news Vision for Safer Streets At San Rafael Transit Center
Every day, thousands make the trip to and from San Rafael’s Bettini Transit Center by foot or bike. For many, the journey is a daily necessity. For those who cannot or choose not to drive, the Transit Center provides connections to workplaces, schools, and services. In short, it serves the mobility needs for many of Marin County’s most vulnerable people.
However, the streets that surround the Bettini Transit Center are among the most dangerous in Marin County. Traffic flows ceaselessly in all directions. People walk and bike only along narrow sidewalks, with no dedicated bike lanes available. When traffic signals change, people scamper across the street, dodging or pausing for turning cars driven by people often too anxious to yield the right-of-way. Many turning drivers visually scan only for oncoming traffic on one-way streets and do not notice pedestrians crossing with the light in crosswalks.
Four people have lost their lives crossing streets near the Transit Center in the last three years, including one last Thursday.
People driving fail to yield to an elderly woman crossing Hetherton Street at 3rd Street in San Rafael. Two women have been hit and killed by left-turning drivers in this crosswalk in the past three years.
The same factors that place the Bettini Transit Center at the crossroads of San Rafael’s automobile network make it a viable transit hub. Proximity to Highway 101 on- and off-ramps and quick east-west connectivity make it an efficient nexus for local and regional buses. Unfortunately, this also means that streets are designed to prioritize automobile throughput, largely at the expense of those walking or bicycling.
It’s also an area in desperate need of better public spaces. The space underneath the freeway is dark, dirty, and unwelcoming. Beyond the trash-lined chain link fences and weeds, the creek lies neglected.
Fortunately, it’s a space that stands to be transformed and regenerated in the coming years. SMART’s looming extension to Larkspur means the transit center must be relocated twice–first temporarily, then permanently. Recognizing this, San Rafael’s Federation of Neighborhoods recently convened a panel of community members and key stakeholders, including MCBC’s Executive Director, Jim Elias, to discuss visions for the future transit center and its surroundings.
Elias opened the panel by stating that he’d like for his 86 year-old father to be able to safely cross Hetherton at 3rd, where two of the aforementioned deaths occurred. Much of the evening’s conversation focused on the need for improved safety for people walking and biking.
For the area to succeed as a transit hub and San Rafael’s “gateway” or “front porch,” as some panel members put it, it must also become an attractive place to spend time. To this point, many focused on the need for enhanced connections to the City’s waterways and better public spaces.
Elias was quick to point out that MCBC and the City of San Rafael’s ongoing efforts to construct a segment of the SMART multi-use path between 2nd Street and Andersen Drive to the south will be a step in the right direction.
He suggested that any multi-use path or greenway extended through the area could achieve panel’s visions for enhanced public spaces, increased greenery, and celebration of the City’s waterways while establishing convenient and comfortable linkages for people walking and biking.
“Natural settings have a calming effect. People behave better,” said Elias.
Although many of the improvements discussed by the panel are not imminent, there will be near-term opportunities to lay the foundation for safer streets as the City updates its Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan. MCBC will provide updates and resources related to this crucial planning process in the coming weeks.