This post also comes out of my discussions with RTA CEO Larry Rubio yesterday. The facts about the state of the project are his, the opinions are my own.
Last June, I talked about bringing light rail to Magnolia Avenue. I took the opportunity to ask RTA CEO Larry Rubio about this proposition yesterday, and it turns out that I wasn't the first to propose such an idea. Riverside's City Council apparently mentioned to RTA that they'd like to see light rail down Magnolia several years ago. Unfortunately, RTA has done the ridership studies and concluded that we simply don't have the numbers to support LRT right now. What we could support is a true, dedicated BRT project, like the Orange Line or the proposed sbX. However, City leaders wouldn't assent to the reconstruction of Magnolia for a busway. This leads us to where we are today- the "BRT" project that RTA is proposing is more properly called a rapid bus- limited stops, signal priority, and queue-jumper lanes, but no dedicated facilities. (Incidentally, he also mentioned that signal priority equipment is under testing as we speak, thanks to a federal grant.)
Perhaps City leaders should re-think their positions. (With the Rapid project sitting in mothballs, it might be just the right time for it.) A report from the National BRT Institute and the University of South Florida's Centre for Urban Transportation Research shows that true rail-like BRT systems across the country are generating the kinds of property value increases and dense development that people once thought only rail could produce. While the effects seem to be more distance-dependent than the effects for rail transit, they are of a similar magnitude and in a similar direction. Combine this tidbit with the facts that construction costs are as low as they've been in a decade, and that Riverside construction workers are practically begging for jobs (and their union officials are begging- in front of City Council), and it may be time to build something to ensure our City's transportation future.
UPDATE: The taxation authority referred to in the next paragraph does not actually exist, having been amended out of the bill by the state Senate. See here for more.
May I make a suggestion, City of Riverside? Under ABX8 6, the bill that restored STA funds, you have the power to pass (after voter referendum) a local excise tax on gasoline that can be used for transit, pedestrian and bicycle projects. Voters around the state, in Los Angeles, Santa Clara and Sonoma and Marin Counties all voted to tax themselves for better transit during the 2008 elections. Mayor Villaraigosa, with his 30/10 proposal, is demonstrating a compelling model for leveraging future sales tax revenues to take advantage of the current economic downturn and stimulate his city's job market at the same time. All of these factors combine to make this the perfect time to invest in something that would literally revolutionize transit in Riverside. Think about it.