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.

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