Housing in Marin Part 1: Transit

Not exactly consistent While Novato is in the throes of a major debate on affordable housing brought on by the Association of Bay Area

Governments’ mandates, it is important to take a 30,000-foot look at Marin County’s urban character, which contributes so much to the appeal – and cost – of the county.  An excellent case is the Fairfax-San Rafael corridor.

Most of the cities in Marin advocate for improved density around transit centers.  There is a problem with this, however: the transit sucks.  In the Fairfax-San Rafael corridor, the lynchpin is San Anselmo’s Hub.  The Hub is served by six bus routes going east, west, and south, and about a third of town is within a half-mile radius.

San Anselmo-San Rafael

The basis of effective TOD is simple and easy to understand transit routes.  It should not be necessary for riders to memorize multiple schedules in order to use the system.  One of the great things about a car is that it gives the rider the capability to leave when they want; one isn’t beholden to a timetable, as one might be with a bus or train.

Increased frequency is one solution to the problem, as anyone who has ridden on New York’s subway can attest.  Show up, wait five minutes, and catch the train as it comes by.  If you missed it, there’s another one not so far behind.  Buses can function like this, too, with headways on certain MUNI routes approaching that of a subway.  In suburban environments, where such frequencies are uneconomical, creating a reliably consistent schedule is a good second-best option.

Unfortunately, the existing bus system from the Hub doesn’t cut it.  Headways alternate between 15 and 45 minutes for most of the day, forcing passengers to know not just one bus schedule but three, with each changing throughout the day.  This is no way to run a bus system.

There is, however, a better way.

Much better

In my scenario, I've averaged the headways to a maximum of 30 minutes all day.  Even with the variations from afternoon rush hour, a rider always knows that a bus will come in 30 minutes at most.  To create this scheme, I shifted the entire 23 schedule back by 15 minutes as well as a selection of the 22 departures.  Departures from the Fairfax Parkade to the Hub also become more regular, with headways declining from a maximum of 48 minutes to 35 minutes.

Similar patterns emerge for southbound routes.  Buses bound to the College of Marin – the last common stop between routes 22, 24, and 29 – have headways that vary between 20 and 40 minutes.  Although the 29 is well-timed with the ferry, such variations are unacceptable for travel within the corridor.

Balancing bus schedules is not easy: what’s been proposed here is only one option for one corridor.  Tackling this problem, however, is well worth the effort.  The constant push from the Association of Bay Area Governments for more housing under the “fair share” doctrine means that every town must look at places to build.  If Fairfax and San Anselmo want this housing to be a benefit rather than a sprawl-making burden, developing reliable and effective links to the rest of the County is imperative.  The cheapest way to start is through making the most of the transit we already have.