Minimum Wage Survey

The Marin County Board of Supervisors may consider an ordinance that would enact an $18/hour minimum wage that, if passed, would go into effect January 1, 2025, and would only apply to employers doing business in unincorporated areas of the county.

If passed, the County ordinance would not affect businesses operating solely within Marin’s 11 incorporated cities and towns or other governmental agencies.

To inform the discussion, the County is asking employers and employees throughout the county to fill out this short survey on what employers are currently paying hourly staff.

The survey, in English and Spanish and due by June 21, can be found HERE

May – Affordable Housing Month

May has been declared Affordable Housing Month. There is even a website where it is stated that this month is, “our time to imagine the Bay Area we know is possible when we invest in affordable housing solutions and everyone has a safe place to call home. Where children can stay in the communities in which they were raised, and workers can afford to live in the city where they work.” State legislators got the memo too, because there are over 50 pro-housing bills in front of the legislature this year. CA YIMBY tracks and analyses them here.

At NBLC we have identified creating more workforce housing and affordable housing in the North Bay as a top priority. A new report released May 8th by Enterprise Community Partners and Bay Area Housing Finance Authority (BAHFA) analyzes affordable housing projects in various stages of predevelopment and identifies solutions for moving them toward completion.

From a Bay Link Blog we discover that “ the updated research reveals there are now 433 projects in various stages of predevelopment that would create more than 40,896 affordable homes across the nine-county Bay Area. These would account for nearly a quarter of the 180,000 affordable homes the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) Plan determined are needed in the Bay Area by 2031.”

“Affordable housing developments typically are supported by a capital “stack” investment that includes a commercial mortgage; Low-Income Housing Tax Credits; tax-exempt bonds; and additional local, regional and state dollars that fill the gap between the cost of the development and the financing secured through debt and equity. The new report calculates that the hundreds of Bay Area projects now in the predevelopment pipeline need $9.7 billion in public funds to move forward, and that a $20 billion regional bond measure proposed for the ballot in Bay Area counties this fall would help close this gap.”

“The predevelopment pipeline includes projects in all nine Bay Area counties. These include more than 10,000 units in both Alameda and Santa Clara counties, with another 8,400 affordable homes pending development in San Francisco and more than 3,000 units in both San Mateo and Sonoma counties. “

“Project pipelines in other Bay Area counties range from over 300 affordable homes in Solano County to 1,173 units in Marin County; nearly 1,500 homes in Napa County; and over 2,500 units in Contra Costa County. Each Bay Area city, town or county currently is working on its own to meet the challenges of housing affordability and homelessness.”

According to a recent article in the SF Chronicle, “The bond would be funded by property taxes, with an estimated tax of $19 per $100,000 of assessed value —about $190 per year for a home assessed at $1 million. The amount of money each city receives from the bond would be based on how much that jurisdiction pays in taxes: For example, San Francisco would get about $2.4  billion to invest, while Sonoma County would receive about $806 million and San Mateo County would get $1.05 billion.”

Final ballot language and the final cost of the bond will be published in late June. With the slim passage of Prop 1, skeptical voters will need to be convinced that another tax is going to actually build units.

NBLC Supports Our Kids Our Future

North Bay employers of all sizes and industry sectors are feeling the burden of the child care crisis and want more quality, affordable child care for their workforce. Our Kids Our Future website reports that child care and preschool are unaffordable for most working parents and supply in Sonoma County is scarce, especially for infants and toddlers. The Sonoma County Child Care and Children’s Health Initiative will raise approximately $30 million annually, revenue that will address a set of critical priorities identified by our community. If passed in November, funds from the sales tax measure will develop more facilities where parents live and work, increase the number of slots available and pay a decent wage for child care and early education providers.

Overall, quality, affordable child care is not just beneficial to employees but also to employers, as it contributes to a more satisfied, productive, and loyal workforce. When employees have access to reliable child care, they are less likely to miss work due to child care issues. This leads to higher attendance rates and increased productivity. But it’s not just about productivity, it’s more about everyone’s well-being. As a working parent myself, when my children were younger just knowing that they were well cared for while I was working, allowed me to focus on my job and not worry. Access to affordable child care can help level the playing field for working parents too, particularly mothers. When both parents have access to reliable child care, it reduces the burden on one parent (often mothers) to stay home and care for children, allowing them to participate more fully in the workforce.

NBLC Supports this initiative on the November 5th ballot in Sonoma County and recommends that you do too. To find out more, please visit their website here- Our Kids Our Future.

How the Lack of Affordable Child Care is Impacting Businesses

North Bay Leadership Council actively supports quality early child education and care programs as part of its work plan for 2024.  Our member employers are reporting that they and their employees are finding it more and more difficult to find quality, affordable child care in the North Bay, especially infant care. A survey of child care costs released in early 2024 found that on average, families were spending about 24% of their household income on child care, with 60% spending 20% or more. The U.S. Health and Human Services Department defines affordable child care as no more than 7% of household income.

Lack of child care can hinder a business’s ability to grow. This is especially true for small businesses as reported by Andy Medici, San Francisco Business Times, BizWomen.

Medici notes a new “survey of small-business owners who are parents or have employees who are parents by the Small Business Majority found 59% said lack of access to affordable child care is hindering their business growth. About 59% said their child care issues forced them to take substantial time away from their business, while 58% agreed that lack of affordable child care made it harder to start their business in the first place. While child care access is outside of the direct control of most small businesses, the survey made it clear it’s weighing on their fortunes and their workers”.

He shares with us that “John Arensmeyer, founder and CEO of Small Business Majority, said 4 out of 10 small-business owners say they have lost out on business opportunities because of challenges with child care. “Our research shows that child care is essential to the small business ecosystem and is a key factor in entrepreneurial growth,” Arensmeyer said.

The survey also found:

  • Small-business owners saw their businesses suffer because of a lack of child care, with 56% saying a lack of child care forced them to take substantial time away from their business, and 39% said it caused them to lose out on business opportunities. About 26% said it forced them to shut down their business and rejoin the workforce.
  • About 51% of small businesses said they’ve experienced lower productivity and 44% said they have been unable to operate longer hours when their employees face child care issues. About 31% reported lost earnings and 28% said they had to hire temporary workers to fill in child care gaps.
  • Nearly three-quarters of entrepreneurs say that their employees adjust their work schedules due to child care issues at least a few times a month.
  • About 62% of small-business owners experienced unplanned employee work absences and 30% said they had an employee quit — or have 27% turn down a promotion — due to child care issues. About 30% said they had a job candidate turn down an offer due to child care issues.

“As we’ve noted, child care businesses themselves are struggling due to the end of support from Covid-19 relief programs, demographic shifts and child care challenges for their own employees.

Janna Rodriguez, owner and founder of The Innovative Daycare Corp in Freeport, N.Y., said investments in child care are critical to removing barriers for economic growth.”

“Small child care businesses like mine rely on a small workforce to thrive,” she said. “But that workforce also desperately needs reliable, affordable child care themselves, and they may seek other employment or leave the workforce entirely if they can’t access affordable care.”

Medici continues, “the survey comes as the Small Business Majority and other advocacy groups push congress to pass the Child Care Stabilization Program, which would provide funds for child care centers and enact other measures to keep daycares from closing and encourage the opening of others. The previous $24 billion Child Care Stabilization Program passed during the pandemic provided funds to keep child care options open — but that expired at the end of September 2023, creating what experts had warned was a child-care cliff. “

A separate survey by Motherly found that about 18% of mothers changed jobs or left the workforce in the last year — with 52% of Gen Z and Millennial mothers say the reason why was lack of affordable child care. But it’s not just risk of closures that is plaguing the child care industry, it’s that rising costs would require remaining providers to raise rates to levels even less affordable for families.”

Recent data from Bank of America shows that’s the case so far. Households with child care payments saw that those payments were 32% higher in January 2024 than the 2019 average. Even as big increases in the Consumer Price Index and overall inflation have dropped from their 2022 peaks, day care and preschool costs are now outpacing inflation as a whole, Bank of America said.”

“Meanwhile, as higher-income households are making these bigger payments, Bank of America data shows low-income household child care payments are disappearing altogether, signs that they are no longer able to afford professional options.”

“About 79% of parents expect to be impacted in 2024 by the end of the stabilization funding for child care centers, and 54% are preparing to spend $600 per month or more on child care — with 40% saying they are already spending more.”

Please Sign The Petition to Get The Richmond Bridge Moving

NBLC has been working for months as part of the Common Sense Transportation Coalition advocating for the reopening of the third lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Thanks to many voices and critical support, the MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission) has agreed to consider a new proposal for the bike lane on the upper deck of the bridge!

On May 8, the BATA (Bay Area Transit Authority) committee will meet with the MTC to discuss a proposal for the bike lane on the westbound portion of the bridge to be closed Mondays to Thursdays.

Please sign the petition above and send to your employees!!

We think this is a strong start, but it is NOT a guaranteed plan.

The MTC faces fierce opposition from several Bay Area bike coalitions regarding this proposal. We must show the commissioners we stand with them on this COMMON SENSE solution! 

We live and work in the affected communities. We know the stop-and-go traffic nightmare. We experience the stressors of the increasing commute times, and must stand up for disadvantaged workers with no other commute option.

Act now and sign the petition. Simply add your name and address and we will send it to the right lawmaker. Your message goes directly to these decision markers and has the power to create positive change for everyone.

You can even record a video message and make an even greater impact by sharing your personal story! Be sure to introduce yourself and explain why you support our efforts to get the Richmond Bridge moving for East Bay commuters. Click the SIGN THE PETITION block above.

In partnership with the
Common Sense Transportation Coalition

7 Things You Should Know About the New Federal Reporting Requirement

Written in an article by Gene Marks, “If you own a business, get ready. There’s a new federal reporting requirement for business owners, and you don’t want to ignore it. If you do, the penalties are high.

Here are seven key things to know.

What is the new requirement?

Effective Jan. 1, more than 32 million business owners need to complete a special form called the Beneficial Ownership Information Report. You’ll need to file it with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), an arm of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The form is required as part of the 2021 Corporate Transparency Act. This act aims to reduce money laundering and the concealment of illicit funds by targeting shell companies and many other entities.

Who needs to file the Beneficial Ownership Information Report?

Entities including corporations, pass-throughs, partnerships, estate and benefit plans, and foreign companies registered to do business in any U.S. state or Indian tribe will have to share information about their beneficial owners. Sole proprietorships are not included.

Beneficial owners are generally shareholders who own at least 25% of an entity, which may include:

  • Profit interests
  • Options
  • Warrants
  • Other instruments like convertible notes

Besides shareholders, beneficial owners also include people that exercise substantial control over an entity. This means senior officers, including:

  • President
  • Chief financial officer
  • General counsel
  • Chief executive officer
  • Chief operating officer

Any other officer who performs a similar function to those listed above may be required to file a report. This includes anyone with the authority to appoint or remove officers or a majority of directors of the reporting company. It could also include an important decision-maker for the reporting company, or any other individual with substantial control.

It’s important to note that there may be more than one beneficial owner of a company. Filings also need to be updated when a beneficial owner has a change of address or marital status or obtains a new driver’s license. There’s no fee to file this report.

There are 23 types of businesses that are exempted from this rule. They include:

  • Banks
  • Credit unions
  • Tax exempt entities
  • Large operating companies (generally companies with more than 20 U.S.-based employees and revenues over $5 million)

Many of these entities are exempt because they’re providing similar information via other means. Review the full list in the FinCEN’s Small Entity Compliance Guide.

What information is required?

The information you need should be easy to obtain. It includes your company’s legal and trade names, or your “doing business as” name, and street address (post office boxes are not allowed). You’ll also need to include the state where your company was formed along with relevant tax and employer identification numbers.

In addition, you’ll need to provide an image of your articles of incorporation. If you can’t find this, you can likely obtain it from your state.

Each beneficial owner will need to provide their full legal name, birthdate, and home address (again, post office boxes are not allowed). They’ll also need to provide an image of either an unexpired passport, driver’s license, or document issued by a state, local government, or Indian tribe.

What’s the due date and where do I report?

Filings for existing companies must be completed by Jan. 1, 2025. For new entities created after Jan. 1, 2024, reports are required within 90 days. You can file your reports electronically on FinCEN’s website, where you will get an electronic receipt.

How secure is my information?

Under the Corporate Transparency Act, FinCEN is allowed to permit federal, state, local, and tribal officials, as well as certain foreign officials who submit a request through a U.S. federal government agency, to obtain beneficial ownership information for authorized activities related to national security, intelligence, and law enforcement.

Financial institutions will also have access to beneficial ownership information in certain circumstances, with the consent of the reporting company.

Otherwise, FinCEN will store information in a secure, non-public database. FinCEN uses the same information security methods and controls that are typically used in the Federal government to protect non-classified but sensitive information systems.

What happens if I don’t comply?

The penalties are steep. You could incur fees up to $500 a day, up to $10,000, and up to two years in jail (per occurrence) if you intentionally provide incorrect information.

Where can I find more information?

I strongly recommend working with an experienced certified public accountant, attorney or business advisor to complete this report. It’s also important to ignore the inevitable solicitations you’ll receive from firms that claim to be experts in this area. Seek out a professional you know, or ask for a referral.”

Tech is Advancing Women’s Careers in Construction

There is one industry sector that is swinging a virtual hammer to break down the norm. In  Women near pay equity in ‘dynamic industry with endless opportunities’  by Anne Stych, Bizwomen editor, we learn that “The construction industry is one where women are almost on equal footing salary-wise, earning 95.5% of what men do, according to the industry group the National Association of Women in Construction”, says Stych.

“Nearly 1.2 million women work in construction in the United States, making up about 10 percent of the industry’s workers. But working in construction means much more than swinging a hammer,” says Danielle O’Connell, senior director of the Emerging Technology Team for Skanska USA, as technology continues to play an increasing role.

“More women should consider this exciting and dynamic industry with endless opportunities,” she said.

Anna Moll, business development manager for Skanska USA’s Civil division in New England, seconds that emotion. “She says it’s a career that guarantees no boredom because it’s fast-paced, providing opportunities for continuous learning and exposure to innovative concepts and developing technologies.” Moll said, “the construction industry encourages outside-the-box thinking and that new ideas are always welcome.”

“Construction tech is an exciting place to be,” she said. “We have seen so much new and competitive tech hit the market since 2020.”

The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is rapidly increasing and transforming business and industries across the globe. “Data analytics, AI, and robotics are three examples of tools that have helped automate workflows, reducing the burden on field personnel, driving better decision-making, and ultimately improving safety, quality, and efficiency,” she said. “Construction is historically slow to change, but tech can transform the way we are doing business by providing opportunities to drive certainty for our clients and projects,” she said.

For our part, North Bay Leadership Council has joined a diverse coalition of advocates urging the Governor’s office to safeguard resources to California’s education and workforce training programs in the proposed 2024-2025 budget. This includes rejecting cuts to the Women in Construction Unit, as well as rejecting funding delay to the California Jobs First program, and rejecting cuts to High Road Training Partnerships amongst others.  The High Road Training Partnerships program enhances workforce training partnerships that prioritize workers, industry leadership, and emphasize equity, job quality and sustainability. The California Jobs First program is an inter-agency partnership to support new strategies to diversity local economies and develop industries that create high-quality, broadly accessible jobs for all Californians in the transition to a carbon-neutral economy. And the Women in Construction Unit supports women in the trades as they balance work, education, and family obligations.

Bay Area Housing for All – Hope for Improving the North Bay Housing Crisis

It’s no secret that there is a housing crisis in California that’s also particularly severe in the North Bay. And while efforts have been made since the Great Recession in 2008 to get more housing built, the programs and funding haven’t been able to meet our need for more housing. If you compare California to states like Texas and Florida, we are falling way behind in housing production. Every employer we speak to names recruiting and retaining staff as a top issue they face. Roadblocks seem to exist to prevent a sustainable, vibrant, and diverse North Bay.

In How do you solve the California housing crisis? California Association of Realtors looks at the American Dream in the Golden State  by Sarah Wheeler, we learn that in California, “… the largest state by population, one out of every eight Americans lives in the Golden State, but the homeownership rate is dismal. According to Ben Metcalf, managing director of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, the homeownership rate for California is 50 percentage points lower than the rest of the nation at only 44% in 2021. That represents a serious downtrend from a 50% homeownership rate in 2000,” says Wheeler.

Why?  Wheeler says, “Notoriously high home prices are to blame, with monthly payments for a typical California home sitting at more than $5,500. The Terner Center has shown that about half of the homeownership gap is directly attributable to the affordability crisis, which in turn is a direct consequence of a housing supply shortage. ‘We’ve made it difficult to build new housing,’ Metcalf said, citing environmental regulations, building codes, local control and the opposition to building infill multifamily housing.”

Robert Kleinhenz, director of the Office of Economic Research at California State University, “noted that the state has been woefully undersupplied for years. In 2000, the California Association of Realtors estimated that the state would need about 250,000 new units a year to keep up with demand. But Kleinhenz said the state has never gotten close to that number, so it’s now 2 to 2.5 million units behind. ‘The increase in home prices is due to increasing demand versus supply — we have to build more,’ Kleinhenz said. ‘How many housing units are we building? For the last 10 years, building permit numbers never surpassed 120,000 units.’”

Selma Hepp, chief economist at CoreLogic, pointed out “that in 2023 the entire state of California issued only 70,000 permits for single-family homes — about the same number as the Houston metro area. ‘California [has been] the most inventory-constrained market for years.’ As a result, the housing gap is creating a labor force gap as well. ‘Think about year over year the numbers of people leaving California.’ Hepp said. ‘We need to shift the conversation to: How do we ensure kids can stay here and have the same opportunity as we did?’”

How to incentivize the production of housing has been THE question for decades. Wheeler said, “Metcalf said there have been 140 distinct pieces of legislation on housing affordability since 2016, but those laws haven’t made much impact in the permitting numbers. The passage of SB 9 in 2021 outlawed single-family zoning, and there have been numerous attempts to expand the ability to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) to increase density.”

“Ministerial approval — a streamlined permit process that doesn’t require public hearings or sign-off by local officials — took effect in California in 2018 and has the potential to move housing forward. But even with all of these laws, costs and local regulations are still limiting factors for development.”

What more is needed?  Some think the modernization of the California Environmental Quality Act is key, others see better zoning, including the reuse of commercial buildings now vacant because of more remote working, and government funded low-interest loans.  But one new effort to build more housing is coming: a ballot measure for a Regional Housing Bond to fund construction of affordable housing.

The Bay Area Housing Finance Authority (BAHFA) – the first regional housing finance authority in the state – wants to place a $10-$20 billion affordable housing bond measure on the November 2024 ballot to benefit the nine-county Bay Area. This money would be used to build affordable homes and help keep existing housing affordable in every county.

A $20 billion bond could create 80,000 new affordable homes — over two times more than what would be possible without a bond.

80% of the bond revenue will go directly to the nine counties and four cities—San Jose, Oakland, Santa Rosa, and Napa—letting local governments determine how best to produce and preserve affordable housing for their own communities.

BAHFA will invest 20% of the bond revenue in affordable homes throughout the region, while also generating new housing resources to support affordable housing development long after the bonds are fully spent.

Through the measure, each of the nine Bay Area counties and the four cities will adopt their own expenditure plan for how they propose to spend the money. BAHFA will review each plan and confirm that it meets basic criteria.

The majority of funds (at least 52%) must be used to produce new housing, and most of that new housing should be affordable to low- and extremely low-income residents.

NBLC is monitoring the bond development and working with other business-oriented groups to ensure that the money from the bond achieves its purpose of spurring new housing construction.  One area of focus is to have bond money help cover the costs of inclusionary zoning units in market rate projects.  Inclusionary zoning has proven to be a deterrent in new housing construction and having those costs covered could produce more housing that otherwise could not be built.

Is the SMART Train Easing Highway 101 Traffic in Marin and Sonoma?

In an article posted by KQED and written by Katarina Schwartz, ”

Driving to work every morning on congested roads is no one’s idea of a good time. And the commute on Highway 101 through Sonoma and Marin counties can be an especially laborious journey during mid-week rush hour. In an attempt to relieve congestion, provide greener transportation options and offer more ways for people to travel, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) train opened its first stations in 2017. Since then, it has been building out its system, starting at the southern terminus of Larkspur. Eventually, it will reach all the way to Cloverdale.

Bay Curious PodcastBay Curious is a podcast that answers your questions about the Bay Area. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, NPR One or your favorite podcast platform.
Although the train has been in operation for several years now, this train service is still under the radar for a lot of Bay Area residents. Still, on a recent Thursday morning, the Marin and Sonoma residents who rode the train were enthusiastic about the service.

“I take it every single day that I can because it’s just so much quicker,” said Kelly Smith, who lives in Novato and works in San Rafael. “It’s economical. I get to chat with people on the train. It’s much more relaxing. It’s my favorite way to travel.”

Other riders agreed that riding the train is much more pleasant than slogging through traffic.

“This train corridor, you feel like you’re in Europe,” Scott Warner said. “My health is better, and my mind is better when I get to the office, not having to deal with the jam on the 101.”

The photo is taken inside the train looking out. Inside are seats in siloutte. Outside is a lush marshland with green grass poking out of a shallow body of water. In the distance a yellow hillside with dry grass rises above the marsh.
The views over the marshlands aboard the SMART train as it travels from the Petaluma train station en route to the San Rafael station. (Photo By Michael Macor/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)
But do these happy riders mean the SMART train is relieving congestion on Highway 101? That’s what Bay Curious listener Brian Auger, who lives in Fairfax, really wants to know.

It’s a good question, but also a tricky time to answer because in 2024, just a few years after the coronavirus pandemic, traffic and commute patterns have changed a lot.

The short answer:

A Caltrans spokesperson said there is 40% less traffic on US-101 between Larkspur, in Marin, and Sonoma Airport Blvd — an approximate location for where the SMART train line currently ends — than there was in 2019. But those numbers reflect driving at all times of the day and all days of the week, so they are likely more a product of hybrid work environments than anything else.

“Calendar year 2023, SMART carried over 750,000 riders,” SMART General Manager Eddy Cumins said. “The average trip length of those riders is 22.2 miles. So, if you do that math, that equates to 16.6 million passenger miles on the train.”

That sounds like a lot, but to give that number more context, Caltrans said the total annual vehicle miles traveled between Larkspur and Airport Blvd is more than 1.8 billion. In comparison, the miles traveled on SMART represent only the tiniest fraction of all that travel. And for even further context, SMART’s yearly ridership is close to the number of passengers BART carried each week in 2023.

In short, right now, SMART is not making a very big dent in traffic on US-101.

The longer answer:

The SMART train has only been around for a few years, most of them during or directly after the COVID-19 pandemic, which upended ridership and decimated budgets for transit agencies around the region. SMART is actually the only local transit agency to see an increase in ridership during 2023 as compared to 2019 (the last full year before the pandemic).

It’s also worth considering that the system isn’t fully built yet. Transit systems tend to become more useful the longer they’re around. A system like BART has been operating since the 1970s, and other infrastructure has been built around it. Employers have offices near BART stations, other transit agencies provide links to BART, and easy train access can even drive home prices. SMART hasn’t been around long enough to see much of this effect yet.

“We are a small system,” Cumins acknowledged. “We’re not BART. We’re not Caltrain. We have to focus on meeting the needs of the communities we serve.”

To do that, Cumins and his colleagues have been holding listening sessions with community members in Marin and Sonoma to learn how SMART can better serve riders. Right now, the most popular station is Downtown Petaluma and many riders get off in San Rafael or Larkspur. And people who travel on the train with their bikes have been consistent riders, even during the pandemic.

“We noticed a significant increase in bicycle boardings,” Cumins said. “We had some flip seats on the side of the train. We removed those seats in order to create additional bicycle parking.”

They’ve also increased service in the middle of the day, held fare prices low and created a new type of monthly commuter pass that reflects the reality of hybrid work schedules.

“And immediately, we saw a 28% increase in monthly passes,” Cumins said.

Then there were more specific needs, like local teachers expressing the need for transportation when taking school kids on field trips. Cumins said they looked at train capacity and saw they might be able to accommodate this request.

“Off-peak hours, when these kids want to travel, we have capacity there,” he said. “And so between nine and two, they can ride. So we’re now offering free field trips, too, for K-12 students. There was a field trip last week and the kids all wrote us letters thanking the SMART train. And so that’s beautiful.”

A green SMART train car sits at a station platform. The train is on the right side, and the platform is on the left. The platform has a few passengers on it in the distance.
The SMART train began operations in 2017 and continues to expand. (Paul Lancour/KQED)
Interestingly, the ridership of SMART doesn’t follow normal commute pattern expectations. While 60% of rides are in the southern direction in the morning — what you might expect — a full 40% are northbound. Students might explain some of those anomalies. Cumins said about 15% of riders on SMART trains are students heading to school.

“It’s nice, there’s no problems,” said high school student Louie. “When we come home, it doesn’t feel that crowded. It’s mostly in the morning.”

SMART is currently building the Windsor station and has several bike lanes under construction or in the planning phase as well. Part of the agency’s mission is to build out the bike path infrastructure in the region at the same time as it builds the rails, so when the system is complete, it should be a bonanza of rails and trails for residents and visitors alike.

“The one thing [riders] always say is, ‘I cannot believe how clean the train is,’” Cumins said. “The other thing that I hear from people who ride is that the area between Petaluma and Novato may be the most beautiful place on Earth, and it’s a place that you can’t get to unless you’re on the train.”

NBLC CEO Comments on Updates To The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge And West Bound Plans

In an article posted on Mercury News, written by Adrian Rodriguez, he said, ”

Bay Area transportation planners are taking another look at what it would take to open the westbound shoulder of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge for commuter traffic.

The emergency and maintenance lane on the bridge’s upper deck was converted into a bicycle and pedestrian path that is protected by a moveable barrier in 2019 for a four-year trial period.

The controversial path remains open pending a final report that could determine the fate of the test project. Critics, mostly commuters and their employers, say traffic is worse than ever, while supporters maintain the path is a successful multimodal connection between the North Bay and the East Bay.

John Goodwin, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said staffers will be presenting a proposed scope, schedule and cost for preparation of a “design alternatives study” that would include opening the shoulder as a bus and carpool lane during peak hours.

The presentation is expected at the MTC-Bay Area Toll Authority Oversight Committee meeting on March 13.

“More details to come over the next six weeks,” Goodwin said Friday.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” John Grubb, chief operating officer of the Bay Area Council, said of the planned proposal. The Bay Area Council is an influential business group that has been advocating for reopening the third lane for commuter traffic.

“Having a project requires a planning process, and what they’ve agreed to do is start that planning process,” Grubb said.

Warren Wells, policy and planning director for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, said his group hopes bicyclists and pedestrians will continue to have access over the bridge.

“We look forward to seeing the results of the design alternatives study,” Wells said, assuming officials authorize staff to move forward with it.

Wells said he expects any new studies to show similar results to a 2021 study that showed the addition of a third lane would require $70 million to $310 million in improvements. However, he said, the potential costs likely have increased.

That study was revisited in a recent report by the Transportation Authority of Marin that detailed what it would take to open the lane. The report was expected to be presented at the TAM board meeting on Jan. 25, but it was tabled because Kevin Carroll, the board member who requested the discussion, was absent.

According to the study, it would cost about $100 million annually to move the barrier twice a day during weekdays to allow vehicular traffic during peak hours. A machine capable of doing the job would cost $1.27 million. The installation of the barrier was $12 million. The cost of removal is unknown.

The report says adding a third westbound lane would reduce travel times by 11 minutes for drivers headed toward northbound Highway 101. However, drivers traveling to southbound Highway 101 would be delayed by three minutes.

The report said it would cost between $70 million to $90 million to reconfigure the western side of the bridge in San Rafael to handle the new traffic flow. Any such projects would require overcoming environmental hurdles lasting several years.

Carroll, a member of the Larkspur City Council, said he’s experienced backups on the bridge himself. He said he didn’t need to wait for the result of the path study to be completed to know how he feels about it.

“My feeling is the sooner it ends, the better,” he said of the pilot path. “What I am hoping to get is, all the elected officials on the board of TAM, how do they feel about it.”

Marin County Supervisor Stephanie Moulton-Peters, a member of the boards governing the Transportation Authority of Marin and Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said the main issue is that “when we bring more traffic over the bridge it’s going to get backed up in Marin County and it may actually take people longer to get to work than it does currently.”

“So some improvements are needed in Marin and those improvements cost money,” Moulton-Peters said. “They’re not funded so we are looking at HOV and bus lanes as options, and it’s all under discussion.”

MTC and Caltrans are also pursuing a suite of projects — dubbed “Richmond-San Rafael Forward” — that were conceived to shave up to 17 minutes off the westbound morning commute into Marin County.

One of the projects is to remove the toll booths to make way for open-road tolling and an extended carpool lane at an estimated cost of $24 million. That project is expected to open in the winter of 2026.

Other near-term projects include a $5 million Richmond Parkway interchange, transit improvements and more bicycle infrastructure improvements.

Now, TAM officials say they want to hear about those active projects and new proposals from the regional planners leading the charge. Staffers with MTC and Caltrans are expected to give a report this spring.

Brian Colbert, chair of the TAM board and a member of the San Anselmo Town Council, said officials have to balance the needs of all their constituents. He said he is interested in seeing what planners are doing to address backup in San Rafael, too.

“It’s not just about the bike lane, it’s a full, 360-degree view of what’s going on on the bridge,” he said. “We want to look at the congestion of the corridor and what is the medium and long-term outlook of the bridge.”

An average of 115 cyclists use the path on weekdays and an average of 325 cyclists on the weekends, according to commission. The weekday pedestrian average is 15, while the weekend average is 30.

By comparison, more than 80,000 vehicles cross the 5.5-mile bridge on weekdays. Westbound drivers can experience delays of nearly half an hour during peak commute times.

Bay Area business interests say the traffic is an equity and environmental issue that needs to be addressed.

“There is huge support from employers, commuters and residents from both the East Bay and the North Bay to open the third lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge,” said Joanne Webster, president and chief executive officer of the North Bay Leadership Council. “The four year bike-ped path pilot did not produce the data, nor the mode shift many were hoping for.”