Santa Rosa proposes shuttle bus between parking garage, SMART train station

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When passenger rail service arrives in downtown Santa Rosa in December, riders shouldn’t plan to drive directly to the Railroad Square station.

That’s because parking around the downtown station is already limited, and, despite the hope of serving a couple hundred riders daily, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit authority isn’t planning to build any new parking spaces in the area.

So Santa Rosa city officials want to establish a shuttle bus running between the station and an under-used parking garage on 7th Street, five blocks away. The bus could also run between the station and the downtown area.

The shuttle, which is expected to cost up to $230,000 per year, is the city’s attempt at addressing what has long been identified as a key challenge facing the new rail line — how to get people to and from stations built without any parking areas.

“Parking is a problem up and down the corridor, and each community is dealing with it in its own way,” said Anita Winkler, Santa Rosa’s deputy director of transit.

Rail advocates have argued that many riders will likely use alternative modes of transportation to reach the stations, such as buses, bicycle or walking. Others have questioned the viability of a rail service that fails to provide convenient parking.

There are only 42 short-term parking spaces in the city parking lot closest to the station, but Railroad Square merchants depend on those spaces being short-term, said Kim Nadeau, the city’s parking coordinator. The time limit for spaces around the historic rail depot maxes out at two hours, she said.

There are 225 longer-term parking spaces in three surface lots two and three blocks east of the station, but those have a 10-hour limit, which might not be long enough for commuters, she said.

More parking is available at the 7th Street parking garage between B Street and Mendocino Avenue, city officials said, So the city wants to create a bus route that circulates between that garage and the station every 15 minutes during commute hours.

A preliminary schedule calls for the first southbound train of the day to depart Railroad Square at 5:01 a.m. and arrive in San Rafael 55 minutes later, so the first shuttle bus would leave the garage at 4:45 a.m. for the five-minute trip to the station, Winkler said.

The bus would travel south on B Street, west on Third Street, and then north up Wilson Street. It would then return to the garage via Third Street, Fourth Street and up Mendocino Avenue back to 7th Street.

During a gap of several hours between the last morning departure and the first afternoon train, the bus would shuttle between the station and Santa Rosa’s downtown core, according to the proposal. The city’s goal is to improve the connections between Railroad Square and the rest of downtown, which are separated by Highway 101 and the Santa Rosa Plaza mall.

The 7th Street garage is an ideal location for train passengers to leave their cars because it is the city’s largest and has the most available parking, Nadeau said. It has 756 spaces, only half of which are typically full, she said. Monthly permits there, at $62 per month, are also less expensive than at other garages, she said. The city’s 1st Street garage is slightly smaller, but its usage varies significantly and permits there are more expensive, she said.

With the final train of each day scheduled to arrive in Railroad Square at 8:24 p.m., a shuttle would have to run nearly continuously for 16 hours to serve all riders.

The city doesn’t presently have buses suitable for the service and would have to either buy them or contract for the service, according to a staff report. Buses able to hold up to 20 people would cost about $66,000 each and the city says two are needed.

The City Council is scheduled to discuss the proposal during Tuesday’s 2:30 p.m. session.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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