Traffic Task Force Subcommittee Meeting - City Concludes Traffic Task Force, Sends Detailed Report to Council

More than a year after its creation, after a number of public meetings and successful fine-tuning of traffic infrastructure throughout the City, the City of Mill Valley’s Traffic and Congestion Reduction Advisory Task Force held a final subcommittee meeting to wrap up its work and pass the baton of addressing the City’s traffic congestion to City staff and the City Council. The subcommittee finalized the decision on August 24, 2016, determining that the Task Force had accomplished a number of goals including the production of a detailed report of short- and long-term methods to reduce traffic congestion in town, and the implementation of the popular Yellow School Bus Pilot Program which began this fall.

At a public meeting on October 17, 2016, the City Council will review the in-depth report which includes a list of projects developed through the Task Force’s work that have received funding in the City's Capital Improvement Program budget. It will also focus on the necessity of addressing construction and weekend traffic and the importance of continuing to collect data and providing annual (and perhaps more frequent) reports to help guide progress, and identify additional improvements or programs to reduce traffic congestion. Read the staff report here.

The Task Force was chaired by former Mayor Ken Wachtel, who appointed the Task Force in 2015. It included representatives from the Mill Valley community, the Mill Valley School District, Tamalpais Union High School District, the Mill Valley City Council, the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Marin County Board of Supervisors, Caltrans, Assemblymember Marc Levine’s office, and Senator Mike McGuire’s office. The Task Force is supported by Director of Public Works Andrew Poster, a licensed Traffic Engineer and Professional Transportation Operations Engineer, and David Parisi, of Parisi Transportation Consulting. 

Over the course of its work, the Task Force identified a clear objective: restore vehicle travel times on East Blithedale Avenue and on Almonte Boulevard/Shoreline Highway to what they were in 2012-13, after which those travel times spiked, despite a marginal increase on car volume on local roads.

To achieve that goal, travel times on East Blithedale between Millwood Avenue and Highway 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 kept in mind the multi-jurisdictional nature of local and regional roads and that there was no “silver bullet,” so to speak. Using a data-driven approach, they chose three umbrella strategies to do so, as well as nearly 50 specific measures within those three strategies, 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 such as school buses and continued growth of the number of students walking and bicycling to school.

  2. Improve operations of existing infrastructure through actions such as improving traffic light synchronization.

  3. Increase road capacity by changes such as 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.

Of those measures, the City and its partners have either started, finished or will initiate implementation of the following projects:

  • Yellow School Bus Pilot Program: The highest-ranked measure, a targeted, two-year yellow school bus pilot program, was launched for the 2016-17 school year with financial and/or organizational support from the City, the School District, the County of Marin, the Transportation Authority of Marin and Marin Transit. It specifically targets the more than 430 school district families making car trips across Highway 101 each day to get to school, a contributor of as much as 25 percent of Mill Valley’s total traffic. 

    The program features three bus routes and has garnered more than 145 riders to date. By reducing the number of cars on the road, as the bus program will do, travel times will be reduced. In Tiburon and Belvedere, travel times dropped by 30 percent after the Reed Union School District bus program was relaunched in 2015. 

  • Staggering/Coordinating School Bell Times: Staggered bell times have lengthened the peak period of morning school commute traffic to complement the school bus program, according to Mill Valley School District Superintendent Paul Johnson. 

  • Citywide communication campaign focused on reducing traffic: The City has continued to expand its communications tools to inform the community on traffic conditions in real time with its website and related social media channels. Resident Stephen Burke, a member of the Task Force, suggested the City continue to communicate to residents a shared responsibility to reduce traffic. “It’s all a function of our behavior,” he said. “Can our citizens contribute to progress and congestion reduction in a measurable way?” 

  • Review and update traffic signal timing along East Blithedale and Tiburon Blvd.: To date, the City has led a number of efforts to improve the synchronization of traffic lights on and around the Highway 101 onramps and offramps. Andrew Poster and Mayor John McCauley have both noted the recent progress on synchronizing the traffic lights, including the installation of new cable and conductors to allow the signals more effectively communicate. 

  • Prohibit westbound to eastbound U-Turns at Blithedale/Camino Alto: The City’s implementation of this measure has improved traffic flow at the intersection.

The City also has identified a number of short- and long-term efforts on the following measures:

  • Further modifying the Shoreline Highway/Tennessee Valley Road traffic signal.

  • Development of a Construction traffic related program.

  • Developing conceptual plans for modification and improvement of the crucial East Blithedale Avenue/Tiburon

  • Boulevard/Redwood Highway Frontage Road/Highway 101 interchange corridor in cooperation with neighboring cities, Marin County, and Caltrans.

  • Prohibit eastbound East Blithedale Avenue from using left-turn lane at Meadow Dr to bypass traffic.

  • Study the possibility of prohibiting right turns on red from northbound Camino Alto to eastbound Blithedale during peak times.

  • Stripe two lanes on eastbound Blithedale between Nelson and Amicita.

  • Conduct a feasibility study to see if roundabouts at the Blithedale/ Camino Alto and Lomita/Roque Moraes intersections could fit and be beneficial.

In addition to the aforementioned measures, City officials will create one-sheet “explainers” on some oft-suggested traffic improvements, such widening East Blithedale Avenue, making Hamilton Drive a two-way road and adding a right-turn lane from Camino Alto northbound to East Blithedale Avenue, among others.

With so many measures to combat traffic, City officials will continue a data-driven approach to monitoring traffic conditions and implementing congestion relief measures. Public Works Director Andrew Poster will issue regular “report cards” on travel times, based in part of data from the INRIX traffic platform, which uses a combination of cell phone data and connected vehicle systems such as OnStar to determine car travel times. 

“I’m very gratified with how far the City has come in working with all of the various representatives to achieve what we could through collaboration,” Wachtel said. “It is amazing to me the level of cooperation and the work that has been done. It’s an incremental process.”

Go here for extensive info on the Task Force’s work over the past 12-plus months. If you have questions please contact Becky Murray at