Durable Growth

San Rafael needs a progressive after Nader Mansourian

First up: if you’re interested in becoming a new Director of Public Works for a small city, apply by the end of today.

Downtown San Rafael, Image from  the Business Improvement District.

Downtown San Rafael, Image from the Business Improvement District.

For years, San Rafael has been something of a mixed bag to Marin’s suburbanists. On the one hand, its downtown is the most transit-accessible places in the county. On the other, the network of one-way streets and pedestrian barriers – especially on Second and Third – have rendered large swathes of the city no-go zones for pedestrians.

With Nader Mansourian’s retirement as Director of Public Works in March, San Rafael has a chance to hire someone who makes moving people a greater priority. If I were a member of the city council, I would ask candidates the following questions:

1.       What do you believe the role of a city’s streets should be? The answer I’m looking for: for moving people, and for building the community’s wealth. The answer I’m not looking for: to move vehicular traffic. The first answer indicates the candidate understands that traffic and street problems are more than just engineering issues around traffic flow. There are competing priorities for city streets.

The second answer indicates the opposite, that moving cars, regardless of the occupancy, is more important than pedestrian safety or encouraging more efficient use of the street network.

2.       What do you think of the NACTO standards? NACTO design guides have become one of the most important parts of building complete streets. They include scientifically evaluated standards for safe bike lanes of all types; for transit-only lanes; for arterial roads; and others.

Caltrans has endorsed NACTO’s guides. Having a new director that embraces this shift is vital for the city.

3.       What do you feel the city can do to improve pedestrian safety? Roadways and pedestrian safety are more than simply a compact between people in cars and people on foot. Design can have a subtle and subconscious effect on driver and pedestrian behavior.

The most obvious results of Mansourian’s safety efforts are scores of Do Not Cross pedestrian barriers and the removal of the crosswalk at Third and Cijos. He largely didn’t make use of the other, more subtle and effective tools in the toolbox.

San Rafael desperately needs a progressive in charge of its infrastructure, especially its streets. Mansourian was a highly effective engineer, but he was hidebound to outdated standards that run against the grain of modern best practices. San Rafael needs change. You should apply – applications are due at the end of the day.

Written by David Edmondson

David Edmondson

David is a native Marinite working in Washington, DC. He writes about how to apply smart-growth and urbanist thinking to the low-density towns of his home.

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