Tag Archives: CEQA

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.

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Is RCTC Purposefully Killing Rail Transit to the San Jacinto Valley?

Earlier this year, the Riverside County Transportation Commission joined several transportation agencies around the state to gripe about the uncertainty of revenue projections due to the recent gas tax swap formula that has resulted in a lower gas tax this fiscal year. This should come as no surprise, as the vast majority of Riverside County’s Measure A funds are being poured into building wider roads throughout the region. With only 15% of the money dedicated to transit, it should be imperative that they do everything possible to stretch those dollars.

riversiderail
A screenshot of the map included in the 2005 Riverside County Commuter Rail study shows potential routes and options for rail service. Image: RCTC, edited by author.

Although Measure A sends the vast majority of revenue raised toward building wider roads, Riverside County voters also expected some increase in rail service when they voted to reauthorize it in 2002. In 2005,  RCTC delivered a report on some options for increasing rail connectivity in the county. Out of that report, a further (peak commuter-focused) extension of the currently ongoing Perris Valley Line extension an additional seven miles east to Hemet/San Jacinto* was rated very favorably. That extension would also serve an area similar to that of the planned Mid County Parkway, potentially reducing the need for RCTC to build another freeway through the center of a disadvantaged community.

However, buried deep in the Environmental Impact Report/Statement for the SR-79 realignment is a ticking time bomb against the prospect of rail service ever reaching San Jacinto. In 2013 [PDF, page vi (12)], the report had this to say:

The design options would include a near-grade crossing over the San Jacinto Branch Line with embankment and structural section for SR 79. The near-grade crossing over the existing railroad would be approximately 0.9 to 2.4 m (3 to 8 ft) above grade. (Emphasis added.)

In other words, at the point where the realigned highway would cross the railroad, it would be at a height of less than ten feet above the rails. This dismal synopsis was repeated in the Recirculated EIR/EIS [PDF, page 3-167 (243)] that went out earlier this year. For those of you keeping track at home, no trains can fit under bridges that low (not even a manned rail rider on the shorter side). Section 9.1 of CPUC General Order 26-D says that it’ll be at least six feet too low and based on Metrolink’s dimensions (PDF, page 3), their equipment needs a minimum of 16 feet of clearance above the rails. (Metrolink is the logical service provider for this extension as they would already be operating to Perris.)

So in short, despite the fact that RCTC already identified the San Jacinto extension as being one of the most viable and cost-effective options for rail service expansions in Riverside County, RCTC already owning the line, and RCTC leading on the SR-79 realignment project, RCTC did not stipulate that their own freeway construction would need to provide adequate clearance for any future trains that they would plan on their own tracks. That is a breakdown of colossal proportions.

Further on, the report does acknowledge that rail transit has been considered on the corridor. However, they consider constructing overpasses to make sure that train service on an existing line remains viable to be the responsibility of the rail project, not the responsibility of freeway that is severing the rail access:

In the future, if a separate project is developed that adds passenger rail service, a grade-separation project would need to be considered.

In short, RCTC is shooting a worthy project in the foot. The only question is are they doing it on purpose or is this merely a (massive) oversight? Unfortunately, we may never know. However, Caltrans does still have to issue final approval and building a(nother!) freeway runs counter their recent admission that building freeways doesn’t help traffic at all. Instead, Caltrans needs to be more proactive about alternatives, in this case by putting their foot down and not allowing a viable rail transit line to be severed by a freeway. (They really should go a step further and require that the rail extension to Temecula via the SR-79 alignment that was also identified in the RCTC rail study to be built concurrent with the freeway.)

Failure to do so makes it much harder for the all levels of government to meet legislative goals focused on reducing GHGs, VMT, and disparate impacts of transportation dollar allocations, especially in the Inland Empire. Cities along the route of both freeways (realigned SR-79 and the Mid County Parkway) are already looking forward to the freeways “spurring development”, but injecting two new freeways into the San Jacinto Valley without also upgrading transit is all but guaranteed to ensure that no TOD will be built. Instead, there would be more sprawling development in what is already one of the most sprawled regions of the country [PDF]. That doesn’t have to happen, but it requires Caltrans and RCTC officials doing the right thing and lead.

*For those who may feel tempted to call the area rural, including its own residents, remember that were it not for RCTC and SCAG, Hemet alone is populated enough to require its own metropolitan planning organization under federal law and San Jacinto is really close.

The New Tools that Will Help Protected Bike Lanes Flourish in the Inland Empire (and the rest of California too!)

All across the country, cities are rolling out protected bike lanes in unprecedented numbers. Early adopters like New York City and Chicago have been joined by a bevy of contenders as metropolises race to provide a better riding environment for all users from 8 to 88. These facilities have been hugely popular and have resulted in phenomenal gains in ridership numbers and often have increased safety of their respective corridors.

This curb-protected cycletrack on the campus of UCR is the only real protected bikeway the Inland Empire saw get installed last year.
This curb-protected cycletrack on the campus of UCR is the only real protected bikeway installed in the Inland Empire last year, but more could be on the way thanks to new legislation.

However, the benefits of safer bikeways continue to largely elude the residents of the Inland Empire. After years of being the most sprawled region in the nation and having the worst street environment for vulnerable road users in the state of California, leaving that legacy behind has been a long, drawn-out process. Thus far, the response has been what are largely meaningless token efforts in the grand scheme of things.

Regional Planning

Both SANBAG and WRCOG maintain non-motorized transportation plans, though they’re slightly different. The SANBAG document is mostly a snapshot at the city level and includes information on what each city and town has done and will be doing, but doesn’t include a lot of regional connectivity. Meanwhile, the WRCOG document [PDF] is primarily focused on establishing non-motorized corridors, many of them located along flood control channels, but doesn’t really give much information on what is occurring at the local levels. Those county-level documents are augmented by Bike and Trails Master Plans that have been completed by various cities.

But when it comes down to it, much of that planning has turned out to be useless. Hardly any of the Riverside trails have been completed and while several cities have been working on the stuff that is contained in their local Bike/Trails Master Plans, a lot of it is also just fluff. Most of those documents take the easy way out and put bikeways where it would be convenient and they usually disappear completely at intersections and other conflict points. Much of the stuff that might be better either doesn’t connect anywhere or is waiting for funding.

Class II bike lanes in the Inland Empire often are not even wide enough to fully fit the words.
Class II bike lanes in the Inland Empire often are not even wide enough to fully fit the words.

The result is a bunch of Class II ‘BIK LANs’* next to four- and six-lane arterials, hardly an 8-88 environment. That is standard even in new developments, while older ones are left with sharrows if anything at all.

Bike lanes give way to poorly-positioned 'sharrows' along 6th St. in Corona.
Bike lanes give way to poorly-positioned ‘sharrows’ along 6th St. in Corona.

Furthermore, compromises in design to meet LOS (level of service) requirements was often at the detriment of planned bikeways. Does an intersection “need” a dedicated turn lane? No problem, just end the bike lane sooner!

Change is Afoot

All of that is about to change. The passage of SB 743 in 2013 ripped out measuring traffic impacts using LOS from an environmental review done under CEQA. In its stead, a new metric of VMT (vehicle miles traveled) has been proposed. While LOS measures how fast cars can move through a segment of road or an intersection, VMT measures how many more miles a development would add to the average for the region.

As an area with few high-paying/skilled jobs, the Inland Empire would be particularly impacted as many of the residents working in such industries make daily treks to LA/OC/SD counties for employment. Until more skilled jobs start coming this direction, it will be exceedingly hard for a developer looking to build anything but “affordable” housing to show that the residents are likely to not drive 40 miles each way each day for work. Which is fine. Trips to work of that magnitude will likely not be mitigated effectively for years to come.

Actual Mitigation

But SB 743 is a powerful tool for local bikeway and livable streets advocates. While local residents may continue to drive to surrounding counties for work, that’s not all the driving they do. It is estimated that as high as 40% of all driving is done to destinations that are two or fewer miles away. That is a distance that can be biked easily by the vast majority of people, but they aren’t going to do it in the presence of lots of motorized traffic that is traveling anywhere from five to ten times as fast as they are.

That’s where protected bike lanes and other next generation bikeways become crucial. Under the LOS-based CEQA, traffic was accommodated, not mitigated. That resulted in wide, fast roads and vast wastelands where they meet. Under the new rules being finalized, developers would be required to provide actual mitigation measures that would make sure that VMT is not raised. Protected bikeways allow them to still build while lowering local VMT to counter the added VMT of residents driving to the surrounding counties for work. That offers incredible opportunities for great bikeway connections within cities and the region.

New Standards of Excellence

There has been some progress on toward getting better bikeways in that AB 1358, California’s Complete Streets Act, does require all users, including bicyclists, to be considered in General Plan Circulation Elements as an integral part of the transport network. Unfortunately, many of those standards coming out of those plans are still not adequate for providing a network of protected bikeways usable by all aged 8-88.

Last year’s passage of AB 1193 changes all of that. With Caltrans being required to finish standards for protected bike lanes within the next year, agencies in the region and indeed the entire state will soon have the life-saving option of protected bikeways at their disposal. Hopefully, Caltrans goes a step beyond the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide and includes separation criteria in the standards. A Class II bike lane might be a decent choice for somewhere like a neighborhood street, but it really shouldn’t even enter consideration for arterials showing traffic counts of 35000 pce and a speed limit of 50 MPH.

Those two changes are the foundation to getting the best bikeways included from the very beginning without having to beg for it. Planning is certainly good, but bikeways shouldn’t be limited to only those included in a plan and certainly not be seen as “extras” contingent on all the stars aligning. Fortunately, it is now easy for agencies to make sure that protected bikeways are automatically included. Building an road where traffic counts will warrant multiple lanes? There should be no question that a Class II bike lane is no longer a viable option. Likewise, it should be obvious that if there is a protected bikeway on the street, then it needs to continue as a protected intersection whenever the parallel road has signals too.

 A Future of Better Biking

Bicycles should play a crucial role in the future of the Inland Empire and it is hoped that the updating of standards plays a pivotal role in that endeavor. However, it is still important that IE residents stay vigilant and make sure that the public officials are fulfilling their duties. Active involvement is needed to ensure that the standards truly provide the best biking environment. Several cities have master plans for bikeways/trails as well as various goals and policies seeking to support biking. It’s time to make sure that those promises become action.

*A ‘BIK LAN’ is a bike lane that is so narrow that the words “bike” and “lane” can’t even fit without some parts, generally the letter “e”, ending up in the gutter pan.

Weekly Review

With a new year comes new plans and development. As we head into the second full week of the year, a lot of exciting things are already shaping up for you to get involved in. Here go a couple.

Jurupa Valley General Plan
The City of Jurupa Valley is holding several meetings concerning the completion of an Interim General Plan.

The City of Jurupa Valley has had a challenging history in its short life. Right after coming into existence, Jerry Brown yanked a major funding source from them and there was concern that the City might be quickly dissolved back into a pocket of Riverside County. Nevertheless, they’ve managed to survive and as they look to celebrate a fifth birthday soon, they’re al looking to become more permanent and want to plan what they’ll be in the future. The City is looking for guidance and input as they seek to develop an Interim General Plan. They will be holding several meetings over the next four weeks, so check out the list [PDF] and attend the one that works best for you.

Perris Optimus Logistics Center DEIR

TODAY [PDF] is the last day to submit any comments you might have to the City of Perris that pertain to the planned Perris Logistics Center in response to the Draft Environmental Impact Report [PDF] for the project. In typical fashion, the plan is to scatter stoplights, dedicated turn lanes, and other similar “improvements”. Stuff that is patently bad for bicycling. Of great concern are the intersections where the roads will balloon in size. That’s not good for speeds and definitely not good for fostering a comfortable riding environment.

But even more concerning is the callous disregard for the City’s Trails Master Plan [PDF], which includes bikeways on many of the streets identified in the EIR analysis as needing widening improvements. What’s more, the traffic analysis was done by the same consultant group that did the Trails Master Plan. It seems like they should have the files on their computer still since the City approved it not even two years ago. All they had to do was look back at the document to realize “oh crap, maybe this isn’t a great idea” for the majority of the stuff that they put in the Traffic Analysis of the EIR.

No surprise, that conversation apparently didn’t occur and without robust standards, we have to fight to get anything beyond BIK LANs next to an expressway. Hopefully, Caltrans develops competent standards for Class IV cycletracks, especially for applications when one is necessary versus using a painted Class II lane. The VMT-based traffic analysis standards are also something to look forward to and will hopefully help alleviate this kind of nonsense for future projects.

Share Info!

That’s all for today, but there’s almost certainly more going on. If there are any projects or planning that you know is occurring, get in touch and share it! One that we’re looking out for is the  Draft Environmental Impact Report for the forthcoming World Logistics Center project that is under consideration for the City of Moreno Valley. That document is due within the next month or so. At that time, it will be interesting to see what comes out of that as far as traffic mitigation goes, though history hasn’t shown the consultants who do most of the traffic analyses for this area to be particularly inclined to do anything beyond throw around traffic signals and turn lanes. But we’ll see for sure soon. Until then, ciao!

Update: The City of Chino is also preparing to prepare an Environmental Impact Report for a project being dubbed the “Brewer Site”. More information on that project is to be found at the link above. This is an exciting new time for projects like this since the traffic impacts must now  be evaluated using VMT instead of LOS and plopping houses in the IE for people to drive to LA/OC/(SD) will require far stronger mitigation measures for local trips and really an opportunity to get some innovative new solutions. So check it out and get some comments in, even if only a few lines.

Weekly Planning Review

It seems that all that gets talked about here is plans. Well never fear, I have no intention of disrupting that cycle now. There are several more chances to provide your input over the coming days. Here goes.

Metrolink (SCRRA)
Metrolink future scenario S2.
Metrolink provides a tantalizing vision of a possible service scenario over the next decade. Image: Metrolink.

Metrolink has released another survey seeking more input on their 10 year strategic plan. This plan is the driving force behind what they do over the next decade or more, so it is imperative that it include forward-thinking planning now to make a better system tomorrow. They of course have all the questions that one would expect from a survey of this nature, but please take the time and go answer them.

One of the top results of an earlier survey was that the people want to see more service and that it come by more frequently. Metrolink has prepared several scenarios with a general summary of both the stations and frequencies that would be in place. By far, S2 (pictured above) is the most ambitious option of the lot as well as the most helpful to the IE and should definitely be supported. It includes the extension of service into Santa Barbara County, two branch extensions of the Perris Valley Line, Metrolink extension as part of the Redlands [Passenger] Rail Project, and a spur down to KONT.

There are also some improvements to service time, with trains coming as frequently as 15 minutes during peak hours between San Bernardino and Ontario and between Riverside and Corona West. However, eastern connections are not as good nor convenient, so the plan should be tweaked a bit. It is becoming increasingly common for people to travel wholly within the IE for work and pleasure, but S2 still focuses a few too many resources on getting people to get to DTLA instead of between San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.

Altair Specific Plan

The City of Temecula released a Notice of Preparation [PDF] a couple weeks ago for the Altair Project (which was also apparently known as “Village West”). It is now coming down to the last few days as comments are due by December 15. The plan would just under 1800 homes on about 200 acres directly west of Old Town Temecula, right at the base of the hills. The Initial Study does acknowledge that the Project would likely have Potentially Significant Impacts to a rather substantial number of metrics on the CEQA list, so there are really plenty of bombs to lob at it. Of course, they’re doing a CEQA review for precisely that reason, to find possible mitigation measures for all those potential impacts.

Though unlikely, stopping it would be nice. Short of that, the biggest and most effective thing that could be done to tame the project would be to require that the Transportation & Traffic analysis be done pursuant to the VMT-based CEQA rules that are being wrapped up. If you submit a letter asking for only one thing, let that be it. Though the Project is dressed up as a “primarily residential mixed-use community”, it is unlikely that the immediate area would provide jobs for those inhabitants, so daily VMT due to the project would still grow.

Planning for cars should kill it because a traditional LOS-based traffic analysis will drop a load of widened streets and longer signal timings, but we all know better. By contrast, the only way to counter a VMT-based analysis would be to actively discourage people from driving short distances because they’ll almost certainly be driving long ones for work. That would meant that stuff like getting the Murrietta Creek Trail completed, cycletracks on the Temecula Parkway/Western Bypass, and direct bike/ped connections between each of the “villages” in the Plan, but not driving access (maybe even make them into “woonerven”). There also needs to be a direct connection to all school so that kids wouldn’t driven to school.

Well, not that much this week. The holiday probably has something to do with the dearth of documents to be reviewed, but the opportunity to be heard is still very much open.  Make sure that your voice matters, and this is a great time to put that notion into action. With a little planning and foresight, the Altair Specific Plan could provide a model of how things are supposed to be moving forward instead of being stuck in the past. But, that’s all we can do beside sit down and watch. Get yours.