auto-oriented development. It’s not really the countryside. It’s not really great urbanism. Traffic congestion is just part of daily life, but it’s too thin to be well served by meaningful alternative transport. So we limp along with a patchwork of this and that. It’s not great. But it’s what we’re stuck with for the duration. So we’ll make it work. Sort of.

        1. If we’re making comparisons to Seattle, I’m afraid our exurban Link light rail extension plans were what jumped into my mind reading this: a long meandering train line that parallels (in our case is wedged into the median of) a major highway (I-5). The suburban drivers have advocated for it because they’re convinced all the other jerks around them causing traffic will start taking it to work instead of driving. Nope, not gonna happen. While Link does have a handful of urban stations in downtown Seattle, quite close to a many people’s destinations, out in the suburbs the stations are accessible only to an infinitesimal portion of the driving commuters. It’s all sprawling tract subdivisions. And anytime they try to revise land use policies to allow denser development near a planned station, the NIMBYs get out their pitchforks:

          Even the next “urban” stop to open next month, at UW, is down by the football stadium and its giant parking lots, about 1/4 to 3/4 of a mile from any student’s daily destinations at the university. Next after that is the University District neighborhood nearby, where neighbors are also organizing an anti-upzoning NIMBY campaign as well.

          In spite of all this, I hear from others around the country that Seattle is actually a leader among old coastal cities at building new housing!

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