Trolley in San Anselmo?

Dick Spotswood: Ross Valley-San Rafael trolley study a waste of money Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016 – 11:13 a.m. Dick Spotswood writes a twice-weekly column on local politics for the Marin Independent Journal. (IJ photo/Robert Tong) The Ross Valley trolley report is out. Buried deep in the agenda of the Transportation Authority of Marin’s obscure executive committee, the $185,000 analysis is money down the drain. The report manages to go on for 428 pages without coming to a conclusion. Much of the “Fairfax-San Rafael Corridor Transit Feasibility Study” is boilerplate discussing streetcar systems around the county. Its cost analysis is feeble. Using rules of thumb, the money needed to build a Fairfax-Downtown San Rafael streetcar line is estimated at between $100 million and $200 million. If policymakers want more precise numbers, they’ll have to pay consultants for another study. Ironically, at the bottom of each page of the Nelson/Nygaard-prepared report are the words, “Making the most of Marin County Transportation dollars.” Trolley proponents had the ear of county supervisors. Almost as a courtesy, TAM doled out $185,000 for pretty pictures and information, much of which can be garnered on the Internet. Advertisement The report does have one benefit. It will convince any practical person that building an electric trolley car line linking the Ross Valley to the Mission City is folly. Two approaches are outlined to increase transit ridership in the eight-mile-long corridor. The “low investment alternative” would increase bus frequency to every 15 minutes. A study isn’t needed to explain transit basics. With higher frequency transit becomes more convenient, attracting additional passengers. Unfortunately it fails to discuss sources for cash needed to actually run enhanced bus service. The “low cost” option’s capital costs wildly range from $8 million to $39 million. If higher bus frequencies are implemented, an additional “380-460 daily transit trips” will be achieved. Note the word “trips.” That’s planner’s lingo used to boost a concept. Because each potential passenger makes a round trip, they take two “trips” a day. This translates potential increased bus ridership to 190 to 230 new passengers each day. Ridership would be higher if service is extended to San Rafael’s transit-dependent Canal neighborhood. That’s a pathetic ridership increase given daily auto traffic along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in San Anselmo ranges from 25,000 to 28,000. Add 9,000 to 11,000 cars along Center Boulevard, where the trolley is proposed to somehow travel. The Miracle Mile, between the Hub and San Rafael, carries 34,000 to 41,000 cars daily. In the face of tens of thousands of motorists struggling to traverse the corridor, the “low cost alternative” adds only 190-230 new daily transit riders. Those are the additional passengers above the 1,300 to 1,750 who currently travel the corridor by bus. Then there’s the trolley, the “high investment alternative.” Assume a mid-range capital cost of $150 million. The “new net daily transit trips” for the streetcar are estimated in the range of 520 to 680 “boardings.” That amounts to 260-340 new passengers. If we select the mid-range estimate of 300 new trolley transit users, capital cost are $500,000 per new passenger. Add in operating costs and it becomes absurd. I’m pro-transit, but streetcars are an inappropriate way to serve the Ross Valley. Some fear that implementing a Fairfax-to-San Rafael trolley route will become catnip to regional planners who are intent on incentivizing local governments to zone for transit-centered residential developments around rail stations and bus hubs. The way to put the lance through the heart of a potential Ross Valley trolley is for 2nd District candidates for Marin’s Board of Supervisors to disavow any interest in pursuing the project. Supervisor Katie Rice and her challenger, Larkspur Councilman Kevin Haroff, will have ample opportunities to state their positions on the trolley and financing expanded bus service during the campaign. David Nolen Swaim Owner Tam Realty Inc DRE-1070789 609 San Anselmo Ave San Anselmo CA 94960 415-710-5504

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