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Marin Cycling Booster Shifts Gears After 13 Years

Deb Hubsmith speaks to a large crowd celebrating the opening of the Cal Park tunnel.

Deb Hubsmith, a cycling zealot whose political savvy blazed many North Bay bike paths over the past 13 years, will step down as advocacy director for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition to focus on the national Safe Routes to School program she founded.

Hubsmith will remain an advisor to the Marin coalition while handing off most of her lobbying work in July to Andy Peri, who’s served on the group’s advocacy team for five years.

With bicycling growing rapidly in Marin — the number of weekday cyclists rose 135 percent during her tenure — Hubsmith said it was a good time to make a change in the local organization.

“At the national level, however, we’re struggling with a new Congress, many of whom are trying to eliminate bicycle and pedestrian funding,” she said in a statement. “It’s time for me to have an increased focus on national level policies.”

She expressed confidence her national work “will help bring more funding” for cycling facilities in Marin. Her efforts have already helped to bring $100 million in funding to Marin to build bikeways, tunnels and other projects.

As a founding board member, Hubsmith served as MCBC’s first executive director from 1998-2005, establishing the group’s position as an early leader in the national alternative transportation movement.

She championed the $27 million Cal Park tunnel project for 12 years. At its opening in December, she called it proof that “vision, tenacity and will can truly make miracles happen.”

She was also instrumental in securing $25 million in federal funding for Marin’s part of the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program.

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Cal Park Tunnel Opening Ceremony Sees Hundreds of Cyclists

Some of the first cyclists to ride through the tunnel after the ceremonial opening. Photos: Tom Murphy

Some of the first cyclists to ride through the tunnel after the ceremonial opening. Photos: Tom Murphy

Hundreds of joyous Marin County cyclists pedaled through the Cal Park Hill tunnel Friday afternoon as officials cut the ribbon on a $27 million holiday present that supporters hailed as a national model for green transportation.

The 124-year-old railroad tunnel, sealed after a fire in 1990, connects the Larkspur Ferry landing to San Rafael, trimming 10-15 minutes from the trip for the average cyclist. A separate, enclosed tube will allow light-rail trains to reach Larkspur when the SMART system is built years from now, the next step in what several speakers referred to as “the vision” for transportation.

“This is truly a testament for our vision of a multimodal transportation system for Marin County,” said San Rafael Mayor Al Boro. “It links bicycles, pedestrians, buses and passenger trains, ultimately with a choice of how they want to go to and from their destination.”

The striped bikeway features four video cameras, emergency phones, ventilation, LED lighting, cell service and fire alarms. In addition to the 1,106-foot tunnel, class 1 bike paths connect to Sir Francis Drake Blvd and Anderson Road, bringing the total length of the project to 1.1 miles. It will be open daily from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. with expectations of up to 800,000 riders per year.

“It’s such a world-class facility that it’s going to be a model for the nation,” said Deb Hubsmith, the advocacy director for the Marin County Bike Coalition (MCBC) who led a twelve-year grassroots campaign to reopen the tunnel.

“It’s taken all kinds of collaborations and agencies to bring it together,” she told Streetsblog in an interview. “It shows that vision, tenacity and will can truly make miracles happen.”

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Cal Park Tunnel Opening Today Culminates Nearly Two Decades of Planning

The Cal Park Tunnel as it looked in July. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/jef/4853385025/in/photostream/##Jeff Poskanzer##

The Cal Park tunnel as it looked in July. Photo: Jeff Poskanzer

After 17 years of planning, the Cal Park tunnel will open to Marin County cyclists today, providing a shorter, safer route between San Rafael and the Larkspur Ferry for an estimated 800,000 riders a year.

The 1.1-mile project includes class 1 bike lanes to connect the 1,106-foot bore with Sir Francis Drake Boulevard on the south and Anderson Road in San Rafael. The bike tunnel itself is just 11 feet, 4 inches wide, but reflects state-of-the-art design that transformed the 124-year-old railroad tunnel into a 21st century model for green transportation.

“It has its own lights. It has its own ventilation system. It’s got its own fire alarm system,” said Erin Hohenshelt, a staff engineer for Jacobs Associates who has spent 11 months on the tunnel, which had degenerated into a crumbling cave filled with mud, rock and rotten timbers. Now, there’s even cell service.

In a real sense, the opening of the tunnel connects vision with reality for Patrick Seidler, president of Wilderness Trail Bikes and Transportation Alternatives for Marin. Seidler used to sneak rides on his Stingray through the tunnel when he was growing up in Marin. The tunnel was closed in 1990 after a fire started by drifters. But it wasn’t long before Seidler and others started talking about opening it for cyclists.

“In 1993, we published an article that laid out the vision for re-opening all the tunnels in Marin County with the old rail lines, because the rail lines provided direct connections throughout the county. The cities grew up around them,” he said. “Rail transportation really defined Marin County from 1884 to 1937 when the Golden Gate Bridge was built.”

He thinks today’s ribbon-cutting, scheduled for 3 p.m. on the tunnel’s southern end, will help others see the potential for using the old rail lines as transportation corridors.

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Landscapers Used Banned Pesticide on New Marin County Bike Path

AlamedaDelPradoLanes.jpgPhoto: MCBC
Marin County's ribbon cutting and celebratory ride Monday in the Alameda del Prado bike lanes - a long-missing link in the county's North-South bikeway - was followed by the revelation that landscapers used a weedkiller banned under the county's strict pesticide law.

The $950,000 project closed a mile-long gap between Ignacio Boulevard and the Pacheco Pathway along Highway 101. About $850,000 of the funding came from a federal Non-motorized Transportation Pilot Program grant to the county.

"This is a project that's been needed by cyclists in the area for over 20 years," said Kim Baenisch, executive director of the Marin County Bike Coalition.

After the CalPark Tunnel renovation and Lincoln Hill pathway are completed this fall, cyclists in Marin will have an uninterrupted 10-mile bike path through some of the most congested areas of the county.

The project, which had been in the planning stage for over five years, was complex and expensive because it entailed narrowing of the median strip, undergrounding utility lines and paving bike lanes in each direction.

It was while replanting the median strip in June that a contractor, Baumann Landscaping, applied about 100 pounds of Ronstar G, a weedkiller that is banned from use on Marin County projects, according to a report Tuesday in the Marin Independent-Journal. The newspaper's plant sits at one end of the new bike path.

Ronstar G is widely used legally throughout California on both public and private lands, and is sold through home garden centers. However, in 1998, Marin County barred the use of pesticides on county projects that contain chemicals recognized by the federal EPA as a human carcinogen or possible human carcinogen. Ronstar G fall into that category.

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Talk of Bike Tax Riles Cyclists in Sausalito

Talk of a one-dollar tax on rental bikes in Sausalito is fanning long-simmering tensions between the picturesque city and the local cycling community.

While most cities in the San Francisco Bay Area complain there aren't enough tourists, some Sausalitans have the opposite concern - too many tourists riding rented bicycles across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Sausalito expects the number of bike-riding tourists to soar by two-thirds in 2010, from approximately 1,500 last summer to about 2,500 on peak days this summer.

That's very good news for merchants along Bridgeway, a main street jammed with tee-shirt shops, ice cream vendors, coffee houses, bars and gift shops that prosper when the velo-tourists roll into town.

But the cyclists are decried as a "plague of locusts" by others, who claim the clusters of bikes "pollute the viewshed" in a city famed for stunning vistas.

The practical question of what to do with all those bikes has polarized the city in the past. Some residents noted - correctly at times - that the rental bikes clogged the sidewalks. And commuters griped about hour-long delays in service that stemmed from off-loading the bikes one-by-one on the San Francisco docks.

Past feuds were resolved through a cooperative effort of the rental companies, ferry operators, city staff and the Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC), which has repeatedly pointed out that the non-polluting bicycles take up quite a bit less room than the thousands of cars that snarl the city's narrow streets each day.

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Sausalito Bike Tourists a Boon, Not a “Plague of Locusts”

_7.jpgBicyclists disembark from the Sausalito ferry. Photo by Tom Murphy

Amalia Pittier of Caracas, Venezuela spent a sunny day riding a rented bike across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito with her two traveling companions, stopping to buy lunch and spend money shopping for gifts they will take home to family and friends. Little does this tourist know she's at the center of a local controversy because she and her friends are among the estimated 250,000 visitors annually who rent bikes to ride over the bridge for a day of sight-seeing before they climb on an evening ferry for the return trip.

Pittier said she and her friends Manuela and Herman had no trouble on the ride, though they found the bridge a "little crowded."

Recent us-versus-them toned newspaper reporting ridiculed visiting cyclists as "a plague of locusts" in the San Francisco Chronicle and Marin Independent Journal.  The stories whipped up heated responses from readers, both pro and con, but didn't shed much light on the issues.

The basic grievances are the bike tourists park bikes in doorways, scatter them in the parks and even ride on the sidewalks.  In addition,  scores of tourists overwhelm the Golden Gate Transit ferry service during rush hour while commuters cool their heels in San Francisco waiting up to 40 minutes for a boatload of bikers to disembark one by one. Riders have to haul their bikes up a set of narrow stairs, single file, and then roll them down the gangway.

But Sausalito garners benefits from the dollar-flashing foreigners. Sausalito, the primary destination of bike renters, was the only town in Marin County to have an increase in sales tax revenue in 2008, according to Daryll White of Bike & Roll, a San Francisco rental shop.

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Marin’s Cal Park Tunnel To Open by February 2010

calpark_inside.jpgRedwood timbers being ripped out of the old tunnel.
Within a few weeks, there should literally be a light at the end of the Cal Park tunnel for cyclists commuting from San Rafael to the Larkspur ferry. Engineers are mucking out dirt and boulders on the collapsed south end of the 1,100-foot tunnel, making room for an 11.5-foot wide bike path and tracks for the SMART commuter rail trains.

Dave Bernardi, manager of the $25 million project, and Erin Hohenshelt of the Jacobs Associates engineering firm, gave a detailed update on the project to the Marin County Bike Coalition last night, predicting the 85-year-old tunnel will be open to cyclists by February 2010 “at the latest.”

The project includes a 1.2-mile Class 1 bike path and a self-contained “tunnel within a tunnel” replete with video cameras, lighting, ventilation, emergency phones and even fire hydrants, just in case. The bike passage will have its own walls and concrete ceiling, separating it from the 45 mph diesel trains a few feet away. The trains are expected to start rumbling through in 2012.

Construction crews have been busy removing the original redwood arches inside the tunnel and replacing them with steel braces. All went smoothly until the crews reached the south end, where they encountered loose dirt running through sinkholes and boulders the size of small cars.

“We have a lot of loose ground and cavities and we don’t see an end to it,” said Hohenshelt. But she cautiously predicted the south end would be opened up by May.

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Alto Tunnel Workshop Draws Standing-Room-Only Crowd

crowd.jpg
A large and divided crowd turned out last night in Marin County to help decide whether the long-neglected Alto Tunnel between Mill Valley and Corte Madera should be reopened to cyclists.

County planners stressed the workshop was intended only to gather community input on three possible routes as part of a $225,000 study that will be concluded this fall. But emotions shifted into high gear as cyclists cited reasons to restore the railroad tunnel that’s been decaying over the last four decades.

“The handwriting is on the wall. It’s only a matter of time,” said David Hoffman, planning director for the Marin County Bike Coalition. “There aren’t any issues with the tunnel that can’t be resolved.”

Like much of the existing bike network in Marin and Sonoma counties, the 16-foot-wide tunnel was built by the railroads. It opened in 1884 as redwood forests were being leveled to support urban sprawl in San Francisco. The passage was sealed in the 1970s, and portions have collapsed as its 12-by-14 redwood beams rotted in the dank, stagnant air trapped beneath the mountain. The southern end crumbled in a rainstorm 28 years ago. Several large portions have been filled. The north end is plugged with 125 feet of cement.

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Workshop Tomorrow on Marin’s Alto Tunnel

Map_of_Study_Area.jpgClick for a larger image
Cycling enthusiasts have long dreamed of reopening the rotting, 125-year-old Alto Tunnel as a key link in a greenway stretching from the Golden Gate Bridge to Cloverdale. Now they may get their chance, as the county's Non-motorized Transportation Pilot Program begins a $225,000 study of three routes between the two southern Marin towns.

The tunnel between Mill Valley and Corte Madera is the focus of a transportation workshop tomorrow night in Marin County. 

The other two routes are well known to any cyclists who've ridden north of Mill Valley: an existing bike path over Horse Hill by Highway 101 and the twisty Camino Alto, which climbs to about 450 feet on the hill above the tunnel. Neither route is pedestrian-friendly, and many cyclists shy away from Camino Alto because of its narrow lanes, fast cars and afternoon traffic jams.

The 16-foot-wide tunnel would link existing bike paths on both sides of the hill. Southern Pacific sealed the 2,172-foot passageway in 1971, dooming its 12-by-14 redwood supports to rot in the stagnant, moist darkness. The southern entrance collapsed during a rainstorm in 1981 and several other portions have been filled to protect the homes on the hilltop.

“People are very, very excited about the tunnel," said Andy Peri, a spokesman for the Marin County Bike Coalition who predicted dozens of cyclists will show up. "One woman just called me and told me she’s bringing all five of her children from 7 to 17 years old.”

Reopening the tunnel won't be easy. Neighborhood residents, who've enjoyed the solitude of hiking along the overgrown approaches, are organizing against the project. “It is a [public] right-of-way and it is not their private property, but a lot of people would like to see it left alone. Some people have a fear that homeless people would be living up there," said Peri.

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