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Highway 101 Should be a High-Frequency Bus Line

Key to a successful transit system is show up and go service, but Golden Gate Transit hasn't developed that trunk. It's time they develop it.

Though Marin has done a really fine job with what bus resources it has – indeed, its service puts Washington, DC’s suburban service to shame – it doesn’t do justice to its geographic blessings, or the transit-oriented towns it serves. To get Marin on the move, GGT should reconsider the basic structure of its service.

The ideal transit system is a grid of high-frequency corridors. Though it requires transfers, if the bus or train comes every five minutes it’s not that much of a problem. San Francisco, Vancouver, and even Broward County, Florida, have designed highly successful transit grids.

Alas, Marin’s valleys preclude development of a high-frequency grid. Instead, our geography is in a trunk and feeder system. Just like the streams that made our valleys all fed into the Bay, our feeder roads all lead to the Highway 101 trunk. Only two town centers, those of Novato and San Rafael, fall along the trunk, and the rest are at least half a mile up the valleys from the freeway. Though not ideal, this system gives us a number of advantages.

Foremost among these is that our trunk is a freeway. From an urban design perspective 101 is atrocious, but from a speed perspective this is wonderful. Unlike surface streets that require constant stopping and going and cars parallel parking and red lights and pedestrians and all the other nonsense that makes buses drive slowly and a city worth living in, a freeway is empty of all but cars, freeing drivers to push their buses far beyond their normal surface speed. As well, bus stops are relatively infrequent, only as often as an on- or off-ramp, so they don’t slow down the bus much.

Secondly, our branches aren’t twisty little things that look great only on a drafting board. There’s not enough room for that. Instead, we have fairly linear arterials along valley floors with towns positioned right along them. Even sprawling Novato has only a couple of real arterial roads. Most anywhere you want to be is within a half-mile of these roads.

Lastly, nearly all our local buses intersect the trunk. There are very few valleys coming off of valleys like Sleepy Hollow and Sun Valley to muddle things. This means that one could run a bus along the branch from one end to the other and always, either at the endpoint or the midpoint, there will be a transfer to a fast north-south line, which where the real distance is in the system.

Sonoma, also part of the GGT system, doesn’t have quite the same linear structure as Marin, but the county’s principal town centers lie along 101 and so are similarly well-served (in a manner of speaking) by the freeway.

As an added bonus, our towns are compact. Walkable destinations are easy to find, and office parks are clustered. San Francisco isn’t too far away, sitting at the base of our trunk, and the East Bay is easily accessible from Central Marin.

While our bus lines generally follow this system, the trunk lacks true high frequency. A common complaint among commuters to Marin from San Francisco is the awful northbound frequencies. All three all-day routes – 70, 80, and 101 – leave at the same time from the City, and each is a different level of express. Within Marin, wait times are inconsistent, fluctuating between 6 minutes and 30 minutes for most of the weekday, though Marin Transit runs Route 71 to make the gap only 15 minutes between Marin City and Novato. In Sonoma, GGT runs a consistent, though infrequent, one hour gap between buses, known as a headway.

The Frequent Trunk

Golden Gate Transit and Marin Transit should set a goal of no more than 30 minute waits for buses going between San Francisco and Santa Rosa, and 15 minute waits for buses going between San Francisco and Novato. That headway, while not great, is the largest we could go and still consider it a frequent bus service. This minimum level of service should go from 6am to 9pm weekdays and 9am to 9pm on weekends, roughly when service levels drop off in the existing service. Earlier and later buses would operate, of course, but only at the current levels of service. The weekday service works out to about 268 revenue hours – 97 hours for the Novato-SF route, 171 hours for the Santa Rosa-SF – which is 83 hours more than GGT currently runs. Weekend service would need 214 hours, about 62 more than currently available.

According to GGT’s latest operating reports, our weekday service increase would cost about $3.3 million per year, and the weekend would cost $1 million, increasing annual operating costs by 6%.* It may be possible to roll some commuter bus service into the morning schedule to decrease costs as well, which may go into an express service like what the 101 and 101X do now. Revenue from congestion pricing on the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as general toll hikes to , could easily cover the cost.

The Frequent and Accessible Feeder

This is a bus network, not simply a bus line, and we ought not forget about the feeder lines.

Of the feeders, the most prominent are those centered around San Rafael’s Bettini Transit Center. Not only do they have cross-platform connections (to borrow a rail term) to 101 bus service, but they serve the most densely populated areas of Marin – Ross Valley, Central San Rafael, and the Canal – and the East Bay. These should be high priorities, with a minimum combined headway of 20 minutes on each axis. The Canal, which already has 15 minute headways, should maintain them.

Other valleys should seek minimum headways of 30 minutes between their town centers and the freeway with a goal of 15 minute headways. North San Rafael and Hamilton have uniquely transit-unfriendly designs but the bulk of Marin’s population could be well-served by semi-frequent service along valley-floor arterials.

Just as important as frequency are the connections between 101 and the local feeders. Bus pads are typically awful things, and some routes – such as Tiburon’s Route 19 – don’t even connect well with the bus pads that are available. GGT and Marin Transit must push for stairs, better shelters, paved paths, clear signage, and onramp underpasses to facilitate transfers between local feeders and the 101 trunk as well as to surface streets. They should design each interchange as a single transfer area and provide maps for each, similar to the Larkspur Ferry map (PDF). Improvements like this are sometimes provided already, but should be standard. Though luxury isn’t necessary, customers should be comfortable when transferring and when waiting. That is the glue that makes the network really hum.

You’ll notice I haven’t touched on density, signal priority, BRT, SMART, or the speculative Fairfax-San Rafael streetcar. While each of these things could dramatically improve service in Marin and Sonoma, not to mention decrease the cost to run this proposed system, they aren’t necessary to make it a successful system. Using the infrastructure we have today it’s possible to make a high-class transit system for the North Bay. GGT should focus on network-wide improvements, and the key to a better bus system lies along Highway 101.

*GGT and Marin Transit put different values on that number. GGT's latest financial report shows a cost of $204/hour, while Marin Transit uses $139/hour when calculating costs. The lower number would give this system a total annual cost of $2.9 million rather than $4.3 million.

A version of this piece appeared in The Greater Marin.

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.

Rico August 10, 2012 at 02:25 AM
David, I already have a Wordpress account, can I use it here on the Patch ? I think that some people nowadays are too concerned about changing the internet from being mainly anonymous to more like a Facebook social network application. There was a great website a few years ago called Marin Nostalgia. People mostly used their real names but didn't have to. They had all kinds of great posts about the history of Marin and all kinds of secret little known things that people would openly share, lots of classic photos and interviews with well known business people and rock stars. It's all gone now, the last I checked it switched over to a Facebook site. None of the original posters or their posts that I could see, the internet has morphed. Two weeks ago, the FBI was working at Facebook headquarters on one of their special projects sistering up with the personal information database of Facebook users. To me, they have always been one in the same, Facebook Inc.=FBI. And John F., I don't care if you believe what I write, it could be written by anyone using a real name or not, it's the facts that are important. And I can always open a new account under my real name or another fictitious one , it shouldn't matter to most people., and like I said, I don't even care !
Kevin Moore August 10, 2012 at 03:51 PM
By motorcycle, my commute to downtown SF was a low as $6 until they started charging for Carpool commuters. 45 mpg motorcycle, 25 cents per hour parking next to the office, and was was free over the bridge until the carpool program ended.
David Edmondson August 10, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Alas, no, but you should talk to your Patch editor to see if you can use a pseudonym for blogging. I crosspost my articles a few days after they go up on my site, and that seems to work well. As for promotion, I've got a relatively hefty following on my blog, and if you have something interesting I'll be sure to reblog or put something in my weekly links. Since I assume it would be about the Marin that could have been (heh, rhymes), I suspect that would be often.
Rico August 10, 2012 at 04:27 PM
Right, I believe it is the people who object to all the opposing views to their posts that are the ones using this real name thing as a attempt to discredit opposers, it is their way of trying to censor forums. They don't have anything intelligent to write against their opposition, and this is their last resort. In other words, they are caving in to the opposition. Hooray for free speech ! About you being interested in the history of the military buildings in Ignacio, are you talking about all the housing and the PX on and near Ignacio Blvd. ? I remember that tract before they tore it down in 2000 and built those hundreds of shared wall condos. That helped increase the population of Novato (along with Hamilton) by over 5000 people, with no planning for the additional traffic as most of the residents are commuters. They imported all these new people into Novato telling them that it was a short commute to S.F. and they east bay. The newcomers got burned big time. There must be a Novato Historical Society, as there is for most other cities and towns in Marin. Remember that Novato is by far Marin's newest city, it was incorporated in 1960, before that it was just a wide spot on Redwood Highway. Do you remember the Hi-Fi drive in ?
David Edmondson August 10, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Hey hey, not EVERY objector to objectors wants a real name! I rather like the handles.
Rico August 10, 2012 at 04:38 PM
John, What's wrong with using a screen name ? This has been done for decades, even before the internet. Do you think Huey Lewis is his real name ? It isn't, and he is famous !
Bob Ratto August 10, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Dave is right!...some of the names are very entertaining...I do recall someone saying that the framers of the constitution used pseudonym's, so there is a bit of history to it. What is said is more important than the name it is said under (at least in my humble opinion)
Kevin Moore August 10, 2012 at 06:42 PM
John, We can control what happens with residential and commercial ares, it is called ZONING LAWS. The question is will projects that require changes to zoning laws slip by us unnoticed or will projects be voted in. I find the attitude of renters vs home owners to be fundamentally different. Renters tend to have a "what ever" attitude. "If they build something next door and I don't like it, I'll move." Home owners have a much bigger stake. If an area goes into decline, much of their life long investment can evaporate. In Marin, I rented for 12 years before I bought my house 14 years ago. I have lived both sides. Years ago, there was a property tax bond measure on the ballot. I told my landlord, "I don't care, I don't own property." I was promptly informed if the measure passed, my rent would be going up to reflect the increase in property tax. I was an enlightening conversation. I bet a lot of renters never make the connection.
John Ferguson August 10, 2012 at 07:29 PM
If you lot truly believe that credibility obtains solely on the content of ideas then you have to stop the incessant worrying about what David's home address and line of business is. Stop being hypocritical..
John Ferguson August 10, 2012 at 07:34 PM
On the internet, no one knows you're a dog..
Rico August 10, 2012 at 07:38 PM
David, Even you post on other forums under the name of "Greater Marin", so you are right. I like your handle, but don't quite get what it means. Is it because you would like to see a better Marin ?, or is it that you would like Marin to be more like the greater bay area ? In the old days, Sonoma county, and far from the S.F. bay cities like Livermore where not even considered the bay area, but now they are called part of the greater bay area. If you look at Sonoma county's official website, they don't call themselves being a part of the north bay, but they say that they are a part of the greater bay area. I guess it has a lot to do with the filling in of the S.F. and San Pablo bays, and all the development that was allowed along the shores, that has now crept outward and upward. That is also called urban sprawl, which you seem to want to promote in Marin, even though we have successfully staved it off in most areas of Marin to date.
David Edmondson August 10, 2012 at 07:57 PM
Oh, I definitely don't want Marin to be like the greater Bay Area. My nightmare is a 101 corridor like Livermore or Walnut Creek. The handle and blog title is twofold. One, to take the best ideas from the Greater Marin County (meaning all the world) and see how they might fit into Marin, and to see the worst ideas and see how to keep them from coming to Marin. Two, to evoke a better Marin that is more like its character, not less. I have my own interpretation of what that means, of course. At its most basic, it means stronger downtowns, more places like those downtowns, and fewer places that have little character at all.
John Ferguson August 10, 2012 at 07:59 PM
You're actually a teenager living in your parent's basement in Richmond, Virginia. Prove me wrong..
Mark Schoenbaum August 10, 2012 at 08:07 PM
@Right - then why do you have so many troll accounts?
David Edmondson August 10, 2012 at 08:26 PM
Guys, this is getting awful. Quit the flame war.
Anne Tique August 10, 2012 at 10:02 PM
Wondering where the men's comments about this "cat fight" are?
Thrasy Bulus August 10, 2012 at 11:02 PM
Revealing that proposals to improve public transit in Marin are met with an onslaught of personal attacks. We get it. Poor people use public transit, so it's bad. Enjoy the traffic jams and lack of alternatives.
Lizzardking's Rise August 10, 2012 at 11:12 PM
Hey DUDE! Like use your real name. I can't imagine not using my real name when I crash at the Patch, man.
Rico August 11, 2012 at 02:08 AM
David, Stronger downtowns ? Meaning more surveillance cameras and restrictions. And more places like those downtowns ? Where would we put them in already overbuilt Marin ? Instead of trying to change our small downtown areas into something futuristic, how about we try and turn back the clock to the way it was in the 60's. I remember uptown Mill Valley was a very vibrant happening place, businesses were bustling and there was a very good vibe in the air. Sure there was a lot of traffic, but it was not a real problem and never required any traffic signals, and there are still no signalized intersections anywhere near downtown Mill Valley. And Sausalito in the 60's, WOW, what a blast ! That place was hoppin with tourists and happnen with hippies. Remember the old 5 story parking lot that they converted to small shops called the Village Square ? And the park across the street where people at one time were allowed into the fountain pool to cool off ? And all the musicians beating drums and playing guitars on the stairs next to the Village Square. And the tides bookstore. There were literally thousands of people lining the streets and shopping in the stores. I know that you were not born yet at that time, but you really missed out on what a great place Marin used to be. Sad to say that it will never be that good again, but it certainly could be better than it is now. I don't think expanding downtowns and adding housing in downtowns is the answer at all.
David Edmondson August 11, 2012 at 04:02 AM
Think of the best interpretation of "stronger downtowns" rather than the worst and that's what I meant. More like the 1960s Mill Valley you describe. I'm definitely not one for activity restrictions and surveillance, or something out of place and futuristic. The character of Marin's downtowns is in their timelessness: a feeling of ownership and that lived-in quality you get in old jeans and old buildings. But at least now you know where my blog's name comes from. Does your pseudonym have a story?
Derek Wilson August 11, 2012 at 06:05 AM
Please remember to be respectful of each other and try to focus your comments on the topic, not personality conflicts.
Roger August 11, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Derek, yes...issue is not so much your real identity as much as whether you attack the opposing person vs their points and supporting evidence (or lack there of). Being respectful vs being a jerk. Debate with supporting evidence, not name-calling.
Kevin Moore August 11, 2012 at 04:12 PM
When I started posting here, I considered using a Handle rather than my real name. There are too many idiots that may want to take it from the internet to the front door. Real names tend to lend more credibility, so I think using a Handle starts off with a disadvantage, but read the content and judge it. So far, I see Right as posting rational comments, not trolling.
Rico August 11, 2012 at 04:13 PM
reply to David Edmondson, I have many different screen names and email accounts, and I post on many different forums. But the name Ricardo Charducci I reserve exclusively for the Patch. The story behind is it a name that I came up with for a couple of friends who used to play music in a garage band. One was named Richard and the other ones last name was Banducci. Voila ! The Charducci Band was coined. Both of these people grew up in Marin but no longer live here, but I still see Richard and we are still good friends, so I told him that I would be posting under his nickname and he didn't object. I checked the phone book and there is no such name listed in Marin, but probably not anywhere in the world. I would never want to impersonate another real person.
Rico August 11, 2012 at 04:38 PM
reply to Kevin Moore, I have seen your posts on the IJ comments section (and I think that they are excellent). But in order to post on the IJ comments as well as many other forums, one must join Facebook and give Facebook their detailed personal information as well as use a real name. So, since you already developed a good rapport on the IJ forums with your real name, I think that you should stick with it here on the Patch. How's that electric bike coming along ? I did buy a new Motobecane 29er, but the triangle is so small on a 29er, I might build out my old Ross MTB to be electric instead.
Kevin Moore August 11, 2012 at 04:49 PM
o We committed to spend over $800 million to install and run the SMART train system. One of SMART's claims is the number of commuters to SF is small compared to the number of Sonoma / Marin commuters. Many RepealSMART advocates said the alternative was to build out the bus system. The choice was to build SMART instead. The money supply is not endless and at some point you start hurting the same people you want to help. Higher taxes? If you make over six figures, it won't hurt that much. The middle income person with a family that pays more to commute, more for property taxes, more for sales taxes; it all adds up. It can't be "and this. and this. and this." o I disagree with the Robin Hood attitude of taking from the car drivers to give to those who choose other modes of transportation. One reason I commuted on my motorcycle was the flexibility to leave early or more often work very late. Some people don't commute to downtown SF or need to carry equipment in their cars. I don't think it's fair to penalize them as "evil or selfish car drivers".
Kevin Moore August 11, 2012 at 04:51 PM
o One complaint was seeing empty buses. Maybe we need to rethink buses and purchase smaller buses that run on a more frequent basis. We have a lot of elderly people that will not be able to drive. But they will need service that is not far from their homes. It takes money to run a program that will run at a loss and we just dedicated money to SMART. o Some like riding the bus to downtown SF. I'd rather take the ferry. No stops, right to downtown. A co-worker from Rhonert Park prefers the bus due to not having to transfer. o Marin has always been a suburban area. Want to live in a carless city, San Francisco is excellent for that lifestyle. Is living in Marin expensive? Yes, it always has been expensive. I pay more to live in a nicer area. o Marin lost 9% of all jobs between 2000 and 2009. Marin's population growth is nearly zero. I think "building for the next wave of Marin residents" is just a way to continue building in Marin. Jobs are not coming to Marin in large numbers. The SFD lots are gone. YOu think there will be more government jobs in Marin? Not with the pension mess we are in.
Kevin Moore August 11, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Hi Ricardo, You don't have to give Facebook your real name. You can make one up, then attach it to any email account. It isn't that I can't setup another account, I chose not to do it. We will see if I ever pay a price for that. In Debating class we were taught to never attack the person. Never attack the statement. Attack the supporting proof. So often, there is no proof, or support, which makes the statement an opinion.
Kevin Moore August 11, 2012 at 06:41 PM
And I am still researching electric bikes. I've done a lot of research on hub drives and batteries. Check out the "Commuter Booster". It is a very light weight design for boosting how far you can commute on a bicycle.
Rico August 11, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Hi Kevin, You are right about using smaller buses in Marin, especially since most intra-county bus lines are usually more of a percentage of empty or nearly empty buses. It is the commute routes that are well utilized and the buses are filled up. That is a more efficient use of tax dollars, fuel and resources. If you notice the public works trucks and fire trucks used in Marin municipalities are also smaller. They make many full service trucks that are smaller, use less fuel, cost less to operate and are more adaptive to the many hillside areas that have roads that some people call goat trails. Many of them are one lane in spots. Plus, smaller vehicles are safer for everyone. I remember the old Greyhound commute bus that used to leave Bolinas at 6:30 am and go through Stinson Beach, then over Panoramic straight to S.F. Then, the bus driver "Sam" would spend the day (with pay) in S.F. drinking and gambling and then make the return run in the evening back to Bo-Stin. Sam never missed a day of work in 40 years or had an accident. They had a special small Greyhound bus for the Bolinas run to S.F. No, I never used it, but my parents did, and it was always nearly full. It is mainly commuters that need the big buses to S.F., but is the many seniors that use the intra-county lines that smaller buses would make more sense. And I agree with you about the population decline and jobs decline in most of Marin. Building more apartments for new commuters is not sustainable.

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