After years of planning, Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART), a 43 mile rail line between San Rafael and the Santa Rosa Airport, is nearly complete and expected to open in late 2016. SMART will provide a much-needed rapid transit alternative to Highway 101, serving growing job markets in Marin and Sonoma County. In a follow-up phase anticipated to begin construction in 2017, SMART will be extended from San Rafael to Larkspur Landing – offering a connection for commuters traveling to and from San Francisco via the Larkspur Ferry. Eventually, SMART will also be extended north to Windsor, Healdsburg, and Cloverdale, forming a 70-mile system.
A direct and convenient transfer between SMART and the Larkspur ferry is imperative to maximize ridership. Yet, as currently planned, the Larkspur station and ferry terminal will be about 2,000 feet apart, making transferring a real pain. Transferring on foot entails a meandering, indirect route that crosses two legs of one of Marin’s largest and busiest intersections – a walk that would take about 8-10 minutes after factoring in delays associated with the traffic signal on Sir Francis Drake. Biking between the two locations would also be difficult due to the high traffic volumes and lack of bicycle facilities. Because of these obstacles, SMART has proposed to operate a shuttle between the station and ferry terminal, forcing passengers to make an additional transfer (and increasing operating expenses). Considering neither SMART nor the Larkspur Ferry will operate at high frequencies, this arrangement will necessitate a large built in transfer time between scheduled departures/arrivals and create unnecessary delays for passengers.
Ideally, SMART should be routed directly to the ferry terminal parking lot to facilitate a direct transfer. However, due to higher costs and politics between SMART and the City, SMART appears to be moving forward with the inferior missed connection (barring a bureaucratic miracle). While this design is deeply flawed, a couple improvements could be implemented by SMART, the City, and Golden Gate Ferry, to create a more tolerable connection:
• Over the short term, pedestrian and bicycle improvements between the station should be pursued. These include adding a crosswalk across Larkspur Landing Circle adjacent to the SMART station to allow for a shorter path of travel, placing the pedestrian signal across Sir Francis Drake on recall so pedestrians don’t need to push a “beg button,” adding a sidewalk along the ferry terminal driveway exit, and possibly adding a two way cycle track along the east side of Larkspur Landing Circle to create a more direct, low stress path for bicyclists. While many passengers will still take the shuttle, a connection via walking and biking would at least be less terrifying.
• Over the long term, an elevated moving walkway (akin to what you’ll find many airports or across Hong Kong) may be worth investigating in order to provide a safer and more dependable connection. A reasonably direct walkway could reduce transfer times to four to six minutes. While construction costs may be higher, such a connection may save money in the long run in lieu of a shuttle.
It’s unfortunately that SMART will not directly connect to the Larkspur Ferry, but hopefully this mistake will not be compounded by poor station access and connectivity between the stations. In a region plagued by incompatible transit systems, the last thing we need is another $700 million investment that comes up 2,000 feet short.