Posted on Categories TransportationTags ,

SMART gets $22.5 million federal grant for Larkspur rail extension

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The extension of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit line from San Rafael to the ferry terminal at Larkspur was awarded a key federal grant Monday, a $22.5 million check that will help make the line more accessible for both commuters and Bay Area tourists.

The Federal Transit Administration grant virtually assures that the 2.1-mile section already under construction will have the $55.4 million needed to complete the job, now envisioned for the end of 2019.

While Congress set aside the funds in 2016, allocation of the money by the federal transportation bureaucracies was never assured, so the decision to release the funds was a huge relief and represents a significant accomplishment for the local rail agency, said Farhad Mansourian, SMART general manager.

“This is a big story,” Mansourian said. “We are one of five projects in the nation — out of a pipeline of 50-something — that has been approved.”

The project is important because it will make the transition between rail and ferry more convenient for commuters on the 43-mile line, and will also make the North Bay more accessible for tourists, Mansourian said. Riders currently take a shuttle bus between the ferry terminal and the downtown San Rafael rail station.

“When this is done, we’ll be connecting a regional ferry to a regional airport,” he said.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8205751-181/smart-gets-225-million-federal

Posted on Categories TransportationTags ,

Proposed Sonoma-Marin program envisions 200-bike fleet at SMART train stations

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Plans are underway for the North Bay’s new commuter rail system to be outfitted with as many as 200 bicycles for use by SMART riders getting to and from stations and their final destinations.

A joint proposal by Sonoma and Marin counties netted more than $800,000 in grant funding last month from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Once the money is disbursed, it will help launch the first large-scale, taxpayer-funded bike share program in the region — at train stops in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati and Petaluma, as well as Novato, San Rafael and the eventual Larkspur station now under construction.

The financial boost comes as SMART, now into its fourth month of operation between Santa Rosa and San Rafael, faces an unexpected surge in riders bringing their bikes aboard, straining space on some trains. The bike share program, which if everything goes smoothly will be ready in mid-2019, could help ease that crunch, according to local transportation planners.

“The direction that we’re looking at is really to add another first- and last-mile solution between SMART and nearby destinations,” said Dana Turrey, a planner with the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. “There’s been a larger number of bicycles trying to get on the trains than was expected, so we’re really seeing this as another way to get back and forth to and from the train and on short trips without using a car.”

Read more at: Proposed Sonoma-Marin program envisions 200-bike fleet at SMART train stations

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, TransportationTags , , , ,

Ferries, trains and automobiles: a somewhat SMART way for Sonoma County to do a weekend in San Francisco

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

I love train travel. I’m no expert on the viability of SMART, but I can tell you I won’t soon forget that ride. After passing Rohnert Park, we looked out on a thin ribbon of clouds just below the thickets of oak that crown the eastern mountains. Between Petaluma and Novato, we passed among wetlands where birds great and small hovered and glided over and dipped into shallow green waters. Along the route we saw vineyards and ranchettes, farms and grazing lands — most of them unseen from the freeway to our west, and all of them beheld from a fresh vista.

Call me crazy, but for the past year I’d wanted to take the SMART train and Golden Gate ferry to San Francisco.

Readers may remember that last year I wrote about traveling there with my wife, Carol, cruising by motor scooter along the back roads of Sonoma and Marin counties and across the Golden Gate Bridge. We had loved that adventure, and we were ready to try yet another way to get to “Baghdad-by-the-Bay”, as famed newspaper columnist Herb Caen used to call his town.

The wildfires that struck Oct. 9 didn’t change our plans, especially when our home remained safe and the threats of evacuation had passed. If anything, by the third weekend of October I was all the more ready for a break after two weeks of breathing smoke and covering stories in the ashes of Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood.

For anyone contemplating a “weekender” jaunt away from Sonoma County — for a Giants game, a concert, a bright-lights-big-city event — what we found venturing forth suggests both potential and some limitations of today’s North Bay public transit system.

We set out on a Friday morning for my maiden passage on SMART. The first challenge we faced was getting to the station. For that, I pulled out my smart phone and opened the Lyft ridesharing app. I’m not tech savvy, but I easily managed to request a ride. Within seven minutes we were seated in the back of a Kia sedan and on our way to the downtown Santa Rosa station. Cost: $11.96.

After stopping for a tasty hot chocolate at nearby Aroma Roasters, we walked past the historic stone train depot and climbed the platform. There we discovered that SMART was offering free rides that day due to the fires (normally the cost is $9.50 to San Rafael using a Clipper Card, which is accepted by all forms of public transportation in this story). A few minutes later the 8:31 a.m. train rolled up, and a highlight of our journey began.

Read more at: Ferries, trains and automobiles: a somewhat SMART way for Sonoma County to do a weekend in San Francisco

Posted on Categories TransportationTags , , ,

SMART eyes eastbound rail extension toward Solano County

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Up and running for less than three months on a portion of its planned 70-mile route, the North Bay’s new commuter rail line is pursuing a plan to branch out to Solano County, where it would connect with the national rail system running from coast to coast.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit system already owns 25 miles of track from Novato to the north end of Vallejo and would acquire use of the tracks from there to an Amtrak station at Suisun City.

“You gotta have a vision so you can get places,” said Farhad Mansourian, SMART general manager. At Suisun City, North Bay passengers could “go anywhere in the country,” he said.

The proposed extension, known as the Novato-Solano Hub, is included in the 2018 California State Rail Plan drafted by Caltrans as a blueprint for boosting ridership on the statewide rail and bus system from 110,000 daily trips currently to more than 1.3 million daily trips by 2040.

Read more at: SMART eyes eastbound rail extension toward Solano County

Posted on Categories TransportationTags , ,

SMART confronts crush of bike-toting commuters

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The North Bay’s new commuter rail line is proving popular among commuters with bicycles — so popular that SMART officials may eventually adjust the way they run trains to better accommodate passengers who bring their wheels on board.

Throughout September, SMART’s first full month of operations, trains usually carried about 250 to 300 bicycles daily on weekdays, and less than 100 daily on weekends, according to figures recently provided by the transit agency.

Those numbers scrambled expectations of some Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit leaders who thought more bicyclists would ride on the weekends and more commuters would choose to leave their bikes behind before hopping on a train.

“There are way more people riding their bikes than I expected,” said Deb Fudge, Windsor mayor and the chairwoman of SMART’s board of directors. “That’s a good thing. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do in Sonoma County, is get people out of cars. And they’re doing it. And they’re getting to the stations lots of different ways.”

Fudge expected to see more people use the system’s bike lockers, available at all 10 stations. But many of those lockers have sat empty as more commuters instead brought their bikes to use trains.

Read more at: SMART confronts crush of bike-toting commuters | The Press Democrat –

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, TransportationTags , , ,

Commuters find joys, pains of using new SMART rail system 

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Five days a week, Wally Walston rides his bike less than 2 miles to the Cotati SMART station and rolls his two-wheeler aboard the train for a 32-minute trip to southern Novato.

In the past month Shaun Ralston has cycled to and from SMART stations in Sonoma and Marin counties. He also has combined his train trips with bus and ferry rides and been shuttled by Lyft, a ride-sharing service paid for by his employer, Sutter Health.

And Sharon Bringel last week said she was going to take her first SMART trip to her job in San Rafael. The decision came after watching a northbound train with a coworker on board zip by her car as it sat stuck in afternoon freeway traffic.

“When she passed us, I said, ‘Okay, we need to at least try this,’” said Bringel, who stopped by the Petaluma station on Thursday with her husband Don to purchase a Clipper Card, the payment method accepted by SMART and other regional transit services.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency attracted nearly 53,000 riders in its first three weeks of service, surpassing projections for the period of 46,800 passengers.

The biggest surprise has been the 15,000 weekend patrons, which is more than seven times greater than first anticipated.Even so, the majority of passengers still ride during the week, and interviews with a half-dozen commuters offered overwhelmingly positive reviews.

Read more at: Commuters find joys, pains of using new SMART rail system | The Press Democrat –

Posted on Categories TransportationTags , , ,

SMART reports higher-than-expected ridership over first three weeks of paid service 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

For more information about SMART schedule and fares, click here.

The first three weeks of operation for the North Bay’s new commuter train showed the rail line has continued to attract weekend riders in far greater numbers than initially anticipated, while the concentration of passengers with bicycles is prompting SMART officials to ponder how they accommodate those commuters going forward.

Trains carried nearly 53,000 passengers in the weeks after paid service began Aug. 26, well beyond the roughly 46,800 passengers the agency projected for that period, Farhad Mansourian, general manager of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency said Wednesday.

More than 15,600 of those riders were on weekends, Mansourian told SMART board, whose members reacted with clear surprise. The agency’s early projections foresaw just 300 daily riders on weekends.

Mansourian, in an interview after the board meeting, said during weekdays, when up to 3,000 daily riders were projected, the agency so far sees “no pattern” for ridership.“Some days are higher, some days are lower,” he said, declining to provide specifics. “Weekdays haven’t settled down yet.”

Read more at: SMART reports higher-than-expected ridership over first three weeks of paid service | The Press Democrat –

Posted on Categories TransportationTags , ,

SMART to launch full service August 25

Argus-Courier Staff, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit authority has been cleared by federal regulators and will begin service Aug. 25, the agency announced in a press release Thursday.

“We are proud to say that we are ready to roll,” said SMART Board of Directors Chairwoman Debora Fudge. “This is the result of years of hard work from SMART’s staff, its team of contractors and consultants, and Federal Railroad Administration Regional Administrator James Jordan and his team. Successfully opening a new transit system is a major accomplishment—and we will remember this day for generations to come.”

SMART train service will be free of charge on opening day. In celebration of the start of service, SMART will host a community grand opening event at 9 a.m. at its Santa Rosa downtown station, at 7 Fourth Street at Historic Railroad Square, and will begin running the full service schedule at 12:49 p.m.

After opening day, SMART fares for everyone will be 50 percent off the regular price through Labor Day, September 4. Regular fares will be in place on September 5.

“This is truly historic. We want to thank the public for their support, and for providing the North Bay with a state-of-the-art transportation system. This system will bring relief to commuters stuck on Highway 101 and provide a stress-free way to travel. It will also provide a major economic boost for both Marin and Sonoma counties,” said SMART Board Vice Chairwoman Kathrin Sears.

In connection with SMART’s start of service, several public transit agencies have developed new routes or adjusted existing ones to coordinate with the train’s schedule. SMART passengers receive transfer credits to make their connections when using Golden Gate Transit, Marin Transit, Petaluma Transit, Santa Rosa CityBus, or Sonoma County Transit.

Source: SMART to launch full service Aug. 25 | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA

Posted on Categories TransportationTags , ,

SMART advances path segments along tracks in Sonoma County 

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Segments of a bike and pedestrian path designed to skirt North Bay railroad tracks where occupied passenger trains are soon slated to run inched closer to reality under funding proposals advanced Wednesday.

One of the segments, a 1.2-mile path running along railroad tracks over the Petaluma River and under Highway 101 between Payran Street and Southpoint Boulevard in Petaluma, is now fully-funded, with construction plans in the works.

The other segment reviewed Wednesday would extend from Golf Course Drive in Rohnert Park to Todd Road south of Santa Rosa.

The timetable for the start of SMART’s passenger service, meanwhile, remains unclear.

Read more at: SMART advances path segments along tracks in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories TransportationTags , , ,

Sonoma County adds bus routes designed to serve SMART train users

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

With the start of North Bay passenger rail service expected to be just around the bend, public transit planners across Sonoma and Marin counties are busy trying to link up connections to the trains.

One of the more recent efforts involves Sonoma County Transit — operator of the county’s bus system — which on Monday unveiled new routes and a number of changes to existing ones to coordinate with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit trains.

The new “50-series” routes include connections to SMART stations from all corners of the county, as well as two “last-mile” shuttle buses for employees at the Airport Business Park, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center and the county’s administration center. Shuttles also will be available for Santa Rosa Junior College students.

Read more at: Sonoma County adds bus routes designed to serve SMART train users | The Press Democrat