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Comments on the Draft Marin County Unincorporated Area Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan

The following comment letter was sent to Dan Dawson, Senior Transportation Planner at the Marin County Department of Public Works, in response to the publication of the Draft “Marin County Unincorporated Area Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan” 2018 update prepared by Alto Planning + Design.

Mr. Dan Dawson

Senior Transportation Planner, Marin County Department of Public Works

P.O. Box 4186 San Rafael, CA 94913-4186

I am writing to comment on the Draft “Marin County Unincorporated Area Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan” 2018 update prepared by Alto Planning + Design, to correct several errors, including omissions, and to request clarification of some confusing and/or conflicting language in the document.

First, an overview

When discussing the Alto Tunnel, the document clearly favors reconstructing the Tunnel versus improving the alternate routes; this conflicts with WalkBikeMarin, also a County agency, and its declaration that the County’s position is neutral on the question of which, if any, of the three routes between Corte Madera and Mill Valley discussed in the 2010 corridor study the County might choose to improve.

In actual fact, there are three alternate routes other than the Tunnel between Corte Madera and Mill Valley for pedestrians and cyclists: Camino Alto, the Horse Hill multi-use path, and the extension of the existing multi-use path past Edna Maguire and over Coach Rd to Sausalito Ave in Corte Madera, the latter of which, while not mentioned in any County reports, sees quite a bit of use by hardier cyclists.

SUGGESTION: When discussing the Alto Tunnel, modify the language in the document to reflect WalkBikeMarin’s insistence that the County is neutral on the question of whether to re-construct the Alto Tunnel.

The existence of three alternates to a reconstructed Tunnel calls into question the use of the term “gap” when discussing the Corte Madera/Mill Valley corridor. There is actually a class II bike lane on the MV side of the Alto Grade, a class III corridor on the Corte Madera side of the Grade, an existing multi-use path alongside Highway 101, plus the trail up the Coach Rd fire road referenced above.

SUGGESTION: When appropriate, change the word “gap” to something like “multiple existing routes which could be upgraded” when referring to the route between Corte Madera and Mill Valley.

I also take issue with the document’s consistent use of the term “re-opening” the Alto Tunnel, which conjures the image of a relatively simple project when the reality is that reconstructing the Tunnel would be a massive public works project, requiring huge equipment, including road-headers, and large staging areas in the middle of two residential neighborhoods to support a multi-year construction project.

SUGGESTION: Please use the word “reconstructing” when referring to the Tunnel.

The title of the plan includes the words “and Pedestrian”, but the vast majority of the document refers to bicycles, and pedestrians are given short shrift, particularly in funding projects which would benefit those who walk.

SUGGESTION: Perhaps the authors could identify some additional worthy pedestrian-friendly projects for those of us who prefer non mechanized transport.

As to specific errors and omissions please note the following:

1. The discussion and description of the term “easements” on page 1-18 is both incomplete and incorrect, as the County’s DPW has acknowledged the existence of a true blocking parcel to the Tunnel, and several of the easements the County claims are in dispute.

SUGGESTION: Correct the reference to reflect the County’s findings regarding the blocking parcel, and disclose the existence of a dispute as to the easements themselves.

2. The existence of the Class II bike lane on Camino Alto is omitted in Tables 3-2 and 3-4.

SUGGESTION: Include it.

3. Pages 4.2 and 4.5 discuss bicycle commuting; page 4.2 cites a dramatic 39% drop in bicycle commuting from 2011 to the present, and Figure 2 on page 4.5 indicates that only 1.7% of commuters use bicycles, while recreational cycling is clearly on the rise. These figures and trends are significant and indicate that recently completed and proposed projects are almost entirely recreational, and not transportation in nature, a fact which is never discussed in the Plan.

SUGGESTION: Note that most of the projects recently completed or proposed have had little or no impact on bicycle commuting or reducing VMTs (vehicle miles travelled).

4. Figure 5.3 calls the Alto Tunnel a “proposed project”, yet to my knowledge the County has not made any proposal to actually reconstruct the Tunnel; the only groups proposing that project are cycling advocates and this is not their document.

SUGGESTION: Change the word “proposed” to “possible” or “potential.”

5. Figure 5.9, item 21, uses the $48,600,000 figure recently published by the County, which pertains to reconstructing the Tunnel segment only, and does not include the County’s own 2010 unadjusted estimate of over $11,000,000 in required improvements to the two access routes to the Tunnel, in order for people to actually be able to use it. This omission is deceptive, leading people to think that the Tunnel project is less expensive than it would actually be. A more correct minimum figure would be approximately $60m, plus inflation for each year after 2017.

SUGGESTION: Correct the figure to reflect the entire project and clearly note that $48,600,000 refers to the Tunnel segment only, which would not complete the project.

6. On page 5-18, item 5.2.3 states “the tunnels themselves… are under control of the County…” which is a gross simplification of the easement and access issues affecting the Alto Tunnel, which are a long way from being resolved.

SUGGESTION: See the suggestion for item 1 above: Clarify the issue of the easements and the blocking parcel, and note that the referenced easements are in dispute.

7. Page 5.35-6 discusses the permanent closure of the Alto Tunnel but does not point out that the Union Pacific (UP) Railroad is the owner of the disputed easements affecting the segments which may or may not need to be permanently sealed, leaving the reader to think it may be the County’s problem to solve – it’s not.

SUGGESTION: Note that if it is in fact advisable to permanently seal the Tunnel, then the County has no liability to do so, and that any cost involved should be borne by the UP, the owner of the disputed easements.

Finally, a point on the tunnel itself. The County’s current $60m plan for a possible reconstruction of the Alto Tunnel calls for an 11.5’ wide tunnel to accommodate its consultants’ estimate of 1.8m bicycle users annually. If this document really purports to represent pedestrians, it should discuss the question of whether pedestrians would really want to share a dark, nearly half-mile tunnel with hordes of cyclists when they could walk the route outdoors, with trees, horses, sunshine, etc. The Alto Tunnel project has little or no benefit to pedestrians, who have several scenic alternatives, should they elect to walk between the two cities.

Thank you for considering my suggestions.

Sincerely, John Palmer

Mill Valley, CA 94941

CC: Marin County Board of Supervisors

Craig Tackabery, Marin County Dept. of Public Works

Carey Lando, WalkBikeMarin

Francine Millman, Pres., Scott Valley HOA

Stephanie Moulton-Peters, Mayor, Mill Valley

Brad Breithaupt, Editorial Editor, Marin I.J.

Dick Spotswood, Marin I.J.