East Blithedale Ave., outbound from Lomita/Roque Moraes intersection, at right, and a proposed Class IV bike lane. Courtesy images.

There’s no doubt that the volume of people cruising around Mill Valley on two wheels over the past year has spiked dramatically. There are myriad reasons for that trend, of course, from all of us seeking physical activity outside the home during the COVID-19 crisis to the extra free time without the usual work commute.

But if you ask bicycling experts and local officials, one thing has driven the rise in cycling across all age groups in Mill Valley: safety. The City of Mill Valley‘s 18-month, $18 million Miller Avenue Streetscape Project was a beast, a once-in-generation re-imagining of approximately two miles of one of Mill Valley’s two main arteries and far and away the biggest road improvement project the City had undertaken in decades. It was a long slog for City staff and its contractors, a major impact for businesses along the corridor and an inconvenience for the community.

But in the end, Miller Avenue is a significantly more vibrant street, much safer for all of its users – all while retaining and even enhancing Miller Avenue’s distinct character.

The amount of families and kids of all ages riding on Miller says it all: If you build it – and make it as safe as possible – they will come. That safety has cascading effects, drawing visitors from other parts of the Bay Area and beyond without adding to car traffic, and allowing residents and visitors to more easily connect via bike to neighboring communities. For instance, Class Iv bike lanes on Blithedale would make progress toward a protected bike route linking the Mill Valley-Sausalito Pathway with Tiburon’s Old Rail Trail in order to create a seamless connection between two of Marin’s most popular multi-use pathways. Caltrans is scheduled to repave the stretch east of 101 in 2024.

With all of that in mind, the Mill Valley City Council reviewed options earlier this year for bike safety improvements as part of the first phase of its East Blithedale Project. The plan calls for a repaving and overhaul of the street from Sunnyside Ave out to the Hwy. 101 interchange over the next 3-5 years. The council spent considerable time reviewing the bike lane options for the stretch from Camino Alto out to Tower Drive. Here were the options:

Bicycling advocates turned out in droves via Zoom to support the Class IV Cycle Track (above bottom left), which would provide a physical barrier between passing cars and the bicycle lane. They cited the heavy traffic and high speeds of cars along that stretch of Blithedale, as well the existing narrow shoulder, for the Class IV need.

“We feel strongly that protected bike lanes are needed along this heavily trafficked road,” Marin County Bicycle Coalition then-Panning & Policy Director Bjorn Griepenberg told the council. “It’s such a busy corridor to justify painted bike lanes, and unlike Miller Avenue there are no driveways here or street parking.”

But City officials and projects consultants at civil engineering firm made it clear that funding was going to be an obstacle, as the total cost of the three- to five-year project exceeds $11 million, and the city has secured  $5.9 million in funding. “We’re in a situation where the funding doesn’t quite meet the needs for the project per phase,” Mark Thomas vice president Shawn O’Keefe told the council. “So for phase one, we’re already in a shortfall of about $1.7 million. And for the outphases it’s $3.45 million.”

During the discussion of the shortfall, Patrick Seidler, founder of WTB (Wilderness Trail Bikes), a member of Transportation Alternatives for Marin and a former member of the City’s BPAC, chimed in that the city could better utilize the $400,000 Measure AA grant it received for bike lanes. “We’d like to help you do exactly what you applied for and create buffered bike lanes throughout the entire corridor,” he said. “We’d like to get a copy of the digital plans, and we would, for no charge to the city, present an alternative which shows class-4 plans where they can be done within the budget.”

That provided a glimmer of hope that the city wouldn’t have to settle for less than Class IV bike lanes on the Roque Moraes-to-Tower Drive section of Blithedale. Project Manager Ahmed Aly confirmed that Mark Thomas is updating the design plans to incorporate the input of Seidler and longtime Mill Valley traffic consultant David Parisi. 

A Moon Shot for a More Bike-Friendly Mill Valley?


Aerial rendering of the proposed upgrades at the East Blithedale intersection with Lomita Drive and Roque Moraes Drive,

And to address the shortfall specifically around the need for Class IV bike lanes, the City has subsequently applied for a ​$1,000,000 federal grant via the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) for a newly advertised federal opportunity named the Safe and Seamless Mobility Quick-Strike Program. The one-time, competitive program funds projects that can be implemented quickly to support communities responding to COVID-19. The program emphasizes bicycle/pedestrian safety and mobility, connections to transit, and projects that advance equitable mobility. The grant would be in addition to the $400,000 Safe Pathway grant the City secured to help fund a Class 2 bike lane.  

In addition to the bike lanes, the project seeks to improve access to the Mill Valley Sausalito Multi-Use Pathway, modify the Blithedale/Ashford/Meadow intersection to calm motor vehicle speeds, install a bicycle-only slip lane access near Meadow Drive and, if the grant is secured, install a new mid-block crosswalk (protected by a rapid flashing beacon) across Ashford Ave at the entry to the pedestrian pathway, just west of the Chevron station.

City Councilmember Urban Carmel urged city officials to do everything they can to not settle for anything less than Class IV bike lanes. “Blithedale is the most important road in Mill Valley and it does not work that well,” he said. We have big bottlenecks on this thing and it is really inhibiting the development of our city. We’ve got 36,000 cars trailing on this thing every day and you can’t make the road any wider. The only alternative is to take other forms of transportation – that is the solution to traffic in Mill Valley. Getting this thing right is really critical. We don’t get many chances. If we do this right, we’ll solve traffic.”
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Here’s a recent slideshow on the elements of the East Blithedale overhaul.

​Full info on the East Blithedale Project.

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