And then I read that their definition of "Riverside" is March Field.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the area, here's a map:
View HSR in Riverside in a larger map
The train station to the west is the current station downtown. The train station to the east is the proposed March Field station. Just by looking at it, you can tell that it's in the middle of freakin' nowhere. There is literally nothing within walking distance of those railroad tracks, unless we believe that HSR passengers are going to ride to Riverside to hike in Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park. So let's go take a look at the benefits of the HSR project, and see just why this location is so very, very bad.
- HSR provides quicker trips than flying, because of the mess of airport terminal procedures.
- HSR allows for convenient downtown-to-downtown travel.
- HSR allows for car-free travel, because it can be tied in to local transportation infrastructure.
- HSR is a development tool, allowing cities to encourage development and density where they are most needed.
Well, this one still works. Airports haven't gotten better, and the speed of the train is going to be about the same no matter where we put the station.
Putting the HSR station at March Field completely destroys this advantage. Even on a traffic-free day, that site is 20 minutes outside of downtown in a residential development with a K-Mart. Unless business travellers need to get on the HSR for a new pair of socks and a Twinkie, the March Field site is a bad idea. By contrast, a downtown site would put riders within blocks of major state, county and city offices, as well as major business firms, a federal courthouse, and the bulk of the court apparatus of Riverside County.
Currently, only one bus route serves the March Field site- the 20. The 20 is a relatively low-patronage hourly route that runs along Alessandro and then stops a mile short of downtown at Magnolia & Jurupa. It is so poorly-patronized because of the areas through which it runs- once it passes the Riverside Plaza, it travels through a cemetery, and then plies its way through low-density suburban housing, most of which is literally walled-off from the main street. In Moreno Valley, the route isn't much better, flying past mostly vacant lots, with the occasional suburban strip mall. Don't get me wrong, the 20 is a valuable link in the transportation system, but it will never be a frequent one. Of course, even if the 20 ran frequently, it would place a significant hardship on riders from other areas- think Corona or Perris- who want to get to the train.
City officials posit that HSR riders can utilize the future Perris Valley Line, which will also use that station site, to get into downtown. However, the PV Line is only scheduled for six runs a day. It's not as if we're talking about a rapid transit line with departures every ten minutes or so. The PV Line will, like all Metrolink lines, be timed to serve commuters, so it is inevitable that it will not do a very good job of serving HSR travellers most of the time. The lack of real intermodal connections at the March Field site will turn it into a sea of parking lots and rental car counters, much like Ontario Airport is today.
City officials have also argued that the presence of the HSR station will cause more frequent transportation service to call on the area. This is simply untrue. Local transit routes are not supported by single destinations along the line, but by ridership throughout the route. The old streetcar companies knew this so well that they would actually build attractions on their lines to ensure continuous ridership- many of the early amusement parks were built in this manner. The Alessandro corridor is low-density sprawl, and it will not attract enough ridership to support a route frequent enough to meet the needs of HSR riders.
By contrast, the downtown site is directly linked to the current transportation infrastructure, with dozens of departures an hour to destinations throughout the city and county. It, too, will be a stop on the Perris Valley Line, so if riders from Perris or the Alessandro area would use the PVL to get to HSR, they would still be able to do so. It will also benefit from the extensive CommuterLink express route system, as well as local buses to the entire city and surrounding area.
Don't get me wrong- I think that HSR will generate development wherever it is placed, be it March Field or downtown. The question is, what sort of development do we want to encourage? The City has done well in recent years by investing heavily in re-developing downtown Riverside, parking gaffes notwithstanding. The area has the potential to become a bona fide urban downtown, with jobs, restaurants, and housing all within walking distance. A high-speed rail station would be a boon to all of the new residents and employees downtown will see in the coming decades, and would spur even more dense, walkable urban development.
A station at March Field, by contrast, is an investment in sprawl, by definition. It's a greenfield site, surrounded by single-use auto-dependent development for miles in every direction. There's no reason to build densely- there's plenty of land, and no reason not to use it. There's plenty of space for more parking lots, nice wide arterials nearby, and freeway access immediately adjacent. Density begets density, and sprawl begets sprawl. To site an HSR station in sprawl will only invite more.
Mayor Loveridge really ought to know better. He was just reading Richard Florida's The Great Reset, in which Florida argues EXACTLY this- that HSR is a tool designed to connect dense downtowns in a larger region. The HSR blog has a great summary of that argument today.
In conclusion, I am strongly in favour of high-speed rail. California wants it, and California needs it. We've needed it for decades. I'm also strongly in favour of HSR in Riverside- the Corona alignment makes absolutely no sense, as it doesn't actually get close to the people who live in the Inland Empire. However, with a $40bn price tag, we need to be actively involved in the project and make sure that it gets built properly. We won't get another shot at this. High-speed rail, by its very nature, is a creature of dense, urban downtowns. It therefore follows that we must ensure that the Riverside station gets built in OUR dense, urban downtown, rather than a greenfield site in the middle of sprawl central.
UPDATE: I've added some lines to the map above so folks can visualize what an approach to downtown would look like, as opposed to March Field. To me, it looks like the alignment through Rubidoux and the current UP alignment would be less technically challenging than the I-215 alignment, and both of them will consist of substantial aerial structure, so they should cost in the same neighbourhoods.