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Bicyclists say SMART shouldn't put brakes on bike-ped path

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    Published Friday, January 14, 2011, by the Marin Pacific Sun Upfront: Path of least resistance Cyclists say SMART shouldn t put brakes on pedestrian-bike
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 14, 2011
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      Published Friday, January 14, 2011, by the Marin Pacific Sun

      Upfront: Path of least resistance
      Cyclists say SMART shouldn't put brakes on pedestrian-bike pathway

      By Peter Seidman

      The recent re-opening of the Cal Park Hill Tunnel, the debate over the Alto Tunnel and the deliberations about where and how much to spend on building the first segment of SMART all highlight a remarkable trend: A significant number of people in the North Bay are riding bicycles for utilitarian transportation -- and their numbers are growing.

      No longer the sole province of the schoolkid riding to class or the weekend warrior tackling Mount Tam, bike transportation is becoming a practical alternative, and the north-south bike pathway that one day will run from Cloverdale to Sausalito is emblematic of the trend.

      Just as emblematic are the numerous letters written to local publications criticizing the tunnel projects as a waste of taxpayer money that will benefit only a few. One recent letter stated in part, "I have nothing against bikes and their riders, but it seems we should be thinking just a tad about what's affecting our lives. The [utopian] idea of us riding a bike to the supermarket and work is great. But it's not reality."

      Actually it is a reality for many North Bay residents, say proponents of biking for everyday transportation. But the perception among many that cycling is an impractical, though healthful, endeavor persists.

      WalkBikeMarin, an initiative created by the county from the federal Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program, encourages walking and biking. The website, <http://walkbikemarin.org>, tracks all pedestrian and bike projects in the county. In October 2009, WalkBikeMarin and the county Department of Public Works released a study that looked at the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program, which is one of four pilots in the country. According to the study, 20 percent of the bike trips were part of school or work commutes. Shopping trips and errands accounted for 14 percent of the trips. And 34 percent were "utilitarian and transportation related." Riders surveyed averaged one bike trip 11 days each month, and 11 percent said they used their bikes daily. "If respondents drove alone for these trips instead of bicycling, this sample group would annually account for approximately 5,468 additional vehicle trips. Considering the median respondent trip length -- 10 miles -- and the average automobile mpg -- 20.2 according to the EPA -- this translates to approximately 2,707 gallons of gasoline, $8,364 (at $3.09/gallon), and 52,245 lbs. of CO2."

      Survey respondents stated they chose particular routes based on accessibility, directness, separation from vehicle traffic and lower traffic volumes -- some of the key goals for the north-south bike pathway.

      That pathway, dedicated to pedestrians and bicyclists, always has been an integral part of the SMART project for a commuter rail line between Marin and Sonoma counties. A bike and pedestrian path along the train route creates a cohesive alternative transportation infrastructure that will accommodate the current number of bicyclists and encourage even more people to use their bikes to connect to the train system.

      A recent Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) review of SMART funding shortfalls and prospective construction plans recommends building a first segment of the system from Railroad Square in Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael. MTC estimates that SMART faces a funding shortfall of between $62 million (an "optimistic case") and $125 million (a "conservative case") to build that first segment. Those numbers remain tentative until construction bids go out, when SMART will know how much construction will cost and the amount of revenue it will receive from sales tax and bond sources. The MTC report identifies cost savings to close the funding gap; among those is the suggestion that SMART could postpone building one-third of the bike and pedestrian path in the first segment.

      Bike proponents were understandably nervous at that suggestion.

      "The entire cost of the pathway from Railroad Square in Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael is only $39 million," says Deb Hubsmith, advocacy director at the Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC). "The cost for the [first phase] project, end to end, is $395 million, before they added on an extra [estimated $38 million to $46 million] to get it to downtown San Rafael. So the bike path is less than 10 percent of the total cost of the project." Bike advocates in both counties say many people voted for the quarter-cent sales tax hike to fund SMART because of the bike and pedestrian path.

      "There's always been a commitment from SMART for the pathway," says Hubsmith. The bike community remains ready to help SMART identify and secure additional funds should they become available for bike projects that could tie into SMART -- and reduce the funding burden for the rail agency.

      To some degree, that's already happened. The 37 miles of pathway between Santa Rosa and San Rafael includes "more than 10 miles of pathway facilities that will not be built or maintained by SMART, and are not included in the $39 million" cost estimate for the pathway, according to MCBC's 10-point list of principles for the SMART train and pathway project. In addition, a segment of path in San Rafael, the Puerto Suello Hill Pathway that recently opened, is a Transportation Authority of Marin project that San Rafael will maintain. And an 8-mile section of pathway along the Marin-Sonoma Narrows will not fall on the SMART balance sheet. Those and other projects, such as the Transit Center pathway in San Rafael, bring "the total cost of the 37-mile pathway to $59 million," according to the statement of principles. That additional $20 million cost is being borne by agencies other than SMART.

      The bike community already has contributed its fair share. But the wider point that Hubsmith and others make is that SMART is an integrated system, not just a train line with a pedestrian and bike pathway add-on. "It's about what we commit our funding to in the North Bay and how we sequence North Bay regional transportation priorities," says Hubsmith.

      MCBC is calling on SMART to explore all funding alternatives to find "uncommitted and redirected funding sources and other cost-saving measures." If, after exploring the options, SMART must still cut additional costs, MCBC proposes that the cuts be made proportionally between the two counties. The Marin portion of the $39-million pathway is estimated at $13 million. Postponing a third of the construction as a possible cost-saving measure, the coalition maintains that the hit to Marin should be one-third of the $13 million, or $4.33 million. That means the Sonoma section of the pathway, estimated at $26 million, also should face a possible one-third hit -- $8.66 million -- of its construction costs, ensuring an equitable share of pain, if necessary.

      One section of the SMART project already completed is the re-opening of the Cal Park Hill Tunnel <http://tinyurl.com/c6y684> to bikes and pedestrians. Trains one day will run in the tunnel. Critics say spending the approximately $28 million on the tunnel was an unwise expenditure that will benefit only a few. Strong criticism also surfaced after the possibility of rehabilitating the Alto Tunnel was discussed in a Mill Valley to Corte Madera Bicycle and Pedestrian Corridor Study.

      The Alto Tunnel would connect Corte Madera with Mill Valley and the bike path that runs all the way to Sausalito. Southern Marin cyclists would have easier access to the ferries in Larkspur, and could use the Cal Park Hill Tunnel to ride into San Rafael.

      In addition to neighbors at either end of the tunnel saying the re-opening is a nonstarter because it would violate their property rights, others object on the ground that spending an estimated $46-$60 million would benefit too few people who could otherwise use surface streets.

      That assessment ignores ridership numbers in the North Bay. The corridor study draws on research that shows an average daily traffic of 2,567 riders per day on the Mill Valley-Sausalito path and 1,031 riders on the Larkspur-Corte Madera path. And bike use is increasing. According to the WalkBikeMarin study, "average weekday peak hour bicycling increased 118 percent between 1999 and 2009. Average weekend bicycling increased 125 percent during that same time."

      Andy Peri, outreach coordinator with MCBC, notes that the SMART environmental report estimates that about 7,000 riders per weekday will use the SMART pathway along its entire length from Cloverdale to Larkspur; about 10,000 will use the path on the weekends.

      Cycling as utilitarian transportation straddles Marin and Sonoma counties. "A big part of the goal in both communities is aimed at reducing greenhouse gases," says Christine Culver, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition (SCBC). "The automobile is one of the largest contributors. By reducing the need to drive, and by creating access for bicycle transportation, communities can reduce greenhouse gases." Sonoma County bike proponents have been working to create an east-west network of bike access routes to link with the SMART pathway. "We're not waiting," says Culver.

      Culver adds that the bike coalitions in the two counties are coordinating their support for bicycle transportation, and it's a trend occurring across the country, even in areas like San Francisco, where at first glance it might seem counterintuitive. A 2010 bike count in San Francisco shows a 58 percent increase in bike trips since 2006. When communities provide safe routes, say proponents, riders will use them.

      "Santa Rosa is one of those places that people move to because it's a place they can ride their bikes," says Culver, who moved to Santa Rosa from Orange County "because I knew this was a place where I wanted to live and I could use my bike." Culver says a manager of the Santa Rosa REI store told her not too long ago that people who work for the company and want to transfer request the Santa Rosa store because the community is bike friendly. To an extent, so is San Rafael. The SMART line would link the two largest cities in the North Bay with train stations that would provide state-of-the-art bike parking and also the capability of taking bikes between the two counties in an integrated alternative transportation system.

      As for the critics who say it's a waste of taxpayer money, Culver says, "Studies show that in communities that are bike- and walking-friendly, the people are healthier and happier. It's not just about this microscopic view of funding [even in a depressed economy]. You have to look at the bigger picture of the overall health of a community."

      A train line coupled with a bike and pedestrian route will help create a new transportation paradigm in the North Bay, according to Culver and other bike proponents. "We have to look beyond today to see the future," says Culver. "If you keep doing what you're doing, you're going to get what you have."

      Contact the writer at peter@...


      [BATN: See also:

      Letter: Make bicyclists buy $50 licenses to pay for Cal Park tunnel
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/47720

      Letter: Cal Park tunnel a $28m taxpayer rip-off for biking minority
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/47719

      Editorial: Marin Cal Park tunnel opening good news for bicyclists
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/47513

      Letters: Costly Marin Alto Tunnel would create "bicycle freeway"
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/47460

      Column: Marin Alto Tunnel bike path makes sense -- but not now
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/47459

      Cal Park tunnel opening ceremony sees hundreds of bicyclists
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/47449

      Cal Park Hill Tunnel opens to hundreds of bicyclists amid cheers
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/47448

      Cal Park tunnel opens to Marin Co. bicyclists today ... SMART later
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/47439

      Corte Madera NIMBYs will fight $56m Alto Tunnel reopening for bikes
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/47196

      Marin County Bicycle Coalition: Re-Opening the Alto Tunnel
      http://marinbike.org/Campaigns/Infrastructure/AltoFAQs.shtml

      Cal Park tunnel opening ceremony sees hundreds of bicyclists
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/47449

      Cal Park tunnel opens to Marin Co. bicyclists today ... SMART later
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/47439

      SMART Larkspur-San Rafael Cal Park tunnel restoration wins award
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/46726

      Cal Park Hill SMART rail tunnel to open to bikes, peds in October
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/45065

      Comment: SMART, bicycle path advocates working in cooperation
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/44681

      Bicycle advocates aim to stop raid on SMART bike path funding
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/44523

      $25m Marin Cal Park tunnel reopening underway for bikes, SMART
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40123

      San Rafael - Larkspur Cal Park Tunnel re-opening groundbreaking
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/39434

      Cal Park Hill tunnel groundbreaking draws SMART backers, foes
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/39423

      Marin seeks bids to re-open Cal Park rail tunnel for bikes, peds
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/38416 ]
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