Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Riverside Primer

After this post got kinda Internet-famous, I've had more readership from other places. Places not-Riverside, not-Inland Empire, even not-California. It is with this in mind that I'd like to write up a short introduction to the City of Riverside, so you folks can sort of understand what I'm talking about.

Riverside was founded in the early 1870's by abolitionist activist John W. North. It is located on the eastern side of the Santa Ana River, about 60 miles due east of downtown Los Angeles. It was originally the centre of the southern California citrus industry, and was home to the first three navel orange trees in the United States. (One still stands today.)

In terms of the things that Streetsbloggers are interested in, Riverside was once a city in its own right, mostly independent from Los Angeles. The cities that now lay between Riverside and the San Gabriel Valley were all very late inventions- Rancho Cucamonga was incorporated in 1977, for example. Since its founding, Riverside has been swallowed up by LA's urban sprawl, and is now considered a suburb by pretty much everyone, but the legacy of independence remains. The original "Mile Square" of downtown includes the offices of various state and federal agencies, including a federal courthouse. An approximately 30-block-square area of downtown is developed with high-rise office towers, and the housing that sits around this area is small-lot homes, many of which have been converted into small apartment houses. Downtown is a walkable and pedestrian-friendly area, with a WalkScore over 90 and a large pedestrian mall, though the latter is constantly undergoing wasteful and irritating renovation.

Riverside is also home to UC Riverside, a large public research university (of which I am a graduate, and a graduate student), and three other major institutions of higher learning: Riverside Community College, California Baptist University, and La Sierra University. Only the first has had any real impact on land use policies around it. The area around UCR is densely-developed, with mid-rise apartment housing for 1-2 miles in most directions, and several major retail developments in the area. It is also home to the only true mixed-use development in Riverside (at least that I'm aware of, and I've looked)- Sterling University Palms, a large apartment complex with a good amount of street-level pedestrian-friendly retail. The location I live in looks quite a lot like the Carfree Cities model community (minus the care-free bit)- 3-4 story apartments clustered around a central courtyard of retail including most daily needs, with a transit stop at that retail centre.

Beyond these limited areas, however, Riverside is the epitome of modern suburbia. As you travel southwest on Magnolia Avenue, the city's main cross-town thoroughfare, you can actually watch the different development patterns. Wood Streets and RCC are close, small-lot homes developed largely before the auto, which give way to the early-postwar grid-street suburban housing, which then give way to the modern large-tract cul-de-sac nightmares that we've all come to know and love.

Local transit service in the area is provided by Riverside Transit Agency, and they are often the stars of this blog. RTA operates service not only in Riverside, but in approximately half of Riverside County, for a service area of 2,500 sq. mi., the second-largest in the nation. Within the city, a few main trunk routes see relatively frequent service: Route 1 runs every 20 minutes down Magnolia, Route 15 every 40 along Arlington and La Sierra, and Route 16 every 30 between downtown, UCR and the Moreno Valley Mall (this is my route). Beyond that, most routes see service hourly. The agency operates a network of express routes, called CommuterLink, that connect to major employment centres and the Metrolink commuter rail system, but these run weekdays only, peak-hours only, and in some cases, peak-direction only. As I mentioned, Metrolink commuter rail serves the city, but this is largely peak-hour focused, and recent decisions by the Metrolink board have served to slash our weekend service even further than it already had been. Amtrak serves the city with one train daily in each direction, and four daily Amtrak California buses connect to regional rail service to the Bay Area via the San Joaquin Valley. Greyhound also serves the city, though it has been embattled in recent years.

So, welcome, out-of-towners. You now know enough about Riverside to follow along on my blog, and I thank you for your readership.

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