More Parking, Apartments Headed for Riverside’s La Sierra Metrolink Station

Transit and transportation agencies pay a lot to provide the patrons somewhere to store their car while they use the service, despite the dubious results, and these parking lots consume a lot of land. Yet, even in the face of oversupply, agencies continue to push forward with plans to expand parking options at stops and stations. One member of that club is the Riverside County Transportation Commission. Back in March, they took comments on a plan to add over 500 more spaces to one of the stations along the Metrolink 91/Perris Valley and IEOC lines. This expansion would occur on an agency-owned vacant lot directly adjacent the existing parking lot.

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The apartments under construction as seen from the southeast. Due to the bluff, they are around the same height above the street as the homes.

In addition to the 500+ spots planned for transit passengers at the station, the Metro Gateway project is currently under construction on two other pads at the station. This development will add 187 units to the neighborhood, but despite being directly across the lot from transit, will also include nearly 300 more spots for the residents and their visitors. That brings the total number of new spots at the station up to about 800, not just the 500 planned by RCTC, an increase of around 75%.

A recent parking audit of the station found around 100 free spaces at 8:30 AM, representing an occupancy of greater than 90%. However, because there are no trains heading west between 7:40 and 10:40 and only one heading east at 9:21, it’s reasonable to assume that the 8:30 numbers represent a daily peak, though it is plausible to believe that some of those spaces might be used by students attending CSU Fullerton when the school year starts. Nevertheless, there continues to be space available and the recent opening of the extension of the 91 Line to Perris added nearly 1700 more spots to the total available in the area around Riverside.

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Putting up signs that say “transit oriented” doesn’t automatically make something actually transit-oriented, even when built by a train station.

Meanwhile, though it’s being billed as TOD, the Metro Gateway development would be better described as transit-adjacent development. In addition to the exorbitant amount of parking included, Metro Gateway lacks any visible signs of incorporating a mix of uses that would bring life to a site that is realistically devoid of life. While there is a retail plaza already located across La Sierra Ave. from the station where the new residents will likely be able shop as well as a bowling alley next door to the north, including some office/retail/light industrial space as part of the project would’ve been really helpful for improving the current parking crater around the station more than just some apartments will. Doing so would’ve been a great way to make the La Sierra Station more than just a pair of platforms and a parking lot, but perhaps even eventually providing space that could be used for satellite classes offered by the namesake school.

It’s disappointing to see that RCTC continues to feel that even in the heated SoCal housing market, the best use for prime land near transit with service directly to LAUS, Oceanside, Riverside, and San Bernardino is to let people store their cars to ride said trains. The biggest upside to a parking lot is that it is relatively easy to replace them with something better in the future. But still, even at present, if RCTC thinks having that much (free!) parking there is really necessary, it should be consolidated into a parking structure on the site to enable other development on the remaining parcels. The station area could easily support a vibrant community around it if only some forethought and creativity were used. Hopefully, this is a wake-up call to that end as RCTC still has several other parking lots throughout the county.

More photos of the site and project are available here.

Parking: Not Just an American Concern

While looking for background information to bolster the post about riding between Utrecht Centraal and Vleuten stations, I came across the documents pertaining to the conversion of Zandweg into a fietsstraat. Included were the written comments and responses [PDF, Dutch] provided during the consultation period for that project. While every other topic addressed in the process had three, maybe five comments total, the comments about parking took up five whole pages, comprising the decided majority of the concerns raised. What gives? Don’t the Dutch like biking?

In truth, it should ultimately not be such a surprise. Though they’re known as the country of biking, there is also quite a lot of driving done in the The Netherlands and their road network is arguably more efficient than ours. Additionally, they do continue to spend a lot of money on road projects such as the Leeuwarden Vrijbaan initiative or the ongoing massive project to widen the freeways between Schipol, Amsterdam, and Almere. The majority of these projects are directly intended to make driving easier, with familiar phrases like “relieve congestion” and “provide economic stability” showing up as the reasons for the improvements. The only difference is that they think of bikes when making those improvements.

Back to Zandweg itself. The fietsstraat has since been completed, as can be seen in the earlier video (or on Google Maps). Also visible are the numerous parking bays, some with parked vehicles, some without. But what’s striking is that many of the homes and businesses along the route have driveways with plenty of space available for parking onsite. Parking along Zandweg is additional and as near as I could tell, free. That should be a familiar concept to many Americans and one which clearly crosses borders. That’s further evidence that many concerns are basic human concerns, not just limited to certain people. What works there can work here too. All we have to do is stop insisting that “we’re different” and start emulating the best examples.

Almere’s BOD

One enduring topic that often permeates planning and transit circles is whether bus or rail is a better solution to mobility. Generally speaking, rail does make sense after a certain point, but where exactly that point is remains a bit of a mystery and up for interpretation. However, people tend to agree that if separate right-of-ways and especially grade separations are employed, it might be better to consider rail over buses.

In that regard, the Dutch are somewhat of heretics, building dedicated bus lanes on many major streets and dedicated busways all over the country in areas that most people would assert are better suited for rail. In the city of Almere, the busways are unique, even by Dutch standards, because it was master planned from the very beginning with a functional bus network that connects the town and feeds the half dozen rail stations that connect the city to the rest of the country in what one writer has called “bus-oriented development”.

In the (now closed) comment section of that piece, a fierce debate quickly broke out questioning whether Almere’s bus network would be better as trams light rail. (Even with tram vehicles, the operation would be far closer to the average light rail provision here in America due to the dedicated right-of-ways.) The reasoning varied, ranging from the fact that the right-of-ways already exist to the size of the city itself, with several examples of smaller cities with functional tram networks being presented as evidence that it could (should?) be done.

However, one factor seems to have completely eluded all but one of the debaters: Almere is a Dutch city. Being Dutch, that means that bicycles can probably be considered viable options and Almere does not disappoint. As documented by BicycleDutch, biking is easily accessible to everyone everywhere in the community and bike parking is integral at major destinations and transit stations. As such, many people undoubtedly bike to the city center or train instead of taking the bus as even with good transit provisions in town, shorter journeys still end up taking a similar amount of time.

That most people are choosing to bike instead of use local transit isn’t just speculation. A look at the stats show that on a national level, biking absolutely crushes local transit [BTM = bus/tram/metro], with the latter never accounting for more than 10% of all journeys and the two modes not even reaching parity until the 15-20 km trip distance range. Meanwhile, all residential developments in the city are within 3 miles (5 km) of one of the six (yes, six) train stations and city-level stats show that biking accounts for 31% of all journeys of 7.5 km or less. As such, the likelihood that the busways will be upgraded to trams/LRT is rather low as there just isn’t much need for such a conversion, at least not at present.

Almere is a great example of how bikes (all, not just colorful ones from kiosks) can vastly extend the reach of transit as well as the success of the Dutch campaign to get people biking more for short trips. Whether designed for from the beginning or as a repurposing of space from cars to people, bikes fill an important part of the transportation puzzle and dedicating space for bikes in a community is one of the most cost-effective things a transit agency can and/or push for to improve its operations. The benefits realized by Almere are well within reach of American communities too, it just requires adjusting priorities for people over cars.

SANBAG Releases I-10 HOV/HOT Lanes Draft EIR for Public Comment

The clock is now ticking after San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG) finally released the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the proposed I-10 HOV/HOT lanes this past Monday, April 25. With the comment period closing June 8, interested parties have just a little over a month to review and weigh in on several gigabytes worth of information. SANBAG really should’ve taken the proactive step and opened up for a 60-day comment period, but that ship is likely sailed. In either case, there will be a more in-depth review of the proposed projects at a later date, but it’s important to get the word out about the comment period.

A quick glance through the Executive Summary shows a project steeped in the height car-centric planning and design that has led to a region consistently ranked as highly sprawled and that is completely out-of-line with state goals and the economy of the 21st Century. Though the No Build is provided by way of comparison, the report focuses on the two build alternatives: extending the existing HOV lane from Haven Ave. in Ontario to Ford St. in Redlands or constructing HOT lanes from the LA/SBD county line through to Yucaipa. Those options come with a price tag of around $660mn or $1.7bn respectively, but either figure is almost certain to increase after more involved design and construction activities are undertaken.

Those price tags might ultimately be this project’s undoing. Although San Bernardino County’s Measure I allocates funding specifically for a HOV lane on I-10, it will likely not be anywhere near enough to cover the full cost of that alternative. Additionally, as the State continues to cut funding from transportation projects due to the volatility with gas tax income (which is set to enter free fall soon) as well as an increasing focus on moving the transportation paradigm away from its car-centric focus, it seems increasingly unlikely that SANBAG would be able to procure many State funds for a project so diametrically at odds with the State’s goals. Perhaps they will be able to get more luck out of the Feds, but even the USDOT has realized that we can’t build roads indefinitely.

This Draft EIR also provides some insight into recent reports that SCAG* is frantically fighting to delay the implementation of SB 743, which will replace LOS with VMT as a significant impact under CEQA, and is another prime example how other agencies are hampering Caltrans’ efforts to modernize. SCAG’s Transportation Committee is chaired by a representative from Ontario (by way of SANBAG), a city right at the literal crossroads of this project and a similar proposal for I-15 and where a sprawling new community of over 46,000 homes is currently under construction. The Executive Summary casually mentions that the two build options are forecast to result in a 3% (HOV) or 10% (HOT) increase in VMT, something which the forthcoming CEQA thresholds would certainly consider a rather significant impact in need of mitigation since they aim to set a threshold of significance at 15% below baseline. Needless to say, SANBAG and its member jurisdictions are not interested in being told that they need to reign in the parade of building more freeways and overbuilt stroads that dice up the region, even as they struggle to maintain what already exists.

Of course, a project this large has not gone ahead completely unnoticed. While the HOV option was expressly included in the Measure I extension that was passed way back in 2004 with around 80% support, the HOT option was not. Not surprisingly, SANBAG is seeking to get more bang for the buck by leveraging that money with private investment to build and operate the HOT option. However, the prospect of including tolls has piqued the interest of the Tea Party in the area, who have continued to turn out in force to protest this “Agenda 21 plan to force us out of our cars”. Considering that SANBAG and its member jurisdictions continue to build and widen roads with reckless abandon [PDF], that claim couldn’t be further from the truth. At the same time, they are attracting some public interest against the project, which may ultimately prove to be a blessing in disguise if it delays or stops the project.

As mentioned above, a far more in-depth (and boring) look at the project will be undertaken at some point in the future. But for now, it’s imperative that everyone head over to the project website, http://www.1015projects.com, access the Draft EIR documents, and comment on it. Though considering the size and magnitude of the document and project, it would be nice if SANBAG would extend the comment period, that doesn’t seem likely, so look and comment early. Comments can be sent to the following address:
Aaron Burton, Branch Chief, Caltrans District 8
Attn: I-10 CP Draft EIR/EIS Comment Period
464 W. 4th Street
San Bernardino, CA 9240

*Though SANBAG is large enough to be an MPO itself, the regional MPO is SCAG.

Is San Bernardino Ready to Modernize E Street?

Opportunities to completely change a street for the better for free (or close to it) don’t come along very often, but the City of San Bernardino currently has the option on their plate as a portion of E Street is reconstructed. Running north-south through the heart of the city and downtown, E St. is home to the bronze-rated sbX Green Line and connects the two of the most vibrant corridors in the city, Baseline St. and Highland Ave., with downtown, uptown, and CSUSB in the northern part of the city and is part of the historical business loop for the legendary Route 66. However, even though E St. previously won a Streetsie in 2014, some of the benefits of BRT seen in other cities have not yet reached the entire corridor, with this segment continuing to support a plethora of empty lots and boarded-up buildings.

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The current configuration of “E” Street is vastly overbuilt and encourages dangerous behavior among road users. Image via Streetmix.

At present, this portion of the street still looks very much like a Death Road, with four lanes for traffic and on-street parking. That has led to conditions that encourage unsafe driving and crash data SWITRS shows a string of incidents stretching through the entire project area to lend support to that idea, including some bike and pedestrian casualties. This is particularly troubling since the route is heavily used by children who attend San Bernardino High School and Arrowview Middle School, with the students themselves providing anecdotal reports of rampant disrespect from motorists. Additionally, E St. is unfortunately also at the epicenter of the resurging epidemic of violence that has wracked the city this year, with the owner of one of the small businesses in this stretch losing his life earlier this year during an armed robbery.

Currently, the overbuilt four-lane design moves less than 10k vehicles per day, a figure that despite being nearly 20 years old, is apparently still pretty valid as confirmed by looking at more recent counts obtained at the intersections of E St. with Baseline and Highland. These numbers are well within the bounds of the volume of traffic that just two lanes can handle quite well, which makes this an ideal road diet candidate. That means that this is the perfect opportunity to make sure the rebuild is a complete street that functions better for all users.

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Put “E” Street on a diet. Image/Streetmix.

But what would a road diet look like on E Street? Since they’re not moving curbs, two general travel lanes would be swapped for a center two-way left turn lane and a pair of bike lanes. While some might think it appears like a “loss” for the street because there are fewer general travel lanes, such a proposal is likely to improve operations for several reasons. First, the current configuration encourages speeding and there are several cross streets that have significant left turn traffic, particularly around San Bernardino High School during the morning/afternoon. These left turners frequently hold back the left-hand lanes as they wait for a gap in oncoming traffic, so a road diet allows them to wait out of the stream going straight, a stream that is often exceeding the 35 MPH speed limit. Meanwhile, the single lane of traffic reduces the ability for people to speed.

Jeff Speck explains road diets.

Also, despite the elements on the street that some might consider to be unsavory, quite a lot of people actually do already travel up and down E St. by foot and by bike, including as mentioned above, many students. This design moves the traffic a little farther from the sidewalks, making it a little calmer and more appealing for pedestrians. Additionally, the bike lanes provide a better designation of where bicyclists can be expected and possibly in conjunction with signage, could be an effective strategy to combat the frequent ‘salmon‘ riders in the area.

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This section of E Street is also home to the original McDonald’s. Image by author.

The effect of these changes will provide a vastly improved street environment that is likely the missing link in years of efforts to revitalize this area of the city. The slower, more even speed of the motorists allow them to notice businesses that they had never seen before when blasting by at 50 MPH while the bike lanes and improved pedestrian experience lead more people to walk or bike through the corridor, both of which are groups that can easily stop in stores along the way and in the process, end up spending more over the course a month than the typical motorist. As has been seen elsewhere around the country, road diets do not have negative impacts on business, but do the opposite and increase business. With a high number of vacant storefronts in the stretch, using this project as opportunity to right-size the street is a great way to get the boards to come down and breathe some new life into the area. It would also provide a good connection to the new park coming to the corner of 9th and E, which will include a new skatepark that BMX riders will certainly frequent.

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The location of E St. in relation to alternatives to reach downtown from this area, including a freway. Image/Google Maps, edited by author.

Undoubtedly, there will be some naysayers and people will be concerned that it would increase trip times. However, it’s worth looking at the area view. Since San Bernardino was built on a grid, there are numerous options for those who may feel hampered. Additionally, given the impressive level of decay and decline that currently permeates this segment of the street, the built environment cannot get exponentially worse. But given the existing traffic safety issues, repeating last century’s mistakes on a blank slate is a step backwards. We shouldn’t have to wait for someone to die before trying to address the issue. If it doesn’t work out or the capacity is eventually needed, it’s easy enough to go back and restripe it to the old setup. But with the opportunity to do for minimal cost what other cities around the country are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to do, San Bernardino owes it to itself and to the residents to go ahead and join the 21st Century by giving it a go. The only question is if San Bernardino is ready to do what it takes to be an All-American City again.

 

Evaluating RCTC’s Coachella Valley Rail Proposals

For a little over a year, the Riverside County Transportation Commission has been undertaking a study to explore the possibility of providing daily passenger rail service to the Coachella Valley. This is at least the seventh time in nearly 30 years that the concept has been explored. (Previous studies of all or parts of the potential route were the focus of or included in other efforts previously completed in 1991, 199319992005, 2010, and 2013.) But with this being take seven on the project, perhaps it’s time to figure out exactly what needs to be done to get this plan off the shelves and to see trains rolling.

The elephant in the room continues to be that the only truly viable alternative to reach the area is by routing passenger traffic through the Union Pacific Yuma Subdivision that heads east from the Colton Crossing. As one of the two principal freight rail arteries in and out of SoCal heading east, Union Pacific understandably has concerns about the proposition of running an increased number of passenger trains over their rails. Currently, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited operates through the corridor, but it is only thrice-weekly service with late night/early morning stops in the area–hardly usable by the majority of potential travelers.

The latest report provides five Alternatives along with reasons for/against them. As the Yuma Subdivision is the only existing route to the Coachella Valley, all the differences occur from the Colton Crossing to LAUS. The five Alternatives (resulting in six total possibilities) are to use the BNSF San Bernardino Sub (Alternative 1), use the UP LA Sub (Alternative 2); use the UP Alhambra Sub (Alternative 3), use two variations of the Metrolink San Gabriel Sub (Alternative 4), or use a hybrid option blending Alternative 4B and 3 (Alternative 4). Four of those options made it through the course level screening to a more detailed analysis and will be expounded upon: 1, 4A/B, and 5.

Alternative 1

As mentioned above, west of Colton is where the differences lie. Of the four potential routes advanced to fine-level screening, Alternative 1 was the only one looked on favorably and advanced to the level of further planning/EIS. Several factors in its favor exist including most principally, a corridor population that is around 25% higher than the others have or would provide in the near-term. Though all study is being done using the assumption of Amtrak service similar to the existing Pacific Surfliner, this proposed route would be the functional equivalent of extending the Metrolink 91 Line out to the Coachella Valley and would in effect, be adding a limited stop train from LAUS to Riverside. Ideally, the Rail2Rail program should be implemented over that portion of the route to allow people to take advantage of that option. From Riverside, the train would then continue north to the Colton Crossing, where it would turn east to reach Indio as outlined above. RCTC currently still has quite a few unused daily allotments for the route, so implementing service via Alternative 1 would only require buying (or leasing) the trainsets and building a few stations. This route also has the second-fastest projected travel time and high ridership.

Alternative 4A

The second Alternative considered at the fine level is branded 4A. This option would be routed primarily over the San Gabriel Subdivision, which is owned by LA Metro and SANBAG for operating Metrolink’s San Bernardino Line. However, the San Gabriel Sub is at present, not directly connected with the Yuma, so this option requires several things be done to make that connection. The proposal calls for squeezing a track to connect to the northbound BNSF line between I-10 and the Colton Crossing and also just continue it through Colton to connect to the Metrolink Short Way Subdivision that is used by the IEOC Line to reach San Bernardino and Metrolink to access their Colton yard. A flyover would then be built to connect that track with the San Gabriel Subdivision and the report also calls for the two segments of double-tracking already underway to be built. This Alternative would have Inland Empire stops at Rialto and Montclair before heading to LA over the same route used by Metrolink. According to the analysis, this option would produce the fastest travel time of 3:06 as well as the second-highest ridership.

However, it was ultimately, it was not selected for further study due to requiring a minimum investment of $141mn more than Alternative 1 and potential ROW issues, including relocating a trucking facility at the BNSF San Bernardino yard. But looking at the reality of the area, a connection could probably be built to connect to the existing flyover and thus avoid relocating the majority of the trucking yard. Presumably, some of the money would also go into the double-tracking projects mentioned above, but it’s primarily slated for providing the connection to the BNSF tracks and Short Way in Colton as well as the flyover to connect with the San Gabriel Subdivision. Additionally, at least two actual bridges would be required (one over La Cadena, one over Lytle Creek) and though there is a little room for it, adding a fourth track through Colton will require a couple things to be moved and at least two more grade crossings be expanded. Though not studied in the report, the Colton track does provides an opportunity for a Colton stop to be added to the IEOC Line and potentially the CV train as well.

Alternative 4B/5

The last two Alternatives, 4B and 5, are functionally the same, so they’ll be looked at in tandem. Both would use the same connection in Colton as presented by 4A to reach the Short Way, but would instead utilize the San Bernardino Downtown Passenger Rail extension to continue all the way into the recently completed San Bernardino Transit Center located downtown. Going to the SBTC would provide connections with numerous transit services serving the San Bernardino Valley, Mountain communities, and Victor Valley areas. This option also avoids the need for a flyover in the BNSF yard, but leaves the recommendation for the double-tracking along the San Gabriel Sub. However, the train would have to switch ends in San Bernardino before being able to continue to LAUS. According to the report, this maneuver can take up to half an hour, so accommodating it is projected to likely necessitate another layover track be added to the site. The layover also effectively cuts the journey into two separate trips. That could be great for station-area businesses in San Bernardino, but results in a major hits on ridership and travel times. Unsurprisingly, these two options have the longest scheduled travel times but lowest ridership.

The rest of the route is for Alternative 4B, identical to Alternative 4A. Alternative 5 instead uses the UP Alhambra Subdivision into LAUS from near the El Monte station which provides a potential bypass of the single track line on I-10. Both 4A and 5 would differ from 4A in that they would not stop at Rialto, only at Montclair. Additionally, 5 require second flyover in El Monte to provide access to the Alhambra Sub without running into freight congestion. Course-level screening indicated that Alternative 5 would require double-tracking of the Alhambra, but the ongoing Alameda Corridor East San Gabriel Trench appears to be taking care of that. Still, in comparison to Alternative 1, these two options have a potential cost of $130mn more for 4B or $162mn more for Alternative 5. Due to both the cost but especially the turn time depressing ridership, these two Alternatives were also nixed from further configuration.

Results

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Alternative 1 has been selected for further study and advancement to the EIR/EIS stage. This is the only Alternative that would actually serve the City of Riverside, which, notwithstanding the relative lack of necessary investment compared to the others, likely was a part of the deciding factor for its favorable consideration in a study commissioned by RCTC. Progress toward those environmental documents is undoubtedly being worked on now. Additionally, though Measure A doesn’t put much money toward rail, cap and trade money might provide the ability to acquire equipment and start the service. With new locomotives on the way for the Surfliner and Metrolink, there will probably be some surplus power available in the LA area soon that, pending funding, can be leased for a decent price to get things rolling within a few months of final approval of the environmental documents. Hopefully, that can happen before the 40th anniversary of the first study.

Progress Report: Perris Valley Line

Things are ever so slowly coming together on SoCal’s biggest rail expansion of the year: Metrolink’s Perris Valley Line. The Riverside County Transportation Commission is leading the project that will add a hair over 24 miles and four more stations to the Metrolink system, an undertaking that has been in the works for decades. RCTC originally purchased the San Jacinto Branch Line being used for the extension back in 1993. They’ve sat on it since then, largely content with limiting their rail ambitions to numerous studies of all the options. However, BNSF does still service some customers along the subdivision and the portion through Moreno Valley is where some freight cars got blown over a couple years back.

Trains were originally supposed to be rolling by the end of 2015. And they were, with RCTC holding an opening ceremony back in December. Unfortunately, nearly a quarter of the way into 2016, those rolling trains still are not carrying passengers. Though trains have been running tests since October, there are still varying levels of construction continuing at all the stations; the Downtown Perris station is probably the most put together of the lot. This presents another setback for a project that has already seen it’s share of delays from studies and a NIMBY lawsuit.

In traditional suburban commuter rail fashion, all four stations are surrounded by a moat of parking, with probably at least 1,100 spaces spread among them. This is ultimately not surprising, especially since RCTC is currently embarking on a parking lot expansion at the La Sierra station, but it remains to be seen if this is really the best plan in the long term. The good part about parking is that it can be easily converted to something else and since it is already provided, perhaps the communities where they’re located will be able to leverage them to meet minimum requirements. Nevertheless, let’s have a quick glance at what has been built thus far.

South Perris

The South Perris Station is the end-of-the-line for the current extension, but the rail corridor is the one that would eventually continue on to San Jacinto if RCTC doesn’t kill it first. But since it is the current end, this site consists of not just a platform and parking lot, but several tracks for layovers and overnight storage of the trainsets. Everything at this site is still under construction including the layover yard, the parking lot, and the boarding platform. It’s probably not an understatement to say that this is the least complete of the bunch. Totally surrounded by farmland, this station is (obviously) largely designed to capture park-n-riders from places like Menifee, French Valley, and even Hemet. However, the literal absence of anything built immediately adjacent to it does provide a great opportunity for the City of Perris to leverage the transit connection to direct development there in the future. But with both an airport and sewage treatment plant nearby, there is certainly room to discuss whether residential would be the best type of development for the location.

Downtown Perris

In a direct contrast to the So. Perris station, the Downtown Perris station is probably the most complete of the four. It’s not just a stop for Metrolink, but also the hub for RTA’s operations in the area and the bus bays are already seeing use. It is located in the center of Perris directly adjacent the historic Sante Fe depot in the city and the tracks from the Orange Empire Railway Museum are being extended to provide access directly from the train station and the station itself has several very prominently featured memorials to the late Disney animator Ward Kimball.

Though this station is also surrounded by a moat of parking directly adjacent the station, there is one mixed-use development across from the station with several dozen apartments as well as some City offices occupying some of the retail spaces. Other spaces are still vacant, but that will probably change soon, especially once trains are running. There are also quite a few vacant lots in close proximity to the station and with UCR just two stops away, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some renewed interest from developers. Already, some affordable units within a half mile of the station have recently been completed and more are probably going to be on the way.

At the station itself, the pedestrian accommodations are a refreshing to see in a region that critically lacks any such provisions. However, the ped and bike connections to access the site could do with some improvement. Most egregious is likely the intersection directly adjacent the station block, where pedestrian crossing is prohibited on the leg of the intersection closest the station. Predictably, that manifested itself by way of an elderly gentleman crossing CA-74 at the rail crossing. Additionally, RCTC has unfortunately not gotten the memo on good bike parking and installed ‘wave’ racks at the station itself.

Alessandro

The Alessandro station is another primarily commuter-focused station. Since the likely ridership will come from Moreno Valley and the eastern side of Riverside, its major component is also a couple acres of blacktop to allow people to store their cars. It’s surrounded not by farmland, but by warehouses and there are a couple of vacant lots nearby too. There is also an office building or two directly adjacent the station, but it remains to be seen if the reverse commute will actually go all the way to Perris and thus be useful enough to draw ridership to use it. Additionally, there are several pads on the station site itself with signs stating their availability for building as well as empty lots across the street. Similar to South Perris, it also presents a great opportunity to take advantage of the budding transit potential with some smart development, especially given the relative proximity to the Alessandro BRT project currently being planned.

Hunter Park/UCR

At the time of stop by, the Hunter Park/UCR station was probably the second most ready for use. This station is also primarily a park-and-ride lot located in the midst of warehouses. Unfortunately, the same NIMBYs who delayed the train were also successful in stopping plans for a station that was to be more proximate to UCR itself and which could’ve provided a great anchor point for the Riverside Reconnects streetcar. It has been rumored that the station might still be built in the future, but that is a long way off from reality at the moment. The station that did get built is directly adjacent the UCR Bourne School of Engineering Annex, about a mile and a half from the main campus. Fortunately, RCTC took the forward-thinking step of ensuring that the sidewalk from the platform extended to both sides of the block where the station is located, providing a convenient cut-through of what is otherwise a half-mile long block.

This is also the most northern station and the last of the four new ones when heading west on the line. Much like the Downtown Perris station, it will be a hub for buses in the area and includes a bus-only loading zone. Since the station isn’t actually on the campus, hopefully UCR will run a shuttle to meet the trains and provide students that connection. There are also some vacant lot opportunities directly across the street that are available, hopefully the City of Riverside can guide development to those areas. Given the proximity to the school, student housing probably would be best, especially since the population generally owns fewer cars anyway. But other types of housing shouldn’t be shunned, especially since it will be one station away from downtown Riverside.

A handy feature of both the HP/UCR and Alessandro stations is their use of bioswales for onsite water management. That’s a refreshing change from the status quo in the vast majority of parking lots that rely on funneling water into gutters and drainage systems. Every bit of water that we can not send down the river soon as it hits the ground is beneficial to a region that is still in a drought. Such seemingly little things can have a big impact and hopefully this is indicative of a new approach to water management.

That’s it for now. At a future date (likely after service begins), I’ll take the time to delve into each station individually. Meanwhile, many pictures of the current state are available here.

Bikeways and Traffic

A common complaint and critique of separated bikeways is that “competent” bicyclists can travel at the speed of traffic in the roadway and would be “held up” on bike-specific infrastructure and therefore bikeways shouldn’t be built at all. Though that reality has been repeatedly shown to be inaccurate on well-designed facilities, the belief is still carried forward and trumpeted that bikeways restrict the speed of riders.

However, as cities across the country and globe increasingly realize that there is no way to ever build their way out of congestion, they’re instead turning to other mechanisms and methods of dealing with the growth that is occurring. As priorities change, complete streets policies are being enacted that reallocate the space of existing roads for all modes as well as dictate how new roads should be constructed to make the best use of space to move people, not just cars.

What happens when such a change occurs? Overtoom in Amsterdam (pictured below) gives us a good example. One of the main routes heading into and out of the city, it has space for all users. The exact profile differs based on location, but very generally is arranged with buses/trams/taxis in the central lanes, one lane per direction for general traffic, parking for cars and bikes, separated bikeways, and of course, sidewalks. The result is a thoroughfare that has the capacity to move far more people than the number actually moved on typical arterial that scars many cities, but just as long as they’re not trying to drive alone in a car.

overtoom
The predominant configuration of Overtoom for the majority of its length.

The following two videos show how the street looks and works in real life.

This one is composed of several snippets of how the street functions over the course of the evening rush hour. At times of high congestion, the bikeway is absolutely faster than the general travel lanes, even for those who are not riding particularly fast at all.

This second video shows the entirety of the street as it heads out of town.  The location where the first video was filmed is to the right at 0:16, in the shop with the yellow awning. At over four minutes to go just over a mile, the speed of transit for the corridor by car is slower than many people can comfortably bike, even though this doesn’t appear to be filmed during rush hour per se.

As cities grow and become more congested, bikes will continue to be looked as as a way provide an alternative to driving. Though not typically well-understood by many, bikes actually do offer competitive travel times to driving a car, even with infrastructure that people like to assume mandates slow biking. That’s a view that simply isn’t supported by the evidence, especially the prevalence of scooters using Dutch bikeways (often illegally).

Transit Bypasses for Bikes

The latest post from BicycleDutch isn’t even about bikes and transit, it’s about biking in the rain. But the location where it was filmed in Utrecht provides the opportunity to also get another good look at an exceptional solution to a common issue frequently raised about separated bikeways: what to do around a transit stop.

Screenshot 2015-12-09 19.57.28
A pair of bus stops and their bypasses outside of Montfoort, NL. Image: Google Street View.

The preferred approach is to use  floating transit stops that allow bicyclists to pass by without coming into conflict with buses (or trains) and only minimal interaction with passengers. Floating stops can even be used with conventional bike lanes as they remain a great way to address the problem of buses and bikes. Yet, the minute details continue to evade many planners and engineers, resulting in facilities that can be dramatically bad.

 

As can be seen in BicycleDutch’s video, there is a bus stop directly adjacent the bikeway. Yet, despite this being one of the busiest locations for bus activity along Potterstraat, transit users do not present a problem to the bicyclists at all. As they exit the bus, they are on a relatively wide island that is lined with a barrier, ensuring that the interaction between users occurs at as few a points as possible. While most Dutch transit stop bypasses aren’t quite that wide nor do they include a barrier, the concept is still carried forward.

But perhaps the most important part of the design is how the bikeway passes the stop. In the one featured in the video, it is a straight line with no deviation at all. That is preferred, but likely not always practical. In the absence of that opportunity, everything should be done to make the curve as smooth as possible and it should be designed for a realistic biking speed (i.e. 20+ MPH). When done right, riding around a stop is a pleasant experience that is barely noticeable.

In tandem with protected intersections, transit stop bypasses are a great way to build a protected bikeway network. Since both infrastructure elements can work with traditional bike lanes, they offer a great way to tackle the biggest problems of a separated bikeway first, then fill in the remaining gaps as money becomes available. The biggest challenge is getting the minute details right, so planners and engineers should travel to and ride both the best and worst examples to get a real feel of how to build them properly.

SANBAG Slowing Chugs Ahead with Metrolink Double Tracking

Yesterday, the SANBAG board of directors approved a motion directing staff to begin searching for a firm to complete an environmental document and 30% design for a chronically needed double-tracking of Metrolink’s San Bernardino Line. This comes after it zoomed through the agency’s Commuter Rail & Transit Committee last month. The proposed segment of double track will be a pivotal piece of infrastructure that will allow Metrolink to better serve and grow the corridor with the highest ridership.

Screenshot 2015-11-26 21.19.49
The Metrolink San Bernardino Line Twitter account (@MetrolinkSB) is an ongoing chronicle of the innumerable near-daily cascading delays caused by the  prevalence of single track on the route.

The biggest improvement will undoubtedly be the ability to ease congestion and decrease some of the delays that are a surreal problem on the line nearly every single day. The proposed segment will add about three miles to an existing siding of just under two miles, creating one of the longest sections of double track along the line. The project will also mean the addition of a second platform (and likely pedestrian underpass) at the Rialto station, which will hopefully be long enough to serve Metrolink’s new eight-car trainset being used on the San Bernardino Line.

If done right, the improvements could greatly benefit not just Metrolink  users, but the city of Rialto too. Currently, there are several vacant properties that are located next to the Rialto station which provide a perfect opportunity for smart TOD that can integrate developments into the station via the proposed pedestrian underpass (or overpass if that’s the final decision) and dozens more within a kilometer. The newly expanded parking lot at the station can also be leveraged to meet parking requirements for developments, reducing the “need” to build more parking in an area that is not exactly constrained. Furthermore, AB 744 can also be invoked as a last resort for any developments that include affordable housing components.

lilac_gates
The second of two bicyclists who proceeded past the lowered gates at Lilac Avenue in less than a minute.

The double tracking project will also provide the perfect opportunity to perform several necessary safety enhancements. The biggest is likely the ability to upgrade up to eight grade crossings to be quiet zones, a very welcome and necessary move that would provide relief to the surrounding communities that are currently subject to hearing more than 1000 horn blasts a day. Additionally, quiet zone improvements can form one part of efforts to decrease unauthorized access to the rail corridor that currently sees frequent use as a walkway by the community at large, including children heading to/from school.

The SANBAG staff report included with the item [PDF, p. 97] mentions that this project came out of a joint study with LA Metro [PDF] that looked at the most cost-effective strategies to improve San Bernardino Line service (which should’ve just been titled “what should we double track first?”). The report also mentions that LA Metro is moving forward with a similar proposal for environmental and preliminary engineering for double-tracking Lone Hill to CP White in LA County and makes the case for waiting on both studies to be complete before seeking grant funding for both in tandem. That may ultimately not be the best idea, especially if one study gets delayed or contested, as the improvements are needed immediately.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
SANBAG’s Chief of Rail & Transit presents at the December Board meeting.

No timeline was presented at the meeting, but the Countywide Transportation Plan projects that it will be at least another decade [PDF, p. 128] before the project is complete, up to four years after projects to widen the two adjacent freeways, I-10 and I-210, are completed. That’s absurd. Building three miles of track next to an existing track in an active rail right-of-way that has room to fit five tracks shouldn’t take ten years to accomplish. With Metrolink continuing to bleed ridership, that amount of delay to complete the first of several needed double-tracking projects is rather unacceptable, especially in light of AB32 targets for 2020 and with funding available from Cap & Trade for rail projects. It is imperative that anything that can be done to speed the process along be undertaken.

To be fair, the Metrolink San Bernardino Line Infrastructure Improvement Study did present and recommend that an accelerated timeline and funding schedule funding schedule be used, which it appears that SANBAG is attempting to pursue by completing the study in tandem with LA Metro. If those recommendations can be followed, it would be very encouraging for both Metrolink riders and the region as a whole, especially as VMT-based CEQA standards come into the picture.

More photos available on Flickr.

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