January 20, 2015: Report on City Council Meeting on SMART

The S.R. City Council agenda included approval of staff recommendations regarding the SMART train impact on central San Rafael and plans related to it. Very little was provided regarding impacts on 3rd and Heatherton…..

This is a brief report on that topic from two members of the Coalition Board who attended that meeting; Sara Jensen and Alan Schaevitz.

For a complete rendition of that Council meeting on this topic, you can see a video of the meeting on the City website at www.cityofsanrafael.org/meetings/ and click on the Video link on the line titled City Council (Tuesday) January 20. 1015. The SMART topic is Item 5c in the agenda and the discussion starts approximately 1 hour 34 minutes into the meeting.

The discussion began with a staff presentation on the current construction status followed by near-term activity and future actions. The focus was on the impact of SMART on vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian traffic and what the City is planning to do to mitigate SMART’s impact in these areas. They stated that construction is completed at the rail crossings at Mission and at 5th Street and is currently in progress at 4th Street. The current SMART project ends at the station between 3rd and 4th Street (at the Whistlestop building) so there is no current impact on 3rd or 2nd Streets. Future extensions past this station and on to Larkspur were mentioned but were not the focus of this presentation.

Plans include the widening of sidewalks along Heatherton from Mission to 4th Street; automatic coordination of SMART signal controllers with City traffic lights controllers; pedestrian count-down signals for street crossings; vehicular queue detectors at Mission, 5th and 4th Streets; signs to prohibit vehicular turning at appropriate intersections when trains are arriving; and a new central monitoring system (CCTV) for City traffic controls. Items still to be completed include finalization of the downtown SMART station and quiet zones. The design of the Whistlestop station is under consideration with the Council objecting to the proposed design presented by the SMART staff, and discussions are underway for an alternative design more in keeping with the downtown San Rafael area.

While original plans included a continuous pedestrian and bicycle pathway from the Civic Center to the existing pathway at Anderson, current plans do not include sections from North San Pedro Road to the top of Puerto Suello Hill, Mission Street to 2nd Street and 2nd Street to Anderson. Thus, the majority of this path through San Rafael has been omitted. The reason given was that the existing SMART right-of-way in these sections is too narrow to accommodate both the train tracks and this pathway. Alternate solutions are under consideration. However, all alternatives identified have negative consequences, and there are unresolved questions regarding funding sources, SMART or San Rafael, for solutions that are not on SMART right-of-way property.

No mention was made of the impact of SMART at the 3rd and Heatherton intersection in the staff report. In fact, the only mention was a comment from Councilperson Andrew McCullough about the current traffic and pedestrian issues at that intersection and his concern that SMART will exacerbate it. This is an area of great interest to residents along Pt. San Pedro Road since it is the major gateway to downtown San Rafael as well as an already congested access point to Hwy 101 south.

During the public comment period, the vast majority of comments were on the pathway issue with strong public sentiment to resolve this issue and complete the pathway as per original approval. During this period, Coalition Board member Alan Schaevitz commented on the problems at the 3rd and Heatherton intersection, including pedestrian fatalities, and that SMART will only make these problems more acute. He urged the staff and City Council to address these problems prior to completion of SMART and pointed out that the Coalition’s Roadway Committee had presented the S.R. Public Works Department with some possible mitigation measures. Staff commented that they plan to wait and see how traffic “redistributes” around the station area after completion of SMART.  It is troubling that they are not intending to be pro active and address likely problems before they arise.  Since there are few options to access Hwy 101 south from our area that are not already in use, it seems that the City should be thinking now about what they can do to ease traffic flow and improve pedestrian and bike safety.   This is already a problem which needs attention, and SMART is highly likely to make it worse.

Alan further pointed out that the staff report did not address parking issues, both vehicular and bicycle, which will worsen with SMART. He stated that existing parking was already full due to public use of the Transit Center. Staff responded that there was a Request for Proposal (RFP) being written to solicit a study of how to mitigate the parking issue. However, that RFP has not yet been issued, so no study is underway nor solutions identified. Finally, he pointed out that there should be a longer-term solution for access to this expanded Transit Center for San Rafael residents in the form of a public local transportation system. Such a system would help reduce vehicular traffic and parking problems at the Transit Center/SMART Station hub. It would also benefit San Rafael downtown merchants by enhancing local access for San Rafael residents.