Monday, December 20, 2010

Car-Sharing: How it works, why it's awesome

I've mentioned the wonders of ZipCar car sharing a few times in this space, but the idea is still one of the most potent conversation-starters I have when talking about cars and transit. A lot of people want to know just what car-sharing is, how it works, and whether or not it's right for them. So here's a brief on how car-sharing works, where you can find it, what it costs and why it's a great complement to your bike and transit ways.

Essentially, car-sharing is a way for many people to share an automobile. Simpler forms include a few roommates or neighbours pooling funds to purchase and share one vehicle, but most of the time we're talking about larger services or cooperatives who make their membership available to the general public, subject to a fee and usually a check of their driving record. In California, there are basically three organizations that provide such services: ZipCar, the 800lb gorilla of car-sharing worldwide; CityCarShare, a cooperative with cars in San Francisco and LAXCarShare, a local company providing cars in Los Angeles. From here on out I'll refer to ZipCar specifically (because that's what we've got here in Riverside), but most large car-share services work similarly. Car-sharing services have fleets of cars parked around cities, often at University campuses or transit stations, that any member can reserve for use by the hour. They generally charge a small annual fee and a flat hourly rate, which includes gasoline and insurance. If you live near a car-share car, it can provide you the convenience of a car parked nearby without the exorbitant cost of owning a car, especially if you don't use your car every day. It's great for transit users who have to make an occasional trip that requires driving, or as a replacement for a seldom-used second car.

To join ZipCar, you fill out an application on their web site (see the referral link in the sidebar) and give them your driver's license and credit card information. After a week or so, you'll get a ZipCard in the mail. This card has an RFID chip in it, similar to LA's TAP card or the proximity access cards at many workplaces. Once you have this card, you link it to your account on their web site and you're ready to start making reservations. You can make reservations over the phone, through the web site (which is smartphone-accessible) or via their iPhone app, in half-hour increments. Once you've reserved your car, you go find the car at the start of your reservation, tap your ZipCard to the reader in the windshield, and the car will unlock. The keys are generally on a cord next to the steering column. During the trip, you lock and unlock the car with your ZipCard on the windshield-mounted reader. When you're done you simply return the car to where you got it, lock it and walk away. If it needs gas, there's a gas card in the car which you can use at most gas stations at no cost to you- and if you can't find a gas station that'll take it, ZipCar will reimburse you.

One great thing about ZipCar is that they're worldwide. They have cars in dozens of cities and college towns across the country, as well as fleets in Canadian cities and in the UK. If you're over 21, you can reserve and use any ZipCar anywhere in the world. (18-year-olds can join, but only on college campuses and are limited to the cars available on that campus.) On vacation this spring I was able to quickly pick up a ZipCar in San Francisco for a time-sensitive situation that Muni couldn't handle.

So, why am I promoting expanded access to the world of automobility? Because car-sharing is a fantastic addition to a car-free (or car-lite) household. ZipCar finds that 40% of members reduce the number of cars in their household because of access to car-sharing. It can provide that safety net for somebody to be able to get by without owning a car, and therefore allow them to take transit, walk or cycle for the majority of their trips- knowing that, if they ever need to drive, there's a car around the corner. Furthermore, car-sharing reduces carbon emissions and congestion. The per-hour pricing model provides incentives for members to drive less, chain trips together, and only use a car when they *really* need it. And the ability of people to share cars reduces the number of cars on the road- by approximately 25 per ZipCar, according to the company.

So, where is car-sharing available in SoCal? Right now, there are three ZipCars on the UC Riverside campus- the only ones in the Inland Empire. For my OC readers, cars are available at Chapman University and UC Irvine. In LA County, you can find them at CSU Long Beach, the Claremont Colleges, CalTech in Pasadena, at USC, at UCLA, and (according to the ZipCar Facebook page) throughout Hollywood. San Diegans can find ZipCars at UCSD, San Diego State, San Diego University and Point Loma Nazarene University. Local upstart LAXCarShare also has cars throughout Los Angeles and West Hollywood. Note that, although SoCal cars tend to live near universities, you don't have to be affiliated with the university to use them.

At this point, you're probably wondering what it costs. The prices change based on what market you live in, and many larger ZipCar cities have plans with higher annual fees that allow a certain amount of free hours a month. However, here in Riverside, the cost structure is rather simple. If you're UCR-affiliated, there's no application fee and a $35/year/driver annual fee. If you're not, then there is a $25 one-time application fee, and your annual fee is $50/year/driver. Either way, the cost is minimal. As for actually renting a car, the rate is set on a per-car basis throughout the system, but all three cars in Riverside have the same rates. Weekdays cost $8/hr or $66/day, and weekends $9/hr or $72/day.

So that's car-sharing: an alternative to vehicle ownership that allows mostly-alt-transport people to borrow a car on a whim when they need to. If you live near (read: within walking/biking distance) one of the locations listed above, I encourage you to give it a try- and there's no better way to do so than by clicking on my referral link in this blog's right sidebar. For more information, browse ZipCar's helpful web site.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The MUTCD, California, and why you should care

The MUTCD, or Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, is the book that sets the standard for pavement markings, signs, speed bumps and basically anything else that determines how traffic flows in public rights of way. Traffic in this case is broadly defined- pedestrians, equestrians, cyclists, bus and rail transit, and automobiles all have specific regulations in the MUTCD. Bikes even get their own chapter- Part 9. The Manual is published by the Federal Highway Administration, and most states simply adopt it as their own standard. Some adopt it with state "Amendments,' which usually specify unique markings that are used in that state, such as specific state highway signs. Seven states, including California, have their own MUTCD; though this is required by law to be "substantially in conformance" with the federal MUTCD, it is sometimes the little differences that'll trip you up.

Why does the MUTCD matter? Well, any markings on pavement or road signs have to be in compliance with it. The standards dictate everything from where the signs should be placed, to how high off the ground they need to be, to what colour and text are on them and how shiny they are. (This is called "minimum retroreflectivity," but I think "shininess" sounds better.) If you want to make a stretch of road different in any way, you have to check the MUTCD first.

Now, as I said, California has their own MUTCD, which is different from the federal one. Sometimes this works in our favour- we were the first state who could use sharrows without special federal permission, because we included them in the 2004 California MUTCD. Right now, though, this is working against us. The new 2009 Federal MUTCD has some very cool bike-related stuff in it, but these changes have yet to migrate into the California MUTCD. Also, while we were the first to allow sharrows generally in our roads, the California MUTCD limits their placement and use in a way that the federal does not.

Specifically, here in Riverside, I want to do something about the atrocious Arlington Avenue, the Central/Magnolia intersection, and now the badly-redesigned University/I-215 eastbound segment. I'd love to see sharrows installed on these streets, along with a sign that warns drivers that bicycles can use a full car lane. Under the federal MUTCD, sharrows would be just fine for all of these situations, and a "Bicycles allowed full use of lane" is included (Sign R4-11). However, the California MUTCD does NOT include a "Full use of lane" sign, just the terribly ineffective "Share the road" sign. (Most motorists think "Share the road" means "Bikes get a tiny bit of it at the right, cars get the rest- sharing!") As for sharrows, the California MUTCD only permits them on streets with on-street parallel parking, restricting them from being used on University, Arlington or Central.

There is, however, good news! The 2011 California MUTCD is currently in draft form, and incorporates the more progressive federal bicycle markings. While I doubt very much that these are in danger of not being present in the final Manual (due out mid-2011), you should still comment in support of the new bike stuff. Also, if you find it useful, I suggested that a sentence in their sharrows section be slightly modified, so as to permit sharrows being used on roads that are unsafe for bikes yet signed with a speed limit above 35. Currently, there is "Guidance" that suggests otherwise, and while I think this is non-binding, traffic engineers will probably follow it anyway.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What happened to my bike lane?

Anyone who cycles near UCR will have noticed that University Avenue was "improved" recently, widening the two eastbound lanes to three- two through lanes and a right-hand turn lane- between the UV shopping centre's stoplight and I-215/CA-60. This new street configuration completely removes the bicycle lane, and does not replace it with anything else. While I'm entirely comfortable taking a lane through this one-block section, many, many other student cyclists are not. They end up either riding on the sidewalk or riding against traffic in the bicycle lane on the other side of the street.

The expansion of automobile space on this street is contrary to the University Avenue Specific Plan for this area. Section 5.2.3 of the Specific Plan, "From Iowa Avenue to I-215 (Subdistricts 3 and 4)", reads in part:
The current pavement width and striping for four lanes shall be maintained in order to utilize the remaining pavement area for bicycle lanes and a future shuttle.

This document was ratified when the pavement striping had only two lanes eastbound from the UV, and so the City has gone against their own planning in removing a bike lane that literally hundreds of students use daily.

While I don't expect the cash-strapped city to do much of anything anytime soon, please consider writing your councilman to urge them to re-stripe this roadway when next it is required in order to be safe for the hundreds of student cyclists that traverse the area daily.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Why the initial HSR segment isn't a "Train to Nowhere"

So many opinion pages have been decrying the California High-Speed Rail Authority's choice of a stretch of the Central Valley from Borden to Corcoran (now extended to Bakersfield- thanks Ohio and Wisconsin!) as the first constructed segment. Many are calling the project a "train to nowhere" that will never attract riders.

They're wrong, and this is why.

First of all, this is the initial construction segment. Nobody anywhere actually expects to run a modern, profitable high-speed rail operation from Bakersfield to not-quite-Madera. We're going to start building the train here, and while we're building it we'll keep designing and planning the rest of the system, and then when we're done in the Central Valley we'll build the rest. The idea that we would spend several billion dollars on new track for the already-quick San Joaquins is laughable, and is plainly not going to happen. I fully expect that California will figure out the funding issues with this project and will build it, all $43bn of it.

However, I might be wrong. We might run out of money, and resistance to the rail in populated areas might never be overcome. Even if that's the case, a substantial investment in high speed tracks in the Central Valley is still more than warranted, though we will need to build something more like Palmdale-Stockton, not just Bakersfield-Madera.

Let me paint you a scenario. It's 2018, and you want to go visit your family in the Bay Area from Riverside. You grab a morning Metrolink into Union Station. Once there, you pick up your HSR ticket and walk to Platform 14. Up into the light of day you go, and there before you sits a shiny, sleek, hideously blue-and-gold high speed train. Overhead, though, you notice no electrical wires, and at the front of a train is a road-weary diesel engine. You board the train anyway, and soon you are on your way. The train follows the Metrolink Antelope Valley Line, making no stops between LA and Palmdale. You look out the window at the 5 and 14 freeways and laugh. Even though you're not riding on high speed track, you're still managing a consistent 79 M/h. 1:45 later (just 15m faster than the current 2hr Metrolink run time), you're in Palmdale, and the train is stopped at the station for quite some time. You look out the window, and you notice that electric wires have appeared overhead. The diesel locomotive has pulled away onto a siding, and as your train leaves the station it transitions to the new California High Speed Rail track.

The train smoothly accelerates up to 250M/h, and in just over two hours (that's a hair under 4 since leaving Los Angeles) you're in Modesto. You notice a rather long stop here as well. A new diesel engine has hooked up to your train, and you're being pulled back onto conventional rail. Your train still clips along at 79M/h as you cross the Altamont Pass and pull in to San Jose. 5:45 after you've left Los Angeles, you've been treated to views of the San Francisco Bay. From Diridon station, you can take a VTA light rail train all over the Santa Clara Valley, catch Caltrain to the Peninsula, or (hopefully) ride BART to anywhere in the East Bay. However, you bought a ticket to San Francisco, and that's exactly where you're going. A 45-minute ride up the existing Caltrain alignment and you're at the new Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco, 6 and a half hours after leaving LA.

Now, 6:30 isn't exactly record timing, and you could probably fly it faster if you get through security quickly. You could also probably drive it faster if you do the drive overnight, but you won't manage it in traffic. I believe that such a time would pull many folks from the roads and skies to the rails- not as many as the 3 hour time, of course, but enough. The point of this sort of system would be to demonstrate that Californians will, in fact, ride trains. Once you build up ridership and show the public that rail can work here, you can gain support to complete the system all the way to LA and SF. Oh, and by the way, it's not unrealistic. The times I gave are slightly shorter than the schedules for Metrolink, ACE and Caltrain on existing rail (because they make all stops, while HSR wouldn't), plus the time that CHSRA gives for travel between Palmdale and Stockton. Also, French national rail operator SNCF regularly hauls TGV trains past the reach of electric wires using diesel locomotives. TGV trains also run on conventional electrified track at conventional speeds, and such a strategy would also make this scheme possible.

The cost of high-speed track from Palmdale to Modesto will be significantly lower than the cost of track from San Francisco to LA. A lot of the cost of building this project is in right-of-way acquisition, and that is serious money in populated areas. Also, most of the resistance to the project is down here where people live. Of course, the initial segment doesn't quite go where it needs to go- yet. We need to push for the construction of rail between Bakersfield and Palmdale, the biggest present gap in our state's rail system. Currently, the only rail between the two is via winding Union Pacific trackage that includes the Tehachapi Loop. This stretch of track has never hosted passenger traffic, and UP is unlikely to be receptive to passenger trains along it- not to mention that the time to ascend and descend the mountains would be prohibitively long, and the line is presently the busiest single-track freight line in the world. While the long tunnelled stretches of HSR track from Bakersfield to Palmdale may not look to be the most cost-effective investment in the system, they connect a critical gap in our state's present rail network and will be essential for future operations.

In summary, if somebody tells you we're building a train to nowhere, they have no idea what they're talking about. If somebody tells you they need to build track anywhere else, suggest Bakersfield-Palmdale, and explain why.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The "Green" McDonald's

If you find yourself in transit along University Avenue, you've probably noticed the recently-opened "green" McDonald's franchise at Eucalyptus and University. The new building (for which they tore down a perfectly useful old building) incorporates solar panels into the parking lot, along with native landscaping and wood chips rather than traditional grass, and permeable gutters to direct groundwater back into the ground. These are the features that I can see from the outside while biking or bussing by, so they may even have more stuff going on on the inside.

Now, this "green" building also has two lanes of drive-through traffic (up from one at the previous site) and an entrance that faces their solar-shielded parking lot. In between the sidewalk (and frequently-served bus stop) and the street? Drive through lanes, native landscaping, and a permeable gutter. The "green" improvements at the store are literally getting in the way of customers using sustainable transport, shoving them aside for the sake of automobile-driving shoppers. Also, while I can't fully tell from the street (and would never imagine actually *eating* at a McDonald's), I don't see any bicycle parking- which would actually be a substantial asset for the customers and employees in this poor, minority-dominated bike-heavy neighbourhood.

Of course, this is a transport blog, so I won't get in to the horrible environmental impacts of the sort of factory-farmed agriculture that makes McDonald's profitable. I will, however, note that without provision for transit, cyclists and pedestrians, no amount of solar panels and permeable gutters will ever make a building green. Riverside's green Mickey D's is nothing but a shameless attempt at corporate greenwashing.

Oh, and by the way, the lack of pedestrian access is completely out of line with the University Avenue Specific Plan, which requires that buildings face the street and have entrances that are sidewalk-adjacent. Apparently if you're a megacorporation, you can get around those sorts of things.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Guardian Fleet Review

So, last week I posted that I was going to get back into the habit of blogging. Finals week caught up with me and knocked that idea straight out of my head for a while, but with all that behind us, let me return with the post I intended to write: A review of the new Metrolink Guardian Fleet.

Last week, Metrolink took the new Hyundai-Rotem-made cars on a tour about the southland, and I joined them for the Monday leg of the tour in the San Fernando Valley.

First off, these cars are quite a sight to behold. The stainless steel cars, painted in the new aqua-wave colour scheme, stand out among the white Bombardier coaches at Union Station. The aesthetic is almost like one of Amtrak's Superliner consists, and I've always thought those were quite sleek and shiny. (Never mind the fact that many are nearly 40 years old.) The crash energy management bit of the cab car is a touch ugly, but another railfan suggested that it was designed to look like a locomotive in order to discourage the clueless from thinking the train was moving away from them.

The new interior colour scheme is also a refreshing change, from the increasingly drab purple-and-grey coaches to a cabin full of bright blues. Not only do the new seats look better, but they're more comfortable as well- or, at least, they will be. The foam still needs some time to break down. The headrests are high enough that 182cm (6') tall me is finally able to rest my head on them- something not possible in the old cars for me. On-board amenities haven't changed at all- you're still offered drinking water, one restroom per car and electrical outlets. For those of you who want to charge up that phone or get some work done on your laptop, outlets are located at four seats on the lower level (towards the end of the car), as well as at each table on the mezzanine and upper levels. The new restroom is much larger, and the toilet flush no longer sounds as if it is connected to the intake of a small jet engine. One quibble, though- the A/C unit in the cars is rather loud, especially on the upper level.

One of the nicest things about the new cars is the new high-intensity amber directional signs. You'll notice that the signs give train number, origin and destination stations in clear, bright yellow. Metrolink riders will immediately notice the contrast with the current dull, dim green signs that don't provide origin or train numbers. These will be especially helpful at terminal stations like San Bernardino and Riverside-Downtown, where the sheer number of parked trains often confuses infrequent riders. Also in the "better wayfinding for passengers" category, the new trains are equipped with automated announcements in clear, precise English. While the exhortations not to put your feet on the seats every few stops can get old (especially when your train is running express from LA Union to Moorpark), the new automated announcements will most certainly be a welcome antidote to broken or inaudible PA systems, or that one conductor who everybody's had at least once- "Nrmms srmrmmr Rrmrmmrmmrmm Dermmrmrmrm."

The safety aspect of the new cars is what Metrolink and other news outlets are playing up, and that's fine. This is an excellent move to pander to a media and public culture that sees a train crash every few years and thinks "Oh my stars, the train is so very dangerous that I better drive!" Of course, rail travel remains the safest way to travel in the country, by a HUGE margin, but the purchase of these new cars (which are sorely needed on capacity grounds anyway) should go some distance towards assuaging the anxieties of a car-crazed region. Personally, I feel much safer on any given Metrolink car than in my own auto, any time of the day, any day of the week.

As far as the actual trip? It was far too much fun. The train was mostly empty, but those who showed up were either press or fellow railfans. We had some 10 cameras out at Moorpark station recording the northbound Coast Starlight. 'Twas fun. Also, we did get to tour both the crumple zone bit at the front of the cab car, and the cab itself (which is on the upper level rather than the mezzanine in the new cars). Want to know what the engineer's view looks like?

More photos on FlickRiR, and a very brief quote from yours truly at the LA Daily News. I wish she'd tossed in a URL.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

This Week in Transit, 12/12/10

Local events in red, HSRA events in orange.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

A triumphant return!

With the impending cessation of UCR's fall term, I find myself suddenly less busy. You all know what that means- more blogging!

My return will be spectacular indeed. Today, I'm aboard the inaugural run of Metrolink's new Guardian Fleet cars (the Hyundai Rotem coaches, for those of you who follow such things). I'll be writing up a full review of my day of train-geekery, complete with photos and video, upon my return to Riverside this evening.

For those of you who want to check out the new cars for yourself, they'll be out in the IE on Wednesday morning, and in the OC on Thursday. You can catch them in San Bernardino at 8:30, and in Riverside (downtown) at 11:30. No guarantees, but those of you who take a look in San Bernardino might be able to talk your way into a ride down to Riverside. Doesn't hurt to ask, right?

(Sadly, I won't be able to attend the Riverside or OC events.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bloggy Absence

Sorry folks, but it's the last week of the quarter here at UCR, and that means papers, grading student work, and more papers. I'll pick up with the blogging sometime soon. In the meantime, I've found something to keep all us transit-lovers busy for a while.

See, we just got a new printer at the homestead here, and it came with a link to Canon's Creative Park web site, a treasure trove of print materials and templates. This includes papercrafts. Some notable transit-related diversions:

Commuter EMU (looks suspiciously like a JR E231): Power & non-power cars

High-speed train (TGV Sud-Est-ish?): Power and non-power cars.

Bus and Bus Stop

And, for the very patient, there is an exquisitely detailed model of a Penn Central GG-1, the same sort that smashed through the floor of DC Union Station back in 1953.

See you all on the other end of Finals Week.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

This Week in Transit, 11/28

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hello, all of you out there in reader-land. Enjoy your poultry-related merriment. Please be reminded that there is no Omnitrans or RTA service today, and limited Metrolink service on the San Bernardino line ONLY.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

This Week in Transit, 11/21

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stuff the Bus!

I'm a little late with this, but there's still time! Operation Safehouse, a local charity that provides services for at-risk youth in our community, is holding a migrating Stuff the Bus event around the city today. RTA loans them a bus, and you folks stuff it full of the stuff they need to help out their clients.

Operation Safehouse are the folks that are responsible for all of those little yellow Safe Place stickers on the buses you see around. They provide a shelter and resources for teens in crisis in the Greater Riverside area, and have just opened up a new facility out in the Palm Desert area as well. They're a fantastic organization, and you should drop by any of the following locations that they'll be at today and donate some supplies so they can keep doing what they're doing:

3 pm Riverside City Hall, 3900 Main St.
4 pm Kaiser Permanente, 10800 Magnolia Ave.
5 pm Riverside City Plaza, at 3535 Riverside Plaza Dr., at Regal Theaters

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bicycle Lounge at UCR

The Bicycle Lounge, Riverside's first- and only- bicycle collective, is now open at UC Riverside. They'll be teaching folks how to fix their own bikes- and providing tools and parts- from 11:00-14:00 on Tuesdays in the Rec Centre parking lot, lot 24. For those who have to bring their bikes in by car, metered parking is available.

They also have hours downtown, at the Culver Centre for the Arts, 12:00-16:00 on Saturdays until the end of the Re:Cycle exhibit.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

This Week in Transit, 11/14

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Things you Learn from Zipcar

So I rented a Zipcar last Monday in order to get to a doctor's appointment on time. (Kaiser Permanente is stubbornly located on the other side of town. The #1 is agonizingly slow, and the #216 and Metrolink aren't frequent enough outside of rush hour.) On the way home, I got stuck in horrific traffic (of course). This particular car had a very interesting feature- it calculated average speed on its display. Since I had re-set the display when I took possession of the car (because it was set in km/h), I was actually able to see my average speed.

Which was a lightning-fast 14 miles per hour.

As any cyclist knows, this is not an unreasonable cycling speed. I can average 12 all the way to Huntington Beach. When all of those other blogs said that a bike can beat cars in urban traffic, I always thought "urban" meant "not in the suburbs." Guess I was wrong.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Belated Anniversary!

So, I forgot my anniversary. No, not that one, if I'd forgotten that anniversary I wouldn't be around to blog.

On Monday the 8th, Riding in Riverside marked two years of fighting the auto empire in the Inland Empire.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

sbX Project Attacks Car Dealer, Steals His Parking

A car dealer may soon find himself put out of business by a bus project in San Bernardino. No, not because the project will be so successful that residents will abandon cars en masse (though we can hope), but because the car lot owner can't think of anywhere besides curbside parking on E Street for his customers and employees to park.

So goes the tale in the Press-Enterprise. Granted, most of the article is rather positive, but they had to include the doom-and-gloom car lot owner in the story. Imagine the horror of a car lot without convenient curbside parking!

Perhaps the owner could simply stop using the subsidized on-street parking provided for free by the city, and start providing parking for his own customers and employees... perhaps on the *lot* he owns that's full of *cars*.

Of course, everyone knows that no customer will ever take one of the shiny new sbX buses to his business. Only hobos ride the bus, otherwise they're empty. Right?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Metrolink Service Changes

Metrolink has started operating on a new schedule today. While the Riverside, 91 and weekday San Bernardino Lines have not seen any changes, the IE-OC and OC Line trains all have at least one minor schedule adjustment. Also, weekend San Bernardino service has changed. Most notably, Riverside-Downtown will now see late-night weekend service, with a train leaving Los Angeles at 9pm and returning here at 11:15pm. Also, the IE-OC Line will revert to its previously-used once daily weekend schedule.

All the details are available on Metrolink's web site.

RTA CommuterLink routes that connect to Metrolink trains- 206, 208, 210 and 212- have also changed schedules in order to continue connecting with the trains. The new schedules are available from RTA. (PDF)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

This Week in Transit, 11/7

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Friday, November 5, 2010

The Injustice of American Health Care

Not transportation related, sorry, but I felt I had to share this one.

Over last weekend, I was in line at my local Rite-Aid picking up some prescriptions. I overheard the woman in front of me telling the pharmacist that she needed to get her prescriptions refilled before her insurance ran out. The pharmacist, making conversation, asked why she was losing her insurance- it's common enough these days, what with the economy being FUBAR'ed and all. Her answer?

"Oh... my husband recently passed away."

This is the horror of the present American health care system. A woman loses her husband to the ravages of time and, in her grief, has to remember to call the pharmacy before the health insurance company notices he's dead and kicks her out into the cold.

You want death panels? We've got death panels. They're called health insurance companies.

We return to our regularly scheduled bus-and-bike ranting tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

State Parks Sacrificed for Suburban Car Fetish

So last night was a pretty awful night for anyone who's part of the muddled American "left." We did keep the Senate, but lost big in the House. For a great analysis on the subject, I defer to The Transport Politic. To avoid repeating what hundreds of others throughout our blogosphere have written on the subject, I'll confine my reporting to local (and under-reported state) issues.

The first result from last night's election that has drawn my outrage is the failure of Proposition 21. (42% Y, 58% N w/ 96.6% reporting) California's system of gorgeous and fragile state parks protects our state's natural beauty, biodiversity, and anthropological and cultural history- and despite these benefits, it is under attack. The inadvisable budget austerity that our broken state government has forced upon us is depriving the citizens of our state of these much-needed natural and historical treasures by closing, reducing the hours of, or simply not maintaining our parks. Prop 21 would have given the parks a stable, ample revenue source and would have freed up current parks money for other worthwhile purposes while giving Californians unfettered access to the riches their state possesses. At $18/year, a Californian could make up the fee by visiting state parks just twice. Remembering that many popular beaches are state parks, a couple of trips to the beach a year would have been an easy endeavour for most southern Californians.

So why did such a beneficial initiative get shot down? Well, the story I heard from local progressives (and I think it's plausible) is that many opposed the initiative because they have multiple cars. The $18/year fee is $18/year/car- and many suburban families have 3, 4, 5 or more cars. You know, one for each driver in a household with two teenagers/young adults, plus maybe that classic car they kept around from their younger days- or perhaps it's a lower-income multi-generational household with several families pooling resources, each with their two cars... suddenly $18 is more like $90+, and it's just not worth it in these hard economic times. (My parents, rural empty-nesters who enjoy motorized toys, would have paid $72/year- two cars, motorcycle and RV. Of course, they use state parks so often it would have been a significant savings... but they illustrate my point.)

Now, I think even $90/year is worth it to save our state parks, but that's immaterial to my point. The point is that our automobile-dominated transportation system is placing significant hardship on people, and the fact that they see a personal fleet of cars as necessary led directly to the defeat of Prop 21. If we had enough transportation alternatives in place such that a suburban family of four could get by on just one car, perhaps the initiative would have passed and California's natural and historical resources would have been kept open for all to see.

Also troubling at the state level is the passage of Proposition 26. (52.7% Y, 47.3% N, 96.6% reporting) Prop 26 will make it nearly impossible to fix the state budget via revenue by making most "fee" increases and all tax changes- even revenue-neutral ones- subject to a 2/3rds vote or local election. A 2/3 vote is essentially impossible- there are always Republicans taking up just over 1/3 of the state legislature, and they have unquestionable party discipline against anything that even smells like a tax increase. It will particularly hamper the implementation of AB 32- though I think a clever implementation of cap-and-trade with the already planned giveaway of emissions permits would be possible, it will be impossible to bring in revenue through such enforcement, leaving all of the gains from creating a carbon market in the private sector.

Prop 26 will further contribute to the ungovernability of the state of California, hampering our ability to pass a budget that is anything more than a series of drastic, ugly cuts. The failure of Proposition 24 (41.6% Y 58.4% N, 96.6% reporting) as well- a measure that would have eliminated a corporate tax loophole benefiting only the largest corporations in the sate- means that governor-elect Jerry Brown will have a tough time fixing the mess this state is in.

Taken together, these votes demonstrate just why the initiative system is terribly broken- only the largest corporations and wealthy interests can afford to pay the several millions of dollars needed to get a measure on the ballot. Once there, complex measures (like Props 24 and 26- even I don't understand all the specifics) are submitted to uninformed voters who then tie the hands of their elected officials in actually getting things done. When the electeds fail to govern the state, more wealthy interests use the gridlock to convince voters that further initiatives are needed, enhancing their interests and destroying our public sector. The cycle will repeat until we reform the initiative process, either through (ironically) an initiative or a constitutional convention.

On another note, we did have some local successes. Measure K, the RCTC's proposal to borrow against Measure A funds for highway, street and Metrolink improvements, passed (62.39% Y 37.61% N, 91.82% reporting). This is sort of a Faustian bargain for alternative transportation advocates- it would increase the rate of highway and local street expansion, but would also ensure the completion of the Metrolink Perris Valley Line, expanding Metrolink service to new areas for the first time since the 1995 opening of the IE-OC Line. (The 91 Line opened in 2002, but served only existing stations- and the Buena Park station opened in 2007, but served only existing lines.) With any luck, the Metrolink expansion will serve to catalyze further transit ridership and service in the Moreno Valley and Perris areas beyond the stations themselves. The Perris and Alessandro stations in particular have the potential to become serious regional transit centres- the former is already a hub for local bus lines.

Measure V, a City of Riverside measure to increase the local hotel tax, passed. (65.88% Y 34.12% N, 82.58% reporting) This measure should provide funding for city parks, public services, and the new Riverside Convention Centre- which promises to be a more integrated and pedestrian-friendly place than the current monstrosity. Of course, I'm sure much of this revenue is going to be used for more parking lots...

And lastly, on a non-transpo note, Corona School Board member Bill Hedrick lost against corrupt real-estate developer and incumbent Congressman Ken Calvert. This race was always going to be an uphill battle, but there was a minute there where it looked possible. To my fellow members of Hedrick's all-volunteer army, keep the faith- we'll get it next time.

Travelers, not "Commuters"

In nearly every story about transportation issues, you will see somebody refer to those who use transportation infrastructure as "commuters." We privilege the daily commute as the epitome of transportation challenges, and it strongly shapes the way we look at transportation (especially transit) around us. The sort of infrastructure that may well serve a "commuter" will likely be very, very different from the sort of infrastructure that will serve a person on a different sort of outing- and, for our transportation system to be effective, we need to plan for every sort of journey a person is likely to take.

An analysis of transportation in Kane County, IL (a suburban county outside of Chicago, and the first data point I found on Google) shows that work trips make up roughly 23% of all trips. Of course, these trips are highly concentrated at particular times of day- this is why "rush hour" congestion occurs- but they are notably not even a quarter of trips. Add in the 9% of "school" trips (many of which I'm sure are K-12, not university) and you still only get 32%, a little less than a third. So planning exclusively for work trips is missing somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 of journeys taken- a vast majority.

What do we get when we plan transit just for work trips? We get things like Metrolink and RTA's CommuterLink- systems that run only during peak hours, Monday-Friday. We get a local bus system that shuts down by 7 or 8 pm- just when things are starting to get interesting! We get an understanding that, while transit might be a viable alternative for getting to work and back, you're still going to need a car when you get home if you want to go anywhere else- making it impossible for people to realize the financial and health benefits of car-freedom.

What do we get when we plan cycling facilities just for work trips? We get bicycle parking ordinances that require showers, lockers and storage rooms for employees while customers chain up to the handicapped parking sign. We get commuter cyclists advocating within their companies for better cycling facilities, while the community at large does without. We get a community of cyclists that ride to work and back every day, and then get home, get in their car and go out to dinner.

What do we get when we plan auto infrastructure for work trips? We get bloated freeways, highways and streets to keep up with peak-hour demand, while our pedestrian, transit and cycling environments suffer, and we get people who find it incredibly easy to just keep driving to work because, after all, they need their car when they get home.

We need to start thinking of transportation infrastructure- especially transit- for every sort of trip people make, rather than just the daily commute. If we don't, we will perpetuate auto-dominance for the other 75% of trips, which will feed demand for more "commuter" automobile facilities.

So I encourage you all to stand up and say with me- I am not a commuter. I am a traveler.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Polls are closed

Polls are now closed in California. If you're anything like me, you're going to go watch the results come in (and drink heavily). Watch this blog for updates on local elections in the coming days.


Polls are open now, and will stay open until 20:00 (8:00 PM) tonight! Go vote, if you haven't already done so.

You can check with the RivCo Registrar of Voters to find your polling place. If you need transportation to the polls, the Hedrick for Congress campaign will have volunteers stationed throughout CA-44 to assist you- call (951) 218-1227. (Of course, if you'd like to volunteer with the campaign today, call that number as well.)

Nobody thinks this race will be tight... but nobody thought so in 2008 either. Get out and make a difference today!

Monday, November 1, 2010


I've written before about the transportation inequities just within our own city. While cars get plentiful infrastructure (varying in maintenance) everywhere, the experiences of pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders vary wildly with the neighbourhood they inhabit, and are especially poor in areas like Casa Blanca and Arlanza, where alt-transport is desperately needed.

So how bad is it out there?

I was out canvassing for Bill Hedrick on Saturday morning in Arlanza. On my way back, I needed to cross Van Buren at Audrey (across from the Wal-Mart). The intersection is right-turn-only for vehicles, so I dismounted my bike and pushed the pedestrian signal. For whatever reason, I also started singing "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" to myself. (I'm strange.)

When the signal light finally allowed me to cross the busy, high-speed thoroughfare, two complete light cycles had passed- and only 67 bottles of beer remained on the wall.

Something's wrong here.

(By the way, this is post #400 on Riding in Riverside!)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

This Week in Transit, 10/31

Happy Halloween, everyone!
Local events in red, HSRA events in orange.

If you find this feature useful, please don't hesitate to subscribe to either of these calendars.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Service Changes

Nothing earth-shattering here, but the January 2011 service changes were approved by the Board yesterday. There have been no severe cuts, but a couple of routes will lose underperforming school tripper services. A few routes will see routing changes, mostly in Hemet/San Jacinto in order to serve a few new destinations.

Check out the details here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vegas Travelogue, Part 3: Vegas Transit

The Deuce, originally uploaded by plattypus1.

(You can also catch parts 1 and 2 of my Vegas travelogue, which mostly consist of me griping about traffic.)

Las Vegas is a strange, libertarian fantasyland. Everything on the Strip gleams in bright, shining neon and marble, with clean, well-maintained sidewalks, roads and bridges. Get a block away and the sidewalks are cracked, the streets lined with vacant lots and run-down apartments. The power relationships of the city are written right there on its urban form. But, interestingly enough, the region has a pretty extensive transit system. Because of the significant demand of drunken tourists and low-wage hospitality workers, the all-bus system runs frequently, all day and every day.

It also has the unique characteristic of charging more for visitors than locals, at least along the Strip. The two Strip services, the ACE Gold Line and the Deuce (express and local, respectively), charge a higher fare for out-of-town visitors than they do for Clark County residents.

Anyway, down to the nitty-gritty. The Strip has two services that run along it- the Deuce (local) is a set of double-decker buses (pictured above) that run every 10-20 minutes, 24 hours a day. The ACE Gold Line is a new bus rapid transit system that links downtown Las Vegas with the Strip and the McCarran Airport. Both services share stops and ticket vending machines along the Strip.

Off the strip, the RTC system is mostly a grid-based system, with a sensible numbering system. 100-series routes run mostly north-south, with numbering starting with 101 in the west and moving up as the routes serve further eastward streets. 200-series routes run mostly east-west, starting at 201, with higher numbers moving northwards. Many trunk line routes run at 10-15 minute frequencies, and much of the system is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

So how well does this all work? We stuck around our hotel on Tropicana, a block over from the Strip, and on the Strip itself most of the time. Travelling northbound on the Strip, and off the Strip, was fantastic. Travelling southbound, which we always seemed to do at rush hour, was a nightmare. There was construction at the Bellagio, cutting off just one lane of the 8 lane Strip- and it made traffic a festering hellhole of despair. Furthermore, the stop at the Bellagio was meant to be a stop both for the Deuce and ACE lines, but the ACE line passed us up several times with no more than a fare-thee-well. It seems that the stop was too short for the articulated ACE buses, but no notification to that effect was posted.

The ACE Gold Line buses, however, weren't immune to these horrible traffic maladies. It seems to me that what the Strip really needs is bus lanes. North of the Strip, the ACE runs in a centre-median busway, separated from traffic. In the most traffic-choked parts of the city, though, the bus lanes disappear when they are most needed.

Beyond the transit troubles caused by the construction, it occurred to me that never before have I seen so very many people walking in such a terribly bad pedestrian environment. You see, most intersections on the Strip lack crosswalks, or only have them on one side. There are these pedestrian bridges at most major streets. The trouble with transit in the area, though, is that the grid system necessitates transferring between stops on different corners of the street. Even when they're on the same side of the street, it can be a quarter-mile walk between them. The fact that people nevertheless walk and use transit is an impressive statement of the willingness of people to avoid their automobiles while on vacation, or to the poverty and desperation of hospitality workers in Las Vegas.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

This Week in Transit, 10/24

Local events in red, HSRA events in orange.

If you find this feature useful, please don't hesitate to subscribe to either of these calendars.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

November Election Endorsements

If you're even marginally politically active, you may have noticed that we have an election coming up. Remember to get out and vote on Tuesday, November 2nd, or at any Early Voting centre throughout the county.

With that in mind, here are my endorsements for the upcoming election:

For statewide issues, I can't do better than the endorsements from the excellent progressive blog Calitics. They recommend voting a straight Democratic ticket- normally I'm not so loyal a Democrat (I'm a registered Green), but in this election the alternative is conservative domination. That'd be bad, so I'm joining the Calitics gang in this one.

For local races:

Congress, 44th District: Bill Hedrick
Bill is a real progressive, the kind of person we need in Washington. His policies on transportation and land use are currently unknown; but we do know that, while he's opposed to wasteful spending, he's not going to vote to turn the tap off entirely while so many constituents are hurting (like our current representative did, repeatedly). Also, getting a Democrat elected in this seat reduces the likelihood of Speaker Boehner presiding over the next federal transportation bill.

(County of Riverside)
Auditor: No endorsement.
Both candidates for county auditor, Mr. Chand and Mr. Angulo, are beating the fiscal responsibility drums as loudly and as often as possible. That's the last thing we need right now. If you're in the mood for it, write me in. That's Alethea J. Nelson. That's what I did.

Measure L: YES
Measure M: NO
Measure L would require voters to approve any changes in public safety pension benefits. While I'm normally opposed to ballot-box budgeting, local governments are looking for nearly any way to cut spending without raising taxes these days, including raiding the pension benefits of our police and firefighters. The people who risk their lives to protect society every day should be entitled to the pensions they've been promised. Measure M would require voter approval to raise pensions, but allow the County to unilaterally lower them. Its passage would be a disgrace, and a breach of contract with those who have spent their lives protecting us.

Measure K: YES
Measure K will allow RCTC to borrow more money in order to take advantage of current low construction costs for road and rail projects throughout the county. This vote is a sort of Faustian bargain, because it will mean accelerated freeway widening for CA-91 and other roads, but it will also ensure the timely completion of the long-suffering Perris Valley Line Metrolink extension. Furthermore, the only way we get out of this budget crisis is by putting people back to work, and even road-building does that.

(City of Riverside)
Measure V: YES
I reported some time ago that Riverside was enjoying a surplus thanks to sensible spending and reasonable taxation and borrowing. (A lot of it went to build more parking. Yay.) Well, to continue the prosperity that the City has been enjoying, voters have been asked to raise taxes on hotel guests by 2%, from 11% to 13%. The funds will be spent on City services and possibly the new Convention Centre downtown, which promises to be sensibly integrated into a mixed-use environment. (Anything is better than the current structure surrounded by acres of surface parking.)

Above all though, it's critical that you get out and vote on Tuesday, November 2nd or at any early voting centre. You might also want to consider, in future elections, becoming a "permanent absentee" voter- your ballot comes by mail, and you return it either by mail, at several drop-off points around the county, or at any precinct on Election Day. It's quick, convenient, and helps ensure that your voice is hear. I vote by mail every year, and spend my Election Day volunteering for causes I care about.

Vegas Travelogue, Part 2

I mentioned in the first part of my travelogue that there's no good way to get to Vegas. Today, I'll go over what happens when you take the bad way to Vegas- private automobile on I-15. On the way out there, I picked up my wife at the school where she works (in Magnolia Centre) at 3:00. By the time we hit the CA-91, traffic was already stop-and-go. From Central Ave. to the split with CA-30 (approximately 14 miles and an agonizing half an hour), we were lucky to crawl along at a speed which caused our speedometer to register. After that point, we were largely in the clear until entering Las Vegas itself, where local traffic at the I-15/NV-215 interchange caused some slowing. Of course, the entire drive was characterized by that unique combination of interminable boredom and constant vigilance that marks any long-distance road trip, and it was 4 and a half hours in which I could have been making valuable progress on course readings but was instead staring at asphalt ribbons across salt flats.

I should note that this sort of traffic pattern is particularly problematic for the DesertXPress HSR plan- attentive readers will note that the first phase of the project is planned to terminate in lovely Victorville, CA, notably past the point where we encountered traffic. Angelenos that have to work until 5pm will find the drive across the LA basin to I-15 even more problematic than us IE types, especially since we left at 3pm. Unless DesertXPress is connected to some form of transit infrastructure, it will offer only minimal traffic relief for many. (I can envision a future in which the HSR is fed by both a giant parking garage and San Joaquin-style bus connections to points around the LA metro region, until the Victorville-Palmdale-LAUS connection is constructed. That might work out.)

On the way home, traffic was something other than smooth sailing. From just past the urbanized area of Las Vegas all the way to Primm (the state line), traffic was at a virtual stand-still. It took us over two hours to traverse 25 miles- I quite literally could have biked it faster. Worst of all, there was no discernible reason for the congestion- the road was littered with "Road Work" signs, but we never saw a single road worker, let alone anything that could be described as "working." There was also no evidence of a traffic collision- if such a crash occurred, it did so long before we went through. Because of the sheer volume of traffic on the route, and the lack of alternate routes, traffic conditions remained poor throughout the drive, and there would be random stoppages every so often along the way. The California Agricultural Inspection checkpoint- normally a 5 minute nuisance- took more than half an hour to clear. What was a 4:30 drive on the way out was nearly 8 hours on the return trip. That sort of unpredictability is an inherent problem of an automobile system that is over capacity, and one that desperately screams for alternatives. We need some other way to get out to Vegas. We need to create a class of people who no longer have to care about traffic congestion- and for that, we need an exclusive transitway of some kind, either busway or rail. And we need it yesterday.

In the next instalment, I'll cover my experiences with transit in Las Vegas itself.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bicycle Advisory News Dump

Last night was the City of Riverside's Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting. The BAC is a great organization that acts as the voice of the cycling community in the City's Public Works department. Aside from the advocacy that happens there, the committee is also a great source for cycling news in and around the city, and that's the reason for this post. Here's what's happening in Riverside on two wheels.

Santa Ana River Trail Closures
At an indeterminate date in the near future, the Santa Ana River Trail will be torn up so that crews can replace the 100-year-old sewer pipe that runs below it. The trail will be entirely closed on weekdays, and will be "rideable, but not nice and pretty" on weekends. The sewer replacement project will occur in two phases, each covering about half of the trail's mileage in the City and taking 4-6 months each. The first phase will cover from Van Buren Blvd to Rubidoux Ave (about a mile north of Martha Mclean Park). The Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority's web site should have construction updates in the near future.

Bike Parking Soon Mandatory
City officials note that the new California Green Code will mandate bicycle parking for both visitors and employees at essentially all new development in the state, beginning on January 1st, 2011. Some details of interpretation are still under discussion, but it looks like bicycle parking will need to be provided at a rate of 5% of automobile parking, with a minimum of 1 2-bike rack per business. I'll post more as I learn more.

Riverside Citrus Classic
Though "Classic" is probably not the best word to use for a bike ride that is happening for the first time ever this year, the Riverside Citrus Classic will run this Sunday. Riders may choose from a Century, Half-Century, Quarter-Century, or 7-mile Family Ride, all of which start and end at the Riverside Plaza. Registration is still open online, but not for much longer. Proceeds benefit local schools.

A Bike Collective for Riverside
Cities across the country with strong bicycle cultures support "community bicycle organizations" or "bike collectives"- places staffed by volunteer mechanics that provide tools, workspace and know-how to people who want to fix their own bikes, usually for free or a small fee. My readers may be familiar with the Times Up! in New York, or LA's trifecta of the Bike Kitchen, Bike Oven and Bikerowave. San Francisco, Sacramento and Davis all boast bike collectives of their own. Most of my readers would join me in thinking that Riverside could not support such an organization.

We'd be wrong. The Bicycle Lounge has apparently been operating at the First Thursday Art Walks for the last two years, and is now moving in to more permanent spaces. First, they'll be at the UCR-Culver Centre for the Arts from 12-4 every Saturday through December, starting tomorrow. Second, their web site says they'll be opening a location on campus at UCR in the near future. Stop by and learn to maintain and repair your bicycle. There is something uniquely satisfying about knowing that you can repair your own vehicle when it breaks, and most of us will never get that with a car. A bike, however, is simple enough that you CAN learn to fix nearly everything on it.

Culver Centre Bike Exhibit
The newly-opened UCR-Culver Centre for the Arts is running, as their first-ever exhibit, "Re:Cycle- Bicycle Culture in Southern California." Artists explore both local bicycle culture and what the bicycle means to the human experience. Local bicycle advocates will recognize a lot of what's going on, especially with the section devoted to the Midnight Ridazz. Also, tomorrow they'll be screening "The Bicycle Thief" and "To Live And Ride in LA" back-to-back. Admission to the screening is $10 for adults, and advance reservations are recommended. Admission to the exhibition appears to be free, but visitors would be well-served by taking along either UCR ID cards or a nominal amount of cash, just to be safe.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Vegas Travelogue, Part 1

There is no good way to get to Las Vegas from Riverside. There used to be- Amtrak's Desert Wind once made daily departures from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and eventually Salt Lake City, where it was combined with the California Zephyr and continued on to Chicago. It moved from daily to thrice-weekly service in 1993, and was finally killed in 1997, and this is a travesty, because it leaves Vegas as the largest city in the West without any form of passenger rail service (unless you count casino trams and the nearly-bankrupt private Las Vegas Monorail), and it leaves thousands of Sin City-bound travellers stuck in unpredictable and interminable traffic on I-15 across the vast Mojave desert.

When planning a trip to Vegas for a friend's wedding last Sunday, I looked in to the alternatives. I really tried hard to find something, anything that would allow me to avoid driving the 15 all the way out there. Here's what I found:, via USAsia, Futura and ALT
GoToBus is a site that aggregates a great number of "chinatown" bus companies that provide service along major intercity corridors across the country. They're especially popular in the Northeast, where service can be as frequent as half-hourly along I-95, and the buses run 24-7. They do offer service from two providers that ply I-15 between LA and LV. The problem? I had to return on a Monday, and the bus companies only provide substantial service on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Also, they leave from Los Angeles, not anywhere nearby. One provider leaves from Orange and another from Anaheim, but these schedules are even more limited.

For those who are very flexible in their travel dates and times, you can snag a ride to Vegas for around $50 R/T pp.

Las Vegas Express Bus
Another "chinatown" line, this company provides daily LA-LV service for $45 R/T pp. Once again, they depart Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley, not anywhere in the IE, but the daily nature of their service makes things a little more flexible. Why didn't I use this method of transport? Well, they don't advertise well- I only became aware of their existence because I saw one of their buses on the road while driving home. I'll keep it in mind for my next trip, and you should as well.

LuxBus America
LuxBus provides, as the name suggests, luxury motorcoach service to Las Vegas from LA and Anaheim daily, for $99-$120 R/T pp. The complimentary drinks and snacks onboard during the 5 hour journey sound enticing, but the ride was just too rich for me. Also, they leave out of Anaheim's main bus terminal, which is not exactly easy to get to from Riverside.

The 'Hound, America's primary provider of intercity bus service, is the only provider that operates direct service between Las Vegas and Riverside, to my knowledge. Trouble is, Greyhound doesn't guarantee that you get a seat. On a select few routes back East, you can buy a guaranteed seat for $5, but here you have no such option. If you're travelling at off-peak times, this isn't a worry for you, but if you want to get to Vegas on a Friday night, good luck. It may well be more of a "Saturday morning."

And those are your ground transportation alternatives from SoCal to Las Vegas. Sadly, none of them worked out for my wife and I last weekend, so we were forced into our car for the journey across the sands. More on that later.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Twits on a Bus

If you need a convenient way of finding out what's impacting your commute every morning, get on Twitter and follow my new list, @plattypus1/ie-transportation

You'll get updates from both major IE transit agencies and Metrolink, along with RCTC and IE511 updates, and tweets from yours truly and the Transit Coalition's IE campaign. If you like (and have unlimited text messages on your cell plan- and really, who doesn't these days?), you can have these messages delivered directly to your phone via SMS, and it goes without saying that smartphone users can fetch them on their device of choice.

You're also encouraged to subscribe to the Riding in Riverside Google Calendar, in order to keep up with transit happenings around the area.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rules of the Road Mean Something

20070526 bike-lane-car-share, originally uploaded by Jym Dyer.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a bike lane. These are standard California bike lane markings (from San Francisco- notice the Muni bus and Zipcar). There are two hints in this photo as to how to use this road space. First, the bicycle- it says that this space is for bicycles. Not cars, not skateboards, not baby strollers, not joggers, not little Razor scooter things or Vespas or motorcycles or roller skates. Bicycles.

Second, there is an arrow under the car up there. It is pointing in the direction in which this lane is intended to carry traffic. By traffic, we mean bicycles. See above. The fact that the little bicycle would be upside-down the other way is also a big, glaring hint.

If you want to use this piece of asphalt, you have a right to do so. However, in order to exercise that right, you need to be on a bicycle travelling in the direction that the little arrow and bicycle dude are pointing- this is the direction of prevailing auto traffic as well, generally, so you should travel with the curb to your right.

If you are on a bicycle, you should be on this piece of asphalt, unless somebody's car is parked in it or there is another reason to avoid it. You should not be on that little strip of concrete to the right of the bike lane. That is called a "sidewalk". It is for people who are walking. It is also for people with skateboards, scooters, roller skates, jogging shoes or baby strollers. It is not for bicycles, at least not in Riverside. (RMC 10.64.310)

Cyclists and pedestrians, there are people like me who spend a lot of our precious free time fighting for facilities for you. When you then go and disregard simple, common-sense rules about the use of those facilities, you make it a lot harder for a) other people to use the facilities and b) people like me to argue that these facilities to be expanded. The car empire will point to your flagrant disregard for the rules of the road as evidence that all cyclists, pedestrians, and other non-car road users are inherently irresponsible, and thus undeserving of bike lanes and sidewalks.

Stop it. Please.

Oh, and when you ride your skateboard the wrong way in the bike lane past me, and I say "Dude, this is a bike lane", "F**k you" is not the proper response.

Monday, October 4, 2010

It's Rideshare Week...

and apparently it's not going so well. Carpooling is down in the IE, along with cycling to work, as a result of the high rate of unemployment affecting our region. The Press-Enterprise also places some blame on the rescission of carpool benefits at many large employers in the IE, due to downsized and over-taxed HR departments.

A local business leader is quoted in the piece as saying that companies are being forced to cut back on "frills", which is presumably how he refers to carpool and alternative transportation benefits. Readers can only speculate whether he considers free employee parking to be such a "frill," especially when it can cost quite a bit more than carpool or transit incentives.

Anyway, if you're planning on participating in Rideshare Week in San Bernardino County, Omnitrans is giving away free day passes, good for a 1-day pass on board any Omni bus this week.

Transit Centre Update

Perhaps many of you are wondering just what is going on with the Riverside Multi-Modal Transit Center project on Vine Street. I know I was, and that many riders downtown are as well. Well, now you can find out. Although the City's transportation committee meeting was cancelled twice this month- the second time for "lack of a quorum" (translation: at least two of the three Councilmembers on the Committee didn't show up)- the reports prepared for the meeting are available on the Internet. (In fact, two copies are available- one from each of the cancelled meetings.) Here it is, for your bureaucratic reading pleasure.

For those of you who'd rather not dig through the dense language, here's the summary:

  • Psomas, the contractor who did both the Perris and Corona Transit Centers, has been contracted to design the station.

  • RTA and RCTC have been asking bus and Metrolink riders about their transfer and travel patterns downtown. (I've filled out two of these surveys myself.)

  • Psomas and RTA have conducted a few traffic studies, and Psomas is working on conceptual siting designs. They should be presented to the public, RTA and RCTC by the end of this calendar year.

By the way, at the last Transportation NOW! meeting, Councilman Melendrez expressed his support for a pedestrian bridge over CA-91 from the Metrolink station to downtown, probably in the vicinity of the county building. It remains to be seen what will come of this suggestion, but I support it strongly as well.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fiscal Surplus means MORE PARKING!

In the latest edition of the City's official newsletter, the Riverside Outlook (which yes, I read every time it appears in my mailbox), we heard the great news that the City is looking at a substantial fiscal surplus this year. City revenues outpaced expenses by $3.5m in FY 2009-2010, which, according to the newsletter, went into "enhancing city services."

And, of course, "city services" means "free parking and roads". Of the $3.5m in surplus cash, City leaders spent $900,000 on the Public Works budget, which went into road maintenance and parking at the Orange Terrace Community Centre; and $600,000 on parks, which went into parking at Andulka Park (my local park, served by routes 22, 51 and 53). That's $1.5m, or 42% of the fiscal surplus, that went into car-related spending. This doesn't count the $1m that went in to the police department budget, and a goodly share of police resources in North America are spent either on traffic enforcement or collision cleanup and investigation.

As always, I see City leaders who seem to get it... and then do something spectacularly wrong.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

This Week in Transit, 9/19

An addition to the This Week in Transit calendar- the LA-San Diego High Speed Rail Authority calendar is now featured. Local events in red, HSRA events in orange.

If you find this feature useful, please don't hesitate to subscribe to either of these calendars.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

HSRA Meeting in LA

Well, we all missed the boat on the "public" hearing for high-speed rail at the Chamber of Commerce last month. However, there is going to be a huge public meeting at Metro Headquarters in Los Angeles, adjacent to Union Station, next Tuesday. Project staff from all of the Los Angeles segments (LA-Palmdale, LA-Anaheim, and LA-San Diego) will be on hand for questions and will be making presentations with updates. I plan on attending and asking, with all of the benefits, just why Riverside's HSR station isn't being planned downtown.

The "open house" portion of the meeting begins at 16:30 and ends at 21:00, with presentations between 17:30 and 19:30. For those who don't want to make the pilgrimage to Los Angeles, online streaming of the presentations will be available at For more information, see Metro's web invitation.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Park[ing] Day LA this Friday

This Friday, livable streets activists of all stripes will be building tiny, temporary parks in public parking spaces across Los Angeles, in order to call attention to the way that cars have been allowed to usurp our public spaces. I'll be touring these parks this Friday, and I hope to see some of you all out there.

I'm going to start by visiting the Streetsblog LA space at 11555 National Blvd. near Santa Monica, then go hit up the UCLA space in Westwood Village (1130 Westwood Blvd). After that, I plan on heading to Hollywood and winding my way down through the various spaces along the Metro Red Line corridor, and then heading home. I strongly encourage you all to join me!

You can find more information, as well as a map of planned Park[ing] spaces, at

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Local Preference Policies

Beach Cities Transit, originally uploaded by So Cal Metro.

This is a bus.

Heading downtown

This is also a bus. They're both partial-low-floor 40-foot buses with front and rear doors and bicycle racks. For all I know, they are equipped with the same fareboxes. So what's the difference between them, besides the agencies and routes they serve?

The one on the bottom was built in Alabama, with parts largely made in Hungary. The one on the top was built in Rubidoux, just outside of Riverside, with mostly locally-produced parts.

Most federal grants have what are known as "Buy America" conditions, which require things purchased with the grant money to be made in America. The idea is to spend our money on creating jobs in our country, sensibly enough.

If the idea works on a national scale, why then shouldn't we implement it on a local scale as well? The LA Times today has an article on "local preference policies"- language in city and agency purchasing policies that give local businesses an edge in getting jobs and contracts- the proposed bonus to LA businesses in LA is 8%.

So, what's the difference between the two buses at the top of this post? One of them creates jobs and tax revenue in Riverside and Riverside County, allowing it to provide more service to more people in a more prosperous local economy. Isn't that something we should all hope for?

San Bernardino County Wins

San Bernardino County yesterday gained the distinction of being the first county in the metro Los Angeles area to have every single transit provider available in Google Transit, with the addition of the Twentynine Palms-area Morongo Basin Transit Authority. (Los Angeles County's hodgepodge of municipal operators are still struggling with implementation, while in Orange County the Laguna Beach Transit System remains stubbornly un-Googled. All of San Diego County is available, but since they only have two operators that's kind of cheating. Ventura County is similarly Google-challenged.)

Riverside County also gained some operators in Google Transit yesterday- the Beaumont-operated routes of the Pass Transit system (2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9 and 10) and the Palo Verde Valley Transit Authority in Blythe. Only one transit agency in the county remains un-Googled, but it's a major one: Sunline Transit in the greater Palm Springs area. Their web site lists Google Transit as "coming soon", but it has for several months.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Victory for LGBT Rights in... Riverside?

Indeed, a federal judge right here in Riverside has found the military's Don't Ask- Don't Tell policy unconstitutional. This will, of course, be appealed, but it seems that there hasn't been a stay of the ruling filed just yet. Get the details at the LA Times Blog.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Saving the Planet" is Selfish

News flash- the planet Earth is a massive ball of rock hurtling through space at 30km a second. On that ball of rock there are more complicated and varied natural systems, supporting more kinds of life, than any one person could hope to even see in a lifetime. At this time, many of those natural systems are vulnerable, along with their attendant forms of life, and this is because of things that we, as a species, have done to this planet.

That said, there are many forms of life that are not vulnerable, and most natural systems will find a new equilibrium during the course of geologic time. Cockroaches, for example, will probably not experience a massive die-off, nor will ants, no matter what we humans do to the planet. Even a full-fledged nuclear winter is not, over the long term, going to bother the planet we live on.

Let us be clear. When we say that we want to save "the environment" or "the planet", we are being extremely selfish as a species. What we want to save is not some generic concept of planet Earth, which has survived untold devastation in the fullness of her life, nor even the planet's ability to support life, which it will go on doing no matter what we do to her. What we are saving is the planet's ability to support us, humanity. We are trying to save the planet's ability to support agriculture, commercial fishing and the like- to support, in essence, human civilization. Make no mistake about it- in a post-global warming world, life will carry on. I even think humanity will carry on, just because we are so very adaptable and there are so very many of us. What will falter, causing untold suffering, sickness and death, is the global civilization that we have built over the past several hundred years, and the advantages that it confers- communications, transportation, medicine, agriculture, leisure.

It's time the environmental movement stopped asking others to Save the Whales, to Save the Delta Smelt, to even Save the Planet, and time we started being honest about what we want to do- and that is to Save the Humans.

Transit Resources

I've posted a number of How-To posts on this blog before, with information on everything from bus trips to the beach to RTA's fare policies. However, I've never collected those in a single location before, and I'm going to try and do that now. Up top at the right hand side, you'll see a link to "Resources". Any posts that describe something that transit riders ought to know are going to be permanently linked there.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Network Legibility in Riverside

Legibility is, simply put, how easy it is to find your way around in a transit system, how easy it is to look at a part of a transit network and figure out what vehicle will take you from where you are to where you need to go. Our bus network does a terribly bad job of it out here. I was in the midst of writing a post on the to/via problem in naming transit routes in Riverside, and I was under the impression that most bus lines in Riverside run primarily along one or two arterial streets through the city. This is true, if you only look at the portion of the routes that run between Downtown and the Galleria at Tyler (which is where I spend most of my riding time), but when trying to propose names for our routes based on the streets they travel on, I found myself struggling. The 1 and 15 are pretty straightforward routes, but take a look at the 10. My mental impression of this route is that it's relatively simple, but try to come up with a description of its route that would fit on a bus headsign- you can't do it. The route primarily serves Lincoln, Victoria and 3rd/Blaine, but that's far too much for a simple route description, and even that doesn't quite cover all the little twists and turns built into the route to pick up this destination or that transfer point. And the 10 is simple compared to the planning nightmare that is the 13, which can't even figure out which north-south arterial it wants to use. (It uses Central, Arlington, and Colorado before winding its way around Crest, back to Arlington and down Tyler.)

Compare these routings to San Francisco Muni's policy of associating a route with a given street, and naming the route accordingly (N-Judah, 14-Mission, F-Market & Wharves, etc.). Every stop, headsign and route map there displays the name of the route, making it relatively simple to determine the principal service area of that route with nothing more than a glance. If you want to head up Mission, it's as simple as grabbing the bus that says "Mission". Muni is a legible system. RTA is not.

RTA has proposed doing a lot of service upgrades, schedule re-structuring and re-routing in order to get the system ready for the Magnolia Avenue Rapid line (which is still a few years off). One thing they want to do is get a core group of routes under 40 minute headways, and schedule them in such a way that they make timed connections to the aforementioned Rapid line when it shows up. This is an admirable goal, to be sure, but if significant improvements in the legibility of the system aren't made, new riders will be put off of the system simply because they don't know where the buses go. (I've seen this in action before- some UCR students heading up Canyon Crest from campus will actually refuse to ride the "white bus", the 16, and will allow it to pass them up in order to wait for the 51 Crest Cruiser "trolley" even though the 16 would work just as well.) This probably starts with streamlining routes, and then coming up with a system to simply indicate where each route runs.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Emergency Rider Alert

To anyone riding routes 1, 16 or 25 and trying to get to the UCR/University Village area, these routes are currently detoured east of Chicago for road work. Call RTA at (800) 800-7821 for details and alternate stop locations.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Speaking Gig

Tomorrow morning, I'll be speaking at the Friday Morning Club, at the Janet Goeske Senior Centre. It's located off of Sierra and Streeter (5257 Sierra, 92504), directly served by the 12 and a few blocks from the 1, 13 and 15 at Arlington and Magnolia. We'll be in room D from 10:00 AM to 11:30. The meeting is open to the public, so stop by if you can. I'll be speaking on the problems that cars cause in our world, and the solutions that a balanced transportation infrastructure can provide.

Seeking Contributors

Urbanists and livable streets advocates in the Inland Empire, I know you're out there. If you'd like to join the RiR efforts, maybe writing about what your neighbourhood/city gets right, or what it does horribly wrong, please e-mail me at

Also, I'm thinking about scheduling a bloggy meetup at my local watering hole. Comment if you'd come.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New Omni Bus Book Out

The new Omnitrans Bus Book is out, detailing the new schedules for the upcoming Sept. 7th service changes. The following routes are changed, and may have suffered from trip eliminations or frequency reductions: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 19, 20, 22, 29, 61, 63, 66, 68, 80, 81, 82, 83 and 215. Also, the new OmniGo community shuttles have launched, routes 308, 309, 325 and 365. If you ride the bus at all in Omni territory, you should pick up a copy, because odds are your schedule has changed. You can pick them up on board, at Omnitrans' offices, or at your local library.

Also available, by the way, is the new RTA Ride Guide.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Crazy Irvine-Corona Tunnel Plans Shelved

For background, RCTC and OCTA were cooking up an 11.5-mile megatunnel under the Cleveland National Forest that would provide 104 feet of traffic right-of-way between Irvine and Corona, along with a tunnel for unspecified rail service. It was slated to connect to the future Mid-County Parkway in Riverside County, and the Eastern Corridor Toll Road in Orange County. Over the last several years, we've spent a little over $7m in federal grant money studying the project.

Well, the study is over, and the agency in charge of the project has voted unanimously to scrap it. Turns out that the cost of the tunnels would run at a spendy $28.3 bn- keep in mind, that's half of the cost of the entire state's high speed rail system. Also, the toll-increment financing method that the agency wanted to use proved untenable. (Personally, I also want to remind OC pols that the last time they tried to build a toll road and count on toll revenues, it didn't work out so well.)

The remaining $7.5 million in grant money can be spent on projects in the CA-91 corridor. I can only hope that that might include expanded Metrolink or bus (216 and 794) service through the canyon... but who am I kidding? This is Orange County. That's freeway money.

Friday, August 27, 2010

We Pay Councilmembers' Gas Bills

Apparently, back in 2007, our enlightened city leaders decided that Councilmembers would be entitled to the use of a city-owned vehicle, complete with city-paid insurance, maintenance, and even gasoline. For the last three years, we've been paying to subsidize the Council's travels, and there isn't even a restriction that they utilize these cars only for City business. The cost of this subsidy runs between $417 and $585 a month, depending on whether or not the driver is Councilman Steve Adams.

Even worse, though, Council salaries have included a $350 per month as long as I'm aware of.

In a city that has been touted as "California's first Emerald City", a city that is working on burnishing its green cred and building transportation alternatives, a city where every City employee is entitled to free transit service just by flashing their ID card (and I can only assume this extends to Councilmembers, as they are City employees)... why are we paying to subsidize the fossil fuelled transportation of our politicians?

I understand that the bus doesn't quite cut it for many of the meetings and business that Councilmembers must attend- distant board meetings and the like. Perhaps a City contract with ZipCar is in order, with City employees given certain allowances on their ZipCards for City business. (This would also help make downtown more livable by bringing ZipCar there.) But for most business, our politicians should enjoy the free transit service we give them, or they should pay for their driving out of their own pockets.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Featured on the HSR Blog!

Daniel Krause, vice-chair of Californians for High-Speed Rail, asked me to write a blog post about the situation that we find ourselves in, with city leaders arguing for a distant greenfield station for HSR, rather than the natural downtown location that ought to be chosen.

Also, while I re-hash many of the issues I have previously addressed here, the post is NOT a re-post of anything I've previously written. Go read it!

There is No Such Thing as a Green Car

From yesterday's Carbusters blog:

The basic point is this: there is no such thing as a green car. It is not sustainable for individuals to hop into a two, four or eight thousand pound metal box for mobility.

I concur.