In its ongoing quest to address the vexing issue of local and regional traffic congestion, the City of Mill Valley’s Traffic and Congestion Reduction Advisory Task Force convened again earlier this month, digging into an array of data and honing in on some possible solutions.
The 14-member panel, appointed by Mayor Kenneth R. Wachtel, and supported by City Manager Jim McCann, Public Works Director Jill Barnes and City traffic consultant David Parisi, consists of officials from the City, the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce, the County of Marin, the Mill Valley and Tamalpais Union School Districts, Caltrans, the Tamalpais Community Services District, the offices of State Senator Mike McGuire and State Assemblyman Marc Levine as well as two local residents. At its second meeting on Sept. 15, the panel began by reviewing historical data from the 2001 Transportation Committee report, which was the last time the City gathered a committee to address the traffic problem.
The 2001 data indicated many of the same problems we face today, such as a substantial increase in traffic during school commute times, but Parisi pointed out that the City and our local schools have made significant progress since then, including a substantial reduction from 2001 to 2014 in the percentage of students traveling to and from school by car. Old Mill Elementary School and Mill Valley Middle School, for instance, reduced by as much as 32 percentage points the number of students commuting to and from school by car.
“Over past 15 years, the trend is that there are significantly less trips by family car to and from school,” Parisi told Task Force members and the 20 community members who attended the meeting. He pointed to the efforts of Safe Routes to Schools in educating and encouraging students to walk or ride their bicycles to school. But, he noted, Mill Valley School District (five elementary schools plus the middle school) enrollment has increased by more than 1,000 students since 2004, which is over a 40% increase in school population, not to mention the enrollment at Tamalpais High School and local private schools and pre-schools.
Parisi then turned the Task Force’s attention to data showing the current number of school-related car trips across the East Blithedale Avenue-Tiburon Boulevard overpass of Highway 101, as that overpass has been shown to be one of the two most critical sources of traffic congestion affecting critical corridors in Mill Valley. Traffic counts taken during school months in 2015 reveal that there were 700 students crossing the freeway to get to local public schools each day. This includes the more than 215 Strawberry Point Elementary School students who live to the west of Hwy. 101 and approximately 255 Tam High students who live to the east of Hwy. 101, all crossing the highway during peak traffic periods each day to get to and from school.
The presentation can be found here. The following is a slide of one of the key graphics, which shows the numbers of students travelling from their home area (origin) to a school across Highway 101:
Presentation - Student Origins
District Superintendent Paul Johnson said that although the two smallest schools in the district are Old Mill and Park, those respective neighborhoods are where a large number of district students live, and unfortunately, not all students can attend their neighborhood school. As a result, many students who live near those schools end up attending, for instance, Strawberry Point School, and must make the East Blithedale cross-highway trip daily.
“The district is very open to discussing the use of school buses,” Johnson said, noting that the District’s recent survey of how students get to and from school has yielded 1,400 responses to date. “People are dramatically in favor of school busing.”
Parisi’s firm also conducted a “vehicle trip purpose” survey of 12,000 cars that traveled through East Blithedale Avenue near Tower Drive/Kipling Drive intersection during morning and afternoon commute times. The survey found that 53-60% of all cars during those periods had just one occupant, and that 18-25% of cars were deemed school-related traffic. Contractors, commercial vehicles and household services accounted for 7%, 4% and 4% of those vehicle trip purposes, respectively.
Presentation - Trip Classification
As City officials have stated throughout the process to improve traffic conditions, Mill Valley has a fragile system of roads with limited capacity that can be pushed beyond their means with just a moderate increase in the number of cars. The upside of the limited capacity of our roads, however, is that only a marginal reduction in car volume on those roads at peak periods of traffic would have a positive impact and would reduce congestion.
Traffic Congestion: How you can help.
Task Force members noted that the Town of Tiburon and the City of Belvedere are in the midst of a pilot school bus project that subsidizes school buses in an effort to cut the price of a round-trip bus pass in half, to $430 for the school year. The Tiburon and Belvedere Councils collectively allocated approximately $275,000 to pay for that subsidy in the hopes of reducing traffic congestion. Early analysis suggests that it is working.
The Task Force also focused on establishing metrics to measure outcomes, and the panel agreed that reducing travel times was the primary goal, with an array of potential strategies to achieve it.
Both Mayor Wachtel and Councilwoman Stephanie Moulton-Peters, who is the City’s representative on the Transportation Authority of Marin’s Board, sought to remind Task Force members that there was no single solution that would fix the traffic problem.
“We have to set expectations,” Moulton-Peters said. “We really are trying to pour 11 gallons into a 6 gallon bucket,” referring to the information that the average Mill Valley household produces 11 vehicle trips per day, a figure that is 15 percent higher than the national average for similar suburban communities. This includes personal trips along with trips by service providers. Mill Valley’s roadway system was designed to accommodate a population generating approximately 6 vehicle trips per day.
Mayor Wachtel also emphasized that while there were some things that could be done locally – school buses and more students traveling to and from school in carpools or on bicycles or on foot, for instance – other improvements require action by outside agencies. Agencies such as Caltrans and the County of Marin play a key role in potentially adding a dedicated on-ramp to southbound Highway 101 from East Blithedale Avenue, or modifications to the Highway 101 interchange and its signals, or improvement to the Almonte/Shoreline Highway intersection.
“We are pleased to be working in close collaboration with the City of Mill Valley, Caltrans and the School Districts to explore options to help reduce traffic delays at key intersections throughout Southern Marin, including those at Tam Junction and the East Blithedale/Highway 101 overpass,” County Board of Supervisors Kate Sears said. “The work of this committee is an important step in identifying solutions to this important issue and I look forward to our continued dialogue and partnership.”
Within its MV2040 General Plan update, the City of Mill Valley has made a priority of creating and maintaining a multi-faceted, collaborative effort to reduce traffic congestion. It is also one of the Core Values and Priority Projects of the Mill Valley City Council as part of the City’s larger protection of the healthy and safety of its residents, respect for small town character and preservation of the community’s high quality of life.
The third meeting of the Traffic and Congestion Reduction Advisory Task Force will be on Wednesday, October 21 from 10-12 at the Wastewater Treatment Plant (450 Sycamore Ave). The Task Force will host a public meeting this fall to share information and initial findings, and solicit public input, ideas and suggestions. The Task Force will meet over the next few months before bringing a set of recommendations to the City Council.
Send comments and questions about the Task Force to Public Works Aide V. Tyler at email@example.com.
Meeting #2 - Agenda and Meeting Materials:
September 15, 2015 Task Force Meeting Agenda
Traffic and Congestion Reduction Advisory Committee Second Mtg Memo
Meeting #1 Summary News Article
Traffic Advisory Task Force Meeting Action Notes
Traffic Advisory Task Force PowerPoint Presentation
Click here for more information.