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Traffic Task Force Community Meeting & Meeting #4 - Traffic Task Force Weighs in on Actions to Take, Agrees on Initial Recommendations to Send to the City Council

Traffic Task Force Community Meeting & Meeting #4 on October 27 and November 2, 2015

The City of Mill Valley’s Traffic Congestion and Reduction Advisory Task Forcecontinued to make progress this week, examining in detail a thorough list ofpossible short-, medium- and long-term measures to reduce traffic congestionalong the City’s two major gateway roadways. At their Task Force meeting onMonday, November 2, 2015, they also heard a presentation onTiburon/Belvedere/Reed School District’s successful school bus pilot program.The Task Force agreed to send a report summarizing their proposed objectives,initial findings and recommendations to the City Council for consideration atthe City Council’s November 16, 2015 meeting.

The meeting on Mondayafternoon came on the heels of a very well-attended October 27th Community Meeting on the subject. At the Community Meeting, residents were provided withan overview of the many factors contributing to the existing congestion alongthe City’s two major gateway roadways and the larger Southern Marin region.Residents offered suggestions and comments on various proposed measures toreduce congestion and improve travel times. Task Force members carefullyconsidered the input from the community both at the meeting and via writtencorrespondence.

At the Task Force Meeting on Monday, members again heardcomments from the community, discussed the potential measures to reduce trafficcongestion, and came to a consensus on the initial recommendations to present tothe City Council.

Some of the initial recommendations will includeevaluating the steps necessary to initiate a yellow school bus program, ashuttle, and/or a ride share program. Task Force members will also initiallyrecommend that the School District consider staggered/coordinated school belltimes. Task Force members also recommend initiating a citywide outreach campaignfocused on reducing vehicle trips, and continuing and possibly expanding thestrong support of the Safe Routes to Schools program.

Based on feedback from members of the community, the Task Force agreed thatno modification to Hamilton Drive – neither converting the roadway to two-wayflow nor exploration of switching the direction of present one-way flow, asrecommended by community members on October 27 - should be considered orexamined.

“Think of where we were back in August – in just under threemonths we’ve made some very good progress,” City Manager Jim McCann said at theconclusion of the meeting on Monday, noting the “tremendous amount of currentand valuable traffic data which has been collected and the terrific,constructive input we’ve received from the public” during the process. “We areon a very good path to identifying realistic options to reduce congestion.” 

Objective and Strategies

The Task Force’s objective is“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, weekday travel times oneastbound East Blithedale between Millwood Avenue and Highway101 would need tobe reduced by 35 percent from 7-10 am, 24 percent from 10 am-3 pm and 33 percentfrom 3-7 pm, to achieve the Task Force Objective for this corridor.

TheTask Force has chosen three over-arching strategies to achieve this objective:

  1. Reduce vehicle demand through implementation of over a dozen measures, such as school buses and continued growth of the number of students walking and bicycling to school.
  2. Improve operations of existing infrastructure through various actions, such as changing traffic light synchronization.
  3. Increase road capacity at various chokepoints by making changes such as adding a dedicated on-ramp to southbound Highway101 from eastbound East Blithedale, for example. These projects would likely be the most expensive and take the longest to implement.

There are nearly 50 measures collectively within those three categories (gohere for the full list of measures), which were developed based on community andTask Force input. Traffic consultants David Parisi and Penelope Amuyunzu ofParisi Transportation Consulting categorized the proposed measures based ontheir likeliness to meet the Task Force’s travel time objective, estimated cost,and implementation timeframe.

As Mayor Kenneth R. Wachtel has pointedout, the Task Force includes key representatives from the City, the County ofMarin, Mill Valley School District, Tamalpais Unified School District, TamalpaisCommunity Services District, the Chamber of Commerce, Caltrans, AssemblymemberMarc Levine’s office and Senator Mark McGuire’s office.

“What we arelooking at in our basket of possibilities basically reaches every governmentjurisdiction that comes into contact with Mill Valley,” he said.

Taking Action

Having identified its objective and thethree strategies to reach it, each of which received support from the communityon October 27th, the panel on Monday focused largely on the specific actionswithin each of those strategies.

Some of the measures reviewed atMonday’s meeting are currently underway:

  • 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 signal on Shoreline Highway to 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.

Three measures received considerable public support and are in the earlyplanning stages:

  • Filling in the gaps in the sidewalks and creating bicycle lanes on and around the East Blithedale Avenue-Tiburon Boulevard overpass of Highway 101.
  • Filling in sidewalk gaps and creating bicycle lanes on Shoreline Highway between Tennessee Valley Road and Flamingo Road, including the Almonte Boulevard intersection.
  • Creating a dedicated on-ramp to southbound Highway 101 from eastbound East Blithedale Ave. That project is in need of further impact analysis and funding, Caltrans officials said.

Other measures could be implemented in a relatively short period of time, ifthe Council, Mill Valley School District and the respective stakeholders choseto do so. Those include:

  • Developing a construction-traffic reduction program that would dictate the hours and routes for building contractors.
  • Staggering school start times to lengthen the peak period of morning school commute traffic and to potentially complement, if they are created, a school bus pilot program and a construction traffic reduction program.
  • Launching a citywide media campaign focused on educating residents about how to reduce their car trips and encouraging them to drive less.

Other measures identified by Task Force members and public speakers weretabled for future consideration because they are either too costly, toolong-term or both. Those included planning for technological innovations such asself-driving vehicles, which the Task Force decided to monitor, as well asconsidering increasing the capacity of Park and Old Mill elementary schools. Thetwo schools are located in neighborhoods where more students reside than theschools can accommodate, thus sending many neighborhood students across town tolarger schools such as Edna Maguire and Strawberry Point elementary schools.  

Community Input, Studies, and Data

In considering thepossible measures to combat traffic congestion, the Task Force has reliedheavily on input from the community and the considerable amount of data compiledand presented by Parisi and Amuyunzu. The data has been used to identify thevarious causes of traffic congestion and possible strategies to address theproblem, and the Task Force has relied on the consultants’ expertise on thepotential effectiveness of specific measures.

A large focus of the TaskForce has been understanding the causes of the traffic congestion, and one keyfinding in the data is the effect of school related trips, especially“cross-freeway” trips. The data, as presented by Ms. Amuyunzu, has shown thatthere are a number of families who live west of Highway 101 and drive across thefreeway to Strawberry Point Elementary School, and that there are similarly manyStrawberry area families driving to Edna Maguire Elementary School, Mill ValleyMiddle School and Tam High. These cross-freeway trips have played a significantrole in the traffic problem during the morning and afternoon peak periods,though they are by no means the sole contributor.

Traffic counts takenduring school months in 2015 reveal that there were 700 students at MillValley’s public schools crossing the freeway to get to local public schools eachday, Amuyunzu said. This includes the more than 215 Strawberry Point ElementarySchool students who live to the west of Highway 101 and approximately 255 TamHigh students who live to the east of Highway 101, all crossing the highwayduring peak traffic periods each day to get to and from school. 

School Buses

At its November 2 meeting, the Task Forceheard an extensive report on the most-discussed measure to date: school buses.As a result of the data and support from the Mill Valley School District toexplore a school bus program, the Task Force invited Robert Betts, the Directorof Planning and Operations for Marin Transit, which operates a school busprogram for Ross Valley School District’s White Hill Middle School, and TiburonPolice Chief Mike Cronin, who has spearheaded that community’s pilot school busprogram.

Betts explained his agency’s role in transforming an existingschool bus program using Marin Transit buses, into one with a smaller fleet oflarger yellow school buses that requires parents to pay to reserve a seat on thebus. Betts emphasized that the critical component for the program was a broad,comprehensive outreach effort to encourage continued student participation.Strategies included the ability to buy bus passes for approximately $800 forround-trip service throughout the school year, with a monthly payment option andthe ability buy a pass for just a semester or just one way. “About 65 percent ofall students use the bus to get to school,” he said, noting that they trackridership levels down to the individual student and seat. “It’s very much acustomized service.”

City Councilmember Stephanie Moulton-Peters saidthat a corresponding piece of a school transportations program should be tomarketing the existing bus services available from Golden Gate Transit and MarinTransit to students, particularly those heading beyond City Limits after school.

Chief Cronin then walked the Task Force through the efforts in Tiburonand Belvedere, in which the two towns are subsidizing a one-year pilot busprogram to cut the price of a round-trip school bus pass in half, to $410 forthe school year ($205 for one-way service), with 20 routes to and from the ReedUnion School District’s three schools for its approximately 1,500 students. Thepilot project built on a program that previously existed, but was not widelyused.

Chief Cronin said the program has sold its target of 1,200 buspasses, has been very popular and has made an impact in reducing travel times onwestbound Tiburon Boulevard from downtown to Trestle Glen Boulevard by 23percent. Cronin backed Betts’ emphasis on outreach to create a successful busprogram, engaging all members of the school community.

“You have tochange the culture a little bit,” Chief Cronin said. “You have to make it thedesired way to get to school for these kids.”

What’s Next

As the group discussed its next steps,several Task Force members emphasized the need to use data to monitor and assessthe impact of the series of measures that will be taken, and to regularly reportthose results to the community and make adjustments to programs as conditionschange.a

The Task Force will bring a report of its status, findings andinitial recommendations to the City Council at its November 16th meeting at 7pmin the Council Chamber, 26 Corte Madera Avenue. Comments regarding the TaskForce’s discussions should be sent to V. Tyler, Public Works Aide, at vtyler@cityofmillvalley.org.  

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