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Traffic Task Force Meeting #5 - Traffic Task Force Reconvenes, Targets Tangible Next Steps

Traffic Task Force Meeting #5 on May 9, 2016

The City of Mill Valley’s Traffic andCongestion Reduction Advisory Task Force reconvened last week, with the goalof continuing its progress and targeting a series of possible short- andlong-term measures to reduce traffic in town, including the multi-agency yellowschool bus pilot program that’s set to begin in the August.

It was thefifth meeting of the Task Force, which includes representatives from the MillValley community, City staff, the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce, the MillValley School District, Tamalpais Union High School District, the Mill ValleyCity Council, the Marin County Board of Supervisors, Caltrans, Assembly memberMarc Levine’s office, and Senator Mike McGuire’s office.

In kicking offthe meeting, City Manager Jim McCann noted that while some of the meeting wouldreview previous work since the Task Force last convened, “Much will be new inthe sense that we have action steps, timelines, and responsibilities for themeasures identified to reduce traffic congestion. We’re continuing to worktoward our objective: to improve travel times.”

In November 2015, theTask Force sent a report of its initial findings to the City Council outliningits objective “to reduce travel times on the East Blithedale Avenue and AlmonteBoulevard-Shoreline Highway corridors to 2012-2013 levels,” as traffic levelshave spiked significantly since then. For instance, to achieve that goal, traveltimes on East Blithedale between Millwood Avenue and Highway 101 would need togo down by 35 percent from 7-10 am, 24 percent from 10am-3pm and 33 percent from3-7 pm.

In targeting that objective, the Task Force has chosen threeumbrella strategies to do so, as well as nearly 50 specific measures withinthose three categories, each of which were ranked based on their likely impact,their estimated cost and the timeline within which they could be implemented.The strategies are:

  1. Reduce vehicle demand through measures like school buses and continued growth of the number of students walking and bicycling to school.
  2. Improve operations of existing infrastructure through actions like changing traffic light synchronization.
  3. Increase road capacity by changes like adding a dedicated on-ramp to southbound Highway101 from eastbound East Blithedale, for example. These projects would likely be the most expensive and time-consuming.

“These three measures will help us make incremental steps and progress towardour objective,” McCann said. “But I want to re-emphasize the difficulty of thisproject. There is no silver bullet. It requires a number of steps, actions byresidents and businesses, and collaboration with partners. We’ll continue toidentify opportunities and work together to achieve our goals.”

Trafficconsultants David Parisi, whose work with fellow Parisi Transportation Consultingcolleague Penelope Amuyunzu guided the previous four meetings with adata-driven, analytic approach to addressing the traffic problem, walked theTask Force through a 35-pagereport on the recent history of traffic in and around Mill Valley as well asthe current traffic conditions, contributing factors and recommended ways toaddress them.

McCann said he hoped the Task Force would send that fullreport with recommendations to the City Council in the next two months. “Themeasurement of the effectiveness of our efforts is a reduction of travel timesalong the two main corridors (East Blithedale and Miller avenues) at differenttimes each day,” Parisi told the Task Force, specifically highlighting “highpotential, short-term measures.” In order to monitor traffic and the impacts ofdifferent measures, the City will issue an annual “report card” on its effortsto reduce travel times.

Yellow School Bus Program

The highest ranking of those measures is a targeted,two-year yellow school bus pilot program, which includes financial andorganizational support from the City, the School District, the County of Marin,the Transportation Authority of Marin, and Marin Transit.

The pilotproject is specifically designed to target the morethan 430 school district families currently making car trips across Highway 101each day to get to school. The abundance of school-related, cross-freewaytrips was deemed a contributor of as much as 25 percent of Mill Valley’straffic, according to Parisi Transportation Consulting’s data. That is largely aresult of the fact that Mill Valley’s highest populated areas are served by itstwo smallest schools in Old Mill and Park elementary schools, and thus manystudents in those neighborhoods must commute across town to larger schools likeEdna Maguire Elementary School. 

The School District board is set to award the bid for the bus program later thismonth, and the District is sending information about the program, including itsapproximate cost of $588 per student for both morning and afternoon bus servicefor the entire school year, to all District parents later this month.

The pilot program has an estimated cost of approximately $220,000, andthe City and the County are sharing each contributing a quarter of the projectcost. “This is a limited scope program that is not going everywhere in town butwill have strategic pickup and drop off points,” McCann said. DistrictSuperintendent Paul Johnson noted that the District is staggering school starttimes for 2016-17 to lengthen the peak period of morning school commute trafficand to complement the school bus program.

Traffic Lights &Other Measures

While the school bus program is the mostfar-reaching measure taken to date, a number of other measures have been takenas well, including: 

  • Continuing to expand the City’s communications tools to inform the community on traffic conditions in real time, as the City has done with its MVTraffic.org website.
  • Changing the left-turn signal on Shoreline Highway at Tennessee Valley Road to improve traffic flow. 
  • Installing traffic delineators on Shoreline Highway at the Arco gas station to prevent drivers from turning left into the station from westbound Shoreline Highway 
  • Prohibiting U-turns from westbound East Blithedale Avenue at Camino Alto in order to support traffic flow.

Mayor John McCauley cited increased collaboration between Caltrans, theCounty and City staff as key to making recent improvements. He noted that recentquick action by Caltrans helped better synchronize the traffic signals at EastBlithedale Avenue and Tiburon Boulevard along the critical Highway 101overpass/interchange. Mayor McCauley thanked Catrans for installing new cableand signal heads to allow the signals to better communicate and coordinate toimprove traffic flow.

“By working together and understanding theimportance of the issue, Caltrans reacted very rapidly, turning what could havebeen a very slow project into something that was accomplished quickly withimmediate incremental improvement to the function and efficiency of thiscritical transportation corridor,” McCauley said.

Parisi updated theTask Force on a few other locations, including a planned modification in TamJunction to shorten the green arrow for cars turning left from Tennessee ValleyRoad to Shoreline Highway. The move “increases the capacity of that intersectionto keep cars moving through it,” Parisi said.

Parisi also shared theresults of a detailed study of the suggestion to create a dedicated on-ramp tosouthbound Highway 101 from eastbound East Blithedale Avenue. What appears to bea simple solution of restriping the shoulder to turn it into an approach laneand onramp turns out to be more complicated. Parisi reported that the currentpaved shoulder material is too weak to serve as a proper onramp, and a dedicatedbike lane would be required to ensure cyclist safety in a spot where people areaccelerating to get onto the highway. The project was estimated to potentiallycost as much as $880,000, Parisi said. He suggested to the Task Force thatoptions to improve traffic congestion on the east side of the highway beexplored before proposing moving forward with this solution.

While theTask Force and its representatives continue to take a multi-pronged approach toreducing travel times, Parisi pointed out that while travel times had not gottensignificantly better yet, they have also not gotten worse. “There has not been amajor jump at the peak times,” he said.

“We are slowly shifting ourbehavior,” said former Mayor Ken Wachtel, who originally convened the Task Forcewhen he was Mayor and continues to chair the committee. “Education has played apart. I’m very gratified with how far the City has come in working with all ofthe various representatives to achieve what we could through collaboration. Itis amazing to me the level of cooperation and the work that has been done. It’san incremental process and we’ve seen areas of success already.”

TheTask Force is creating a subcommittee to prioritize all of its proposed measuresfor the City Council to consider and thus provide direction to City staff. Go here forextensive info on the Task Force’s work over the past 10 months. Commentsregarding the Task Force’s discussions should be sent to Becky Murray,Administrative Assistant, at bmurray@cityofmillvalley.org.