CA: Novato's 'Gateway' Bus Hub Renovation Moves Ahead

Aug. 18--Plans for a $3.5 million bus stop renovation providing a "gateway" to downtown Novato are moving ahead as county transit officials seek city advice on final design alternatives.

If all goes smoothly, construction work could begin on the long-awaited upgrade of the dated median center bus shelter on Redwood Boulevard at Grant Avenue sometime next year -- although funding remains in limbo and largely depends on transportation grants.

With a $1 million grant already in hand, about $2.2 million in new funding is needed. Another $300,000 has been allocated for design, engineering and related consultants.

Although critics have worried that transit improvements at the site could promote urban housing development, none appeared Monday as the Marin County Transit District board unanimously endorsed refined design alternatives for consideration by Novato design review commissioners Sept. 17.

The design moving forward favors a central "weave" road pattern in which buses stop along both sides of a central median shelter area. One alternative calls for a wood beam shelter designed with recent downtown civic improvements in mind. Another calls for more modern metal and glass structure.

The Redwood and Grant Transit Improvement Project is intended to brighten the entry to the downtown, provide key public safety improvements along with bike, pedestrian and disability accommodations, ease traffic flow and refresh landscaping and related aesthetics.

"This is a very important resource for our city," said Novato City Councilwoman Madeline Kellner, a member of the county transit board. Loose ends need to be tied down, she added, including how the facility will handle shuttle bus traffic to the Atherton Avenue SMART station, and where motorists can drop off family or other bus patrons. The plan does not provide for any parking.

"SMART wasn't integrated into this hub, but that was the choice of the city and I support it," Supervisor Steve Kinsey said. He urged that officials aim for quality to "make a statement," explore features such as a solar roof and pledged that "we will find the money" to make the program work.

"Thank you, director," Supervisor Judy Arnold, a key advocate for the project, told Kinsey. "From your mouth to God's ear."

The new station will remain on the same median site on Redwood. The current cramped, somewhat shabby shelter there can fully accommodate only one bus in each direction, limits space for maneuvering, has inadequate pedestrian safety features and provides limited lighting, long roof eaves and concrete walls that block activities from public and police view.

"The current facility has operational and safety challenges," said Lauren Gradia, director of finance and capital view programs for the county transit district. "The project's goals are to improve bus operations, passenger safety and security, and pedestrian access to the facility."

She noted that design of the current shelter limits visibility, creating safety and security concerns. The pedestrian crossing from Redwood Boulevard into the facility needs improvement, side bus station platforms do not have room for many passengers or more than one bus, and wheelchair access is difficult.

"Operationally, buses cannot move independently past one another within the facility," she said.

Rejecting concern from critics that transit improvements may be followed by high-density housing or other urban development, Novato officials have embraced bus stop improvement plans in the works since 2009.

"The existing bus transfer facility is not the appropriate physical improvement or visual statement that announces the entry into downtown Novato," according to a city staff report this spring. "The overall appearance of the facility is dark, uninviting, and one where bus passengers don't always feel safe or secure. ... A renovated bus facility allows for new bus shelters, with higher canopies for improved site visibility into the station area by law enforcement, installation of new landscaping, better and more energy efficient lighting, real time signage, as well as other amenities, such as an information kiosk, and more attractive debris bins."

As put by Sustainable Novato, "The existing rundown bus station is at the gateway to Novato and its old, awkward design can not even accommodate the current articulated buses."

The City Council has given the project preliminary approval on a 4-1 vote.

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

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