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Plan to Repave and Widen Sir Francis Drake Through Samuel P. Taylor Almost Ready to Go

The winding stretch through Samuel P. Taylor State Park would lose several trees and most roadside parking.

After years of studies, reports and public debate, the Marin County Department of Public Works (DPW) is set to make its recommendation to the Board of Supervisors on how best to rehabilitate a 5.2-mile stretch of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard between Shafter Bridge (just west of Lagunitas) and Platform Bridge Road (just east of Olema).

This scenic stretch of road running alongside Lagunitas Creek through Samuel P. Taylor State Park is of particular interest to a plethora of environmental and user groups with often-conflicting ideas about the project.

Bicyclists, equestrians and advocates for native plants and wildlife—especially for the endangered salmon in the creek—were among the many parties that chimed in on the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) after it was released last May.

The final EIR addressing these public comments was published in January, and the DPW is now ready to move forward.

“It is my understanding that the director [DPW Director Farhad Mansourian] is going to be recommending the Mitigated Roadway Alternative,” says DPW Project Manager Dave Bernardi.

That alternative, one of four evaluated in the EIR, calls for replacing the drainage culverts that run under the road, repaving the road surface and widening it in places, and shoring up one slope along the roadway that is currently unstable—a process requiring the removal of eight trees. In addition, this option would add some retaining walls, block most of the currently existing informal pullouts to prohibit parking, and establish five paved pullouts for passing, not for parking.

The other alternatives that were considered included leaving the road as it is (the “No Project Alternative”); paving and replacing the culverts of the roadway as it currently exists but taking no steps to repair the unstable slope (the “Resurface Roadway Alternative”); and widening and straightening the roadway more extensively to provide longer sight lines and ostensibly improved safety, but at the cost of nine additional trees, mostly redwoods (the almost universally loathed “Option A”).

According to Bernardi, Option A is out. “The only trees that will be removed are those we’d need to take out to do the slide repair near Shafter Bridge. They’re mostly oaks and madrones. There’s just one redwood leaning toward the creek, and we won’t take it out if we don’t have to.”

Now the project will move on to the Board of Supervisors, which will pass on the adequacy of the final EIR and decide whether to go ahead with construction. The road work would be taking place in Supervisor Steve Kinsey’s District 4. Kinsey says he expects the EIR will be brought to the Board by late May.

“I have been working to fund and move this project forward since 2002,” says Kinsey. “I am confident that construction will start this year and the major road repaving will be done next year.”

Kinsey likes the mitigated alternative for limiting tree cutting to the single slope-repair site—“I support the protection of as many of the trees along the route as possible,” he says—and for its expected benefits to the creek and its fish populations. “I call the project a fish project with a road in it, because the work will reduce pollution from the roadway through the use of a special paving technique, natural filtration along the roadside, and reduction of roadside parking impacts on erosion.”

He also points to the project’s recreational benefits. “The project will greatly improve the safety and the enjoyment for bicyclists, who have been at great risk as the existing road edge has deteriorated.” Under the mitigated alternative with its new limitations on roadside parking, bicyclists using the popular route also wouldn’t have to worry about being “doored” or hit by cars on the shoulder.

But some area residents still aren’t sold on the project. Fairfax Mayor Larry Bragman and Council Member John Reed wrote a letter to the DPW and Board of Supervisors in February, expressing their concerns. The letter states that “widening the roadway will result in increased speeds of traffic, potentially increasing the frequency and severity of accidents.” It also says the improved roadway could lead to increased population growth in the area, and it questions removal of the informal pullouts along the road.

“My primary concern is access in the park,” says Reed. “Part of the plan calls for eliminating parking along the entire stretch except at Devil’s Gulch and the state park picnic and day-use area.” As Reed and Bragman’s letter points out, “Currently, residents enjoy access to the Inkwells, dozens of other creekside spots, and numerous hiking trails along the route. On a hot summer’s day, this is especially evident.”

Reed says he’s aware of the potential for increased sedimentation in the creek at some times of year from use of the social trails leading down to the water from the road, but he thinks with some effort, solutions could be found that would satisfy all parties.

“It’s frustrating having all the different sides,” he says of the complex issue, “but that’s democracy. You want it done right.”

Life in the Bubble April 18, 2011 at 04:01 PM
This road has needed repair for as long as I can remember. The notion that leaving a road potholed and in general disrepair makes it safer is short-sighted to say the least. While the construction of the Shafter pedestrian bridge a few years ago was nice, the project fell short. If the old RR bed on the opposite side of Sir Francis Drake Blvd. were paved (similar to the rest of the trail through SP Taylor Park), it would get nearly all cyclists off that section of road. As it is, people on road bikes (the majority of cyclists along that road) don't use the trail because the gravel bed causes frequent flats. Pave that section all the way through, and get nearly all cyclists off the road. Pave that section all the way through, and create a great recreation and transportation link for everyone.
Kelly Dunleavy O'Mara April 18, 2011 at 05:07 PM
the cycling path that runs from platform bridge road (i think that's the name of it?) to the camp entrance is great, but then you have to jump on the road with all the cracks and potholes and shoulder that ends abruptly into the dirt. so sketchy. was on it yesterday and it really needs to be repaved.
John Ferguson April 18, 2011 at 05:50 PM
Kelly, the paved path that runs from Platform bridge through Samuel Taylor to the park entrance is called the Cross Marin trail on the area maps. I doubt that most road cyclists would use the section between the Shafter bridge and the underpass just east of the park entrance because the transition is just too abrupt. And the roadway there is horrible and dangerous for everyone so they have to repave it. Once it's repaved and smooth, my guess is that at least 50% of the cyclists coming through that section will stay on the roadway and not take the path on the other side of the creek. Getting nearly all the cyclists off the roadway just isn't gonna happen, so let's just add the bike lane and we'll deal with it the same way we deal with traffic on all of West Marin roadways. I ride out there a lot and I find over 95% of the drivers I interact with are cautious and courteous.
Life in the Bubble April 18, 2011 at 06:26 PM
I'd agree that a proper bike lane with good shoulders is a great way to go. I do ride through there 50-100 times per year, as well. I've always had a nice vision of the Cross Marin Trail paved all the way to Shafter Dam. I have to imagine that the cost of paving a 10' wide multi use path (on a pancake flat former RR grade) is probably cheaper than fixing Sir Francis Drake Blvd AND increasing the shoulders to accommodate a bike lane. No trees to cut, no grading, and no widening necessary. As a cyclist or hiker/runner, you'd also have no cars whizzing past you. The bridge at the Shafter Bridge side is abrupt. It's nothing that couldn't be addressed with some signage, and flashing crosswalk lights like we have in the towns. I do occasionally ride on the gravel path on my road bike. There is always a worry about getting flats on the sharp gravel, and I've seen a few flats there. Most road cyclists avoid it because of the sharp gravel.
E. Williams April 20, 2011 at 03:44 PM
As far as cyclists, it's the same as Center vs. Lansdale and San Anselmo Ave. There are two types of cyclists: the tourists who don't know any better, and the entitled cyclists who can't be bothered with the stop signs and the pedestrians of the bike route, so they risk their lives on a road with an inadequate bike lane against motorists, many of whom are hostile. I think bikes should be illegal on Center, and on SFD through the park. There is a perfectly safe and viable alternative in the Cross Marin Trail.
Kelly Dunleavy O'Mara April 20, 2011 at 05:04 PM
I think there are probably more types of cyclists, just like there are more types of drivers. I don't think people (any people) really want to risk their lives or get badly hurt and if there's a viable alternative they will take it. Like other commenters have said, the Cross Marin Trail isn't really cross-Marin. It turns into a gravel path, which many cyclists simply can't ride on on their road bikes -- it's really hard to ride in dirt and gravel on a road bike, it causes crashes, flat tires, etc. I ride out there regularly and I regularly take the first half of the bike path, but have to get off it at the entrance to the campground because I can't ride in the gravel and I'm not even totally sure where the rest of the path goes after the gravel. It's not because I'm entitled and want to risk my life. I also try to avoid going through the park whenever possible, simply because I'm scared about getting hit. But, there's also times the path is closed -- I got all the way out there on Sunday and the path was closed and I had to go through the park to get home. So, I little compassion from the drivers would be nice.

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