Tag Archives: Safe Routes to School

Is San Bernardino Ready to Modernize E Street?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Speck explains road diets.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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An Utrecht Bike Commute: Kanaleneiland to De Uithof/Utrecht Science Park

A couple months ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time in the Utrecht area of The Netherlands. While there, I was able to spend a lot of time seeing not just the big-ticket items that tourists see, but was also able to see things more from the perspective of a local. One of the things that I endeavored to do was get a clearer view of what commuting around a Dutch city by bike would be like.

The video below shows one such commute from the Kanaleneiland neighborhood to De Uithof Science Park and University Medical Center. The route can also be seen on Google here, but a distinguishing characteristic of bikes in the Dutch transport puzzle is that there are many other options. Such is the case here and while this route was one that was straight-forward, many other options exist, some of which are potentially shorter.

00:00 – Geallieerdenlaan/Eisenhowerlaan/Bernadottelaan/Beneluxlaan (Kanaleneiland Winkelcentrum)

The trip begins at the place where I was staying in the Kanaleneiland neighborhood of Utrecht. It is right down the street from the eponymous Kanaleneiland Winkelcentrum (“mall”), which also includes two apartment and office towers above it. The actual street where the residence is located is pedestrianized, though it theoretically can be used as a through route by motorists too. One end is at another street, the other is in a parking lot. However, it was only on rare occasions where someone did drive in and then it was usually just to get to the garages located behind the houses.

Bike parking in Kanaleneiland.
Bike parking in Kanaleneiland.

The front door opened onto this street and directly across it is a community center and an elementary school. In this part of town, it’s safe enough to leave bikes outside overnight by themselves. As such, the front porch was also the parking area for the bikes. The wheel lock was all that was necessary to secure the bike and still find it again the next day.

After getting on the bike and going up the street, one comes to the intersection with the street for motor traffic, Eisenhowerlaan. This street can best be viewed as a yield street as it is only 20 feet wide and allows parking on one side.

Two cars pass each other on Eisenhowerlaan in Utrecht.
Two cars pass each other on Eisenhowerlaan in Utrecht.

Nevertheless, it is a two-way street and though parking was usually full, traffic could negotiate past each other and make it down the street. The intersection itself is a raised intersection, which further works to keep motorists speeds down. (So effective that it was not uncommon to see people use the adjacent parking lot as a detour around the street itself.)  Also off Eisenhowerlaan is a driveway to the garage and courtyard of the residences, which is where the riding in the video begins. Needless to say, Eisenhowerlaan has no actual bicycle facilities, bicyclists just take part in traffic.

Eisenhowerlaan then leads to Bernadottelaan. Bernadottelaan is a bit wider than Eisenhowerlaan, but the intersection of the two is also a raised intersection. However, Bernadottelaan is one of the main entrances to the community, so it does get more traffic than Eisenhowerlaan, including delivery trucks bringing goods to the stores at the Winkelcentrum. Still, there are no bicycle facilities on Bernadottelaan itself as it is part of the 30 KPH zone (as is Eisenhowerlaan).

The measurements of the transition to cycletrack at the intersection of Bernadottelaan & Beneluxlaan in Utrecht.
The measurements of the transition to protected bikeway at the intersection of Bernadottelaan & Beneluxlaan in Utrecht.

Bernadottelaan is the gateway to the community, so the bicycle infrastructure begins at the intersection where Bernadottelaan meets Beneluxlaan, a major thoroughfare in Utrecht (that changes names at least eight times). The intersection is signalized for motorists and only allows right turns in/out due to a light rail line down the middle of Beneluxlaan. However, bicyclists leaving the community can avoid the stop lights and just enter the separated bikeway, which has a side entrance off Bernadottelaan. They and pedestrians can also cross Beneluxlaan, meaning that it’s potentially easier for residents “on the other side of the tracks” to bike or walk to the Winkelcentrum than to drive.

From there, one joins the bikeway on Beneluxlaan, a 12-foot wide bidirectional facility that runs on both sides of the street. It includes signals at the major intersections, but driveways and some minor side roads are just raised crossings designed to allow bicyclists to continue on interrupted while slowing down motorists for the turns, made possible by the raised design of the bikeway.

01:56 – Kol. Wilheminalaan

The first major intersection is a rotary where Beneluxlaan meets Kol. Wilheminalaan, which is where the path will be turning left. Although everyone has a signal, left turns are not made appreciably longer because there are bidirectional bikeways around the outside of the rotary. In the video, I take advantage of that when I arrive as the light turning yellow and continue through across Beneluxlaan and the tracks. (Note that since the bikeway on both sides of Beneluxlaan is bidirectional, crossing the street and tracks at the Bernadottelaan intersection and reaching this point is totally doable as well. However, in practice, it was usually faster to continue to the rotary and cross one of the arms of the roundabout.)

After crossing Beneluxlaan, a short bikeway provides a connection to a 30 KPH frontage road of Kol. Wilheminalaan. This outer street is about the same width as Eisenhowerlaan and both bicyclists and motorists are allowed to use it in either direction. About three blocks down, a pinch point with bicyclist bypasses at the intersection with Van Bijnkershoeklaan is the gateway to the community and allows only one motor vehicle to pass through at a time. However, the access road continues through this intersection with priority over the intersecting road, which itself is the entrance from the main Kol. Wilheminalaan.

Looking east on the Kol. Wilheminalaan access road at the intersection with Van Bijnkershoeklaan and associated traffic calming devices.
Looking east on the Kol. Wilheminalaan access road at the intersection with Van Bijnkershoeklaan and associated traffic calming devices. Image: Google StreetView.

After crossing Van Bijnkershoeklaan, it appears that the access road was once a through route for motorists, but two islands have been used to close it off for about half a block except to bikes and mopeds (saw marks can be seen in the asphalt). As such, is officially designated as a mandatory bikeway, but it’s in actuality just a closed road. This forces to go the long way around to enter/exit the community and also provides good continuity of the bikeway. After the blocked portion, the access road is a yield street again with similar features and profile to before.

The yield street continues for a couple blocks, then ones comes to a roundabout. This one is just at two-lane roundabout with priority for bicyclists.  For those who’ve been paying attention, that means that the traveler is now on the “wrong side” of Kol. Wilheminalaan. However, the bikeway around the roundabout is bidirectional, so it doesn’t matter. But from here on,  the bikeway is only one-way, so here we cross Kol. Wilheminalaan to the right side of the street. (In practice, a lot of people would ride the wrong way and some would even start out the right way but cross over on the bridge itself.)

04:35 – Balijebrug/Balijelaan

After crossing to the correct side of Kol. Wilheminalaan, the bikeway and road rise to the height of the Balijebrug over one of the arms of the Kromme Rijn that runs through Utrecht. The bridge also passes over the Kanalweg bikeway that runs adjacent the canal through the entire length of the city that offers a stop-free way to transit past the city and can be reached from the location.

The bridge consists of a lane in each direction for motor traffic, an inbound bus-only lane, buffered bike lanes, and sidewalks. At this point, the name changes from Kol. Wilheminalaan to Balijelaan.  After the bridge, raised the bike lanes transition back into raised 12-foot wide separated bikeways, which are more generous than the ones on the western approach, not least of which being because they’re paved instead of tiled. At the bottom of the bridge, these transition away from the main road back to access roads again. As this is another residential area, these access roads are one-way (except for bikes) 30 KPH zones in the direction of travel.

After about a block, there’s a raised intersection with a side street and all motorists must join the main road. At this point, the access road becomes parking-protected raised bidirectional bikeway for about a block. It continues through the intersection with Rijnlaan, where after a little over a mile of travel, we find the second traffic signal of the journey. In the video, it happens to be green by Utrecht standards when passed and everything turns out better than expected.

At Croeselaan, a left turn pocket allows bicyclists headed toward the station to wait for the light out of the way of others.
At Croeselaan, a left turn pocket allows bicyclists headed toward the station to wait for the light out of the way of others.

This bikeway then continues on for a block to the T-intersection with Croeselaan that includes a left-turn pocket. Croeselaan is the most direct roue to Utrecht Centraal from this area, so there is an elevated number of people waiting to cross here in the mornings. Of course, those going straight don’t have to wait at the light at all. Right before the signals is the intersection with Croesestraat. Croesestraat is another residential 30 KPH zone, so the intersection consists of a raised table with priority for the bikeway.

5:45 – Vondellaan

After passing the T-intersection, the road changes names again. The bikeway is at this point again a raised parking-protected separated bikeway. In the video, there are some markings on the ground that suggest that the bikeway used to be a bidirectional facility, but it appears to no longer be one. Still, several people who apparently haven’t received that memo can be seen salmoning along. There’s also a driveway for a parking garage for the building to the right midway down the block. After continuing around the corner, another left turn pocket and signal for bikes is reached, which happens to be red.

7:50 – Kruisvaartbrug/Bleekstraat/Catherijnsingel/Ledig Erf

The stop for me lasted 65 seconds, but based on the number of bikes already in queue when I arrived, it was likely red for much longer. The long red light times were highlighted by a dramatic approach taken by the Dutch police in Utrecht last year, where they set up after a set of three lights in succession and ticketed cyclists who ran them. That led to dramatic pictures around the web and worked well with a demonstration against long reds in Utrecht.

As can be seen by the tire marks in the planter, many people taking this corner never make it to the intersection.
As can be seen by the tire marks in the planter, many people taking this corner never make it to the intersection.

Of course, as can be seen in the  video, many people take matters into their own pedals and ignore red lights when the way is clear. The presence of many tire marks through the planter convey the same message.

After getting the green, we cross over the Kruisvaart and under the railway. The light on the other side of the tracks really wasn’t quite clear if it was red only for lefts or for all bicyclists. Taking the liberal of the two options, I continued on Bleekstraat. Here, the bike infrastructure is comprised of an “advisory” (dashed) bicycle lane. It’s a suggested area for bicyclists, but not legally required. However, there’s little point in not riding in it since after about a block, it transitions back into a separated bikeway to bypass another T-intersection (though bikes can also go right there to access that neighborhood).

Ledig Erf is at the entrance to the old city area.
Ledig Erf is at the entrance to the old city area. In the background, the Vaartsche Rijn bridge and houses along Westkade can be seen.

At this point, Bleekstraat technically ends and the street that continues is Catherijnsingel. The bike infrastructure also transitions to a mandatory bike lane, though it’s still possible to pass others. This continues as the road curves for a little over a block. After the intersection with Westkade, the bike lane transitions back into a bidirectional raised separated bikeay on the bridge over the Vaartsche Rijn and the road also changes names to Ledif Erf. The bikeway passes a square and another left turn pocket. Following that leads over the canal to the old city center, virtually all of which is a 30 KPH zone (and all paved in brick). However, the path forward lies ahead.

09:15 – Alternatives

There are two other ways to reach that location on Ledig Erf from the light on Vondellaan which in my experience, also tended to be a little quicker. The first as seen in the video involves crossing at the Bleekstraat light then making use of the bidirectional separated facility on the other side of the street to continue straight on Vondellaan. After about a block, there’s an intersection and a bridge over the Vaartsche Rijn. One can also reach that point by going straight past the first light (for lefts) on Vondellaan to the intersection than making a “Copenhagen left” to reach the point on the bridge. (There’s also another crossing just past the bridge that is unsignalized that can be used if the immediate left is red.)

After crossing the bridge, a left turn is made onto a bikeway underpass of the railroad concurrent with the Vaartsche Rijn. This connects to Oosterkade, another 30 KPH zone. It has parking on both sides (including locking bike parklets) and is two-way for about three blocks, but the last block is a one-way street for motorists in the direction opposite the direction of travel. That forms the connection to the point of departure from Ledig Erf. Although there is one side street along the way as well, it is a dead end.

The second option starts out largely the same. The choice of either side of Vondellaan remains, the difference is that the left turn is made prior to crossing the bridge over the Vaartsche Rijn. At the Juftaseweg intersection, the eastern arm is a new street, Westerkade. This also passes via the same underpass as Oosterkade mentioned above and the Vaartsche Rijn.

The bike parking garage at the under construction Vaartsche Rijn station.
The bike parking garage at the under-construction Vaartsche Rijn station will have room for several hundred bicycles.

At this location, the Utrecht Vaartsche Rijn [Dutch] rail station, part of the ambitious Uithoflijn, was under construction. With tram service planned every four minutes (and probably also “stop train” aka local service, though not quite as frequent)  to Utrecht Centraal, I’d expect that a lot of bicycle traffic that currently uses Croeselaan and Catherijnsingel to get to Utrecht Centraal to start their train trips here instead once it opens. ProRail has considered that and included a bicycle parking garage as part of the station, with room for several hundred bikes. No car parking is provided, but drop off is possible on the Westerkade side, which is a one-way street except for bikes.

After exiting from the underpass, Westerkade is still a one-way street, but in the opposing direction. Except for bikes. It continues up to Catherijnsingel and meets it right before the bridge over the Vaartsche Rijn when the separated bikeway starts again. While there is a traffic light there, signage indicates that bicyclists are allowed to make the right on red, which I do. Continuing on, we’re now on the same corner around Ledig Erf again.

Although they’re both largely paved of brick, those two options tended to be far more popular connections than the first one. There were also noticeably more parents with children on these routes, which can be seen in the video. Nevertheless, none of them ever really felt crowded, even during rush hour. The plethora of options means that everyone has an optimal path for a direct line, so not many people have to detour to get to a good bikeway [PDF], which keeps them from getting crowded.

13:15 – Tolsteegsingel/Abstederdijk/Venuslaan

Continuing around the corner from Ledig Erf, the name of the street changes names thrice within as many football fields worth of space. The corner from Ledig Erf (which is technically going straight on) is a right turn that has awkward positioning and can be a little unbalancing. (But the city has apparently tackled the problem since I’ve been gone and greatly improved the corner, with more changes in the works.)  This is also the narrowest point of the journey, caused by the unsavory geometry of pushing a road through the area where two canals meet. However, as usual, bicyclist can bypass this stoplight as well.

After passing that intersection, the bikeway consists of a one-way path directly adjacent the Kromme Rijn. The main road however curves away from the it to allow space to make an intersection, so those on the bikeway are able to pass the intersection unaffected. (Note that a separated bikeway also continues up to the intersection itself adjacent the road for those who need to access the intersection.) However, the pavement quality under there is atrocious, hopefully Utrecht plans to fix it soon. After the intersection, the road is now four-lane when it rejoins the bikeway. This configuration continues on for several hundred yards. During the time, the road curves around and passes under another rail line.

15:00 – Rubenslaan/Stadionlaan/Herculesplein

At the intersection, the road once again changes names and the infrastructure takes on a new form as well. After passing through the light, there is a short bidirectional bikeway that connects to a one-way (except for bikes) access road that runs the length of the block. This road provides access to all side streets and driveways off of Rubenslaan. There are also a couple parking spaces located along its length. The entrances and exit from this access road all consist of speed tables. At the end of block, motorists must again exit and it transitions back into a separated bikeway for the intersection. This is repeated in the next two blocks as well.

After the third block, the road has changed names again and is now called Stadionlaan. Another bidirectional bikeway takes bicyclists through the intersection, into a parking lot, then into a separated bikeway again that passes under the Waterlinieweg, an inner ring road that goes partway around Utrecht. We now arrive at another light, where the wait is 70 seconds before being able to proceed. Also not ideal, but definitely not the worst light I’ve ever been through either. This leads to another short bidirectional separated bikeay that connects to a parking lot. And a name change.

We’re now on Herculesplein which provides bike connectivity directly adjacent to Herculeslaan. This is a one-way parking lot that allows contraflow cycling. It connects to another bidirectional separated bikeway that goes past the front of the stadium. About a block up the street, we arrive at another intersection. The main road turns, so the three arms meet at about a 120 degree angle. Not quite a T-intersection, but definitely not a roundabout either. Whatever it is, there are bidirectional bikeways around the entire thing. This is also where the path turns left.

20:10 – Weg tot de Wetenschap
A right turn pocket on Weg tot de Wetenschap leads bicyclists to the city center.
A right turn pocket on Weg tot de Wetenschap lets bicyclists heading to the city center via Platolaan stay out of the way of everyone else.

This is the road that leads directly to the final destination at the UMC. This is also the route of the Uitoflijn. Buses are currently in use (one can be seen in the video), but some work has also already been done for the conversion to a tram, including the designation of various facilities. As a result, a 16-foot wide strip of new asphalt now forms bidirectional bikeway that runs the entire length of Weg tot de Wetenschap from Herculeslaan to the campus. Along the route, there are only two stoplights before reaching campus, both of which are usually green. The midway point at Platolaan is a major bike route between the city center and De Uitof, so a right turn pocket is included there as well. The route also passes under the A27 motorway right on the outskirts of campus.

23:30 – De Uithof
The cycletrack that extends through the center of the campus of the science park at De Uithof.
The bikeway that passes through the center of the campus of the science park at De Uithof.

Upon arrival onto the campus of De Uithof science park itself, the bikeway continues on straight with its 16-foot width for a bit, though at some point it narrows to 15 feet. However, motorists must go elsewhere as the road to the left is the Uithoflijn and thus only for transit vehicles (buses at the moment, trams within the next three years). They both continue all the way through the center of the campus. Several bikeways also connect throughout the length of the campus to various other campus destinations and dorms.

The widest official bikeway in The Netherlands with the UMC in the background.
The Dutch take the easy way out and tackle the problem of heavy right turn traffic by building the widest official bikeway in The Netherlands. The UMC is in the background.

After passing through the campus center, the bikeway crosses one of the access roads for motorists on a bikeway that is 27-feet wide, making it the widest official bikeway in The Netherlands. (This was chosen in lieu of using a right turn pocket at the location for the large volume of bikes crossing over here.) The end of the video is the approach to the UMC, though not actually reaching the front doors. Going straight ahead would bring one to De Uithof Park & Ride, which provides remote parking for regional travelers to reach the city center. Farther still along the road, one would arrive at the cities of De Bilt, Bilthoven, and other points north.

Normality

This video is a very typical scene while biking around most every major Dutch city. The infrastructure really doesn’t hold anyone up. Total riding time was about 21 minutes, well short of Google’s estimate of 30 minutes and almost identical to the time for driving (and on a city bike at that, where I certainly wasn’t setting any speed records). Nothing was staged or cherry-picked, I just chose the most straightforward route (that I knew) to take. Both the good and the bad can be seen. But what can also be seen is how many people are enabled by the good bikeways. Separated bikeways can take on many different forms, many of which are able to serve more people than just bicyclists and while they may not have a use everywhere, their importance as part of a menu of solutions for bringing better bikeways to all cannot be overstated.

Thinking Backwards

Earlier today, I sat down with city staff to discuss the finer points of a project. A project that is purported to improve access to a local high school, mind you. At one point, the conversation over one proposed piece went something like this:

City engineer: …the EIR [that was done when the school was built]  wasn’t adequate, so now we have to go back in and add more capacity so that traffic can keep moving.

Me: Right, but right now, a lot of kids walk to school. What is proposed will be bad for pedestrians because of the wider distance to cross and multiple threats.

CE: But we have to think about the motorists and do something to improve the LOS. [Not anymore!] We can use signals to control the multiple threat situations.

Me: Okay, well then at least put in pedestrian refuge islands.

CE: Hmmm, not sure if those will fit.

Me: Well, how wide are the lanes?

CE (looks at drawings): One is 12′, one is 11′.

Me: How about we just chop say a foot off of each of those, then?

CE: But then that make things tight and slows traffic down.

Me: Good!

CE: But then people won’t be able to get through there fast.

Me: Good! This is after all a school zone, they shouldn’t be driving fast anyway.

Is it really too much to ask that we think of the children first and the motorists second?

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.

Get Assessed: Two FREE Opportunities to Improve the Streets

Often, the “high cost” of bike/ped infrastructure is thrown out as a reason why it doesn’t need to or can’t be included on a project.  This is almost always a patently false assertion and data continues to come to the rescue. Nevertheless, many agencies do not allocate their funds properly, resulting in an imbalance in priorities. As a result, bike/ped funding receives mere pittances, especially here in the Inland Empire. That is particularly glaring when receipts are low. While there are plenty opportunities to combine bike/ped projects into others, that often requires having a vision and plan.

Planning isn’t cheap, but doing stuff without a plan isn’t necessarily a good way to go about things. However, that acts as a barrier to agencies that don’t do a good job of allocating the funds correctly because it would take prohibitively long just to gather the funds for the planning, to say nothing of anything beyond that. Fortunately, there are two opportunities now open to California agencies to help get some stuff done for their communities at no charge to them. Yes, they’re free. Just apply.

The first is for technical assistance available from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. This opportunity appears to be mainly geared toward policy and programming side. However, with the recent influx of SRTS monies into the region from the ATP, there will be many opportunities to get some stuff going in several of the communities in the area and this grant could be a godsend to those agencies. There is so much to be done around here that the influx of money will probably have the usual players in the arena worn down to the bone. The focus is on fostering cooperation, so it appears that all groups can apply as long as they’re working a SRTS program. Applications are due by September 26th, 2014, so definitely get on your elected officials, staff, non-profits, etc. to get in an application ASAP.

The second opportunity is from the State of California’s Office of Traffic Safety. Administered by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Transportation Studies., they send out two experts who conduct a Bike/Ped Safety Assessment. It can be either targeted to specific problems (i.e. lots of kids or elderly pedestrians get hit, resident complaints about unsafe crosswalk,) or just have them paint a broad brush. The City of Murrieta was one local agency that was the beneficiary earlier this year of a visit from them. This opportunity has no hard deadline. However, the assessments are conducted on a first come, first served basis, though it appears that they also take the standings in the Office of Traffic Safety rankings into account and give priority to places that aren’t doing well. The opportunity is open to any agency too, so it’s important to ask as soon as possible.

Many of the cities in the region unfortunately do not score well at all, so let’s make sure that they are putting forth an effort to right that. Several scored big in the ATP funding cycle, so many of them are slightly ahead of the pack. However, there are still many more opportunities for local agencies to put forth an effort toward bettering their streets, regardless of if they won. A better tomorrow can’t come soon enough, with this being a potentially important first step. Don’t let it slip away.

Progress Report: Pacific-Electric Trail in Rialto

PE Trail sign
How many people think their tax dollars aren’t getting used?

Recently, rumors were heard concerning the Pacific-Electric Trail and it being extended into Rialto. For years, the trail has ended rather unceremoniously at Maple Avenue on the border of Fontana and Rialto. As it turns out, the rumblings were true! Construction started sometime last month [PDF] and is slated to be finished in December. It’s a tall order, but swinging by last week found that most of the ~1.3 mile corridor was fenced off by the contractor and dug up with drainage improvements going in.

But as usual, a project like this doesn’t happen with any sense of urgency. This project has been a long time in the works. In 2010, the City of Rialto identified the trail extension as a partially funded capital improvement [PDF] in their four year outlook. Not surprisingly,  although trails can be great transportation alternatives and that was mildly alluded to, it really isn’t seen as a true transportation corridor to be considered as a transportation improvement and was therefore absent from that section [PDF] of the CIP. (Which is ironic since it follows a historic corridor that the town was built around.)

It then made it into the SanBAG Nonmotorized Transportation Plan that was released in 2011. In that document, the corridor was identified as a 3 mile project stretching basically the entire width of the City along the old Pacific-Electric right-of-way. It is now used by Union Pacific to serve a lumber yard near City Hall. As a result, the extension under construction now only encompasses about half of the originally proposed length (1.3x/3 miles) and ends rather unceremoniously mid-block behind some industrial buildings. Expect to see a lot of people continue their journey on to Lilac Avenue beside the tracks when the trail opens.

Rialto_Pac-Elec_map
Location of segment under construction.

Since that track maybe sees 2-3 trains a week, some sort of agreement should be reached that could allow the access to be maintained while at the same time  extending the trail. The vast majority of the time, the track sits  empty and it’s pretty evident that it’s a lightly used corridor since quite a few of the crossings don’t even have gates.

Now for the fun part: let’s look at the money. The expected cost for the original plan was $1mn/mile for a back-of-the-napkin estimate of $3mn for the entire project in the SanBAG NMTP. As can be seen in the release above, the price has soared to over $3mn per mile. The total price is now ~$4.5mn for less than 1.5 miles of trail. Funding presumably came from several grant sources, though not the recent ATP. Rialto did win some money from it for SRTS which could hopefully be used toward improving access to the  schools from the trail for students. As can be seen in the map, the trail goes right past several communities and two schools.

From the looks of it, the trail will continue the irritating configuration that it has further west in other cities. It’s a great recreational pathway, but many hoping for a useful commuting corridor run into a problem at almost every. single. street: the Trail user is presented with a ‘STOP’ sign or traffic light at almost all instances where the Trail crosses another street. This leads to a lackluster experience filled with slowing at best and takes away from the effectiveness of the Trail as being useful for people looking to go somewhere. It would be great if those crossings can be upgraded to allow trail users a stop-free experience. Some Fontana intersections already have in-ground flashers, which could be easily  upgraded to HAWK signals. Other places could get a combination of raised crossings/islands/pinchpoints,  or complete street closures. But no matter what, something needs to be done to make the trail easier to use.

Anyway, that’s all for the future. It’s great to see that something is [finally] being done after years of waiting. Hopefully, the promise of a Christmas ride holds true so that all the kids can have a safe place to enjoy their presents. Anyway, pictures are worth far more than continued talking, so here’re 18,000 words from the project area.

Diving Into the ATP

Caltrans released the staff list of recommendations for this year’s round of the Active Transportation Program funding cycle last week. In it were some winners and others for us out here in the Inland Empire.

The Active Transportation Program combined several fragmented pots of money allotted for several different years into one single feeding frenzy. Emphasis was placed on projects that benefit disadvantaged communities and Safe Routes to School and the proposals delivered.The vast majority of the proposals purported to tick one or both of those boxes, which led to some noggin scratching at some of the “disadvantaged” communities on the initial list.

Nevertheless, lots of good did come out of it. Without making this a publication to rival the length of Atlas Shrugged, a brief look at the local projects competitive at the State level [PDF] is prepared below. It’s organized by county and is based off preliminary staff recommendations. Formal adoption of the awards for the State/Rural level will occur on the 20th, after which everything that didn’t get funded goes down to the MPO level. For the Inland Empire, that means SCAG will be doling out its portion of funds to the remaining projects.

Riverside County
  • County Department of Public Health
    •  SRTS Active Transportation Program City of Perris $350k
    • SRTS City of Jurupa Valley $500k
  • Jurupa ValleySRTS Troth St. $627k
    • Pyrite St. SRTS $665k
  • Moreno Valley – Citywide SRTS Ped Facility Improvements $1.64mn
  • Perris
    • Murrieta Road Ped Improvements $1.10mn
    • Perris Valley Storm Drain Channel Trail $1.20mn
  • Riverside – Downtown and Adjoining Areas Bicycle and Ped Improvements $877k
  • San Jacinto – Safe & Active San Jacinto SRTS $989k

County IE total*: $7,950,000

San Bernardino County
No access
Colton’s award will allow them to identify opportunities to improve the connectivity of the facilities in the City, such as a connection here to the trail.
  • Colton – Active Transportation Plan $265k
  • Omnitrans ** – West Valley Corridor Connector $3.5mn
  • Ontario – SRTS Active Transportation: Bon View, Corona, Euclid, and Vineyard Avenue Elementary Schools $1.16mn
  • Rialto – SRTS Plan $1.45mn
  • SanBAG
    • SanBAG SRTS Plan $400k
    • Metrolink Station Accessibility Improvement $4.68mn
  • Yucaipa – Safe Routes to Calimesa and Wildwood Elementary Schools $872k

County IE total*: $12,327,000

*Not included in these counts were awards to cities outside of the area generally considered to be the “Inland Empire”, which can admittedly be somewhat nebulous. If all projects are included from all areas of both counties, Riverside County total would be $21,931,000 and the San Bernardino County total $13,422,000.

**Though listed as part of the county ‘VAR’ on the Caltrans worksheet, Omnitrans has been included as part of San Bernardino County totals because it operates almost exclusively within communities in San Bernardino County, with only two or three lines entering Los Angeles or Riverside counties. Without the Omnitrans award (but including all awards within the County), the San Bernardino County total would be $9,922,000.