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Marin Transit’s Short-Range Transit Plan: My Commentary (Part 2)

With Marin Transit about to develop another Short-Range Transit Plan, I will do my best to provide in-depth commentary on how the proposed changes will impact the communities it will serve along each of the local routes, from big bus services to shuttles. Analysis provided are based from the findings laid out in its draft Short-Range Transit Plan (downloadable as a PDF here), which will be used in the June 2015 Monthly Meeting, which will host the Marin County Board of Supervisors from each district, plus representatives from the Cities of San Rafael, Novato, and Mill Valley. On this post, I will discuss the potential demise of the transit agency’s most popular bus line and its potential replacement.
To read an overview of the Short-Range Transit Plan, which includes potential changes once it is implemented, click here.

Above: The four bus routes that currently serve the Canal neighborhood today, Routes 23, 29, 35, and 36. With the 35 being considered for the chopping block, how will the other routes be adjusted to continue meeting the needs of the transit-rich community?
Goodbye to the 35?
Route 35 has been Marin Transit’s most productive bus line, carrying over 574,000 riders in FY2013-14. It may be a short loop service, operating between San Rafael Transit Center and the transit-rich Canal District, but its high transit use has been attributed to multiple factors, including a lower-than-average car ownership, high density, and proximity to commercial, industrial, and activity centers.

Despite its high productivity, the 35 only acts as one segment of a longer transit commute for many Canal residents and workers, many of whom continue on to other places within San Rafael, if not to other communities in Marin County. Not to mention, its popularity has spurred Marin Transit to find ways to make the short, yet vital loop more transit-friendly by increasing frequencies and improving transit accessibility. The segments that form its perimeter, namely E Francisco Boulevard, Bellam Avenue, Kerner Street, Canal Street, and Medway Road, attract hundreds of riders per day that the neighborhood now sees the following routes:

  • Route 23: originally operated between San Rafael Transit Center and Fairfax Manor, it was extended through the Canal District and now terminates at the Target shopping center on Shoreline Parkway (near the Home Depot) in August 2013. This route operates daily from 6am to 10:45pm weekdays and from 7am to 10pm weekends and holidays, all with hourly intervals.
  • Route 29: weekday-only service from 6:30am to 9:15pm, running every 30 to 60 minutes. Most trips continue on to Fairfax Manor via Sir Francis Drake and College of Marin, while a few peak period trips operate up to San Anselmo only.
  • Route 35: daily service from 5am to 2:30am, every 10 to 30 minutes on weekdays, every 30 minutes on weekends and holidays. Many trips continue on as Route 45 to and from Northgate Mall via Lincoln Avenue and Marin County Civic Center.
  • Route 36: weekday peak period-only service from 7am to 9am, and from 2:30pm to 6pm, operating every 30 to 60 minutes. This route continues south to Marin City via US-101 bus pads.

With the route’s popularity, Marin Transit is exploring options on how to finally achieve a high-frequency, high-quality transit service through this dense, diverse neighborhood. Based on its latest SRTP, they are looking at letting go of the 35 and replace it with the following (with my commentary in bullet points):

Introduce a new express route, Route 23X. Something I have never heard of until I read the SRTP last night, the 23X will operate as an “express” service between San Rafael Transit Center and San Anselmo Hub, with local service west of the hub to Fairfax Manor and east towards the Canal District. While this will partly duplicate the current 23 that goes to Target, introducing a new express route will definitely help riders get to and from destinations in the Ross Valley quicker and easier. The plan for this route is to operate it during weekday peak periods: from 6am to 10:30am, and from 2pm to 8pm, with hourly frequency.

  • If this is to be done, I hope that this will depart at :45 past so that transfer opportunities upon arrival at San Anselmo Hub will be impressive, especially if this is timed with a Route 228 that continues down to College of Marin, Marin General Hospital, and Greenbrae.
  • A :15 departure eastbound will allow additional ridership options for commuters heading to and from the Canal District should they get left behind by the 29 or 35 (which will then force the existing Route 23 to depart at :45 after to maintain 30 minute service; if we keep the departure for the regular 23 at :15 past, it will mean duplication issues with this new route).
  • The main concern I have with this route is the feasibility of an express service, especially the fact that Second and Third Streets can sometimes get heavily congested, especially during rush hour in both directions. Not to mention, Sir Francis Drake immediately west of Center Street can be notoriously jammed with commuters, which can stretch as far back as Sir Francis Drake High School. If we want to attain quality express service on this corridor, significant traffic management improvements must be done in order for the buses to run through those corridors quickly and efficiently by upgrading traffic signals to give transit buses priority, as well as installing automatic vehicle locator (AVL) on all vehicles to allow real-time information on when the next bus arrives, and ensure that punctuality and reliability play key roles in enhancing this experimental service.
  • Another cool idea for this line is to operate this route in a clockwise loop (instead of counterclockwise, which the 35 and 36 do) through the Canal so that it won’t have to compete against the articulated buses running behind a standard-sized bus (the most likely bus type that will be deployed on this line). It will also allow riders to choose how they get home (through either the clockwise or counterclockwise loop), which will make their trip more flexible.

Enhance Route 36. This will mean upgrading it to become a daily service, with an additional stop at Strawberry Village to provide timed transfers for services to and from Tiburon and Mill Valley. The proposal is to operate it with 30 minute intervals from 6:30am to 8:15pm.

  • I suspect that this route will leave San Rafael Transit Center at :15 and :45 past the hour, complementing existing services on the Routes 17 and 70. 
  • The next question I have for this change is, how will this new service affect operations of Route 27, which provides midday service between San Rafael Transit Center and San Francisco Financial District, stopping at Lucky Drive and Corte Madera/Tamalpais Drive bus pads? Will this create a duplication issue, especially some riders actually use the 27 when they get left behind by a preceding 17, 70, or 71 bus?

A massive service increase will be made on Route 45. In the current setup, Route 35 interlines with Route 45 at San Rafael Transit Center, giving riders a one-seat service between the Canal District, Marin County Civic Center, and Northgate Mall. This setup is provided hourly everyday, with both lines leaving on the hour on weekdays (7am to 9pm) and at :30 past the hour on weekends (7:30am to 7:30pm). In the SRTP, Marin Transit plans to shift the all-day-until-the-wee-hours service found on the 35 today to the 45 by making significant improvements, most notably by consolidating the current Route 35 to provide one continuous service through the Canal, and extending it far beyond Northgate Mall to serve US-101 bus pads between Lucas Valley and Rowland and end in Downtown Novato. With this setup, a significant boost in service can be found for the Novato-San Rafael corridor by possibly operating trips as late as 2am out of San Rafael Transit Center and get home to Novato even after the last 70 leaves San Rafael.

  • With this setup, the 71 can either be relegated to a weekday-only service as both the 45 and 71 would duplicate each other north of Terra Linda. However, the SRTP plans to upgrade the 71 and make it into a “limited stop” service (see previous post), which will give riders another choice to ride between San Rafael and Novato with far fewer stops than the 45 or 49. For me, having at least three big bus routes doing San Rafael-Novato will truly bring a greater sense of convenience by giving transit riders even more mobility options to travel this heavily-traveled corridor, and it will give more riders one-seat rides that will make their trips more reliable and consistent.
  • This, for me, is a perfect setup for a true trunkline service since this line will ultimately garner the most amount of riders in any given day, and linking together some of the most popular attractions in one line (namely, Downtown Novato, Northgate Mall, Marin Civic Center, San Rafael Transit Center, and Canal), it will definitely be a smash-hit.
  • Should this will be implemented full-time, I believe this line should leave on the hour and :30 past to allow consistency with the current departure times on the 35. However, I sense that it will run the risk of losing passengers who might want to ride the 70 instead for an even faster service between San Rafael and Novato, in which timings would be studied to ensure that the ridership impact between the two lines running together will be minimal.

Despite the excellent ideas, one route through the Canal will see significant reductions in service. Route 29, currently operating weekdays only between San Rafael Transit Center and Fairfax Manor via the Canal District, Andersen Drive, Larkspur Landing, Marin General Hospital, College of Marin, and San Anselmo, will see an extensive modification in service and service span. Based on the SRTP, the route will ax the Andersen Drive segment of the route, as well as the segment west of College of Marin, and will instead operate in this pattern:

Southbound: Canal – San Rafael – Larkspur Landing – Greenbrae – College of Marin – Marin General
Northbound: Marin General – Greenbrae – Larkspur Landing – San Rafael – Canal

(Note: the College of Marin to Marin General Hospital then back to Greenbrae portion of the route will operate as one, continuous, counterclockwise loop. No clockwise loop will be provided)

Not helping matters is the fact that its run times will be shortened to operate weekday, peak-periods only. In particular, it is proposed to be operated at the following times, all with hourly frequencies:

AM peak: 6:30 to 10:15am
PM peak: 2:00 to 9:15pm

I find this one as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, this reduction in service will force riders to use Routes 23 and 23X to get to San Anselmo and Fairfax (which will mean faster commutes for so many people). On the other (and more important) hand, this will allow riders to get to the College of Marin and Marin General Hospital much faster by letting the bus run express along US-101 between San Rafael Transit Center and Larkspur Landing so that it will get to Sir Francis Drake much faster than meandering through the low-ridership sections of Andersen Drive and San Quentin. Passengers bound for Ross and southern section of San Anselmo will need to transfer at either College of Marin (and switch to the 22) or Larkspur Landing (and switch to the 228). The next questions I have for this line are: 

  • If a one-line service is to be maintained between the Canal and College of Marin, should this have a greater span of service to mitigate the loss of midday service?
  • Should Route 228 be rerouted to serve Andersen Drive to address a potential gap in service that will be created as a result of the loss of service from the 29?
  • If the Route 29 is to operate at those times, should the Routes 228 and 29 run alongside each other and form 30-minute headways during peak periods to allow consistency and better coverage on the east Sir Francis Drake corridor?

On Part 3, I will be commenting on how the current services to Novato will be impacted by the SRTP.

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