Category Archives: Traffic News

Update on Traffic: Action Plan

Living or working in Mill Valley, we can all agree that traffic congestion is adversely impacting our quality of life. At Monday’s City Council meeting we took a look at the causes of congestion in Mill Valley and the City Council accepted recommendations from staff to make immediate improvements to increase road efficiency and to develop further recommendations regarding larger and longer-term improvements to address the primary contributors to peak time traffic. It is clear that only some of the possible tools available to reduce congestion are within our control, but most causes of congestion and methods to improve traffic flow are complex and involve many players and will require commitments from the community, our school districts and partnerships with the County and Caltrans.

When we think about traffic congestion in Mill Valley, we have to remember that we are not alone. The traffic problem is regional and congestion occurs regularly throughout Marin and the Bay Area. Here in Mill Valley, where we have only two thoroughfares in and out of town; our circulation system and options are very limited and the network is fragile. The smallest changes in traffic volume on Highway 101, Tiburon Boulevard, or Shoreline Highway have immediate ripple effects that backup our streets for prolonged periods. Unfortunately, our in-town circulation along Miller and Blithedale Avenues is inextricably tied to the inadequately functioning Highway 101 interchange as well as the highly congested Shoreline Highway corridor.

Our strong economy also plays a part in our regular congestion with an increase in trips by service workers together with traffic associated with the very active home renovation surge we are experiencing. Additionally, school enrollment has grown 26% in the past 10 years. While many families get their kids to school by bike, on foot or carpool, many also must drive adding to the daily peak hour congestion in the morning and afternoon.

In addition to presenting our findings on the causes of traffic congestion we also introduced an Action Plan with steps we can take to restore road capacity, increase capacity and reduce the demand on our roads. The Action Plan includes realistic steps to provide immediate, albeit modest, improvements and a structure to develop further comprehensive short and long term strategies to improve traffic flow. Some of the ideas included in the Action Plan are:

  1. Provide Camino Alto/Blithedale intersection improvements
  2. Install lane delineators on E. Blithedale at Meadow Lane
  3. Revisit and assess the Signal Timing/Synchronization Program and make adjustments as appropriate
  4. File an application to formally request Caltrans add a dedicated Southbound Hwy 101 entrance ramp at E. Blithedale
  5. File an application to formally request additional Shoreline Highway improvements
  6. Coordinate with School District regarding school transportation options including School Bus service
  7. Form an Advisory Task Force to develop recommendations for short and long-term improvements and programs
  8. Collect extensive and specific current traffic data and public input to define problem
  9. Survey and seek input from the Community on options and ideas
  10. Expand our communication tools to inform the public of “breaking” traffic conditions and recommendations

Staff had recommended another element of the Action Plan: initiating a pilot project to utilize Hamilton Drive as a two-way thoroughfare to determine the benefits, which might be derived to traffic flow. The City Council decided not to undertake that project but rather to leave Hamilton Drive in its current configuration.

While we implement the Action Plan, there will be opportunities for more public input (we’ve received more than 100 comments in recent months on the topic) and suggestions as we explore the best options for us, as a community, to pursue to alleviate the congestion, which so directly affects the quality of life in Mill Valley.

We encourage all residents and community members to read the staff report on this subject and review the presentation slides to better understand the principal causes of our sustained traffic congestion and some of the measures we must take to improve circulation conditions.

As always we appreciate and value your input on all of these matters. If you have any comments, suggestions, or ideas please feel free to contact us.

Get Updates on Current and Upcoming Traffic Conditions in Mill Valley

  • www.mvtraffic.org: The City of Mill Valley has launched mvtraffic.org to give you a central location for local traffic conditions and updates about local traffic.The website includes a local map showing current conditions (via Google traffic), timely updates from the Police Department’s Twitter account, and news about events or projects that are impacting traffic in town.Visit mvtraffic.org and bookmark the site on your mobile device.
  • Twitter: Follow the Mill Valley Police Department and City of Mill Valley on Twitter. Police Officers are often first to know about traffic issues and they tweet alerts to the community.
  • Nextdoor: Sign up for Nextdoor. Nextdoor is a private neighborhood website where residents share information such as neighborhood public safety issues, community events and activities, local services, and referrals. The City has the ability to send urgent messages to all subscribers.
  • Sign up for eNews: eNews is sent directly to your email inbox with information about news and events of importance to you. Enter your email address and select “Traffic Conditions and Road Closures.”

Traffic Update Presented to Council

At their September 2nd meeting, the Mill Valley City Council received an update on recent traffic issues in town. The Council acknowledged the strong leadership of the Mayor on her efforts surrounding the issue of traffic congestion and directed staff to continue their work through Caltrans to make additional modifications to their facilities at the Tennessee Valley Road/Shoreline Highway and the Highway 101/East Blithedale Avenue interchange to reduce traffic delays and improve traffic flow.

The City Council requested additional monitoring and analysis of the traffic flow benefits gained from the recent changes to the Tennessee Valley Road signal and an update on traffic conditions and further recommendations for action later this fall.

The full Staff Report can be found below, or you may download the following:
Traffic Conditions Staff Report
Traffic Conditions Staff Report Attachments
2001 Traffic Committee Report
Presentation Slides

STAFF REPORT

                        To:   Mayor and Councilmembers

                        From:   Jim McCann, City Manager

                        Date:   September 2, 2014

                        Subject:   Traffic Conditions in Mill Valley


Issue: To receive a presentation regarding traffic conditions in Mill Valley and suggestions for actions to pursue for improvement.

Recommendation: That the City Council receive the presentation, discuss and provide direction to staff to pursue further analysis and discussion of options for future Council consideration and action.

Background: We have experienced unprecedented and sustained traffic congestion is the past nine months in Mill Valley. Our residents and visitors have identified traffic congestion as the number one concern and have expressed their frustration with the current conditions and have requested action by the City to take steps to improve the traffic conditions.

The City Council and staff very definitely recognizes the increased congestion and frequent traffic snarls and have taken steps to evaluate the causes and implement measures to reduce the conditions. The Council has established addressing traffic congestion as one of its top priorities for the current fiscal year and has directed me and City staff to focus our energies and resources on improving traffic conditions in the community.

Discussion: The City of Mill Valley has had traffic circulation and congestion problems for many years. Many aspects of our community and of our circulation system contribute to these problems and limitations. The issue has been studied and discussed many times over recent years. Attached is a copy of the 2001 report from a special City Council appointed Mill Valley Transportation Committee which evaluated traffic conditions more that ten years ago. This report provided a good snapshot of the traffic conditions at that time and presented numerous findings and recommendations. Many of the recommendations have been successfully implemented; many remain valid for refreshment and to be re-examined.

Our problem is relatively simple: We have a high volume of vehicle travel over a very limited circulatory system.

Our primary circulation routes are limited in number and in capacity. They are very directly and immediately affected by “outside” traffic conditions on Highway 101 and through neighboring Tennessee Valley. Our principal roadways, Miller Avenue, Camino Alto and Blithedale Avenue, are taxed regularly and have limited to no “extra” capacity. Level of service (LOS), the measurement for the efficient functioning of intersections, at our key intersections is poor and the potential to make substantive changes which might add capacity or make significant efficiency improvements are very limited. Additionally, community interest in maintaining a more pedestrian scale to our roadways and intersections (versus wider multi-lane streets or generous curb radii) is very strong. The Mobility Element of the recently adopted General Plan provides a thorough summary of traffic conditions and serves as the City’s policy which guides actions and programs relative to street improvements and traffic management efforts. We’ll present an overview of key policies and data from the General Plan during the presentation Tuesday evening.

Some facts and observations about Mill Valley traffic:

  • Mill Valley has an average of 2.3 vehicles per household.
  • Mill Valley has approximately 3,000 more cars than driving-aged residents.
  • On average, Mill Valley households make more than 11 trips per day, more than the national average. (This includes trips made from the house to work, school and the grocery store, as well as trips to the house by FedEx drivers, household help, plumbers and other service providers.)
  • Mill Valley’s roads were designed for six vehicle trips per day. We are putting two times as many car trips on our streets as they were designed to carry.
  • Between 1990-2000 Mill Valley’s traffic volumes grew by 15-20%; however population only increased by 2%.
  • Since 2000 traffic volumes in and out of Mill Valley have remained fairly constant.
  • School enrollment has increased regularly and sharply in recent years.
  • The times of greatest congestion in the City are:
    • 7:30 – 9:30 am, – weekdays with the peak between 8:00-8:30am, directly correlated with school start times.
    • 2:00 – 6:00 pm – weekdays, with the peak at 3:30pm, again, correlated with after-school pick up and travel to after-school activities.
    • 10:00am – 6:00pm -weekends, with a peak of 11:30 – 2:30; everyone is moving on the weekends.
  • We know that school-related traffic comprises 20-25% of morning and afternoon commute traffic. This is why the Safe Routes to Schools program targets school commutes, in an effort to reduce the overall volume of traffic.
  • For the past 10+ years, Mill Valley has had very high rates of participation in Safe Routes to School at all our schools. Our families like the health and environmental benefits. The Safe Routes program works and Mill Valley increases the number of kids walking and biking to school every year. The only problem is that the gains we’ve made over the years are being eclipsed by the ever-increasing number of new students.
  • Given the charm, natural beauty, attractive facilities and surroundings and proximity to regional attractions (Muir Woods, Mt. Tam, Stinson Beach, etc.), much visitor traffic joins with resident and business traffic over our main thoroughfares.

Many have asked since no significant land use or circulation changes have occurred in Mill Valley in recent months or years, why have traffic conditions worsened? Why does it take 20-45 minutes to get from the Downtown to the Highway? What is the City doing to address this problem?

What has Changed? 
Increased traffic congestion is not isolated to Mill Valley. Traffic congestion has increased throughout the Bay Area in recent years; a portion of the increase is attributable to the improving economy. Marin County has experienced such effects and congestion has worsened in many neighboring communities. Many recent article and editorials in local newspapers and in social media reflect these increases and offer thoughts about the causes. Traffic conditions in Mill Valley, are certainly influenced in part by a more robust economy—both a more active business environment (with greater patron activity in and out of town and employee traffic), and the traffic associated with substantially increased construction activity we’ve experienced in the past two years. However, the effects of a recovering economy are but a part of our traffic condition.

As noted above, the dominance of auto use for everyday activities, multiple “peak” traffic periods, the significant effect that school-related traffic has on our main and local streets as well as the increase in our local school population, and the heavy impact we receive from visitors (both those coming to Mill Valley and those passing through on their way west), are all significant elements in our traffic chemistry.

Additionally, two external conditions have significantly affected our circulation and have been dominant contributors to the increased congestion we’ve experienced in the past nine months. The first is the lack of properly synchronized timing of the signals Caltrans owns and manages at the Highway 101/Blithdale Avenue interchange. The second is the new signal installed by Caltrans at the Shoreline Highway (Highway 1/Tennessee Valley Road intersection. The attached July 7, 2014 staff report provided the Council with an overview on these two points. Additionally, the information item we posted to our website (attached) and shared with the public last week provides further detail about these two significant congestion contributors. These documents make clear our determination that the Tennessee Valley Road signal in unincorporated Mill Valley, has changed the traffic flows within Mill Valley: the traffic light has caused travel delays and as a result, 10-15% of motorists who used to take Miller/Almonte south to Hwy 101 are now re-routing to Camino Alto to E Blithedale to get to Hwy 101. The E Blithedale Camino Alto stoplight was already functioning at full capacity, and the additional traffic volume overwhelmed the corridor.

What is the City doing to address traffic congestion?

  • The dominant contributors: The good news regarding these two “external” complications is that:1) Caltrans has, in recent weeks, worked cooperatively with the City (and the County) to add separate signal timing programs to the Highway 101/Blithedale Avenue signals to better match and synchronize with City and County signals and to be responsive to the multiple traffic peaks which exist at these intersections and along the corridor (their signals previously had relatively “fixed” timing, were not reflecting changes in traffic peaks throughout the day or over weekends, and were not synchronized with adjacent City or County signals). 2) The more significant regional traffic congestion problem attributed to the Shoreline Highway/Tennessee Valley road signal, has also received important improvement in recent weeks. Caltrans, after many requests and much discussion and study, has modified the signal to reduce traffic interruptions and delays along Shoreline Highway. This modification will retain important safety features for pedestrians but will restore a portion of the roadway capacity and efficiency lost by the introduction of the signal last October.

    Both of the above two prime congestion contributors require further work and modification to achieve greater efficiency and to reduce traffic delay. We remain extremely engaged in this effort for further improvement with County staff and elected officials and the engineers at Caltrans. More to be reported in the near future on both scores.

  • Synchronization. We will continue our work with Caltrans and the County engineers to continuously revisit signal timing and synchronization to achieve efficiencies and address signal reliability. Good News: In Spring 2014 the City made improvements to signal timing on E Blithedale, Camino Alto and Miller to squeeze out the last bit of efficiency in our intersections. The changes make for longer green lights on these streets to move larger “platoons” of cars though the intersections. The trade off is that motorists stopped at cross streets such as Sycamore, have to wait a little longer for a green light.
  • Traffic enforcement. The Police Department has launched a shared services effort with Marin agencies to permit targeted and concentrated traffic enforcement around the County. This program is in its infancy pilot period. We enjoyed the first efforts of the Shared Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) in late August in conjunction with the first day of school at Tamalpais High School. Additional applications of STEP will occur in Mill Valley with the deployment of officers from agencies from throughout the County, bringing much greater presence to areas of particular circulation and/or safety concern.

    Additionally, the Police Department and the Department of Public Works continue to work with the School Districts around school-related circulation and traffic issues. Enforcement, street markings and signage and education are a part of this collaboration. This year’s start of school benefitted from this collaboration.

  • Collaboration with schools. Beyond enforcement, tremendous collaboration occurs with our school districts around traffic congestion and pedestrian and bicycle safety. We meet regularly with the school administration to discuss traffic issues and to coordinate education and management issues. Attached is an offshoot from these efforts in the form of an outreach letter from the Superintendent of Schools urging assistance from parents in enhancing safety and reducing congestion.

    The Safe Routes to Schools (SR2S) program is a critical (and highly effective) tool in educating parents, students, and faculty to the alternatives available to access school sites. Much good work has been done through the SR2S program; they play an essential role in safety and congestion reduction.

  • Visitor traffic. Staff has continued to work with the National Parks Service (NPS) to make clear the City of Mill Valley’s concerns and expectations regarding Muir Woods visitor traffic. This traffic directly affects circulation and congestion. The proposals presented by the NPS are carefully scrutinized by the City and our concerns and recommendations have been clearly expressed to the NPS staff. Continued monitoring and engagement will remain a priority.
  • Regional efforts. In addition to the work we have been doing outlined above with our colleagues at the County and with Caltrans, we are very engaged with the staff and efforts underway at the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM). This agency has significant regional influence and is a great help in both project conception and funding. TAM is pivotal in our efforts to not only pursue basic street improvement projects (they are the conduit for much State and Federal money) but also to realize significant improvements (long-term efforts) to the Highway 101 interchange. The Mayor is an active participant on the TAM Board.

    Marin Transit is another local agency involved in regional transportation services—their focus is transit. We actively participate with this agency regarding a variety of bus and shuttle services serving many user groups in the community. The Mayor also sits on this Board. The Transit Agency is just embarking on a “School Bus Feasibility Study”; this is of great interest to Mill Valley. We will be an active participant in this study.

  • Miller Avenue Streetscape Improvement. This project, which will begin this year, will improve conditions for all modes of circulation (pedestrian, bicyclists and vehicles) and will as a result move traffic more efficiently. The safer conditions will also encourage greater use of alternate modes of transportation and as such will reduce vehicle volumes and enhance overall efficiency.
  • Communication and outreach. Our recently enhanced communication efforts have been more substantial. Effective and regular outreach efforts and communication around current circulation issues (special events, accidents, road closures, construction, etc.), information about traffic-related policies or infrastructure improvements, and requests or suggestions for traffic and circulation assistance from the public. A traffic condition phone App has been developed by the City to provide current traffic conditions.

What more can be done?

There are many options to pursue. Some of which are “easy” and fully acceptable and some which would be sensitive, controversial and require significant discussion before being pursued. A summary of a few options follow below.
Marin Transit. Actively participate in the School Bus Study and coordinate efforts with our local School Districts in this effort. Additionally, work with the Transit Agency to explore the possibilities available through their agency for greater access to transit services including alternate or expanded bus routes/services and potential for local serving shuttle services.

  • Caltrans. Continue to work with Caltrans to realize further modifications and improvement of the Tennessee Valley Road signal and to enhance the efficiency of the signal timing and synchronization at the Highway 101/Blithedlae Avenue interchange.

    Additionally, pursue modification of the south bound Highway 101 on-ramp from Blithedale Avenue to improve capacity and ease of circulation.

  • Schools. Continue strong support for the work done through the SR2S program. Continue regular meetings, communication and collaboration with school administration to coordinate solutions to access and circulation issues and to encourage and facilitate increased and sustained carpooling and reduced use of vehicles. Explore other options which might reduce congestion such as alternate start times, additional “satellite” drop-off sites, etc.

    Multi-modal solutions. Work, through the update of the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities Plan (being managed by the Department of Public Works through the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee-BPAC), to enhance our emphasis on alternate modes of transportation in and around town: sidewalks, SLP’s (Steps Lanes and Pathways), and bicycle facilities.

  • Increased capacity. Explore the potential for increased road capacity through the widening of Blithedale Avenue (across from the Whole Foods) and explore intersection improvements for greater efficiency. Consider modification of Hamilton Drive to two-way circulation (could be considered for use regularly, during peak conditions, during emergency conditions, etc.).
  • Traffic enforcement. Continued enforcement is necessary and continued creative ideas to allow existing resources to be utilized more effectively should be explored.
  • Land use actions. The City should scrutinize land use proposals to ensure that no exacerbation of traffic congestion or other significant impacts are caused and that appropriate mitigations are required and implemented.

What are recommended next steps?

  • City Council ad-hoc committee. It is recommended that the Council consider the establishment of an ad-hoc special committee to study/evaluate traffic conditions and return within 6 months with findings and recommendations for Council consideration. Possible membership is suggested to include: two Councilmembers, the Mill Valley School District Superintendent, and the Tam High Principal, a representative from the Chamber of Commerce, and staff and our traffic consultant.
  • Continue work with:
    • Caltrans and County around the issues identified above regarding short-term/immediate measures and begin efforts toward longer term Highway 101 interchange replacement study efforts.
    • Actively participate in the School Bus Study being prepared by Marin Transit and bring information items to City Council for information and action. Explore shuttle options and the potential for enhanced transit services.
    • SR2S. Continue the strong support for this program and coordinate efforts through the City’s Departments of Public Works and Police along with the School Districts.

Conclusion: 
It is evident that traffic and circulation conditions have worsened in the community. As noted, these conditions, while worse, are not new. There are options and tools we can use to improve the situation, but in the end, this effort requires all of us to cooperate and work together to pursue opportunities for improvement of our facilities and to reduce our contribution to area-wide traffic congestion.

The formation of an ad-hoc committee to explore this issue and to develop a framework with recommendations for future discussion and action would be very helpful.

City of Mill Valley Traffic Update: What’s Driving Traffic Congestion and Our Efforts to Solve the Problem

Throughout the summer, the City of Mill Valley has adjusted the timing of the six traffic lights it controls from the Camino Alto and Miller Avenue intersection out to East Blithedale Avenue, Tiburon Boulevard and Highway 101. Traffic flow has improved, but peak period conditions remain unacceptable.

Director of Public Works Jill Barnes has worked with Caltrans and requested further synchronization  of the three traffic lights Caltrans operates on East Blithedale Avenue/Tiburon Boulevard at Tower/Kipling drives, at the southbound on-ramp of Highway 101 and at the Highway 101 northbound on-ramp to alleviate the bottleneck they create during peak traffic conditions. Caltrans engineers have agreed to make additional adjustments to these signals as the City has requested.

Primary Cause of Congestion

Ms. Barnes has also determined that a dominant cause of the recently increased traffic congestion is a shift in vehicle volume onto Camino Alto and East Blithedale as residents attempt to avoid the congestion through Tam Junction related to the traffic lights installed there in October 2013. A May 2014 update from Supervisor Kate Sears summarized efforts made by the County of Marin and Caltrans engineers to reduce delays and congestion caused by the new signals at Tennessee Valley Road and Flamingo Road (click here for the summary). The July 7 staff report to the City Council provides the City’s findings regarding traffic conditions and recommendations for improvement.

“In addition to the lack of optimal signal coordination on East Blithedale and the 101 overpass, we have determined that the new Caltrans signal at Tennessee Valley Road/Shoreline Highway is the dominant contributor to the increased traffic volumes and resulting congestion we have regularly experienced on our roadways and the subsequent traffic congestion and substantial motorist delays,” City Manager Jim McCann wrote in a June 11 letter to the District 4 Director of Caltrans, requesting an immediate meeting to develop a plan to resolve these issues.

Representatives from Caltrans, the County of Marin Public Works Department and the Transportation Authority of Marin have met with City of Mill Valley officials three times in recent weeks to discuss the situation and cooperatively identify solutions to the traffic issues.

The City has conducted traffic counts for seven days on East Blithedale Avenue between Lomita Drive and Tower Drive/Kipling Drive, as well as counts of cars turning off east Blithedale/Tiburon Blvd. onto northbound and southbound Hwy. 101 and on Miller Avenue west of Almonte Blvd. and on Camino Alto at both Miller and East Blithedale avenues. Traffic data was collected during morning, mid-day and afternoon/evening peak periods.

We agree that the changes to the signal will improve circulation to the intersection, but we believe further modification is necessary. The City is pursuing additional changes with Caltrans leadership.

“The traffic count data confirms our observations that we have had about a 15 percent increase in traffic volume on East Blithedale just since last November,” Public Works Director Jill Barnes said.

That 15 percent jump reflects a spike in traffic volume as a result of the installation of new traffic lights by Caltrans and the County of Marin along Shoreline Highway at Tennessee Valley Road and Flamingo Road. The increase is simply more than Mill Valley’s road can handle, regardless of the timing of its traffic lights, Ms. Barnes said.

Efforts to Reverse Traffic Shift and Improve Circulation

The traffic signal timing changes the City made in early May were designed to increase the green light times for drivers along Camino Alto and East Blithedale, helping move traffic along those corridors more quickly, and also to provide required “Walk” times for pedestrians, Ms. Barnes said. But the timing was based on historically normal traffic volumes on these streets that existed before the Shoreline Highway signals were added.

“The refined signal timing does in fact work to improve the efficiency of our roadways and move traffic more quickly,” Barnes said. However, our major roadways are at capacity and the diversion of such a substantial volume of traffic from Shoreline Highway to Camino Alto and East Blithedale has overwhelmed these roads and has brought traffic to a standstill on numerous occasions.

For City of Mill Valley officials, reducing traffic backups is a major priority. The City will continue to insist to Caltrans and County engineers that the Tennessee Valley Road signal be modified to allow Shoreline Highway to function efficiently for vehicles and to reverse the shifting of traffic we have experienced in recent months. We will also continue to work with Caltrans to make further signal timing adjustments to improve synchronization and on-ramp modifications to improve overall roadway efficiency.

“We recognize the need for safety measures to allow pedestrians to cross at the new Tennessee Valley Road/Shoreline Highway signal,” City Manager Jim McCann said. “We simply want the signal modified to correct the significant decrease in the functioning of the intersection, which has caused delay and great frustration to motorists and has resulted in the shift of traffic into Mill Valley and onto the already over-burdened Camino Alto and East Blithedale Avenue. We need the cooperation of our County and Caltrans colleagues to make these modifications to benefit all users.

Caltrans and the County agreed last week to make modifications to the signal which will reduce traffic delays along this corridor; these modifications should be in place by August 22.

An update of the City’s efforts and the actions of the County and Caltrans will be provided to the City Council at its September 2 meeting.

Correspondence with Caltrans :

Letter to Caltrans –
June 11, 2014

Caltrans Reply –
July, 8, 2014

Letter to Caltrans –
August 12, 2014

 

 City staff will continue to monitor traffic closely, and we encourage drivers to:

Provide input on their traffic experience. City staff check this input regularly and make adjustments in response.

Stay informed – When City staff is alerted to a traffic problem, we post news to the following:

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Any other questions or comments regarding traffic or road conditions may be directed to the Department of Public Works:

PG&E Downtown Pipeline Replacement Project – Update 6/2

Posted Date: 6/2/2014 9:00 AM

Road Work AheadThe City of Mill Valley Department of Public Works is working closely with PG&E on a pipeline replacement project in the Downtown area of Mill Valley. The purpose of this project is to enhance gas service to PG&E customers by replacing the gas lines with modern piping, creating a safer and more reliable natural gas system.

Construction began the week of March 17 and will continue through July 2014. Please note that all construction schedules are subject to change due to weather restrictions and other unforeseen delays.

Here is the latest news on the downtown pipeline replacement project:

What happened last week: Gas main installation was completed on Throckmorton Ave between Bernard St and Madrona St.

What is happening this week: PG&E crews will be trenching for gas main installation on Madrona St, Throckmorton Ave between Bernard St and Madrona St, and on Throckmorton Ave between E. Blithedale Ave and Corte Madera Ave. Mill Valley Market service is to be completed early this week.

What to expect in the next few weeks: PG&E anticipates completing gas main installation and service connections on Throckmorton Ave between E Blithedale Ave and Corte Madera Ave as well as service connections on Madrona St. Pavement restoration on Throckmorton Ave between Corte Madera Ave and Bernard St, Corte Madera between Lovell Ave and Throckmorton Ave, and Bernard St are planned for the week of 6/16. Restoration has been delayed because of the impact the main installation has been having on traffic.

The City recommends that motorists:

  • Add time to your trip and plan ahead.
  • Use the recommended detours during construction.

PG&E and City staff are making every effort to mitigate traffic impacts during construction in the downtown area and are working with the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce to notify local businesses and residents of the planned work. The City is also working closely with PG&E to ensure that the construction work will not affect emergency vehicle access or response times.

If you have any questions or concerns specific to this project please call PG&E:

  • Customer Care Representative Aaron Murphy – 707-577-1062
  • All other PG&E related questions – 1-800-743-5000
  • If you smell gas – 1-800-743-5000 (24/7)

The City and PG&E will provide regular updates to the community regarding the project. Please visit theDowntown Pipeline Replacement Project page for the most up-to-date information.

PGE Week 12

City to Close Camino Alto on June 2 for Fire Fuel Reduction Project

The Mill Valley Fire Department will begin its annual three-day removal of vegetation along Camino Alto on June 2. Drivers are advised that Camino Alto will be closed in both directions for up to three days from 7 am to 4 pm from Overhill Road north to City Limits.

“The idea is simple: reduce the fire fuel load and create a fuel break so we can better control a fire that occurs in that area,” Battalion Chief Scott Barnes said. “We appreciate the patience of the users of Camino Alto while we work as quickly as possible to finish this project.”

The annual removal of potential fire fuels like brush and grasses is part of the City’s multi-faceted Vegetation Management Program, which has an annual budget of $300,000 and features a variety of services to reduce and remove the fire fuels in the open spaces that surround Mill Valley.

Battalion Chief Barnes, who runs the Program, says that 5,500 tons of dangerous fire fuel vegetation has been cleared in Mill Valley in the past decade, including 183 tons in 2014 alone.

The Camino Alto vegetation removal project is in partnership with Marin County Open Space District, which manages the Camino Alto Open Space Preserve west of Camino Alto from Overhill north to City Limits. The district is contracting with Conservation Corps North Bay to reduce vegetation in that area, while the City has hired a contractor to do the same on its land east of Camino Alto, Barnes said.

Workers will clear a minimum of 30 feet of vegetation from the road and up to 100 feet from the road, Barnes said. The total cost of the City’s portion of the work is approximately $3,000, Barnes said.

The Camino Alto project comes on the heels of the removal of brush and grasses up to 60 feet on both sides of Escalon Fire Road between Vista Linda and Sarah drives, just west and up the hill from Camino Alto. The primary benefit of this project is the removal of highly flammable vegetation that poses a threat to Mill Valley homeowners. The City and the District shared the cost of $4,500 of that project, Barnes said.

“It’s right up against homes in Mill Valley, so it’s a very strategic area for us,” he said. “We have a big interest in that area.” The City’s Vegetation Management Program’s budget is entirely funded by the City’s Municipal Services Tax (MST). The $145 per parcel tax was first approved by voters in 1987 for 10 years, and was renewed in 1997 at $145 per parcel and 2006 at a maximum of $195 per parcel. The MST generates $1.2 million in revenue annually. Along with the budget for the Vegetation Management Program, the MST also funds $900,000 in street maintenance and road repair. The MST is up for renewal in 2016.

Tam Junction Traffic Light Update from Supervisor Kate Sears

Posted Date: 5/23/2014

This is a message from Marin County Supervisor Kate Sears:

What’s the latest on the Tam Junction traffic lights? 

Marin County Public Works and Caltrans are continuing to adjust the signal timing along Shoreline Highway to improve the flow of traffic. Caltrans maintains and operates the traffic signals including implementation of traffic signal timing for the corridor. Marin County is assisting in the review of traffic conditions along the corridor and has hired a traffic consultant to provide additional assistance to Caltrans.

The primary concerns residents have recently told us about are:

1) left turn from Shoreline Highway onto Tennessee Valley Road,
2) side street (Gibson Avenue) traffic at the Flamingo/Shoreline Highway intersection,
3) travel times in the afternoon from Tamalpais High School to US 101, and
4) pedestrians crossing Shoreline Highway at Tennessee Valley Road.

The County has reviewed each of these issues with Caltrans and measures to address them are discussed below.

Left Turn from Shoreline Highway onto Tennessee Valley Road 

Residents wrote about long wait times to turn left from Shoreline Highway northbound onto Tennessee Valley Road. Caltrans adjusted the signal timing to increase the frequency of the green light allowing the left turn onto Tennessee Valley Road from Shoreline Highway northbound. This change should reduce the wait times as well as the number of cars waiting in line to turn. Caltrans implemented an initial change during the PM peak hours when the long wait times were observed.

County staff will continue to monitor traffic conditions to assess the effect of the recent signal timing changes. Further signal timing adjustments during the PM peak hours and other times may be forthcoming.

Cars waiting to turn left from Shoreline Highway onto Tennessee Valley Road often extend past the existing left turn lane pocket. Based upon field measurements, extension of the left turn lane pocket by 40 feet (approximately 2 to 3 car lengths) appears to be feasible. County staff is coordinating with Caltrans to restripe and extend the left turn lane pocket at this location.

Flamingo Traffic Signal and Side Street Traffic

The County’s Department of Public Works has received complaints regarding how quickly and often the traffic from Gibson Avenue interrupts through traffic on Shoreline Highway. Caltrans will adjust the traffic signal program to ensure that a vehicle or pedestrian on Gibson Avenue is not immediately accommodated by the traffic signal; i.e. a short wait time at Gibson will be programmed at this light. DPW believes a longer wait time at Gibson Avenue will be workable and less disruptive to the through traffic on Shoreline.

Lengthy Travel Time in the Afternoon from Tamalpais High School to Highway 101 

We have recently received complaints about lengthy travel times in the afternoon from Tamalpais High School to Highway 101. Long travel times had not been observed in the afternoon during previous travel time surveys.

Due to concerns over pedestrian safety, Caltrans recently made some changes to the pedestrian timings at Almonte and Shoreline. These changes likely led to the recently observed travel time increase from Tam High. Caltrans will consider adjusting the pedestrian signal settings back to the settings that were in place a few weeks ago, with the expectation of restoring flow.

The need to balance safe pedestrian, transit user and bicycle access with motorists’ desire for smooth traffic flow at the various lights throughout Tam Junction means that Caltrans has had to factor in a large number of variables in making signal adjustments. Depending on the time of day, those variables change and require careful light timing adjustments. Once a change is made, the resulting impacts need to be further studied and evaluated. We recognize the importance of making sure the movements of pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users and motorists are properly observed, analyzed, adjusted and tracked. Trying to get it right for all users is an iterative process which is complex, timing consuming and often frustrating for everyone.

Pedestrians Crossing Shoreline Highway at Tennessee Valley Road 

A number of residents have raised concerns about motorists turning left onto Shoreline Highway from Tennessee Valley Road not expecting pedestrians to be crossing Shoreline Highway at the same time. Warning signs have been installed on the traffic signal poles to remind motorists to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. Caltrans has also adjusted the traffic signal timing to activate the green “walk light” five seconds prior to motorists on Tennessee Valley Road eastbound receiving their green light. This adjustment allows pedestrians to get a head start crossing Shoreline Highway and to be more visible to motorists. County staff is also coordinating with the W-Trans traffic consultant and Caltrans to examine other options available within State regulations at this location.

Caltrans obtained recent traffic counts for the intersections along Shoreline Highway. Caltrans staff will review these counts and may make additional traffic signal adjustments to better manage the traffic flow.

See Something? Say Something! 

If you have further observations about the traffic lights in the Tam Junction area, please continue to send us your detailed description of the situation (list your chief concern with the date, time of day, path of travel and any suggestions).

What happens if I do say something? 

We forward all your emails to our Department of Public Works for its consideration and analysis. DPW, in turn, shares this information with Caltrans traffic and signal engineers for their use in adjusting signal timing and identifying other solutions to help ease traffic flow.

Thanks to everyone for communicating your concerns and for helping us find a constructive approach to living with these new traffic lights. You, as residents, well know the traffic challenges Tam Junction presents – motorists, cyclists, students and adults traveling to school and work, pedestrians, hikers, visitors, and patrons of Tam Junction’s commercial businesses. Keeping everyone safe, keeping everyone moving, trying to reduce unnecessary traffic impacts to residential streets and prevent frustration sometimes can seem like a Sisyphean task, but we’re on it!

We’ll continue to send messages and updates as we receive helpful information to share. Please continue to send traffic related messages to my Aide, Maureen Parton at mparton@marincounty.org.

Reminder to Ride the Muir Woods Shuttle 

And don’t forget to tell visiting family, friends and neighbors to take the Muir Woods Shuttle to Muir Woods and the parklands! Trip reduction and fewer vehicle miles traveled can be fun and community building. Plus, your traffic weary neighbors will thank you.

Here’s the link to this wonderful service, 9 years in successful operation:
http://www.marintransit.org/routes/66.html

Let’s all have a safe and enjoyable summer! 

City of Mill Valley Adjusts Traffic Signal Timing, Convinces Caltrans to Do the Same

On the heels of consecutive weekends of major traffic backups along East Blithedale Avenue, the City of Mill Valley has made additional changes to the timing of its six traffic lights from the Camino Alto and Miller Avenue intersection out to East Blithedale Avenue, Tiburon Boulevard and Highway 101. 

The City has also successfully lobbied Caltrans, which controls the traffic signals on East Blithedale Avenue/Tiburon Boulevard Tower/Kipling Drives, at the southbound on-ramp of Hwy. 101 and at the Hwy. 101 northbound on-ramp, to make changes to the timing of those lights in an effort to synchronize with the City’s traffic signals. Caltrans made those changes on Tuesday, May 20. 

Caltrans’ changes are expected to reduce the heavy traffic backups that residents and visitors have experienced in recent weekends, according to Public Works Director Jill Barnes. In the case of all nine traffic signals, the drivers along the Camino Alto and East Blithedale corridors will now experience longer green light times, helping move traffic along those corridors more quickly, Barnes said. 

“We’re trying to do something for the greater good of all drivers in town,” Barnes said. “Once drivers turn onto those corridors, they will move more quickly through them.” 

The changes come on the heels of the May 5 fine-tuning of Mill Valley’s traffic signals. City officials closely monitored the impact of those changes, and decided to lengthen the green light times along Camino Alto and East Blithedale, Barnes said. 

But a more significant obstacle was getting those lights to synchronize with Caltrans’ three traffic lights near and on the Hwy. 101 overpass. The green light times at Caltrans’ lights were significantly shorter, meaning that while Mill Valley’s lights were sending traffic along those corridors through more quickly, an even larger than usual backlog was occurring once traffic reached Caltrans’ traffic lights. The backups stretched back as far as Park School. 

Barnes said that while traffic worsened over the previous two weekends, the traffic light timing changes made on May 5 have improved traffic flow along Camino Alto and East Blithedale on weekdays. Barnes also noted an additional change that has been made since May 5: to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to more safely cross East Blithedale, the crossing times at some intersections, including East Blithedale at Lomita Drive and Roque Moraes, has been lengthened. 

“That is strictly a safety issue,” Barnes said. 

City officials have noted that at the same time that City and Caltrans staff have been working on the signal timing at key intersections, a number of recent accidents and incidents have caused significant back-ups. Since the beginning of May, motorists have experienced a few signal outages outside of City limits caused by power interruptions, some repair projects, traffic collisions, and yesterday’s unusual incident of a load of nails being spilled on Hwy. 101, causing the California Highway Patrol to close the northbound onramp to the highway. These incidents highlight the limited capacity of Mill Valley roads and how quickly interruptions such as these can wreak havoc with traffic movements. 

For City of Mill Valley officials, reducing traffic backups is a major priority, and the City appreciates the patience of residents, business owners and visitors during this difficult time.