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SRPD: Marin cities may be warming to SMART
Wednesday 15 Oct 2008, 07:15
Filed under: bicycle, Marin, Novato, Railroad, SMART, trails, transit

note: two scientific polls have been done done there, and majority wants SMART. In two internet, easily manipulated polls, majority didn’t want SMART. Guess which two I’ll believe?

Looks like Larkspur might put in a moving walkway between the ferry and the SMART train station, making it easier and nicer for people.

Larkspur council may endorse rail plan; uptick of support in San Rafael


Published: Wednesday, October 15, 2008 at 4:40 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 15, 2008 at 4:59 a.m.

A change of heart at Larkspur City Hall and a poll in San Rafael suggest that Marin County’s political landscape may be shifting in favor of the proposed 70-mile commuter train from Cloverdale to Larkspur, which needs voter approval of a sales tax Nov. 4 in two counties to move forward.

“It’s entirely possible,” San Rafael civic activist Jonathan Frieman said.

Dan Hillmer, the Larkspur city councilman proposing a pro-SMART collaboration — instead of opposition — between his city and Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit’s proposed train, said it amounts to political movement.

“This is a shift,” Hillmer said.

Hillmer, an architect and urban designer, also wants to bridge the 300-yard gap between the train’s Larkspur station, its southern terminus, and the Larkspur ferry, possibly with an elevated moving walkway spanning Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.

“One of the big complaints” about SMART, he said, is the gap, the basis for comments that the commuter line is a “train to nowhere.”

“Well, let’s connect them,” Hillmer said, contending that an easy, no-waiting-time conveyance from the train to ferry would “get more people on the train.”

In 2006, when a quarter-cent sales tax to support the SMART train narrowly failed, Larkspur was the lone Marin council to oppose the measure.

Tonight, the council is scheduled to consider both a multi-agency planning effort for the Larkspur Landing area, where the train would stop, and an endorsement of Measure Q, the revived sales tax measure on next month’s ballot in Sonoma and Marin counties.

Hillmer and other Larkspur officials have said the council will either endorse the tax measure or take no official position.

“I hope they will decide to work with us,” said Charles McGlashan, president of the Marin Board of Supervisors and SMART board chairman.

SMART’s board is expected to approve the Larkspur Landing planning effort today, he said.

Two years ago, 70 percent of Sonoma County voters favored the rail tax, but a 57.5 percent “yes” vote in Marin pulled the two-county total down to 65 percent, just short of the 66 percent vote needed for approval.

Hillmer, who said he is “not enthusiastic” about the train, nonetheless said he personally will vote for Measure Q and its endorsement by the Larkspur council because the North Bay needs a transit plan.

Frieman said his online opinion poll, conducted in August, found that 47 percent of San Rafael voters “strongly support” SMART and 24 percent more are “somewhat in support.” One-fourth of the 575 voters responding to the poll said they were “somewhat against” or “very much against” the train.

That could reflect a train-friendly sentiment, Frieman said, but he noted that Novato remains a pocket of opposition, largely because of the prospect of freight trains sharing the SMART rail line through that city.

The Marin Conservation League, which fought the rail tax in 2006, remains opposed to SMART, contending it costs too much for too little environmental benefit. “It’s going to be a close race again,” said Roger Roberts, the league’s second vice president.

The $450 million rail system is expected to handle 5,300 passenger trips per day.

SMART also suffers politically from a perception in Marin that it will primarily serve Sonoma residents commuting into Marin, rather than Marinites headed north to work, Hillmer and Frieman said.

Dick Spotswood, a Marin political columnist, said he has not detected a significant shift in voter sentiment. The Larkspur council’s apparent change of heart is a political reaction to the 55 percent pro-train vote in Larkspur two years ago, he said.

One factor favoring train advocates is an anticipated voter turnout of about 90 percent because of the presidential election, Spotswood said. Democrats dominate voter registration in the region and tend to support SMART, he said.

Marin voter turnout in 2006 was 74 percent; Sonoma County’s was 76 percent.

Hillmer acknowledged that many Marin voters may still view the train as a Sonoma-serving transit system. But the high cost of gasoline may shift votes to SMART, he said, and a quick train-to-ferry link could help the cause.

SMART officials bristle at the “train to nowhere” notion, saying they will provide a free shuttle to the ferry terminal.

Hillmer said his proposed moving walkway would be built adjacent to an existing pedestrian bridge over Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. “You can walk (the distance), but you won’t,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat


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