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It’s the BAY AREA Rapid Transit, Except for Marin…They’r...

It’s the BAY AREA Rapid Transit, Except for Marin…They’re Exclusive

The BART, short for Bay Area Rapid Transit, is the key transportation system for the 390,000 daily riders in the San Francisco Bay Area. But if you look at the map below, you will notice a large piece of land without any transit lines running through it. Marin County is home to over 252,000 residents,

by Rob Poole September 10, 2013 18 comments

The BART, short for Bay Area Rapid Transit, is the key transportation system for the 390,000 daily riders in the San Francisco Bay Area. But if you look at the map below, you will notice a large piece of land without any transit lines running through it.


Marin County is home to over 252,000 residents, yet it is without a BART station. If you search web content to find out why that is the case, you will not find a lot. There is minimal information explaining why the BART doesn't connect from Marin to San Francisco and even less explaining why it doesn't connect from the East Bay to Marin.

Marin funded a large portion of the project when BART was being planned in the 1950s. But “concerns” over whether or not the Golden Gate Bridge could support BART suddenly arose. After San Mateo pulled out of the plan, Marin’s participation fell through as well.

It is not unfair to speculate that socio-economic discrepancies might have something to do with this lack of transit connection. After all, Marin is the county where wealthy residents stopped George Lucas from building affordable housing on his land. The median household income there is almost $84,000, more than $15,000 more than San Francisco and more than twice as much as Oakland.

A similar situation in Dayton, Ohio arose where wealthy suburbanites tried to stop the local transit authority from building three new bus stops near major employment centers.

BART Station

As a result of its inaccessibility via BART, Marin has made itself an elusive destination to Bay Area residents. It is now known as an auto-oriented suburb for the wealthy. However, because of its beaches, hiking and fine dining, people flock there every weekend, despite facing heavy congestion on freeways.

Self-indulgent urban planning has had negative repercussions for the entire San Francisco Bay Area. Just imagine if the BART looked like this, as opposed to the earlier image. Perhaps we would have a more equitable and environmentally aware Bay Area.

Extensive BART

Does your local transit system exclude certain populations?

Credits: Data linked to sources. Images courtesy of Robert Poole, Muni Diaries and BART.

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Rob Poole graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Anthropology and a minor in City and Regional Planning. He grew up in San Diego, but now resides in San Francisco. He currently works at a non-profit organization in San Francisco that advocates f...

  • Greg Swain

    Nice article Rob. I do agree that there’s a huge element of “keeping out the dirty poor people” and preserving a “suburuban” life that accounts for Marin not having a BART connection. That being said, I suspect there’s huge technical challenges as well. It’d probably be a lot easier to but another trans-bay tube across the San Rafael bridge area, but the Golden Gate would be hugely difficult. Average depth in the whole bay is only 12-14 feet, and I believe it’s around 80 where the trans-bay tube is, but the Golden Gate is over 300, and has hugely strong tides. It might require a dug tunnel rather than the sort of on-the-bottom tube currently in use. I’m no engineer, but there’s a reason why the GG bridge is considered a marvel. But overall, if it’s doable, I’m all for it.

  • Greg! Thanks for the comment bud. I think the disregarding of the engineering aspect shows I don’t know much about that topic. But I’m not as concerned with the lack of connection between SF and Marin as I am with the East Bay and Marin. The distance is way greater between the latter and traffic is significantly worse coming into Marin from Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, etc. I’m just amazed that I could barely find anything addressing the topic.

  • This is a great article Rob! Growing up in north Marin, I could never understand why BART didn’t extend at least into the southern part of the county, where it could connect with existing bus and ferry systems.

    It was always explained to me that underlying racism and elitism were a large part of why BART doesn’t connect the East Bay and Marin. I would hope that today that wouldn’t be the case, but having moved away I can’t say for sure. Either way, most people in Marin don’t seem to care. It’s fairly auto-centric, which is ironic given its reputation for environmental awareness.

  • Robert Poole

    Thanks Ryan! You make a lot of great points. Unfortunately, I think you’re right. I think there is an engrained perception amongst many of the residents that deters them from connecting to the East Bay and maybe even to San Francisco. It’s exclusive. Of course nobody with power or authority in Marin will admit it. Not only does it hurt the Bay Area, but it sets a poor example for other regional governances.

    On another note, are you going to participate in our tweetchat next Wednesday about pop-ups? My most recent blog that just came out today introduces the topic.

  • Hi Robert, I have started driving the Sonoma County – San Francisco commute every day, and Marin makes it hell. Everybody is coming from Hwy. 37 and over the Richmond bridge, I assume to work for wealthy Marinites. It got especially bad since the school year has started. Usually I try to make the Larkspur Ferry to the city, but the parking lot is almost always full by 8:00 am. Traffic from Marin to SF is minimal, which lends credence to my belief that the 101 traffic is coming in from the East Bay.

    The SMART train project was supposed to have a passenger line running on the existing rails from Cloverdale to Larkspur by 2014, but it’s looking more like 2018 at this point – tax revenues weren’t what they planned for prior to the real estate bubble bursting. Meanwhile, a 3 year construction project to widen the Novato Narrows to a proper free is just beginning, and the backup at Petaluma is horrendous.

    The sad thing is that all this craptastic traffic could have been avoided if there were just some proper, forward-thinking planning instead of selfish interests serving themselves. This is why we can’t have nice things.

  • Robert Poole

    Hi Suzanne. Thanks for the comment. I have two points to address: one about your comment and the other about your website, so please ready everything!

    1) Are they actually investing in widening the freeway (Novato Narrows)? That’s not much of a long-term solution. And I heard about that train. It’s better than driving, but it still doesn’t offer a solution to providing transit between Marin and the East Bay and SF. These projects seem to most often take way longer than initially planed. But you are right that the planning reflects selfish interests and is not sustainable.

    2) I saw your website. I’d love to learn more about web design and IT work. My non-profit is planning on doing a revamp of all of this. Is there an email I can contact you at? If you’re not comfortable posting it here, you can email me at Thanks!



  • Hi, Everyone!

    Jumping on here just to share a regional perspective.

    The fascinating thing about this article (and the framing of it) is Marin’s stance against the expansion of BART serves a narrative of luxury; a weekend travel destination accessible only via the automobile.

    Vallejo, CA (right across the North Bay) hasn’t benefitted at all in the same way. We’re the largest city in Solano county and the 10th biggest city in the Bay Area with a population of 120,000 folks (there’s an amusement park for goodness sake). My sense is that most lower-Bay Area citizens perceive Vallejo as either unreasonably far away, inaccessible or invisible altogether. For those who do live here, we nestle in this bedroom community for the comparably lower housing prices and use our cars to access the economy situated on the other side of our $5.00 bridge toll. On weekends, we fail to attract the tourist revenue that Marin collects for their seaside dining. In the depths of the recession, it was nothing short of brutal.

    Would the original BART plan have helped us? I think it would have! If nothing else but to give our cities young talent an incentive to stay and commute to work instead of throwing their hands up over all the car expenses required to get to the nearest good job. Without a BART line, it feels like we are economically marginalized up here.

    We’re not Marin, thank god, and we wouldn’t want to be. My curiosity is this: What story can Vallejo tell about itself that would attract visitors here and stimulate our local economy despite pretty crappy transportation options?

  • one last thing:

    I had to laugh.
    Rob, even the BART map you used here as an illustration OMITS VALLEJO.
    ((big sigh))

  • Robert Poole


    Thanks for the terrific insight! It sounds we could write an interesting follow-up to my post. Shoot me an email at I think a blog addressing transportation equity for Vallejo could be a potential subject.


  • I hate to say it, but this is perpetuating a rather pernicious myth that does no good for Marin’s urbanists.

    Marin was forced out by the BART Board after San Mateo fell through. BART to Marin had the support of 70+ percent of Marinites, but without San Mateo’s money, the investment in Marin was too expensive for the Board to stomach. The county tried to get back in later that year but was rebuffed. The two times Marin has had BART up for a vote, the cost was astronomical ($3 billion in 1990), and the measures failed.

    That said, the BART-to-Marin plan was to be accompanied by some extremely aggressive development across Marin, including rural West Marin, which would have pushed our population to 750,000, up from the 250,000 today. Given the era, this likely would have been auto-oriented sprawl, with BART acting as a freeway-accelerator. Even the MacArthur BART station is surrounded by parking. There’s no reason to think this would have done any good for sustainability, especially with the planned alignment.

    Racism and classism likely played some role in rejecting the two later funding measures, but the reason BART never came to Marin in the first place was because San Mateo had Caltrain and thought that was good enough.

  • Robert Poole

    David, you make some excellent points. I would love to see the numbers for the costs of expanding the BART into Marin. Yes, we probably would have initially promoted sprawl because we are auto-oriented. However, we are slowly but surely changing the tide with TOD projects like Fruitvale station and the MacArthur station plan that is underway.

    I could have taken a different approach when writing this blog. Perhaps it would have been fair to speculate what would have happened if the BART looked like the second picture in my post, rather than what it is today. But I do not mind being outspoken in expressing how I think racism and classism have played a role in this inclusive transportation planning. It is hard to find material that is upfront on the topic.

    I admire your stance as an urbanist. Attacking the discussion the way I did in my blog may not be the most efficient approach towards coming up with a solution. But I hope that if it was brought to a larger audience, it could get some people thinking.

    I really appreciate your input. I think I could expand on this topic with another post that takes a more holistic and non-partisan stance. Shoot me an email at I’d love to hear more of your thoughts.

  • Pingback: Mid-week links: Marin Transit | The Greater Marin()

  • Max Dieckmann

    I think it’s interesting to consider the “Pre-BART” demographics, specifically population and average income, of the counties standing to benefit the most from BART service. In 1960, Marin County had a population of 147,000, SF County – 740,000 and Alameda County – 908,000. Adjusting the average income of 1959 to the value of the 2013 dollar, Marin County averaged $50,000, SF County – $41,400 and Alameda County – $41,700.

    In 1960, income inequality existed, but at much less pronounced levels than today. Additionally, Marin County compared to SF and Alameda counties combined had a population ratio of 1:11, while today it stands closer to 1:9.

    Essentially, 1960s Marin County was relatively less populated and not the ultra-wealthy destination that it is to today. It seems more plausible that Marin County was squeezed out of BART service as supported by Mark Prado’s article in the Marin Independent Journal (, and the ultra-high costs of expanding service has thwarted BART later expansion. BART officials had much to do with not only excluding public transit service from Marin County, but ultimately contributing to its now evident exclusivity.

    It would be neat to consider, if this “public transportation isolation” has contributed to attracting wealthy homeowners to Marin, which in turn has stoked a xenophobic attitude towards other Bay Area residents.

  • Robert Poole

    That’s a great point Max, and I think it has a lot of merit. I still wish that article, or another, discussed why the BART doesn’t extend from the East Bay into Marin. But once again, we would have to contextualize the situation and look at what the Bay Area, and East Bay, was like in 1960.

    If the “public transportation isolation” concept is true, then it’s sad to see the exclusive image Marin has developed, as a result. I love going to Marin. It’s beautiful and there’s a ton to do. And frankly, we should have made it more accessible to the rest of the Bay. Instead, we have stalled traffic every weekend on the way to the Richmond Bridge.

    Now there’s minimal diversity there, it’s sprawled out and I can easily find signs against “high-density housing.” Now the region is trying to adopt Plan Bay Area, and I’ve been hearing that many people in Marin are strongly opposed to the Plan because of the density and growth it will create in the area.

    It’s still a great case study of how public transit brings communities together. Or in the case of this example, how the lack of it separates populations.

  • Kiki Kennedy

    dear robert:

    here’s a bit of sass for your rainy day:

    while i agree that it makes sense to have built BART into these localities, it seems that you are villainizing an entire portion of the Bay Area population that most likely doesn’t have to do with the fact that BART isn’t here. there is wealth here in Marin, but i recall by experience that there is also ‘ultra-wealth’ in Berkeley, SF, Oakland and many other locations in the Bay Area. but i don’t think that the ‘wealth’ has much to do with the fact that BART doesn’t have lines running into your proposed Marin, Sonoma, Napa, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties.

    i do, however, have some suggestions for making ‘an ardous’ trip more enjoyable. just expect it to take a while. plan for it. and take the long way home. books on tape. punk rock music. soft rock music. try some late 70s love songs, like Ambrosia or Leo Sayer or Gerry Rafferty. use it as an opportunity to explore music from the library. you could do quiet inner reflection. make peace with what is. get a dog to keep you company. yell and scream. smoke up so you’re so blinded, you don’t care about traffic anymore. what traffic, man? where? huh? or just ask your physician for some of those magic pills for anxiety or stress. you won’t care about much after you take those either, but you’ll be a little more moody.

    but, seriously. the traffic problem here in the Bay Area is not going away anytime soon. i hate this phrase, but it’s true: it is what it is. the traffic, well, it’s everywhere, and BART alone isn’t going to solve it. i truly believe that. so, whether or not some illegal on-goings were going on back in the 60s, that’s not going to help us now. take your trips to Marin, or better yet, move there: and make your drives out to the coast that much shorter.

    also, use SIG alert if you’re planning a trip. those can help you make sound decisions to avoid stressful jams.

    get creative and do what my prof at Berkeley did from Marin every day he taught: he rode his bike, he ferry’d, he rode. he used what is available to solve the problem. maybe that is a moot point to city planners…

    honestly, i prefer to drive. to use it as time to myself. i apologize to the Earth for polluting her when i drive, but i trust her. i trust that she is stronger than we are.

    though we would use BART from Marin [God knows parking in SF is the worst ever] — unless very big decisions are made very high up consistently and continually over a very long time with very big money from many sources — or unless another huge natural disaster opens up a big new problem to solve — by way of new BART lines — it seems slim to me that we will see a Robert Moses-style expansion of BART in a one-county way, let alone in the five-county way that you envision. but you better get raising those bridge tolls now!

  • Glad others have pointed out the issue of sprawl within the rural character of Marin. Marin in the 1950s was not the Marin of today, it was more rural and blue collar. It was also actually more liberal and supportive of the working class that made up its population. One big reason the hippies started moving to Marin was that Marin was more liberal and rural. SF was a Republican strong-hold, dominated by old money and the military. No one thought that would ever change. Marin was a paradise where you could go live off the grid and away from the city. It’s hard to imagine that today but it was a very different place.

  • Rob Poole

    Thanks for the comment Christopher. It’s amazing how land use policy plays such a strong role in the political and social character of our communities. Marin is just one of many, many examples.

  • It would seem from the tone of this and another article “Social Equity Or NIMBYism? Marin County’s Battle With Affordable Housing” that Global Site Plans is too quick to accuse Marin County’s residents of being wealthy NIMBYs and demonize the county.

    Sorry to burst GSP’s bubble yet again, but might I point you to this text from the city of San Rafael’s Housing Element. As you may know San Rafael is the largest city in Marin and the county seat:

    “About one-half of the households currently residing in San Rafael are considered lower income.These households earn less than 80 percent of median income ($95,000 per year for a family of four based on 2008 Marin County income limits). Almost one-third of the households currently residing in San Rafael are either very low or extremely low income. ”


    The piece seems to wildly speculate on Marin’s wealthy elite blocking BART, yet it conveniently neglects to point out that 88% of Marin voters voted *in favor of* BART. Marin County withdrew in early 1962, not due to popular vote by wealthy residents, but because its marginal tax base could not adequately absorb its share of BART’s projected cost, together with feasibility issues of the Golden Gate Bridge being able to handle the weight.


    Marin is a largely rural and partly suburban county. It does not have the densities to provide a tax base or ridership justifying fixed guiderail projects – whether BART or SMART.

    Combined with the other article’s lambasting of Marin’s opposition to rapid development – labelling this inaccurately and irresponsibly as caused by ultra right rights when the group referenced was founded by a Marin Democratic Central Committee member and supported by a seven time mayor of ultra-liberal Fairfax – Global Site Plans appears to have no remaining credibility whatsoever.

    It’s one thing to fixate and try to push through one’s ideological desires for housing on a county, but the sheer number of inaccuracies contained in GSP articles bring the site itself into question.

    Finally I’m glad that the author discloses that he is paid professionally to lobby for rapid housing growth. This would explain a great deal, but not the factual inaccuracies and cherry-picking that’s occurring.

    The author might also have noted that almost all Marin cities have policies ensuring that 20%+ new housing units are affordable. Marin County is not bought into limitless growth based on unproven assumptions that new residents will not drive, use parking spots, and leaps of faith about impact on schools and taxes. It should be noted also that Marin County has the highest property tax rate in all of California. Note that’s tax rate (a percentage) – so this is not because of high housing prices. This is a regressive tax that hurts those on lower incomes the most.

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