Whether it was business, friends, restaurants, or entertainment we relied heavily on the buses and light rail to move around downtown seamlessly. In downtown Portland it was free and they came in 10 minute increments. We have numerous friends on the peninsula that use Caltrain to commute daily from their neighborhoods to jobs in San Francisco. The point of both examples is that light rail can play an important role in communities, if done well and embraced.

In 2008 we the communities of Sonoma and Marin Counties voted to give birth to SMART.  Though regional challenges have been numerous (economic downturns, cost escalation, regional fires, etc.), the SMART team has successfully delivered operations from the Larkspur Ferry to the Sonoma County Airport.  Advocates point to growth in some ridership numbers and the early acceptance curve as positive signs of SMART’s value to the community.  Opponents similarly point to ridership numbers, the costs of SMART, and the delivery of less stations and bike path than promised.  In my opinion, SMART is at a very important crossroads in their ability to draw the community into their vision.

So where do we go from here?  Critical mass to ride the rail, strong transportation links for “the last mile” connecting riders to destinations, and line extensions to bedroom communities still remain strong concerns.  The encouraging news is that the cities are working hard to promote residential growth and mixed-use around the stations.  SMART is also funded and currently engineering an extension to Windsor.

In my opinion, we are too far committed to this vision not to see it through properly.  According to SMART, voter approval in March will allow them to refinance debt, acquire matching federal dollars, and deliver upon the rail system that so many north bay cities have based their urban growth plans upon.  While this will not be a success over night, I believe the role the rail line could play in the future is significant.  But it will take all of us working together collaboratively and transparently to get there.

I hope you enjoyed our February lunch meeting with our guest speaker, Farhad Mansourian / General Manager of SMART.    Please remember to vote in the March 3rd election.