The 2008 Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) ballot measure, Measure Q, will be voted on next Tuesday. The SMART project consists of using the 70 miles of existing railroad right-of-way that is publicly owned. The plan is to run passenger train service seven days a week, with 28 train trips going north and south during weekday commute periods, one noontime roundtrip, and on weekends, four round-trip runs. The line spans from Cloverdale to Larkspur. There will be a companion bicycle-pedestrian pathway, which together with the train service adds two new alternatives to driving on Highway 101.
And alternatives to driving are what we need to fight global warming, relieve congestion and have an economical way to commute to work. The SMART project will remove over 1.4 million car trips annually from the freeway, thereby also removing 31 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions from the environment. In addition, the pathway is projected to have 7,000 to 10,000 users per day, further reducing emissions and air pollution. It will also link into the bikeway systems in the cities and counties in the North Bay, and help create safe bikeways in all our communities. The Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition and Sonoma County Trails Council have endorsed Measure Q because they realize the benefits of SMART.
This reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is not only important in the fight against global warming but for employers who must begin to implement the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32), which requires companies to reduce GHG back to 1990 levels by 2020. This reduction is usually in the 25 to 30 percent range. In the North Bay, 60 percent of our GHG emissions come from vehicles. For employers, that means that every vehicle mile traveled by their employees who drive to work will have to be offset in some way. For most employers, the best and most economical way will be to encourage employees to use transit like SMART. The Sonoma County Alliance and North Bay Leadership Council endorse Measure Q as a way to increase economic vitality, keep jobs in the North Bay and create new high-paying jobs.
High gas prices are also pushing people to use public transit. Given a choice, people prefer to ride trains over buses—trains capture riders who would not take the bus. Trains are not caught in daily freeway gridlock, so travel time is shortened and more reliable. The average fare for a one-way train ride is $4.50 (the fares will be based on travel zones similar to the Golden Gate Transit bus system), which is equal to about the cost of a gallon of gas. For many people, the amenities of a train—being able to use your wireless laptop, access to restrooms and scenic views—make riding the train a less stressful and more productive way to begin and end their days. Sonoma County Transportation Authority supports Measure Q to add more choices to our transportation system.
The SMART train and pathway will serve the existing residents of Sonoma and Marin, as much of the North Bay's land use was concentrated along the railway and a large majority of residents live near the proposed train stations. In addition, the SMART train will discourage sprawl, as more people will want to live near transit to save money and have a higher quality of life. Property values tend to rise when there is nearby transit. The SMART project includes shuttles to get people from the train stations to their employment and there will be a coordination of schedules with the buses and ferry to make connections as efficient as possible.
Now is the time to invest in the future of the mobility of the North Bay by supporting Measure Q. Each year of delay increases the costs of the project. We need to pass Measure Q in 2008 to keep the project affordable and to reap the benefits it will bring. We can't wait any longer to relieve traffic on the freeway, cut GHG emissions and protect our planet, and have an alternative to high gas prices. The SMART project is actively supported by environmental organizations like Sonoma County Conservation Action, Climate Protection Campaign, Greenbelt Alliance, League of Conservation Voters and many others.
Last time, the measure just missed passing by 1.3 percent. Every vote counts. We can't leave anything to chance, and urge you to get your friends and family "on board" and vote Yes on Measure Q.
Cynthia Murray is the Yes on Q-North Bay Transportation Alliance campaign co-chair and the president-CEO of the North Bay Leadership Council. Open Mic is now a weekly feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 700 words considered for publication, write firstname.lastname@example.org.