Monday, January 30, 2012

Radically simple solution: Close the University Ave. ramps

I spend a lot of time at UC Riverside. Those who are familiar with the campus know that it's bisected by the I-215/CA-60 freeway, with the campus on one side and most of the various retail establishments in the area on the other. Those who follow my blog know that one of the things that really irritates me, day in and day out, is the way that Caltrans "improved" University Avenue heading eastbound, by removing a bicycle lane from the most heavily bicycle-trafficked stretch of asphalt in the city. They did this to accommodate two right-hand turn lanes to a freeway offramp.

That's a tragedy in and of itself, and yet another example of the tiny crumbs given to bicycles taken away in order to move cars just a little bit faster, but the real tragedy is this: there are three ramps to this freeway within a one-mile stretch.

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Count them: three. One at Blaine/3rd, one at University, and one at 14th.

Let's take a look at these roads, shall we? 3rd through that section is pretty unpleasant for anyone not in a car, with low-density retail, a high school, crumbling sidewalks and disappearing bike lanes. (It gets better below Kansas or so, though...) The freeway overpass itself is pretty awful to walk or ride across. It's pretty much a car sewer. This is also the exit for one of UCR's larger remote parking lots, Lot 26. Above Iowa there are several student apartments, including many I've resided in, but I usually went down Linden if I had to cross the freeway without the aid of a motor vehicle.

14th is even worse. This road is wide, flat, and there is literally nothing of interest between Chicago and the freeway. There are research orange groves and UCR's massive Lot 30, primary parking lot for the entire campus. This road has a 55mph speed limit, and speeds often exceed that. Nothing redeeming here.

So finally we come to University. This is a thriving commercial corridor. There's plenty of parking, as you might expect in suburbia, but none of the huge student lots here. Most buildings front the street, at least between campus and Cranford. There are plentiful restaurants catering to the student population, along with a good chunk of retail establishments, and Riverside's only modern mixed-use development, Sterling University Palms. This is also a major transit corridor (#1, #14, #16, #51/53), unlike either 3rd (just the #10) or 14th (commuter express routes only). Cyclists and pedestrians clog the sidewalks and bike lanes between campus and the University Village, especially with the untimely demise of the Highlander Hauler shuttle service.

In any case, drivers on University at Iowa are never more than 1/2 a mile from either 3rd or 14th. So why should we strangle a real opportunity for burgeoning urbanism, among a population of disproportionately car-free and car-lite residents-- not to mention the safety of said residents when bicycling-- in order to save drivers 1/2 a mile and a touch of congestion?

Close the University Avenue ramps. Make University between Iowa and Canyon Crest similar to Canyon Crest itself, with only one lane per direction, along with wide bicycle lanes and perhaps even a bus lane. Maybe even add some pedestrian plazas with the extra right-of-way, pleasant places people can go and enjoy their lunch between classes. Commuter students and other drivers will divert to the other ramps, or (hopefully) divert to car-pooling or transit, and the rest of us can be left to enjoy our campus-- all of it.

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