Towns Support Efforts for Fairfax to San Rafael Trolley Study

San Anselmo, San Rafael and Fairfax officials have expressed support for the Transportation Authority of Marin to seek One Bay Area funds to study if a trolley could connect the towns.


If you could take a trolley from Fairfax to San Rafael, would you use it?

Efforts are moving forward to look into just how rational it is to have a trolley - or some other sort of public transportation such as a light rail - connecting Fairfax, San Anselmo and San Rafael. 

The San Anselmo, San Rafael and Fairfax councils have all shown support for the Transportation Authority of Marin to apply for One Bay Area Grant funding for a feasibility study for the Fairfax to San Rafael transit corridor.

Transportation Authority of Marin Executive Director Dianne Steinhauser outlined the project details to the San Anselmo council at its Oct. 23 meeting.

The municipalities wouldn’t pay for the study, expected to cost $100,000, but each town would have a staff member serve on a technical advisory committee.

The TAM board will vote on which applications, including the Fairfax to San Rafael corridor study, will ultimately be submitted for the OBAG funds, awarded by the Oakland-based Metropolitan Transportation Commission

The route is currently proposed as running from White’s Hill in Fairfax to the future SMART station in San Rafael, or possibly to the Montecito Shopping Center, according to Steinhauser.

It could provide much traffic relief to Ross Valley, Steinhauser said. 

The study, which will be done by TAM with San Anselmo, Fairfax, San Rafael, Marin County, the local nonprofit Marin Trolley and Marin Transit, would look at:

  • Evaluation of route options, including assessment of traffic and parking impacts
  • Cost estimates for vehicles, capital improvements, maintenance and storage
  • A preliminary business plan for operation of the line, including estimated ridership and potential user groups
  • Revenue options, including fare revenue, advertising, private funding options and grants

The TAM board will vote on which project applications it will send to the One Bay Area Grant Program at its Nov. 29 meeting.



The San Anselmo council members generally expressed support for TAM to pursue the study, but they also shared some concerns they have with a trolley vision. 

“The trolley is a wonderful and romantic idea, but they are expensive,” said Councilman Jeff Kroot. 

Councilwoman Lori Lopin asked if the transit would include portions of Sleepy Hollow.

Vice Mayor Kay Coleman asked why the funds couldn’t be used to augment the bus service.

“We’re looking for a transit type that may attract more users to transit,” Steinhauser said. A trolley could be appealing because of the uniqueness of the vehicle and consistency of where it’s going, she said.

Of the 58 people who voted in our unscientific poll on the subject in June, 86 percent said there should be a trolley linking Fairfax to the San Rafael transit center.

Transportation officials were originally looking into a trolley system between downtown Sausalito and downtown Mill Valley. But after efforts began in 2007, it was determined it was too costly a venture for its limited destinations and usage.

The Fairfax to San Rafael corridor is better to study for a trolley, Steinhauser told the San Anselmo council.

Steinhauser also said they want to ensure that a trolley or any other type of new public transit doesn’t prevent bicycle and pedestrian access to the communities.

Later this week, we’ll look at what kind of vision those involved with the nonprofit Marin Trolley have for Marin.

What's your reaction? Do you like the idea of a trolley or light rail connecting the towns? Tell us below in the comments! 

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Brian Kelly October 29, 2012 at 05:29 PM
ride your bike
John Ferguson October 29, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Here's the thing - we need a transit option from the Ross Valley that does NOT share the road with cars. I don't really care if it's a dedicated bus lane (cheaper, less sexy than rail) or a 'trolley', but we need a way to get from Fairfax to/through San Anselmo and San Rafael to the transit center that eliminates the possibility of being stuck in traffic. Transit first means dedicated roadway or tracks for transit and emergency vehicles only. No 'green cars', no Lexus lanes. Get on the bus/train if you want to be to work on time. Do it. Now..
John Ferguson October 29, 2012 at 06:21 PM
If you really want to attract large numbers of commuters to transit, you have to do two things: 1. Make it reliable and consistent. 2. Make it as fast or faster than driving. If you achieve those two things, people will use it. If either of those two things are missing, they won't in any great number.
Elvis October 29, 2012 at 07:14 PM
trolley is a good idea to do an investigative study. Center blvd. was a train track in the past. the route could easily go all the way to san rafeal transit center. and the tunnel to woodacre could be reopened at a later date if needed. funny how golden gate transit is not involved. the bums left the 23 bus route to wither away and now a separate agency is actively pursuing riders. excellent.
David Edmondson October 30, 2012 at 12:40 AM
Agreed with John. The biggest structural issue is getting cars out of the way of the vehicle, whether a bus or a trolley, and that would mean closing off Center, what are now the westbound lanes of Miracle Mile, and at least one lane on Second and Third. As for cost, we can estimate based on similar projects. It would be a 3.9 mile line from the Parkade to the Transit Center, presumably double-tracked, and presumably with service every 10-15 minutes. Similar projects as extensions to existing systems cost between $35 million to $50 million, so for the infrastructure alone our system would cost $140 million to $200 million. The cost of the car barn and cars themselves would probably add at least another $20 million. To be as cost-effective as SMART it would need triple the ridership of Route 23, which should be enough to cover most of its operating cost. In contrast, running the 23 every 15 minutes every day from 6 to midnight would cost $2.8 million more than what we currently spend. Dedicated lanes would cost about $12 million. If they wanted, the lanes could be made "rail-ready" for when the buses become too crowded and they need an upgrade.
David Edmondson October 30, 2012 at 01:04 AM
The biggest governance issue is linking the trolley to land use. Transit and land use go hand-in-hand. It's great to introduce high-capacity transit to a corridor, but only if the corridor is either above capacity (Fairfax-San Rafael isn't) or is willing to create more density so society can get back its investment. For this trolley corridor, that would mean upzoning the highway commercial areas to be 3-6 stories, depending on location, and allow them to have mixed uses. It would be much more holistic than a typical housing element, and I just can't see either San Anselmo or San Rafael willing to do that.
Peter Muller October 30, 2012 at 01:25 PM
If the desire is to attract drivers from their cars, personal rapid transit should be considered. It may cost more up front but will be far more effective at relieving congestion. visit www.prtconsulting.com to learn more.
derrpa October 30, 2012 at 09:47 PM
hmmmm, a single track with a 2 way bike lane/pedestrian walkway parallel with the track.... more trolly cars could be used to deal with peak commute times....
John Ferguson October 30, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Uh oh.. Dave said a bad word. That little word 'Density'. That's the word that will get a whole bunch of organized opposition in Marin. I think Dave knows it, too. I don't disagree, I just fear the wrath of the solitarians. That's my completely invented term for those opposed to any change in Marin from how it was 30-40 years ago. I think we who read the Patch on a regular basis know who they are..
John Ferguson October 30, 2012 at 10:54 PM
Can you imagine dedicated bus lanes from Pastori Avenue in Fairfax all the way to the 101 corridor? I'd even be excited if they were one way only (reversible, for morning and evening commute times) I'd buy that for a dollar..
David Edmondson October 31, 2012 at 01:39 AM
I'm not opposed to a trolley in principal, but the likely cost to benefit ratio is just so high without land-use changes. $220 million could buy us 15 minute frequency on SMART ($120 million), SMART to Larkspur, a cycle track from Manor to San Rafael High, cycle tracks on every arterial in Novato, signal priority for the San Rafael-Fairfax corridor, 15 minute frequencies on Route 23 for 10 years and still leave a bit of money on the table. In essence, almost every transit and bicycling project I've mentioned on my blog could be bought by the sum likely being contemplated. So before we jump onto the trolley, we need to ask ourselves some serious questions about what problems we're solving and whether rails are the most cost-effective way to do it.
John Parnell October 31, 2012 at 03:47 AM
Can't we let one train bankrupt us before we do another? And John - I do hope you're not confusing repealianism with solitarianism. That's like saying a christian is actually a muslim, or a democrat is really in the tea party. Dave's right though - not enough people to make it work. "Build the density & they will ride" also needs to happen here to make it feasible. I'd rather stick the 5-6 story apartment buildings on Center Blvd though - so we don't give everybody asthma next to the highway. Who cares that there's not enough water to sustain this "sustainable development" - we can go desalinate. But if SMART is now your barometer for profitability, then this project isn't even worth the One Bay Area study. I love the trolley on St. Charles Ave in New Orleans, but Center Blvd isn't remotely the same. With that money, couldn't we do better? I'd rather buy every household in San Anselmo & Fairfax a plug-in Prius. But since our Governor is blackmailing us by putting our schools on a fiscal cliff, while going forward with the bullet train, then this trolley makes perfect sense. Who cares that our pension liability is unsustainable...let's build another train! Let's not forget that the state of our bus transit has recently been quite shaky. We're already diverting some of that money to one train when we shouldn't be...maybe we can just spread it around a bit more. I can't wait to see the traffic on SFD into Fairfax, after Center is closed.
John Parnell October 31, 2012 at 04:01 AM
I'd also like to suggest on a more serious note that MTC could save us $99,000, and give David Edmundson $1,000 for his study. A bit of optimism with a healthy dose of realism would be good for them. And then MTC could use what's leftover to buy a few more plants for the new atrium in its new $200 million palace.
David Edmondson October 31, 2012 at 05:41 AM
@John Parnell Center through San Anselmo is actually the least useful place to upzone - Yolanda and Lansdale both still have their TOD zones from the 1930s (the "neighborhood commercial" zones around those intersections) and there are a number of apartment buildings near the Hub. Around Good Earth and Fair-Anselm Plaza, sure, but otherwise it's the highway commercial zones from the Hub to West End that would need it. For the record, though I'd personally be okay with that I'd be surprised if the towns would be, hence my skepticism.
John Ferguson October 31, 2012 at 04:26 PM
@John Parnell, to a Druid Christians and Muslims look remarkably similar. Brothers separated at birth.. The idea of buying everyone in Ross Valley a plug in Prius fundamentally misrepresents the problem of sclerotic commute traffic. It won't help. If you actually build a better mousetrap, the little devils will in fact beat a path to your door.
Rico October 31, 2012 at 05:27 PM
I think Center Blvd. should not be closed to autos and trucks. Too many people use it for all reasons now. The amount of people needing to go from Fairfax to San Rafael is of a very high volume, but I would say that more than half of the people are not going to San Rafael, many more are using Sir Francis Drake Blvd. to go to the shopping centers like Bon Aire, Larkspur Landing, the Village and the Town Center Corte,Madera. Then, there are students going through the Ross Valley corridor who many are coming from west Marin in their autos to College of Marin, commuters who work in all the office buildings in Greenbrae, Larkspur, Corte Madera, all in south central Marin.There are many commuters and patients who go to MGH and the host of other medical and dental facilities in Kentfield, Greenbrae, Larkspur and Corte Madera. There also many commuters going to southern Marin to work in offices, restaurants, retail stores and medical- dental facilities in Mill Valley, Tiburon and Sausalito. Also, the Ferry terminal in E. Larkspur If the goal is to get people out of using their own personal transportation, then the efforts would be better spent putting the trolley underground, right under SFD all the way to the Larkspur ferry terminal, and then continuing the subway under 101 to Sausalito. The whole project should pre-paid for by the people who agree to buy ticket books in advance for 5 years. The costs of this project should not forced on everyone in Marin.
John Ferguson October 31, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Public transportation is not for everyone, but everyone should support improvements in public transportation. If you drive, you should support efforts to remove as many people from the roadways as possible - so you have more space!
Rico October 31, 2012 at 06:30 PM
I agree that public transportation is not for everyone, and probably only works for only a small percentage of residents in the central urban corridors who commute and are not business owners. But I totally disagree that everyone should pay for these special train projects that may not even reduce any auto traffic at all and only serve a small percentage of the urban population in central Marin. As for doing studies, OBAG and the MTC would do better to do a complete analysis of ALL the traffic going from Fairfax to San Anselmo. That should include; the point of origin of the trip, the final destination, the purpose, the frequency and the timing. That way the transportation officials , politicians, developers and taxpayers will have an understanding of what is really going on, and have a better understanding of prioritizing and allocating funds. I don't believe in the automatic socializing of funding train projects. The Sonoma Commute (SMART) train fiasco is a classic example of socialism gone bad- creating a special train tax district to force taxpayers from all corners of Marin to fund a train to serve Sonoma county. Once a truthful accurate study is done, then the people who claim that they will use any trains should pay for them well in advance, put their money where there mouth is. And remember, the Puerto Suello tunnel is essential to getting the Sonoma train (SMART) to downtown San Rafael. There are no studies or funding to rebuild that tunnel.
David Edmondson November 01, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Oddly, I agree with both of you. A study of transportation on the Fairfax-San Rafael corridor (also other problem corridors) and how to reduce per-capita car trips would be a fantastic use of OBAG and TAM money. I suspect improvements to the biking and walking infrastructure would be among the recommendations, along with some travel-demand mitigation measures like Clipper Card giveaways and improved bus service on the 23 and 29. The trolley study will be a measure of what it will take to bring rail back to the corridor, and that's going to be useful in and of itself. San Anselmo is mulling updates to its general plan; if a long-term goal is a trolley line, then the study will help inform the town how to proceed. At the same time, these kinds of projects should be socialized. It's the same reason the whole country subsidizes everyone else's road and transit projects, why Marin's carless still subsidize Highway 101, why GGBHTD subsidizes its bus service - good networks help everyone, not just those who use the system in question. There are ways to move the county beyond the automobile, and those need to be investigated to the benefit of the entire county and region.
David Edmondson November 01, 2012 at 08:20 PM
Haha! I'd be happy to do it for $60k+expenses, though it might take an extra month to re-learn GIS.
Rico November 01, 2012 at 09:14 PM
I think that the people who want and need to use public transportation already do. Personally, I was talking about the socializing of "special new train projects", not all existing public transit and roads. That corridor from Fairfax to San Anselmo has a very high volume of vehicular traffic, and while it would be nice to eliminate some of the congestion, I doubt any new train would eliminate any of the personal transportation vehicles through that area. Most of the traffic does not even go to San Rafael, much of the private vehicle trips through there originate beyond Fairfax in west Marin. People needing to drive from west Marin through the Ross Valley could park their autos and ride a bus (if they really wanted to), but that might not be very convenient, and where would all those people park in Fairfax ? The same would apply if there was an additional mode added, the trolley. The trolley would require luring passengers off of the existing buses, something that may not happen. Either way, it won't reduce the people that use their personal transportation, not in Marin. There are too many people that live far from the transportation corridor here. Some may think that is a bad thing, but most who live here like it that way. The only to way change that is to condemn all the thousands of houses not on or near a main artery. Marin really is much different than the rest of the region. Sorry, but we don't need to conform or transform into another urbanist's vision.
John Ferguson November 02, 2012 at 12:50 AM
Rubbish - if public transit of any modality in Marin were more convenient than driving to a specific destination and it remained so for a long enough period of time (say, 6 months to a year) then people who currently drive would switch. One fallacy in evaluating public transit is to make it all about accessibility (If people have a car available to use, they won't take the bus). It's mostly about convenience. If it were markedly less convenient to drive or more convenient to take the bus or train then you would see people switching to use the more convenient mode of transportation. You see the elevation of convenience in so many people's choices - those who own a car in metropolitan areas and rarely if ever use it. They keep it around for those times when it's convenient to use, regardless of whether it actually makes sense financially to own it. The insurance, registration, upkeep, etc. of owning a car are really a hedge against the inconvenience of wanting to drive somewhere and not having a car available. I know, you can rent a car, but it's just so.. inconvenient!
John Parnell November 02, 2012 at 02:18 AM
John - waitaminute...who's the druid...me or you? Or is it both of us, because we're long-lost brothers? I was never a D&D guy, but is a druid like a troll? Are them fightin' words Mr. Ferguson, or did you just invent a new internet taxonomy? David - We don't need an upzone anywhere in Marin. We don't have the water, or need. This is not D.C., where you're living - think of it more like Potomac. We are suburbia, so why does it make any sense to bring the big city to Marin? Marin fought the development of West Marin 40 years ago, but now it's ok, because it's "green" since it's big apartments on the highway. It doesn't make sense to me. This "new urbanism" is calling for a forced urbanization of our suburbia, all in the name of reducing GHG & forcing people to ride transit which they don't currently & won't. I find it ironic that this One Bay Area plan calls for reducing GHG by 15% from automobiles only, by pushing these high densities onto communities that don't want it; while Obama's new CAFE standards, technological development & consumer demand are going to reduce these numbers anyway. And just because I disagree with you, don't think for a minute that I don't want MTC to pay you. Also, don't fret yourself about your dichotomy of agreeing with both John & Ricardo. It doesn't mean you're schizo. After all, I really love trains. Let's not forget also, that we can not afford even our current bus system.
David Edmondson November 02, 2012 at 02:43 AM
Ugh, Potomac? Really? Marin is far, far better planned and developed than the DC suburbs and has a lot to teach the rest of the country about how to reinvent suburbia. Marin isn't perfect, though. No, the "upzoning" I'm thinking of isn't to make it like my DC neighborhood (that would be awful!) but to make the corridor more like downtown. Maybe call it cross-zoning? Basically, keep limits on form (height, setback, design review) but remove the limits on use (parking, use, unit density) so we get a boulevard that feels like a boulevard and less like a giant tree-lined strip mall. More Cheda Building, less Walgreens.
Rico November 02, 2012 at 05:23 AM
John, How long has public transit been available in Marin ? And how long have you lived in Marin ? I know that you grew up on the east coast in a big city where they have subways and other forms of public transit, but that doesn't mean that people everywhere live the same way as you did or do now. Back in the old days of Marin, we had a small train line, it was owned and operated by private for profit corporations, like all trains were out here. We also had the Greyhound buses, also run by a private corporation. The reason the trains went the way of the dinosaur is that Marin evolved and grew out of a very limited mode of transpo. People got tired of hoofing up and down the hill to catch trains to commute to the ferry boats. Buses filled the need , but were not profitable so now the buses are publicly funded. Buses are also limited in Marin. The people that need public transpo have been using it for decades, but that is not everyone in Marin. To compare Marin and the transportation needs to anywhere else is not very smart, and makes no sense to us. It is not so much about accessibility here, it is much more about availability. Why drive to a bus stop, park a car in a lot or on the street and ride a bus or train because there is no public transit anywhere near where people live ?. No, I don't need to rent a car, I have a car and a truck of my own. If you east coast trainhuggers love trains so much, build your own subway system right here.
Bob Hunter November 02, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Each day we have more and more elderly folks in FF and SA who are having a hard time making ends meet. A car is a huge expense for these people, many of them now single, have lived here a long time and should be able to stay here comfortably. Safe, convenient, clean public transport to San Rafael, the hospital, grocery and drug stores, and the malls would be welcome by them.
Bob Hunter November 02, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Do we really need to pin labels on each other? I don't think it helps us to find reasonable solutions to all the health problems cars cause.
John Ferguson November 02, 2012 at 05:01 PM
@Ricardo, you know nothing about me except what you've invented in your mind. You talk about 'us' when you should probably understand that you're talking about you. I'm simply making the point that we have a public transportation system already built - it's called the roadways. There may be a better, more efficient way to use that system than is currently in use. Now we have traffic gridlock at certain times of the day because everyone is going the same direction at the same time and almost everyone is taking up more space than they need to in an optimally designed system. I liked playing with trains as a kid, but I have no special affinity for them now. Perhaps the only thing I share with others on this topic is that I dislike spending more time than I need to sitting in traffic, so being someone that likes to solve problems rather than complain about them, I'm seeking a better way. This seems like something you might not have any concept of, so I can understand your confusion.
John Ferguson November 02, 2012 at 05:06 PM
@John Parnell: Not fighting words, simply an example from long ago. Those who don't understand history are kind of doomed to repeat it. Druids: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Druid). Christians and Muslims are remarkably similar to those who are neither. They worship the same God (with a capital 'G') and they share a remarkable number of the same prejudices. Life moves on, people and places change and there's very little that you or anyone else can do about it. Good luck with your attempts to paint Marin as a starving backwater incapable of and fiercely resistant to change. It's a rubbish argument..
Rico November 02, 2012 at 06:24 PM
What I don't understand is why these train promoters keep saying that we need clean, comfortable, safe public transportation when we already have it. Of course many people (especially seniors) rely on public transportation, my mother does not own a car, she uses the GGT buses that run right in front of her house. And I sport her to run errands in my car for trips to the library and shopping because she cannot use buses for hauling heavy books and bags of groceries, and the buses don't go everywhere either. And a trolley doesn't even go to one quarter of the places that a bus does, and would not help her at all because she lives in Larkspur. When we already have a good public transportation, but that system is struggling now and talking about cuts to service and layoffs, what are these people thinking when they talk about financing another new system (trolleys) ? Where is the money going to come from, the east bay ? I think before wasting any more money on studies for trolleys, we should work with what we have and improve it before doing any more lavish spending of money that we do not have on "special pet train projects". Look what happened with the trolley study in southern Marin. They found out that the trolley did not go to where most of the people live in Mill Valley and Sausalito and not many people would ever use it. I know that Marin is considered a wealthy county, but not everyone who lives here has more money than they know what to do with.


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