SMART News SMART Pathway and Rail Update – Summer 2023

One of our biggest areas of focus here at MCBC is the SMART train and its parallel pathway. Funded by a ballot initiative in 2008, SMART has fulfilled the dream of being able to ride a train (once again) between Sonoma and Marin Counties. However, the agency’s progress on the promised pathway was much slower, leading MCBC to choose not to endorse the agency’s 2020 attempt at an early renewal of their sales tax.

SMART Update Summer 2023

However, the past two years have seen a substantial change in the direction taken by SMART.

A New Hand at the Controls

When SMART’s longtime General Manager Farhan Mansourian stepped down and was replaced by the Utah Transit Authority’s Eddy Cumins, we were hopeful that fresh leadership might turn the agency around, whose ridership had been decimated by the Covid pandemic.

The results speak for themselves. While many Bay Area transit agencies are still struggling to return to 50% of their pre-Covid ridership, SMART moved more people in May 2023 than in May 2019. This is a reversal that few saw coming. 

SMARTer by the Year

The results have been built atop a strategic framework that puts the completion of the multi-use pathway at the same level. While ridership is important, we would hope to see similar results on the pathway. 

New Hires

Before now, much of the work on the pathway was done by staffers whose jobs were split between several responsibilities. Cumins has seen to it that a dedicated active transportation planner was hired to focus on delivering the pathway and overseeing projects to improve the experience. So far, we have had nothing but good experiences with the agency’s new staff, who have been responsive to our requests and proactive about engaging us when necessary. This has included inviting MCBC and the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition to provide comments on early designs of the unbuilt pathway segments, something that was not offered under the previous leadership.

Finding the Way

One issue with completing the pathway in fits and starts, as has been the agency’s practice up to this point, is that novice riders cannot easily navigate the pathway. Another item funded in last year’s budget which is now moving forward is a signage and wayfinding plan for the entire pathway. This will help new and veteran pathway users travel between the path and nearby points of interest, and (we hope) connect the dots where gaps in the pathway still exist. This project is planned to kick off in the fall of 2023, so keep an eye out for ways to get engaged. 

What’s Next

We all know public works take a long time to be delivered, and while we haven’t had a SMART pathway ribbon cutting in Marin for some time, we anticipate substantial progress in the next couple of years. 

The SMART bridge over Gallinas Creek between McInnis Parkway and Smith Ranch Road is planned to break ground in the fall of 2023 and will be completed in the winter/spring of 2024. This will allow travel between the Civic Center and the Gallinas Wetlands without having to travel on Redwood Highway. 

Additionally, the crucial gap between Bel Marin Keys Boulevard and Vintage Oaks Shopping Center won a construction grant and should break ground in 2024. That project will close a gap that requires a five-mile detour today

Lastly, SMART’s budget includes funding for design and permitting of the pathway gap between the top of Puerto Suello Hill and where the pathway starts up again on Los Ranchito Road in Terra Linda. This segment of pathway was not part of the SMART pathway plan until MCBC and our friends at WTB-TAM advocated for its inclusion

To review the status of the entire North-South Greenway, you can click here

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SMARTer by the Year

We dug into the FY 23 budget for SMART (Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit) and found a lot to like. Read on to learn about the highlights and some of our thoughts on the agency’s direction (the budget, for the curious, is linked here in full).

Big Wins for the SMART Path

Ever since we learned back in February that SMART was sitting on a substantial financial surplus, we’ve been working to raise up your voices, pushing for the bulk of that money to be allocated to the pathway. Our work has included direct outreach to board members, taking them on a bike tour of the pathway’s gaps with Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, as well as a request for our members to write the board. Between MCBC and SCBC, the SMART Board received nearly 500 emails!