City Council Gives Green Light to Traffic Task Force

In a marathon, five-hour public hearing, the Mill Valley City Council moved forward this week on two of its biggest projects: to repave and revitalize Miller Avenue into a multi-modal street that is safer for all users and a character-defining element of the community, and to continue the Traffic and Congestion Reduction Advisory Task Force’s multi-faceted efforts on a lengthy list of potential measures to reduce traffic congestion in town in an effort to restore travel times to those in place in 2012-13. 

 The Council conducted extensive reviews of each subject Monday night, receiving input from dozens of local residents in the process.

The Council also unanimously directed the Traffic and Congestion Reduction Advisory Task Force to continue its work, lauding its work to date and directing the group to keep pushing forward with an array of short-, medium- and long-term measures to reduce traffic. 

“The process has been really tremendous, with lots of public participation,” McCann said, noting the participation of key representatives from 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. “It’s critical that we work together on this, because if we’re going to solve this issue and reduce the congestion, we’re going to need involvement and cooperation from all of those parties. Our traffic congestion is mostly us.” 

Parisi led the Council through an abbreviated version of his data-centric presentations that have dominated the Task Force’s previous four meetings and a Community Meeting on the subject. He zeroed in on the crucial traffic counts during peak periods and specifically the number of cars crossing the Highway 101 overpass during those peak periods. As has been the case during much of the Task Force’s work, Parisi focused on the school-related cross-freeway trips. For example, parents living in the City of Mill Valley driving their children across the Hwy. 101 overpass to Strawberry Point Elementary School, and Strawberry area families driving to Mill Valley Middle School and Tam High – have played a significant role in the traffic problem, though they are by no means the sole contributor. 

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, Parisi said. 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.

“I’m really proud of the efforts we’ve made so far,” Councilmember Moulton-Peters said. “We’ve really peeled back the onion and looked at this issue in a thoughtful, action-oriented way. You’ve got to know what the problem really before you understand the solution.” 

The Task Force identified its 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. 

In targeting that objective, the Task Force has chosen three umbrella strategies to do so:

  •  Reduce vehicle demand through measures like school buses and continued growth of the number of students walking and bicycling to school.
  • Improve operations of existing infrastructure through actions like changing traffic light synchronization.
  • Increase road capacity by changes like adding a dedicated on-ramp to southbound Hwy.101 from eastbound East Blithedale, for example. These projects would likely be the most expensive and time-consuming.

There are dozens of very specific measures collectively within those three categories (go here for the full list of measures), categorized based on their likely impact, their estimated cost and the projected timeline within which they could be implemented. Go here for an in-depth summary of many of those measures. 

Each Councilmember weighed in on that list, emphasizing the merits and likely effectiveness of some over others, but gave the Task Force general direction to keep at it, refining its recommendations, developing details and next steps for each and prioritizing all of the measures. The refined recommendations will be presented to the Council with recommended priority action in early 2016. 

“This group has made a lot of progress in a short period of time,” McCauley said. “But the hard work is just beginning. Now it’s about prioritization and funding. You have great momentum and I’m looking forward to it becoming more tangible at a later date.”