The Traffic Nightmare in Marin

For the past two years, northbound afternoon traffic on Highway 101 has been backed up solid on weekdays for nine miles from Sausalito to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. But last year, pressure from Corte Madera and Larkspur killed a $143 million proposal to modernize that critical interchange ($7 million had already been spent on planning, engineering and environmental approvals).

Recently, the communities of Marinwood, Tam Valley, Strawberry and Santa Venetia have made clear they’ll refuse hundreds of thousands of dollars of neighborhood traffic improvements if it only slightly increases the likelihood that multifamily housing — some of it affordable — would be built near them, even though this housing would also be close to Highway 101.

That’s fine; although no vote was taken, apparently people in those communities have spoken, and that’s the democratic way. But for these folks to then complain about Marin’s traffic is a disconnect. My point is we can’t have it both ways — this isn’t the bucolic, suburban Marin of the 1960s. Traffic can’t effortlessly flow from Point A to Point B. Our old ways don’t work anymore.

Why? Because most of Marin’s roads — save for Highway 101, which has been considerably widened — were built more than 45 years ago, when Marin’s population was less than 200,000. Now we have 60,000 more residents and, by design, most of them live along Highway 101, or the City-Centered Corridor. This is where most of Marin’s traffic congestion occurs.

But, says Dianne Steinhauser, executive director of the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM), help is on the way. According to her, a $743 million project to widen Highway 101 from the Highway 37 turnoff to Redwood Highway in Petaluma is well under way. Also, says Steinhauser, “by 2015, expect to see ramp metering at all freeway on-ramps going northbound in southern Marin. That will help a lot.”

In addition, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is considering allocating $70 million for widening Sir Francis Drake Boulevard as it approaches the Richmond Bridge and adding a third lane on the bridge for eastbound commuter traffic. And don’t forget, SMART, the Sonoma-Marin commuter train that shadows Highway 101, is scheduled to reach Marin by 2016 (a feature story on SMART will appear in April’s Marin Magazine).

TAM’s Steinhauser also reports the Safe Routes to School program has seen a 20 percent reduction in single-occupant vehicle trips to neighborhood schools over the past decade. “That program costs a million dollars a year,” she says, “and we receive statewide recognition for accomplishing that reduction.” Other TAM traffic-reducing programs include facilitating vanpools, social media ride sharing and telecommuting. TAM, with a $46 million budget, is the only body where every Marin governmental entity is represented. Representatives from all of Marin’s 11 cities, plus all five county supervisors, sit on its board.

The perception about traffic problems is that everyone, me included, thinks other people cause it. The reality is, every one of us, the minute we start driving our car, is creating traffic. Maybe someone will make a “Traffic R Us” bumper sticker.

Steinhauser agrees. “It would dramatically reduce Marin’s traffic if — before we jump in our cars and drive off — we all make an effort to stay home and telecommute one day a week; link our errands and make one trip instead of three; ask teenagers to take their bike once in a while; teach our kids to walk or bike to school; crank up our courage and take the bus occasionally; ride in a vanpool one day a week and, next time we go to a Giants game, take the ferry right to AT&T Park.”

Dianne Steinhauser concludes, “Think of it as being part of a team that’s making a big difference.” In Marin, we all have a role in reducing traffic congestion. That’s my point of view. What’s yours?

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This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition under the headline: “The Traffic Nightmare