The reexamination of the Larkspur Landing neighborhood is proceeding apace, and the city will start to consider the SMART Station Area Plan’s final documents tomorrow. However, the forces opposed to change in Marin are mobilizing opposition already, fueled by some ill-chosen words in the IJ and ideological misgivings about transit.
What is the Station Area Plan?
The station area plan (SAP) was put together by a citizen advisory committee over the course of about a year, with public meetings and community input the whole way. It studied the possibility of new office, housing, and retail development, and its possible impacts on traffic, parking, and transit. It described ways to ameliorate some of the existing problems and ways to ease the introduction of new development.
While it was described in the IJ as a housing plan for 900 new units in the Larkspur Landing neighborhood around the ferry terminal, this is inaccurate. It studied how up to that amount might accommodated in the neighborhood, but does not plan for this number. At best, it is a conceptual document with plans for infrastructure investment. A real housing plan would likely come as part of a new housing element or a broader zoning reform.
This is not a housing plan.
Why Larkspur Landing?
Larkspur Landing is a drivable bit of Larkspur centered around the once-eponymous Larkspur Landing Shopping Center, now called Marin Country Mart. It has the second-fastest-growing transit line in the county in the Larkspur Ferry and in all likelihood will soon be home to a SMART station. Plans for the Greenbrae Interchange will add a connection to the Highway 101 trunk line buses, giving easy access to the rest of Marin by transit.
It is a pass-through neighborhood. Commuters use it to travel to the Richmond Bridge, causing massive backups during the evening commute that spill onto northbound 101. The recently-approved Greenbrae Interchange Project will likely fix many of these issues, but fitting them into a broader plan to make the neighborhood a more livable one is important.
As well, Larkspur Landing is a good candidate for infill development. While the SAP is not a housing (or office, or retail) plan, it targets improvements with the idea of improving circulation and infrastructure in the neighborhood. It will be a transit and transportation hub, with easy access to the ferry, SMART, the region’s major trunk bus lines, and the North-South Greenway, our county cycling superhighway.
If the city ever decides it would be a good idea to add development or encourage new business to grow in that part of the city, the SAP’s studies of capacity and circulation at multiple population and job levels will be invaluable to that decision-making. Though that time is not now, advocates and opponents should know what they’re supporting and opposing.
How can we support a progressive Station Area Plan?
Opponents of any growth and change in Larkspur will fight for any mention of development in the SAP, believing it to be a “housing plan” and crippling its ability to improve the neighborhood. Supporters of a livable Larkspur should argue strenuously for maximizing the flexibility of the plan.
This means defending the land use portion of the SAP, which rests on the commonly accepted understanding that transit-oriented development promotes transit ridership. Though opponents have tried to tear down the concept, it holds true in the settings where it has been applied rigorously.
A recent study of rail-oriented development in New Jersey found that it is the density of bus stops – not proximity to rail or the newness of development – that is best correlated with transit use. The Larkspur SAP, by its proximity to the 25, 28, 29, and soon the 101 bus trunk, will fit that category.
The old-school TOD in Marin, oriented around buses, has led to the highest transit mode-share in the Bay Area outside of San Francisco, showing the truth of this concept in Marin's suburban setting.
Arlington County, VA, dramatically increased its population in 40 years by growing only on the 5 percent of its land immediately next to transit. The result has been no increase in traffic. Though its densities are more suited to the Peninsula than Marin, there's no reason for the model to fail on a smaller scale in the Marin setting.
Most importantly, the real traffic savings in transit-oriented development isn’t in moving trips from car to transit; it’s from moving trips from car to foot and bike. Not every trip can (or should) be so moved, but well-designed places give people the opportunity for productive use of their feet. If you lived in downtown Larkspur, your kids could walk to school; you could walk to get a haircut, get coffee, get a book, get new pet food, or do some light grocery shopping. Doing each of those trips on foot saves a mile or two from the roads and gives that road space to people who need or want to travel further.
A progressive SAP will give Larkspur the flexibility to build this way if it chooses but will not lock the city into this way of thinking if it feels the shopping center model is better than its downtown.
The SAP should aim for the best transportation future for the area: ameliorate traffic, promote the ferry-SMART connection, promote strong 101 bus connections, activate Sir Francis Drake and Larkspur Landing Circle as walking and biking streets, and examine ways to bring more counter-commuters to the ferry terminal.
What are the logistical challenges in Larkspur Landing?
A few of the challenges faced by Larkspur Landing are not within the scope of the SAP.
The biggest is the ferry’s legal capacity limits. At the moment, it may only do 42 catamaran trips per day, and it’s currently doing 37, not including ballgames. This is a problem that needs to be resolved, but it can only be done through a revised environmental impact report on the high-speed catamarans.
The next is traffic, which will be addressed by the Greenbrae project. Unfortunately, the project as passed didn’t include much benefit analysis, so it’s unknown at the moment how much traffic will be ameliorated by the bus, bike, and road improvements.
The last is the location of the SMART station, which is currently too far from the ferry terminal. Doing it right would mean moving the station either to the Marin Country Mart parking lot, which has space to spare, or to the ferry terminal itself. The SAP should keep this option open and encourage the SMART board to change its station site.
If you go (and you really should), the IJ published these details:
Larkspur will host a workshop about the Draft Station Area Plan and Station Area Plan Draft Environmental Impact Report from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 400 Magnolia Ave.
The workshop will explore the major land use policies, plans for various types of transportation and open space and recreation opportunities for the area.
From 4:30 to 5:25 p.m., an open house will be held with informational displays for viewing and opportunities for conversation with project consultants and city staff. From 6 to 7:30 p.m., there will be a formal presentation and question-and-answer session.
For more information, call 927-5110.