news SMART Pathway Victory – What It Means

A message from Executive Director Jim Elias

Policy & Planning Director with Jim Elias at SMART site. Photo: Beth Schlanker

On the eve of Thanksgiving, MCBC and Transportation Alternatives for Marin (TAM) came to agreement with the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit – hours ahead of our plans to file a lawsuit against SMART. While there is still more work before us, this stands as a big victory for bike and pedestrian advocates.

This campaign began nearly a year ago, when MCBC and TAM learned that SMART had submitted an Environmental Assessment for the rail segment from Second Street to Andersen Drive in San Rafael, while excluding the accompanying multiuse pathway. We considered that omission completely unacceptable and initiated efforts to inform the public.

Also unacceptable was the non-expenditure of Measure Q dollars toward the pathway. Passed in 2008 by Marin and Sonoma County voters, Measure Q promised that a rail and parallel pathway would connect the two counties, including all rail stations. However, it became evident that SMART planned to build less than three miles of pathway with Measure Q dollars, stating that nothing was left of the previously-dedicated funds.

For months, MCBC and TAM reached out to the SMART Board of Directors, elected officials, public agencies, school and community groups, and our thousands of supporters. Despite this, it remained clear that SMART wasn’t budging from its positions. That’s when we decided to prepare a lawsuit, contesting the adequacy of the Environmental Assessment.

The last possible filing date to legally challenge the Environmental Assessment was November 27, the day after Thanksgiving. Following multiple meetings, it looked increasingly unlikely that we would come to agreement with SMART. Filing seemed inevitable. It was only after a last-ditch day-long negotiation brokered by Congressman Jared Huffman that we were able to ultimately arrive at a settlement.

Here’s a brief outline of final terms:

  • SMART agreed to allow the pathway to be constructed from Andersen Drive to Second Street within the SMART right-of-way, unless upcoming studies show that to be impossible.
  • $1 million of outside funding was committed to the design, environmental clearance and construction of the pathway between Andersen and Second.
  • An Ad Hoc Committee will be formed in the next 60 days, composed of two SMART Board Directors, one representative from MCBC, one from Transportation Alternatives for Marin, and one from Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. This Committee will be tasked with developing a plan to prioritize uncompleted pathway and rail segments in both counties; estimate projected costs for each segment; and identify funding and potential grants toward the construction of those segments.

This was a big victory indeed – there’s much to celebrate. The Second to Andersen pathway segment is on the right track now. Start-up funding is in place. And pathway advocates have now re-established our rightful place at the table. Those are huge accomplishments and steps forward.

These results would not have been possible without the endless hours of commitment from key people. Patrick Seidler, Susie Weaver and Jess Willard of Transportation Alternatives for Marin, MCBC Board Director Eric Miller and Policy and Planning Director Alisha Oloughlin worked tirelessly – oftentimes late at night and through weekends – to arrive at our success. Thank you!

There’s still work to do, though: MCBC stands by its demand that SMART make good on its obligation to dedicate proportionate Measure Q funding to the pathway. We will continue to fight for those funds.

It is however in MCBC’s nature to seek collaboration over opposition. We are hopeful that we can enter a new era of partnership with SMART and begin working toward the shared vision of a completed rail and pathway.

Onward,

Jim Elias, Executive Director
Marin County Bicycle Coalition

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