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San Rafael Transit Center preliminary design unveiled

December 4, 2023

by Adrian Rodriguez| Marin IJ

View of the Customer Service Building from Tamalpais Avenue, from a presentation of conceptual designs for the San Rafael Transit Center renovation. (Rendering by Dialog Consultants)

Planners have revealed the conceptual design of the new San Rafael Transit Center, Marin County’s local and regional transportation hub.

Officials from the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District gave a sneak preview of the plan — which pays homage to the city’s railroad past — at an online session organized by Canal Alliance on Thursday for Spanish speakers.

The same presentation in English is planned at a community workshop set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the San Rafael Community Center at 618 B St.

“One of the most important things is we’re going to retain the features, the look and feel, of the 1929 railroad depot,” said Ron Downing, planning director for the bridge district.

“Clearly, we’ve heard safety and easy pedestrian access and connection is of great importance,” Downing said. “One of the things of the new transit center that is a cornerstone is to have clear sightlines.”

Last year, after more than a decade of studies and public meetings, the Golden Gate Bridge district board voted unanimously to move forward with its plan to relocate the transit center one block north of its location between Third and Fourth streets.

The estimated $50 million to $70 million project would allow for more bus bays as well as let passengers transfer between buses and the SMART train station without having to cross busy downtown streets.

Under the plan, the transit center would be located on three parcels bordered to the north and south by Fourth Street and Third Street and to the west and east by Tamalpais Avenue and Hetherton Street.

The site would retain the existing SMART station. The district will need to acquire the parcels owned by Citibank and the nonprofit service organization Vivalon for the project to move forward.

The relocation is being pursued to address concerns about pedestrian safety and traffic flow that have arisen since Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit tracks were built through the transit center in 2019.

Julia Gonzalez, a spokesperson for SMART, said the agency’s officials support the relocation to the proposed site.

“The project will improve ease of transfer between SMART, Golden Gate and Marin Transit bus services and will improve the overall rider experience,” Gonzalez said. “We look forward to working more closely with bridge district staff on the conceptual designs as the project moves forward.”

The new transit center would include 17 bus bays — the same as the current station — but would allow for more in the future, which is not possible at the existing site, staff said. One block of Tamalpais Avenue between Third and Fourth streets would be converted to a bus-only road, allowing passengers to cross the station without having to encounter other vehicle traffic. Additionally, staff said that the new station is expected to reduce bus travel times compared to the existing station.

Vivalon’s headquarters at 930 Tamalpais Ave. would be converted into a customer service building and retain its historic look. The arch features will be used throughout the courtyard and waiting area.

Based on community comments, planners are proposing a plaza with a cafe and other retail space, benches and other seating, bike lockers and bike racks, moveable tables and chairs and a two-way bike lane along Tamalpais Avenue.

Downing said older residents asked that benches include arm rests because the feature makes it easier for them to get up and sit down.

Approval of the relocation plan came after an extensive public review and environmental study period, which was delayed in part because of the coronavirus pandemic.

San Rafael city staff and councilmembers had raised concerns about the district’s environmental review in 2021, stating that it used outdated transportation data, lacked a pedestrian safety study, would result in reduced parking and might not comply with the city’s 2040 general plan.

District staff and the city worked over the next year to address the concerns. City leaders now said they support the relocation project.

San Rafael Mayor Kate Colin said the transit center project is “critically important to San Rafael in terms of its function as well as design.”

“The city appreciates the district’s deep engagement with the community,” Colin said. “The upcoming workshop will be an important opportunity for residents to provide input on the proposed conceptual designs so that the final design will be attractive and provide seamless transit connections.”

Cristina Parra, community engagement coordinator for Canal Alliance, said the nonprofit has been working with the Golden Gate Bridge district for the past five years and that residents seem to like the design.

“Most residents are interested in post-design aspects like ensuring that they will see an increase in bus services and security,” Parra said.

“This project is important to the Canal community because so many of our residents use the current transit center regularly to access essential services such as education, health care and jobs, and it is especially important for many residents without cars,” Parra said. “We want to make sure that the new transit center is safe, convenient, functional and a welcoming place for bus riders.”

Robert Betts, director of operations and service development for Marin Transit, said it has been a comprehensive process.

“The current location is very challenging being right between two of the busiest streets in the county,” Betts said. “We’re excited and anxious to get the new facility advanced into final design and construction.”

Downing said planners will move into final design in 2024 through early 2025. Cost estimates will be refined through that process.

The district will likely need to tap federal funds, which will require National Environmental Policy Act clearance, Downing said. The earliest construction could happen is 2026.

A summary of the comments collected from workshops is expected to be presented to the Golden Gate Bridge district’s Transportation Committee at its meeting on Dec. 14.

More information about the project, the workshop and committee meeting are at bit.ly/3RoZMDq.

Read the story on the MarinIJ

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