Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2020  
  < RETURN  
  Today's Topic is Traffic
August 31, 2020

One of the biggest planks in the anti-Point Molate development platform is traffic.

Richmond NIMBY and Point Molate development critic Jeff Kilbreth posted the following on Next Door yesterday:

Point Molate and Traffic. The Mayor is scornful of everyone who thinks the proposed Point Molate development is too big. But he never discusses the traffic and safety problems that will be caused if 1,500 to 2,500 cars are leaving the area every morning. Per the EIR, 15% will be going to Marin. This would mean 75-125 cars per hour trying to get onto the bridge at the toll plaza every weekday morning

Three simple questions were unanswered in the EIR:

  • When there is an accident on the bridge or on 580W in Marin during morning commute, won’t the back-up quickly fill the 1/4 mile feeder lane on Stenmark Drive and block everyone from leaving the Point Molate development?
  • 2) Even when there is no accident, and even if there are metering lights, is it reasonable to think that more than 50 cars/hr can actually merge into the right lane of the bridge with all of the trucks during morning rush hour? Won’t that result in less severe but daily back-ups on Stenmark
  • 3) How could the consultants say that the morning commute from Central Ave or Hilltop to San Rafael will only be 5-10 min longer? They didn’t show their calculations. Do you believe this?

Traffic on the Richmond San Rafael Bridge now and in the future has nothing to do with Point Molate. Before COVID-19, we had a traffic backup for a couple of hours in the morning westbound commute. Why? Because, since the economic boom, more people who can’t afford to live in Marin and the North Bay are commuting to work from Richmond and the East Bay. There is no BART and no ferry to Marin, so people have to drive across the bridge to get there. Sometimes there are crashes or mechanical failures that also back up traffic.

With or without future housing at Point Molate, this is probably going to get worse before it gets better, although COVID-19 has caused a pause that may or may not be temporary. At 7:35 AM on Monday morning, as I write this, traffic is flowing at the limit across the Richmond San Rafael Bridge.

Richmond’s General Plan 2030 is based on a population growth of 30,000. Future growth for the East Bay is forecast in the hundreds of thousands. Some of those people, maybe a lot, will be going to work in Marin whether they live at Point Molate or not. Without significant systemic changes, housing anywhere in the East Bay will generate trips that impact the Richmond San Rafael bridge. What difference does it whether those trips are generated from Point Molate, from Marina Bay, from Hilltop, from Hayward, Martinez or Fairfield?

People who bemoan traffic on the bridge and believe housing at Point Molate will make it worse may be correct, but they are also elitist. What they are really saying is, “no more people in Richmond and the East Bay.” The people who commute work in Marin are typically not rich and living in million-dollar homes like Jeff Kilbreth. They are what we now call “essential workers.” What the Point Molate Alliance people are saying to these essential workers is, “Don’t congest our bridge. Find a job somewhere else.”

Yes, with housing development at Point Molate, there could be backups on Stenmark, but there are backups all the time all over the Bay Area that often far exceed the morning commute westbound on I-580  – the Bay Bridge maze, I-880, Highway 4, I-680, and on and on. Before COVID-19, the morning commute westbound backups had become legendary, particularly as drivers consulting Waze jammed Point Richmond streets seeking shortcuts. Conventional wisdom has been that if it is this bad now, Point Molate development will only make it worse. With more people, there will be more backups on bridges. The Point Molate Alliance apparently has no problem with backups, just not on their bridge.

The prediction of worse backups on the RSR resulting from hosing at Point Molate is not accurate, and I will try to tell you why.

Unfortunately, the SEIR section on Transportation is almost impossible to comprehend, but I am going to try and simplify it and add some updated information that the SEIR did not include. Transportation impacts and mitigations are described on pages 2-65 through 2-68 of the SEIR. Of 13 potential impacts studied, only 4 result in new significant impacts that cannot be mitigated.

  • Before COVID-19, there was only one congestion issue at the Richmond San Rafael Bridge and I-580. This was the morning commute westbound. The only other time congestion occurred is when there was an accident or construction on the bridge. Since COVID-19, there has no backup westbound other than that resulting from an accident on the bridge.  How long this will last is unknown. Traffic is still at only 68% of pre-COVID levels. With more people learning to work from home, traffic may never return to pre-COVID levels. The SEIR did not consider this.


Figure 1 - Traffic is at 68% pre-COVID levels (CCTA)

  • Despite the extensive SEIR analysis, the only traffic issue is the westbound morning commute. The SEIR projects 884 in and out trips at AM peak hour following full buildout. Presumably about half are heading east, which is no problem at all. That leaves maybe about 400 either heading west, going or coming. With internal trip reductions, that leaves only about 280 total in and out. That’s only about a 5% increase over pre-COVID peaks, not a big deal.

And don’t forget, if these trips don’t originate at Point Molate, it doesn’t mean they won’t happen. People have to live somewhere, and they still have to get to work.

Figure 2 - Trip Generation Calculations, SEIR Page 4.12-27

  • Because I serve on the Contra Costa Transportation Commission, including chairing it a couple of years ago, I am on top of a lot of information the general public is not aware of, including even the SEIR authors. One item is the Regional Measure 3 (RM3) passed by the voters in 2018. The RM3 Expenditure Plan includes $210 million intended to unlock congestion at the Richmond San Rafael Bridge. There is another $300 million in RM3 to expand ferry service, which could include a Richmond – Larkspur Landing route and further alleviate bridge traffic., As chair of CCTA at the time, I was able to exert substantial influence to get that included. The SEIR makes no mention of the RM3 funding. The measure has been litigated but that is not expected to stop it. This funding can dramatically change traffic flow on the bridge and adjacent feeder streets.
  • Historically, CEQA analysis of projected traffic impacts resulting from a project focused on Level of Service (LOS), a measure of how fast traffic moved through an intersection under the most congested conditions. The emphasis was maintaining maximum traffic flow during short time periods, such as commute rush hour. The result has been design of streets and highways to handle traffic loads that occur infrequently, making them far larger than necessary for traffic most of the time -- a growth-inducing effect for outlying areas and a waste of limited public resources Climate change has caused planners to rethink that strategy. The new emphasis is reducing Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) rather than getting every vehicle to its destination as fast as possible at any time. Instead of eliminating congestion and adding lanes, the new emphasis is on transitioning drivers to more efficient transportation modes and  balancing jobs and housing to reduce commutes. See New Guidelines for Assessing Transportation Impacts Under CEQA. Note that in the new Growth Management Program for Contra Costa, Richmond is exempt from residential impacts because of a favorable jobs/housing balance (click here). Development at Point Molate will only make this better.

A screenshot of a cell phone    Description automatically generated
Figure 3 - Draft Table from Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Analayis Methodology for Lan Use Projects in the Growth Managemnet Program (GMP)

  • As a part of the Richmond San Rafael Bay trail lane study, MTC looked at ways to eliminate the morning commute westbound backup without removing the bike lane. Click here for the PowerPoint presentation. Essentially the study showed no backup could be achieved by a 10 percent reduction in travel demand = 400 less cars per hour during 7-8 AM peak..

Congestion Pricing
All Electric Tolling
Open Road Tolling
Bridge Metering

Bus Transit
HOV Lane Extension
HOV Occupancy

Bikeway improvements
E-bike share
Employer Tools/Data

4 buses carrying 200 riders

150 HOV2 + carpools

50 cyclists

Figure 5 - MTC Congestion Reduction Study

Opposing housing development at Point Molate is NIMBYism and elitism at its worse. These people don’t want to protect Point Molate; what they want is to keep others from obtaining and sharing the lifestyle they have come to enjoy.

And by the way, according to the SEIR, the Point Molate Alliance “Community Plan” resulted in similar, though lesser, impacts to traffic as the “Modified Project.”

Traffic generated as a result of the construction of Alternative D would be similar to that determined for the Modified Project, although the scale of traffic generated would be lower than the Modified Project due to the smaller amount of development and the absence of housing under Alternative D. However, construction of Alternative D could still generate an increase in traffic. The Modified Project, however, proposes extensive construction, including widening of Stenmark Drive in order to adequately accommodate for the influx of people and cars, the construction of a new ferry terminal, and a shuttle service to transport its residents to and from the Project Site. Alternative D would result in a lesser impact related to transportation in comparison to the Modified Project.