Friday, April 1, 2016

Circling Back to Buses and Books

Petaluma Transit bus
I have several North Bay updates to share today, from new and improved bus routes in Petaluma to a revisited book club to a request for reading list suggestions.

A couple of months back, I wrote about how the staff at Petaluma Transit was working hard to build connections with SMART, the commuter train system that will begin rolling through the North Bay later this year.

The building of bus-to-train connections was a high priority effort for many parties, from SMART, which is eager to have fare-paying customers delivered to its stations, to Petaluma Transit, which is always seeking to better serve its community, to the City of Petaluma, which has an interest in keeping SMART riders from driving cars that would overburden streets and available parking.

The earlier post asked that local citizens attend the February meeting of the Petaluma Transit Advisory Committee, a group that I currently chair.  At the meeting, Petaluma Transit staff would present the route realignments and the public would be allowed to comment.

 The suggestion didn’t take root.  Perhaps because I began my marketing effort too late or perhaps because I didn’t reiterate the request enough, there wasn’t a single member of the general public in the City Council chambers that day.

It’s possible I wasn’t a complete washout as a publicist.  It may be that a greater number than usual watched the meeting on the local community access channel.  I know that a surprising number of local citizens watch the broadcasts regularly.

(True story: I began a trip last summer with a 3:15am taxi ride to the Sonoma County Airporter pickup.  Enroute, I chatted with the driver about Petaluma.  But he soon interrupted the conversation, asking how he knew my voice.  I said I had no idea, but he persisted, asking if I was ever on television.

The only television exposure I could suggest was the transit committee meetings on the local channel.  To which he responded, “That’s it!  I knew I recognized your voice.  You’re a local celebrity!”  Darned if I know how he might have set it up, but I still think it was a prank.)

Despite the apparent desultory response to my earlier public outreach, Petaluma Transit continued to refine the route realignments, which will soon be folded into the MTC-mandated Short-Range Transit Plan (SRTP).

The draft SRTP, including the route realignments, will receive its final review during an upcoming transit committee meeting, followed in May by its adoption, first by the committee and then by the City Council.  Implementation will be in August.

Everyone, from Transit staff to SMART to MTC to me, would like Petaluma citizens to look at the route realignments and to provide comments on points that might have been missed.  For the community to effective embrace SMART, and to thrive with reduced car dependence, it’s important that the routes work.

So please join us on Thursday, April 7, 4:00pm in the City Council Chambers at 11 English Street.  If you insist on watching from home, that’d be okay, but we’d really rather have you there in person.

If you want an advance look at the route proposals, Transit staff has assembled an on-line poll that depicts the routes and asks questions about how the new routes will serve your needs.  You’re encouraged to look at the poll and to offer thoughts.

And if you want to review the entire SRTP, which addresses many aspects of Petaluma Transit’s operation beyond route planning, it can be viewed under Item 7.A. of the agenda for the meeting.

Also, recognizing that 4:00pm public meetings don’t fit everyone’s personal schedule, Petaluma Urban Chat will dedicate their next regular meeting to the route realignments.  Petaluma Transit staff will attend the meeting, which will be Tuesday, April 12, 5:30pm at Aqus CafĂ©, 2nd and H Streets in Petaluma.  As always, all are welcome.

Staying on the topic of Petaluma Urban Chat, a casual gathering of urbanists that sprung from this blog and has been meeting since 2012, I recently turned over management of the group to Teddy Herzog, a Petaluma resident with an interest in urban topics and a desire to grow the group.  I love the meetings and will continue participating, but feared that my other personal and civic obligations, including this blog,  were interfering with my ability to nurture the group, so was pleased to accept Herzog’s offer.

Herzog and I have been meeting to plot a trajectory for Urban Chat.  An idea I resurrected was a book club.  There was a time when the entire Urban Chat functioned as a book club.  I thought it was a successful effort, but it ultimately became clear that not everyone had the time or inclination to be book readers.

So I won’t propose that Urban Chat return to being a book group.  But if there is a small group of readers and thinkers who wish to return to a study of books on city planning, I’d be happy to facilitate book selections and meetings.

The group needn’t be limited to Petaluma.  It might be fun to have participants throughout the North Bay, especially if we can find brew pubs along the SMART corridor and assemble for the meetings by train.  Perhaps we could even begin with a book on effective transit planning.  If you’re interested in participating, let me know.  A comment below or an email would be great. 

I have one last topic that continues on the subject of books.  In nine weeks, I’ll head to Detroit for the annual meeting of the Congress for the New Urbanism.  CNU meetings are always great, but I’m particularly intrigued by the prospect of spending four days in Detroit, a key place in the debate over the future of cities.

To ensure that I’m prepared, I’ve assembled an expansive list of books about Detroit, seven total of which I’m deep into the third.  But if readers have Detroit tomes are of particular interest to them, I’d appreciate titles.  I may have time to slip an eighth or even a ninth book into my reading list.  An email or a comment below would be great.

That covers my topics for the day, from bus route planning to urbanist reading.  Lots of chances for community involvement.

Next, I’ll return to the topic of universal housing, the extent of its deficiencies and how walkable urbanism can help.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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