CA: Survey Shows Many Marin Workers Have Long Commutes, Solutions Vary

July 20--The last two Mondays saw major traffic accidents in Marin serving to create gridlock, but even on normal days many people spend more than an hour getting to work or school, according to a recently released survey.

The survey, paid for by the Transportation Authority of Marin, queried county residents on various aspects of their commute experiences. When given seven time frames to choose from, the greatest number of respondents -- 23.3 percent -- indicated it took them more than one hour to get to their destination, the longest of the options.

Residents maneuvering on highways 101, 580, 37 or on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and other roads during the commute can find the experience frustrating.

"My commute is from San Anselmo to San Mateo. Good times," read a sarcastic Tweet from Laura Thomas @chloemead72 on the subject.

Transportation officials are looking at ways to lessen the highway jams.

"We want to work on changing patterns," said Dianne Steinhauser, executive director of the Transportation Authority of Marin. "That could mean different start times at work, or more people working from home."

Cynthia Murray, who heads the North Bay Leadership Council business support group, said employers can help by providing workers with incentives to take transit.

"Traffic is a real problem for businesses. It's unpredictable. A lot of business owners tell me they have to pay overtime because they are waiting for shipments from trucks that get stuck," she said. "It's a real disadvantage in terms of competitiveness for North Bay businesses."

The survey -- which sampled between 600 and 750 via telephone -- indicated 8.5 percent of people worked from home, a number Steinhauser would like to see grow. Working from home ranked the second highest "mode" people used to get to work in the survey.

Topping the list at 62.5 percent was people who drive alone to get to work and school. While the figure might seem high, it is one of the lower percentages in the region.

According to U.S. Census data, San Francisco has 37.6 percent of its workforce go solo in a car. Alameda County is a close third behind Marin with 65.4 percent of its workers driving solo. Solano County has the highest percentage at 76.7 percent, almost even with Santa Clara County at 76.6 percent.

The more recent Marin survey showed 8.3 percent of people in Marin carpool or vanpool, 4.7 percent bike, and 2.8 percent walk to work or school.

In 2016 the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit is expected to begin service between San Rafael and Santa Rosa, with service to the Larkspur planned for soon after.

Farhad Mansourian, SMART's general manager, said rail will help.

"Look at the incidents the last two Mondays," he said, referring to an overturned big-rig on Highway 101 near I-580 on July 14 and a tanker gas spill near San Quentin State Prison last Monday. "The county was held hostage to traffic for two weeks in a row. The train would have run without interference. That's what it offers, as well as the bike and pedestrian pathway along its side."

But Mansourian conceded SMART is "not a silver bullet."

"It takes everything: the train, the ferries, freeway widening, bus service, bikes and walking," he said. "The problem didn't develop overnight and it won't be solved overnight."

Copyright 2014 - The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.

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