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MIJ: Trolley plan interests San Anselmo officials
Thursday 10 Apr 2008, 10:06
Filed under: Railroad, SMART | Tags:

Interesting thing here is that again only 5% of Marin takes public transit. Also this is being preposed as another feeder for the SMART train, boosting it’s chance of success.

By Rob Rogers
Article Launched: 04/10/2008 04:00:50 PM PDT

San Anselmo leaders have expressed interest in a plan for a streetcar line linking the Ross Valley to Southern Marin.

But the Town Council stopped short of allocating town funds to boost the idea.

“I’m a major advocate of this kind of transportation,” said Councilman Peter Breen. “But I don’t think we should be investing in it while a study is still being done.”

The “corridors plan,” which would place 11 trolley stops on a three-mile line between downtown Fairfax and San Rafael’s transportation center, is the brainchild of a pair of architects who see it as a way to tackle traffic as well as the lack of affordable housing. The two have identified six routes throughout Marin and hope to establish a demonstration line between Mill Valley and Sausalito.

“I’ve tried to promote workforce housing in Marin,” said Michael Rex, a San Anselmo resident who developed the idea with fellow architect Allan Nichol. “But whenever you try to add more people to an area, you get push-back from neighbors who think ‘more people, more cars.’ To achieve our land goals of infill and mixed-use development, we need to think about how we can get denser neighborhoods without adding more cars.”

Rex believes Marin residents are more likely to give up their cars for a streetcar than for a bus.

“Right now, less than 5 percent of Marin takes public transit. People see it as a second-class mode of transportation, used principally by those who are not able to afford or maintain a car,” Rex
said. “If we want friendlier, more pedestrian-oriented communities, we’re not going to succeed until we provide people with an alternative (to automobiles) that’s there when they want it and goes where they want to go in a fun, efficient, affordable manner.”

Rex and Nichol see the streetcar system as a potential east-west feeder to the proposed Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) passenger train system, which would run north and south along the Highway 101 corridor.

“We’re not looking at regional transit. We’re looking at a transit system that would get us Marinites around,” Rex said. “If the SMART rail comes in, how are workers going to get to their jobs from their stations? The trolley could also really promote bike riding. It’s hard to put your bike on a bus, but like a wheelchair, you can just roll it on a trolley.”

The idea of using the trolley as a link between the train, Marin’s downtown centers and the ferry terminals in Larkspur and Sausalito has caught the attention of public transit advocates.

“I met Allan Nichol few years ago at an event, and told him ‘SMART sounds fabulous, but how do you connect to it?'” said Mary O’Mara, executive director of MarinLink, a nonprofit acting as the trolley project’s financial sponsor. “He showed me this grandiose plan (for the trolley) and I said, we need this. It would be a wonderful way to bring the community together – all ages, all socio-economic groups could ride it.”

Vintage trolleys have been making a comeback since Portland, Ore. began its two-mile downtown system in 1991. Sacramento added a trolley to its light rail system in 1999, and the city is considering a $53 million, 2.2-mile streetcar link to West Sacramento. Los Angeles launched a wireless trolley system, with vehicle batteries charged by regenerative braking, for its Grove at Farmer’s Market in 2002. San Francisco has operated streetcars on its 5.8-mile Muni “F” line since 1988.

Rex and Nichol believe it would cost $20 million to $50 million to build a demonstration line between the Depot in Mill Valley and the Sausalito ferry terminal. Mill Valley, Sausalito and Marin County supervisors have each agreed to put $5,000 toward a feasibility study of the project.

Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at

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