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City Council Backs Miller Ave. Overhaul Plan

Unanimous approval for proposal and environmental review documents leaves open questions about how to fix troublesome intersections.

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.

Ray Cook July 08, 2011 at 03:51 PM
The Disciples of Progress are (still) having their way, and the future looks pretty grim.
Tracey Pharis July 11, 2011 at 04:49 AM
Yes, I agree the intersections need work. But So Does MILLER AVE...... I see them repainting crosswalks,lines and arrows. What they should do before they paint, they should redo and repave MILLER AVE entirely! Install traffic lights at Miller & Evergreen near Whole Foods and another at Miller Ave and Montford near 2am & Jiffy Lube,, But for the most part, REPAVE MILLER AVE, NO PATCH FILLS ACTUALLY FILL CRACKS AND REPAVE WITH SEALANT THAN REPAINT..
Rico July 12, 2011 at 06:42 PM
I totally agree about signalizing the Montford-Miller intersection, but I don't think Evergreen is nearly as important. The reason that they are repainting the pavement markings and legends is because the latex paint that they use now only last about 6 months on a high volume street like Miller Ave. The City might have agreed to rebuild the roadbed and repave , but don't expect it to happen this year. If it did, I would be surprised, unless they have been planning on it for a few years. Any improvements to Miller Ave. are fine with me, but what I object to is the communitarian plans to pack in a bunch of new high density apartment buildings down in a business district. To force people to live in business districts lowers their quality of life, hurts the local business economy, and degrades the area. Hopefully any improvements to Miller Ave. won't be a tradeoff to allow for more high density residential units like The Commons.
Fred Doar September 23, 2011 at 05:32 PM
I ride Miller Avenue every day to Sausalito on my bike. It is in TERRIBLE condition. The bike lane is a joke. Whoever paved it the last time it was done did a horrible job. I advise our politicians to get their bikes out and actually ride to Sausalito and back. Mill Valley's roads are the worst in the county!
jennifer larson September 25, 2012 at 08:54 PM
I agree. We are bandaging up a road rather than healing it. My kids are of bike-riding age but I won't let them go on MIller at all. It just looks like we don't care about the health, safety or look of our town. The medians are weedians and the bike lane is way too narrow. Come on, let's get this done!! Then move on to E. Blithedale. Our two major streets look like Beirut!

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