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Larkspur has Second Chance to Do SMART Right

SMART needs to change course and put Larkspur Station back into the ferry terminal where it belongs.

While Sonoma gets to reap the benefits of SMART, including a $15 million expansion of its initial section to the Santa Rosa Airport, Marin’s commuting public grouses that the coming train system won't serve their need for a transit connection to San Francisco. Yet by ignoring Larkspur Landing for now, SMART has a chance to do what it should have done from the start and plan for a station in the ferry terminal.

A core principal of transit planning is connectivity. Any network is only as good as the strength of its connections, and transit is no exception. The strongest sort of transit connection is the cross-platform connection, which allows you to hop off your train or bus, cross the platform to your transfer and be on your way. It’s like switching planes in an airport by walking one gate over.

In contrast, a weak transit connection forces riders to leave one station, walk a couple of blocks, and enter another station. Rather than boarding a connecting flight at the gate next to yours, you need to hike across the airport to another terminal entirely. Though this may be tolerable once in a while, as a daily commute it can crush even the hardiest transit enthusiast.

Sadly, SMART has opted against convenience and in favor of soul-crushing. The agency plans to locate the ferry station a half mile from the ferry terminal, requiring transferring riders to either walk through parking lots and unfriendly streets or wait around for a shuttle. A commute that might already involve 2 transfers will become one involving 3.

Larkspur residents, most of whom who won’t even get direct SMART access, rightly complain that this makes little sense. The Station Area Plan for the Larkspur Landing neighborhood calls for relocating the station into the terminal and decries the poor site chosen by the SMART board.

SMART once called for the same. Its draft environmental impact report contained a plan (very large PDF) to put the station in the ferry terminal. Back when station sites were still up in the air, staff created four alternate proposals for Larkspur, including two with better access to the ferry. The best one placed the station adjacent to the current terminal entrance at the end of 2,200 feet of elevated track. Given the current going rate for elevated rail, this option would cost about $30 million plus land acquisition costs. That’s about one-fifth the cost of the Greenbrae Interchange Project next door.

Yet at the request of the Larkspur City Council (PDF), SMART went for the station plan its staff explicitly recommended against. The city complained that the removal of two buildings would require modifying the plan that governs what is now Marin Country Mart, and that an elevated rail line would obstruct views of the Bay. They also were concerned about cost, though Larkspur wouldn’t need to pay for the extension. Another concern raised earlier by staff is that a station in the ferry terminal would make extensions to Corte Madera or San Quentin more difficult.

Though these concerns are well-intentioned and should be addressed in any plan to relocate the station, it’s foolish to scuttle a dramatic service improvement over parking lots and fantasy expansions that are decades from reality.

And here is where we have a new opportunity. By splitting construction of the line in two, SMART has given Larkspur residents a chance to change that seven-year-old bad decision. Nobody likes to run across an airport to catch a plane, and no commuter likes to walk across a half-mile of parking lots and traffic to make a transfer. Larkspur needs reverse its earlier request and demand a world-class transit connection, and residents should ask for the same. And SMART should listen.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Michael February 25, 2013 at 06:06 PM
at every turn the Smart plan is a disaster in the making. But sadly I believe nothing will change. I blame the voters of Marin County most of whom are literally asleep letting a very small group of people dictate not only the plans but dictate the taxing of others to support this disaster. When I ask around, it seems few in Marin care at all about Smart and its lies and mismanagement. They seem OK with just letting this government boondoggle take whatever course it will take, "just move on" they say. I believe Smart will be back for more taxpayer money much sooner than we all think. When it is completed in whatever form they deem, the perpetrators of this public boondoggle will all be long gone. Smart's talking mouths will be long gone. Our current Board of supervisors who support this mess will be long gone. Everybody will simply move on except the taxpayers who will be left to hold the tax burden bag. Pitiful really pitiful.
Kevin Moore February 25, 2013 at 06:27 PM
As I rushed to lock my truck in the Larkspur parking lot, I noticed someone casually unfolding a kick scooter. What a great idea! If I was a regular commuter that would be my work-around for the SMART / Ferry terminal design. I have an electric kick scooter and an electric bike. I see their use going up for short trips.
Kevin Moore February 25, 2013 at 06:35 PM
Ricardo, I expect most of the track will be laid, then the cost of the Puerto Suello tunnel will be announced. The much higher than expected cost. "But it would be a waste to throw away everything we have done and not connect to downtown San Rafael" will be the plea. Interesting that SMART is able to fund a 5 story station / senior center in San Rafael. Was that in the budget? I briefly explained the station plan to a friend and he said, "It will create a group of senior shut ins". No doubt. When the Federal Gravy Train stops, times will be interesting to say the least.
Charanga February 26, 2013 at 03:54 AM
Locating a SMART rail station at the ferry landing makes a lot of sense. Reducing the friction between transit modes -- distance in this case -- can make a project like this much more successful. I'd much rather be riding than driving. I can work, talk with friends, or look at the scenery instead of dodging cars and maybe inclement weather. I hope this goes forward.
Richard Hall February 28, 2013 at 01:58 AM
According to the Federal Railroad Administration in Washington DC we're going to see railroad barriers go down for 40 seconds (minimum) four times an hour across Central San Rafael in peak rush hour when we already see backups onto 101. When Farhad Mansourian of SMART and Mayor Phillips were asked last week if an assessment could be conducted to assess impact on 101 backups this was dismissed and we were referred to the 2006 Environmental Impact Report and told "you needed to have lodged a complaint or suit prior to 2006". For most voters SMART didn't become any kind of reality until the 2009 vote - after which the expectation would be that planning and public input would occur... not so -it was all sewn up in 2006 when it wasn't a reality to voters. What a great way to hide the ball. Sure is going to be interesting to see Central San Rafael 101 exits cut off for 3+ minutes every hour during peak commute during the 101 backup.

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