Traffic Task Force Meeting #3 - City's Traffic Task Force Dives Deeper into Data, Targets Measurable Objective

Traffic Task Force Meeting #3 on October 21, 2015

The City of Mill Valley’s Traffic Congestion and Reduction Advisory Task Force convened again this week, diving even more deeply into the data that explains the causes and effects of the City’s traffic congestion problem and taking significant steps toward identifying a range of both short and long-term measures to reduce traffic. 

Wednesday morning’s meeting was loaded with vital information. As in the first two Task Force meetings, Wednesday’s session provided important data to identify the various causes of the problem and possible strategies to fix it. David Parisi and Penelope Amuyunzu of Parisi Transportation Consulting expanded even further on the array of data they presented at the previous meetings. 

The meeting had two significant outcomes:

  1.  The panel agreed on a specific objective: To reduce travel times on the East Blithedale Avenue and Almonte Boulevard-Shoreline Highway corridors to 2012-2013 levels, as traffic levels have spiked significantly since then. For instance, to achieve that goal, travel times on East Blithedale between Millwood Avenue and Hwy.101 would need to go down by 35 percent from 7-10am, 24 percent from 10am-3pm and 33 percent from 3-7pm. 
  2.  The panel agreed to host a Community Meeting on the topic on Tuesday, October 27 from 6:30-8:30pm at the Community Center (180 Camino Alto). At that meeting, Task Force members and City staff will explain their analysis of the problem and reveal a range of possible strategies to address it. Community members will be invited to provide feedback on those strategies.

“This is a great goal,” Mill Valley City Councilwoman Stephanie Moulton-Peters, who chairs the Transportation Authority of Marin board, said of the Task Force’s objective to reduce travel times to 2012-13 levels. “That’s specifically where we feel the pain, on travel times.” 

Mayor Ken Wachtel, who convened the panel in August, agreed. “Achieving it would be quite a feat and would be very much appreciated by the community,” he said. 

The group, comprised of representatives of the City, the County of Marin, the Chamber of Commerce, Mill Valley School District, Tamalpais Unified School District, Tamalpais Community Services District, Caltrans, Assemblymember Marc Levine’s office and Senator Mark McGuire’s office, along with more than a dozen community members, packed into a meeting room at the Wastewater Treatment Plant Wednesday morning for its third meeting of a group convened to find ways to combat address the vexing issue of local and regional traffic congestion. 

“We think this is realistic, but it will take a number of tools and strategies to get us there,” Parisi said of the objective. “We can come back on a quarterly basis and show you where we’re at and show the measures that have been taken to date.”

There would likely be three strategies to reach the objective:

  1.  Vehicle demand reduction measures, such as school buses and continued growth of the number of students walking and bicycling to school.
  2. Operational improvement measures. This covers work such as improved traffic light synchronization.
  3.  Capacity increasing measures such as adding an on-ramp to southbound Hwy.101 from eastbound East Blithedale, for example.

 Capacity increasing measures is the most time-consuming and expensive,”Parisi noted. “I don’t think one of these by themselves is going to solve the problem. But several of these over the short and long term should make a difference.” 

Parisi showed the Task Force a three-page list of the various efforts within the three strategies. The Task Force spent time examining a few those efforts in more detail:

Parisi discussed the number of school-specific car trips crossing the East Blithedale-Tiburon Boulevard overpass of Hwy.101 during morning and afternoon school commutes. Recent traffic counts have shown that at least 700 cars were 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. Parisi also showed a chart specific to Edna Maguire Elementary School, indicating that 186 students were traveling to Edna each day from the Tam Valley and Homestead Valley areas, while another 83 were coming to Edna from the Strawberry area and 95 from the area around Park School. 

As Mill Valley School District Superintendent Paul Johnson explained, that dynamic is simply the result of the district seeing a huge uptick in students from the parts of town where the smallest schools (Old Mill and Park) are located. 

“Our schools are basically regional schools because of the population demand,” he said, noting that Park School’s fourth grade, for instance, has 30 students per class, while Edna fourth grade has 25 per class. “There isn’t the physical space to do neighborhood schools in the district.” 

Johnson said the district’s survey of families on their school commute habits and interest level in school buses drew 2,080 responses, with 75 percent of parents expressing interest in using school buses. 

“The district definitely wants to work as partners on this, but the district cannot pay for adding a new bus service,” Johnson said, noting that, although enrollment has stabilized in the past two years, a boom in enrollment over the previous decade has caused the district to no longer be a “basic aid” district funded largely via property taxes, and thus reliant on aid from the state, which doesn’t provide districts transportation funding. 

Johnson said district officials planned to meet with leaders of the effort to bring school buses to Tiburon and Belvedere over the past year. Under that pilot program, the two towns are subsidizing a one-year pilot bus program to cut the price of a round-trip school bus pass in half, to $430 for the school year, with 20 routes to and from the Reed Union School District’s three schools. 

“In some areas of Tiburon they have already seen a 30 percent decline in traffic this year,” Johnson said, noting that the Reed district has also staggered school start times to allow morning buses to reach multiple schools on time, something he said the Mill Valley district is considering. 

Tam High Principal Julie Synard said her school was not as far along on having students walk and bike to school as Mill Valley Middle School, which boasts that 60 percent of its students walk or bike to school, which Johnson called a “national model.” 

“But we’re making progress,” she added, pointing to recent grants to pay for dozens of bike racks and growing numbers of students who are walking, biking or carpooling to school. Several Task Force members pointed to existing service from agencies like Marin Transit that Tam student could utilize, particularly for after-school activities.

Traffic counts have found that 11 percent of the traffic coming into Mill Valley in the morning is from local construction. Public Works Director Jill Barnes guided the Task Force through the variety of ways the City manages and mitigates the impacts of that construction on local traffic, including detailed construction management plans that dictate work hours, truck size, and truck routes. It also includes enforcement measures if unpermitted or unscheduled work occurs, particularly a street or lane closure, which could result in a citation or a stop work order. 

The City also uses a variety of communication tools to get the word out about construction-related traffic impacts, including the City website, mailed notices, signs, social media like Nextdoor and Twitter and the City’s real-time website and app.

Joy Lee, a Senior Transportation Engineer with Caltrans, gave the task Force a summary of the agency’s road improvement projects in Mill Valley and the surrounding area. They include:

  • Changing the left-turn signal on Shoreline Hwy. at Tennessee Valley Road to improve traffic flow. The design of the project is set to finish in November 2015.
  •  Installing traffic delineators on Shoreline Hwy. at the Arco gas station to prevent drivers from turning left into the station from westbound Shoreline Hwy. The project has been permitted and the County is working to install the delineators.
  •  Widening the on-ramp to southbound Hwy. 101 from eastbound East Blithedale Ave. This ramp metering project is in need of funding, Lee said.

Lee also mentioned three much larger, long-term projects - adding a third lane to the Sa Rafael-Richmond Bridge, a $60million project set to be built in the winter of 2017; a complete overhaul of the East Blithedale-Hwy.101-Tiburon Blvd. interchange, estimated approximately at 165 million; and the installation of a bike lane along Shoreline Hwy. in Tam Junction on the side of the street where Proof Lab and Equator Coffee are located and a sidewalk on the side of the street where Walgreens is located. No traffic lanes would be removed to accommodate the project. Caltrans is set to complete the design of the $2 million project by June 2018 and built by December 2018. The bike lane piece of the project could be built earlier, Lee said. 

“It’s very important for us to talk about these things,” Mill Valley City Manager Jim McCann said. “Many of the people in this room can help us answer these questions and to implement programs and projects which will help us achieve our objective. We’ve got the right people in the room.” 

The Task Force is set to meet again after the Community Meeting on Oct.27 from 6:30 to 8:30. The Task Force will hold their 4th meeting on Monday, November 2, 2015 from 1:00 – 3:00 pm at the Community Center. The Task Force plans to present their preliminary findings and recommendations to the City Council at their November 16, 2015 meeting.

All documents reviewed at this meeting are available here.