Light rail in Riverside. There, I said it.
Why exactly is a project of this magnitude off the table? I just read an article here that a bunch of Coachella Valley students designed a light rail line through their little slice of desert land, in an effort to reduce sprawl and improve their communities. Granted, the chances it'll get built are slim to none, but nobody in Riverside has even proposed such a thing. And the real catch is, I can't understand why.
The Magnolia Ave. corridor looks like the optimal place for a light rail. It's crowded by automobiles at all sorts of times of day (rush hour starts around 1500), has a very, very successful local bus line running along it, and all the city's development clustered around it, not to mention two colleges and a long stretch of high-density housing, two malls, and Downtown. Throw in University Ave., with more housing and the development surrounding UCR at the top, and it looks like a no-brainer. Not to mention that, for a large stretch of the way, there are wastefully large medians and on-street parking that could easily be moved to make way for a train. Plus, it's dead straight all the way down the city. All that's even been proposed is the Magnolia Avenue BRT, which isn't coming this way for a long while, and has no dedicated bus-access lanes planned. Omni's sbX project, on the other hand, looks remarkably like a true bus rapid transit project, similar to Metro's Orange Line.
RTA's proposal, for the record, has made plenty mention of limited stops and signal priority, but none of a dedicated bus lane or boarding platforms, which leads me to believe it is a BRT-light project along the lines of Metro Rapid, which runs entirely in mixed traffic and provides only mild relief from traffic congestion. It's better than nothing, to be sure, but we can do better.
Anyway... why no light rail? Is it density? I can't see how, considering the density along the Magnolia Ave. corridor is greater than along the NCTD Sprinter right-of-way, and approaches that of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system's corridors, which are doing quite well. Is it money? FTA grants provide substantially more funding for rail projects than for bus projects, and rightfully so. I am therefore left to conclude that it's the NIMBY crowd... which makes me unhappy.
For your consideration, here's my proposal for a service to be constructed and operated along the lines of this article. Total cost? Around $250m. Expensive, to be sure, but the benefits of a fixed, dedicated right-of-way transportation system are myriad and will easily repay the costs. Transit-oriented development, plus the rise in property values along the line, will bring tax and environmental benefits into the city, plus the added mobility and opportunity to Riverside residents will be large indeed. Oh, and an sbX/Orange Line-style dedicated busway would provide many of these benefits for a fraction of the capital cost (though higher operating costs), and could later be converted to light rail. So, RTA, think about it.
(Edit: Due to a misreading of the article, which said that the Portland Streetcar cost $15m/km, not mile, I underestimated the cost of a similar system along Magnolia by around $100m. Estimates have been revised. Oh, and to the anti-LRT crowd, I'm not picky about technologies, but I am picky about having a dedicated right-of-way system down Magnolia. It's sorely needed.)