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From Patch Readers: Keep SMART Moving

One Patch reader hopes the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit agency will be able to bring a commuter rail to Marin soon.

Dear Editor,

A small minority of outspoken people to fund the SMART train and path for pedestrians and cyclists. Some are especially incensed over the path. This is odd, because a sidewalk is hardly a radical concept. 

Neither is a train. Logically, these critics should also be outraged over the chance to provide efficient public transit along the 101 corridor for everyone—including youth and elders who do not drive, and people who cannot afford a car. They should be outraged about the chance to reduce car traffic and car crashes, curtail large ugly parking lots, and improve air quality. But logic is not their strong suit.  

Clay Mitchell of the "Repeal SMART" campaign protests that "Taxpayer money is being spent at an alarming rate." But "alarming" is a relative concept. Large public works projects are expensive. Their cost is usually justified on the basis of public need.  

Compare the SMART project's estimated $380 million cost with the $921 million for six recent and pending improvements to Highway 101 in Marin and Sonoma. Of that total, $154 million is either already spent or already funded, while the rest—$767 million—awaits funding. 

SMART has already presented a sound, balanced budget. Let’s get moving.

-Elisabeth from Mill Valley

Elisabeth Thomas-Matej August 18, 2011 at 10:51 PM
Clay, like you, I advocate the "maximum benefit to the maximum number of taxpayers and other citizens." But we are approaching the topic from different information bases. Direct comparison between expected train ridership and car trips is invalid, because car travel is a notoriously inefficient transportation mode. This weakness has been recognized since the 1920s, when traffic engineering was a new profession. Highway systems force everyone to buy, fuel, insure, repair, and find parking for a car. That huge private expenditure is not even acknowledged in calculations for public highway systems. Further, cars spend most of their time parked, idly taking up space. Car sharing programs such as ZipCar are more efficient than private ownership, but mass transit is still the standard for efficiency. Trains and buses are shared vehicles with high capacity--far higher than so-called high-occupancy vehicles (carpools). A complete system can provide almost door-to-door service, such as in New York City and in many small-scale European cities. Car travel remains the most dangerous transportation mode. Fatal and nonfatal injury costs related to motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. exceeded a staggering $99 billion in 2005. The public pays for 75% of those costs through insurance premiums, taxes, and travel delays.(1) Despite great improvements in road engineering and vehicle design over the past 50 years, about 34,000 people a year die (continued)
Elisabeth Thomas-Matej August 18, 2011 at 10:52 PM
...in motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). That’s tenfold the deaths from 9/11--annually. Yet, few question the carnage. Teens and young adults 15-24 are 28% of the victims but only 14% of the population. It's not just that fewer people die on trains, because we have fewer trains. Rather, rail travel is inherently safer. If the U.S. had no cars, the estimated maximum annual deaths at current mileages would be 810 persons.(2) Nonfatal injuries are two orders of magnitude higher--about 3.7 million people a year (1 in 84 persons in a population of 312 million). The costs in emergency response, medical bills, lost wages, lost earnings potential, damaged property, insurance premiums, etc. must be acknowledged. The costs in human suffering are incalculable. Public transportation systems are never set up to earn a profit, but mass transit indisputably gives the most bang for the buck. By contrast, our highway system is scandalously wasteful and exorbitantly expensive. The phasing of SMART is unfortunate but necessary. Rescinding the project would throw out the baby with the bathwater--like that infamous quotation from the Vietnam War, "We had to destroy the village in order to save it." We're in an economic depression. A "stripped down initial operating segment" is at least a start. Reorganizing our priorities toward mass transit will save lives, limbs, open space, air quality, and money for ourselves and our children.
Elisabeth Thomas-Matej August 18, 2011 at 10:54 PM
[references for my footnoted comments--read the last segment of my reply first] (1) Naumann RB et al. Incidence and Total Lifetime Costs of Motor Vehicle – Related Fatal and Nonfatal Injury by Road User Type, United States, 2005. Traffic Injury Prevention, 11:353–360, 2010. (2) Kopl Halperin, "A Comparative Analysis of Six Methods for Calculating Travel Fatality Risk." Risk: Health, Safety, & Environment 4, 1993.
Michael August 19, 2011 at 08:57 PM
you hit on a very important point. Who exactly is going to ride this limited train? Those who work in SF have little benefit as they get dumped in San Rafael and then have to figure out a way to get to SF. Yes SMART is a developers dream. They would use this to gain approval for just what we do not need, more development along the 101 corridor. I too have yet to talk to anyone who indicates they would ride this train. We have so many uneducated (uneducated on the issues that is) people who do go out and vote based on soundbytes. SMART spent a lot of money on soundbytes. After multiple tries they finally succeeded in getting enough people to vote yes. I contend most had no idea what they were actually voting for. And the information provided at the time of the last vote was anything but accurate as we are now finding out thanks to better management of the project. There simply is no justification for moving forward to spend taxpayer money on a system that was approved based on false, inaccurate and misleading information. A private business would never just plow ahead with a project with these kinds of dramatic cost increases anxd changes. I suspect SMART if fearful of a new vote as so many more voters are now aware of the dramatic cost increases and stripped down service. If I were SMART I'd do the ssme thing they are doing by pushing as quickly as possibe to tie up taxpayer funds. But I am a taxpayer who must live in the reality of today's stresses financial conditions.
Here since 1970 July 15, 2012 at 01:12 AM
So the train is just bound to happen anyway, is it? One thing I know about commuting by mass transit: if you miss your bus, subway, or train you're SOL if there isn't another one coming along in another 10 minutes or so. So how many trains per hour will be puff-puff-puffing along this mostly single-track track - 2. (So we can assume there will be no delays when 2 trains going opposite directions don't happen to arrive at track cross-overs at the exact same time.) I know this is a little late in suggesting, but if most commuters driving on the 101 are coming to work here in Marin, maybe the feds should take that half a billion and spend it on urban renewal in very nearby Richmond, CA, making it a more desirable place to live. Believe it or not, lots of folks who work in Manhattan prefer a 30 minute commute from formerly broken down places like Hoboken, NJ rather than a 90 minute drive in from the suburbs on the Long Island Expressway.

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