Tag Archives: Perris Valley Line

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.

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Facing Funding Shortfall, Riverside County Presses On with More Roads

Even as Riverside County officials bemoan the recent downward spike for repairing roads in revenue, they’re digging in and getting ready to fight for a $1.7 billion, sprawl-inducing, LOS-based road expansion project after a lawsuit was filed to stop it last week. It is but one part of a long list of other expansions that the folks in Riverside are currently working on that will add hundreds of lane-miles to a heavily car-centric transportation system that is already just two steps above failing.

The general footprint of the Preferred Alternative for the MCP would pass within mere yards of three schools in the City of Perris. Image: Google Maps.
The approximate footprint of the Preferred Alternative for the MCP would pass mere yards away from three schools in the City of Perris. Image: Google Maps/author.

In an ironic twist or perhaps an apology in advance for its impacts, the project has been dubbed the “Mid County Parkway”. Current plans call for it to head east from I-215 through the City of Perris and terminate in San Jacinto, 16 miles away. Along its course, it would route a projected 80,000 or more vehicles a day to within a stones throw of several sensitive receptor sites, including some  elementary schools and parks. In addition to being more than double the current counts, a significant portion of that number would likely be some of the 14,000 or more trucks a day accessing warehousing sites like the World Logistics Center that are currently proposed or under construction in the area. The construction of the freeway would also disrupt [PDF] a couple planned healthy transportation corridors [PDF] without providing any acceptable mitigation.

With the certified Final Environmental Impact Report in hand as of their April board meeting [PDF] and barring any action by the courts, the Riverside County Transportation Commission is hoping to soon begin design work and the acquisition of any properties in the way of injecting a six-lane freeway through the heart of some of the poorest neighborhoods in Riverside County. In an all-too-familiar narrative, this planned freeway has been curtailed. Earlier plans [PDF] called for it to also extend 16 miles westward to connect with I-15 near Corona, but those appear to be shelved for at least the near term after opposition from residents [PDF] of the more affluent communities along that route.

Meanwhile, despite high demand by Riverside County residents in the area for more transit options, decade-old plans to extend the Metrolink [PDF] Perris Valley Line (and potentially other rail transit services) to the very same San Jacinto along an existing rail continue to languish. Not only would that project achieve the same goal at a vastly lower cost than building the MCP, it would also help contain growth in the area that is threatening farmlands and open space. As Caltrans seeks to realign toward being more multimodal and develop an inclusive transportation network, their biggest hurdle may not come from within, but from other agencies proposing projects like this.

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.