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.


Anonymous said...

Easier said than done. This very idea (closing University EB onramp specifically) has been proposed to Caltrans within the last year. Caltrans has no motivation to do anything...

JN said...

Anon- So we start here with the idea, build momentum and grassroots support, and start applying political pressure. Nothing happens overnight. When Caltrans can't come to Riverside without hearing a chorus of voices shouting "close the University Ave. ramps," then those ramps will get closed.

Anonymous said...

I suppose - but I deal in reality sir, and the reality is that will never happen, as unfortunate as it may be. The real way to get it done is to lean on your State representatives. If you make them care, they can tell Caltrans what to do.