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Marin Transit’s Short-Range Transit Plan: Novato, North San Rafael to See Massive Service Adjustments (Part 3)

Marin Transit has been providing transportation service to the general public since 1964, and it continues to evolve after 50 years of operation. With the latest Short-Range Transit Plan (SRTP) in the drawing board, I will explore how it will address the ever-evolving mobility needs of north San Rafael and Novato, especially the communities of Golden Hinde, Terra Linda, Marinwood, Hamilton, and Ignacio.
For an overview of what changes are coming with Marin Transit’s Short-Range Transit Plan (SRTP), click here.

For my commentary on how the SRTP changes will affect the Canal neighborhood in San Rafael, click here.

Expand Route 45, Enhance Route 71
In what I believe would be Marin Transit’s most ambitious idea, it is looking to reallocating the current levels of service to the soon-to-be-eliminated Route 35 to the Route 45. Currently with 30-minute headways, the extension of the 45 on both north and southbound directions will establish an even larger one-seat service for both San Rafael and Novato as it is being expanded to:

  • Northbound: from Northgate Mall, eliminate Kaiser Hospital segment (no more 45K) and continue further north to Downtown Novato via current alignment of Routes 49 and 71. With this extension, several new stops will be established, from Lucas Valley/Smith Ranch Bus Pad all the way up to Redwood Blvd. & Olive Avenue. Once SMART starts service on Atherton Avenue, Route 45 will be extended to serve that train station.
  • Southbound: from its current terminus at San Rafael Transit Center, the 45 will be integrated with the future cancellation of the current 35 service, making the ride less confusing for so many riders. It will serve the Canal District in its normal, counterclockwise loop (same as the 35) before returning to San Rafael Transit Center and Novato.

With the 45 serving freeway stops along US-101 between Terra Linda and Novato, the current Route 71 will be modified to become a limited-stop service, with a southbound extension to Sausalito, giving riders from northern Marin County a new, direct, one-seat service to southern Marin (and eventually open a ferry connection). The plans include:

  • Novato: all stops will be served between Redwood & Olive and Ignacio/Bel Marin Keys bus pads. South of Ignacio, no stops will be made. For service to Alameda del Prado, use Routes 45 or 70. 
  • San Rafael: it will only stop at San Rafael Transit Center. For service to Marinwood and Lucas Valley/Smith Ranch Road bus pads, use Routes 45, 49, or 70. For Freitas Pkwy/Terra Linda and North San Pedro Road bus pads, use Route 70.
  • Larkspur and Corte Madera: no stops will be made at either Lucky Drive or Tamalpais Drive bus pads; use Routes 17, 27 (weekdays only), 36, or 70.
  • Mill Valley and Marin City: the 71 will serve Tiburon Wye and Seminary Drive bus pads, as well as the Marin City Hub on Donahue & Terners.
  • Sausalito: similar to the Routes 10, 17 and 92, the bus will stop on all stops along Broadway all the way to and from the Sausalito Ferry Terminal.

A downside, though: the 71 is planned to be operated weekdays only from 6am to 8:30pm, with hourly headways. However, this will give more riders direct cross-county services and lessen travel time for many commuters who work along the US-101 corridor and beyond.

Revive Daily Service on the 49, Cancel the 259
Given the immense popularity of the 259 (I can recall several instances where the shuttle van becomes overcrowded with students that it becomes standing room only) as a shuttle line, Marin Transit is looking to shakeup its South Novato Boulevard and Hamilton services to San Rafael by axing the community shuttle route 259 and reviving daily service on the 49. In addition, the 49 will see service improvements as well, including half-hourly services during peak periods and maintaining the level of service provided on the route all-day long. However, when I saw the span of service:

  • Weekdays: 6:15am to 8:15pm, every 30 to 60 minutes
  • Weekends and holidays: 7:00am to 9:00pm, every 60 minutes

I had doubts about the weekday service being shortened again because the current structure of the 259 is:

  • Weekdays: 7:45am to 11:00pm, every 60 minutes
  • Weekends and holidays: 7:00am to 11:30pm, every 60 minutes

And the two lines combine to form a half-hourly headway all day on most sections of the route, including Marin Civic Center, Northgate Mall, Hamilton, and South Novato Boulevard from 7:15am to 7:45pm. With the 49 taking over all services, there will be periods when the wait time will return to hourly instead of 30 minutes alternating between the 49 and 259.

These questions then came to mind:

  • Yes, I agree that the service should run every 30 minutes during peak periods, but why are we shortening the service span again to 8:15pm when the last trip northbound on the 259 leaves San Rafael at 8:45pm and reaches Novato a little after 9:30pm? The last trip is perfect for those last-minute passengers who may have missed their trips on the commuter runs or for those wanting to get home later at night.
  • Is there an opportunity to expand weekend service to start either one hour earlier (at 6:00am) or end an hour later (at 10:00pm) to somehow emulate the level of service found on the current 259? I mean, with this setup, the interlining between the 251 and 259 at nighttime will end, but I hope there will be some consideration on providing timely transfers between the 49 and 251, especially at nighttime.
  • The current 49 and 259 do not guarantee transfers to and from the Route 101, in which, in many instances, the southbound 259 leaves much earlier than the 101, while the 259 arrives minutes after the northbound 101 leaves, wasting precious time transferring at Downtown Novato. Can the 49 be better timed to allow seamless transfers at Downtown Novato to and from the Route 101 so that passengers will not need to backtrack through San Rafael Transit Center?
Focusing this time on the shuttle services, those will see a massive makeover.

Lincoln Avenue to Be Downgraded to Shuttles, More Daily Services to northern San Rafael
Currently, Routes 45 and 45K operate local services along Lincoln Avenue to and from Marin Civic Center, Northgate Mall, and Kaiser Hospital (45K only). And the Route 70 provides supplemental service along the corridor on early mornings and late nights daily. However, in the SRTP, the Lincoln Avenue corridor will see the 20-seater shuttle vans running along it instead of the big buses (from 35-footer to 60-footer articulated), significantly downsizing passenger capacity along the route.

Moreover, significant route adjustments will be made, including the introduction of one new shuttle line. The details include:

  • Route 245, a new, daily service operating between San Rafael Transit Center and Smith Ranch Road (at Contempo), running along Lincoln Avenue, Los Ranchitos Road, Northgate Mall, Kaiser Hospital, Scotty’s Market (at Freitas Pkwy & Del Ganado), Las Gallinas Avenue, and Lucas Valley/Smith Ranch Roads. It will run daily from 6:30am to 7:00pm, with hourly intervals. With this new route, the Golden Hinde neighborhood along Los Ranchitos Road and Smith Ranch Road (including the Regency Cinemas, Contempo, and Marin County Employment Development Department) will get daily transit service, a huge boost since for many, many years, those two areas have seen transit service during the weekdays only.
  • Route 257 will be adjusted slightly to serve Kaiser Hospital and Scotty’s Market (instead of going straight along Las Gallinas Avenue), as well as Marinwood Avenue and Miller Creek Middle School (instead of serving Smith Ranch Road and Marinwood bus pad). This will still operate weekdays only, however, this will mean the Marinwood Avenue segment of the route will be relegated to weekday-only operation (instead of daily currently with the 259).

While Route 233 will see no changes, I hope both Routes 245 and 257 will operate with a combined half-hourly frequency on the weekdays to allow more transit options for the neighborhoods along the route.

Which Shuttle Route Will Serve Bolling Circle in Hamilton?
The SRTP also calls for eventual transit service along Bolling Circle inside the former Hamilton Air Force Base where a lot of low-income residents live. The main question is with which route should the Bolling Circle extension should go to? Here are my analyses for the three most logical routes:

  • Allowing big buses on Bolling Drive with the Route 49 will bring massive relief for riders coming to and from this neighborhood because it is one of the primary routes people use to travel to Downtown Novato, Northgate Mall, Marin Civic Center, and San Rafael Transit Center, as well as providing great connections to other lines in Novato and San Rafael. The main concern I have with this idea: how will the big buses run along Randolph Drive and Bolling Circle, which have rolling hills and sometimes steep enbankments which might make riding and disembarking difficult for seniors and the handicapped? Most challenging would be appropriate stop locations, especially on the clockwise direction of Bolling Circle, where there is limited sidewalk access.
  • Route 251 currently operates daily between Hamilton Theatre Park-and-Ride and San Marin via Vintage Oaks and Downtown Novato. With a short extension via Bolling Circle, it will give riders a one-seat ride north to Downtown, Vintage Oaks, and San Marin High School without the need of a long walk to and from either Hamllton Theatre or Nave & Bolling Drive, saving them valuable time. However, this means transfer opportunities at Downtown Novato may be limited due to the fact that most routes that serve Redwood & Grant end at the next stop, at Olive Avenue (except for the 101, which comes hourly most of the time). And when the Hamilton SMART station opens, the Bolling Drive connection will significantly help attract more riders to use the shuttle to get to and from the train station for their onward trips to San Rafael and Sonoma County.
  • Route 257 currently operates weekdays only between San Rafael Transit Center and Indian Valley College via Northgate Mall, Smith Ranch Road, and Ignacio Blvd. If we let the 257 be extended through Bolling Drive, it will provide a one-seat service between Hamilton and the Marin County Employment Development Department on 120 N. Redwood Highway (the same place where many low-income residents get their benefits and look for job opportunities), which will be extremely beneficial to many riders. The flip side: with the service currently not operating on weekends and holidays, it will mean passengers will have to walk to and from either Hamilton Theatre or Nave & Bolling Drive, which could defeat the purpose for seniors and the handicapped who may benefit from this service.

On the next part, I will be discussing how the SRTP will affect services in the Ross Valley and Central Marin.

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