Category Archives: East Valley

Covers the eastern portion of the San Bernardino Valley. Highland, Redlands, Loma Linda, along with parts of San Berndardino, Yucaipa, and Colton.

San Bernardino Transit Center Celebrates One Year of Service

wp-1473652650531.jpg
One artist used Omnitrans’ old logo as part of his drawing. Photo: author/iNLand fIEts.

This past Saturday, visitors to the San Bernardino Transit Center (SBTC) were treated to a tunes, a cold drink, and a place to rest between buses as Omnitrans held a party to celebrate the first year of operations of the SBTC. As local all-girl band Alive in the Lights rocked out under a cloudless sky, members of the community participated in a chalk art contest in the plaza in front of the SBTC. Artists were competing for a $250 grand prize and they brought their A-game with many great designs. As they drew, they were entertained by antics provided by the SANBAG See Tracks, Think Train campaign mascot  out spreading the word of practicing safety around tracks.

A little over year ago, on August 24, 2015, that dignitaries and curious onlookers stopped by the soon-to-be-completed SBTC in the eponymous city to celebrate the grand opening of the new transfer and customer service facility. The anticipation turned to excitement on September 8, when the SBTC officially opened to the public. Envisioned by Omnitrans since the 1980s, the Transit Center replaces the transfer hub that had floated around the 4th St. area of downtown San Bernardino for decades.

It brings together almost all of their East Valley service into one central location, providing connections to the sbX Green Line, MARTA Off the Mountain service, VVTA BV Link, (as of today) Pass Transit Commuter Link 120, Metrolink by the end of next year via the under construction Downtown Passenger Rail Project, and the Redlands Passenger Rail Project which is projected to be open by 2021. However, the coordination to ensure those connections are available and make sense did delay the completion of the TC, which was originally supposed to open before or at least in conjunction with sbX. At some point in the distant future, CA high-speed rail may also arrive at the site, which would truly awaken the city.

The facility has a staffed customer service desk and 24/7 security to maintain peace and order. Omnitrans has thus far received largely positive reviews of the facility from the riders, many of whom really appreciate the fact that there is an indoor waiting area, public bathrooms, and connections all in one place. The lobby isn’t a grand hall, but it’s design is functional and elegant and provides travelers a much-needed respite from the elements, especially those who are waiting for connections to Omni’s services that run at only an hourly frequency.

However, not everyone is completely happy with the TC. In addition to the usual complaints about the use of tax dollars for public transit, several people have expressed concern about the lack of parking provided at the site. This is certainly an interesting argument because, realistically speaking, there are few instances where Omnitrans’ local service provides a travel time that is superior to that of driving and most of them are not really in the areas around downtown San Bernardino. As such, it doesn’t seem very likely that many people would drive to park and take the bus, something which is already borne out by the parking lots that Omnitrans built for the sbX Green Line that are 99% empty 99% of the time. Building another lot at the TC for bus passengers doesn’t seem necessary and Omnitrans was right to not do so.

wp-1473652641726.jpg
In the future, Omnitrans hopes to bring a transit-focused development to the empty lot seen behind the canopies.

Not doing so also meant that they have space that is available for development on the site that will be easier to convert to that use from an empty lot than it would be from a designated parking lot. However, since the TC is also going to connect to Metrolink, parking will be provided in conjunction with the completion of that portion of the project. Additionally, 10-minute drop-off parking is available on Rialto Ave. at the front of the TC. Furthermore, there are literally dozens of acres of surface lots available within a two block radius of the site that could be tapped with some sort of agreement to provide parking for the TC if it’s truly necessary, including over 13 acres directly adjacent the TC at the San Manuel Stadium.

While parking for cars at the TC isn’t plentiful, there is a decent amount of bike parking strewn around the site, albeit of mixed utility. The good part about it is that it is of an inverted U shape and square, but unfortunately, the racks themselves were installed far too close together, rending them partially useless. In addition to the bike parking, the TC is also host to the San Bernardino Bike Hubitat co-op shop. Since opening in May, the Hubitat has helped hundreds of Omni patrons continue rolling.

In the next few years, the SBTC should see an increase in use as more transit connections come online. However, most of the ultimate success for the Center rests squarely on the shoulders of the City. As they look to exit bankruptcy, they have the opportunity to really become a regional powerhouse and world-class city with smart investments and leadership. The coming transit connections provide an extremely advantageous starting point, but they still need to really take the reigns and look forward to the future. Hopefully, that realization happens soon and we can look forward to many more anniversary celebrations.

Advertisements

Progress Report: Downtown San Bernardino Passenger Rail Project

Work is humming along on SANBAG’s project to extend Metrolink service from the current terminus at San Bernardino’s Santa Fe Depot to the Transit Center in downtown San Bernardino. This move of a little over a mile will bring new options and connections to transit users from San Bernardino and many surrounding communities. Though it opened last year, the Transit Center currently only has connections with fixed route bus and BRT service. Once open, this project will provide the first passenger rail service to downtown San Bernardino in at least 70 years.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The switch that will be installed just north of Rialto Ave. is under construction. All photos: author.

Over the last year or so, the construction phase of this project has been ongoing, with changes slowly manifesting themselves all through San Bernardino’s Lytle Creek neighborhood. By far, the biggest changes are of the transportation right-of-ways. The DSBDPRP is double-tracking the entire loop from the Short Way Subdivision, through the BNSF San Bernardino yard past the Santa Fe Depot, then onto [what remains of] the Redlands District to just past G St., where it splits to provide a third track at the Transit Center and otherwise rejoins the existing double-track segment. The double-tracking will allow trains to freely flow from the Transit Center to the yard that is located about two route miles away in Colton.

In addition to the double-track, two grade crossings are being closed by the project: 3rd St. at the tracks and I St. south of the tracks (the intersection with Rialto from the north remains as a right in/out). The closures aren’t completely bad as especially with I St., it provides a great opportunity for a modernization project on an otherwise chronically overbuilt street. However, it appears that they closures will also cut the neighborhood access off, so that is a bit of a loss to the community.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
One of the cross tracks from the Colton Crossing embedded in front of the Santa Fe Depot.

The Santa Fe Depot itself is also seeing some upgrades. The project is rebuilding the passenger boarding experience to be run-through to allow all trains to be able to continue on to the Transit Center. This includes an overpass of the tracks. But there have been other changes to the outside. Most significantly, the area in front has been altered to more parking away from directly in front of the building to showcase the entrance and really give a more stately look to the building. A nice walkway now leads directly to the front door and a crossover from the Colton Crossing has been embedded in the concrete directly in front of the building. There is also a pad and stop for the Amtrak Thruway bus service that makes daily stops at the station.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The completed switch awaits installation as work on the second track continues.

Finally, farther west, work has begun on the full extent of the double-tracking. Just north of Rialto Ave., workers have been putting together the switch that will provide the start of the double-track segment that goes through to the Transit Center. Additionally, fencing has been installed at the end of King St. to seal the corridor and keep people off the tracks. While the IEOC Line is the only scheduled Metrolink service to use the Shortway Sub, it is also the connection to the yard, so nearly 50 trains per day will pass through the area to reach the yard in Colton.

Ideally, there will be no major snafus as the year winds down and soon after we ring in the new year, we can begin to take advantaged of one of the most important transit connections in the Inland Empire. Already three years behind, it can’t open a moment too soon. In tandem with the coming Redlands Rail, mobility options in the East Valley are really set to be substantially improved. Hopefully, the cities in the region will be willing and able to properly manage the opportunity that they’re being handed.

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.

e-street-current
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.

e-street-proposed
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

e_st_context.jpg
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.

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.

What If: Priorities

Where do your community’s priorities lie? That’s a question that we should all be asking ourselves as we prepare to make infrastructure investments that will have an effect for decades into the future.

Nowhere is this more evident and important than in our transportation decisions. In many communities, the transportation network rests on a backbone of arterial roads. However, decades of

A typical arterial cross-section being used in many newer developments all around the country dedicates all space to cars.
A typical arterial cross-section popular in the region dedicates the majority of space to cars.

car-centric planning and design have resulted in facilities that are increasingly referred to as “stroads“. They’re not good streets, but they’re not good roads either and in the end, everyone gets the short end of the stick. The result is a facility that suffers from “peak hour” congestion and that doesn’t serve those who aren’t driving.

But there’s a better way. With a little shift in thinking, it becomes easier to design a transportation network that is good for the mobility of all, whether they be on a bike, in a car, walking, or using transit. When viewed as a corridor and principles of complete streets are applied, these facilities can be optimized to provide maximum movement of goods and people, not just cars.

An arterial dedicated to moving people takes on a different form.

With that understanding, it becomes evident that the current system is grossly inefficient and needs to change. But what does the alternative look like? Using the same room as before, a redesign of the corridor assigns each mode its own dedicated space optimized for its specific travel needs. Cars and trucks don’t slow down transit, transit doesn’t block lanes to load its patrons, and bicyclists are free to pass along on their own separate path optimized for biking. For roads that access industrial facilities, it can even be tweaked a bit more to offer a dedicated truckway in the corridor that is reinforced to handle the axle loads of trucks.

Far from just musings, this design is in use already in The

Archimedeslaan in Utrecht includes a roadway for motorists, a busway (bus times shown), and a bikeway.
Archimedeslaan in Utrecht includes a roadway for motorists, a busway (including a bus information screen at stops), and a bikeway. This corridor has the capacity to move triple the amount of people as the “Major Arterial” above.

Netherlands, where mobility in numerous cities is provided for all in a manner optimized for their needs. The same model can be used in the existing cities and especially new developments here in the Inland Empire. Instead of building the biggest roads today in anticipation of “future demand”, they can be built with all modes in mind in a method that greatly increases the efficiency of all the systems for all.

This is vitally important as despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent, the transportation infrastructure in the Inland Empire region has shown no improvement in recent years, barely maining a D+ rating in both the 2005 and 2010 assessments from the local branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers, but requiring  a whopping 67% increase in annual investment during that time. If we are going to ever truly see signs of improvement on not just the roads, but many other local issues, there needs to be some real change in priorities. Switching the focus to the movement of goods and people over just cars will set the Inland Empire up for a more robust and resilient future.

SANBAG’s Poor Design Leaves Pedestrians Scrambling for Alternatives

A couple months ago, SANBAG announced the completion of the Hunts Lane grade separation project and had a little shindig to celebrate. At that time, I commented that the project is a net benefit for pedestrian access in the area. I spoke too soon.

You had one job! But seriously. These 'shark teeth' are backwards.
The ‘shark teeth’ on opening week. They’ve since been reoriented to the correct direction.

When the bridge opened, the construction crews were still working on a couple other things, such as the ‘shark teeth’ that had been installed wrong as well as ornamental plants. At that time, I also commented on some other potential issues with various other design details that were causing line-of-sight problems.

The crosswalks at the intersections have been purged from the final design.
The crosswalks at the intersections have been purged from the final design.

SANBAG has addressed some of the issues that were brought up in the last post, especially the line-of-sight problems.  This has been accomplished by removing all pedestrian elements that were in place. And while it may have been part of the original plan that had yet to be implemented when the initial review was done, they’ve added insult to injury by installing barriers to prohibit (CVC 275) pedestrians from crossing east or west across Hunts Ln. So while pedestrians wishing to cross the river of speeding cars must detour nearly a quarter of a mile to legally do so, drivers get to sprint across 135 feet, made all the more easier by the improved sight lines courtesy of the removed crosswalks.

This comes as a double slap in the face because efforts were made to open a cul-de-sac with a nice landscaped path that connects to the very corner in question. Needless to say, the majority of people would prefer a straight crossing over a landscaped meandering path that takes them out of the way as can be seen by the people who cross anyway.

IMG_3738
All hope is not lost, though. SANBAG can fix the issue by redesigning the intersection. At a minimum, a pedestrian island should be installed that allows pedestrians a safe passage across Hunts Ln. in the place of the current painted island (pictured above) with at least rectangular rapid flashing beacons. Ideally, that island should also be designed to only allow left turns onto Commercial and Riverwood and remove the ability to turn left or cut across the intersection for cars. This will likely have the added effect of keeping the communities from being effective ‘rat runs’ like they currently are.

It’s unfortunate to see this level of disregard to practical mobility options for those who are not in a car. With these latest developments in the final design, I am forced to downgrade my initial perceptions of the project’s impacts to pedestrians from favorable to unfavorable. The new sidewalks to cross the tracks are nice, but access in general has actually been decreased because though it was a river a cars, there was no actual prohibition on crossing Hunts Lane before, which could potentially be really easy when traffic was stopped for due to any of the dozens of daily trains that passed through there. Hopefully, SANBAG takes up the challenge and remedies the discrepancy for the better.

More photos available on flickr.

Progress Report: Orange Blossom Trail in Redlands

It appears that 2014 is ending on a higher note for bikeways here in the Inland Empire, particularly in San Bernardino County. Redlands is joining Rialto in getting work done on a trail that has been in the pipeline for a long time: the Orange Blossom Trail. When complete, the Orange Blossom Trail (OBT) will form a loop through the City of Redlands from the Santa Ana River Trail, providing a direct bikeway connection from Redlands to other towns downriver.

Currently, scattered portions of the OBT currently exist where completion has been required as a condition of development. However, the segment now under construction is being done thanks to two grants received by the City for this specific purpose. This segment will also form the longest continuous portion of the OBT to date, stretching a total of 1.3 miles from Grove St. To Wabash Ave. With a total grant award amount of $877,695, the OBT’s price tag clocks in at $675,150 per mile, which is over $300k per mile cheaper than the price normally attributed to a Class I bikeway. [Note that the official legal designation for a Class I bikeway is a bike path, not trail.] And the OBT includes a bridle path.

Speaking of which, let’s take a look at how the OBT is being constructed. From Grove St. to Judson Ave., actual train tracks are still present. For that portion, they have elected to build a 10′ wide Class I bikeway on the north side of the tracks and a 6′ wide bridle path on the south side. They are separated by the tracks themselves which at Grove St., has created the perfect gap for skateboarders. The track continues to a couple feet past Judson Ave., after which the bike and bridle paths converge. After converging, they continue along the roadbed of the railroad.

It appears that they’re completing it in segments instead of the whole length at once. Thus far, parking spots, gutters, and ramps have been completed at the Grove St. end and both the bridle path and bikeway are completed almost to Judson on that block. Gutters and ramps have not yet been poured at Judson, but the bikeway and bridle path pick up again and are completed to a couple more streets down in a similar fashion. The asphalt is wonderfully smooth and is (at least at present) decent wide enough to allow people to ride 3-4 abreast.

While a trail is good, a network of bikeways is great. Redlands is quietly getting the network aspect covered as well. Over the last few years, streets have been getting (buffered) bike lanes as the City carries on with its repaving initiative. Several of those streets cross the trail and provide excellent access opportunities to it. Additionally, the trail goes directly to the University of Redlands [property] and empties onto a relatively quiet street that would be a decent bike boulevard. Other schools are also located along the route, so it has the potential to provide an outstanding SRTS opportunity.

One place where the trail will almost assuredly fall short is where it meets other roads. Standard engineering practice doesn’t like “mid-block” crossings, but it’s past time to get over that hesitation. There are several potential solutions to raise their specter and thus, safety, too. Instead of the default having the trail stop, they should design it so that it only has to yield at larger roads such as Dearborn or Judson and has full priority at smaller ones. Raised tables with HAWKs and islands would be ideal ways to help provide a stop-free experience. Unfortunately, those will have to be for a future grant.

The best part about the OBT is that it is being done by the City, not as part of a development. Often, trails put in by developers are ultimately useless and only loop around the development. Even though the OBT isn’t connected with any single development at all, it still has suffered a similar fate as there are several completed sections further west that don’t connect to each other.

Still, once it’s completed, it will be more useful than a loop around the community. It passes near a diverse collection of neighborhoods that ranges from mobile home parks to  moderate-sized McMansions. Additionally, it passes near jobs (including Esri), shopping opportunities, and schools. As a result, the OBT could really unify the residents and provide a good non-motorized route for getting across a good portion of the City. It’s far past time for this to be done, so it’s great to see that the work is finally happening. It will be a welcome addition to the Inland Empire when completed.

Here’s how it looks right now:

Progress Report: Hunts Lane overpass now open

Well, SanBAG had a Halloween treat for San Bernardino/Colton residents: they opened the Hunts Lane overpass to traffic. An official dedication is scheduled for Thursday morning, but it will occur in a parking lot directly east of the bridge. Still, attend if you can. It’s nice for citizens to show up to these sorts of things every once in awhile.

Existing conditions on Waterman Ave. south of the tracks.
Existing conditions for peds on Waterman Ave. south of the tracks.

Anyway, a little bit of info about the project. Located in the southern end of San Bernardino/eastern edge of Colton, this $29mn project means that the dozens of Union Pacific trains and a smattering of Amtraks (but unfortunately no daily passenger service to the Palm Springs area) that pass through this route no longer result in Hunts Ln. being blocked for any lengths of time. It will also be a massive improvement for pedestrians compared to Waterman Avenue, especially for those living in the neighborhoods directly south of the tracks who need to access the bus. The Hunts Lane sbX station is located approximately half a mile directly north.

Here’s what SanBAG had to say about it:

The last two sentences of that tweet are quite appropriate as the final design leaves much to be desired and includes a fair amount of built-in danger.

Of course, given the name, the accommodations for bikes are of great interest to this blog. Unfortunately, the current outlook is dismal. Since neither Colton nor San Bernardino has a bike master plan, Hunts Ln. is not a designated bikeway in either city either. Therefore, it also never made its way up to the SanBAG NMTP and thus missed this project. Although cycletracks weren’t yet approved when this project was hatched and started, they could’ve still built the bridge a little wider to accommodate some decent bike lanes. Especially considering the cliff faces curbs that border the roadway on the bridge.

That boat has now sailed, so re-adapting what we’re stuck with will have to be the way to go. There is still room for accommodating bikes a little better by way of the striping. It appears that the current design is for 12′ inside lanes and 17′ outside lanes. That presents a quandary to those pedaling along because CVC 21202 could be used against riders who are “impeding” traffic while controlling the outside lanes. However, both inside and outside lanes can be slimmed down a bit to accommodate a striped Class II bike lane. Using 10′ inside lanes and 13′ outside lanes leaves enough room to stripe a 6′ bike lane. Additionally, the slimmer lanes will encourage lower speeds. Currently, Hunts Lane is signed for 45 MPH, but initial observations show that some people think that is only a suggestion.

Speaking of striping, there are a couple of noggin scratchers there too. The most glaring error in that regard is the installation of ‘shark teeth’ upside down. A ‘pork chop island’ and right slip turn were included from Hunts Lane south to Oliver Holmes Rd. west with the requisite ‘YIELD’ sign and line. Or what was supposed to be a yield line. Per Section 3B.16 of the CA MUTCD, yield lines (aka ‘shark teeth’) are to be installed in this manner:

You had one job! But seriously. These 'shark teeth' are backwards.
You had one job! But seriously. These ‘shark teeth’ are backwards. This is how it should be done.

07 Yield lines (see Figure 3B-16 3B-16(CA)) shall consist of a row of solid white isosceles triangles pointing toward approaching vehicles extending across approach lanes to indicate the point at which the yield is intended or required to be made. – CA MUTCD 2012 Section 3B.16

Why so far?
Why so far?

They clearly missed the mark on that one. Another striping quirk was the limit line at Oliver Holmes Rd. It was set a ways back (22′ to be exact) from the intersection itself for all lanes. Oliver Holmes does see a fair amount of truck traffic, so the intent is likely to not have any turning conflict between trucks and vehicles at a limit line at the intersection. But perhaps staggered setbacks would be better? Currently, ALL lanes have their stop lines the same distance from the intersection itself. That distance may be fine for the left turn lane, but the inside lane could probably be brought up another 6′ and the outside lane a good 14′ and still not intrude into the area necessary to complete at turn.

The visibility is constrained from behind the line.
The visibility is constrained from behind the crosswalk.

But the real dangerous part of the whole project is on the south side of the tracks. While the intersections on the north side have signals, those on the south side don’t. As a result, people are left to their own devices and due to the proximity of Riverwood St. and Commercial Rd. to each other, it appears that one continues into the other. However, they’re just far enough apart that it’s not a straight shot. Added to that is the fact that visibility from behind the crosswalk on Riverwood is lackluster. A couple of hairy situations were observed in just the 15 minutes of taking pictures. As more people realize that Hunts is open and start using it, nothing good will come of this hodgepodge of intersections.

This island...
That island (not to be confused with Dhat Island)…
...should be here.
…should be here.

Most peculiar was the island located slightly south of Riverwood to delineate the left turn pocket from Hunts Ln. onto Riverwood. It has no obvious practical purpose. Given the propensity for dangerous crossings at Commercial Rd. and Riverwood St., the concrete would’ve seen better use creating an island restricting left turns off both of those roads. Nothing good will come of the current setup.

All that aside, the end of major construction will certainly be appreciated, even if there is still stuff to be done. At the same time, SanBAG needs to step back and take a long, hard look at their design of grade separation projects. These are the types of facilities that are quite expensive to build and cost-prohibitive to retrofit, especially for bike/ped needs. With several under construction and more in the planning phases, it is imperative that they be done right from the very beginning. There is hope for this project, but what is really needed will likely never happen.

What if? – Baseline and California

How can things be improved? That’s part of the philosophy behind this blog and the Inland Empire offers plenty of opportunity in that department. There is no shortage of places that can be transformed to provide a better experience for all. This is about thinking outside the box and finding solutions to make the area a more inviting place to not just sleep, but also work and play in.

Baseline Road
Basic approximation of the current conditions of Baseline St. looking west. Image by author via Streetmix.

One such opportunity exists in the City of San Bernardino where Baseline Rd., California St., and University Ave. meet. Bordered on the south side by the ball fields/parking lot of Arroyo Valley High School and the north side by more empty lots, there’s really not much going on. This presents the perfect opportunity to upgrade the intersection and improve access to the school for students walking/biking.

But the real benefit will be the improvement of the intersection for traffic flow. Currently, University Ave. is the entrance to AVHS and is located approximately 360′ west of California St. and both intersections are signalized. A significant portion of the students of the school come from the Muscoy area to the north and many arrive by car. As a result, several hundred cars attempt to essentially go straight across between 07:00 and 07:30 every morning. This leads to significant blockage of the road, especially the westbound direction because the left turn phase to turn onto University Ave. from westbound Baseline St. simply can’t be long enough. Additionally, there are also still people attempting to turn left onto California St. from eastbound Baseline, which is a problem since the center turn lane is already full of westbound cars/buses attempting to turn onto University Ave. This charade is repeated in the afternoon, though to a lesser degree.

There might be a tiny bit of relief coming in the next year or two. Many people turning north onto California St. are undoubtedly simply using the neighborhood as a shortcut to access CA-210 at University Ave. Many of these people would likely be able to use Pepper Ave. to get on CA-210 if it were connected. To that end, Rialto and SanBAG are continuing work on extending Pepper Ave. to CA-210 and finish the access ramps. However, there will still be the problem of a significant volume of cars attempting to cross Baseline to access AVHS and there are also a lot of pedestrians.

Roundabout up top.
The upper part of the “roundabout” can feature better bus stops with bike parking and cycletracks. Image by author via Streetmix.

To alleviate the issue of the cross flow of traffic, a grade separation is the best option. That would allow the traffic on Baseline to flow uninterrupted by the crossing of school traffic and vice versa. The idea is conceptually similar to this intersection, where a roundabout situation on top provides access to the crossing road while the main traffic continues straight. This intersection provides the same opportunity and would provide a good option for a bus stop and bike parking as well as a cycletrack. But most importantly, it removes the conflict between the crossing streams of traffic.

Baseline Rd. through lanes
Two through lanes should be enough to handle the relatively low traffic of Baseline Rd. Image by author via Streetmix.

Currently, the center turn lane and two inside lanes are all 14′ wide, which Streetmix doesn’t like at all (see picture above). The proposal would narrow them a foot each and use the extra space for a bollard treatment of some sort instead to remind people to not cross the lines. A single lane would continue straight through the intersection area in each direction below the roundabout. Traffic counts for this exact intersection are proving elusive. However, the intersection with Pepper Ave. in Rialto a little over a mile to the west was seeing a V/C ratio of less than 0.5 in 2010 while the intersection with Mt. Vernon Ave. around a mile east is seeing volumes of ~600 vehicles/hour/direction for peak hour flows which also corresponds to a V/C ratio of less than 0.5 . Consequently, a single lane should be adequate to carry the current traffic on Baseline Rd. and for many years to come, but the space is potentially available to include a second through lane if it’s felt that it would be absolutely necessary.

What makes this project relatively simple might also prove to be the biggest headache. The intersection is on the top of a flood control berm. The grade separation would be accomplished by tunneling through it more than digging down. However, that raises the issue of keeping Lytle  Creek at bay. It certainly isn’t impossible and solutions exist, but the real question is if they’re worth the cost. Although this design means that access to the school wouldn’t be cut off in the event of a flood, but water high enough to threaten the underpass/force its closure means that water in the wash is at a phenomenal level and that it’s impassible.

Still, it would be great to see this project come about. The intersection is not getting any better and signal timing can only go so far. The same goes for widening, though continuing California St. and closing the University Ave. spur could achieve similar goals. Alternatively, the empty lot(s) on the north side of Baseline can be made into a drop off point for Arroyo Valley and the kids can just walk the rest of the way into campus. Something needs to be done soon.