News Will the Northgate Mall be Marin’s First Bike-friendly Development?
The redevelopment of Northgate Mall is one of the largest development projects planned in Marin County. When the project is finished, it will provide more than 2,000 homes in Terra Linda, less than a mile from the Marin Civic Center, walking distance to SMART, and steps from the North-South Greenway.
Although this is a housing project rather than a transportation project, we at MCBC know that the two are tightly linked. Too much of our housing has been built in a way that makes it impossible to walk and bike for most trips, forcing auto dependence on people (and their children) no matter their actual preferences. If housing is connected to a robust bicycle network and provides substantial bicycle parking (particularly parking that accommodates larger e-bikes), we know that many people will choose not to hop in their cars every time they leave the house. MCBC wants to ensure that Northgate Mall is as bike-friendly as possible, and we are happy with the progress being made.
Our letter to the Planning Commission
In November of 2022, the project came before the San Rafael Planning Commission. Along with our friends at WTB-TAM, we wrote a letter making a number of recommendations for the project. Dozens of MCBC supporters wrote letters echoing our requests, and the Planning Commission advised the developer that they should look closely at our suggestions.
In addition to the letter, MCBC staff have had several meetings with the developer team and the San Rafael Public Works Department. Thanks to our advocacy, and that of others, there have been significant improvements to the project.
Internal Street Configuration
When we first saw the project, the roads inside the project were all planned to have on-street car parking, something we felt to be a poor use of public space. A second iteration had painted bike lanes, but the sidewalks remained narrow. At last, we have a configuration we are happy with, one where each street inside the project has a wide, above-the-curb, shared-use path for pedestrians and people riding bicycles alike. Given that the streets will be narrow (26’) and traffic slow, more experienced bicyclists will no doubt share the road with cars. But the shared use paths will provide a low-stress alternative for anyone looking to ride slowly, whether it be children, parents, or older adults.
Northgate Loop Road
Those familiar with the mall will know that there is a shared-use path that loops around a little less than half (40%) of the mall’s one-mile perimeter. The initial designs would have extended it slightly, but still circled less than half of the mall. After our advocacy, the developer agreed to extend the pathway along the entire south side of the site on Northgate Drive from Las Gallinas Avenue to El Faisan Drive. This brings the total bike path up to more than 2/3rds of the site and ensures that all of the residential buildings have easy access to the connecting roads.
The initial designs for the project actually already had substantial bike parking, including indoor bike rooms for the residential buildings, which we love! But we successfully pushed for some additional short-term bike parking at the businesses on the north side of the site. If we’re imagining a world where more and more people ride bikes, better to plan for it now rather than have to add more bike parking later.
What we still don’t love
No project is going to be perfect and we’re very happy with the progress we’ve made. That said, there are still a few things we would change if it were up to us.
An important part of making a pleasant, walkable neighborhood is making it difficult to drive fast in places where people will be walking. Designing infrastructure to slow down cars is called “traffic calming.” A couple of traffic-calming treatments we would love to see are raised crosswalks, where the crosswalks themselves are also speed humps. This commonsense treatment is used widely outside of the US, but fire departments (including the San Rafael FD) oppose them because they say the crosswalks affect response times. While they may have a minimal effect on how fast a fire truck can drive, most emergency vehicles are responding to car crashes, so if we can design our streets to have fewer crashes in the first place, they’ll have fewer incidents to respond to.
Too much parking
We have urged the developer and the planning commission to provide less parking, which could free up the site for more green space. Some of the parking is required per the ongoing leases of Macy’s and Kohl’s, but all of the residential parking is up to the discretion of the developer. We know that providing more parking makes people drive for a greater share of their trips and drives up the cost of housing. If we want to densify Marin affordably and without adding more traffic, we should consider providing something closer to one parking space per unit rather than the ~1.75 parking spaces per unit, plus more than a thousand spaces (12 football fields worth) for commercial uses.
Our position on the Northgate development
Given how responsive the developer has been to our recommendations, we at MCBC believe that this project will mark a substantial improvement to San Rafael, letting many more families live in our county mere steps from SMART and the North-South Greenway. We will be supporting this project as it moves through the development process, and we urge our members to do the same. Click here to visit the project’s official website
There is a San Rafael Design Review Board meeting on the project scheduled for 6:00 PM on Tuesday, July 18th. The agenda, along with a link to participate in the meeting virtually, will be posted on Friday, July 14th on this page. To provide a written comment about the project, you may email PlanningPublicComment@cityofsanrafael.org before 4:00 PM on the day of the meeting.
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members make it happen
We’re working to make Marin more bike-friendly for people of all ages and abilities. Are you with us?