Traffic in Marin: It’s About Housing

Updated: Sep 29, 2018

Dylan Panahy | NextGen Marin

There has been a lot of commotion recently regarding Marin’s growing problem with traffic congestion, particularly along its highways. A Metropolitan Transportation Commission report cited the morning southbound Highway 101 commute from Novato to North San Pedro Road in San Rafael as one of the worst in the Bay Area, with thousands of commuters traversing the route every day. This prompted the county to propose the Marin-Sonoma Narrows Project, a long-term agreement to widen exceptionally congested segments of the 101 in what would be a taxpayer-funded $743 million undertaking.

Underpinning the public debate surrounding traffic in Marin is a familiar NIMBY argument that usually goes something like this: more housing would result in more people living in Marin which would create more traffic. This argument is not only misleading; it is patently false. In fact, Marin’s population has actually DECREASED over the past 5 years, from 258,552 residents in 2013 to 252,409 in 2018.

So what’s the deal with all the traffic?

There are more people commuting into Marin from neighboring counties than ever, with roughly 65,000 workers commuting from other parts of the Bay Area to Marin in 2017 out of a total employed labor force of 137,500. That means about 47.3% of the Marin labor force, almost HALF of the county’s workers, don’t even live in Marin.

So where are they coming from? Well, according to cell phone data gathered by the

Transportation Authority of Marin, 28% of all commuters originated in Sonoma county and 24% in San Francisco. What do commuters from these two places have in common? They are almost certain to enter Marin through Highway 101, especially when coming from San Francisco. So, based on the available data, we can safely estimate that at least 52% of commuter traffic on Highway 101 originates from outside of the county.

So next time you hear someone fearful of affordable workforce housing causing clogged highways, don’t argue with them; just show them the numbers. More workers living in Marin = less people on its major highways.


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