Trolley Vision: From Southern to Central Marin

One of the Marin residents who helped start Marin Trolleys talks about his vision for additional public transportation in Marin.


Michael Rex has devoted a lot of time to bringing trolleys to Marin.

The Sausalito architect helped start the nonprofit Marin Trolleys with Allan Nichol and local leaders. Rex had originally focused on the idea of a streetcar on Sausalito’s main thoroughfare, Bridgeway. The vision expanded to a trolley connecting downtown Sausalito and Mill Valley in 2007.

A study of the possible southern Marin determined it too costly a venture for its limited destinations and usage, so planning officials turned their attention to the busier Fairfax to San Rafael corridor.

It took awhile to get some San Rafael leaders to support looking into a new transit option, Rex said, but now .

The trolley vision has seen little stark opposition on Patch, but it has sparked some civil and thoughtful dialogue. 

Rex’s vision for trolleys in Marin expands past a fixed line connecting communities. “I want to bring trolleys to the doorstep,” he said. “Anyone in transit will tell you the first link is the hardest to provide because people are so spread out." 

Rex said trolleys should involve a comprehensive system that takes people door to door with an on-demand shuttle system.

The shuttle system wouldn’t be funded or operated by a transit authority, Rex said, but would instead be run by various neighborhood’s homeowners associations.

“They would each contract for their own shuttle. Imagine a little van with a GPS-activated map on their dashboard,” Rex said. 

Residents could push a button on their smart phone to alert the shuttle they need a ride to the nearest trolley stop, he said.  

“The idea is each neighborhood has a few that travel around the neighborhood like little bees,” Rex said, who added that the mode of transportation could vary by community. “Ross can have limos, Fairfax can have VW buses.”

The local transit could help build community and provide extra security, Rex said. “I think we are all isolated in our houses and our cars, it’s about quality of life and not just about transportation.”

Rex also hasn’t given up on the southern Marin trolley project, although he had to take a hiatus from working with Marin Trolleys because he had to focus on his architectural work after the recession hit.  

He said the firm used for the original Sausalito to Mill Valley study “came to the table with unfortunate biases,” including the mindset that trolleys wouldn’t work in an area like Marin.

And while the efforts for southern Marin trolley haven’t died, they are definitely on hold for additional reasons. Late Marin County Supervisor Charles McGlashan was a strong supporter of the vision and contributed funds to the original southern Marin trolley study, Rex said. When the supervisor unexpectedly died in March 2011 it “took some of the wind out of” Rex’s sails. “When he died it set me back a bit. There are so few leaders like him.”

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Rico November 05, 2012 at 08:23 PM
John, there are actually 2 bus systems used here. The commuter runs use the large 40 foot buses that run to S.F., I'm sure that you have seen them crawling up Waldo Grade at 40 MPH. The commuter runs are almost always full, and are viable and efficient. It is the intra-county runs that are struggling now with service cuts, budget cuts and layoffs. There are many smaller buses used for the intra-county system. One reason is that it is wasteful to run a 40 foot bus on routes that only have a few people on it most of the time. The commuter lines are doing well and will always be funded and fully utilized , it is the intra-county services that many students, seniors and people that don't own personal transportation rely on that are struggling now. And that is what the proposed trolley system is, intra-county, not to be confused with the S.F. commuter bus system. The only way any trolley or train system could ever go to S.F. is through an underwater tube, and engineers say that is impossible because of the strong currents and shipping lanes in Racoon Straights. The GG bridge was not designed for any extra weight like even light rail. Oh, and for the hobbled commuter buses, I see them in the slow lane going 40 MPH up the hill on 101, when all other traffic is whizzing by at 65+ MPH. The commuter runs are hobbled because they are under powered, not because of personal vehicular traffic.
John Ferguson November 05, 2012 at 09:09 PM
Thanks Ricardo - the only 'smaller' buses of the type I'm thinking of that I've ever seen running in Marin are the West Marin stagecoach buses. I know that GGT runs two types of buses over the bridge and IMO we need a third option for smaller and less popular routes if we're going to serve the smaller nooks and crannies of Marin with efficient bus service. I don't think going 40 mph over the Waldo grade is the problem with the commuter lines. There's almost never a real backup on the Waldo grade. The problems usually start in Marin City or Strawberry on the northbound runs. I've been on the 24 line many nights between 5 and 7 pm when the traffic comes to an absolute standstill on the 101 right around the Richardson Bay overpass before you get to Strawberry. The commute lane is frequently backed up as well, so we'll need a truly dedicated bus lane (no Prius drivers, no Lexus lane entrants) if we're going to make the bus commute a FASTER and BETTER option than driving. Southbound on the 24, my experience has shown me that the real backups start at Bon Air road and completely snarl traffic to the 101 from there. This is a true catastrophe, with much of the car traffic now self-diverting into the Bon Air shopping center parking lot only to reenter the *single lane* of westbound traffic to 101 at Eliseo blvd. This section MUST be improved, hopefully with a dedicated bus lane starting at Bon Air.
Rico November 05, 2012 at 10:18 PM
I agree John, The evening commute is always bad starting at around hwy 1/Manzanita. The only cure for that for buses would be to add a new lane strictly for buses to 101. That would solve the bus problem Simply hogging one of the existing lanes for buses would never fly at all, and will never happen. Another idea would be to build a subway under 101 from Marin City all the way up to Windsor, that would help Marin, the north bay and Sonoma commuters immensely. The subway could run a spur line under SFD Blvd to Fairfax too. Again , all of this would mainly to help evening commuters, and might lure some commuters away from using their personal autos. In Marin, there is a very high percentage of people that don't need to commute at all, and the local roads would be relieved of some congestion.
Bill McGee November 06, 2012 at 07:18 AM
Hi Ricardo - before you start railing on Rex, you might want to do just a tiny bit of research...like reading his vision which you ridiculed. If you had bothered to click on the link in the story, you would have seen that his trolley vision included no overhead wires. I have no position yet on the value the ideas posed in Rex’ vision, but I would be interested in reading the results of a study if it takes place. I did learn by a simple Google search, that trolleys and trams are NOT defined by the type of wheels, nor do all Trolleys or Trams have the same type of power source. Your disrespect and in this case ridicule, to those that do not share you view of the world gets old Ricardo as Bob Hunter and others have pointed out. I hope you have a better day tomorrow Ricardo.
pdog November 06, 2012 at 03:47 PM
I think Jeepneys would be much more fitting for Ross.


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