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MIJ: CHARLES McGLASHAN: SMART train critical to green transportation strategy
Wednesday 27 Aug 2008, 06:42
Filed under: Marin, Railroad, SMART, Sonoma

MY FRIEND and colleague Hal Brown listed some great ideas for reducing car trips in his Marin Voice piece (“Some real alternatives to SMART,” Aug. 17).

Providing financial incentives for employees to carpool, walk, bike or take public transit is a necessary step to get cars off the road and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and it has been working well since the county introduced the Green Commute program last year.

Allowing and encouraging more telecommuting also can be an effective tool for employers to reduce vehicle trips by their employees.

But I disagree with Supervisor Brown’s argument that these are alternatives to Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit’s plan for a passenger train and pathway from Larkspur to Cloverdale. Instead, we should see these and other programs as companions to the SMART project.

Our planet is in trouble. Big trouble. Global climate change is real, and our window of time for addressing this crisis is quickly closing. We don’t need to do one or two things to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and shrink our carbon footprint, we need to do many things. That includes incentives, telecommuting and, yes, SMART.

Marin and Sonoma counties don’t have the kind of smokestack industries that many people associate with greenhouse gas pollution. Still, our carbon footprint in the North Bay is very large. Marin County’s per-capita emissions of 12.6 tons of greenhouse gases in the year 2000, for example, were higher than the
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per-capita emissions of California, the European Union, the U.K. and Japan.

The primary culprit is transportation. Overall, 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Marin and Sonoma are produced by transportation. That’s because we own a lot of cars – nearly one vehicle for every man, woman and child in the two counties – and we drive them a lot.

We drive because that’s what we’ve become used to doing, but we also drive because we don’t have a lot of good alternatives. As a society we have spent the past century building the infrastructure necessary to make the single-occupant vehicle the transport of choice for nearly everyone.

But we have come to the point where we have so many cars and so many drivers that the infrastructure can’t keep up with the demand, and that’s why traffic comes to a near standstill every morning and afternoon.

SMART isn’t the only answer to this problem. But it must be part of the answer. Just as we need buses and shuttles and ferries and carpools, we need SMART to serve as the backbone of a strong, interconnected two-county transportation system that gives our residents real, viable choices as they seek ways to reduce the number of miles they drive. One hundred years of habit can’t be changed overnight. It takes time, and it takes a variety of strategies. Court clerks and correctional officers can’t telecommute. Petaluma residents who work in San Rafael can’t walk to work.

SMART’s ridership studies project 5,300 passengers will use the train when it starts running. That number was produced when gas sold for less than $1.60 a gallon and before transit use reached record levels around the country and in California over the past two years. Even so, that minimum ridership will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Marin and Sonoma by a minimum of 31 million pounds a year – and that doesn’t take into account the thousands of people who will use SMART’s bicycle-pedestrian pathway or the shuttles that SMART will run to get train riders to work or school, hospitals or shopping areas. Neither does it account for increased bus ridership, which SMART’s EIR projects will ensue when SMART trains start running.

As Supervisor Brown noted, job growth in Marin has been robust, rising from 84,000 jobs in 1980 to 121,000 in 2000. Between 2000 and 2025, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission projects that more than 130,000 more jobs will be created in Marin and Sonoma counties. None of the North Bay residents who fill those jobs will need to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to get to work. But the great majority of them will have to use Highway 101. The MTC also projects that 122,000 more cars will use Marin’s and Sonoma’s roads by 2035, an increase of 22 percent.

SMART allows people to get out of their cars and get off of Highway 101.

For our planet and for our communities, for our working people and for our kids, for our tourists and for ourselves, we need SMART as a transportation alternative. On a 9-3 vote the Transportation Authority of Marin reached this same conclusion in endorsing SMART.

Charles McGlashan of Mill Valley is president of the Marin Board of Supervisors and the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District board.

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