The Mill Valley City Council approved the Miller Avenue Streetscape Plan late Wednesday night, taking a major leap forward for the overhaul of one of the city’s two major arteries, a project that has been in the works for nearly a decade.
“This is an historic event tonight,” Councilman Andy Berman said.
Congratulations were tossed all around the room, to councilmembers, staffers and consultants, as well as members of the two volunteer committees that shepherded the oft-delayed project through years of study. Mayor Ken Wachtel even pulled out a bunch of Miller High Life beers after the meeting to mark the occasion.
The council backed a master plan for the renovation of nearly two miles of Miller from Sunnyside Ave. to Almonte Boulevard. The project’s priorities were to improve car, bicycle and pedestrian access and safety along the street and maintain its character and ties to the adjacent creek and habitat.
John Gibbs of consultant WRT Associates said restraint was also a driving force in creating the plan.
“The project is remarkable for what it doesn’t change,” he said. “Preserving what we can and changing only what we must – that guided our work.”
But while the council’s approval was indeed a major step forward, it was clear the city has a lot of work to do before the project is ready to be built. City Hall must produce detailed designs and cost estimates for each of the five sections of Miller that make up the project, and find money beyond the $9 million in Measure A funding that has been allocated to the city’s overhauls of Miller and East Blithedale avenues.
City officials also have to solve two tricky intersections - at Evergreen Ave. and Gomez Way - along the nearly two-mile roadway.
The council rejected a proposal for a left-turn lane on inbound Miller at Evergreen Ave., but it requested more study into what to do about the existing curve on outbound Miller between Montford and Evergreen avenues. The Design Advisory Committee (DAC) that approved the plan in May removed the curve, which former Mayor Bob Burton said dates back to 1970 and is the product of the city simply running out of money for a larger overhaul of the street at that time.
The curve, particularly at the crosswalk in front of , poses significant safety issues, according to city officials and David Parisi, the city’s traffic consultant. The council asked city planners to explore the idea of retaining the curve, which some have said would retaining the character of that stretch of Miller, but moving it down past Evergreen.
Such a move, proposed by DAC member Michael Dyett, would keep the frontage roads on the west side, opening up the possibility of using the space for public events in a similar was to .
Berman said the public spaces would give people another reason for walking and biking, one of the goals of the overhaul.
“If you don’t have places for them to hang out when they get there, then you’re going to get people driving - plain and simple,” he said.
Architect and Elm Ave. resident Burton Miller, who has been involved in the Miller overhaul since its inception, said moving the curve would also provide some sorely needed continuity along that three-block stretch of Miller.
“In trying to solve all the problems democratically, it’s resulted in a terribly complex mess,” Miller said. “This would provide some kind of continuity there.”
City officials also must figure out what to do on Miller at Gomez Way - if anything. The council rejected a proposed barrier to be placed there to prevent drivers from crossing multiple lanes of traffic to make a U-turn or a left onto Camino Alto, a move that causes a backup on Gomez between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. on school days, city officials said.
The rejected barrier would have simply forced drivers to turn right onto Miller and make a U-turn at the next median opening, or divert morning traffic onto other roads like Almonte, several people said.
“It’s a very dramatic change, said Laverne Ave. resident Scott Greenstone. “And you’ll just be adding to the backup.”
“It just pushes congestion downstream,” Councilwoman Shawn Marshall said. “I am not sure it is the most state of the art solution. I will utter the word roundabout.”
The council asked staff to seek out the latest data on a roundabout, specifically whether one could be built that would ensure the safety of the 1,200 Tam students crossing it regularly, as well as residents of the . Representatives from both entities rejected a roundabout proposal several years ago, city officials said.
Councilmembers agreed that any roundabout proposal would need to be preceded by ample evidence of safety measures as well as education.
The council made a number of other recommendations, including the use of a textured surface between the road and the bike lanes since there won’t be a physical barrier between the two.
“White paint does not stop a car from veering over and accidentally hitting someone,” Councilwoman Shawn Marshall said.
The council also asked for more information about the project’s impact on the adjacent creek and habitat, as well as a strategy for implementation in terms of funding and scheduling of the construction of each section of the street. Hazel Ave. resident Dennis Klein asked city officials to include the idea of adding public art, which in the past had been part of the project.
“I am really confident that we have left no stone unturned in this thing,” Councilwoman Stephanie Moulton-Peters said.