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<b>When school was a walk away</b>

Those of us with lots of gray hair remember black-and-white television, vinyl records and walking, or riding a bike, to school. When it comes to electronics, the younger set isn't missing anything. Not so with the walk to school. The long lines of cars outside local schools each morning and afternoon may reflect open enrollment, busy streets, busy lives or some combination. One day each year local schools encourage kids to walk or roll to school, a reminder of the value of exercise and a small break from autho exhaust. That day is Wednesday. If you have kids, encourage them to participate. If you're driving, look out for extra pedestrians.

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<b>New direction for SR contracts: savings</b>

There are still some rocks that need to be overturned concerning Santa Rosa's tentative labor contract with firefighters. But the public can be encouraged by what's visible so far. The three-year labor agreement calls for all firefighters — not just new ones — to start paying their own share of their contributions toward retirement. A no-brainer? Maybe, but the fact is the city has been paying not only its 9 percent share of employee retirement costs, but it has been most of paying the employees' share — 12 percent — as well. It's one of the reasons that the city is so far behind in setting aside enough money to pay for retirement benefits.

But there's a trade-off. The deal calls for the city to give firefighters a 4.5 percent pay increase over the next three years. The net benefit to the city is a projected savings of $1.7 million for the city over the next three years. But stay tuned. On Oct. 15, the City Council will be talking about another aspect of the contract — the city's tentative agreement, according to Councilman Gary Wysocky, to pick up the 4 percent the firefighters pay for their health insurance. Overall, the city will still save a pile of cash. But in the long run, it may be more mole hill than mountain.

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<b>Another shutdown looming</b>

The public already is dealing with the headaches of a federal government shutdown — parks closed, mortgage applications delayed because the IRS isn't verifying incomes, funding cut off for head start and other programs, not to mention an estimated $300 million a day hit on economic activity. Get ready for another nuisance —a BART strike.

A 60-day cooling off period ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown ends Thursday, and BART workers are threatening to walk off the job on Friday if they don't have a contract. This week finally brought some progress at the bargaining table, with BART workers reducing their demand from a 23 percent pay raise over four years to 12 percent over three years. BART is reportedly preparing a counter-offer. Here's a number for workers to consider: 77 percent. That's the percentage of Bay Area residents opposed to a strike, according to a new poll. That's up from 70 percent two months ago.

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<b>Going all the way — to Larkspur</b>

Those who've been hoping to see Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit reach the end of the line can celebrate. It appears that goal has been achieved. Because of a shortfall in funds, the tentative plan had called for the commuter train to end in San Rafael. But SMART has now received an $11.4 million infusion of funds to extend train service to the end of the line — the Larkspur ferry.

The money comes from a Transportation Authority of Marin decision to redirect funds from a local measure that raised bridge tolls. The local money will be used as leverage to access federal grant money to complete the $40 million 2.2-mile extension to Larkspur's Golden Gate Ferry terminal. SMART trains are expected to be operating by 2016. Let's hope between now and then, SMART also can find the money to start working on extend the line from Santa Rosa to Cloverdale — the other end of the line.