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City of Mill Valley

Comments to the Mill Valley City Council on the Parkway Pilot Project

The following was presented before the Mill Valley City Council during public open time on November 19th, regarding the Council's failure to carry through on their commitments for the Miller Avenue Parkway "Pilot Project."

Dear City Council:

I haven’t been here to speak to you for a while, so I decided to use this time to tell you that I remain very disappointed at the Council’s poorly thought-out and ill-advised decision to reduce the capacity of our main thoroughfare by 50%.

To make that decision, the Council majority short-circuited years of community input, ignored a petition I submitted with nearly a 1,000 signatures opposing the plan, stating at the time that you heard from a couple hundred people and the majority were in support of the decision, dismissed calculations I shared with you that the striping created several pinch points at which a standard size fire truck could not overtake a sidelined oversized vehicle such as an SUV, and worst of all, overrode the advice of the only one among you who has public safety experience.

You asked the fire chief if he could work with the new plan, and got the answer you wanted, but that was the wrong question. The question that should have been asked is “What is the optimal configuration of this street in event of an emergency, or emergency evacuation.”

At time of passage, the council promised that the striping was to be a one-year pilot program, and that you would revisit the issue in a year, making certain to comply with all applicable rules of such a study. To date, more than 15 months after the decision, the council as a body has not fully studied the matter, nor announced the intent to do so.

Did you know that the town of Paradise did exactly the same thing with their main street, their main escape route? Re-configured it from 4 lanes, 2 in each direction, to 2 lanes, 1 in each direction, the same idea you had, and the result was that in the frenzy to escape the flames, all evacuation plans were abandoned, roads became blocked, and countless citizens paid for that decision with their lives.

The city leaders there were lulled into a false sense of security by thinking that their evacuation plan would work, but what happened in Paradise was that in the chaos to escape, to quote an expert observer commenting in the IJ ” It only takes one bottleneck – a downed wire, burned power pole or parked car – to create a choke point on an entire road, blocking transit and forcing people to flee on foot”. That’s exactly what happened there and it could certainly happen here.

This past April, newly re-striped Miller Avenue was closed twice in the same month in different incidents – imagine if that happened during an evacuation. The safer configuration of Miller at 4 lanes is an insurance policy, and like all insurance, you don’t need it until the day you do. Considering what we have seen in the past 2 years In Sonoma and Butte, it’s clear that constricting traffic on a main escape artery has dire environmental and human impacts, and I fully expect the council to comply with all applicable laws regarding studying the environmental impacts of such a consequential decision.

I’ve lived in Mill Valley for 48 years now, I’ve coached your children, supported your campaigns, 4 of you, both financially and by encouraging my friends to vote for you, but I’m here to say that I’ve never been more disappointed in a council decision, including the failure to live up to the promise to do a proper study, and what I and many others deem as a breach of trust in the council’s duty to protect us.

I love this town, and my friends here, and I don’t want them to suffer the same fate that so many did this month in Butte County.