Election Maps for November, 2016

As anyone who follows American federal politics knows, location can mean a lot when it comes to who votes for whom. Electoral maps on the local level are rather more rare, but no less informative. Here below are the maps of relative support for selected races and candidates from the November 2016 election. (1)

(You can click on the images for a bigger size and the PDFs are available, too, by request. Feel free to request more maps in the comments section. Note that this is not the final tally but one of the interim tallies. The exact levels of support may change a bit.)


Hillary Clinton won every single voting precinct in the county with at least 52 percent of the vote and Donald Trump got second place in all but two precincts, each of which are worth less than 100 voters. Rather than map first and second place, then, I wondered how the voting was distributed across the county.

Tiburon, Blevedere, Ross, Corte Madera and Novato were the most conservative of Marin's cities, though in Marin that means voting for Clinton with 55-65 percent of the vote rather than 80 percent. Jill Stein did best in West Marin's villages and downtown San Rafael, and Trump did his best in Novato.

District 4 Supervisor

In Marin's marquee election, Dennis Rodoni beat out Dominic Grossi in second-round voting. Broadly speaking, Rodoni carried the northeastern half of the district with broad-based support in Woodacre, Dillon Beach, Novato, and a slice of Larkspur. Grossi took the district's southwestern half, getting support from San Rafael, Corte Madera, Mill Valley, and a handful of West Marin villages.

This mirrors the support received in the first round, indicating to me that there was not much convincing going on in the latter half of the campaign.

Proposition 64: Marijuana Legalization

As with Clinton support, no precinct in the county rejected the measure. That said, we can see that support for the measure largely followed the same lines as the presidential race: places that were cooler on Clinton were cooler on legalizing pot, and vice versa.


Measure A: "Strong Start" quarter-cent sales tax for child services

Marin's marquee ballot initiative was much more divisive. The measure, which would have passed a quarter-cent sales tax "to fund expanded preschool, child care and health services for low-income children in Marin," (2) did not pass. Though no precinct had less than half its voters supporting the initiative, because it was a new tax it needed a two-thirds majority. There is some of the liberal/conservative split seen in these results, but at first glance it looks bit more ambiguous than in the presidential election.

Look under the hood, however, and one finds a significant correlation between Clinton support and Measure A support. Here's that scatter-plot:

Basically, for every percentage of Clinton support in a precinct, that precinct also saw a half-point more support for Measure A. That's not a one-to-one match, but it is definitely there.

So Marin does seem to have something of an ideological split. Indeed, it may be possible to use Republican and ballot measure voting patterns to mark which areas are more or less liberal than the Marin County average. What to label this divide, of course, would be quite heated: both sides want to seem mainstream (and both are!) and being "conservative" in Marin is almost seen as a character flaw. Chime in in the comments if you have ideas ("populist" vs "progressive" or something?)

The core message of this post is that Marin does have politically diverse geography beneath the liberal veneer. Understanding it should be integral to any political outreach program.

1. Marin County Elections Department. November 8, 2016 General Election Statement of Votes Cast [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2017 Feb 7]. Available from: http://www.marincounty.org/depts/rv/election-info/past-elections/page-data/tabs-collection/2016/nov-8/sovc-listing-page

2. Halstead R. Marin voters face 11 tax measures on November ballot. Marin Independent Journal [Internet]. 2016 Aug 12 [cited 2017 Feb 7]; Available from: http://www.marinij.com/article/NO/20160812/NEWS/160819921


Returning to the Flood

Last week, San Anselmo came within inches of yet another disastrous flood. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the flood detention basin issue.


After the flood in 2005, a plan was put forward to build a flood detention basin in Memorial Park which would protect the downtown from floods by temporarily diverting water to the park during heavy storms. The town received a $8.72 million state grant to build the $17.2 million basin and planning work began. In 2015, voters rejected Measure E – without downtown’s support – which would have allowed the use of Memorial Park as a basin. The flood zone board is now trying to figure out what to do instead.

Support for Measure E. Image by the Author.

Of those currently on the council, Matt Brown and Ford Greene oppose the conversion of the park. Councilmember Brown led the charge to pass Measure E. In the same election he also ousted now-former council member and basin supporter Doug Kelly. Councilmember Greene has consistently sided with Marin’s populists on issues such as affordable housing, zoning reform, transit, and the flood basin. Both have appeared at Citizen Marin and associated group meetings. The rest of the council (Kay Coleman, Tom McInerney, and John Wright) supported the conversion of the park [1] and presumably still would if it were a possibility.

Councilmember Brown is certainly unmoved by last week’s close call. To quote the IJ, “Brown said he and many other San Anselmo residents wisely chose not to buy property in the floodplain. He said spending millions of dollars to address flooding in the Ross Valley would be ‘tantamount to a bailout of somebody’s real estate decision.’” He also voiced skepticism that the town should even pay for flood mitigation: “[H]ow how much are we willing to pay to put that plan into place? This is a multimillion-dollar project, one that I believe the people have to decide if it’s worth implementing.” [2]

Councilmember Greene doubts that the basin system would even make a difference but advocates instead for another basin in Fairfax and the demolition of 636 San Anselmo Avenue, which straddles the creek. [3] This is one of the proposals currently undergoing public comment.

What now?

The basin would have been part of the work plan for Flood Control District 9, the board charged with reducing flood risk in Ross Valley, but the rest of the work plan is still proceeding. This includes raising bridges in San Anselmo, Ross, and Fairfax; creating flood detention basins at Loma Alta and Lefty Gomez Field in Fairfax; creating additional storage capacity at Phoenix Lake; and improving the creek channel in Ross and Larkspur. [4] The conversion of Lefty Gomez Field has already inspired opposition. [5]

Of course, the Memorial Park basin was part of the overall flood mitigation strategy for the watershed and, with its demise, an alternative needs to be found. There are four alternatives currently before the district board, each of which costs approximately the same as the Memorial Park conversion. You can read all about them here, but the gist of them is that each would be disruptive somewhere. The No Basin Alternative involves heavy roadwork on the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard bridge. The Sleepy Hollow alternative involves a detention basin at Brookside Elementary. Councilmember Greene’s preferred alternative would involve at least partially demolishing two of downtown San Anselmo’s iconic buildings. [6]

It is a shame that downtown San Anselmo has to endure not just neglect from its neighborhoods but active opposition to its success. A town ought to be more than a commodity to be used but a community that sticks together and looks out for one another. Downtown is supposed to be the heart of that community.

Works Cited

[1] Richard Halstead, “Dueling Ballot Measures over Flood Control Divide San Anselmo,” Marin Independent Journal, September 26, 2015; Peter Seidman, “Shelter from the Storm,” Pacific Sun, May 4, 2015.

[2] Richard Halstead, “Ross Valley Flood Scare Brings Calls for Action,” Marin Independent Journal, January 13, 2017.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Marin County Department of Public Works, “FZ9 Project Fact Sheets,” Marin County Watershed Program, accessed January 18, 2017.

[5] “Save Lefty Gomez Field,” accessed January 18, 2017.

[6] Liz Lewis, “Update-Analysis of Replacement Project Alternatives for DWR Grant” (San Anselmo, CA: Flood Control Zone 9 Advisory Board, June 21, 2016).

A high-frequency SMART corridor, revisited

In this week’s IJ Forum, guest and transit skeptic Richard Hall brought up something I didn’t expect: the argument that transit frequency equals freedom [1]. This is something that transit advocates have been harping on in Marin and elsewhere for years, and one of the key factors that is likely to hold back SMART from reaching its potential. Though I addressed this point back in 2012, with the train opening up this year it is worth revisiting how SMART might be able to reach higher frequencies, and how much it might cost.

There is blood in the single-track stone

Once operational, SMART’s trains will run in both directions simultaneously despite having only one track. It can accomplish this through the judicious use of passing tracks, meaning a strategic stretch of the corridor will be double-tracked so trains can pass one another.

At full build-out, from Cloverdale to Larkspur Landing, there will be 4 such passing tracks, each of which is 12 miles long, which will allow trains to run every 30 minutes in either direction. (This 30-minute time is called the “headway” in transit-speak.) To double the frequency to 15 minutes, we would need to double the number of passing tracks to 8. To double frequency again to 7.5 minutes, we would need to double the number of passing tracks again to 16.

At this point, the permanently single-tracked Puerto Suello Tunnel between North and Central San Rafael becomes the choke point. Any further increases would need to widen the Puerto Suello Tunnel and basically double-track the whole system. This would likely overkill for the foreseeable future.

Using the existing construction costs as a guide, the cost for the passing tracks on a 15-minute headway system is $60 million. The cost for a 7.5-minute headway system is twice that: $120 million [2]. If we include the cost of the trains needed to run such frequent service, the total cost would be $120 million and $307 million, respectively [3].

We can squeeze blood out of this stone if we are willing to spend the money for it.

Of course, ridership at this point becomes a problem. Is it worth it to run trains this often? Definitely.

There are almost 43,000 jobs and over 19,000 people within a half-mile of SMART’s stations. 2,237 people live and work within the station areas [4], but commute trips account for only about 20 percent of all trips, and this doesn’t include people who might use the park and ride services. Ballpark figures, using a ridership model [PDF] from the Transportation Research Board put the ceiling of SMART’s potential ridership at about 25,000 [5]. SMART itself estimates its ridership will be around 4,500 trips per day, which the model agrees with.

We need to dive a little bit into some wonky economics for a moment using these numbers but bear with me.

When a transit operator alters some aspect of a transit service, they of course also alter the ridership. Increase the vehicle speed and ridership goes up. Increase fares and ridership goes down. This is called the elasticity of demand: how much does a given change affect the demand for that transit service. The first example mentioned references the in-vehicle time elasticity because it indicates how much people change their habits based on how much time they spend in a vehicle. The second example is the price elasticity because it deals with the price of using the service.

Headways alter the access time elasticity, which is more valuable to people when it comes to transit. As much as you may enjoy your walk to the train, you probably enjoy the fact that you can work or sleep on the train en route a little bit more.

Access time elasticity among commuters is 1.28, which is pretty high. Decreasing average wait times by 1 percent by decreasing headways by 2 percent increases ridership by 128 percent [6]. Doubling SMART’s frequency to 15 minutes, then, will get us a 64 percent* increase in passengers: from 4,500 trips per day to about 7,380. Doubling frequency again could get us to 12,100 trips per day. This, of course, does not count the number of people who would use SMART for non-commute trips too, and it also ignores the effects of improving on the very infrequent service SMART is planning on providing in the middle of the day.

I would argue that a 15-minute frequency would absolutely be worthwhile on the basis of the commuters alone (the cost per new commute trip is $42,000, half the cost per trip on the baseline SMART system). A 7.5-minute system is not as cost-effective based on new commuters, but is significant if we include non-commute trips.

It may also be a viable alternative to a wider Novato Narrows. The traffic congestion there is in part due to a 15 percent increase in the number of cars travelling through to Central San Rafael, or roughly 500 more vehicles per hour [7]. Diverting 3,690 trips per rush hour (half of 7,380) would alleviate that congestion, at least until drivers fill up the space again thanks to induced demand [8].

So Hall is quite right on this point: transit frequency influences how people travel and how many people use the system. I am unsure whether he knew just how influential frequency can be, but no matter. SMART would do well to examine the effects of increasing its service frequency.

* Average wait times are half of the headway: if you arrive at a random point during the inter-train period, your average wait is half the full headway. Doubling frequency, then – a 100 percent increase – decreases average wait times by half that, or 50 percent.

Note: Given how off-topic any comments section can get in a SMART-focused article, I have turned them off for this post.

Works Cited

[1] Traffic in Marin, IJ Forums (San Rafael, CA, 2016).

[2] David Edmondson, “High SMART Frequency on the Cheap,” The Greater Marin, August 8, 2012.

[3] David Edmondson, “Can SMART Double-Track?,” The Greater Marin, August 6, 2012.

[4] Center for Economic Studies, “Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics” (United States Census, n.d.).

[5] Daniel G. Chatman et al., “Making Effective Fixed Guideway Transit Investments: Indicators of Success” (Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board, 2014).

[6] Arthur O’Sullivan, Urban Economics, 8th ed (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2012), 295.

[7] David Edmondson, “The 101 Corridor: Transportation Myopia in Practice,” The Greater Marin, January 13, 2013; Caltrans, “Traffic Volumes on California State Highways” (Sacramento, CA: Government of California, 2014).

[8] Connor Jones, “The Street Economics of Induced Demand,” The Greater Marin, December 21, 2015.

Supervisor races were all about geography

The June 7 primary election gave us political junkies a much-needed look at temperature of Marin County's electorate. In lieu of polls, it's easy to imagine the loudest voices are also the most politically powerful, but that doesn't seem to be the case this year. Instead, geography was destiny, with incumbents swinging to large victories in incorporated areas and challengers finding difficulty breaking out of their unincorporated enclaves. In West Marin, it was a classic case of North vs. South.

These maps were created using the First Count data released by the elections office on June 10. Full data counts won't be available until next week. A brief update will outline what changed once these data are released.

District 2: Katie Rice, Kevin Haroff, Frank Egger

Image by the author. Click to enlarge.

This election pitted incumbent Katie Rice against Larkspur councilmember Kevin Haroff and former Fairfax councilmember (now Ross Valley Sanitary District board member) Frank Egger. Haroff was endorsed by the Citizen Marin coalition and came out early against the Larkspur Station Area Plan. Egger orchestrated rezoning large chunks of downtown Fairfax to include more parking a few years ago and has called for more parking around Larkspur Landing.

First, Rice won every precinct and won the district with a whopping 57 percent. Nowhere did she earn fewer votes than her challengers. However, these two split the Citizen Marin vote, and there are areas where Rice won less than the combined totals of her challengers.

Rice was strongest in Gerstle Park, downtown San Rafael, and Larkspur, but would have likely lost Ross, Greenbrae, and northern Fairfax had she only faced one challenger. Egger was strongest in Fairfax, as he often is, but failed to make a good showing elsewhere. Haroff showed strongest in Ross and Greenbrae but did not do so well in his home city.

District 3: Kate Sears and Susan Kirsch

Image by the author. Click to enlarge.

Incumbent Kate Sears beat back a vigorous challenge from Citizen Marin co-founder Susan Kirsch who arguably started her campaign almost two years ago.

Strawberry vigorously pushed back against a then-years-old Priority Development Area, arguing it was a way for Sears to ram through new housing. Though that anger and resentment are largely in the past, its marks remain on this electoral stage, with Kirsch handily winning the Strawberry Peninsula and narrowly earning the support of nearby unincorporated neighborhoods on the Tiburon Peninsula.

Tam Valley/Homestead Valley/Almonte, home to Citizen Marin ally Sustainable TamAlmonte and numerous protests over Muir Woods tourists, however, went to Sears, as did all the incorporated towns in the district. Sears’ strongest support came from Marin City, possibly indicating that attempts to make inroads there by Kirsch and Community Venture Partners’ Bob Silvestri have not been terribly successful electorally. Sausalito, home to Citizen Marin allies and councilwomen Linda Pfeifer and Jill Hoffman, also went strongly for Sears.

District 4: The West Marin melee

Image by the author.

The chaotic 8-way race to replace Steven Kinsey resulted in a runoff between first-place Dennis Rodoni and second-place Dominic Grossi. No doubt the various endorsing bodies will be looking hard at the positions of both as progressive Wendi Kallins (frequently misspelled Wendy) and Citizen Marinite Al Dugan both failed to make the top two.

Rodoni, Grossi, and Kallins, along with 8th-place finisher Mari Tamburo, each claimed victory in at least one precinct. Rodoni’s support was concentrated in the urban areas of District 4, such as Larkspur and Novato; Grossi won the rural ranchlands of West Marin, as is befitting a rancher; and Kallins won her home of Forest Knolls, Olema, and San Geronimo. Dugan’s support, such as it was, came from East Marin, implying his platform of traffic and pension reform just don’t resonate out West.

EDIT: [A typo in my map reversed Rodoni and Grossi, which gives us an interesting chance at counterfactuals. Here's my alternative, corrected analysis:]

Rodoni, Grossi, and Kallins, along with 8th-place finisher Mari Tamburo, each claimed victory in at elast one precinct. Rodoni's support was concentrated in the township and urban areas of southern West and East Marin, including his home of Olema. Grossi won his home city of Novato and the more agriculturally-focused areas of northern West Marin, with just a few pockets of support in Southern Marin. In this first-round of results - we won't have the final vote tally until next week - Kallins won the central areas of West Marin in the San Geronimo Valley. Tam Valley was fairly evenly split.

Dugan support was strongly focused in East Marin, though he came in a distant fourth place. His support, such as it was, indicates his platform of traffic and pension reform just didn't resonate out West.

Intriguingly, Kallins seemed to be most in competition with Grossi, not Dugan, with a negative correlation between Grossi and Kallins vote shares. Dugan seems to have been a candidate on his own, with no clear negative correlation between his vote share and anyone else’s. He shares this in common with the other also-rans and Rodoni. This likely means that Grossi and Kallins split support. If Kallins supporters swing over to Grossi, he would be a formidible foe, able to command support of most of the incorporated areas of his district as well as the more populous pieces of West Marin. Rodoni would need to pick up not just Dugan supporters but many of the other also-rans to match. We will find out more as the Grossi and Rodoni campaigns gear up for the runoff in November.

If a pattern can be drawn, it is that Marinites reward competence and presence in their supervisors. District 4 residents rewarded supervisors with West Marin sensibilities. In Districts 2 and 3, their efforts or not, Kate Sears and Katie Rice have both been at the forefront of efforts to fix their districts' traffic. Yet this also cuts the other way: Strawberry and Greenbrae feel sidelined by their respective supervisors. Building trust will be difficult in these communities, but will be important: the superior organizing power of anger and aggrievement can make governing difficult even for an electorally safe politician.

Author's note: I am digitizing a huge amount of electoral data going back to 2013 for all races. If there is a race you would like to see mapped, let me know in the comments.

Author's other note: Unfortunately, Marin’s elections office does not keep shapefiles of electoral precincts, only lists of which residential properties belong to which precinct. This makes for unpleasant-looking maps, with holes and gaps where roads or uninhabited parcels are. But, short of redrawing hundreds of electoral precincts, it’s the best we have.

Citizen Marin slate loses big – what does it mean for their coalition?

In the aftermath of elections in three supervisorial races where incumbents prevailed handsomely and West Marin’s Al Dugan notched a dismal fourth place, behind progressive third-place finisher Wendi Kallins, it is worth asking whether the coalition that birthed them still has steam.

Citizen Marin and its coalition – Community Venture Partners, MAD, Larkspur Strikes Back, Citizens for Sustainable Pension Plans, and Sustainable TamAlmonte, among others – came to Marin in a splash back in 2011 and has notched up significant victories halting plans that would have allowed Marin’s affordable housing supply to expand in Strawberry, Tam Valley, Larkspur, Terra Linda, and Marinwood. They elected Damon Connolly to the Board of Supervisors and fought hard against new bicycle lanes, transit infrastructure, and zoning reforms throughout the county.

This year seemed like a golden chance for them to solidify a majority on the Board of Supervisors, allowing them to not just block reforms and homes but also entrench car-oriented policies and push against regional planning efforts from a position of power. In Kevin Haroff, they had a Larkspur councilmember; in Susan Kirsch, a longtime activist with name recognition; in Al Dugan, a resume sure to appeal to pension reformers.

They also had time. Talk of the supervisorial races was active in anti-housing circles as early as two years ago, with Susan Kirsch penning a coming-out Marin Voice in 2014.[1] They even felt confident enough to campaign against Measure AA, with Kirsch calling it taxation without representation.[2]

Yet each, sticking to the familiar talking points about housing, regionalism, and traffic, lost big, with incumbents Katie Rice and Kate Sears beating challengers by double-digit margins and Dugan not even notching above 10 percent.

In the absence of solid data, it’s tough to say exactly why the three failed, but it’s likely the anger that propelled the anti-housing coalition to prominence is subsiding in the population at large. Dick Spotswood, for what it’s worth, agrees, writing, “Much of America is angry. Not Marin.”[3]

Even if this is the case, housing advocates and other progressive reformers have only started to win a conversation set by Citizen Marin. They have yet to really start a new one. Supporting the progressive vision of Marin as a collection of welcoming, car-optional and quiet suburban towns is quite a different thing than just disbelieving Citizen Marin’s fearfulness.

And there are real problems that have languished as progressives have fought a drag-out fight for better affordable housing, especially the utter mismanagement of Golden Gate Transit.

There is no guarantee that the conversation will shift or that the coalition is on its way out. It still has elected supporters throughout Marin, and the upcoming Plan Bay Area meetings offer it an opportunity to reignite the anger that launched its march. Dick Spotswood still occupies a powerful soapbox. Yet the tide that nearly shifted Marin’s political landscape certainly feels as though it is ebbing. It simply remains to be seen whether the coalition will be able to launch another successful anti-incumbent challenge.

Works Cited

[1] Susan Kirsch, “Building on Voters’ Push for Political Affirmation,Marin Independent Journal, November 12, 2014.

[2] Susan Kirsch, “Bay Tax Is Taxation without Representation for Marin,” Marin Independent Journal, March 9, 2016.

[3] Dick Spotswood, “Marin Results Don’t Reflect Much Voter Anger,Marin Independent Journal, June 11, 2016.

Bad shuttle routing will make SMART's last-mile problem worse

Shuttle service to SMART’s temporary north end will be winding, slow, and inefficient. That’s bad news for Sonoma’s towns, which are already under strain from car commuting.

Waiting for the Bus. Image by Franck Michel, on Flickr.

Waiting for the Bus. Image by Franck Michel, on Flickr.

Sonoma County is getting passenger rail service for the first time in decades, hopefully starting at the tail end of 2016, with the opening of the SMART train.

SMART is starting to move from being an agency building a train, to an agency that will *run* a train. Big difference. Based on a lot of things I have heard in the past, there is concern that General Manager Farhad Mansourian is a better project manager CEO than an operations CEO. Time will tell, but as we approach the opening and decisions start to fall in place, I am going to reload this blog and follow the topic.

At last month's SMART board meeting, there was a presentation on First/Last Mile connectivity. The PDF is linked above, there is also avideo of this meeting - March 2, 2016 which is interesting and a bit illuminating. The board rightly gives the staff of SMART and the related agencies credit for a lot of hard work, but there are a lot of holes in the strategy which underscores that transit agencies and boards don't really focus test their ideas. They look at a problem, place themselves in the problem, and imagine how the problem needs to be solved. Witness Caltrain discussing workers who can go in "later" because they have "flexible" schedules. They go to work 8-5, my office doesn't even turn the lights on until 9 AM and people get upset at meetings before 10. The schedule isn't "flexible", it's flat out different.

With SMART, the board (mostly local politicians) and staff are working from a very "how do I get to San Francisco" mindset. I can't blame them, a lot of the public reacts this way as well, if you read internet comment boards. Officially, SMART diverges from this message on their website:

Today, more than 75% of commuters in the North Bay travel either within or between the two counties to get to work.

Thus we get to my first topic on the presentation on first/last mile - the North County Coordination to be provided by Sonoma County Transit. This connection is at the direction of the board and not negotiable - Windsor, Healdsburg, and Cloverdale were on the original proposed train line, and have had train service delayed indefinitely due to lack of funding. There is a bus from Cloverdale to Santa Rosa - route 60 - but it's slow compared to the freeway and doesn't go to the train depot on Airport Rd. SCT is going to add a shuttle - as seen in the first/last mile presentation, that will express between the 3 towns and the North SMART terminus at Airport Road. It will mostly run on US-101 in uncongested areas making it a quick connector. Sort of.

The proposed schedule shows the "go south in the AM, north in the PM" mindset of SMART. The only shuttles in the AM run North to South to meet trains, there are no proposed shuttles the opposite direction. One problem - the City of Healdsburg is a net *importer* of labor, not an exporter! SMART is trying to figure out how to get a small population of Healdsburg residents south, instead of the large population that is trying to get TO Healdsburg. The population shift during the day is such that tiny Healdsburg is starting to have parking wars and is now considering using valuable downtown land to build more parking.

Healdsburg has over 4,500 in-commuters and over 3,700 out-commuters. This relatively large shift in population for a town of just 11,000 during the workday is exacerbating housing and parking constraints.

Healdsburg has over 4,500 in-commuters and over 3,700 out-commuters. This relatively large shift in population for a town of just 11,000 during the workday is exacerbating housing and parking constraints.

Housing prices in Healdsburg are forcing the town's workforce to leave the city for Santa Rosa and Cloverdale, less expensive areas, which is bad on its own, but exacerbates the parking problem which leads to bad land use decisions which feedback to make the housing problem worse. That workforce could theoretically take SMART to the Airport and hop a shuttle to town, but it won't exist.

Not only does a northbound shuttle not exist, but the market of workers in Cloverdale who could take the shuttle to Healdsburg will be poorly served. The express shuttle will go from Cloverdale to Healdsburg in 20 minutes. SCT route 60 takes ~40 minutes to make the same run - the express cuts the trip in half and could attract new riders. However, because SMART and SCT are only thinking about "get people to the train" - the stop is located at the decrepit Healdsburg train depot on the outskirts of town (and they are building a $1 Million parking lot there), producing a walk for people making that trip which eats up any time savings. It also means that any tourists from SF who decide to take this route get dumped off in the middle of nowhere instead of the middle of town. Might as well drive. This in order to provide park and ride service to a bus for Healdsburg residents? The Healdsburg depot is out of the way for most Healdsburg residents, the bus will make an additional out of the way stop at the Windsor "Train Depot", before winding to Airport Road. Summary - any sane Healdsburger with a car will simply drive to the Airport Road Station.

The detour through HBG to get to the old depot, and the similar winding trip in Windsor kills the trip time, reducing any incentive for people coming from Cloverdale to use the shuttle. The buses should make quick stops just off the freeway but close to the downtowns - the Amtrak bus stop at Mill/HBG Ave in Healdsburg, and right off the freeway in Windsor next to where there is a McDonalds. Shuttle service like this relies on speed. Optimizing it is the only chance to get the ridership needed to keep the shuttle going and hopefully support the train. This includes understanding that some of the riders will eschew the train altogether, using the shuttle as a fast intra-North County bus service. And they should provide service in both directions at both peaks.

Original Post: Murphy, John. 2016. “SMART Train - Last Mile Connectivity - North County.” Holier than You Blog. March 31.

Other Works Cited

Healdsburg, CA. 2016. “Cerri Site (Purity Building) Redevelopment Project.Healdsburg, California Official Site. Accessed May 29.

Mason, Clark. 2015. “Mass Evictions in Healdsburg Prompt Cries of Racism.The Press Democrat, July 8.

Michel, Franck. 2014. Waiting for the Bus. Photograph.

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit. 2016a. Board of Directors Meeting: March 4, 2016. Petaluma, CA.

———. 2016b. “First/Last Mile Connection.” Petaluma, CA, March 2.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2016. LODES Data. Longitudinal-Employer Household Dynamics Program.

Anti-urban groups fight to keep Drake congested

MAD: Fighting to make its logo a reality. Image from MAD. [1]

Despite years of arguing new housing will exacerbate traffic congestion and blaming the county’s urbanists for indifference to the problem of congestion, Marin Against Density (MAD) is now fighting against new traffic lanes on Sir Francis Drake (Drake), arguing the project will actually reduce capacity. Fact check: it won’t.

The project

Drake Boulevard is a mess south of Ross from every perspective. To people on foot or bike, it’s a hot, loud, dangerous traffic sewer. To people in cars, it’s a congested nightmare every rush hour. Thankfully, there’s enough space on the road to make the first problem a little less bad and fix the second problem.*

The biggest change to Drake would be a third lane heading south from Marin Catholic to 101 and, in one design, north from 101 to El Portal by narrowing lanes from between 15 and 21 feet to a standard 11 feet. This will increase capacity by about 50 percent along the most congestion stretches of the road, a huge boost for drivers that have complained about for years.

Other changes would be squaring off intersections in a few sections to make it safer to walk, new shoulders – formerly Class II bike lanes – and wider sidewalks [2]. Given that there are schools along the route, these are victories for parents and children along the way.

So what’s the problem?

According to an email from MAD [3], and to comments from anti-urbanists from the last time I tackled this problem in November [4], the primary complaint is that narrowing lanes will reduce capacity by slowing traffic. They’ve labelled it a traffic calming exercise, designed to support safety rather than traffic flow.

Even if we look past the morally reprehensible attitude that the safety of people walking isn’t worth protecting, it’s utterly illogical. MAD doesn’t understand how roads work.

A short primer on road capacity functions is in the notes, if you’re interested, but here’s the short of it: moving from a 12-foot lane to an 11-foot lane will decrease the free-flow speed of a road by about 3 percent, but adding a whole new lane will increase capacity much more than what’s lost by that very slight depression in free-flow speed. Add it all up, and the project should boost capacity by 45.5 percent.

But what about right-turn lanes lost? There is still more road capacity, so while the far right lanes might be slower during off-peak times, through drivers who won’t be in the far right lanes won’t need to worry.

To put it very simply, the county wants to slow uncongested travelers by about 3 percent to add 50 percent capacity. This seems like the kind of project MAD would support if it was so worried about traffic.

But MAD’s opposition to adding makes so little sense it boggles the mind. Why would an organization that argued any new homes will cause congestion fight against measures that might actually reduce congestion? The political answer might be the easiest.

It’s an election season, and that Fairfax email was rife with disparaging words for incumbent supervisor Katie Rice and glowing words for the conservative, Kevin Haroff, who has come out against the project [5]. By painting this redesign as a road diet rather than the road widening it is, MAD and its fellow organizations (CVP and Citizen Marin) can say that Rice has no solutions and is beholden to the madness of us urbanists.

If it’s about politics, then MAD is lying about the project to help their candidate and Haroff is complicit in the deception.

Of course, lots of anti-urbanists see a conspiracy to destroy Marin’s character. They probably actually believe that adding bike lanes is just part of that conspiracy. Al Dugan thinks I work for an anti-Marin lobbying group in DC, for instance.

So some people are playing the political game and don’t care if they’re on the technically correct side of a given issue or not as long as their candidate wins. Others want their candidate to win because they think only by cleaning house can they halt the spread of dangerous ideas in Marin. It’s a potent mix, and it‘s leading Marin down a dark path.

If even a project that will boost traffic capacity by nearly 50 percent is successfully painted as a congestion-causing project, there’s something seriously wrong with our politics. When we can’t even agree on what’s real or not, we cannot have a successful government. Fairfax went through this during Frank Egger’s years on the council. San Anselmo is going through its own turmoil with Ford Greene. Sausalito and Marinwood are going through phases when the whole governing body is dominated by people who take this sort of confrontational and personal approach to governing.

The Drake project has its problems, and I’ve highlighted them before, but as a symbol of our political dysfunction it is extremely worrying.


* For today, I’m not going to get into induced demand and the Fundamental Law of Traffic Congestion, which Connor Jones went over this past winter [6]. That’s a deeper problem, but fixing it is something nobody has the political stomach to take on even in San Francisco, let alone Marin.

Level of Service diagram, click to enlarge. Image from Wali Mamon.

** Traffic capacity – how many vehicles a road can carry in an hour – is a function of a road’s design speed and the road’s traffic jam density, or how many vehicles fit per mile when traffic speeds are basically zero:

Maximum Capacity = Number of Lanes × ((Free-flow Speed×Jam Density)/4)

This is called the Greenshields model, which is a reasonable tool for analyzing roads like this. Among other things, it tells us that as speed decreases, the number of cars the road can move per hour actually increases, at least up to a point. This is thanks to the fact that the space between cars decreases as speed decreases, allowing the road to be used more efficiently. Generally speaking, this is around Level of Service (LOS) grade E, though engineers try to keep LOS at around C or D to ensure some slack in the system [7].

According to this model, reducing the free-flow speed by 3 percent in this model to add a new lane will increase the maximum capacity by roughly 45.5 percent.

Works Cited

[1] Marin Against Density, MAD Logo, Digital Image, n.d.

[2] Kentfield Planning Advisory Board, “Sir Francis Drake Boulevard Corridor Rehabilitation” (Kentfield, CA, October 28, 2015).

[3] Marin Against Density, “Attend June 1 ‘Open House’ -- Forward This to Friends.,” June 1, 2016.

[4] David Edmondson, “Build Something Better on South Sir Francis Drake,” The Greater Marin, November 18, 2015.

[5] Issues,” Kevin Haroff for Supervisor District 2, accessed June 2, 2016.

[6] Connor Jones, “The Street Economics of Induced Demand,The Greater Marin, December 21, 2015; Connor Jones, “The Four Biggest Myths about Induced Demand,” The Greater Marin, January 4, 2016.

[7] Francis Vanek et al., Sustainable Transportation Systems Engineering: Evaluation & Implementation (New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2014), chap. 7; Wali Memon, “Highway Level of Service,” October 12, 2012.

What if the Bay Area had never lost its railroads?

With the Northwestern Pacific reopening up soon as a limited commuter rail service - even though it need not - one wonders what the Bay Area would have looked like had it reinvested in its rail lines over the years rather than just rebuilt them. Well, it probably would look something like this:

Map by Theo Ditsek. Click to go to his post, where you can find a full-size image.

Map by Theo Ditsek. Click to go to his post, where you can find a full-size image.

I am always pleased to see our region's transit system reimagined by others, but I'm especially happy to see Theo Ditsek, one of the internet's more prolific transit map hobbyists, tackle the Bay Area, and tackle it like he did. From what I can see, he didn't leave a single rail line unused: there are rail lines from West Marin to Sausalito, subways through San Francisco, commuter rail to Santa Cruz, and shuttle lines heading every which way. My favorite, though, is the railroad to Tahoe.

Perhaps my only complaint is the lack of rail links from Marin and Vallejo to San Francisco, both for commuters and long-distance travelers. Beyond this, however, it's a truly marvelous piece of work. Now if only I could get it as a poster...

SMART Train alcohol policy comes up short

SMART wants to limit alcohol on its trains to only what patrons buy at the concessionaire. Experience from Caltrain shows that allowing riders to BYOB policy is not just good policy, but helps embed the system further into the culture of riders. 

Caltrain riders hanging out. Image from SF2G.com

Caltrain riders hanging out. Image from SF2G.com

For 18 years I have ridden Caltrain - and in that time I have brought aboard and consumed hundreds of bottles and cans of beers, which I have enjoyed legally on the train. This includes frequent patronage of the semi-official Party Car formed by the cyclists on Caltrain.

Starting in 2000, alcohol consumption on Caltrain increased exponentially with the opening of AT&T park, home of the San Francisco Giants. Giants fans have flocked to the train, riding up the Peninsula with cases of beer and bottles of who knows what, safely being carried to and from the games. At some point, Caltrain decided to ban alcohol on trains running after 9 PM only IF there is an event - primarily Giants games but also Sharks games, concerts at AT&T Park, and now 49ers games and concerts at Levi's Stadium. That late, the consumption before and during the events reach enough of a pitch that it was prudent to put a limit on the policy. Over the years the train has also served hugely alcohol-fueled events like Bay to Breakers, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Octoberfests, etc... frequently on the same day.

Generally speaking, this open BYOB policy on Caltrain has been a success. Problems are generally very rare, given the nature of the train as primarily a commuter rail with a higher level fare. It has been an attraction to the train that has a nominal positive influence on overall ridership numbers.

At the end of 2016, I will start riding a new train line - the SMART train in Sonoma County. It will function as primarily commuter rail, running almost exclusively during peak commute hours, with a fare structure prohibitive to general miscreants, making it nominally similar to Caltrain, except that it will serve no special events like the Giants as there are no major sports or entertainment venues on the train line.

SMART has released their draft code of conduct for the train. It includes a policy of NO BYOB. They don't have a no alcohol policy because they have an operating theorem of having a bar car on the train. I am very disappointed by this policy - I find it rider hostile and that it will have a negative impact on the rider experience and overall ridership. While there will be a bar car - there are bar cars on the Amtrak Capitol Corridor too, but in a place like Sonoma County with an excellent selection of beer and wine, to limit riders to the meager selection of a bar car is misguided.

There is, of course, the suspicion that the rationale is not to prevent unruly behavior, but to support whatever vendor they get for their bar car. This is understandable, for the most part because the decision to put a bar car onto the trains is misguided at best. SMART put out a presentation on the bar car where they are toying with giving free rent to the vendor for a return of a percentage of the profits. This is predicated on the presumption that a bar car will turn a profit - my experience from the Amtrak Capitols is that the bar car is at best a loss leader, not a profit center. This is especially true when you consider that SMART has wasted valuable train space to build the bar car.

I personally think that the potential ridership of SMART should make it clear that the no BYOB policy is not in line with the overall goals of the train. They should reconsider this path and allow riders to bring their own beverages onto the train.

If you agree - please email SMART at info@sonomamarintrain.org.

Originally Published: Murphy, John. 2016. “SMART Train Alcohol Policy.” Holier than You Blog. May 18.

Dear Readers

I’ve been gone. Sorry about that.

After finishing up a tough second semester at Cornell University studying for a master’s in City and Regional Planning, I’m off to Manila, capital of the Philippines, for an internship with the country's Department of Transportation, so expect some dispatches from there.

On the upside, having a summer off means I’ll have more time to devote to Marin’s issues specifically, like the aftermath of the election (seriously, Citizen Marin/CVP/Marin Post? The best conservative you could find is Al Dugan?).

So what have been the big takeaways from my first year as a master’s student? First, that 11-foot wide lanes really are just fine for putting traffic through Sir Francis Drake Avenue. That a freeway, or a road, has the highest capacity at LOS D or E. That the only way to solve traffic congestion is with pricing.

That the Rawlsian ethical imperative for equity and a market urbanist philosophy actually can mix, and that the Bay Area is failing at both miserably.

I also found evidence, through a statistical analysis of Census data, that adding more homes to a given neighborhood allows it to hold onto its poor and middle-class populations better. So if you care about keeping gentrification at bay, you should build new homes, luxury and affordable alike.

And that one of the reasons the trains of the early 20th century aren’t really around anymore is because they were so damn slow, like less than 30mph slow, and the companies didn’t realize the point of transportation is transportation, not luxury.

Speaking of old trains, in between classes I finished up the Map of the Mid-Atlantic, a Cleveland frequent bus map, and started work on a Saint Louis of 1921 map.

I have a couple of papers to adapt to blog posts here, including that statistics analysis, and also some that I promised long ago that still have not been published. Given that on Thursday I’ll be flying for more than 19 hours, I will hopefully get some stuff done for once.

 - David

Progress on the DC & Baltimore Map

It’s been a while, clearly, but there is progress. I’m in final check-up and labelling, which is a long slog. Pennsylvania, Western Maryland, Maryland & Pennsylvania, and the ferries are done. I’m also finding out whether or not I missed some lines, and boy did I miss a biggie. First, the progress map:


I had to re-do a couple of the river ferry lines to fit in the York River line. Mobjack Bay, which had ferry service to Norfolk, had to get cut. That’s fine, given the limitations of the map and the relative importance of getting to West Point from Baltimore compared to Mobjack service, but it’s a loss nonetheless.

I’ve also finished up the Pocomoke & Occohannock line, which was a true pain, with different service in either direction for almost every day of the week: 11 patterns in 7 days. Ugh.

Now, I’m on the final check-up: label all the lines coherently, color the lines appropriately, make sure there aren’t any spelling errors or misplaced lines or circles, and check to ensure all service is included. Labeling is some Excel work, which looks like so:

Percentages are the percent of times a train lumped into a given line will stop at that stop. It takes a lot of futzing to cut this down.

Alas that last thing, checking to ensure all service, is the Big Deal. 

When I started the map, I was only going to do lines that started within the confines of the contemporary DC & Baltimore Metropolitan Area. As I went along, I decided it would be more important to show all the connections there is space for. As a result, there are a few lines I missed. Hagerstown & Fredericksburg, for instance, has the Northern and Williamsport divisions, which I’ve now added in, but more important is what happens around Wilmington.

Around Wilmington, I missed the Wilmington Division of the Philadelphia & Reading, the Pomeroy Branch of the Pennsylvania, and the Landenburg Branch of the B&O. These all interconnect with either one another or Pennsy’s Octoraro Branch or both, which means some crazytown geometry and a reworking of some of the first lines I drew. How fun. On the plus side, it means we’ll get to see every station in Delaware, so it’ll be the first complete state in this series. Yay! Here’s the geographic map of what I’m up to:

Roughly the area bounded by the red box: Chadd's Ford Junction to Avondale to Newark to Wilmington. The electric lines shown here aren't listed in the Official Guide to the Railways, so they don't get to be included.

I also found a whole new railroad that I hadn’t seen, the New Park & Fawn Grove:

So yes, folks, I’m plugging away. What’s done:

  • Reviewed and labelled the Pennsylvania; Washington, Bandywine & Point Lookout; Maryland & Pennsylvania; Hagerstown & Frederick; Chesapeake Beach; Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis; Maryland, Delaware & Virginia; Western Maryland; and ferry lines
  • Added the Stewartstown and New Park & Fawn Grove railroads
  • The coastline

Here’s the to-do list in no particular order:

  • Add a couple of barrier island inlets on the Atlantic seaboard of the Delmarva Peninsula
  • Finish up the Wilmington Division of the Philadelphia & Reading, the Pomeroy Branch of the Pennsylvania, and the Landenburg Branch of the B&O.
  • Review the B&O; C&O; Norfolk & Western; Potomac, Fredericksburg & Piedmont; RF&P; Southern; Washington & Old Dominion; and Philadelphia & Reading railroads
  • Convert white label outlines to 80% transparent
  • Fill in the western Virginia whitespace
  • Add legend, list of service, and map title

Pre-orders are available in the Map Store.

The four biggest myths about induced demand

This post, by Connor Jones, originally appeared on Urbanist.co. It has been edited to include citations, including the correction of dead links.

Two weeks ago, I laid out the economic argument for induced demand (Jones 2014b): the idea that building more roads does not reduce congestion. It is a simple model that uses concepts from Economics 101 to explain the relationship between road construction and driving behavior.

Even so, this idea, like many associated with new urbanism, challenges the status quo. As such, there’s pushback. To ensure that no falsehoods go unchallenged, I decided to examine the claims in two articles that seek to discredit induced demand as a property. The first is a blog post from the Cato Institute (O’Toole 2014) written in response to a Wired article on the subject (Mann 2014) published last month, and the second is a Weekly Standard (Last 2011) story written three years ago (which is still fresh in urban planning time). Here are the four most prominent false assertions upon which the articles rely.

1. Since roadway capacity is not the only factor affecting driving, induced demand is a flawed model.

This misrepresentation was trotted out by the Cato Institute, which attempted to discredit the academic research of Gilles Duranton of the University of Pennsylvania and Matthew A. Turner of the University of Toronto, who measured the elasticity of demand of vehicle miles traveled (2011).*

On average, driving grew more than twice as fast as lane miles. But in Boston between 1983 and 1993, freeway capacities grew by less than 1 percent, while driving grew by more than 35 percent. In Madison, capacities grew by 35 percent, while driving grew by less than 20 percent. The wide range in differences between urban areas suggests that, not only are Duranton & Turner’s elasticities wrong, their standard errors are far too low. (O'Toole 2014)

Duranton & Turner’s headline finding was that the elasticity of demand in the transportation market is 1, according to roadway data from 1980 to 2000. In other words, holding other factors constant, a 20 percent increase in roadway miles elicits a 20 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled. “We found that there’s this perfect one-to-one relationship,” Turner told Wired (Mann 2014).

Cato fails to account the other variables that affect driving patterns like geography, population growth, and socioeconomic characteristics that Duranton & Turner specifically control for. Simply noting that all cities’ freeway capacities and driving patterns don’t fluctuate in lock step does not show anything.

Duranton & Turner sought to find the relationship between two variables alone and found a striking relationship. We live in the real world, and there are other factors that affect people’s behavior.

2. Cities that have invested in public interstates have seen long-term reduction in congestion.

The Weekly Standard blithely throws out this claim without qualifying it in any way:

The Texas Transportation Institute’s annual Mobility Report, for instance, demonstrates an uncanny correlation between capacity and traffic congestion: Areas that add capacity tend to have lower levels of congestion. (Last 2011)

First off, that’s not what the the authors of the Texas Transportation Institute’s Mobility Report (Schrank, Eisele, and Lomax 2012) found. Instead, they wrote that “additional roadways reduce the rate of congestion increase,” which is a substantively different assertion.

Additionally, their analysis is based on the assumption that roadway growth (supply) and vehicle miles traveled (quantity demanded) are independent of each other. While there are certainly other factors involved, the built environment contributes significantly to people’s behavior. Ignoring this fact is tantamount to building a new road, observing an increase in vehicle miles traveled, then assuming it would have happened anyway. This methodology leads to a skewed result, which isn’t matched by other studies.

The most robust study on the relationship between congestion and roadway growth comes from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, which found that “Traffic congestion tends to maintain equilibrium. Congestion reaches a point at which it constrains further growth in peak-period trips. If road capacity increases, the number of peak-period trips also increases until congestion again limits further traffic growth.” (Littman 2015)

Plenty of academically-minded people before me have established the economic model. For one, Douglass B. Lee Jr. at the World Bank provides a more rigorous explanation (Lee, n.d.). A meta-analysis of induced demand studies by Robert Cervero in 2003** (Cervero 2003) found strong evidence of the existence of the phenomena, though different researchers have established different elasticity quotients . Recently, Duranton & Turner derived an elasticity of 1 with a very low standard error (2011).

(The Texas Transportation Institute study has several other problems that Tanya Snyder at Streetsblog USA (2013) and Todd Litman at the Transport Policy Institute (2014) can address more thoroughly than I can.)

Interstates according to writers at the Cato Institute and the Weekly Standard. Image by scot63us, on Flickr (2010).

3. Automotive transportation is the most efficient way of moving people around a city.

This contention isn’t really even a myth—it’s a fabrication. It has no basis in reality. This point was appended to the end of the Weekly Standard article:

A metropolitan area typically has about half as many jobs as people. But, because of geographical constraints, not every job is accessible to every person. Highways are, far and away, the most efficient way of delivering people to a job. (Last 2011)

In most American cities, auto transportation is the best readily-available way to transport people because there are no other options. That does not in any way imply that it’s the most efficient way to organize a city. On the contrary, car dependence is both inefficient and wasteful:

  • University of Michigan study: “Overall, in 2010, BTU per person mile was 4,218 for driving versus 2,691 for flying. Other modes of transportation: Amtrak trains (1,668), motorcycles (2,675) and transit buses (3,347).” (Sivak 2015)***
  • Portland’s dense development patterns yields $2.6 billion in yearly savings, which amounts to a 3.0 percent income bump relative to the average citizen of the United States (Jones 2014a).
  • Automobile congestion as a result of publicly-subsidized highways costs Americans at least $45 billion every year (Jaffe 2013).

4. Vehicle miles traveled isn’t an important metric.

This is a confused contention that doesn’t hold up to any scrutiny. For some reason, we shouldn’t be focusing on vehicle miles traveled as a metric because… we don’t like doing it? Again, from TWS:

[Principal at Demographia Wendell Cox] maintains that the entire framing of the issue is faulty: “Latent demand” for a highway, he notes, isn’t actually a desire to drive on that stretch of road. People only want the road as a means to an end. “Transportation is not a primary activity,” Cox explains. “There is no ‘love affair’ with the automobile. Driving is not something we would choose to do.” […] In other words, a metric like “vehicle-miles traveled” is only superficially important. (Last 2011)

Plenty of economic goods are means to an end. No client wants to pay up to mount a legal defense, but they do it anyway because they have to. Just because it’s a means to an end doesn’t mean we have to spend the money for it. With dense development and healthy public transit, families are able to spend less time in traffic and fewer dollars on gas without sacrificing mobility. Maximizing vehicle miles traveled should not be anyone’s objective.

Induced demand is an economic property with solid evidence

The key insight from the market model is that increasing roadway capacity will only make sprawl worse and won’t fight congestion. While car dependence hurts public health and wastes money, this economic principle does not imply that all highway construction is misguided. All planning is local. (Like politics.) There are plenty of good highway projects, but they must be balanced with investment in transit so that our cities can be strong, diverse communities where having a car isn’t a prerequisite for full citizenship.

End notes

For a more intuitive explanation of induced demand, see this insightful post from Greater Greater Washington on how building public roads to fill “latent demand” is like putting out more and more free hamburgers to feed people (Alpert 2012).

*Elasticity of demand (Heakal 2015) is the percent change in quantity divided percent change in price that measures responsive consumers are to changing their behavior given a price increase. This quantity can be visualized by the slope of the demand line.

**Editor's Note: The Cervero piece from 2001 originally cited by Jones has disappeared, but Cervero released an update to his research from 2003 that reinforces the points made in that earlier study. We have linked to that later study and updated the text to avoid confusion.

***Editor's Note: The Sivak piece from 2014 originally cited by Jones has disappeared, but, like Cervero, Sivak released an update to his research that reinforces the points made in that earlier study. We have linked to that later study.

Works Cited

In keeping with my university's standards, future blog posts will use in-text citations and a works cited. Often, these will be behind a paywall; please email me at thegreatermarin@gmail.com if you would like the full text.

Alpert, David. 2012. “Comment of the Week: Induced Demand Is Free Fast Food.” Greater Greater Washington. September 4. http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/16029/induced-demand-is-like-free-fast-food/.

Cervero, Robert. 2003. “Road Expansion, Urban Growth, and Induced Travel: A Path Analysis.” Journal of the American Planning Association 69 (2): 145–63. doi:10.1080/01944360308976303.

Duranton, Gilles, and Matthew A. Turner. 2011. “The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion: Evidence from US Cities.” The American Economic Review 101 (6): 2616–52.

Heakal, Reem. 2015. “Economics Basics: Elasticity.” Investopedia. Accessed December 17. http://www.investopedia.com/university/economics/economics4.asp.

Jaffe, Eric. 2013. “The U.S. Transportation System Has $100 Billion Worth of Inefficiencies.” CityLab, October 1. http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2013/10/us-transportation-system-has-100-billion-worth-inefficiencies/7076/.

Jones, Connor. 2014a. “Want to Reduce Reliance on Foreign Oil? Start with Walkability.” Urbanist.co. June 12. http://urbanist.co/want-reduce-reliance-foreign-oil-start-walkability/.

———. 2014b. “The Street Economics of Induced Demand.” Urbanist.co. June 25. http://urbanist.co/street-economics-induced-demand/.

Last, Jonathan V. 2011. “More Highways, Less Congestion.” Weekly Standard, March 7.

Lee, Douglas B. Jr. n.d. “Appendix B: Induced Traffic and Induced Demand.” In Concepts of Induced Demand. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Littman, Todd. 2014. “Congestion Costing Critique: Critical Evaluation of the ‘Urban Mobility Report.’” Victoria, BC: Victoria Transportation Policy Institute. http://www.vtpi.org/UMR_critique.pdf.

———. 2015. “Generated Traffic and Induced Travel: Implications for Transport Planning.” Victoria, BC: Victoria Transportation Policy Institute. http://www.vtpi.org/gentraf.pdf.

Mann, Adam. 2014. “What’s Up With That: Building Bigger Roads Actually Makes Traffic Worse.” Wired, June 17. http://www.wired.com/2014/06/wuwt-traffic-induced-demand/.

O’Toole, Randal. 2014. “Debunking the Induced-Demand Myth.” Cato at Liberty. June 18. http://www.cato.org/blog/debunking-induced-demand-myth.

Schrank, David, Bill Eisele, and Tim Lomax. 2012. “2012 Urban Mobility Report.” Urban Mobility Report. College Station, TX: Texas A&M Transportation Institute. http://d2dtl5nnlpfr0r.cloudfront.net/tti.tamu.edu/documents/ums/archive/mobility-report-2012.pdf.

scot63us. 2010. Highway. Digital Photograph. Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/scottummy/4971054099/.

Sivak, Michael. 2015. “Energy Intensities of Flying and Driving.” UMTRI-2015-14. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan. http://www.umtri.umich.edu/what-were-doing/news/planes-trains-and-automobiles-traveling-car-uses-most-energy.

Snyder, Tanya. 2013. “TTI Urban Mobility Report Bungles Congestion Analysis Yet Again.” Streetsblog USA. February 5. http://usa.streetsblog.org/2013/02/05/tti-urban-mobility-report-bungles-congestion-analysis-yet-again/.

Original Post

Jones, Connor. 2014c. “The Four Biggest Myths about Induced Demand.” Urbanist.co. July 7. http://urbanist.co/busting-four-biggest-myths-induced-demand/.

Connor Jones

Jones graduated Georgetown University with a degree in Mathematics and Economics in 2014, after having worked part-time for a several years covering local planning projects in Washington, DC and Atlanta, Ga. for alternative newsweeklies.

The street economics of induced demand

This post, by Connor Jones, originally appeared on Urbanist.co. In keeping with The Greater Marin's style, in-text citations have been added.

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about induced demand (Littman 2015), a widely established city planning model that attempts to explain why cities tend to maintain a steady state of congestion. I’ll go into some more detail on the theory of induced demand later, but I wanted to start with the economic model.

Image by Connor Jones, Urbanist.co

Auto transportation market

The amount that people drive is determined by market forces of supply and demand. Consumer preferences about driving are provided by the demand function, which shows that drivers choose to drive less as the cost of driving increases. Conversely, the supply function is a representation of the existing stock of roadways. In this case, the cost of auto travel is congestion.

Model Assumptions

The principle assumption is that the primary variable cost of auto travel is the time it takes to get from point A to point B, which is reasonable since the fixed cost of owning a car far outweighs the cost of gas for a majority of consumers. (Consider a worker who makes $15 an hour full time. An increase in average commute times by 12 minutes per day decreases his income by $750 a year—the equivalent of a 2.5 percent pay cut.) Even so, the price of gas does factor into people’s driving decisions, so we have to assume that the price of gas is constant. Furthermore, we assume that consumers’ driving preferences are constant. (More on this assumption later.)


The most common justification cited for building a new roadway is to reduce congestion, which makes sense. Most localities will commission a traffic study, which frequently assume constant growth of drivers and therefore also congestion.

Induced demand shows a different story, however. According to our model, the increase in the stock of roadways shifts the supply curve out, which does, in fact, reduce congestion in the short term, but, not as much as it would were there not growth in the number of vehicle miles traveled. Since the cost of driving is reduced, drivers both make longer and more frequent trips in the short term. As we can see from our graph, the number of vehicle miles traveled increases from q1 to q2.

In the long term, the reduced congestion encourages the construction of less dense housing developments far from the city center. With the new roadway, commuters can live farther from their places of work and leisure at the same cost. Over time, these developments shift the demand curve out, reducing the gains against congestion and further increasing the number of vehicle miles traveled.

The effect on cities

The auto transportation market explains the intuition that building more freeways makes a city more car-dependent and encourages sprawl. In very many documented cases (which I will summarize on Friday), building a new roadway does not reduce congestion for very long. Cities that invest in auto infrastructure do not see improvement in congestion (Gehl 2010).

What traffic engineers assume

According to Jeff Speck in Walkable City (which I’m still reading), traffic engineers commonly assume that demand for roads will increase at a constant rate, year over year (2013). With that assumption in place, you can see how they could come to the conclusion that a new freeway will improve congestion in the long term. The market movement without induced demand is illustrated below.

Image by Connor Jones, Urbanist.co

The conclusions reached are vastly different. Under these assumptions, after opening the freeway, there is no increase in vehicle miles traveled (which is not corroborated by real-world data.) The reduction of congestion is larger than the induced demand model predicts, and the only growth in demand is independent on roadway growth.


The relative sizes of the movements along the curves will vary depending on the slope of the demand curve (which is dependent upon consumer preferences, which vary from place to place). We will examine the variation in the relative effects of induced demand later this week.

Public policy implications

Government-supported roads are effectively subsidies for motorists. Without as much investment in roads, the free market would have a greater incentive to create public transportation and dense housing options in city centers. For this reason, the enemy of the walkable city is the six-lane freeway. As I have argued before (and will no doubt argue again), walkability serves several public policy goals at once (Jones 2014a).

Works Cited

h/t to Jeff Speck’s Walkable City, where I found much of this information. All resources:

Federal Highway Administration. 2012. “Induced Travel: Frequently Asked Questions.” Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP). December 3. http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/itfaq.cfm#q4.

Gehl, Jan. 2010. Cities for People. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Jones, Connor. 2014a. “Want to Reduce Reliance on Foreign Oil? Start with Walkability.” Urbanist.co. June 12. http://urbanist.co/want-reduce-reliance-foreign-oil-start-walkability/.

Littman, Todd. 2015. “Generated Traffic and Induced Travel: Implications for Transport Planning.” Victoria, BC: Victoria Transportation Policy Institute. http://www.vtpi.org/gentraf.pdf.

Mann, Adam. 2014. “What’s Up With That: Building Bigger Roads Actually Makes Traffic Worse.” Wired, June 17. http://www.wired.com/2014/06/wuwt-traffic-induced-demand/.

Schmitt, Angie. 2012. “Report: Traffic Studies Systematically Overstate Benefits of Road Projects.” Streetsblog USA. July 6. http://usa.streetsblog.org/2012/07/06/report-traffic-studies-systematically-overstate-the-benefits-of-road-projects/.

Speck, Jeff. 2013. Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. 1st edition. New York: North Point Press.

Original Post

Jones, Connor. 2014b. “The Street Economics of Induced Demand.” Urbanist.co. June 25. http://urbanist.co/street-economics-induced-demand/. Reposted with permission.

A case for the comprehensive bike network

A couple of weeks ago, commenters were largely negative to the idea of protected bicycle lanes on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard for safety reasons and for the reason that the Corte Madera path already existed. But why should we build protected bicycle lanes along high-speed corridors at all? The weight of evidence says it would be of great benefit to cycling in the county generally and to our high-speed corridors specifically.

Network effects

In the Kentfield-Greenbrae corridor, the cycling network is incomplete. The Corte Madera Creek path is a wonderful segment of that network, but it only works for some people. For anyone living north of Sir Francis Drake – yes, there are plenty of flat, bike-friendly streets – that path is useless for getting around the neighborhood. Often, staying off Sir Francis Drake doubles trip times, something no driver would be willing to do.

This holds true for other corridors, and it’s not surprising. Since the rise of the car, arterial roads have become the backbone of our commercial economy. Quiet streets are saved for our showpiece downtowns and residential neighborhoods while high-speed roads serve our everyday shops, like supermarkets, banks, retailers, doctor’s offices, post offices, coffee shops, and the like. By pushing bikes off the high-speed streets, we effectively take biking off the list of acceptable ways to get around for everyday errands.

And there are the benefits of network effects. Though each individual project might not add much to bike ridership, building a complete network will mean every completed segment will add to the usefulness of every other segment. One fax machine is a paperweight. A fax machine in every office, however, makes that one machine very useful. A new safe bike lane on Sir Francis Drake is useful to those living near it. Another one on Corte Madera’s Tamalpais Avenue is useful to those living near that street.

Add a link to Redwood Highway and suddenly you have a network, making both Tamalpais Avenue, Redwood Highway, and Sir Francis Drake useful to anyone along any of those routes while also adding value to the Corte Madera Creek path and the Sandra Marker trail. Any other links – like Bon Air Road or San Anselmo’s Red Hill Avenue – expand the capabilities of the formerly isolated segments even further.

This is backed up by research. Jessica Schoner and David Levinson of the University of Minnesota found that “connectivity and directness are important factors in predicting bicycle commuting after controlling for demographic variables and the size of the city” (Schoner & Levinson, 2014) Since commuting is a minority of trips, and these high-speed roads are also lined with shops and services, the effect on overall trips by bicycle will be larger than expected.

As well, Schoner and Levinson didn’t differentiate between the quality of the bike link, whether it’s a painted bike lane, an off-road path, or a protected lane like what I propose. Other studies (Heinen, Maat, & van Wee, 2011; Tilahun, Levinson, & Krizek, 2007; Wardman, Tight, & Page, 2007) have found that the quality of the bike lane has a meaningful impact on bike-to-work rates; Heinan, Maat & van Wee found this was especially true for short trips. These strongly imply that safer lanes will have a meaningful impact on non-work trips, especially on short trips.

The safety problem

The principal objection to having a protected bicycle lane on a high-speed road was one of safety. Commenter Ann Becker remarked, “A heavily traveled street with traffic going at speeds of up to 40 mph is simply not safe for bike riders, either school age or older.”

Research does not bear out Becker’s assertion. New York City’s Department of Transportation released research indicating traffic collision injuries dropped by an average of 20 percent following the installation of protected bike lanes along major avenues (Miller, 2014), which are often just as unfriendly to people on bikes as Sir Francis Drake. Other studies (Harris et al., 2013; Lusk et al., 2011; Teschke et al., 2012) have found even more significant drops in injury crashes to all road users, including drivers, after the installation of protected bicycle lanes. This holds true even on fast streets like Sir Francis Drake.

All this assumes we agree that bicycling is good for the environment, good for physical and mental health, and good for the economy (Maus, 2012), and it is indeed all those things. Given that a strong network encourages bicycling while also improving road safety, there is no reason to keep protected bicycle lanes off the road, even high-speed roads. As I laid out two weeks ago, we can add protected bicycle lanes to Sir Francis Drake without sacrificing any eastbound lanes. With the heavy weight of evidence, we can further add that this would be of huge benefit to anyone who lives, works, shops, or drives along that boulevard.

Works Cited

In keeping with my university's standards, future blog posts will use in-text citations and a works cited. Often, these will be behind a paywall; please email me at thegreatermarin@gmail.com if you would like the full text.

Harris, M. A., Reynolds, C. C. O., Winters, M., Cripton, P. A., Shen, H., Chipman, M. L., … Teschke, K. (2013). Comparing the effects of infrastructure on bicycling injury at intersections and non-intersections using a case–crossover design. Injury Prevention, 19(5), 303–310. http://doi.org/10.1136/injuryprev-2012-040561

Heinen, E., Maat, K., & van Wee, B. (2011). The role of attitudes toward characteristics of bicycle commuting on the choice to cycle to work over various distances. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 16(2), 102–109. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.trd.2010.08.010

Lusk, A. C., Furth, P. G., Morency, P., Miranda-Moreno, L. F., Willett, W. C., & Dennerlein, J. T. (2011). Risk of injury for bicycling on cycle tracks versus in the street. Injury Prevention, ip.2010.028696. http://doi.org/10.1136/ip.2010.028696

Maus, J. (2012, July 6). Study shows biking customers spend more. Retrieved from http://bikeportland.org/2012/07/06/study-shows-biking-customers-spend-more-74357

Miller, S. (2014, September 5). New DOT Report: Protected Bike Lanes Improve Safety for Everyone. Retrieved from http://www.streetsblog.org/2014/09/05/new-dot-report-shows-protected-bike-lanes-improve-safety-for-everybody/

Schoner, J. E., & Levinson, D. M. (2014). The missing link: bicycle infrastructure networks and ridership in 74 US cities. Transportation, 41(6), 1187–1204. http://dx.doi.org.proxy.library.cornell.edu/10.1007/s11116-014-9538-1

Teschke, K., Harris, M. A., Reynolds, C. C. O., Winters, M., Babul, S., Chipman, M., … Cripton, P. A. (2012). Route infrastructure and the risk of injuries to bicyclists: a case-crossover study. American Journal of Public Health, 102(12), 2336–2343. http://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2012.300762

Tilahun, N. Y., Levinson, D. M., & Krizek, K. J. (2007). Trails, lanes, or traffic: Valuing bicycle facilities with an adaptive stated preference survey. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 41(4), 287–301. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.tra.2006.09.007

Wardman, M., Tight, M., & Page, M. (2007). Factors influencing the propensity to cycle to work. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 41(4), 339–350. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.tra.2006.09.011

Build something better on South Sir Francis Drake

Tonight, the county will hold a hearing on rebuilding and enhancing Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from the Ross border to Highway 101. (Details: 7pm, College of Marin, Kentfield Campus, Fusselman Hall 120, project site here.) This provides a golden opportunity for Marinites to transform and improve one of Central Marin’s most important streets to better serve people in cars, on bikes, on buses, and on foot.

Congestion sucks

From a workshop survey in late October, people called traffic congestion the worst problem along the corridor, and it’s not hard to see why. Drivers have to deal with stop-and-go traffic all along Bon Air Shopping Center to 101 in the morning, and a number of intersections are overloaded at the same time. This, of course, sucks for drivers and bus riders alike, as well as anyone living, working, or shopping along the corridor.

Walking and biking along Drake is also a pain. As a 35-mph roadway with narrow and sometimes nonexistent sidewalks, it is impossible to feel welcome either on foot or on bike, a major problem for kids and their parents, as well as those who don’t have their own car.

But Sir Francis Drake isn’t just a traffic sewer. North of Bon Air, Drake serves as a main street for Kentfield and College of Marin, and a vital access to Bacich Elementary and Marin Catholic High schools. How to connect these uses together with the high-capacity roadway to the south is a quite challenging question.

Design advice

Though it’s important to lay out priorities before tackling a planning problem, along this corridor the traffic concern is overriding. So, instead of laying out priorities, let’s lay out the tools in our toolbox:

  • Intersection Design
  • Segmenting travel modes
  • Adding car lanes

Each of these will relieve some stress on the roadway, either by improving volume (the second two) or easing traffic flow generally (the first one). We also want to make sure that any additional lanes are consistent – it’s a bad idea to start a lane and then end it.

The presentation in October split up Drake into 4 segments: Ross Limits to Broadway; Broadway to Wolfe Grade; Wolfe Grade to El Portal; and El Portal to 101. Each segment’s right-of-way (property line to property line) is a different width, which makes planning consistently difficult.

Nevertheless, I’m unimpressed by the solutions presented. Unprotected bicycle lanes on a 35mph road will simply never be used. This might be excusable if there weren’t space for buffers, but a huge amount of space is dedicated to a center turning lane and median. As well, 11-foot lane widths, though a huge improvement to the 15-21-foot lanes, are wider than a city street ought to be. Lanes of 10 feet should be standard. For comparison, freeway lanes are generally 12 feet wide.

Here are current conditions, the county’s ideas, and my own ideas. Note that despite having protected bike lanes, there are no proposed eastbound traffic lanes cut, meaning the roadway's throughput will remain enhanced where it is most under pressure.

Segment 1: Ross Limits to Broadway

Hover over each of the following to see commentary.

Segment 2: Broadway to Wolfe Grade

Hover over each of the following to see commentary.

Segment 3a: Marin Catholic

Hover over each of the following to see commentary.

Segment 3b: Bon Air Road to El Portal

Hover over each of the following to see commentary.

Segment 4: El Portal to Highway 101

Hover over each of the following to see commentary.

Protected bike lanes drive bicycling use

The reason I have added protected bicycle lanes to each segment is because they push for a relatively fantastic increase in cycling use. At the moment, just 1 percent of users along Drake are on bike, probably in part because of how difficult it is to bike along the route. Boosting that percentage even a bit - to 5 percent - could do a lot to cut down on traffic, especially around school times.

Congestion is the result of a tipping point, where the traffic levels rise just a bit too much, causing speeds to fall off a cliff. Taking just a few trips off the road can have an outsize effect on congestion levels. When paired with a wider road, as both the county and I propose, it should do wonders to cut down on traffic. The lanes may also soak up some of the induced demand from driving that occurs whenever a road's capacity is increased, prolonging the usefulness of this improvement.

Intersection Design

For each of the proposals I generated, intersections should be redesigned to allow the easy flow of people in all modes. Check out the full presentation for info on the proposed intersections, which do a great job for pedestrians, but they are insufficient for protected bicycle lanes. I've uploaded some options from the NACTO bicycle guide below.

If you're going to go to the meeting at this last minute - I myself only found out about it today - then get yourself to College of Marin at 7pm, Fusselman Hall 120. 

Downtown Novato is a better place for a train

Novato's old station. Image by Jeff on Flickr.

Novato's old station. Image by Jeff on Flickr.

Novato is reconsidering its decision to push SMART out of downtown Novato and adjacent to Fireman's Fund. While the calculus seems to be based around the decision by Fireman's Fund to move, population and jobs numbers today show a downtown location makes much more sense.

Generally speaking, planners define the the catchment area of a train station as a 15 minute walk, or a roughly half-mile radius circle around the station location. Using this metric, the Fireman's Fund station hosts about 650 jobs, down quite a bit from its peak of 2,400 jobs in 2000. It's also near 571 people who might want to take the train north or south. Around the downtown station, however, there are still 2,400 jobs and nearly 1,100 people.*

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the downtown station area will serve more people and more jobs, but it's worth quantifying the effect on ridership. Using a back-of-the-envelope ridership calculator,** moving the station from Fireman's Fund to Atherton will result in a roughly 4% ridership boost to the system.

More than that, downtown Novato is a much more walkable and livable part of the city than the Fireman's Fund office park and may attract more non-commuter riders. It's a natural place for a transit station.

Novato should move its station posthaste. With SMART service coming in about 16 months, it can't afford to wait.

*Source: U.S. Census Bureau. 2015. OnTheMap Application. Longitudinal-Employer Household Dynamics Program. http://onthemap.ces.census.gov/

**Source: Transit Cooperative Research Program. Making Effective Fixed Guideway Transit Investments: Indicators of Success. Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board, 2014. Web. 5 Sept. 2015.

Four visions of a higher-speed Bay Area rail network

The Bay Area is a sprawling region, no doubt about it. It stretches from Napa Valley to Silicon Valley, Pacific Ocean to Sacramento River Delta, is nearly as large as New Jersey or Cyprus. Yet this size means its various economies are disconnected to such a degree that the Census Bureau has split it into two different metropolitan areas.

Dr. Alasdair Rae recently mapped the commuter flows throughout the Bay Area and found it was a hotbed of long-distance commuters, no surprise given this size. While driving is all well and good for some commuting, the resulting traffic means freeways are ineffective at moving large numbers of people long distances at rush hour. Moderate to high-speed rail is the only solution that can provide a reliable and fast commute to stitch the region into a unified whole.

Adapted from the Asian Development Bank, Changing Course in Urban Transport: An Illustrated Guide. 

The basic map created by Dr. Rae is what he calls a “desire line” diagram: it draws a line between every census district that has 50 people or more commuting between the two. It can be the backbone of a new HSR system.

Image from Dr. Alasdair Rae. Click for his write-up.

Image from Dr. Alasdair Rae. Click for his write-up.

To my eyes, it's clear there are some major commuter axes. The primary center is doubtless San Francisco. The secondary centers are Oakland, Fremont, Silicon Valley, and San Jose. Tertiary centers are San Rafael, Santa Rosa, Napa, Fairfield, Richmond, Walnut Creek, and Livermore/Pleasanton. The corridors that link these together are prime candidates for higher-speed rail, with a top speed of 125mph and average speeds around 50mph, depending on stop spacing.

Four people – me, @TaupeAvenger, @aSmallTeapot, and @UrbanLifeSigns – took a turn drawing what might be an effective railway system based on the above. Each assumes Caltrain’s new electric trains will be standard throughout the system. BART, with its top speed of 80mph and 33mph average, will stay in place in each scenario.

My own plan focuses on the North Bay and the core:

The Edmondson Plan

This plan serves the North Bay commuter corridors at the expense of the South and East Bay. These corridors were better served by expanded lower-speed rail service, more akin to BART than the fancy moderate-to-high-speed rail service I envisioned. Gray lines here indicate moderate-speed connections between the twin branches.

TaupAvenger's plan:

The Taupe Plan

Taupe, too, focused on northern branches to Santa Rosa, Napa, and Sacramento and left the East Bay for another system, but he added a new rail crossing from Oakland to San Francisco, presumably using the Sacramento line. Particularly quirky is that the Napa line proceeds to San Francisco via San Rafael rather than Vallejo. Presumably, commuters from Napa to the East Bay will either transfer at San Francisco or utilize lower-speed transit.

Teapot's sketch went the extra step of labeling the lines:

The Teapot Plan

Unlike the Edmondson or Taupe plans, the Teapot plan includes a high-speed rail connection through Diablo Valley, though that line begins at Napa rather than Vallejo. Also of interest is that San Francisco lies only on Line 1. Even Marin, whose out-commuters tend to be destined for San Francisco, only get a BRT line to The City. On the upside, central cities are poor places for line termini, so running the line through Transbay Terminal makes a lot of sense.

Finally, Urban Life Signs sketched out this plan, including BART-speed segments (green) and California's statewide HSR (outline):

The Urban Life Signs plan

This system is more or less my own, with a key difference in that it includes San Jose-Diablo Valley service and a moderate-speed connection to Stockton. Placing the end of the Diablo Valley line at Walnut Creek may not make for the most attractive network, but it does serve the commuter flows best (notice the lack of commuting between Solano County and central Contra Costa in Dr. Rae's data).

At average speeds of 60mph, including time stopped at stations, these plans still won't allow a commuter to easily go from, say, Santa Rosa to San Jose in much less than 1:45 but it would be far more reliable than a car journey that same distance at rush hour. And it would be a huge improvement to the current transit system, takes 4:06 for the same journey.

A principal problem with our transit system is that our region lacks the hierarchy of transit service that it has in its road system. We have our local service (buses), arterial service (light rail) and expressway service (BART) but we lack good intercity highway service (high-speed rail). As a result, long-haul commuters must turn to cars and jam our roads.

So while these HSR plans may be rough and fantastical, and would be quite expensive, they do present a future that is worth considering.

New map coming to the store: Ithaca

In my new home of ithaca, New York, you can hear the trains go by every day, as freight rail uses old tracks running through town. For town residents and students, this is a painful reminder of how damn tough it is to get anywhere from Ithaca. Each blow of the horn makes us dream of passenger lines gone by.

To add fuel to the dreams, I've published a new map: Ithaca, 1921.

The map's current iteration. Click for full=sized map.

The map's current iteration. Click for full=sized map.

What's available now is just a draft, but I'm giving things a week for edits. Please let me know in the comments below how you think this map might be improved. If you're interested, the map can also now be preordered in the Map Store.

This was a side project when I needed a break from the the DC/Blatimore map. Unlike DC/Baltimore, the Ithaca map is very simple, with few lines and just a relative handful of stops.. In fact, the map was simple enough that I mapped out all service patterns, even those served by just one train per day.

Such a small project is remarkably satisfying, as the size cuts down on the tedium of data entry and labeling lines. If other projects take unexpectedly long, I may do other low-intensity maps.

So to all Ithacans: let me know how to make this better, and get one for your own wall. Ithaca may be Gorges, but it's got a history of steel and steam to celebrate, too.

Unbundling parking isn’t simple, but it’s worth it

Municipal parking policies were not created with bad intentions, or without some thought. Though they have evolved into somewhat mindless orthodoxy, they do still serve the purposes of managing parking supply. Undoing this supply-sided management scheme in favor of a demand-sided management scheme is not a simple task.

Unbundling parking, which involves separating the cost to rent a parking space from the cost to rent an apartment, is one vital tool in managing parking demand. To be effective, though, it will need to address the same issues bundled parking addresses.

So how might a city cope with the concerns opponents will raise when considering unbundling parking?

Parking will overflow into the streets!

This is a real concern. Parking minimums were originally enacted to stop drivers from taking over neighborhood streets. Simply abolishing them today without concern for the consequences would be wrongheaded.

The basic concern, ensuring neighborhoods near to downtown don’t get overwhelmed, is resolved by a residential parking permit program. The city gives or sells residents the right to the street parking in their neighborhood and also grants them the ability to temporarily give permission to their guests. All others are either strictly limited in how much time they can spend in a given space or are banned from parking in that zone entirely. To target the program more narrowly, perhaps dwellers of new apartments could be barred from receiving parking permits.

It will become impossible to park downtown!

With all of downtown’s parking demand now squeezed into its own borders, the city will have to get creative to manage it.

While the first impulse is to boost parking supply, generally parking problems are a result of poorly managed demand. Studies into the view that there’s “nowhere to park” have found that sentiment to generally be illusory. Even in Tiburon, a study into their downtown’s parking problems found that there was more than enough off-street parking to handle demand; people simply weren’t looking for it.

In San Francisco, their SFPark program addressed the issue with price signals. They lowered the price of parking in their garages, which were generally underutilized, and on low-demand side streets and raised the price of parking in high-demand main streets. Even though some prices went up, overall the average cost of parking declined and street spaces opened up.

Paired with this demand-based pricing – which would have as its goal one open space on each block – should be transportation demand management policies. These policies, proven effective in communities across the country, are designed to reduce driving and therefore parking demand. Reduced ZipCar memberships, taxi or Uber discounts, transit discounts, and bike-supportive services and infrastructure are all proven to reduce demand for parking.

In short, building new supply should be the last thing a city tries. It shouldn’t be taken off the table entirely – no tool should be – but managing demand is much cheaper and effective than shelling out $50,000+ for a new parking space. Once the cost/benefit ratio of adding new parking is greater than the ratio of demand management schemes, supply should be considered, but with care: each parking space will be one or more new trips to the garage on roads that might already be clogged.

Low-income people won’t be able to afford a parking space!

Sometimes, a family does need a car. Herding a gaggle of kids onto a bus isn’t terribly feasible, and commuting to, say, Oakland by transit just doesn’t work on a daily basis. But with parking spots going for upwards of $600 a month, a low-income family might not be able to afford it.

The simplest way to approach this conundrum is to determine the ratio of how much a parking space costs to rent to how much an apartment alone costs to rent, both at market value, and to apply that same ratio to the affordable apartment rent. Okay, that sounds less simple that it did in my head, so here’s an example.

Let’s say a market rate two-bedroom apartment goes for $2,400 a month alone and the attendant parking space costs $600 a month. Together, the market rate for this place is $3,000: 4/5ths going to the apartment and 1/5th going to parking. Since the building has unbundled parking, the $600 is an optional add-on.

Now, let’s say the maximum rent a very low income family can afford for a two-bedroom is $1,200.* If we apply the same ratios as before, the family should be charged 4/5ths of their rent for the apartment itself and 1/5th for the parking. Since this building also has unbundled parking, they are charged a maximum of $960 for the apartment (4/5ths of $1,200) and $240 for the parking spot (1/5th of $1,200), meaning the most they would pay is still the most they could afford.

While $240 still sounds like a lot to charge per month, consider it in the reverse. While a low-income family may want a car, they might want the $240 per month more. Bundled parking makes that choice for them; unbundled parking allows the family to make that choice for themselves. And, even if they do choose to take the parking spot, they won’t be paying more than one-third of their income.

You just irrationally hate parking!

No, I just really hate unnecessary traffic, and I hate it when government makes choices for people. Bundled parking, an outgrowth of the latter, causes the former.

Donald Shoup, professor of urban studies at UCLA, has said that free parking is like a fertility drug for cars. It removes the price signals that tell people maybe there’s a better way to move around and creates a shortage of the road space and parking required to support car trips.

As with any goods shortage, this means that what people don’t pay in money they pay in time: time spent in congestion, time spent hunting for a space, time spent walking from wherever that space was found. As IJ columnist Dick Spotswood observed recently, population density in and of itself doesn’t cause traffic. It’s the number of cars those people own, and how often they use them, that causes traffic.

This means the people who really do need a car, like the family with the gaggle of kids, the contractor heading to a job, or the long-haul commuter trying to get to work, will get stuck behind people who really don’t need a car but have one anyway, all thanks to decisions made on their behalf.

San Rafael and other cities should look carefully at how they manage their parking supply. If they stay on the same path, they will only make more problems for themselves and residents.

*It’s actually $1,138 in San Rafael (PDF), but I’m rounding up for the sake of example.

Mapping Ferries, Circles, Curves

I'm building contemporary subway-style maps of historic railway networks and updating everyone on the progress. You can buy or preorder here.

Diagrammatic transit maps, like the ones I’m building, have two primary principles: even stop spacing and clear, straight lines. There’s a lot more to it, of course, as the Transit Maps blog makes abundantly clear, but those are the basics.

Ferry lines throw one of these – straight lines – clear out the window.

The differences between the straight and curvy ferry lines are quite apparent.

When I first started to draft the DC/Baltimore map, I wanted to make sure the ferry lines were included but that they would be straight, dammit. This looked great on the great white vastness of a blank canvass. It looked less great when I started adding water. Suddenly, the ferries were travelling along the beach, or the docks were in the middle of the river. It was ugly and flew in the face of what we intuitively know about how ships work.

But I didn’t want to make the same mistakes as the Sydney ferry map, and the St. Petersburg map didn’t work with my stop symbology. I wanted to show the stop circles halfway on land, halfway off, with the ferry line easily sliding behind as it wound its way back to Baltimore.

This meant curves, and that meant circles, and that meant high school geometry:

Not really the work I did, but it's the basic problem, if I remember correctly. The rest involved tangents and sine/cosine stuff. I don't remember.

Not really the work I did, but it's the basic problem, if I remember correctly. The rest involved tangents and sine/cosine stuff. I don't remember.

After cutting the Illustrator-generated circles appropriately, I made it into a series of symbols I could paste together. Once a line is finished from Baltimore to wherever, I stitch each of the line segments together and move them onto the right layer. The final product doesn’t look quite as neat as the original straight line, but I think the result is pretty good.

From a historical perspective, there aren’t really ferry-fans in the same way there are railfans. Schedules, wharfs, and old maps are very difficult to find online, leaving me to hunt around on Google Maps for clues as to where a given ferry actually landed.

Of course, most of these towns don’t even exist anymore, if they ever were more than a pier in the middle of the countryside. That means the only way to know on which side of the river a wharf was is to look for the wharf road, which generally does still exist, or find some subdivision named for local geography.

All in all, this is a much more laborious process than a simple rail line, but it is well worth it. Many times, these ferry runs were the only easy way to get to remote river and island communities. Even if they only ran once a day or even once a week, they were a lifeline. I can only imagine what it was like to go on an overnight river cruise from Baltimore to West Point or Washington with the most backcountry of folk. The whole point of this project is to lift the veil of expertise that shrouds historic transportation networks, and this important part of the network is very much shrouded.