Tomorrow, TAM will solicit comments on the misleadingly-named Central Marin Ferry Connection Multi-Use Pathway Project, a bike and pedestrian bridge from the Larkspur Landing SMART station over Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. This project, the largest near-term project in the city, would connect with the existing path across Corte Madera Creek and under Highway 101. A second phase would extend the bridge across the creek, although there are no concrete plans at the moment for this phase.
The area around the Greenbrae Interchange is a pedestrian wasteland, but at least the planners in charge of the project made some nods to access, putting in a paved path beneath the interchange and small (less than 5-foot wide) sidewalks along the on and off ramps to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.
Still, it needs some dramatic improvements. Apart from needed reforms of Larkspur Landing as a whole, the future SMART station and Cal Park Hill Tunnel need strong connections to points south and west. Perched on a steep hill, the station site and tunnel exit are accessible only by a 7 minute circuitous route along Drake, Larkspur Landing Circle, and through parking lots.
The first phase of this project is a worthy bicycle investment. Creating a coherent bicycle path along the 101 corridor would provide a backbone for the non-motorized transportation network in Marin, just as 101 provides a backbone for the motorized network. Stairs and a crosswalk across Drake would be far less expensive but would force riders to dismount, diminishing the attractiveness of the just-completed Cal Park Hill Tunnel. A bridge across the street would make the north-south connection seamless. It wouldn’t demolish the rail trestle or interfere with that right-of-way, keeping the door open to rail expansion into South Marin, and it wouldn’t further deaden Drake, as there’s nothing to activate.
Those stairs, however, should still be planned to provide easy access between the SMART station and the north sidewalk. Although they should not be built until the station goes in, building the bridge to allow for stairs would reduce costs later.
The second phase of construction, a new bike and pedestrian bridge across Corte Madera Creek, is not quite as worthy. Improving the mixed-use crossing of Corte Madera Creek is already a part of the broader Greenbrae Interchange project; why spend millions on a duplicate effort? The only improvement over the sidewalk would be a single jump from the hill to the south side of the creek, but the bridge’s alignment is not favorable. Unless the railway trestle comes down (taking southern SMART expansion off the table for the foreseeable future), such a bridge will extend to the Greenbrae Boardwalk and away from the on-street cycle route. Still, there are, as yet, no formal plans, so the second phase may not even come to fruition.
I’m typically opposed to pedestrian overpasses, as they deaden streetlife on busy streets, typically where streetlife is needed most. They’re expensive alternatives to fixing the traffic that’s actually wrong with the city. However, for the Greenbrae Interchange, an exception can be made. The Interchange is at capacity, partially because of high demand for ferry travel, and a huge number of buses pass by along 101. Downgrading the intersection to make it safe for pedestrians would hurt transit riders as well as vehicular traffic, without much benefit. There is very little in the immediate vicinity, and very little room for improvement. A bridge offers riders a far better experience than stairs and maintains the current interchange capacity without much loss in streetlife.