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FAQs

San Rafael Transit Center FAQs

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The new transit center will be located in downtown San Rafael in close proximity to the existing site. The project team is currently evaluating four alternatives where the transit center should be located. See the Project Documents & Materials page for more information.

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Many people, including a large number of essential workers, still currently use the transit center as a key connection and access point to get to their places of employment. A new transit center is needed to serve this transit-dependent segment of the population to allow them to safely and reliably access jobs, medical appointments, entertainment, and other activities. Additionally, while overall transit ridership has been impacted, the pandemic hasn’t decreased the need for bus service at the transit center. The number of bus trips through the transit center has actually increased during the pandemic as transit operators have provided additional buses on popular routes in order to meet social distancing requirements and accommodate reduced capacities on each bus. Furthermore, the transit center is envisioned to last for several decades and is being planned for transit needs many years in the future. It is envisioned as a key asset in effectively serving Marin residents, particularly disadvantaged communities, long after the effects of the pandemic have subsided.

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Ridership has declined due to the pandemic as some workers stay home and health fears drive others to different modes. Golden Gate Transit has shifted some of its service to align with ridership patterns. This has primarily resulted in a reduction in express “commute” services on US 101 that operate express through Marin County and don’t stop at the transit center. However, most of the service through the transit center is “regional” or “local” service that has not been affected. Transit providers like Marin Transit are actually operating more buses than before through the transit center during the pandemic as part of their COVID-19 response protocols, which limit occupancy aboard each bus so that riders can maintain social distancing. Prior to the pandemic, the transit center was operating at, or exceeding, capacity during peak times, and is even more strained to handle the bus volumes during the pandemic.

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The existing transit center site was bisected by the extension of SMART to Larkspur, impacting bus bays, bus movements, and pedestrian movements. No renovation of the existing site can address the circulation challenges caused by that impact. The SMART extension also increased vehicle congestion along 2nd and 3rd Streets, making it more difficult for buses to get into and out of the transit center. The transit center is surrounded by busy, auto-oriented streets, making it difficult for transit users, particularly pedestrians and bicyclists, to access the site. The alternatives under consideration would each provide significant benefits to transit users in accessing the center and transferring between buses. Each alternative would also provide improved transit operations and flexibility for transit operators to make service more reliable and flexible. It is also noted that a significant renovation to the existing transit center would require relocating the transit services during construction, which would likely be very impactful to both transit users and surrounding streets. A “no-build” alternative where the transit center would not be relocated is being considered in the environmental analysis; however, for the reasons described above, it fails to meet project objectives.

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The current project includes the following primary phases:

  • Identification of Transit Center Alternatives – Assess what components are needed in the transit center, identify potential locations, and perform initial screening to identify project alternatives.
  • Environmental Analysis – Identify potential environmental impacts associated with the project alternatives and evaluate the alternatives against the project purpose and need. We are currently at this step. 
  • Preliminary Engineering – Prepare initial designs for the preferred transit center site.

The first step was completed with the beginning of environmental analysis in late 2018. Since then, the project team has been performing the environmental analysis and detailed technical review of the alternatives, resulting in a number of refinements to the alternatives. The draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is anticipated to be released in early Summer 2021 and finalized at the end of 2021. The final step in the current project scope is preliminary engineering (up to 30% of full design) for the selected alternative, which is planned to be completed in 2022. Subsequent efforts will be addressed by a separate project phase and will include final design (100% design) and construction. A timeline for final project completion has not yet been identified.

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A previous study completed by the City of San Rafael identified and evaluated more than nine potential transit center sites before recommending three for further evaluation. Based on community input received early on during this project, those three sites were not selected to advance as alternatives and a new set of potential sites and configurations were developed. The project team met with the community three times during the course of 2018 to develop and refine potential sites. Five alternatives were initially selected for environmental review in late 2018. Upon receiving further community input and technical analysis, those five were subsequently refined and screened down to the current three alternatives under consideration.

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Analysis of transportation patterns and transit needs identified that it was critical for the transit center to stay downtown.  Downtown San Rafael is a major work center and the location at which several major north-south and east-west bus routes intersect with each other as well as with the new SMART train. With easy freeway access, it is the most ideal location in Marin County to site a transit center to reduce riders’ travel time, reduce operating costs, and reduce the amount of time buses spend on City streets. In addition to these benefits for regional commute travelers, many people use the services at the transit center to travel to and from destinations within San Rafael. Therefore, Downtown San Rafael is the ideal location for the new transit center. A variety of locations in Downtown San Rafael near US 101 were considered during the course of this study.

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A key issue that will influence the preferred site for the new transit center will be circulation and access to the site. Congestion is a primary concern for those who live, work, visit, and attend school in San Rafael. The 2nd & Hetherton and 3rd & Hetherton intersections are among the busiest and most congested in the entire county. High traffic volumes also create an undesirable environment for pedestrians and bicyclists, which is evidenced by a history of collisions. It is critical to locate and design the transit center in a way that benefits bus and auto circulation while creating a safe environment for pedestrians to access the transit center, transfer between transit services, and connect with Downtown San Rafael. The project team performed detailed analysis of how cars, trucks, buses, pedestrians, and bicyclists travel through downtown San Rafael and how congestion would be altered with each of the project alternatives. The analysis found that the Whistlestop Block and Under the Freeway alternatives would slightly improve traffic flow in downtown by shifting buses away from the congested 3rd and 2nd Streets. The 4th Street Gateway would result in some additional congestion in the area around the transit center due to a combination of background growth and the configuration of the transit center driveways. See the "Alternatives Description and Trade-Offs Summary" document posted on the Project Documents & Materials page for more information.

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The goal is for the new transit center to be easy to access, safe, and secure while reflecting the unique personality of San Rafael through context-sensitive and aesthetically pleasing urban design. Each of the alternatives include a range of options for enhancing the public realm, including opportunities for creating a sense of place and public amenities, such as benches, bicycle parking, and shade. After the site location is selected, project work will include soliciting community input on strategies to best integrate the transit center design into the surrounding urban fabric. The architectural design of the transit center will occur as part of a later project phase. As the project advances, there will be many opportunities for the community to share their ideas to shape the vision and character of the facility.

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The need for public transit to meet basic transportation needs and to bring people to jobs in congested urban areas (such as San Francisco) is only growing in importance over time alongside the rise of transportation network companies (TNCs). TNCs have changed how many Marin residents get around, including as a way of accessing transit service (such as Marin Connect). It is not envisioned that TNCs will replace the need for public transit, as many transit riders cannot afford the higher cost of TNCs, may commute long-distances where TNCs aren’t cost-competitive and/or shifting passengers from public transit to TNCs would significantly add to congestion. The new transit center is being designed for flexibility in operations to handle potential future changes in how transit is provided, such as different bus sizes, conversion to all-electric fleets, and changes in how people access transit, including expanded space for TNC drop-off and pick-up. This flexibility will allow the transit center to evolve while continuing to meet the transportation needs of Marin residents.

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The funding is coming from a mix of local and regional dollars, including a One Bay Area Grant administered by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Bridge District funds.

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Please refer to the "Alternatives Description and Trade-Offs Summary" document posted on the Project Documents & Materials page for estimated costs of each alternative. Construction costs are anticipated to be between $40 million and $85 million depending on the alternative. Funding is anticipated to come from a variety of sources, including Regional Measure 3, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and other local, state, and federal funds.

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Yes, the project team is currently completing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). All of the project alternatives will be considered in the document. The environmental analysis began in 2018. We anticipate issuing a Draft EIR in early Summer 2021.

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Yes. We are working closely with the City of San Rafael to identify preferred solutions that integrate seamlessly with existing bicycle and pedestrian routes. Pathways will be identified to provide safe access to, from, and through the transit center. The City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan (https://www.cityofsanrafael.org/bicycle-pedestrian-master-plan/) is a guiding document for the identification and integration of bicycle facilities into the alternatives. The Move Whistlestop and Adapt Whistlestop alternatives include the construction of a new two-way cycle track on Tamalpais Avenue between 2nd Street and 4th Street, closing a critical gap in the City's bicycle network.

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The primary purpose of this project is to build a new transit center in Downtown San Rafael. The City is currently undertaking a lengthy process of updating its General Plan. As part of that process, land use and housing will be fully considered, including in the area around the transit center. This project will be included in that effort.

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Modifying the SMART tracks is not part of this project. The cost and visual/aesthetic impacts of elevating SMART would be substantial. There is no funding source identified or being considered for elevating SMART and therefore that is not being considered as part of this project.

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As the owner of the transit center, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District (Bridge District) will serve as the lead environmental agency for the project. The Bridge District is working closely with the City of San Rafael, Marin Transit, the Transportation Authority of Marin, SMART, and MTC on this project. Per a Memorandum of Understanding with the Bridge District, the San Rafael City Council will have the opportunity to approve the final selected alternative.

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The future use of the existing transit center site is not yet known. It is anticipated that the existing facility will be demolished and other uses will take its place. The funds from the sale of the site will be used to offset a portion of the cost of the new transit center. Any new development at the existing transit center site would need to undergo separate environmental and City review.

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The new transit center will include a number of elements to make it a safe and comfortable place for passengers. The transit center will be well-lit for pedestrians, including at bus bays, walkways, and customer service facilities. The transit center design will comply with Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) best practices that use design treatments to make facilities safer by enhancing visibility and ownership of space. The transit center will include security kiosks on each block along with CCTVs and an emergency intercom.

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The new transit center will include several green infrastructure elements. These will be further defined in future design phases. Elements are anticipated to include solar canopies, bioswales and vegetation to reduce and treat stormwater runoff, drought-resistant planting, and LEED certification for the customer service building. In addition, the transit center will be configured to allow future conversion of the transit bus fleet to an all-electric fleet.

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Yes. All proposed alternatives will require some property acquisition.

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The community is encouraged to provide any feedback they have on alternatives via the online comment form, project email address, or project phone number. Upon release of the draft environmental document in early Summer 2021, there will be an additional round of public outreach including public hearings in both English and Spanish. Community feedback at that time will help inform selection of the project to advance into the design phase.

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The draft environmental document, slated for release in early Summer 2021, will identify a preferred alternative for public consideration. However, no preferred alternative is actually approved until after community feedback is received on the Draft EIR, a Final EIR is issued, and GGBHTD formally adopts the selected alternative.

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Yes. The environmental impact report includes a no-build alternative; however, it is noted that the existing SRTC, as modified to facilitate the SMART extension to Larkspur, is highly constrained and limits the functionality of transit operations. 

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The transit center is envisioned to last for many decades and thus is designed to not just work to meet the needs of current transit users, but also to meet the needs of transit users in the future. Not only are there are no plans to reduce transit service in the future by either Golden Gate Transit or Marin Transit, the role of transit in moving a growing Marin County population within a constrained roadway system will almost certainly continue to increase, emphasizing the importance of this project in meeting the current and future mobility needs of Marin County. All of the alternatives under consideration include provisions for flexibility in design and transit operations, allowing the facility to adapt to future changes in route alignments, frequencies, and transit service patterns. The number of bus bays to be provided in each alternative matches the number of bus bays that were available at the transit center prior to the construction of the SMART extension to Larkspur, albeit with a configuration that allows greater flexibility than the current facility. 

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The transit center serves a wide variety of transit users today. Pre-pandemic, there were approximately 9,000 boardings and alightings at the transit center each day. These represented a roughly balanced mix of passengers going to or from downtown San Rafael and passengers transferring between services at the transit center, including regional buses, local buses, and SMART. Local riders include a mix of local workers (particularly service workers), students, residents, and visitors. 45% of riders on routes using the transit center are low-income; a substantially higher percentage than the overall population of both the City of San Rafael and Marin County. This emphasizes the role of the transit center in meeting the basic mobility needs of the most disadvantaged populations.

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