Sunday, September 27, 2009

I wish I'd said it

David Byrne succinctly sums up why I study politics in his new book, Bicycle Diaries:

I believe that politics is, besides being pragmatic, social, and psychological, also an expression of a wider surrounding context. That includes everything that might affect what people feel and do--music, landscape, food, clothes, religion, weather. Politics is a reflection of the streets, the smells, what constitutes eroticism, and the routine of humdrum lives just as much as it is a result of backroom deals, ideologies, and acts of legislature.

(Via a review on Daily Kos, though now I have to go get the book.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Board Meeting, 9/24

Sorry all, Friday was a very busy day, and today was spent recuperating from a very busy day. Without further ado, I present my summary of the RTA Board meeting, from Thursday 9/24.

During the off-agenda public comments section, I asked two questions of the board and staff present- the first was when we would expect Google Transit to be working again. RTA's staff notified me that this would occur "by Friday"... and happily, it did. The second was in response to the Short Range Transit Plan's dropping of the late-night service that I and others have long awaited. I asked why the grant money for said service was moved into weekend service in Lake Elsinore and Mead Valley.

RTA's staff again responded, saying that the budget did not allow for the implementation of the proposed late-night services, and that the agency chose to use the grant money to soften the blow of service cuts rather than try to implement a scaled-back late-night service project. They also said that this option was presented to the public at service change meetings (not at the one I was at...) and at the July Board meeting, when it was voted upon. I'm not entirely sure if I'm satisfied with this response, but at least it's a response.

RTA's Board received a report on the new Corona transit center, whose design includes 8 bus bays and a connection to the existing pedestrian bridge at the North Main-Corona Metrolink station, and they awarded a contract to begin work on that project. According to the RTA Reader, construction is slated to begin in January 2010.

The new, more restrictive Dial-A-Ride policies were implemented as proposed. I, personally, agree with most of the respondents to RTA's community outreach project- in light of the current political and financial situation that we find ourselves, these policy changes were necessary, prudent and minimally destructive. The Board also directed staff to look in to charging Dial-A-Ride riders for no-shows, but no action on this matter was taken.

After the meeting, I caught up with some members of the agency's staff and asked about the Riverside transit center. The official stance of the agency is that they prefer to remain at the current Downtown Terminal and use their FTA funding to refurbish that site. Further action on the Riverside Inter-Modal Transit Center is up to the City- so write your councilman!

Thursday, September 24, 2009


As promised by RTA staff today at the September Board meeting, Google Transit data is back up for RTA routes.

*does a little dance*

More details about said meeting when I'm bored at work tomorrow.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Late-night service

The first RTA route to run past midnight begins tonight! RTA Route 53- the Bear Runner shuttle serving the UC Riverside area after hours- will start service around 1800 this evening, with the last run leaving campus at 00:20 and going out of service at A&I at 00:45. Though the route is primarily intended for students returning home from classes and research late at night, and it is funded entirely by the University, it is available to the general riding public.

Of course, this raises a question: do day passes still expire at 11:59am?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Libertarian Cranks

So I was out with IEA today, on our weekly hike up Mt. Rubidoux, and somehow the topic of conversation turned to improvements we wanted to make to the city, and I mentioned my Magnolia Avenue Streetcar proposal. A gentleman in our organization proceeded to go on a tirade about how rail transportation was constantly "sold" on the premise that it would pay for itself, and that it consistently failed that metric. He then explained to all assembled that mass transit was obviously a bad idea, because if any private companies could make a profit doing it, they would already be doing so. Therefore, since only the government provides transit service these days, it must always be a losing proposition and should be abolished. (Mentioning the Pacific Electric and Los Angeles Railway systems didn't have any effect upon him.)

Though people like this guy are probably rare even among the ranks of the right (considering he went on to rail against public education and the Army Corps of Engineers), this sort of thinking is VERY common in our auto-dependent society today. People think of the automobile as this bastion of free-enterprise, a shining beacon of capitalism trouncing those government-supported buses and trains on a daily basis. Our libertarian friend was absolutely outraged that Metrolink was subsidized at around 50% (and I'm glad he doesn't know that RTA is subsidized around 80%...), and yet the point he was missing was right there under his feet. Literally.

Roads, ladies and gentlemen, do not grow out of the ground. Roads of any sort are not a necessary consequence of human habitation, and good roads such as are found all across this nation are even less so. The bridges, tunnels, overpasses, underpasses, street lights, stop signs, and parking lots that make up our automobile infrastructure are not triumphs of free enterprise, but rather the ultimate achievement of a government dedicated to a particular plan of action. The Interstate Highway System is heralded as the greatest public works project in the history of mankind. A substantial portion of our tax dollars goes in to the asphalt and concrete that gird our cities (and not just gas taxes- don't let me catch you making the "user fee" argument), and our roadways are (like our police and fire services, our mail, our military and our courts) thoroughly socialized.

If we therefore accept that transportation is the necessary realm of government action, we must therefore ask- does it matter that our public transport services are subsidized? We don't decry freeway and road spending because they fail to pay for themselves. We barely ask what these improvements do to their surrounding communities. The only question we ask of roadways is- how many people do they move, and how quickly do they do it? Why should public transport projects be held to an arbitrary standard of cost-effectiveness? Why don't we simply ask of our rails and bus lines as to how effectively they serve their patrons?

By the way, the real kicker? This discussion, in which our libertarian friend wanted to privatize everything... it took place in a city park.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Punching Holes

A look at the service cuts post over at TransitRiderOC points out that, yes, the 794 Riverside terminal has been permanently moved from the Tyler Mall to the La Sierra Metrolink station.

The Tyler Mall is the southern Riverside hub for RTA. It is served by routes 1, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 21, 27, and 149, every single day, all day long. The La Sierra Metrolink is served by Route 15 and Metrolink, and Route 15 only on weekdays. From a transit planning perspective, this change makes absolutely no sense. Not to mention- why would you run an express bus to Irvine to a train station where you can catch a train... to Irvine?!

It only makes sense when you realize that OCTA isn't trying to serve people who ride the bus all the way to work. I'm almost certain that this change was motivated by a shortage of parking at Tyler Mall's park-and-ride lot. La Sierra Metrolink has more than ample parking. Even in transit planning, we manage to privilege the automobile over the transit rider.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Rider Alert!

I don't know anything beyond what was posted on the side of the coke machine at the Tyler Mall transfer point, but OCTA Route 794 is temporarily stopping at the La Sierra Metrolink.

OCTA and RTA's web sites are mute on this issue- I can hope it is only a temporary change.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The BRU Model

The Bus Riders' Union released a report in April about "The BRU Model" of transit- their argument that bus service benefits riders more than rail service. Somehow it made it on to the Metro Librarian's blog today. Now, let me first state that, while they're undoubtedly valuable and tenacious allies, and their victory on Metro's Consent Decree was nothing short of monumental, the BRU annoys me. The idea that building rail corridors and articulated buses is racist is an exaggeration at best. I got to reading their report, though, and something immediately jumped out at me.

This isn't the BRU Model. It's the Toronto Model.

The Toronto Transit Commission runs a system of three subway lines, one elevated rail line, 11 streetcars (in the traditional sense, like Muni's Metro) and 160 bus lines. Now, I've never ridden the TTC (never been to Toronto, but if somebody wants to buy me a ticket...), but I've seen several reports on Canadian transit from the late 80's and early 90's that cite it as an excellent example of a properly-run grid system. On most major lines, headways are no more than 10 minutes, allowing riders to transfer between these lines easily. When ridership warrants, lines are converted to rail. The whole system is designed to run with frequent headways to minimize transfer time and provide convenient travel options for riders. This is what the BRU proposes for Los Angeles- bus routes be re-programmed to run frequently
This is a great model to use, if you want to build a grid transit system like Metro and TTC have constructed (as have Muni and OCTA, by the way- Muni does it well)*. However, it's the rest of the report that brings up that typical BRU-annoying-me feeling. They point out the cost of rail infrastructure (quoting, BTW, $150m/mile for surface LRT, a very highball estimate- but, to be fair, I quoted a pretty lowball estimate in my Magnolia Streetcar post), but they fail to point out the considerable cost of bus infrastructure. Once a rail line is constructed, the operating costs of that line drop dramatically. Buses need gassed up every morning, and typically wear out much faster than a rail vehicle. The lifetime of a transit bus is on the order of a decade (according to FTA), while Metrolink runs cars that have seen over 30 years of use (Comet cars, originally from NJ Transit, now owned by Utah's FrontRunner) every single day and sees few problems. New York's subway also runs many aged trains, the oldest being the R42 series built in late 1969-early 1970.

This bus-rail duality is, however, unnecessary. Both modes have advantages- buses can cast a wide net, bringing passengers from every corner of the city to nearly every other corner, while rail has the advantage of separate right-of-way, low operating costs and a factor of prestige that encourages dense development. The BRU proposes that transportation funding be shifted from the current balance- 80/20 in favour of roads- to one that favours transit by the same amount. Assuming that we would not see a commensurate reduction in overall transportation funding, the amount of money available for transit projects in this scenario would not call for inter-modal rivalry. As I already pointed out, the cost of one small widening project in San Bernardino is nearly 10 times RTA's annual budget- that's capital and operations. If a substantial portion of highway funding were to be dumped into public transit, we would not need to choose between rail and buses- we could have both, every 10 minutes, everywhere. And probably for free.

(UPDATE: I've now actually been to Toronto, and it really does work exactly like this. Quick transfers between routes running along every major street.)

*(In case you were wondering, RTA's system is not a grid system. It's a hub-and-spoke system, and there is a Canadian model for that, too- it's the Vancouver model. I've actually ridden on Vancouver's TransLink, and perhaps I'll discuss it soon. Omnitrans in the East Valley is also a hub-and-spoke system... Omni in the West Valley, I think, tries to be both and succeeds at neither.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Getting To The Train

NPR has a great piece on intermodal planning, and the unpleasant things that happen when cities and regions fail to account for it. A highlight was the story of one rider who chose to take the train in to Raleigh, NC with her children, rather than drive, and found the transit connections there rather lacking.

"I knew we were going to have to walk a little bit," Hancock said, pulling maps out of her handbag. They decided to walk to the nearest bus stop, navigating along broken pavement on a street without a sidewalk. Then, they stood in 99-degree heat at a bus stop with no bench or canopy...

"In the future, I probably would just drive it," Hancock says.

This story happened in North Carolina, but it could have just as easily happened in San Bernardino or Riverside, both of whom lack strong inter-modal connections between their rail stations and bus networks. San Bernardino is pouring a bit of change into a multi-modal transit centre that is to include Omni buses, Metrolink, and the new sbX and Redlands light rail projects (though where Amtrak will stop remains a mystery). Riverside is slated to move the current downtown terminal to a new Metrolink-adjacent multi-modal transit centre, complete with Amtrak California, Greyhound, and other transport options. However, both plans are lacking firm political will from key actors, namely the City of San Bernardino and RTA, and when we'll see either is anyone's guess. I've had the experience of walking a few blocks from the Metrolink to the University & Lemon stop or the downtown terminal to catch a bus many, many times, and it's so much more pleasant when (as in Los Angeles, Montclair, Fontana, Santa Ana, and other places) I can simply step off the train and onto a bus. When the system works together, it makes for a convenient alternative to the private automobile. When it doesn't, it simply drives people back to said automobile. What we need for the future is obvious, isn't it?

By the way, The Transport Politic responded to the NPR story with this post. It's an interesting take, though one that I don't think applies as well to CA-HSR's Central Valley stations, or to the Inland Empire.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


TransitRiderOC has all the details on the latest OCTA slashing.
At least our county isn't wondering if they need bus service at all...

Fare Hike In Omni-Land

This is what happens when you don't ride a transit system that often... you don't notice the fare hikes. I'm not a frequent Omni rider, so I didn't notice that yesterday fares went up to $1.50. Welcome, Omnitrans, to the brave new world of budget cuts.

While it's always a disappointment when fares increase, I should point out that Omni fares are still below RTA's. The cash and day pass fares are the same, but their 7-day pass is $15, compared to ours at $16, and their 31-day pass is $47- a full $3 cheaper, and a day longer.

On the other hand, Omni has yet to develop any U-Pass-style agreements with San Bernardino Valley institutions of higher learning. College students ARE eligible for Student fares, but let's be honest- free bus passes beat discounted ones any day.

This fare change also brings with it several minor schedule changes. Be sure to pick up your new Omnitrans bus book and note the time changes for routes 3, 5, 11, 15, 20, 61, 63, 65, 66, 67, 81 and 83. It's sad these days that any bus book that comes out without draconian service cuts is a victory... but it's true, and by that measure this book is a victory.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Place and Space

I was waiting at my bank the other day and I picked up a copy of Inland Empire Magazine. It's not the sort of reading material I usually pick up- they seem to have the habit of glorifying all of the things that I dislike about the IE, and this issue was no exception.

Flicking to the "MetroBusiness" section of the magazine, I found that the quarterly insert was entirely focused upon "regionalism"- the idea that the Inland Empire's growth in coming years must be tuned to the movement of people and goods between cities. They propose that folks do business in Rancho Cucamonga, take in dinner and a show in Riverside and go home to Temecula. (I can't recall the exact quote, nor find an online version of the article, but this is the gist of it. I'll update this if I can find the issue in a library.) Articles from MBA types expounded upon the "New Metropolis" of the Inland Empire, praising its decentralization and its freeways. It got me thinking- the automobile really distorts distance.

If you have the capability to easily move yourself near 100MPH at a whim, your definition of "local" tends to get skewed. Most of the car-driving public would probably think nothing of going out to dinner near the Tyler Mall if they reside near UCR- it's only a 15-minute drive without traffic. Similarly, people are able to live in Ontario and attend UCR, or live in Los Angeles and work there. (These are not abstract notions, but people I'm personally acquainted with.) Your sense of "local" is often "within 30 minutes travel time", and with a car, that can be quite a distance.

A transit rider would look at IE Magazine's concept of "regionalism" and laugh heartily. You could, perhaps, have a single morning meeting in Rancho, take in lunch in Riverside, and spend the rest of the day getting back to Temecula before RTA stops running, but it wouldn't be a very productive day. I have found that my concept of "local" is very different from other peoples'- for me, "local" is in the immediate surroundings of UCR. This is the area I can easily get to on my bicycle without much thought... sure, I can ride to Tyler if I really want, but it'll be an hour. I've ridden home from San Bernardino as well, but it's not something I want to do just to try out that new restaurant they're opening.

Here's the thing, though- you'd be surprised at the diversity that you can find in a much smaller "local" area. I am rarely left without dining options, and even live music is relatively easy to find. In my local area there are four grocery stores, two drug stores, at least 15 restaurants, a movie theatre, my medical clinic (on campus), and a few venues where live music can often be found (The Barn, Romano's, The Mad Platter, and in the Canyon Crest and University Village shopping centres). We're lacking a decent hardware store... but that's besides the point.

Living more "regionally" is not a goal to aspire to. It will mean more sprawl, more traffic, less wild land, and more global warming. Not to mention more stress, more traffic accidents, and more dependence upon our automobiles. Living more locally is not a punishment- if you take the time to look, I'm sure you could find plenty of opportunity for shopping, diversion and dining without driving. Our ideas of place and space need to change in the post-oil world, and this isn't a bad thing... it's just different.

By the way, happy Labour Day. Remember- RTA is on Sunday schedule, Omni and Metrolink are not running.

Reminder: Labour Day

And so, as America stubbornly celebrates her workers four months later than the rest of the world, RiR would like to remind you of the following:

RTA will operate tomorrow, 9/7, on a Sunday schedule.
Omnitrans will NOT operate tomorrow, 9/7.
Metrolink will NOT operate tomorrow, 9/7.

We apologise for the inconvenience, especially for those in Omni-land. May you find another way to grill.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hybrids as bad as Hummers?

Here's a thought for you: A Prius has just as much of an impact on the environment as a Hummer does, 95% of the time.

That 95% of the time is the time it spends in a parking space.

Mandatory parking requirements are probably the single most destructive regulations on the books today. Developers in most places (and this includes inner cities) must waste phenomenal amounts of space to provide off-street parking for pretty much everything they build- in suburbia this turns into vast seas of baked asphalt surrounding everything in the city.

Public transit users know exactly what I'm talking about if they've ever taken a bus to the mall or a major shopping center. Because the bus stops on the street, it's a 5 or 10 minute walk just to get across the parking lot to the store you want to visit.

Or consider Victoria Gardens: It's a parody of a traditional mixed-use village, a walkable shopping center with pleasant, narrow streets and a lively pedestrian life surrounded by a surface lot so big it can probably be seen from space.

Read this excellent article on minimum parking requirements, and consider just how much it costs to park a car.

Another week without Google Transit

Still no Google Transit data for RTA. Google still suggests that I drive to the train station to get to Tyler Mall. Convenient.

A call to RTA's customer info line generated no new information.
However, one customer info clerk said that "it doesn't work as well as TranStar"...

You've gotta be kidding me. You're kidding, right?

Don't get me wrong, TranStar is a nice thing to have around. However, Google Transit will provide transit itineraries with unlimited transfers. It'll provide three alternate routes for every trip processed, with Google Maps integration. It provides information that is light-years beyond TranStar's flat text display, with static maps that occasionally work. Google Transit and TranStar shouldn't even be mentioned in the same sentence.

But apparently Google Transit requires "more testing", so the benefits of such a system will be released back into the wild when RTA feels like it.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Train to Nowhere

I'm a big fan of rail transport in general, and of high-speed rail in particular. I worked very hard to get Prop 1A passed in November '08 (though in retrospect I should've worked harder to defeat 8...), I am looking forward to taking the CA-HSR system when it becomes operational, I've ridden high-speed rail in Europe (France's TGV), and I find rail travel to be my favourite mode of transportation whenever it's available. I'm the sort of person who puts up with the bus-to-Bakersfield model of the San Joaquin service rather than fly or drive to the Bay Area. So understand that I have very good reasons for saying the following:

DesertXPress is a BAD idea.

For those of you who don't know, DesertXPress is a privately-funded consortium determined to build a high-speed train system from Southern California to Las Vegas, including a connection to the Vegas monorail system. The all-electric train wants to charge around $100 round trip and would get people from SoCal to Vegas in a little under an hour and a half. What's not to love, right?

Except that "Southern California" in this case translates to "Victorville."

I grew up in the high desert. (Wrightwood, to be precise.) I understand Vegas traffic- we'd call it Friday Night Freak-Out. Everyone knew up there that you didn't want to be on I-15 heading up the pass on a Friday night, nor down the pass Sunday morning. And on the first day of a three-day weekend? You'd be better off hiking. But that's just the thing. The traffic we feared wasn't in the wide, long, exit-free superhighway that stretches across the desert like a monotonous asphalt ribbon of doom past Apple Valley. Getting to, say, Barstow wasn't a problem on Friday nights. It was the Cajon Pass that was essentially unnavigable. You know, the stretch of freeway that LA drivers would have to navigate to get to a Victorville rail terminal.

Not only is there no rail connection* between Victorville and Los Angeles (which would be ideal for DesertXPress' success), but there is no public transport connection whatsoever. The only, tenuous link between the desert and the rest of the LA basin, the Victor Valley Commuter, was severed back in 2006 due to funding problems. (I used to ride the giant, peach-and-turquoise coaches often.) So the question that we should ask of DesertXPress is, who wants to drive their car through the traffic-choked LA freeways, up the equally traffic-choked Cajon Pass, and then pay for a train ride that will get them around the part of the Vegas drive that's normally smooth sailing?

Many commenters over at Curbed LA have suggested that the train be extended to Palmdale, where there is currently Metrolink service 7 days a week, and where the California High-Speed Rail system will eventually make a stop. Others have gone so far as to suggest that DesertXPress trains could run down the CA-HSR corridor, providing a single-seat ride into Union Station. (NOTE: It was pointed out to me via e-mail that this idea is also held by the CEO of DesertXPress. No comment on it from CA-HSR yet.) But spending millions on a high-speed rail line to Victorville is just a lousy idea.

*There is technically a rail link between LA and Victorville- the
Southwest Chief
runs one train daily in each direction. The train from LA arrives in VV around 2200, and the return leaves VV around 0300.