Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bicycle Advisory Committee Meeting

The Bike Advisory Committee will meet tomorrow night, Thursday the 29th, in the 5th Floor Large Conference Room at City Hall.

Mega good news!

I've written before about the wonders of the low-cost express bus network along the East Coast's I-95 corridor. Since the federal DOT shut down a good number of the chinatown lines, the situation isn't quite as friendly as it was when I wrote that post, but one company has been making the best of it. MegaBus, a subsidiary of British transport firm Stagecoach Group, has an extensive network of curb-to-curb buses across the eastern half of the country. They started with a New York-centered network, and now have services throughout the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Texas. Their buses are clean, modern, and have sort-of-reliable free wi-fi and on-board power outlets. Best of all, the service is cheap, with fares as low as $1 (usually one seat on each bus) and generally in the $20 range.

Of course, since we live on the wrong coast, MegaBus is unfamiliar to most of us Californians. The company did run a Las Vegas-Los Angeles-San Francisco service for a time back in 2007, but it was poorly-marketed and soon cancelled. (I say it was poorly marketed because, as an ardent observer of all things transit, I didn't hear about it until it was facing cancellation.)

That said, there is some great news out today. MegaBus is back-- and not only back in SoCal, but they're introducing new service to Riverside! Service is available on LA-Oakland-SF, LA-San Jose-SF, LA-Riverside-Vegas, and SF-Sacramento-Reno routes. (Note that you can't buy trips for short segments, eg. SF-Oakland, SF-San Jose, or LA-Riverside.) Service will start on December 12th, and the first week's service is all just $1. Beyond that, if you book quick, you'll probably still get the coveted $1 for any travel you have planned. The new buses will serve LA Union Station and the Riverside Downtown Metrolink.

I should also note that MegaBus runs an around-the-clock schedule, with departures from Riverside at 1:30 in the morning. It appears that there are four runs daily in each direction, with every run on the LA-LV route stopping in Riverside.

So, officially, there is a good way to get to Vegas without a car. You should book now!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Grids? Bad idea

Tonight, the City Council formally designated the empty lot across Vine from the Metrolink station as a site for the future multi-modal transit center. This is, unfortunately, after they had to divert $2 million of federal money to the existing downtown terminal due to deadlines. I'm not happy to see a bunch of money poured in to renovating the terminal, because it is still inconveniently far from the Metrolink station, but I suppose a renovated terminal is better than losing $2 million in transit dollars.

Anyway, this designation is a welcome step forward, but I was very concerned to hear that the Council mentioned something about RTA moving towards a grid system during the meeting. I've posted previously on how a grid system works, and how RTA shouldn't be run as a grid due to the geography and funding constraints. Now, unless the Council and RTA are coming up with a way to basically triple the agency's budget (oh please oh please oh please), I hope this grid system talk just goes away.

Furthermore, I am frightened by the fact that Councilman Melendrez, who sits on the RTA board, and City Manager Scott Barber, have no idea what a grid system is.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Brockton Road Diet

A quick note-- at the last Transportation Board meeting, the public works department notified us that a grant had been approved for the Brockton Road Diet. Brockton will be narrowed from two lanes in each direction to one, and will have bicycle lanes installed, from Mission Inn to at least Jurupa. (I seem to have misplaced my notes, but the project will go a long way.) I'm currently trying to press for a parking-buffered bike lane, with bikes between the curb and parking. The design has not yet been finalized.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Car ownership is still the default assumption

I just wanted to share a quick anecdote. I'm trying to arrange a carpool up to a union meeting in Berkeley this weekend, and one of our organizers mentioned that only one other person would be making the drive, and his wife would be in San Diego with his car. Therefore, I'd "have to be okay with taking [my] car."

This is from a person who always sees me on my bicycle on campus, and who, to my knowledge, has never seen me behind a steering wheel of any sort. It is simply assumed that, being a productive member of society who makes a decent living, I own a car.

I had a similar experience at Altura credit union not too long ago. The woman who helped me open an account told me that her credit card printing machine was down, but that the branch on Central would be happy to help me. When I asked how to get to that branch, she said "Oh, you just get on the 91 and..." This is after we'd had a conversation about the fact that I am car-free, and had arrived on my bicycle. She also seemed rather skeptical of the fact that I could ride a bicycle all the way to the Riverside Plaza.

The point here is that automobiles have woven their way into our psychology. We simply assume that everyone who can afford one has access to one, and will naturally use it during the course of their daily lives. This is an assumption that we need to correct.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Progress on University Ave.

I posted a while ago about the disappearing bike lane on University between Iowa and I-215/CA-60. The "improvements" that Caltrans made to the road put in two right-hand turn lanes on to the eastbound freeway ramp, and thus there were three eastbound lanes and nowhere to put a bike lane. (Even if we had the space in the right-of-way, which we don't, to avoid right hooks, the bike lane would have to be between the innermost lane and the first right-hand turn lane.)

Well, back in late August I was riding the street and I saw some progress on the street. No bike lane yet, unfortunately, but the two right-hand turn lanes are back down to one. There are still three lanes there-- and that's entirely unnecessary, we don't need two through lanes past University in that area. But I recognize this as an acknowledgement that we don't need two lanes of freeway traffic on to that ramp, and that is necessary if we are going to see better bike infrastructure on this, one of the most bike-trafficked stretches of street in Riverside.

(I still, of course, think we could get rid of the damn ramp entirely...)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

3-Foot Law A Step Forward, But...

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you probably already know that the State Assembly just passed a three-foot-passing law. (The law has already gained the approval of the Senate.) These laws are the overwhelming standard around the country, and adding one to our vehicle code is a definite improvement. We shouldn't celebrate yet, of course, as Governor Brown vetoed a similar law recently (under heavy pressure from AAA), but this one seems to have been re-written specifically to appease Mr. Brown, so with any luck all will proceed smoothly.

My question is, does anyone actually think this is going to help?

There are many laws on the books today that are intended to protect cyclists. For example, CVC 21200 empowers us to take an entire lane of traffic when safety requires it. That doesn't keep every cyclist I talk to from having a dozen stories about times that they've taken the lane, only to be honked at, shouted at, or passed far too close for comfort. Laws are also on the books making it a crime to block the bicycle lane, but take a cycle through most neighborhoods with bike lanes on trash day and tell me that they make a difference.

Of course, there are plenty of traffic laws on the books that get routinely ignored-- speed limits, laws requiring full stops at stop signs, even (by some) seatbelt and drunk-driving laws. But at least most people on the roads are aware of these laws, as evidenced by the way the freeways slow to a crawl within view of a Highway Patrol car. I am convinced that most drivers have no idea what the law is as it pertains to bicycles-- and, indeed, that they believe that the law is the opposite of what is actually written down, as shown by constant entreaties to "get on the sidewalk" (in contravention of RMC 10.64.330).

I would normally suggest that enforcement is the answer here, but, alas, I have seen several incidents that suggest that our local police are as ignorant of bicycle law as the general driving public.

So, while I applaud the passage of the three-foot-passing law, I don't hold out much hope for it actually *doing* anything to help us out on the roads.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Good News from RTA this September!

It's rare that I get to write a post like this, so when I do, it's exciting. The September service changes are out (due to go into effect on the 9th), and they are almost entirely good news. RTA service is expanding, albeit by mostly tiny changes around the margins, in response to record levels of ridership on the system. Two mild service discontinuations are offset by pretty substantial expansions elsewhere. Let's take a look.

Minor changes: Routes 7, 11, 23, 40, 41, 61, 79

All of these routes have minor schedule tweaks to make better connections or better serve local demand. If you ride them, you should probably check the new times.

Mixed trip changes: Routes 12, 206

Each of these routes gained a new trip, but at a price: the 12 gained a 2:30p trip but lost a 4:30p, the 206 gained a new 4:36p southbound but will now short-turn the 5:22p trip.

Trip extensions: Routes 1, 12, 22, 51

Each of these routes will see morning, evening or weekend extensions of trips that used to short-turn. On the 1 in particular, all of the late-night short turns at Downtown Terminal have been extended all the way to UCR.

Frequency enhancements: Routes 1, 16, 19, 27

Each of these routes will see frequency improvements. On the 1 in particular, frequencies will improve to 18 minutes, approaching those of a moderately-useful urban bus system. On the 1 and 27, though, I worry that RTA is sacrificing clock-face scheduling for minor capacity improvement.

The 16 will see a return to clock-face scheduling, at a new 20-minute frequency. That said, it does come at a price: The route will now terminate at Downtown, lopping off the run it used to make up into the north side. The stretch is a hair under 2km, and alternate service is available on the 12 and (to some extent) 29, although I expect a lot of these trips will switch to walking or cycling.

Discontinued route: Route 53

And it's official-- we can lament the loss of our beloved Beer Bear Runner. The late-night UCR shuttle was funded by the campus primarily as a safety measure, although I primarily used it as a bragging tool-- 20 hours a day of transit service to my apartment!-- and a way to get home from the campus pub. The campus decided not to fund it, presumably after seeing the abysmal ridership numbers, and RTA had no reason to continue the service on its own dime.

New destination: Route 210 to Palm Springs!

A gap that has existed in SoCal transit since 2004, with the demise of the SuperBus-equipped SunLink, will be filled. SunLine Transit (the primary operator in the Palm Springs area) will operate several trips that are currently run as the Route 210 CommuterLink. These trips will extend from Palm Springs all the way in to Riverside, continuing to make normal scheduled stops at Banning and Moreno Valley. There will be two westbound trips in the morning and two eastbound trips in the afternoon, and (as far as I can tell) no reverse commute or weekend service. RTA also says that their passes will be accepted between Banning and Riverside on Sunline-operated runs.

I think there are still some unanswered questions. First, will riders with universal transit passes, like CityPass and UPass, be able to ride the Sunline buses as well? Second, will RTA passes be good as credit towards the full Riverside-Palm Springs fare, or will such riders have to pay cash? Lastly, will Sunline passes be good for transfer to RTA at transfer points? But aside from all this, I'm glad to see this service start up, and hope that it sticks around a bit longer than the short-lived SunLink. (I must admit that I did always want to ride one of those SuperBuses, though, and never did get the chance.)

So there you have it, a service change update almost entirely filled with good news. Transit in Riverside is expanding, core routes are getting frequencies that are almost-useful, and ridership seems to be heading in only one direction: up.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Killing the Gas Tax: Why, Exactly?

Streetsblog DC has a post on Oregon's experimentation with a vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) tax. Oregonian Representative Earl Blumenauer speaks with pride about the fact that Oregon intends to be the first state to rid itself of the gas tax. But is the reasoning behind moving to a VMT tax sound? I'm skeptical.

The stated reason for exploring a VMT tax is the fact that Oregon's state gas tax is insufficient to maintain the state's transportation infrastructure, especially with recent trends in fuel-efficient hybrids and electric vehicles. But the article goes on to say that the VMT tax would "probably never include all vehicles" because "[v]ehicles below the mid-point, about 20 miles per gallon, are already paying a load of gas tax." Wait, what? So what you're saying is that you want to pay to maintain your state's transportation infrastructure by implementing a special tax which would only be applied to fuel-efficient cars? So you want to soak the folks who are conscientious enough to drive more efficient vehicles?

Add to that the fact that there are serious technological, bureaucratic and civil-liberties concerns related to the implementation of a VMT tax. Most implementations will rely on some sort of GPS-based box in the car that would tally up mileage. The Oregon pilot will apparently be handing the tracking function over to a private contractor-- because that's just what we need, a profit-driven company with access to data on our every move. I can't imagine any way that could go wrong.

Finally, it seems to me that this is a solution in search of a problem. We already have a transportation funding mechanism that charges people in proportion to the amount of driving they do, and has the side benefit of making heavier and more inefficient vehicles pay more while rewarding efficiency. It also has no tracking component, and the cost is paid in small amounts bundled into a larger transaction, lessening citizen resentment. It's called the gas tax. It's actually a fantastic funding and incentive mechanism for a society facing climate change-- it's literally a direct carbon tax. You buy carbon to burn, you pay taxes on it. The only problem with the gas tax is that it's presently far too low.*

VMT taxes are a complex and worrying workaround for a problem that has already been solved. The only reason anyone's talking about them is because it's politically unpopular to raise the gas tax. But here's the thing-- fundamentally, what's politically unpopular is making driving expensive, not any particular means of doing so. Tolls, registration fee hikes, congestion charges, parking meter rate raises, and likely VMT will all be unpopular, because our society has become accustomed to super-cheap automobility. Raising the gas tax will likely be less unpopular than charging people more to drive by tracking their daily movements with GPS, and it will do more to push people towards fuel efficiency. VMT is unnecessary, it's complex, and it has worrying implications. Let's stop wasting time on it and get to building the political will to raise the gas tax.

*Gas taxes also won't work for electric vehicles, but truthfully, I don't see too many electric vehicles on the roads right now. Perhaps a simple, odometer-based VMT charge would be the best solution down the road, but right now, let's let the Leaf-driving greenies enjoy the savings. We might also want to consider a small tax on electricity, a portion of which could be dedicated to transportation.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

"Urban" is not a marketing buzzword

At Blaine & Iowa, near UCR, a new set of apartments is going up. Sterling Highlander isn't anything that would normally catch my attention. They're pretty standard apartments targeted at undergraduates, with dormitory-like bed-rent policies and shared amenities-- and like most of their ilk, they're pretty expensive. However, the advertising for the community caught my eye while riding down Blaine yesterday.

They advertise the complex as "trendy" and "urban."

Now, I'm not going to try to argue with the "trendy" bit-- they might be right, and I'm certainly no trend-setter myself-- but the word "urban" actually means something, and it means something not satisfied by this apartment complex.

These apartments sit on one corner of two high-speed arterial roads.* The other three corners are occupied by fairly standard suburban strip-mall retail, including several fast-food restaurants, an EZ Lube, and a K-Mart. The apartments around it are pretty standard garden-type apartments. The complex itself is not mixed-use (although another Sterling property on University is), and it will have free parking for all residents.

So what, exactly, makes this apartment complex "urban"?

According to the web site, it's the floorplans.

Now, I'm not saying there's nothing to like about this property from an environmental standpoint. It will be a rather dense project in an already dense area, they will be providing bicycle storage and a bicycle lending program, and the property is adjacent to several transit lines (1, 10, 14, and 51). And, despite the massive parking lots, each of those suburban strip malls is relatively walkable from the property. Furthermore, the mere fact that the company is trying to market their apartments as "urban" shows the level to which young people are seeking dense, walkable urban places.

Still, though, I think it's misleading to call a car-centric project-- especially one that they widened Iowa Ave. for-- in a firmly suburban area, "urban."

* In the Google Maps image, the project area is the dirt lot on the northeast corner of Iowa & Blaine.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Standard of Living vs. Quality of Life

Standard of Living is a commonly tossed-around measure of a country's prosperity. Exceptionalists like to point out that the United States has the highest standard of living in the world, and anti-environmentalists cringe at the thought of environmental regulation reducing our standard of living. A lower standard of living does sound horrible at its face, but there is an important piece of information that is being left out in these discussions.

Standard of living, as it is commonly expressed, is a measure of consumption. It's not a measure of comfort, of health, or of happiness. It's simply a measure of how much stuff is consumed by each person in a society, on average. It's usually expressed in terms of GDP per capita. There are people who use "standard of living" to mean something more useful, but they are not in the majority.

This is different from measures that try to capture "quality of life." Quality of life is a concept that attempts to aggregate both material and intangible components of human well-being. Quality of life measures will include measures of economic health, but also things like access to health care, life expectancy, infant mortality, leisure time, self-reported happiness, equality, etc.

Americans may have the highest standard of living in the world, but we are suffering in the quality of life department. We have shorter lives, filled with less leisure, more economic insecurity, longer work hours and less travel than most of the rest of the civilized world.

Why am I bring this up on an alternative transport blog? Because I think this has profound implications for how we talk about re-organizing our built environment as we move in to the 21st Century. Two of the factors that contributed to our nation's vast accumulation of wealth over the last century-- cheap oil and the suburban boom-- are clearly unsustainable in the future. Much of the throwaway consumer economy is built on top of these things-- that, too, is coming to an end. We are most likely going to see a decline in our standard of living as we move in to the future.

That said, I don't think that a decline in standards of living must necessarily mean a decline in quality of life. For example, a person who takes a pay cut to live within walking distance of work has decreased their standard of living. Maybe they can no longer afford to consume all of the gasoline that they used to during their daily commute. But it's also likely that their quality of life has gone up-- they have more leisure time, they are healthier from including a brisk walk in their daily routine, they are likely happier from alleviating the stress of a long commute. Similarly, somebody who takes a pay cut and has to switch from eating fast food to cooking farmers' market vegetables at home has undergone the same transition-- a decrease in standard of living, but an increase in quality of life.

There is, of course, a reason that we measure standard of living this way. These two concepts are strongly correlated, at low levels of both. In the developing world, an increase in standard of living is often also an increase in quality of life, because it means the difference between starvation and satiety, between a cardboard shack and a modest house. But after a point (which is different for different cultures), additional consumption no longer translates in to additional happiness, and indeed can have the opposite effect.

We are all going to have to find these trade-offs in the coming years. The future will be about downsizing-- owning less, sharing more, living smaller, living closer. All of us are going to suffer a decline in our standard of living. Done properly, however, I think we could see a renaissance in our quality of life.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

San Bernardino Transit Center Plans Released

And it looks good! There's a ~1600 sq. m. (~17,000 sq. ft.) building on the site, which will have space for two retail stores, restrooms, a ticket office, and a bike station. 22 bus bays are on the plans (two along Rialto Ave.), along with a stop on the sbX BRT system, a Metrolink station on the south edge, a large public plaza, and a total of 3 (ADA) parking spaces on site. This is a fantastic plan, and a great example of what a small urban transit station should look like.

More from the Omnitrans Blog.

Friday, July 20, 2012

"No transit" from people who should know better.

I've written before about people who use the words "No public transportation" to mean "No rail service." I saw an example today from people who ought to know better: Rail-Volution, a transit/livable streets conference that will be coming to LA soon. I received their brochure in the mail today. One of their "mobile workshops", on Tuesday, will be held at LAX and will talk about Metro and LAWA's plans to bring rail to the airport.

In the talk's description, the first sentence is "LA has no direct transit connection to LAX."

That's obviously false. I've ridden the FlyAway bus, which travels directly from downtown LA to LAX, several times. It stops at two places: Union Station and the airport terminals. That's as direct as it gets. There is also a shuttle which directly connects the Green Line's Aviation station to the terminals, and a shuttle which connects the LAX City Bus Center to the terminals. The LAX City Bus Center is served by the LA Metro 40, 42, 111, 117, 232, 439, 625, and 715, the Santa Monica 3 and Rapid 3, the Culver City 6 and Rapid 6, the Beach Cities 109 and the Torrance 8. The Green Line Aviation station is served by the Metro Green Line, the MAX 2, 3, and 3x, the Culver City 6 and Rapid 6, the Metro 120, the Beach Cities 109, and the Santa Monica 3 and Rapid 3. By my count, the airport has 20 direct transit connections.

What you meant to say, conference organizers, is that the airport has no direct *rail* connection. However, you can have valuable transit service without rail. Please be more specific.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Decent Article on sbX

So, as many of you are no doubt aware, the Inland Empire's first rapid transit project (since the streetcar era) is presently being built in San Bernardino. The E-Street sbX BRT will connect the northern ends of San Bernardino with Cal State, downtown, Hospitality Ln. and Loma Linda, and there has been no shortage of criticism of the project. (Personally, I think it's a great idea, and I think that a lot more of the route should have dedicated lanes than do at present. Currently, the dedicated right-of-way runs only from Baseline & E to Hospitality & Anderson, but that stretch of Anderson in Loma Linda can get really congested during peak hours.)

Fortunately, the mayor of Yucaipa chimed in in the Sun to defend the project, especially in light of the recent bankruptcy of San Bernardino. (The project isn't threatened, as it's being funded almost entirely by federal sources.) I think the piece could have used some editing, but it's good to see some optimism about the project in the local press. Even the comments are (at present) civil!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Metrolink's 2nd "Beach Train" Here To Stay

It's July, which means that the Inland Empire-Orange County line is now operating with two round trips per weekend day. This year, however, the service will not be dropped in October, but rather will continue "indefinitely." This from an agency that dropped nearly all IE-OC weekend service just a few short years ago. I'm not sure I'm ready to trust you again yet, Metrolink, but I am glad to see some service returning to the IE-OC line. Please keep it up.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

CSUSB Loses Transit Passes

As of last Saturday, June 30th, the one-year pilot program to provide Cal State San Bernardino students with universal transit passes has expired. Apparently, no permanent program was organized to replace it. This sucks, because universal transit passes are an extremely effective tool to promote transit ridership.

First off, they eliminate one of the several impediments to new riders trying transit: understanding fare policy. Fare policy can be complicated, as this old post I wrote about transfers demonstrates. Beyond that, there are local/express distinctions within the RTA system. Some other transit agencies further confuse the issue with zone fare systems, peak/off-peak distinctions, distance fares, bike rack permits, the list goes on. And don't get me started on the miserable failure that was the fare policy on the old 149 (now 216). "Just swipe/flash your card and go" gets rid of all that, and the corresponding anxiety for first-time riders.

Second, they offer all the benefits that a transit pass usually offers, combined with the fact that it's on a card that most college students carry anyway. It's easy for me to go out to lunch with colleagues on the bus, even if they're not usually bus riders, because they've all got UCR ID cards in their wallets.

Last, and this is especially true for college passes, is that universal transit passes develop habits in young adults that may stick with them for life. My generation is one that was raised overwhelmingly in the suburbs. Many friends, colleagues, and students have never ridden a public bus in their lives until their arrival at college. (This is especially true at UCR.) Introducing students to public transit just might get them hooked, and they're more likely to try it if you make it free.

So, Cal State folks, I wish you the best in getting a universal transit pass restored to your campus.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Cars, Costs, and the Working Poor

Before I started this blog, but during my time in Riverside, I spent a time working as a cable TV installer for our local cable company. My wife was going to school at RCC during the time, as well as working at a local fast food joint. We had a roommate who lived primarily on disability. We were living at about 130% of the federal poverty line. We lived paycheck-to-paycheck, and sometimes fell behind on that.

Why do I bring this up? It's about transportation, of course. Back then, what really killed us was unpredictable expenses. We could keep a roof over our head, food on the table, and the lights on, but a large and unexpected bill would really hurt. And, at the time, we were relatively car-dependent. So probably the most frequent large, unexpected bill we received was the bill from the mechanic. We mitigated this to an extent by trading favors with car-handy relatives, but car parts are still expensive. As anyone who has suffered through driving an old, failing car knows, every strange noise under your hood sounds eerily similar to the sound of money draining from your bank account.

It is this experience that informs why I think that transit and active transportation are much better tools for enhancing the mobility of the poor and working-class. Yes, both transit and cycling have costs, but they aren't the same as the costs of driving. Transit has extremely predictable costs, even if it can sometimes get pricey for long-distance commutes. (A monthly Metrolink pass from Riverside-LA will run you a cool $352. New York's 30-day Unlimited MetroCard is $104.) Cycling has extremely low costs, although they can sometimes be unpredictable. Neither one is likely to approach the cost of even some relatively simple car repairs. And I guarantee that, given the choice between a $600 car and a $600 bike, the latter will be a much more reliable vehicle.

Bike Repairs

My wife went away on vacation to (the suburbs of) Washington, D.C., and while she was gone I suffered a kind of comedy of errors with my bicycle. It started with a squeaking bottom bracket, which I thought I'd fixed before I went to Long Beach. I cleaned and greased and polished up the bracket, and stuck it back in, and at any rate, it didn't squeak while I was out. Halfway into a ride with some friends the following Tuesday it was back with a vengeance. My fellow cyclists joked that my bike sounded like Willy Wonka's boat. So I fully replaced the bottom bracket, which fixed things up until the following Monday, when my front wheel literally fell off as I left my apartment. On and on it went, with several more bolts, a bar plug, and eventually my saddle needing replaced.

As a grad student married to a substitute teacher, our summer earnings are a bit slim, so my wife was watching this saga unfold on Facebook with no small measure of trepidation. When she came home, however, I went over an itemized list of the things I had to fix. All told, it came to just over $50 (and a lot of elbow grease on my part).

This feeds back in to the empowerment of the bicycle that I talked about before. Yes, the bike is a machine, and all machines break. But it's a very different sort of machine than a car. It's a machine that I can fix in my kitchen, and whose parts I can buy with change in the sofa cushions.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Long Beach bike tour

Since I'm apparently the last person to get the memo about how Long Beach is a pretty cool place, I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I (got up really freaking early and) took the train down to meet a cycle tour through the city, led by Charlie Gandy. I was pleasantly surprised. I formerly thought that one had to at least venture to northern California to find the kind of pleasant urbanism that Long Beach has cultivated.

I don't think there's anything to be found in the city that would be a surprise to most participants in the livable streets blogosphere. Bike boulevards, bike lanes, sharrows, separated cycle tracks, and the famous green lane along 2nd Street are all things that I've seen, in various incarnations, in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, New York, even Riverside and Corona. What is astounding, however, is the consistency and sensitivity with which these treatments were applied. Bike boulevards were placed where elementary school children were likely to ride, bike lanes along quiet streets, sharrows when absolutely necessary. The ocean-front bike path has a separate space for pedestrians, and (according to Mr. Gandy) will soon see a gravel jogging path set off from the bikeway.

What is also astounding is the way that the City's bike team has managed to raise political will and rally local business and community leaders around cycling and livable streets. I won't steal his thunder, but if you go on the tour, Mr. Gandy will rattle off statistics-- numbers of jobs created, businesses opened, sales increased-- and anecdotes of meetings between the City and business owners. The magic argument in Long Beach seems to be that bikes are good business-- and it helps that that argument is demonstrably true.

The thing that really struck me, though, was how cycling and pedestrian facilities could wipe away a lot of the damage done by cars and car culture in a city, especially one with relatively strong fundamentals-- a complete street grid, neighborhood businesses, a relatively concentrated downtown. These characteristics are ones that Long Beach shares with Riverside, and so seeing the improvements that Long Beach managed in just a few short years gives me hope for our own fair city. I think the battle will be harder here-- for one thing, our city is settled at about half Long Beach's density, and we lack the same sort of transit infrastructure-- but with a little luck, and a little experience, I think we can win.

Mr. Gandy will be leading another tour for Riverside officials and activists, on the 14th of July. The tour begins at 10am at Long Beach City Hall-- you'll just make it if you take the 6:20a Metrolink to Los Angeles, followed by the Red and Blue Line Metro trains. Bring some money for a delicious Mexican lunch at Lola's, and please RSVP to Brandi Becker (brandi [dot] becker [at] riversideca [dot] gov) if you'd like to attend. Bikes recommended, but one can be provided on request.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Next Bicycle Advisory Committee Meeting

Hey folks, the Bicycle Advisory Committee will be meeting at 5:30pm on 28 June, on the 7th floor of City Hall. Hope to see you all there!

Agenda will be posted here when there is one.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Choice Riders

Oops! It's been a while since I've posted. Sorry, folks, I'll process refunds right away.

Anyway, I wanted to talk about the rhetoric of transit agencies reaching out to "choice riders." You often hear about efforts to entice "choice riders" on to transit systems, by providing special bus service or special amenities that will lure these elusive creatures out of their steel boxes. Quite frankly, I think that this type of thinking is insulting, confusing, and dangerous.

First, it is insulting to the agency's normal rider base. When you separate your ridership in to "choice" riders and everyone else, you're saying that everyone else doesn't have a choice. You're saying that it doesn't really matter what kind of service you provide to those riders, because they'll put up with whatever you give them. This is not only insulting, it isn't true. Even the car-free by circumstance* have choices-- they can choose to walk, to ride a bicycle, to call a friend or family member for a ride, to hitchhike, to call a taxi/Craigslist rideshare person, or (probably most commonly) simply not make that trip at all. And that's the real shame-- transit cuts that impact "no-choice" riders really hurt everyone, because they mean that that person is blocked from participating fully in their community, blocked from perhaps getting or keeping a job, from attending community meetings, from giving their children opportunities for after-school activities and enrichment.

But finally, these "no-choice" riders do have one other choice: they can spend way too much of their meager incomes on an old, unreliable rattle-trap of a car, because your transit service was so bad that it's the only choice they have left to make. That's bad for them, that's bad for the environment, that's bad for society.

Second, it's confusing, because "choice riders" are an ill-defined group. When are these people making their choice? I suppose what I'm really getting at is, am I a choice rider? I'm not wealthy by any means, but I really could afford to own and operate a car. I choose not to, but because of that choice I rely heavily on the local transit system (and Chloe). When you divide the world in to "choice riders" and everyone else, you make the unstated assumption that everyone in your service district either owns a car, or can't afford to own a car. Really, transit agencies should make it a priority to enable the creation and expansion of the middle category: the car-free by choice.

Last, it's dangerous, because it creates two tiers of transit service. Public transit should serve community needs, but it shouldn't do so at the expense of having an integrated network. The idea that there are "choice riders" and everyone else leads to Metrolink Syndrome, where there is a peak-hour peak-direction express transit network (connected to plentiful parking), and a local all-day transit network, and never the twain shall meet. This kind of network planning assumes that, while people might want to ride transit in the city during the work week, they'll always be drivers when they're at home in the suburbs. This is exactly the opposite of what we should be encouraging. I'm all for having park-and-rides as a short-term solution, because the truth is that our transit network isn't yet at the point where it serves everyone's needs effectively (especially in places like Banning and Murrieta, where RTA provides lots of service to park-and-ride lots), but by running express service exclusively to those park-and-ride lots, you send the message that your local transit network and your express network are completely unrelated. Nobody is supposed to take the express bus back from LA and then get on a local bus to go home-- indeed, nobody can.

So let's stop talking about "choice riders" and everybody else, and instead simply focus on providing transit that works for everybody. Good-quality transit will serve the needs of the car-free-by-circumstance, and (if it's good enough) will also entice habitual drivers out of their cars.

*You know who I'm talking about-- the poor, the aged, the disabled, and the young. I refuse to use the word "car-less" on this blog, because I really do think that not having a car is freedom.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

BAC Meeting

Sorry for the late notice, but I figure it's better late than never. The Riverside Bicycle Advisory Committee will meet tonight at 5:30pm in the Mayor's Ceremonial Room, 4th Floor, City Hall. The agenda is below.

1. Welcome & Self-Introductions

2. Grant Awards
a. Canyon Crest Separated Bikeway
b. University Avenue Pedestrian Improvements

3. Upcoming Events
a. Neighborhood Conference – June 2nd
b. Family Fun Ride at Fairmount Park – June 9th
c. Long Beach Bike Tours – June 16th and July 14th
d. Kidical Mass – TBD
e. Riverside Today Segment

4. Public Works Updates
a. Market Street Road Diet Study
b. Alessandro Bike Lanes at I-215
c. Trautwein Repaving
d. Santa Ana River Trail Sewer Line Construction

5. Inventory of Existing Conditions

6. Public Comment

7. Next Meeting

8. Adjournment

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Taste of Brews Riverside

Here at Riding in Riverside, we're no fans of driving generally-- but we find drunken driving particularly distasteful. Sadly, our area seems almost guaranteed to drive that result, with no late-night transit, few taxis, and parking minimums for bars. (Seriously. [PDF]) However, by happy coincidence (because it surely wasn't foresight and planning), Riverside is hosting an event that brings together two of my favorite things-- craft beer and transit!

The IE Taste of Brews, on 2 June, will be held in White Park downtown. Craft breweries from as far away as Oregon will be bringing their wares for Riversiders to sample. While the organizers obviously didn't plan for this to be a transit-centric event, the locale is happily situated a short walk away from Downtown Terminal, served by routes 1, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 22, 29, 49, and Omni 215 (on weekends).

Tickets are currently being sold at early-bird prices- $30 general admission (1-4pm), $40 VIP (12-4), and you can get $5 off with promo code "TOB5." Hope to see you there!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Clock-Face Scheduling and the 16

There's a concept in transit timetables called clock-face scheduling. Basically, the idea is that you have a route run on a consistent headway every X minutes, and that you set X to a value such that the pattern repeats every hour. In Riverside, the #1 is scheduled so that departures from the Downtown Terminal are clock-face scheduled. Before 7:30, westbound departures are at :10 and :40 past the hour- every 30 minutes. Between 8:00 and 18:00, departures are every 20 minutes, at :00, :20 and :40 past the hour. At 18:00 they return to every 30 minutes, at :00 and :30 past the hour. This makes trip planning easy-- if you know the route, you know that it will pass your stop at a certain time past the hour, every hour. You simply remember that time, and you know when the next bus is coming without having to consult a schedule or web site.

Right now, the #16 is also clock-face scheduled, with eastbound departures every 30(ish) minutes from Downtown at roughly :10 and :40 past the hour-- although the schedule does lose time over the course of the day, eventually becoming at :01 and :31 and then fluctuating wildly past 17:31. I know that the westbound bus passes my stop at roughly :20 and :50 past the hour, and the eastbound at roughly :00 and :30. On weekdays, I never need to consult a schedule to figure out when to catch the bus-- I just need to memorize a few numbers, and I can plan my trip accordingly.

Which is why something that I'd normally be excited about-- increased frequency on the route that serves my apartment-- has given me some reason for pause, because the frequency is being improved from 30 to 25 minutes.

The disadvantage of clock-face scheduling is that you can't simply pick an arbitrary frequency and make it work. Only certain times produce repeating patterns every hour. 5, 7.5, 10, 15, 20, 30 and 60 minute headways work. 40 and 45 minute headways produce patterns that repeat every two hours, which is okay but not ideal. (This is the situation on the 15, for example.) Any other combination, and you're basically either checking the bus book or guessing. A 25-minute headway produces a pattern that repeats every 5 hours, which is basically useless for memorization. Furthermore, you don't gain all that much-- only two hours out of those five see three buses an hour (more than the 2/hour from a 30-minute headway). The average wait goes from 15 minutes to 12.5.

Thus I am torn. I'm always happy to see a frequency improvement, especially on the route that I use most. However, this improvement comes at a significant cost to system legibility. It means I now need to check the bus book/BusWatch site every time I want to use the system. And it isn't all that big of an improvement- the average 16-hour service day will only see 6 more buses, or one every 3 hours. Obviously, if they were to improve the frequency to every 20 minutes, it'd be fantastic, but I'm not sure if the increase in service is worth the significant drop in usability here.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Service Updates

RTA is updating bus schedules again (effective 13 May), and by and large there's not a lot of news. A lot of small tweaks (routes 1, 7, 8, 10, 11, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 27, 33, 42), a couple of problems (routes 21 and 54), and one service improvement (route 16). I won't comment on the tweaks, so let's talk about the problems.

Route 21 will no longer serve the Pedley Metrolink station, presumably because it's in an awful spot to get to if you're trying to continue on Limonite. This is all well and good, and it makes sense from an operational standpoint, but I hate to see RTA blasting holes in intermodal connectivity. It still passes close to the station, but it's roughly a quarter-mile walk along the car-sewer that is Limonite-- which could make or break a tight train connection, or constrain possibilities for the mobility-challenged. I'm wondering whether the operational benefits are worth it.

Route 54 is a new trolley service downtown, set up for the duration of the widening of CA-91. (During the construction, county workers will be unable to use much of their current parking lot abutting the freeway.) It runs from an under-used Metrolink parking lot at 10th/Commerce to the county admin building on 12th/Lemon, almost as if there were a concerted effort to keep it from serving anything useful downtown. It'll also do the same thing that the old #52 did, serving morning, lunchtime and evening peaks only, making it useful for one and only one thing: getting county workers to and from their cars. This is a shame, because RTA could have used the temporary funding to actually show how a downtown circulator route could effectively serve downtown.

I'll write about the improvements to 16 in another post, because I think they constitute their very own "teachable moment."

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bike Law in California

So I've realized, with yesterday's troubles, that many cyclists in my social circle have at least a few misconceptions about bike law in California. Thus, this post. I intend it to be a quick summary of cyclists' rights and responsibilities under the California Vehicle Code and Riverside Municipal Code, so that riders can at least be fully-informed in their decisions about conduct in the streets. Here goes! (Disclaimer: I'm still not a lawyer.)

The first thing that you need to know is that, unlike skateboards, roller skates, kick scooters, and any other sort of human-powered wheeled conveyance, bicycles are considered vehicles under California law. That means that, for the most part, you have all the rights-- and all the responsibilities-- of motor vehicles in the public right of way. That means that, yes, all of those pesky car laws apply to you too, cyclist. Ride on the right-hand side of the road, with traffic. Stop at all red lights and stop signs, signal your turns, and obey the speed limit (although that's usually an easy one on a bike). For turn signals, hold out your arm straight and level in the direction of your intended turn. (CVC 21200(a))

On the flip side, bicycles are permitted on nearly all public roadways in the state. They're banned from most freeways (but not all), but that's it. As a cyclist, you're entitled to use the right-most lane that travels in your intended direction. That means that you're allowed to use left-hand turn lanes, and you do not need to stay in a right-hand turn lane unless you're turning right. Ordinarily, you're required to stay as far to the right as possible practicable, but there are several important exceptions to that rule. It does not apply:
  • when turning left.
  • when passing another vehicle traveling in the same direction.
  • when approaching a place where a right turn is permitted.
  • when necessary to avoid road conditions such as debris, surface hazards, other bicycles, pedestrians, parked cars, etc. or when the lane is "of substandard width"-- that is, when the lane is too narrow for a "vehicle" to safely pass a cyclist. I generally interpret this section by replacing the word "vehicle" with the words "full-size bus," and the words "safely pass" with the words "pass with 3 feet of clearance."
  • You may also ride on the left-hand side of a one-way street.
    (CVC 21202)
There is no number of bicycles in a group which permits you to take the lane-- you have that right even if riding alone, should any of the above conditions be met. When utilizing the full travel lane, you should position your bicycle either in the center of the lane, or slightly to the left. This sends a message to cars behind you that there isn't room for them to pass, and that they should go around. If you position yourself in the right half of the lane, expect some cars to try and pass you.

If a bicycle lane or path is provided along your travel route, you are generally required to use it. That said, you are allowed to leave the lane should travel conditions within it become unsafe, or in order to pass another vehicle or avoid a hazard. (CVC 21208)

Your bicycle must be equipped with a brake that will cause one braked wheel to skid on dry, level, clean pavement. Fixie riders, this means that going brakeless is illegal, although you'll probably get a fix-it ticket if caught. Invest in a front brake. You must also be able to put your foot down, as well as hold on to the handlebars without raising your arms above your head. On most bikes, this isn't a problem. (CVC 21201)

If you're riding at night, you are required to have a white headlight and reflectors on your pedals (or shoes or ankles- these are good if you're riding clipless), sides, and rear. Everything should be either white or yellow except the rear reflector, which should be red. Your bicycle should come with all of these reflectors already installed. You may use a red light in lieu of the red rear reflector, and a headlamp attached to you in lieu of one attached to your bicycle. So you should already have the reflectors-- an inexpensive LED light set can have you legal for night riding in no time. (Of course, tiny LED lights won't make night riding safe. If you plan on riding at night a lot, you should look into getting a much brighter headlight.) (CVC 21201)

All of the above are state regulations, but there are also a few local laws to be aware of. RMC 10.64.170 requires that you park your bicycle in a bike rack while downtown-- a feat made much easier with addition of a couple dozen new bike racks downtown, which I'll post about in a bit. It only applies if a rack is available within 150 feet. 10.64.310 prohibits riding on the sidewalk unless there are signs specifically permitting cyclists. (The only such signs in the City that I'm aware of are at University/Iowa, in Arlington Village where the bike lane joins the sidewalk, and along the Victoria Ave. path.) There are also a good number of provisions that simply restate requirements in the CVC, albeit often less elegantly. (RMC 10.64.330, for example, is the equivalent to 21201, but it doesn't make the exceptions to riding to the right clear.)

Sorry that was long, but this is a reasonable summary of the rules and regulations that apply to you while you're riding your bicycle. I'm not going to say that you should always obey every law, but by knowing them you can make an informed choice about them.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bicycle culture? Not among the police.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a laywer, although I think these bike laws are pretty clear. This version of events is my own, and has not been verified by a court of law.

Yesterday, I spent a lot of time on my bicycle-- much of it with my brothers and sisters of Occupy Riverside, engaged in joyful, peaceful protest on the occasion of May Day. During a demonstration ride up 14th St. to the Community Convergence at Bordwell Park, however, things got a measure less peaceful-- thanks to the intervention of Riverside's finest.

Anyone who's ridden along 14th street from Downtown knows that the travel lanes are jammed in three-abreast, and are reasonably narrow. There is no bicycle lane, and no wide shoulder. So, as is our right under CVC 21202(a), we took the right-hand lane. There were people in the group who hadn't ridden a bike in a while, so we were going pretty slow, and this was obviously pissing off the drivers behind us (even though we never completely blocked the street). So of course, RPD came to their rescue.

Around Sedgwick Ave., an RPD patrol car came up behind us and began ordering us over the loudspeaker to "get on the sidewalk." This shows a lack of understanding of bicycle law on the part of the officers, because not only did we have a right to the road, but they were actually ordering us to do something that's illegal in Riverside. Here's RMC 10.64.330 (warning, PDF link):
Except for authorized police bicycle patrols, no person shall ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk or parkway unless signs are erected permitting use of such sidewalk or parkway by
bicycles. (Ord. 5924 § 1, 1991; Ord. 2940 § 11.9, 1961)
Of course, we had no intention of engaging in illegal conduct while being followed by a police patrol car.

 As I mentioned, we were riding to the Convergence at Bordwell Park-- something like a giant free community picnic/grocery-and-clothing giveaway/party, for those unfamiliar. Bordwell Park is at Kansas and 14th, literally the next major street after Sedgwick. I have no doubt in my mind that the officers in question knew that that was our destination. So what did these fair-minded crusaders for justice think was the appropriate response to this imagined lawbreaking? Did they choose to simply allow us to continue on our way, for one block, and deal with the minor traffic disruption?

Of course not. As we approached Kansas, an officer (who we believe to be officer A. Watkins) pulled his patrol car in front of us in order to block our progress, jumped out of his car with his Tazer drawn, and tackled one of our number off of his bicycle. This was his response to what he thought was a minor traffic violation (and what was not, in fact, a violation of any kind). When we rushed to start filming this brazen act of police brutality, as is necessary to hold our public servants accountable for their actions, roughly 30 more officers converged on the intersection in the span of a minute or so, tangling up traffic far more than a few bicycles ever did. They started pushing the protesters back towards the park, blocking the view of our cameras, and in the ensuing scuffle another of our number was beaten and arrested- I'm not aware of what he was charged with.

To reiterate my point- our ride would have left the roadway on the other side of the intersection where it was forcibly halted. The police knew that, as evidenced by the fact that they had a gaggle of officers standing by within a minute's drive. They knew who we were and where we were going. This officer chose to make an arrest, by force, for a traffic violation-- one that wasn't actually occurring.

Obviously, this is a worrying incident for the relationship between public and the officers sworn to protect them, but I want to talk about the impact it has on cycling in our city. It is no secret that developing a "bicycle culture" in Riverside is a priority of the current Mayor and City government. It is also no secret that our bicycle facilities are somewhat lacking, and taking the lane is a necessary maneuver in many cases. Finally, this is not the first time that I have encountered police officers that are seemingly ignorant of the law they purport to enforce, at least when it comes to bicycles.

What message does this send to people who want to join in the cycling renaissance in our city? "Hey, we'd like you to bike, but idiot drivers who don't know the law aren't your only worry-- you also need to watch out for police officers, who could run you down or Tazer you for following the law." Among the many, many things that we need to fix with respect to cycling in Riverside, some remedial bike law training for the police is pretty high on that list.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Improving the Last Bus

The last bus of the night on any route is bound to see depressed ridership, regardless of when that bus runs. This is, quite sensibly, because there is no safety net if something goes wrong. Passengers have no ability to simply "take the next one" if they arrive at the bus stop late, miss a transfer, or simply lose track of time. There's no way to completely eliminate this problem, short of running 24-hour service (hmm... not a bad idea...), but it seems to me that we could at least make things better with a few operational simplifications.

As anyone who has ever used the system before knows, RTA has a few major trunk routes (1, 15, 16) that run on something approaching a reasonable frequency- 20, 40 and 30 minutes on weekdays, respectively, although 15 drops to an appalling 70-80 minutes on weekends. It also has two other types of routes: CommuterLink express routes, that run a few precious times per day, mostly during commute hours on weekdays, and the more ordinary local buses, which run roughly once an hour through much of the service area. Generally, these also shut down earlier than the trunk routes, although 22 runs surprisingly late on weekdays.

One of the troubles of taking transit is the fear of missing a transfer-- and this fear is compounded if the bus you're transferring to is the last run of the night. Sure, if everything goes right transit would work for your trip, but missing that last bus just once means an expensive cab ride, calling friends and family members for a lift, or a very long walk. And it's a fact of life that buses do run late, for whatever reason. Most of the time, they're not extremely late, but sometimes 5 or 10 minutes is enough.

So here's my proposal: The last bus of the night on each route should hold at major transfer points (Downtown terminal, Tyler mall, Moreno Valley mall) for connections from each of the trunk routes. That is, if the last #13 leaves downtown at 7:30, it should wait for the eastbound #1 at 7:15, the westbound #1 at 7:00, the eastbound #15 at 7:25, the eastbound #16 at 7:08 and the westbound #16 at 7:14. Under normal conditions, the bus would leave on time, but if any of these buses were so late as to not arrive by 7:30, it would wait until that bus arrived. Most importantly, RTA should publish this fact in the Ride Guide, providing riders with confidence that they will not miss their connections.

Would this have the effect of making the last bus of the night run light? Probably. But it's a lot better that the last bus of the night runs late than that it runs early. Is this a lot to keep track of? It sounds like it, but RTA has automated bus-tracking capability. They could likely write a computer program to do this, and alert dispatchers when holding a bus is necessary. Would this drive a little overtime? Probably, but I doubt it would drive much. Evening buses are usually on time, thanks to lighter traffic. What it would do, however, is make those last buses of the night somewhat more attractive to riders, as they could count on making their connections-- and it would likely do so at a reasonably minimal cost.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Onion In Transit

The Onion has compiled a series of their articles on transportation for a special Transit Issue. You might learn something. For example, did you know that anthropologists recently discovered that human feet were originally used for a process of self-propulsion called "walking," before evolving to their present functions of depressing automobile pedals?

My all-time favorite Onion headline is still "98 Percent of Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bear Runner on its last legs

A little history here. Prior to my moving to Riverside (although I don't know when), UCR Transportation and Parking Services used to run a night-time-only Dial-a-Ride van on campus. It ran Monday-Thursday evenings, and would take students to any point on campus or to any off-campus apartments served by the then-operating Highlander Hauler system. (At the time, this included all of the apartments in the University and Canyon Crest areas.)

For the 2004-2005 school year, TAPS did something different- they introduced the Bear Runner late-night shuttle service. Providing half-hour service, it ran essentially the present Route 53 schedule and route, but it had one serious drawback-- the gentleman who drove it thought of his job as "taking students home from campus," and would only drive the route all the way around if he picked up somebody on campus, or if he knew somebody would be waiting. I've been stranded by that policy more than once.

Needless to say, when the RTA picked up the route and actually started *running* it, it was a substantial improvement. The half-hourly service is the only public transit service between Montclair and Las Vegas that runs past 10pm. During the school year, its presence gives my neighborhood 21-hour-a-day transit service. And so, of course, RTA is going to cancel it.

The route is, admittedly, only lightly-used-- but this isn't a service whose existence is ever justified based on ridership. It's always been funded by the campus primarily as a safety service, allowing students studying late at night to avoid walking home in the dark. Sadly, it appears that UCR no longer finds it "effective" at accomplishing that goal, and will be discontinuing the subsidy. With the subsidy, so goes the route.

I doubt that anything can be done to save the route-- it exists at the pleasure of UCR, and Parking Services is notoriously un-susceptible to influence. Still, I will mourn its loss, if only for freeing my social circle from having a designated driver while bar-hopping around campus. (It really should have run on Friday nights.)

If you'd like to rail ineffectively at RTA officials in an attempt to save the only late-night bus in Riverside, there are hearing details in this article.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Reminder- CicLAvia!

It's that time again. CicLAvia, the street-closing bike-riding skateboarding stroller-pushing livable cities extravaganza, will take place this Sunday (15 April) in downtown Los Angeles. Unlike previous CicLAvias, and advantageously for us Metrolink folk, the route will extend to El Pueblo de Los Angeles, immediately across Alameda from Union Station. So you can walk right off the train and on to over 10 miles of closed streets.

Furthermore, perhaps in an attempt to alleviate the troubles I had the last time I visited CicLAvia, Metrolink will be running some trains with two bike cars on the San Bernardino Line. OC line trains will be equipped with one bike car each. And remember- a Metrolink Weekend Pass is only $10! So grab the #351 train out of Riverside-Downtown-- which will feature two bike cars-- at 6:20 on Sunday morning, and drink in the joy of CicLAvia.

You could also ride the new Amtrak California Thruway service to LA- bikes are allowed under the bus, and on the connecting Pacific Surfliner train. (And, if that's full up with bikes, your Surfliner ticket will allow you to ride Metrolink as well.)

See you on the streets of LA!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Shiny new surprise!

Here's a nice surprise I found on my commute home: what I believe is Riverside's first green bike lane! It's in the southbound bike lane on Canyon Crest just before 14th, and extends across the auto path to the right-hand turn lane. I don't have any other details on the project, or whether similar facilities are planned elsewhere.

I do know that I'd really, really like to see this on the other side of this intersection though: northbound traffic on Canyon Crest travels a lot faster, and ignores bikes a lot more readily.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The New HSR Plan: Smart Move

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has released a new construction plan, proposing a "phased approach" to building HSR. Basically, this means building a high-speed railway in the Central Valley, and connecting it at the ends to existing conventional track in order to finish the trip to LA and SF. Done properly, this can mean a one-seat ride between LA and SF (with the high-speed trains running at reduced speeds along conventional track at each end). The best part of it is that the Authority has committed to building south from Bakersfield to Palmdale and the Valley before building north to San Jose. (See my earlier post for how a phased system might work, and why BFD-Palmdale matters.)

The HSR critics are shaking out of the woodwork, pointing out that this isn't the all-HSR system that voters approved under Prop 1A. Well, of course it isn't. This is the first phase of that system. Threading HSR through built-up urban areas is hard, and the phased approach is a way to give Californians a real alternative to driving I-5 or flying between our state's major metro areas BEFORE tackling the difficult task of finishing the true HSR system on both ends. Think of it this way- wouldn't you rather have a 5-hour train to ride in 2018 while waiting for the 2-hour train in 2030?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Transit-accessible event: Riverside Air Show

Tomorrow (31 March 2012), the Riverside Municipal Airport will host its annual air show. There's nothing like a flock of high-performance aircraft to excite your inner child (or your outer children, should you have any). And, as is often happily the case with events in the area, admission is free. Parking costs $10, but you don't care about that, right?

Take RTA 13 or 15 to Arlington/Monroe. Bicyclists will find relatively easy access from Van Buren/Arlington and the Rutland exit of the SART.

More information at

Charlie Gandy likes my blog!

Or at least the title of it. At last night's Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting, he suggested "a blog, with a title something like 'Riding in Riverside'" as a medium of communication about City bike projects. I must admit I was a bit territorial (for which I apologize, in case Mr. Gandy is reading this post).

On the bright side, we had a fantastic conversation about what to do about University between Canyon Crest and the UV. Wheels are turning- watch this space for more.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bike Taxes

There's not a whole lot of detail on this one, but apparently Assemblywoman Wilma Carter (D-Rialto) proposed a bill for this year's legislative session that would impose a $2 tax on the sale of new bicycles, with proceeds going to fund state parks and bicycle trail networks.

I've talked to many bicycle advocates, and a lot of them seem to have an almost visceral reaction against bicycle-specific taxes. This is most likely because one of the tired, repetitive arguments that auto drivers make against cyclists is that we don't pay gas taxes-- the "user fees" that motorists think fund all roads in the country ever. (Of course, they don't- they only fund highways, and not even all of those.) Drivers argue that, if they have to get licensed and registered and pay gas taxes to use the roads, cyclists should have to do the same thing. This is obviously a horrible argument, as cyclists do far less damage to roadways, and pose far less danger to other road users, but it's one that's made-- and I think it's behind an almost reflexive revulsion to bike taxes among cycling advocates.

Here's the thing: if I have to pay $2 more every time I buy a new bike, and in exchange I get state parks and trails... I'll pay the $2 with a smile on my face. Even the cheapest new bikes are at least $150, so the difference between paying $150 and $152 is pretty marginal. This holds even more true for higher-end bicycles-- you're not going to notice an extra $2 on your $1200 bike purchase. I'd also be fine with something like a dime-a-tube tax on bicycle tubes, dedicated to bicycle infrastructure. (This, of course, assumes that the cost of collecting such a tax wouldn't be more than the revenue it would bring in, and that isn't a given.) I mean, it would be nice if our cities, states and nation would divert some general fund money to bike infrastructure, but I'd rather pay $7.10 for a tube and ride on plentiful Class I and II bikeways than pay $7 and dodge parked cars.

Americans in general are terribly under-taxed. If it's a viable funding mechanism, we should embrace bike-specific taxes-- so long as they go to bike-specific expenditures.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bike News

The next Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting will be held on 29 March, at 5:30pm on the 5th floor of City Hall. Part of the discussion will no doubt revolve around the upcoming Bicycle Master Plan revision, and will include a presentation from the City's Bicycle Consultant, Charlie Gandy.

Also, an update to the City's Bicycle Master Plan is afoot. The proposal is available, and comments are requested. (The more quickly you send them to me, the more likely I can pass them along to the City.)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Downtown is Special

Lamenting the under-use and massively wasted potential of our downtown is a regular habit of Riversiders. We all think that downtown Riverside is somewhere pleasant to be, somewhere special, and yet somehow lacking in a way that we never actually end up going down there for anything useful, besides city government. And, it turns out, that most Riversiders (at least the ones that I keep running in to) all have their finger on exactly what the problem is:

You have to pay for parking. If only the City would make parking free, we could stop going to the Plaza or Tyler Mall and go downtown instead!

Whenever I hear this argument, I alternate between feeling sick and feeling an overwhelming rage rise up within me. It has taken a lot of practice to get to a point where I can calmly, rationally, and efficiently demolish this argument when I encounter it... and yet it keeps popping up.

Okay, Riversiders, listen up, because I've got a few fundamental truths about cities for you. First, cities are populated by people. Not cars, people. Second, paid parking generally means that a lot of people want to go to a place-- so many people, in fact, that there's not enough space to store all of their cars. Third, parking lots are great places for cars, but not terribly pleasant places for people-- they're so unpleasant, in fact, that they destroy neighborhoods.

Knowing these things, we can derive that downtown is a special, unique place within the city. It's the one place (that's not a college campus) where automotive dominance is not complete, the one place where walking to get around is normal. That's what we like about downtown, everybody! We like being able to walk places, to feel the sun on our faces, to wave at our neighbors, to not have to worry about several tons of metal passing all around us all the time. We like the density, the passersby, the feeling that this place was built for human beings, not automobiles.  That's what's so special and unique and wonderful about downtown-- and the reason we're all lamenting its failed potential is that this vision is not quite realized. Huge parts of downtown have been rebuilt to cater to cars, and all of it has been forced to conform to single-use zoning. (More on the latter later.)

We can also see that adding free parking would destroy that- in one of two ways. First, if the City were to add a small section of free parking and not expand the parking system downtown, it would generate massive amounts of traffic circling in and around and through that area in hopes of snagging one of those elusive free parking spots-- because everyone should have the right to dump a ton or so of their property on public land at no charge-- and the traffic would harm the pedestrian environment wherever it went. (Not to mention, it would make going downtown an exercise in road rage.) Second, though-- and this is the more plausible scenario-- it would create a demand for more free parking. Surely, if we can make one lot free (and hey look! That lot's always full, it must be bringing people downtown), we can do it for every lot! And now they're all full, and there's no parking downtown, so we'd better bulldoze a building and blow your tax dollars on paving over the resulting empty lot. Give this process 10 years or so, and downtown will be even more choked by pavement than it already is.

No, what we really need downtown is not more cars, but more people. Remember that phrase above about single-use zoning? Yeah. When downtown was built, all of those little doors in the sides of buildings led up to apartments. Now they lead to dance studios and legal offices. Neither dance studios nor law offices are bad things, but neither produces a whole lot of activity outside of business hours. Apartments, on the other hand, mean that the people who are living there come and go at all hours of the day-- and, furthermore, that they're likely to shop in the area, creating demand for grocery stores and drugstores and coffee shops and restaurants and bars all the amenities of urban life that downtown currently lacks, like dry cleaning and 24-hour store hours. If you want to revitalize downtown, the solution isn't parking, it's people.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mistaken identity

Mistaken identity, originally uploaded by plattypus1.
A Commuterlink-painted NABI running as the #16 on University, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"No public transportation to speak of"

Okay, this is how this works. Public transit is primarily funded by government subsidy, and most of this funding is allocated based on ridership. A lot of expansion funding also comes from potential ridership, which is modeled based on (among other factors) existing demand. Thus, you have two cycles in transit planning. One, if nobody rides transit (often because it sucks), then transit doesn't get funding, then transit sucks, then nobody rides it. Two, if people do ride transit, then transit gets more funding, then transit sucks less, then more people ride it. There are exceptions to this rule, and every transit system is suffering from budget cuts right now, but this is basically how it works. Every time you embark on a trip that could be accomplished by transit, and you choose to drive instead, you are directly contributing to how lousy transit is in the area.

That's why I find comments like the following frustrating. This is from Ed Brayton's blog, in response to somebody having a bit of schadenfreude about a Tea Partier spending $70 filling up his Hummer:

I don’t own a vehicle, so I save a whole lot on gas. And insurance, come to think of it. And seeing the maintenance costs that some of my friends have had to bear lately with their vehicles, I wonder how it is that anyone can afford to own a vehicle.
Where do you live?
I have friends that live in major cities and don’t own cars, but that is quite literally an impossibility here. Virtually anything of interest would be a half an hour walk or more, and there’s no public transportation to speak of. (we have a bus system, but outside of downtown stops are few and far between).
The upside for low income people I guess is that we don’t have smog requirements and southern winters are kind to vehicles, so it is quite possible to go and find a cheap 20 year old car for a couple hundred dollars.
"There's no public transportation to speak of. There's a bus system..."

Over and over and over again, I find myself defending the public bus. Bus systems are public transportation worth speaking of- and, if your bus stops are few and far between, it's probably because the urban form of your area is so spread out that anywhere worth going is similarly few and far between. And even if your transit does suck, the best thing that you can do to fix that is to ride it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Drivers worried

According to the PE, drivers are worried about $4.

Is that how much the stuff is these days? I hadn't noticed.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Metrolink Synrome in Beaumont

UPDATE: For anyone wanting to actually *use* this new route, Beaumont Patch reports that reservations are required 24 hours in advance. They're also calling it the "Commuter Link"- I wonder how RTA feels about that.

The Press-Enterprise reports that Pass Transit officials in Beaumont will be offering a new express bus service between the Beaumont Wal-Mart and the San Bernardino Metrolink station. Obviously, this is great news to commuters heading from Beaumont to LA, or anywhere along the I-10 corridor (do people really drive that far every day? Holy hell...) every day, but there are a couple of worrying troubles with this route.

First, it seems to be exclusively designed for long-distance commuters connecting to Metrolink, and in that respect it is indicative of Metrolink Syndrome on the part of Pass Transit. At the Beaumont end, the bus will stop at the major transit center (at the Beaumont Wal-Mart parking lot), although it appears that the morning trips will leave too early to connect to any local routes. The PE reports, however, that the bus will proceed "directly" to the San Bernardino Metrolink, and that is troubling, because in doing so it will pass close to two major Omnitrans transfer centers- the Redlands Mall and the Downtown San Bernardino transfer center. It is difficult for me to fathom a rider willing to take transit from Beaumont to Los Angeles to work on a daily basis (although I suppose some would), but I can easily imagine a rider taking said transit from Beaumont to Redlands or San Bernardino. Facilitating their transfer to a local route would allow this new express bus to serve a much larger market of commuters, and might even someday allow it to expand to a more regular schedule than twice-a-day.

Second, the PE is unclear about reverse-commute schedules, and neither Pass Transit page (both Beaumont and Banning maintain one) has any mention of the new service. If the buses are to travel all the way to San Bernardino, only to deadhead back to Beaumont, this service will be missing out on yet another market. It's entirely reasonable to expect that there are people in San Bernardino who would like, on occasion, to go to Beaumont. It costs nothing to provide such an opportunity to them, and might help out the ridership numbers a bit. Allow the bus to connect at Omnitrans transfer points and pick up riders heading southbound, and you'll collect the transit-dependent folks who want to go to Beaumont.

Last, I'm concerned that this route may cannibalize ridership on RTA's Route 210. Pass Transit has made clear that they are marketing this route to long-distance commuters seeking to connect to Metrolink. There is already a bus that serves this market, RTA 210. It connects Banning, Beaumont, Moreno Valley and the Riverside Metrolink, and travels a bit more frequently than the new Beaumont route would. It also suffers from Metrolink syndrome-- for example, it doesn't stop at the Pass Transit hub at Wal-Mart. Neither route serves the transit-dependent well, which means both will be competing for those scarce-and-precious "choice riders." In doing so, it may lead to the downfall of both routes. Granted, these two buses would connect to entirely different train lines, and so it may be that there is a huge population of Beaumontians who work along the San Bernardino Line at points between San Bernardino and Los Angeles, but I'm skeptical. It would be safer for Pass Transit to serve the needs of the transit-riding population (and pick up under-served choice riders along the way), and in doing so ensure that both routes flourish.

Still, any new transit offering is something to be celebrated. Congratulations, Beaumont, on trying to improve your citizens' commutes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Amtrak California quietly gets better

Apparently, this happened with the release of the latest Amtrak California Timetable on December 5th, but I didn't notice until I was down at the Riverside Metrolink over the weekend. Amtrak has started operating a Thruway bus connection between the Coachella Valley and Fullerton (connecting to the Surfliner for Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego), with stops in Indio, Palm Springs, and Riverside. This is a daily service, so here's a new option for car-free travel outside of Riverside even on weekends. This bus is pick-up-only westbound to Fullerton, where it is drop-off-only, and pick-up-only at Fullerton eastbound, after which it is drop-off-only.

You can get tickets for this bus by making a prior reservation via Amtrak's web site or by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL, and either getting those tickets in the mail or picking them up at the Metrolink station. None of the Coachella Valley stations have ticketing available, but passengers may board the bus without prior reservation on a space-available basis, so long as they carry a photo ID. (The ID will be held by the driver, and will be returned when you pay for your passage in Fullerton. A similar system is used on the San Joaquin buses in Bakersfield.)

Here's a quick overview of the schedule, in which I also include connections to points south (which are valid, but not included in the official schedule.) Service is also available to La Quinta, Palm Desert, and Cabazon (Morongo Casino). You can find more information from Amtrak California's web site. Remember that train connections are required to take these buses, so they are only valid for trips to/from Fullerton (ie. no bus rides from Riverside to points east, or from points east to Riverside).


Bus #IndioPalm Springs AirportRiversideFullertonConnecting Train #Dest.
496908:0509:0010:2511:21769LA 12:10

572SD 13:55
4985--15:1016:2517:25785LA 18:55

784SD 19:59

Weekdays Eastbound:

Connecting Train #Dest.Bus #FullertonRiversidePalm Springs AirportIndio
768LA 09:40

769SD 09:27496811:5012:4013:50--
784LA 17:10

583SD 14:55498418:2019:0520:1521:15

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Pass Sales Outlets

Quick quiz- if you needed a bus pass right this minute, where's the nearest place to your house to buy one? How about your work? Do you know?

Bus pass distribution in the majority of the RTA service area, as in many suburban areas, is disproportionately concentrated at two sorts of establishments: liquor/convenience stores and check cashing shops. You can also purchase them at RTA's two offices in Riverside and Hemet, and at a few senior centers, city halls, and community service agencies, but those first two are the most prevalent. What does that say about how we think about transit?

Well, none of these establishments exactly screams upper-class, and check-cashing stores are explicitly targeted at the working poor, so there's a bit of classism for you. Furthermore, they're not the sort of places that many people would ordinarily find themselves at during the course of their day-to-day errands. Compare this with, for example, San Francisco, where you can reload your Clipper card at any Wallgreens (and a great many other grocery stores besides), or even Orange County, where you can pick up your bus pass at Ralph's when buying groceries.

Now, if you live in Riverside, you really should be buying your pass at the Public Works Department at City Hall, where you can get substantial discounts (and sign up for a pass by mail). But even then, why is this program limited to only one location in the City, only during normal business hours? How many people would find getting down to enroll in this program difficult, and why can't we handle enrollment via mail, and distribution via other outlets?

Obviously, I have a suggestion: automated pass machines at major transit centers. If you ride transit around here, odds are you'll probably end up passing through Moreno Valley Mall, Downtown Terminal, or Tyler Mall transit center at some point during your travels. How much easier would life be on the transit-dependent if, while waiting for their next bus, they could walk over to a machine and purchase their next pass? SunLine Transit in the Coachella Valley has one of these machines at their major transfer point, and they utilize a similar ticketing system to RTA. People seem to be able to figure out automated ticketing machines at the Metrolink station, and RTA's fare system is much less complicated. So how about it?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

That Transit Center report...

Last year, I noted that the Transportation Committee of the City Council had a very, very long stretch without any meetings- and that one important item, the Multi-Modal Transit Center Update, was supposed to happen during that stretch. That was in February. The Transportation Committee met only three times last year, in April, June and September. At the September meeting, the Transit Center Update was finally received and filed.

Taking a look at the report, there are three options on the table, and three construction possibilities if either of the latter two options are chosen. The three options are:
  1. No-build. Leave the buses downtown, at the current over-capacity terminal. Obviously, this would be bad.
  2. Build a new terminal on Vine St. near the Metrolink station, but only route buses that require a layover there. This would mean that routes that flow through downtown would not stop at the terminal, such as 1, 10, 14, and 16, and the network would be severely broken by a lack of connection points. More bad.
  3. Build a new terminal on Vine St., and route all bus operations there.
You can take a look at the document to see the three location options for the new station. All three would include 14 bus bays for general transit use, two of which are large enough for 60' articulated buses, and 4 bays for long-distance buses. Option 1 would use the site purchased by the City Council for the center, across Vine St. from the station, while options 2 and 3 would re-purpose some of the present parking lot for transit operations. This would get buses closer to trains, but in each case the contractor predicts that a parking garage would be "required." While nothing is final yet, I believe Option 1 is the likely candidate.

So, while the transit center project is moving like molasses, it is still moving.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

University Avenue ramp closure solves another problem

I wrote in my last post that, if we care about having a safe, walkable UC Riverside campus, we should close the University Avenue freeway ramps and allow drivers to divert to the 3rd/Blaine and 14th ramps, both of which are on high-speed arterial roadways and both of which are within half a mile of University. Minimal inconvenience for drivers would mean massive safety and quality-of-life benefits for the thousands of students on foot, skateboard, kick scooter, and bicycle who use that corridor.

But something it might also be able to solve is the lack of a centralized transit center at UC Riverside. It was more of a problem back in the days of the Highlander Hauler shuttles, but it's still an issue now: when you take the bus to "UCR," you could be stopping at any of a number of different places, and none of them are conducive to transfer. Most of them are single-route stops. Currently, the 1 stops at Bannockburn Village (on Canyon Crest just north of University); the 16 actually travels through campus on Campus Drive, stopping near Arts and Sproul Hall; the 204 stops near Bannockburn, but on the other side of the street; the 208, 210 and 212 all stop in the backwaters of Lot 30; and only the 51 and 53 link them all (but 51 only runs every 40 minutes, and 53 every 30 and only at night). Furthermore, the 10 and 14 both skirt the campus, but don't actually serve it, with 10 running along Blaine and 14 turning off University on to Iowa.

This fragmentation of routes makes transit use significantly more difficult and confusing than it should be at UCR. Students, many of whom have never ridden a city bus in their lives, see all of these various white buses moving in inscrutable patterns around campus, seeming to veer off in mysterious directions, and they get the perception that if you step aboard an RTA bus, you will have no idea where you're going. I have related many stories before on this blog of students who were traveling to the Canyon Crest Town Center area waiting longer for the "trolley" #51, rather than take the #16.

Fragmentation also reduces effective frequency, which is a serious issue for the short trips that many students make throughout the day. If I want to head down University to one of the various Chinese take-out places around Cranford or Chicago, it doesn't matter to me which route I take- the #1, #14 or #16 are all fine by me. However, there's no place on campus that I can actually wait for all of the above. If I want #1, I have to head to Bannockburn. If I want #16, I need to be in front of Sproul Hall. These places are around a ten minute walk apart. Personally, I use the Bus Tracker and Google Transit to figure out which route is leaving first, but students who have never ridden a bus won't figure this trick out easily-- and so they'll drive three blocks down the street.

Okay, so I've laid out the problem. What does this have to do with the University Avenue ramps?

Real estate.

One of the University ramps is a huge loop leading to and from the westbound freeway. Demolish this, and you'll have a nice parcel of land for a bus station, complete with space for bus layovers (which are a current problem at Bannockburn, where the #1 and #51 compete with the many, many beer delivery trucks that serve the Getaway Cafe). Such a station would be a destination strong enough to warrant the diversion of the #10 and #14 to campus (and give them space to turn around), and would provide a place for every route in the area to come together and provide extremely frequent service to nearby destinations. It's also equidistant between the University Village and the rest of campus, and there are already stoplights at the site (for the present freeway ramps). As long as the current stops on the #1 and #16 were maintained, it wouldn't downgrade anyone's present travel plans, and it would provide better access to both the university (for the community) and the wider community (for university students). It would also give public transit on campus a much more visible and permanent presence, and significantly improve the legibility of the various routes that currently almost-meet in and around the area. Done properly, you could also add automated ticketing facilities, SmartStop arrival boards, etc. that could really improve the transit experience for a whole population of users who, for the first time in their lives, find themselves without ready access to an automobile.

So, close the University Avenue ramps, tear them down, and build a UCR bus station in its place. Introduce a generation of students to urbanism the way it should be.