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City of Mill Valley

Former mayor Ken Wachtel objects to restricting traffic capacity on Miller Avenue

The following letter has been submitted to the Mill Valley City Council, by former mayor Ken Wachtel, as a follow up comment to his previous letter on the Council's plan to reduce traffic capacity on Miller Avenue by reducing the number of traffic lanes to only one lane in each direction in the Parkway section.

The original petition opposing this plan has gathered over 500 Mill Valley resident's signatures but it was ignored by the City Council. If you agree that the City should honor the approved plan and keep Miller Avenue two lanes in each direction, please let the City know by signing the new community petition - CLICK HERE


Mayor and Council members:

I understand you will be reviewing the Parkway lane-age issue at your next meeting on August 7, 2017. While I would like to present my ideas in person, I will be out of town and will have to let this memorandum suffice.

PROCESS AND DEDICATION OF TASK FORCERS

It was disrespectful and unfair for Stephanie to question my memory and the operation of the Miller Streetscape Task Force only after public comment was closed as I had no opportunity to respond. The law is actually that if you are going to raise new facts after public comment has closed it must be reopened.

With that said, my recollection is not faulty. It was I who made the motion before the taskforce. From the entirety of the discussion I was sure of a majority vote to retain the 2 lanes but I added “subject to the city council making a change” so it didn’t look like we were bulldozing the three who were in favor of 1-lane. In reality, that extra language didn’t add anything substantive since, the council had the authority to make any changes it saw fit, prior to its approval.

Now, if you look at the minutes of that meeting, you will see 2 sentences attributed to each of the task force members who spoke. Does anyone really think that the discussion was limited to those two sentences? No, there was an extensive free flow of give and take and exchange of ideas. Reducing to one lane was discussed as was maintaining the 2-lane scenario. We all knew that two lanes were not essential for the flow of traffic in the Parkway but the conversation and consensus jelled at two lanes.

July 24, 2017 - The motion:

Motion (made by Ken Wachtel): that the Task Force recommends to the City Council to retain the "two lane" configuration in the Parkway, and suggest to Council to also consider the "one lane" configuration, but that this consideration should not be restricted in length to the area currently designated as the Parkway (it can be shorter or longer), if funds become available(1) and the City Council deems it advisable.

Motion Seconded by Brad Frazee

Motion Passed by a 6 to 3 vote.

(Ayes: Wachtel, Cain, Chambers, Johnson, Lipman, Specht. Noes: Archer, Frazee, Cavagnero)

Keep in mind this was simply a recommendation to the city council, which accepted the 2-lane configuration when it was presented.

Given the active debate in the task force and the minimalist minutes it is a bit silly to argue that “the majority wanted 1 lane but they voted for 2 lanes.” In reality, there was a 2/3 rds majority voting for 2 Parkway lanes. While the motion recognized the possibility of going with 1 lane, the recommendation for 2 lanes in the Parkway was accepted by the Miller Design Elements Advisory Committee, the Planning Commission, the at least twice by the City Council—all with extensive community input in support.

So, as I heard at the last CC meeting, why should we look to the past to determine what we are doing in the future? There are some very good reasons for this. One of which is that if the council so easily sweeps the hundreds of hours of work by hundreds of people under the rug, what good was the process? And this was an important process which won universal community support. Why would people spend time in the future, helping the city in a task force? In the days after the meeting some have come up to me and ask, “why would I ever work on a committee if its decision can be so easily ignored by 20 or so people coming to the council at the last minute?” I had no good answer.(2)

So, you and the community may remember these individuals and their dedicated work:

The Miller Streetscape Taskforce held 10 public meetings in 2008 and 2009 and was comprised of the following members: Bill Johnson (chair), Dan Archer, Sean Cain, Brad Frazee, Susan Lipman, Liz Specht, Ken Wachtel, Barbara Chambers, Mark Cavagnero and Heidi Richardson. Their recommendations were adopted by the council.

The Miller Design Advisory Committee – created by the council solely at the request of the community held 14 public meetings in 2009 through 2011 and was comprised of the following members: John Leonard, (chair), Michael Dyett, Jim Iavarone, Cliff Lowe, John Collins, John McCauley, and Stephanie Moulton-Peters. Their recommendations were accepted by the council.

The Miller Design Elements Advisory Committee – worked in 2015 and held about 8 meetings. It was comprised of Burton Miller, Larry Davis, Kirk Knauer, Stephanie Moulton- Peters/Ken Wachtel, Teresa Rea, and Paula Reynolds. Their recommendations were also accepted by the council.

The process also included multiple meetings before the Planning Commission and City Council. There were multiple open houses and community workshops, a walking tour of Miller (concentrating in the Parkway), on-the-plaza open houses and numerous focus groups.

Whenever a vote was taken on the lane-age of the Parkway the vote was always in favor of 2 lanes.

As of July 24, 2017, you have a petition of over 500 bona fide community members (urging the council to maintain 2 lanes (3) and a petition of 177 and about [20 meeting speakers] urging that 1-lane is better than what we had before (though what will be is not what we had). Are 20 heads in the chamber more meaningful than 500 community members in a petition? You always listen to the community. And that’s a good thing. You should continue to do so.

Nonetheless, the “middle ground” seems to be a pilot program. I submit that if a pilot program is to be instituted, it should be consistent with the hundreds of hours of work by hundreds of community members and petition signers and the pilot should be 2 lanes.

I submit that after so many people have been involved in the decision-making process for so many years, including the Planning Commission and City Council, to discard the universal 2- lane decision is doing a disservice to the community.

SAFETY

At the last council meeting Sashi and Jessica framed their position in support of safety. I too agree that safety is of paramount importance, but for many reasons, 1 lane is not safer than 2 lanes.

Let me paraphrase those issues -- most of which were raised in my memo of July 14, 2017 (linked below).

Not Safer for Bikes

  1. Curbside parked car’s doors are a dangerous condition. While Stephanie tells me that actual “dooring” is rare, the fear of dooring along Parkway will be new and constant. A one lane configuration would, for the first time, move this dangerous condition to the Parkway.
  2. For the first time in the Parkway, bike riders must be constantly:

None of this is occurs in a two-lane scenario.

And I understand the bike lane will be pure asphalt and not part cement. By the way, the narrowing in the bike lane caused by the curbside trees mentioned at the meeting totals about 30 feet or about 2 seconds for a bike riding at 10 mph. But, yes, that should be fixed in the long run.

Not Safer for Cars

  1. All predictions, in the traffic congestion management committee (which I chaired) and the General Plan 2040 specify that there will be an increase of cars in Mill Valley. This will be the only instance where the city has decreased traffic capacity (except in the short Passage where parked cars and deliveries are not an issue).
  2. Cars driving down the one lane Parkway will have to stop to allow other cars to exit median parking spaces and to enter and exit curb parking.
  3. Delivery and service trucks will only be able to stop in the one lane and/or in the bike lane. When we get deliveries on Wildomar the trucks stop in the middle of our narrow street and all the cars must wait until the truck moves. The driver’s justification is that he is only going to be there for a short time so the delay to the other cars is not important – given the time it would take to turn onto our driveway. The same will happen in the one-lane Parkway (again, Mill Valley’s major truck thoroughfare).
  4. If there is really insufficient traffic for two lanes than we can’t expect one lane to slow down cars. If there is too much traffic, from time to time, one the one lane it will engender dissatisfying traffic.

Council members and speakers at the last meeting lauded the current conditions of the one-lane Parkway over the last year saying it is close to heaven on earth. Well, those conditions are not normal. During the entire period, we have received notices and emails telling us of delays on Miller suggesting that we should be using other routes. That has created an artificial experience. The city’s policy is to encourage cars to drive on Miller and not Blithedale or the neighborhood streets. Narrowing Parkway to one lane may be just enough to defeat that policy.

Not Safer for Pedestrians

Many of the speakers at the last meeting emphasized pedestrian safety for crossing Miller. As someone mentioned at the last meeting, our community should “learn how to cross a street.” The city is installing additional cross walks so future-Miller will be much safer for pedestrians than old-Miller. Though one lane will be a shorter distance to travel but what traffic (area of road/number of cars) there is will be doubled by one lane. With one lane and curbside and median parking there is a much greater danger to J-walkers, kids and pets ruining into the street from behind a parked car.

It sounded like the speakers were relying on an increase of traffic to slow down the cars. Let’s think about that. These Mill Valley residents want increased traffic? (that is a rare breed indeed). To the extent traffic is increased sufficiently to slow down cars, drivers endowed with free will, will choose other streets. But, to the extent there is insufficient traffic, the cars will not slow down and John is correct, enforcement is the answer.

Not Safer for Emergency Vehicles

In questioning our dedicated police and fire chiefs, the council concentrated on the width of the street and the physical ability of emergency vehicles to fit a 1-lane Parkway. Yes, with the bike lane, the street would accommodate an emergency vehicle. What was lost was the comment that there would be nowhere for the cars or bikes driving on the 1-lane to go upon emergency lights and siren. There is no room for the traffic to pull over so they would have to continue driving until all the cars reached the two-lane portion of Miller so they could then pull over. The same for a car in the middle of parallel parking. That could create a dangerous condition. One could not expect them to curb side parallel park or look for median parking upon hearing a siren. So, while there is enough width for an emergency vehicle using the 1-lane and bike lane, it is only safe if there are no bike riders or cars/trucks on the road when the emergency arises. But the speakers want more, not less traffic on the street – to slow down the “raceway.”

This does not exist with two lanes – as elsewhere on Miller. By the way, this is not a problem with 1-lane Passage as the lane is delineated by paint and not parked cars and there is sufficient room for traffic to pull to the curb to let emergency vehicles by.

Moving Parkway From 2 Lanes To 1 Lane Will Result in The Only Stretch on Miller

  1. Where traffic must stop when a parking space is vacated or entered from the median or curb;
  2. Where there is not sufficient space for emergency vehicles to travel with cars and bikes; and
  3. Where traffic will be stopped and bike riders blocked by the multitude commercial and consumer delivery trucks (i.e., FedEx, UPS), utility services and buses.

And the stretch of road where bike riders will be subject to dooring and curb-side car pull out and occupation of the bike lane will be significantly increased. Bikes would have to transit into the traffic lanes or stop.

So, if safety is your key issue, for whom is a 1-lane Parkway really safer?

Please keep in mind that all of these considerations and many more were discussed extensively for more than five years, and the result every time was a vote to maintain two lanes in each direction.

Thank you for reading this far and for your good deeds for our community.


(1) The “funds become available” addressed the cost of changing the configuration which now seems to be ranging in the high 5 figures.

(2) Someone mentioned that the council changed the configuration on Miller in the Marsh. Yes you did, but until that neighborhood raised their voices against the change there was almost no debate on that configuration. So the council was not overruling an extensively debated and supported decision as was the Parkway Lane-age. In addition, that change did not restrict the proposed traffic capacity by 50% as it does in the Parkway change.

(3)... However, once Miller Avenue is complete, traffic should return to Miller, thus relieving pressure on Blithedale and benefitting the neighborhoods as planned. We ask that the City to keep its commitment to the original plan, as agreed upon, which will improve traffic flow, not constrict it.