For perspective today highway 101 at Larkspur carries 13,300 vehicles per hour in the weekday evening peak - and we all know how horrendous that is (Source: Caltrans 2012 traffic volumes, page 142).
What Traffic Impact Might 920 Units Have?According to the Institute of Transportation Engineers trip generation manual one should plan for each housing unit generating 6.715 trips each weekday. This manual is the gospel of traffic planning. Based on this factor 920 units at Larkspur will generate an additional 6,177 weekday trips. However, this figure is under-representative as the additional shopping and hotel will significantly add to this figure.
Transit oriented development is the brainchild of Robert Cervero. In 2008 Cervero published a study entitled Vehicle Trip Reduction Impact of Transit-Oriented Housing. In his study he reviews 16 transit oriented development locations and arrives at the conclusion that in such locations trips are significantly reduced - to only 3.754 weekday trips per housing unit. Here the Larkspur plans would add an additional 3,453 weekday trips.
Now it must be said:
- Cervero's lower trip number is the best case using handpicked ideal transit oriented development locations. Several of these locations are under 15 minutes from a major city on a direct bus route.
- Not all trips will occur in the critical evening (or morning) peaks
- Not all trips will be on 101
- This number excludes the traffic generated by the proposed hotel and expanded retail
- Graton Casino just opened in Rohnert Park. The casino has 5,700 parking spaces attracting many to leave San Francisco and add to the northbound evening commute after work
- Sonoma County is really embracing Plan Bay Area and transit oriented development. Sonoma has designated 12 "priority development areas" which if built out over the next 20 years will add 24,010 new housing units with residents easily exceeding that of San Rafael. This will surely have an impact on 101 in Marin.
- While there is a Greenbrae Corridor Project which was intended to alleviate 101 traffic, the outcome is some bike and pedestrian improvements but for traffic the only progress is to ask MTC for money to conduct further investigations; it years away from shovel ready solutions.
Concentrating HousingWhat is concerning is that 920 units will all be concentrated in a single location. I am an advocate for absorbing the projected housing need, based on the State Department of Finance projections, which is that the entire county will grow by 4,543 residents or 1,740 additional housing units over the next 25 years.
Envisioning 920 units in a single location - Larkspur - that's more than half what's needed for the entire county - and placing this at the county's single biggest traffic bottleneck does not seem to be good planning.
Instead we need to push for relaxing laws that currently discourage second units. I know that even transit advocate Dave Edmondson is with me on this. We should push for more Marinites to build second units. We should also be pushing on ABAG to allow second unit to be counted towards meeting quotas - quotas that if not met lead to massive penalties as discovered by the cities of Menlo Park and Pleasanton.
We should encourage the owners of these second units to accept section 8 residents. This constituent group of Marin residents really needs the break and the state absorbs almost all risk of payment default to landlords. But the need for section 8 housing is getting increasingly acute as funding is cut.
Second we need more building conversions. I was thrilled to read about a recently announced proposal to convert the office atop the hill above Northgate Mall in Terra Linda being converted to 77 housing units.
If we can get over this fixation on concentrating housing near transit we can start to spread out the impact of additional cars. Sure there will be more cars, but at least they won't all be concentrated at the Larkspur bottleneck - the very worst location in Marin where the additional traffic could be added.
The bigger issue for me is that Marin need not be ruined with more monstrous Win Cups - at least not in our lifetime. One Marin IJ commentor wrote it best - people moved to Marin to get away from concentrated urbanization, they came for the open spaces and a great suburban and rural environment to live and perhaps bring up a family.
Trips May Be Reduced, But Larkspur SAP Still Adds More Cars
What seems to be overlooked by transit advocates is that while their proposed high density locations near transit may reduce trips, when you put hundreds of housing units in a single location there is still a significant increase in trips.
Adding 3,453 - 6,177 vehicle trips to the immediate Larkspur area where many will be on 101, when 101 is at capacity with 13,300 vehicles per hour peak weekday evening commute is a bad recipe.
Marin is not like Los Angeles or the South Bay - we are highly dependent on a single artery - highway 101. Once that gets overly congested there's simply nowhere to go. So let's not ruin our critical artery 101, or ruin our beautiful county.