“Traffic in Mill Valley – oy vey,” Mill Valley Mayor John McCauley said at La Ginestra Restaurant as he kicked off the traffic discussion. Throughout his lengthy summary on the subject, McCauley detailed the work of the City’s Traffic and Congestion Reduction Advisory Task Force, a group of leaders representing the myriad organizations and agencies with jurisdiction in some or all parts of the City’s road infrastructure. The Task Force began its work a year ago and now will sunset and pass the baton of addressing the City’s traffic congestion to City staff and the City Council, having fulfilled its purpose by creating a lengthy list of short- and long-term ways to reduce traffic in town.
“Mill Valley traffic volume has not changed much in the last 10 years – traffic going in and out of town has been relatively the same,” McCauley said. “But what has changed is the conditions around us.”
That includes the roads and lanes on and around the Highway 101 overpass at East Blithedale Avenue and Tiburon Boulevard, he said, where an increase in Tiburon traffic and poor synchronicity between the traffic lights has made conditions abysmal.
At a public meeting in the coming weeks, the City Council will review a lengthy report prepared by traffic consultant Parisi Transportation Consulting. The report will include a list of projects developed through the Task Force’s work that have received funding in the City's Capital Improvement Program budget.
Over the course of its work, the Task Force identified a clear objective: restore vehicle travel times on East Blithedale Avenue and on Almonte Boulevard/Shoreline Highway to what they were in 2012-13, after which those travel times spiked, despite a marginal increase on car volume on local roads. To achieve that goal, David Parisi told the Task Force that travel times on East Blithedale between Millwood Avenue and Highway 101 would need to go down by 35 percent from 7-10am, 24 percent from 10am-3pm and 33 percent from 3-7pm.
In targeting that objective, the Task Force kept in mind the multi-jurisdictional nature of local and regional roads and that there was no “silver bullet,” so to speak. Using a data-driven approach, they chose three umbrella strategies to do so, as well as nearly 50 specific measures within those three categories, each of which were ranked based on their likely impact, their estimated cost and the timeline within which they could be implemented. The strategies are:
- Reduce vehicle demand through measures like school buses and continued growth of the number of students walking and bicycling to school.
- Improve operations of existing infrastructure through actions like changing traffic light synchronization.
- Increase road capacity by changes like adding a dedicated on-ramp to southbound Hwy.101 from eastbound East Blithedale, for example. These projects would likely be the most expensive and time-consuming.
- Yellow School Bus Pilot Program: The highest-ranked measure, a targeted, two-year yellow school bus pilot program, was launched for the 2016-17 school year with financial and/or organizational support from the City, the School District, the County of Marin, the Transportation Authority of Marin and Marin Transit. It specifically targets the more than 430 school district families making car trips across Highway 101 each day to get to school, a contributor of as much as 25 percent of Mill Valley’s total traffic. The program features three bus routes and has garnered more than 125 riders to date. Parisi has noted that by reducing the number of cars on the road, as the bus program will do, “we’ll reduce the travel times by quite a bit,” noting that travel times in Tiburon and Belvedere dropped by 30 percent after the Reed Union School District bus program was relaunched in 2015.
- Staging/Coordinating School Bell Times: Staggered bell times have lengthened the peak period of morning school commute traffic to complement the school bus program, according to Mill Valley School District District Superintendent Paul Johnson.
- Citywide media campaign focused on reducing traffic: The City has continued to expand its communications tools to inform the community on traffic conditions in real time with its MVTraffic.org website and related social media channels. Resident Stephen Burke, a member of the Task Force, suggested the City continue to communicate to residents a shared responsibility to reduce traffic. “It’s all a function of our behavior,” he said. “Can our citizens contribute to progress in a measurable way?”
- Review and update traffic signal timing along East Blithedale and Tiburon Blvd.: To date, the City has led a number of efforts to improve the synchronization of traffic lights on and around the Highway 101 onramps and offramps. Parisi and Mayor John McCauley have both noted the recent progress on synchronizing the traffic lights, including the installation of new cable and conductors “to make the signals talk to each other.”
- Prohibit westbound to eastbound U-Turns at Blithedale/Camino Alto: The City’s implementation of this measure has improved traffic flow at the intersection.
With the the Miller Avenue Streetscape Project now almost into its third month of construction, the City's $15 million overhaul of one of Mill Valley’s two main arteries is in full swing. The project, by far the biggest road renovation the City has undertaken in decades – spanning approximately two miles of Miller Avenue from Almonte Boulevard near Tamalpais High all the way to Sunnyside Avenue near downtown – is expected to last until late 2017. The City is providing weekly Construction Updates on the project. Here's the latest one.
“Our town has been talking about Miller Avenue for a long, long, long time,” McCauley said. “We got it going very quickly after school ended in June, because we knew it was going to be tough on for the businesses along Miller. But we’ll all be pretty happy with it when it’s over.” MORE ON MILLER PROJECT.
McCauley also informed attendees about the City’s Municipal Services Tax, which was first approved in 1987, has been renewed twice since then and expires in 2018. Its renewal is on the ballot this November 8, with an increase from $195 to $266 per parcel and an annual 2 percent increase after that until it expires following fiscal year 2026-27.
The MST provides “the City with extremely valuable services,” McCauley said. Those services are two pronged: 1) $300,000 goes towards fire prevention and vegetation management programs and 2) Approximately $900,000 goes to repairing the City’s roads via the Street and Sewer Rehabilitation Project.
“The City has a deep understanding of the best way to maintain this huge investment,” McCauley said of local roads, noting that the strategic deployment of “slurry sealing” allows the City to “never let roads go to a point here you have to completely rebuild them – it’s more like it’s a protective coat of paint.” MORE ON THE MST.
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