Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hell is Other People

The always-excellent Dug Begley at the Press-Enterprise wrote up the Texas Transportation Institute report on congestion that's been in the news lately. He even manages to get a few flaws in the report's methodology down- like the fact that it doesn't take into account land use policies, nor does it measure the real congestion experienced by suburbanites who commute across metro areas.

What I wanted to point out, though, was not Mr. Begley's consistently excellent reporting on transportation issues in the IE. Take a look at the comment section on that article. Commenters' favourite solution for dealing with traffic congestion? I'll quote here...
The problem lies in the fact that the non- representative of the people that belong here Government has with out first fixing the infrastructure invited, without our permission, another 100,000,000 people plus another 30,000,000 in the last two decades who weren’t invited to come and take up space here because we have way to many jobs for the American people to handle. Of course all these invites were rushed through the citizenship process so that we can’t now ask them to return home. In fact the bleeding heart communist garbage in Washington will now wait for the rest of their families to get here taking up even more room and further clogging OUR roadways.

We have too many illegals. Get the illegals off the roads and traffic will decrease. It won't fix the problem entirely, but nothing ever will.

I know it will be a cold day in Hemet before this happens, but eliminating illegal alien drivers and their clunkers from the road will do wonders for traffic.

There were also suggestions of "outlawing toll roads" and building more lane-miles by doing "whatever it takes" and building "double-decker freeways".

I'm going to go pound my head into a brick wall for a while. I think it'll feel better.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Belt-Loosening Initiative Approved

It has been said many times in the livable streets blogosphere that building roads to reduce traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to reduce obesity.

Well, the City of Riverside authorized $1.5m in belt-loosening last week. A new eastbound "auxiliary lane" was approved by the Council between Tyler and La Sierra.

I don't think much needs to be said on the subject. I would like to note, however, that $1.5m would probably go a long way towards providing that late-night bus service we've been asking for for the last three years. Instead, it'll buy roughly one lane-mile of freeway for an already 8-lane road.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

This Week in Transit, 1/23

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.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Riverside: Worth Saving: Part 1 (Canyon Crest)

Last year, I was inspired by the 2010 LA StreetSummit to try and show my fellow southern Californians that Riverside is not an endless wasteland of suburban sprawl- that, while we certainly have our challenges (see every other post on this blog), not every bit of the suburbs needs to be bulldozed or transformed into farmland. We're going to start with my neighbourhood, Canyon Crest- specifically the portion of the neighbourhood that is mid-rise apartments clustered around the Canyon Crest Towne Centre.


View Riverside: Worth Saving in a larger map

The blue shape on the map above is roughly what I'm thinking about when I talk about my neighbourhood. Locals will notice that this differs quite a bit from the official City of Riverside boundaries of the Canyon Crest neighbourhood. That's because, outside of this walkable bit, much of Canyon Crest is unrepentant suburban cul-de-sac hell. Even many single-family homes near the shopping centre have streets laid out in such a way as to make walking from them to the shopping centre difficult, as you can see on the map. Also, what may be unclear on the map but is abundantly clear to anyone on foot is that this area is in Riverside's foothills. While the apartments are generally relatively close in elevation to the shopping centre, most of the single-family housing is built up or down any of a number of hills, somewhat discouraging leisurely strolls.

What's Right:
2010-03-25 10.34.29

The centre of this neighbourhood is the Canyon Crest Towne Centre, a pleasant upscale shopping centre within walking distance of anywhere in that blue region above. This complex is more useful to daily urban life than most upscale suburban shopping centres- aside from the usual expensive restaurants and shops, there is a Ralph's grocery store and a 24-hour Rite Aid. There are also quite a few inexpensive dining options, both local shops and franchises. There is also a "contract postal unit"- a counter at the back of a Hallmark store that offers US Postal services- as well as a barber shop, a donut shop, a dry cleaning concern, an ice cream and drinking water store and a UPS store. Oh, and did I mention the local bike shop? Many of the restaurants are also quite tasty- our personal favourites include Romano's (not to be confused with the franchise Macaroni Grill), Smokey Canyon BBQ and the Tortilla Grille.

2010-03-25 10.35.31

As you can tell from the photos, this is no ordinary suburban strip mall. Fountains, benches and attractive landscaping create a pleasant environment for walking and shopping. Piped-in music always annoys me, but apparently no walkable place in the suburbs can be without it. Having this shopping centre within walking distance has made my life immeasurably simpler, as almost anything one needs in daily life is on offer here- and often on offer 20 or 24 hours daily.

2010-03-25 10.44.50

Beyond local shopping, the neighbourhood has a lot more to offer urbanist activists. Both major arterials through the area have bike lanes, and every street I've yet seen has well-maintained sidewalks on both sides.

2010-03-25 10.47.02

Bike lanes, specifically, are not in the door zone (as parking is prohibited on arterial roads), and many stoplights in the area have these convenient bicycle buttons on them. Off the arterials, neighbourhood roads are small and twisty, limiting speeds and making for pleasant cycling and walking. Crosswalks are well-striped and generally respected.

There are two parks in the area, the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park and Andulka Park. The former is a large expanse of land left to run wild, criss-crossed with trails that, I'm told, make for "world-class" mountain biking. The latter is a more traditional city park, with gazebos, picnic facilities, two children's playground, several ball fields, volleyball courts, a professional-grade tennis centre and even a small water play area for the kids in the summer. Sycamore Canyon is within easy walking distance of the Towne Centre, while Andulka is about a mile down an unpleasantly long hill.

Transit in the area is frequent and plentiful, at least by Riverside standards. Two routes serve the area during the day- routes 16 and 51. The 16 runs on a half-hourly schedule and provides a direct connection to the Moreno Valley Mall and associated shopping (along with transfers to Moreno Valley bus routes), UC Riverside, the downtown Metrolink station and downtown bus terminal (with transfers throughout the city). The 51 is a circulator shuttle that provides students access to the University and surrounding neighbourhood, though this includes many restaurants and the main post office. At night, the 51 is replaced by the 53, serving many of the same areas until half past midnight. My bus stop often sees 20 hours/day of transit service.

What's Wrong:

First off, the neighbourhood is somewhat lacking in true public space. The Towne Centre provides attractive plazas and seating, but it is a private shopping centre. I've never seen anyone kicked out for loitering, but the prominently-posted rule signs and overimportant security guards don't make for a welcoming atmosphere. The two public parks in the area are great, but one is truly wilderness and the other is in a very inconvenient location. Several locations would make for truly excellent pocket parks, but they have yet to be exploited.

Also, while the Towne Centre is definitely designed to provide a pleasant pedestrian experience, it (ironically, but in a tragically suburban fashion) only provides that experience for those who arrive by automobile. Take a look at this entrance:

2010-03-25 10.37.04

You'll notice the provision of high-speed automobile entrance and egress, and nothing else. And no, this isn't unique- most of the other entrances to the shopping centre are about the same. There are a couple of staircases for pedestrians, but they simply dump you out in the parking lot with all the other patrons. Pedestrian experience is treated here as something of a tourist attraction, something you drive to and enjoy.

The transit options in the area are definitely better than most in the suburbs, but they also vary significantly based on the season. The 51 and 53 only run during UCR academic days, and the 53 doesn't run on Fridays either. So that 20 hours of transit service? Only on UCR academic days that aren't Fridays. Granted, that's probably more often than not, but on other days there's just the 16, which shuts down at 9 normally, 8 on Saturdays and a pathetic 7:15 on Sundays (since the most recent service cuts). Also, half-hourly service is good for RTA (only one route in the system is more frequent), but verging on unpleasant anywhere else.

Last, though, driving is just too easy here. This area has easy freeway access from either wide, high-speed arterial. Traffic is almost unheard of, and most apartments come with two parking spaces per unit (and get poor ratings on ApartmentRatings if they don't). While the arterials don't, by and large, have on-street parking, neighbourhood streets most certainly do- free and unrestricted by the City's resident permit system. The Towne Centre has a vast parking lot, free to all comers, but little bicycle parking (despite my protests). Both parks have ample free parking, but only Andulka has any bicycle facilities- despite the "world-class" mountain biking. I speculated last year that this was why few people walk and bicycle even in a place that is relatively pedestrian- and bike-friendly.

What needs to be done:

Well, we need to fix what's wrong, obviously. Traffic calming on the major thoroughfares could improve things a bit, as could a reduction in the City's parking requirements for the Towne Centre. (I'm sure the owners wouldn't mind putting in more retail space.) Unbundling parking from housing prices, as well as trying to get some properties in on a universal transit pass, would help raise transit ridership. Getting actually decent transit wouldn't hurt, either- and the 16 Rapid should help with that, if it ever starts running. Neighbourhood pocket parks along the median between Canyon Crest and its frontage road would provide much-needed public space, especially if the street were traffic-calmed. Also, stationing a car-share car or two at the Towne Centre might convince some cash-strapped grad students that they can get by without their own.

So there you have it- my neighbourhood, what I think is the best place in the IE to call home. Stay tuned for further installments demonstrating why Riverside is worth saving.

Friday, January 14, 2011

City's Response on Food Truck Ban

So, as you may have heard, the City Council did indeed pass their packaged-food-only ordinance at their meeting last Tuesday. This was done despite the protests of three people speaking out against it, including yours truly, and nobody speaking in favor. Their reasoning, as presented by Councilman Adams, was that, since the County currently bans hot food trucks anyway (for whatever reason), an additional City ban would have no effect. The hot food trucks that occasionally appear for special events in the city are unaffected by either ban.

Of course, if activists are able to successfully get RivCo Environmental Health to change their minds, we will now have to overturn the City ban as well. Sounds like a step backwards to me.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Food Truck Ban at Council Tonight

The food truck ban is up for a vote at the City Council meeting tonight, 6pm. Once again, the item is on the consent calendar, which means that it will likely pass in one big vote along with every other item on said calendar. However, you do have the right to speak out about it!

There's a great item in the PE with an overview of the state of play on the issue- apparently the County currently has regulations quite similar to the proposed ones in the City, so defeating this proposal will hardly open up our streets to a food truck renaissance. However, it's always better not to go backwards. (Bonus: a certain blogger was quoted in the PE piece.)

Please attend the meeting and let your councilmembers know that food trucks can be a pleasant part of a walkable city.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Update on the Food Truck Ban

So the food truck ban that I mentioned earlier was not voted on this Tuesday- it was only introduced. It will be voted on next Tuesday, so if you'd like your opinions heard, please write your Councilman in advance of that vote.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Service Changes This Sunday

RTA will undergo its latest service "shakeup" this Sunday, January 9th. As always, keep an eye out for the latest edition of the Ride Guide, or get your copy on the Internet. Here's what's coming up next week:

ROUTES AFFECTED: 1, 3, 12, 14, 15, 19, 22, 27, 35, 40, 42, 61, 74, 206, 208, 210, 212, 216.

Schedule Adjustments: Routes 1, 3, 15, 19, 22, 27, 35, 40, 74, 208, 210, 216
These routes will receive minor schedule adjustments in order to improve connections or increase on-time performance.

Morning Trip Cuts: Routes 12, 14, 206
These routes will each lose a single weekday morning trip due to low ridership. Always disheartening, but expected in this budget climate.

MSJC Park-And-Ride: Routes 212, 217
These CommuterLink routes will no longer serve the eastern Hemet terminii that they once did- Chicago/Florida and San Jacinto/Esplanade respectively. Instead they will provide service to the new Park-and-Ride lot at Mt. San Jacinto College. Transfers available at the college from routes 31, 32 and 74.

Route 42:
This route will be re-routed to serve San Jacinto, Menlo and Santa Fe streets instead of the Hewitt/Commonwealth loop. I honestly don't know enough about the area to suggest whether this is a good or bad thing- perhaps readers in Hemet might care to chime in?

Route 61:
This route will be re-routed off of I-215 to serve the areas along Menifee and Antelope Roads between Menifee and Murrieta. This will bring public transit service significantly closer to a lot of new subdivisions and retail development along the corridor, and provide many places with service where there was none before. My only concern is that this will significantly slow down the route, compared to its prior routing, but this is a local bus after all. It should also be noted that this route will now connect with the 208 in two locations, perhaps improving transit access for nearby residents.

So there you have it- little to write home about, but be aware that changes are happening this Sunday.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bus Crash

This morning, an RTA bus collided with a tractor-trailer at Market and Mission Inn downtown. The bus was out of service at the time, and the only person on board was the driver, who was hospitalized for minor injuries at Riverside Community. The truck driver also escaped.

The bus was "drivable" after the accident, per RTA spokesman Brad Weaver. The truck, not so much. The PE has some spectacular images of the truck, after a rupture in its diesel tanks caused a fire that shut down key routes through downtown for the better part of the morning.

Investigation is ongoing, but Mr. Weaver noted that the bus appeared to have the green light when it passed through the intersection.


2010-12-23 12.23.35, originally uploaded by plattypus1.

While stopping by my parents' bank on the way to San Francisco, I noticed (and snapped a photo of) this little cutaway, VVTA #2007. This bus is serving a route that was very important in my life, the #21 Tri-Community. It's this bus that would call on my hometown, with 24-hour advance reservation, and allow my young self to get to places I otherwise couldn't- cross-country practice in 6th grade, an after-school job in sophomore year, hanging out with friends at the local pathetic-excuse-for-a-mall, even a date or two. Over the summer of 2004, this was the bus that brought my then-girlfriend (six years of marriage this month!) and I together. Growing up, I had no car in an area where one was a practical requirement. That said, I'm an impractical sort- so it was often that I turned to VVTA.

Thanks, public transit, for keeping me from going stir crazy so many times.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Rider Alert- Chicago Ave. (Now with Trolleys!)

(Please note: Chicago Ave. has been repaired. This detour is no longer in effect.)

Routes 22, 51 and 53 (the last two being UCR trolley service) are all affected by the Chicago Ave. sinkhole. The 22 is detouring via Central, Canyon Crest and 14th. The 51 and 53 (as far as I can tell) are serving as far as the Towne Centre and turning back down Canyon Crest and 14th. The following stops are out of service: (Northbound 22, 51, 53) Chicago/Central, Chicago/Le Conte, Chicago/Vassar; (Southbound 22) Chicago/Prince Albert. Due to the interruption of the route, 51 and 53 riders should also expect delays.

RTA has still not posted any mention of this in any of the electronic media that would be useful for such things, even though they have a web site, Twitter, Facebook, and e-alert messaging systems. I haven't been down to the sinkhole yet to see if they posted out-of-service signs on the affected stops.

RTA- this sort of thing is where social media and electronic messaging systems are most useful. Emergency route detours and delays should be tweeted, facebooked, posted and alerted as soon as possible, especially in the case of Chicago troubles that are going to last for weeks.

2010: The Year in Transit

You know I had to. Here's a look back on Riding in Riverside's second full year of raging against a very specific machine.

In January, I covered the slashing of IE-OC Line Metrolink service (and got in the LA Times for it), wrote about how green and automobile ought not be used in the same sentence, and found a still-elusive feature of LA's TAP card.

In February, I asked why, in my relatively walkable neighbourhood, people don't walk, celebrated the first Zipcars in the IE, and noted the differences between those who cycle for fun and those who cycle to get around.

In March, I noted the experience of fellow UCR students heading home from the March Forth Rally, approvingly noted the approval of both a new transit centre and mixed-use development, and I had a moment of bike-related frivolity.

In April, I took a personal tour of RTA's Third Street operations and learned a bit while I was at it, shared my perspectives on biking San Francisco, and proposed a liquor tax to fund late-night transit.

In May, I ranted about auto addiction, ranted about the state of American social services, and the persistent-but-irritating myth of empty buses.

In June, I reported on residential obstruction on the Perris Valley Line, tried to encourage others to give up their car, and contrasted the airport transit experiences of LA and New York.

In July, I mused on what a sustainable civilization would look like, suggested a few ways to make Riverside more bike-friendly, and pitched the Eco-Pass to city leaders.

In August, I tried to find balance in a bike-crazy blogosphere, pointed out why March Field is a lousy site for HSR (and got featured on the CA HSR blog), and told our city officials to take the cars off welfare, starting with their own.

In September, I wrote about Riverside's illegible network, celebrated San Bernardino County's Google Transit victory, and suggested local preference policies for Riverside.

In October, I ranted about skaters in the bike lane and cyclists on the sidewalk, reported on an eventful Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting, and an election of some kind garnered mention.

In November, I called for riders to stop calling themselves commuters, reported on some disappointing electoral results, and relayed the sad story of a parking lot owner whose subsidized parking was stolen from him.

In December, I was mostly quiet- thanks a lot, parents who refuse to drive on highways served by cell service. However, I did manage to review Metrolink's new fleet, defend the initial CA-HSR segment in the Central Valley, and tell you why you should care about the difference between the federal and California MUTCD's.

That's 2010, the year that was. May 2011 bring you less suckage and more transit!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Food Truck Ban at Council this Tuesday

Food trucks are often-maligned but usually-beneficial additions to any urban environment. They provide a place for anyone walking about in a city to grab cheap food on the go, and in Southern California they're experiencing something of a resurgence, with trucks offering exotic, organic, locally-grown and freshly-prepared foodstuffs of a sort you'd never get from a chain restaurant. Importantly for this blog, street food is a cause and a consequence of a good pedestrian environment- great street food brings people into the street, and people on the street create a market for street food.

In most great cities (though oddly not much in San Francisco- they're apparently heavily regulated) you'll find carts and trucks of varying cuisines, quality and prices readily available to please the passerby. In our city, however, the government would like very much to make sure that never happens. An item is on the City Council agenda for this Tuesday (the 4th) that would restrict vendors to selling only prepackaged food items, which would effectively ban food trucks from the City. Worse, the item is on the Consent Calendar, which means it will likely be passed along with a whole multitude of other things unless it is pulled off by a Councilmember. If you, like me, think that food trucks could be a positive force for urbanism in Riverside (or you just like the thought of Mexi-Korean fusion tacos- ZOMG delicious!), please write your Councilmember and tell them to pull item 28 off the Consent Calendar and vote it down. Better yet, come to the City Council meeting at 6pm on Tuesday and speak out against the measure publicly!

(As a reminder, the City Council meets on Tuesdays at 6PM in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 3800 Main St., Riverside, CA 92501, a short walk from the downtown bus terminal and a slightly longer one from the Metrolink.)

Rider Alert- Chicago Ave.

Due to a HUGE FREAKING HOLE IN THE GROUND that wasn't there last week, Chicago Ave. is closed between 14th and Central in Canyon Crest. One bus route, the 22, is affected.

As of now, RTA is detouring the route via 14th, Canyon Crest and Central, following the official automobile detour. No temporary stops have been placed, and no stops along Canyon Crest are being served to my knowledge. Also, RTA has made no announcements via their web site, e-alert service, twitter feed or facebook page. The street closures happened last week.

Edit: Also unknown is the affect this will have on Routes 51 and 53, which also operate over the closure but were not running during UCR holidays. We go back to school tomorrow, and I'll let you know what they're doing.