Novato Downtown New Bus Terminal
Transit Union Local 1575 President Says Center Platform Design for Novato Bus Hub Is Dangerous for Pedestrians, Passengers and Buses
As a stakeholder on Novato’s 2015 Community Based Transportation Plan I believe the Center Platform Design for the bus stop on Redwood, between Grant and Delong, is UNSAFE. This opinion is based on WTrans engineering studies through Golden Gate Transit and on the testimony of Ray Messier, President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1575 which represents GGT bus operators.
Messier, a former co-chair of the safety committee with many years experience navigating the Redwood and Grant Bus Stop, presented a petition to the Novato City Council signed by 100 bus drivers and explained in detail the dangers created by the center platform design.
On May 14, 2014 Robert Betts of Marin Transit, presented three design options for the Redwood and Grant bus stop to GGT bus drivers and management who unequivocally agreed that the center platform presented the BIGGEST DANGER of all three options.
Messier said that GGT drivers and management also agreed that the side platform design was the SAFEST of the three. Instead of pursuing the reliable side platform design, Marin Transit directed engineers to focus on lessening the dangers created by the center platform.
Messier clarified that the Center Platform crisscross pattern impedes traffic flow and creates blind spots while the Side Platform does not. He could not understand why Marin Transit and GGT would take a reliable design and replace it with a dangerous one. Residents should be asking why Marin Transit and GGT would hold out three options and ask bus drivers and management about their safety and reliability, if they didn’t intend to use the safest design.
Messier’s trepidation that the shift to a center platform design puts drivers and passengers at significant risk was given NO CREDENCE by the Novato City Council, Marin Transit or GGBHTD General Manager and CEO, Denis Mulligan, who just prior to Messier’s testimony had said that the GGT Bus Drivers were the best bus drivers in the world.
Pat Eklund was the only member of the Novato City Council to object to the UNSAFE design. The remaining city council members chose to ignore Mr. Messier’s testimony, the petition, the November 2014, WTrans engineering study and a room full of Novato residents who objected to the safety issues created by the project design.
Messier specifically said that comparing the Redwood Bus Stop to the L.A. Harbor Stop was ludicrous and disrespectful to drivers. He vehemently explained that people can be injured inside and outside the stop. Mulligan insinuated that GGT Bus Drivers were not qualified to assess design related safety issues. This denigration of the professionals responsible for keeping passengers safe was a disturbing trend in the testimony given to the council.
I believe the push to forge ahead with the unsafe design is an attempt to save face. The side platform design has been SAFE for more than 37 years. The upgrades it requires include the addition of a 15’ bypass lane, extended semi transparent covered shelters and hardscaping to discourage jaywalking; it also needs – crosswalk safety upgrades, bike racks, police cameras and real time information about bus arrivals and departures. The side platform design includes improved access for wheelchairs and passengers with mobility issues without the dangers created by the center platform design.
It’s time for the Novato City Council to set aside their pride and acknowledge that the decision to forge ahead with the center platform design was based on poorly conceived recommendations that were made prior to receiving any of the engineering studies. There are no significant advantages to the center platform design that would outweigh safety issues to bus drivers, passengers and pedestrians.
Occasionally, it is prudent to review previous cogent commentary on current issues. The following is one such commentary well worth reviewing.
Far too often the Novato City Council refuses to allow meaningful public discussion on major issues, choosing instead a Hobbesian up or down approval vote on a pre-packaged City Staff preferred course of action. This accepted absence of any significant public input and debate on issues critical to the future quality of life in Novato is a major reason to not return any incumbent to the City Council in the upcoming November election, or any candidate for that matter who is comfortable with the current Council majority’s closed modus operandi.
Published June 9, 2015
The Novato City council is scheduled to make a critical decision on June 23, 2015. The city staff recommended a $4m center platform design for the Redwood and Grant bus stop early in the process before proper review, analysis or traffics studies. The city council approved this design concept, except for Pat Eklund. Suddenly the center platform design is “off to the races” with a consultant that will give you what you want, not unusual with consultants. (Mark Thomas and Company has the following philosophy on their website, “At Mark Thomas & Company, we view ourselves as an extension of our clients’ staff.”).
The city council and city staff are ignoring and did not even consider the 2010 proposal by a Marin Transit consultant, approved by the current majority of Novato city council members that is a common sense and cost efficient upgrade to the current facility and meets all current and projected needs for this facility.
Golden Gate Transit (GGT) steps in on the planning, as they use this facility, and identify all the flaws in the center platform with the weave design, untested and untried apparently anywhere else in the USA. The Consultant, Mark Thomas and Co. provided various locations in the US with the alleged same design. Review of these sites reveal that these examples are apparently not anything like this proposed design. Marin Transit and Novato city staff did not review these examples to check their operation and safety issues, a best practice for risk management. This same design was proposed and rejected for safety reason in San Francisco for the Van Ness street station.
The Novato city council and staff, having decided to give up a proven and tested design that has operated efficiently and safely for 35 years, are now digging in to defend their original premature decision on a center platform at all cost. Why, politics, special interests pressure or pride?
City council and staff have also ignored declining ridership at this location and the future impact of SMART. One would expect significant loss of ridership on the 71 bus route that uses this bus stop. The primary ridership is to and from Novato and San Rafael.
Novato Staff then cancels the only public meeting with citizens that was part of the consultant’s contract because too many issues will be raised. At the same time Novato city staff decided not to mention “the center platform design” and makes sure it is not even discussed in the Farmers Market survey to justify the proposal. This information was discovered by various Public Records Act requests for documents – so much for transparency in Novato.
So what we have proposed is a new controversial design, untested and untried, with newly created blind spots for bus drivers, merge issues and reduced distances for turning lanes on Redwood Blvd. and a new mid-block red light on both sides of Redwood Blvd operated by bus operators and pedestrians.
This flawed center platform weave design was decided before proper analysis but still being pushed by certain Novato city council members and staff and supported by TAM and Marin Transit and Golden Gate Transit is along for the ride as long as they get all their wishes. This is the perfect storm. No one truly knows how safe this will be for pedestrians as there are no examples to review their operational and safety history for buses or pedestrians. Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead. Currently 290 citizens have signed a petition to stop this ill-fated proposal despite the Novato city staff canceling the one planned public meeting as too many issues will be raised.
The best capsule summary description would be breaking something that has successfully operated safely for 35 years rather than upgrading and improving it, then agreeing to transit operators’ mitigation attempts to get their approval for this flawed design. These changes make no sense for the citizens of Novato, pedestrians or drivers and are a waste of taxpayer dollars. It is apparent why the public discussion meeting was cancelled and the reference to the “center platform” was removed from the Farmer Market survey by the by city staff. If not for GGT, the city staff, Marin Transit and the consultant review would not have even known about the bus driver blind spots and turning lane and merge reductions due to apparent original inadequate traffic analysis.
Final decision has been delayed to June 23rd due to the issues that have been raised. Showtime, it is time to email the Novato council at firstname.lastname@example.org and request they use the 2010 city council approved common sense proposal update with real time GPS bus arrival information, the changes requested by bus riders. We know this design is safe and will not reduce the turning lanes or add a mod-block crosswalk and will cost probably $1M less taxpayers’ dollars.
City council members I have met with have defended costly unneeded design as “being paid for with grant money, not Novato city funds.” These funds are of course our Federal and State tax dollars. Dick Spotswood’s recent column addressed this variation of the “bridge to nowhere” grant issue.
Deja vu all over again as when the county supervisors and staff decided they were software experts and Deloitte and Touché gave them exactly what they asked for. I think you know how that ended, failure and $30 Million thrown away. This time safety is also at stake.
Think of Wincup on wheels. The next boondoggle that is proposed to be built is the new proposed Bus Project for Redwood Blvd in Novato. Just as with Wincup in Corte Madera, this bus project has been staff driven. Staff canceling public meetings, key issues left out of largely phony public surveys by staff and only a single flawed design offered to the Design Review Commission, have allowed for this unnecessary and deeply flawed project to be driven forward. Over 100 professional bus drivers signed a petition declaring the center platform design unsafe. Did that deter Marin Transit the sponsors of this misguided project? No, of course it didn’t. Does this sound familiar?
Wait until the citizens of Novato, who never got a chance to see it, find the redwood trees cut down, the car turning lanes on Grant and De Long 100′ shorter, and the buses in the center median weaving and running in the opposite direction as the cars on Redwood. Lastly, don’t forget the new mid-block red lights on both sides of Redwood between Grand and De Long operated by bus drivers and pedestrians.
You may ask where else has this design been used…Nowhere.
I suspect that when other citizens become aware of what is transpiring, they will become incensed at the sheer audacity of the project, and the hubris involved in going forward despite informed citizens protestations.
There is some good news. If Jeanne MacLeamy and Eric Lucan are not re-elected to the Novato city council this November this upcoming project may be stopped.
Vote for Pam Drew and Steve Jordan for city council, they can work with Pat Eklund, who voted against it, to stop this ill-fated experiment in transit at the expense of Novato before they break ground in 2016.
The next City Council meeting may see soon-departing City Manager Michael Frank drag incumbent candidates Jeanne MacLeamy and Eric Lucan down to defeat in the November elections. Frank’s determination to deliver a huge expensive and unneeded Mass Transit Bus Transfer Facility to please Supervisors Judy Arnold and Steve Kinsey will expose MacLeamy and Lucan to a very public cross examination regarding Frank’s very self-serving use of borderline interpretations of City and County ordinances and regulations.
In addition, if the plan is approved by the City Council it will probably trigger a lawsuit regarding the highly questionable and again self-serving Categorical Exemption from compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) as “lead agency” on the project granted itself.
In fact, CEQA was put in place specifically to prevent this type of quasi-legal shenanigans which local transit agencies have used in an attempt to ram through this piece of transit pork. All to please Steve Kinsey who is Marin’s representative on the powerful regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and a TAM Commissioner.
For more detailed information see the previous post click here = > “California’s Massive Assault on Suburbia and the Family Home”.
City Manager Frank will be gone at the end of the year. Lucan and MacLeamy may also be history. Their best choice may be to put the vote on hold until after the election. If they are still around after the election they can rubber stamp approval with impunity along with council fellow traveler Athas.
If Lucan and MacLeamy choose to “damn the torpedoes” and vote for approval before the election they will present their challengers with a controversial issue that will dog the incumbents during their re-election campaigns.
Sadly, this attempt to impose an underutilized mass transit white elephant upon Novato has very little to do with real transit issues. Rather, it is about putting in place a facility that will be needed only when the MTC has forced automobile commuters off the road by increasing taxes on travel and making parking prohibitively expensive. This is the grand greenhouse gas plan.
The Atherton Avenue SMART station was not even considered when deciding where to place a new mass transit bus transfer facility. It’s really about enabling high density affordable housing developers who build within ½ mile of a regional mass transit facility to not only not fully comply with current building codes, but to receive tax breaks that place an unfair increased cost-of-services burden on existing homeowners. If the new bus transfer facility were co-located with a SMART station, which follows common sense, it would “waste” a ½ mile or mile-wide circle for higher density developers to use. As a result, politicians would receive lower campaign contributions. Follow the money.
City planners will push for single family homes to be preferentially replaced by in-filling with two and three-story multi-unit apartment buildings. It’s already happening in the Northwest quadrant neighborhood with the Habitat for Humanity project. The proposed Atherton Place project across from Trader Joes on Redwood Blvd is another prime example of multi-unit in-filling.
It’s all driven by the Global Warming Solution Act of 2006 (AB32) and Steinberg’s 2008 Senate Bill 375. Green is the new mean to the couple with small children looking for a home with a yard. It may be time to take a second look at this legislation and its local effects.
After three years of back room deals hidden from public view and compliant transit consultants who deliver a pre-determined result, someone bothered to ask the Golden Gate Transit bus drivers, who would be using the proposed but never before used “bus weave” design, what they thought. After due consideration the drivers filed a petition with TAM and Golden Gate Transit stating from their considered professional view point the design was unsafe and should not be used.
The petition in part states:
“We the drivers at Golden Gate Transit and members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1575 hereby request that Marin County Transit, Golden Gate Transit and the City of Novato vacate the idea of a center platform design at Redwood and Grant in Novato. Our drivers on the safety committee at Golden Gate Transit have found this design to have too many safety concerns that would create an unsafe environment for the safe operation of transit vehicles inside and outside of the transit center should the center design be used. The side platform design is overall the safest for both passengers and drivers. As the people who will be entering and exiting this transit center and who drive public transit buses for a living, we know better than anyone what will work and what is safe.”
The Vice President of the Union stated in part: “The Center design has many issues that are unsafe, crisscrossing is very dangerous and the center design has very unsafe entering and exiting issues which creates a very risky and unsafe situation”.
Is the Novato City Council willing to pass a “dangerous” design? If so, they have lost touch with reality.
The driver’s petition throws a spanner into the works of this grand Mass Transit Hub Plan debacle that is so rotten it smells like a week-old fish in the sun. When publically questioned for publishing misleading/false information, the conspiring transit agency managers run and hide under the skirts of the sycophant consultants they pay to “make it happen”.
Arnold, Kinsey and Frank are forcing upon Novato the construction of an over-the-top expensive politically correct “bridge to nowhere”. It is a tragedy when millions are wasted while poor residents cannot afford a proper diet or lack medical attention. This is not how it’s done in Novato.
This passage effort featuring miss-information, deliberate obfuscation and in some instances apparent bending of the truth has grave implications for Novato Council incumbents MacLeamy and Lucan. They have been solid members of the rubber-stamping somnolent Council majority enacting City Manager Michael Frank’s vision of what is good for Novato (with the exception of Lucan’s recent Measure F extension vote and on one recent budget vote).
Michael Frank consults regularly with District Supervisor Judy Arnold who lets him know what she wants done, which is exactly what happens because Frank runs Novato. City Manager Frank actually gives the annual State of the City speech as his rubber-stamping ironclad Council majority supporting-block that includes MacLeamy and Lucan dutifully looks on.
Arnold continually connives with West Marin District Supervisor Steve Kinsey to carry out the statist political agenda of the far, far left wing of the Democratic Party in Marin. The retired Democratic politico John Burton from his law office pulls the strings of his political marionettes as he dishes out tens of thousands of campaign dollars provided by those groups who live off the political patronage spending of county tax funds.
Burton functions as a mini-Boss Tweed in Marin. He is a true heavyweight in California Democratic politics but at 82 is a bit long in the tooth. Supervisor Kinsey sees John Burton as his mentor and political guru. He also sees himself as heir apparent to the venerable Burton’s position of political influence. In the meantime Kinsey appears content to be the servile Burton bishop awaiting his turn.
It’s time to put this dangerous boondoggle on the back burner.
Article by Al Dugan
City council members and city staff, with no transit design facility experience, decide early on “a center platform would be nice” per the staff recommendation, without proper review of all options. Suddenly the project is “off to the races” with a consultant that will give you what you want. (Mark Thomas and Company have the following philosophy on their website, ” At Mark Thomas & Company, we view ourselves as an extension of our clients’ staff.”). Deja vu all over again as when the county supervisors and staff decided they were software experts and Deloitte and Touché gave them exactly what they asked for. I think you know how that ended.
Golden Gate Transit (GGT) steps in and identifies all the flaws in the center platform with the weave design, untested and untried apparently anywhere else. Consultant provides various locations in the US with the alleged same design. Review of these sites reveal that these examples are not anything like this proposed design. The city staff apparently did not review these examples to check their operation and safety issues, a best practice for risk management.
The city council and staff, having decided to give up a proven and tested design that has operated efficiently and safely for 35 years, now digging in to defend their original premature decision at all cost. Why, politics, special interests pressure or pride? They are ignoring and did not even consider the 2010 proposal by a Marin Transit consultant, approved by the the current majority of city council members, that is a common sense up grade to the current facility and meets all current and projected needs for this facility. City council and staff ignore declining ridership at this location and the future impact of SMART. Staff then cancels the only public meeting with citizens that was part of the consultant’s contract because too many issues will be raised. At the same time city staff decides not to mention “the center platform design” and makes sure it is not even discussed in the Farmers Market survey to justify the proposal.
So what we have proposed is a new controversial design, untested and untried, with newly created blind spots for bus drivers, merge issues and reduced distances for turning lanes, decided before proper analysis but still being pushed by certain city council members and staff and supported by TAM directors. No one truly knows how safe this will be for pedestrians as there are no examples to review their operational and safety history for buses or pedestrians. Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead. Currently 288 citizens have signed a petition to stop this ill fated proposal despite the city staff canceling the one planned public meeting as too many issues will be raised.
The best capsule summary description would be breaking something that has successfully operated safely for 35 years rather than upgrading and improving it, then agreeing to transit operators mitigation attempts to get their approval but make no sense for the citizens of Novato, pedestrians or drivers. If not for GGT the city staff and the consultant review would not have even known about the bus driver blind spots and turning lane and merge reductions due to apparent inadequate traffic analysis.
Summary of Problems and Available Solutions:
Throwing Money at the Downtown Novato Bus Stop Part 4:
Part 1 Introduction with Study Questions
Part 2 A Little More Light on the Downtown Novato Bus Hub
Part 3: The Early History of the Downtown Novato Bus Hub
And Now, Part 4: Ill-Starred Design – In Too Deep to Get Out Now
In parts 1, 2 and 3, the pros and cons of the philosophy behind the new Downtown Novato Bus Hub were discussed as well as its history and some of its politics.
This part of the series deals with either a breath of scandal or a garden-variety happenstance that just appears scandalous to the uninitiated.
To review, check out Parts 1, 2 and 3 at the links below.
The new design has been dubbed by planners as the Redwood and Grant Transfer Improvement Project (RGTIP) and it implements a contra flow double bus weave (in traffic engineer lingo) in the middle of a busy boulevard. This option was chosen over one involving two side platforms early in the process.
The Council is currently scheduled to give its final approval on the design phase on April 14th unless someone has the good sense to set the date farther away. After the newly discovered W-Trans Redwood and Grant Traffic Analysis of 11-21-14 has been publicly debated, there may be no final approval or, alternately, the City Council majority may line up behind the City Manager to endorse an ill-starred project flying in the face of hard facts and engineering studies.
The design of this project has been a joint undertaking of Marin Transit, Golden Gate Transit, and the City of Novato. The end of this story as well as the construction phase of the project may be imminent but then, you never know, if a sequel will be written.
This part of the series deals with either a breath of scandal or a garden-variety happenstance that just appears scandalous to the uninitiated.
Looking at the design above we are captivated by the symmetry and the gentle curves until our impressions give away to the terror of a bus driver in a 45-foot bus trying to get back into the traffic on Redwood without being able to see it because of “sight distance obstruction”. It turns out that those curves are not gentle at all for buses, and that this reality was recognized by the engineers who composed the W-Trans traffic analysis mentioned above.
The old bus stop is not obstructed. The Bellevue Transit Center, which was the inspiration for the new design, is much longer and more tapered at the ends so that the buses glide around the curves without much sight impairment.
The Bellevue Transit Center doesn’t allow cars either so the buses don’t really have to look out for them. The Center stretches along two vacated city blocks, so, you’ll probably agree, that it is not a good example to work from.
None of the other four examples cited by the consultant Mark Thomas and Company, in the author’s opinion stand up to close examination. Referring to the diagram above, none of the four has a contra flow double bus weave, that is, bus crossovers at either end where westbound buses cross with eastbound buses, hopefully flawlessly, but perhaps not!
Those crossovers occur if the exiting bus can actually get out into traffic. If the left turn traffic on the street at either DeLong or Grant is backed up, there may be a wait.
By the way, the left turn problem was examined in the W- trans Traffic Analysis. Of course, if the bus drivers rely entirely on technology and there’s no back up of the left turners, they can stop the traffic with the handy mitigation device, the new, expensive traffic signals.
It is proposed that pedestrians wanting to get off the center platform or wanting to get on it can stop the traffic as well using the signal buttons. Should the bus not be able to get out, it is entirely possible that buses bound in the opposite direction cannot get in.
What bus drivers do in case of a power outage has not been spelled out yet. What modern traffic engineers and planners, true believers in Smart Growth, can possibly do as car traffic snarls on Redwood is to snicker. The rest of us, not so much.
Let’s not dwell on depressing engineering studies, not yet made public except by a Public Records Act request.
Let’s understand that our city manager, Michael Frank has not read the traffic analysis, so why should we? Let’s consider what Marin Transit and the City of Novato are delivering.
Novato is getting a gateway design that is stunning. It is so clean, open, and modern we can easily ignore the chance of a bus-car wreck and a slaughtered pedestrian or two. The shelters give little or no shelter from wind but public safety officials cruising by in a patrol car can see each passenger fully from all angles, thus preventing crime, unless a parked bus obscures their view.
The sight lines have been greatly improved. It is possible that cameras could also be installed, too. The other benefit is that the people who transfer (1/3rd of the total) now get to stay on the platform waiting for the next bus or shuttle.
Seamless transfers are a coveted goal of public transit. The downside is that now every passenger has to cross a busy boulevard to get to the center platform and cross again to leave it.
The architects’ rendering of the shelter omits a fence to deter jaywalking. Although this eventuality was discussed by Marin Transit, the idea did not transfer to the presentation to Novato.
The problem with mid-block crossings is that cars do not expect pedestrians. The mitigation is that the pedestrian stops the traffic or some other device is added. Jaywalkers have to be deprived of rewards for jaywalking. That means providing some sort of barrier which limits access to the platform to the place where the crosswalk ends.
This is essentially out of the question for a lovely open design like the one we have chosen where three buses (possibly four short ones) can be waiting for passengers on each side of the platform.
By the way, besides seamless transfers for local routes and regional routes the capacity to park an incoming bus at any open slot is what the transit agencies are getting. They accomplish this by a bus bypass lane on each side of the platform, which widens the pedestrian lane crossings by one lane each way. This flexibility also allows that the stated maximum of 60 buses per hour might actually become approachable in the future.
The Calgary Gate concept for protecting pedestrians crossing two bus lanes where buses approach from the opposite direction than the traffic just crossed could be discussed but it won’t be here. Although the consultant says it “forces” pedestrians to turn to face the contra flow (buses coming from the opposite of the expected direction), the choice of words creates overstatement. There is a particular path laid out on the pavement. A pedestrian follows it or he doesn’t.
Golden Gate raised the question ‘How do the sight-impaired navigate the staggered arrangement with its turns?’
In the first paragraph, the hint “either a breath of scandal or a garden-variety happenstance that just appears scandalous to the uninitiated” was given.
It refers to the way we as a city and as a county got to this point in the process of replacing a nearly forty-year-old public facility. We got here with a raft of bureaucrats and a ton of opportunities for public input with an army of earnest people “doing their jobs”. We got here through visioning statements and propaganda and politicians doing what they were told to do by their bosses.
We got here by stonewalling any opposition and ignoring any inconvenient public input.
The tension in Marin County between true believers in Smart Growth and unbelievers (everybody else) is similar to that between socially conservative Republicans and all the rest in the US Congress today. That’s one of the divisions that propels this saga.
Another is experts being trusted to advise us faithfully and to take care of the complicated stuff without the rest of us bothering with fact-checking.
Another is the drive of transit and city managers, some with poor math skills and and frustrated beyond words by being a year behind schedule for this project, toward getting the job done in spite of all hindrances, including safety concerns. This contrasts with those who have the patience to insist on doing things right.
Although the questions of safety re the new design were raised early on, at some point in Spring 2014 too much was invested to turn back in the judgment of at least two of the three agencies involved. Those agencies were the City of Novato and Marin Transit.
The third agency Golden Gate Transit District (GGTD) continued to find the answers to necessary questions but those answers went nowhere. They were either not implemented or decisions were made very quietly away from the inevitable public clamor which would have arisen. The project kept going forward with its flaws hidden.
Now the answers, in the form of the W-Trans Traffic Analysis, have been unearthed but possibly too late. Unless the public demands an investigation of these answers the project will go forward and eventually two managers will get to say they pushed on through. Golden Gate will have to admit that they went along to get along.
As of the GGTD memo of 2-25-14 Marin Transit and City of Novato Public Works knew of Golden Gate’s concerns and preference for side platforms rather than a single center platform. Golden Gate Transit District noted that the view of the central platform by police and pedestrians from the sidewalk would be obscured by buses parking on both sides of the platform.
Knowing the likelihood of negative answers Golden Gate nevertheless raised these questions in the memo:
Will it be safe for buses to exit the proposed facility?
Will it be safe for pedestrians to cross a bus traveled way where bus traffic will come from the opposite direction from the norm?
Golden Gate concluded with this general comment:
The Redwood Blvd & Grant Avenue bus stop in Novato is a primary bus stop within Golden Gate Transit’s regional network. As such, GGBHTD strongly supports efforts to improve this 37-year old facility. The RGTIP provides a unique and rare opportunity to:
· enhance public safety by increasing visibility and surveillance by the Novato Police Department
· enhance public safety by reducing liability associated with a bus stop situated in the middle of a busy thoroughfare (bolding added)
· improve the customer experience
· reduce platform congestion at the existing facility
May 14, 2014 at the Golden Gate Transit District Driver Safety Meeting convened to discuss the Downtown Bus Hub this was said: “Comments about what looks good on paper (center island) may not work well in operation. Design creates an opening for ‘huge liability.'”
City of Novato Staff either missed the February memo or ignored it because at the next city council meeting on March 18, 2014, the staff report I-15 re ‘providing feedback’ for the project asserted:
“During the cross-over from the loading area to the merge area [bus drivers] will be in a position to easily view oncoming traffic. Further, the merge is a common driving activity, and therefore fits with normal driving experiences and expectations. Based on these considerations, the merge is expected to operate acceptably, with bus drivers and other traffic having adequate sight lines to see and react to one another. “
This was described as a qualitative engineering report as opposed to quantitative. There was also a neat criteria matrix used to communicate how decisions were being made to support the preference for a center platform. Please note that when the facts are not facts but assumptions (later proved wrong by the W-Trans traffic analysis re sight obstruction), any decision-making process, matrix or non-matrix, breaks down.
Marin Transit responded to Golden Gate’s memo quoted above by asking GGTD to undertake the traffic analysis on their own.
It was not until four days before the traffic analysis came out in November that a 2nd addendum to the Mark Thomas and Company contract was issued by Marin Transit. This addendum’s Exhibit A notes:
TASK 3 DEVELOP A RANGE OF DESIGN ELEMENT OPTIONS AND DESIGN ALTERNATIVES
A significantly higher level of effort was undertaken given the issues and concerns raised by Golden Gate Transit and our efforts to answer the issues and concerns (current budget $20,334 to proposed budget $43,000).
TASK 6 PRELIMINARY ENGINEERING
There were a number of requests for changes, modifications, and additional study to meet the concerns of the City of Novato and Golden Gate Transit. In addition, we have had to expand our survey of the site to properly develop and mapping data base for an expanded footprint of not only the median area, but Redwood Ave as well due to lane modifications (current budget $62,128 to proposed $75,575).
Due to the request for additional traffic and pedestrian engineering and to the request for a custom shelter design verses a standard pre-fabricated shelter, we have added scope to Kappe/Du Architects, W-Trans (traffic engineers), and our geotechnical engineering firm ENGENO (current sub-consultant budget $93,902 to proposed budget $145,029).
This addendum resulted in bumping the consultant’s contract approximately $100,000 from $300,000.
Nevertheless the project for the central platform is quietly going right ahead. On the QT mitigations are being adopted and the last engineering studies have not even been finished yet. No public discussion of the safety concerns which plague Golden Gate Transit about the project have yet been scheduled.
The latest insult is an email dated March 17, 2015 anticipating filing for a categorical exemption from CEQA, one of the final steps in the process before construction. Sheri Hartz, the city clerk, ostensibly sent the email but probably other staff members authored it.
Addressed to Novato council members concerning questions on the RGTIP and also obtained by a Public Records Act request, the email repeats senior planner Elizabeth Dunn’s claim that the new facility does not increase operational nor physical capacity but only enhances safety and passenger experience. The authors of the email even go so far to state that a bus blocked by another at one of the present platforms in the median can use the curbside stop instead.
Does the bus back up in traffic? Their argument is to refute the claim that the new facility will have two new bus bypass lanes added which increases capacity in an ordinary way of thinking. Change in capacity triggers CEQA, so just argue it away. They point out that according to legal definitions the present facility already qualifies as a ‘major bus stop’ so that it can already meet some transit-oriented development requirements.
The practical question of whether or not it can presently handle 15 minute frequencies adequately, required for transit priority area designations (TPAs), is not attempted. Again the City is willing to follow Marin Transit’s lead, this time in fishing for a CEQA categorical exemption in three different categories. If one category doesn’t work, perhaps another will.
The final assertion is that Omni Trans San Bernardino has a contra-flow weave. The internet doesn’t show a contra-flow DOUBLE weave for Omni Trans and it appears that the facility may not be operational yet, so good luck with benefiting from their experience.
If you want to find out a little more about our Redwood Boulevard central platform design found nowhere else in the USA, contact the City Council before April 7th to ask for a public hearing to discuss the W-Trans Traffic Analysis on the Downtown Bus Hub. The address is email@example.com.
In closing, many thanks go to Al Dugan for making the Public Record Acts requests which produced much of the documentation for this article.
Eric Lucan, Novato councilperson talks with concerned citizens about the proposed multimillion dollar bus terminal to be located at Redwood Blvd and Grant Avenue. The new terminal uses a controversial design to accommodate longer buses with more frequency. It is on a scale that many feel is far in excess of the actual needs of city and its design will cause a pedestrian hazard.
Throwing Money at the Downtown Novato Bus Stop Part 3 – The Early History of the Downtown Novato Bus Stop
Article by Pam Drew
In 2003 Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) issued their Livability Footprint Project with their ideas as to Novato’s place in the Bay Area transportation system. Marin’s Countywide Plan, certainly harmonizing with ABAG’s, had been debated three years already and was to be completed in 2007. Novato 2028 A Vision for the Future (10-20-03), reflected “more than three thousand hours to discuss, synthesize, debate, and achieve consensus” (p.6), and it harmonized with both the Footprint and the Countywide Plan.
Smart Growth and Legislation
Smart Growth ideas were being disseminated from above with real ardor. All three papers expounded on the need to increase mass transit and to create multimodal bus hubs where amenities for bikes and pedestrians were provided, in order to get people out of their cars. Perfectly normal people thought they were on the cutting edge of creating a sustainable region, county, or town for the future.
Twelve years later the same ideas are being advanced with legislation tightening the screws so that suburban areas have practically been made vassals to the vision of urbanity (the large cities), and money and power are dressed in green and attended by an army of bureaucrats. The vision put abstractly is a lot more attractive than the vision being implemented today in California. The implementation foresees near gridlock, particularly in the Atherton/San Marin/Redwood area, if Friedman’s goes in but, hey, that’ll get people out of their cars!
Consider the scarcity of parking when the Novato Theater and the North Redwood Corridor is completed. Then add 200-300 units in downtown and start building up the Northwest Quadrant neighborhood. Don’t even bother to factor in the completion of the North North Redwood developments. Traffic demand mitigation (TDM) applies here. TDM translates to making driving cars unviable.
In 2016 or 2017, once the Downtown Bus Hub is completed and headways have been cut down to 15 minutes, anything within a half-mile radius of the Hub qualifies as a transportation priority area (TPA) under SB 743 so that traffic impacts and aesthetics are no longer considerations under the CEQA exemptions. Bob Brown believes four areas of Novato may qualify as TPA’s. They are the Hamilton SMART station and bus stop at the Town Center area, the Atherton SMART station and the bus stops on Redwood at Grant and at Olive. The rationale for ignoring local traffic impacts is that local congestion is OK as long as greenhouse gases are reduced on the whole. If one or possibly four areas mentioned above are gridlocked, more people will ride transit since they have no other option.
The town’s planners cannot urbanize a town alone. The town’s council, planning commission, design review commission, and the business associations must work together with the town’s planners and the town’s developers. The most noticeable products of the vision in the past were Millworks with Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and the office buildings above DeLong and Redwood. Consider that Hamilton is developing geographically as a separate village.
Novato’s four urbanist council members are confident that what they are delivering is in the best interests of ‘the people’. For the most part, only Pat Eklund has reservations about the overarching framework of legislation, regional agencies like the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transit Commission, networks of ABAG-approved nonprofits and approved corporations, and Marin County’s elder statesmen Judy Arnold and Steve Kinsey abetted by Katie Rice.
The County Transportation Vision of Three Regional Bus Hubs
The Transportation Vision of 2003, a county document which is paralleled by the regional government’s (ABAG/MTC’s) Transportation 2030 Plan a year later with its 25-year projections, is where the story of the Novato Bus Hub starts. It appears that the Novato City Council started cooperating in 2003 or they were blissfully ignorant of what the Vision of 2028 espoused on their behalf. They stayed onboard throughout the changes wrought by regional government’s Transportation 2035 Plan (2009) and later the Plan Bay Area’s related Regional Transportation Plan from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in 2013. The cooperation started with the Marin County Transit District around a Bus hub in Novato near south Novato or Downtown to serve Northern Marin. This map (See below.) is what the territory looked like then. Notice several black circle symbols for hubs in Novato.
The jargon called for intermodal hubs, usually meaning local and express buses with amenities for bikers and pedestrians, and Traffic Demand Management, discouraging the use of cars by charging ever higher prices for fewer and fewer parking places, and it was an open question about where to locate this hub in Novato. Novato still has never had an open discussion about if Novato needs a large transit hub and if so, where it should be. San Rafael was the hub for Central Marin and the hub for Southern Marin was considered to be Marin City.
The people of Novato should know about what Supervisors Arnold and Kinsey had in mind in 2003, and what that entails in 2015. Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) rep, Madeline Kellner, who is also one of two city reps on Marin Transit has had it in mind since 2008 or 2009 coinciding closely with her election to the Council. Upgrading the bus stops has consistently been Ms. Kellner’s issue but the Novato Bus Hub goes ‘way beyond upgrading. Upgrading the bus stops is laudable. Quadrupling the capacity with perhaps view to future Bus Rapid Transit is another thing all together.
Gary Giacomini, Supervisor Steve Kinsey and Supervisor Judy Arnold still remember planning a southern, central, and northern bus hub for Marin, but there is little institutional memory of changing transportation strategies and only faint trails linking the different forms a project takes over the years. We can recover some of this memory and these trails, however, in “Moving Forward: A 25-Year Transportation Vision for Marin County” published in 2003. The county document became so familiar that its name was shortened to The Transportation Vision or just the Vision as mentioned previously. In section 3 page 11:
“Enhanced local and regional mobility is key in Northern Marin….North Marin includes both residential areas and dense employment corridors. It is the part of the County most dependent on travel to/from Sonoma County to the north … Transportation in 2020 in Northern Marin would be changed in a number of ways. Commuters to the area from the north would have four express bus routes serving the four primary employment areas of Northern Marin (the Fireman’s Fund area north of downtown Novato at San Marin Drive, central Novato, Hamilton Field and the Bel Marin Keys employment area). Shuttles would connect these areas with other modes as well. Commuters leaving Northern Marin would have access to two commuter rail stations, express buses, and an express shuttle or rail connection to ferry service in Central Marin or Port Sonoma….All day local bus service running every 30 minutes will connect Novato with Marin County communities south to Sausalito. Southwest Novato, Hamilton, to be served by new fixed route transit lines operating all day, every 30 minutes. The new routes will have timed transfers at a new primary transit junction in Northern Marin County. (Italics and bolding have been added.)
This is an early planning document reference referring to one of the three major transit hubs envisioned—one for northern Marin, one for central Marin, and one for southern Marin. In 2003 Novato was the site of the Northern Marin hub but the particular site downtown was not specified. Note that now in 2015 Port Sonoma is abandoned and the ferry from Larkspur to San Francisco is having major connectivity issues. Note also that having regional hubs is quite reasonable unless the hub in question is out of scale to the location and taking up most available resources when the demand for those resources is elsewhere.
Is the Hub Still a Good Idea?
From 2003 to 2015 the legislation governing obligations tied to transportation funding altered so much that the 2015 project carries many more burdens for the population of Novato than it did in 2003. During that time the ridership of buses in the Bay Area went down, depending on whose statistics you believe. In 2015 the planning vision has become an urbanist vision where ever denser, greater populations largely dependent on mass transit is considered progress. The regional government’s (ABAG’s) Transit Oriented Development Policy was not even passed until 2005, and much of the related state legislation has been passed in only the last two or three years. The Marin Transit staff and Novato City Manager Michael Frank steadfastly argue that there is no tie between this capital improvement project and future housing. This denial is, in fact, just that—denial. The whole point of ABAG/MTC’s PlanBayArea was to tie transportation and housing together in the Sustainable Communities Strategy. One of the likely spinoffs from the Downtown Bus Hub is transit-oriented development.
The language “primary transit junction” gives way to “transit centers” in the language of Supervisor Steve Kinsey reminiscing at the Marin Transit Directors Meeting 8-18-14 re Item 5, Discussion of the Downtown Novato Bus Stop Design. The Supervisors allocated nearly $800K for the project at that meeting. Kinsey says “This goes back even beyond the history that you [staff] described to us today because this is a piece of our vision plan from back in the early 2000s when we wanted to have transit centers in southern Marin, central Marin, and northern Marin.”
Kinsey’s comment alone gives context in 2015 to most documents about Novato’s Downtown Transit Center. Kinsey’s memory reveals to us the importance of Downtown Novato’s Hub as one of the three main transit centers in Marin. So, according to Supervisor Kinsey, the Downtown Novato Bus Stop is the fulfillment of a longstanding ambition for transit in Marin. Later he says, “this is Novato’s hub going forward,” harking back to “Moving Forward” and to the use of ‘intermodal transit hub’, the buzzwords for the 2003 Transportation Vision and 2005 implementation of Measure A’s emphasis on sidewalks, bike amenities, and transit– “Transit Centers will be Intermodal Hubs. Convenient local and express buses, as well as business shuttles and other transit modes (including at least one major ferry line, taxis, bike and pedestrian routes, and trains) will link through county transit centers.”
Arnold, Kinsey, Kellner, and possibly Lucan share the vision of the city-centered corridor where Novato is the northernmost city. This vision does not come with attention to an upper limit to feasible population density, however. Arnold and Kinsey seem to believe they are protecting West Marin by sacrificing the 101 corridor to development.
There is a planning concept called buildout meaning the maximum number of housing units allowable in a jurisdiction and by extension the maximum population. Both Bob Brown and Michael Frank have recently remarked that Novato is built out and that no more large developments are expected. From the General Plan of 1996, p. 39: “Population in 1995 was 54,900, reflecting the slow growth after 1990 due to a national and state recession. ABAG projects the population in 2015 to be 66,400. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) projects a total of 25,750 households in Novato by the year 2010. (The actual number was 21,216, according to the Novato Housing Update, nearly 20% lower.) The General Plan  projects a higher number of housing units, about 27,000, at buildout, which could occur later than the year 2015. “
Community Development Director, Bob Brown, was recently asked through the City Clerk ‘just what was Novato’s buildout for 1996 and what is buildout for 2015?’ Mr. Brown provided a chart from the 1996 General Plan showing 21,044 dwelling units with an estimated buildout of 26,509. He wrote: For the new General Plan Update we will not be doing a Build Out forecast for several reasons. First, it doesn’t provide realistic numbers…. Second, we don’t have an accurate database for every parcel in town…Lastly, since our general plans are 20-year planning documents, how can one say if the projected “build out” will occur during that 20-year timeframe?
This is quite unusual thinking when we consider that all of these planning efforts throughout the Bay Area are based on the conceit of 20-year projections. Or, perhaps not, since ABAG now tells how much housing we must plan for. Thankfully Mr. Brown in the General Plan Update notes that our 2015 population of 52,500 is expected to reach 55,700 in 2035, an increase of only 6%. That extrapolates to 1,275 additional households if the 2010 number of 2.51 persons per household is used or an average of 64 units per year. That, however, seems even less believable than a buildout of 26,509 predicted in 1996. Is there an upper limit or with an urbanist pun definitely intended: is “the sky the limit?”
Keep in mind the issue of comfortable space and steady growth for Novato when you are voting in the council elections this November. Novato is part of the 101 (City-Centered) Corridor and an upper limit or carrying capacity for the 101 Corridor should be given some thought.
Click on the link below for part 4 and part 2:
Eye on the Council – When Eric Lucan brought up #5 a 2nd time, he sparked the best discussion of the evening.
If you’re short on time, skip to the end: When Eric Lucan made known his interest in #5 a second time, he sparked the most interesting discussion of the evening. Otherwise, keep reading. This week’s Council meeting was essentially three presentations: one about the Novato Village program and the Council on Aging, one on Novato’s Climate Action Plan and one on Adapting to Sea Level Rise.
Below is the body of the email, called the recap, which the city provided subscribers after the 3/3/15 council meeting. It has been thrown in for free for those needing only the barest of accounts. It is a very useful although limited record. The column continues below the recap.
City of Novato Recap of 3/3 City Council meeting
Council discussion on Climate Change Action Plan & Sea Level Rise
Posted Date: 3/4/2015
** (note: following are highlights only; for more info, please see agendas & associated staff reports)
· Presentation from the Council on Aging-Annual Report by Beth Livoti, Novato’s representative to the Marin Council on Aging
Consent Calendar items: Approved 5-0
· Investment report for quarter ending 12/31/14
· 2015 Hazard Mitigation Plan Annual Review
· General Plan Update: White Papers on Climate Change Action Plan & Sea Level Rise & Adaptation-Council discussed and gave staff direction on both items.
Video of Council meeting is here.
Council on Aging-Annual Report by Beth Livoti
Beth Livoti, Novato’s appointee to the Council on Aging, gave her presentation one minute in on the video (see link above). The Marin County Commission on Aging is an advisory council to the Marin County Board of Supervisors. Marin’s and Novato’s sizable senior population as our fastest growing age group merits an advisory council. The Annual Report of the Council on Aging details the activities of the commission and its subcommittees. Ms. Livoti helped form the Novato Village steering committee which has organized monthly meetings for about two years in preparation for the imminent launch at the downtown bus stop on June 6th of Novato’s organization. San Rafael, Sausalito, Ross Valley, and Mill Valley already have affiliated ‘Villages’. Novato’s organization has presently 11 members plus 20 volunteers. Novato’s group is presently exploring seeking the designation “Whole health organization age-friendly community”. One of the goals is to centralize and make accessible practical information of interest to seniors.
Regarding the Consent Calendar there was no discussion and the two items passed unanimously.
General Business was devoted to two White Papers or policy papers written by staff for the council’s and the public’s information. Bob Brown introduced Novato’s General Plan Project Manager, Christine O’Rourke of Christine O’Rourke Community Planning, hired primarily for managing the general plan update in fiscal year 2014-15. Since Ms. O’Rourke has helped create climate action plans for many other Marin jurisdictions and also coordinates the countywide staff group which deals with reducing greenhouse gases, she made both powerpoint presentations.
Federal regulations (for example, from the Clean Air Act) allow states to have their own Climate Action Plans and, in turn, regions and cities and towns within regions have their own climate action plans. The government or organizations associated with governments and the environment make templates available which each level can tailor to its own circumstances and preferences within the given template. Novato’s Climate Action Plan sets goals for greenhouse gas percentage reductions for 2020, 2035, and 2050 compared to a baseline of 2008. Cities generally have climate action plans because it is the right thing to do. The goals are strictly goals with no sanctions attached as of 2015. Although the process is primarily a technical one handled by specialists like Ms. O’Rourke, the Council will be called upon to approve the final product. The climate action plan will likely become part of the Draft General Plan for this Update. The previous General Plan was adopted before Novato’s first climate action plan was written. Tuesday night the Council was asked to give feedback on the white papers and the newly proposed programs or implementation measures.
Christine O’Rourke gave a powerpoint presentation on the Climate Change Action Plan found 10 minutes into the video.
Staff proposed five new programs for further implementing Novato’s climate change action plan, written in 2009. They were listed in the staff report (parenthesis added) as:
- Add a program to support commercial energy efficiency upgrade programs (Smart Lights).
- Add a program to require an energy efficiency audit and upgrades at time of residential resale.
- Add a program to require the City to purchase Marin Clean Energy Deep Green electricity for all facilities.
- Add a program to encourage homeowners to switch to Marin Clean Energy Deep Green electricity.
- Update the Climate Change Action Plan to conform to the requirements of CEQA Section 15183.5. (Bay Area Air Quality Management District has been reviewing draft greenhouse gas reduction plans to determine if these plans meet the State’s criteria for GHG reduction strategies that support tiering, which in turn can remove the necessity for individual developments/developers to fund their own greenhouse gas analysis. This program requires the hire of a 1/2 time staff person. )
Andy Fegley, Chief Executive Officer of the Marin Association of Realtors, spoke against program number two succinctly and to the point, noting that a state law already exists (AB 758) which says any point of sale regulation may not unreasonably affect the home purchasing process. He went on to say that point of sale regulations really should not be in a general plan, that the general plan is the city’s “constitution”. As it turned out the Council agreed.
When Eric Lucan made known his interest in #5 a second time, he sparked the most interesting discussion of the evening. #5 is referred to as the qualified plan or qualified climate plan or qualified action plan and the idea is that #5 would save developers about $20,000 for GHG analysis for each development. If you’ve been wondering how each council member actually, truly looks at developers, start at 1:37:00 with Eric’s interest in #5. He asks “What’s the struggle here?” Madeline Kellner chimes in with “It wasn’t a struggle for me…I’d like to make it work.” Pat Eklund says emphatically ”I’m not supportive of the public and the city paying for developers to not have to do something like calculating greenhouse gases…$20,000 is a drop in the bucket for someone like a Target doing a major development.” Denise Athas retorts “I happen to disagree with Pat. It isn’t a drop in the bucket for a developer. There’s a lot of developments where when you look at the fees a developer has to pay to get to the point of putting a shovel in the ground, it is astronomical….”
In the end, program #1 about commercial energy efficiency was the only one of the five listed above that the Council wanted to carry forward although Eric Lucan’s suggestion about laying conduit so that electric vehicle charging stations or outlets can be easily hooked up when needed will also be considered.
The sea level rise and adaptation policy presentation was also worthwhile with good visuals. Christine O’Rourke gave the presentation on this one particular aspect of climate change. The presentation is located at 1:47:00 on the video. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, the recommendation is that you watch the video by clicking item #4 under the video screen area on your computer or on the library’s computer and/or check out all the visuals in the staff report figures and appendices at http://ci.novato.ca.us/agendas/pdfstaffreports/cc030315_I-4.pdf. The policy options given in the related staff report were: 1. Stay current on data, 2. Monitor and participate in studies and efforts underway, 3. Prioritize preparation of a vulnerability and risk assessment, 4. Investigate and pursue funding sources for staffing, studies and adaptation, 5. Assess the potential impacts of sea level rise in all applications for new development in shoreline areas, 6. Prepare a guidance document for incorporating sea level rise into the City’s capital planning process, and 7. Incorporate the likelihood of sea level rise and extreme heat and storm events in the City’s Local All-Hazard Mitigation Plan. The Council recommended moving forward all the options proposed re preparing for sea level rise.