Thursday, November 7, 2013

Riverside Reconnects demo today

The Riverside Reconnects project parked a Siemens S70 light rail vehicle on University today. They marketed it as a chance to get to know the sort of vehicle that the project proposes to run on Riverside's streets*, but I took it as a chance to talk to some of the staff and planners about what they see as the possibilities for Riverside's streetcar project.
San Diego MTS' newest S70 LRV, parked on University Ave. today.

The bad news is that nobody is even thinking about a serious light-rail system for Riverside. The staff I spoke to said that the main decisions to be made are choosing between single-track and double-track, side- and median-running, and what sorts of signal prioritization might be available, along with the usual questions about length, scope, and phasing. While I'm admittedly disappointed that the stomach to piss off drivers and do something really daring seems lacking, I'm still hopeful that a judicious combination of median-running, aggressive signal prioritization, relatively large stop spacing (especially outside of downtown and the University area), and off-board fare collection will provide a significant upgrade to transit along the University/Magnolia corridor.

The project study area map.
The good news is that everyone behind the project seems to have the right idea. The word on everyone's lips was "Portland." Both staff and the electeds I saw there (Councilmen Gardner and Melendrez) seemed to be aware that the future of our city is increasingly transit- and active-transport-oriented, and less and less car-dependent. They know that, somehow, rail transit is key to the transformation of Portland's downtown-- and that such a transformation is vital for Riverside's future. Staff was also very conscious about the colossal failures of Los Angeles' streetcar planning, and wanted to avoid doing the same thing an hour's drive inland.

It seems like there's momentum behind this streetcar thing. It's up to us advocates to make sure that it is developed into a real transportation alternative, rather than an expensive toy that's more symbolic than transformative.

*No, this sort of vehicle would not run on Riverside's streets. The Siemens S70, which was on its way from the plant in Sacramento to San Diego's MTS, is a large bi-articulated light rail train, designed for high-speed running in grade-separated right-of-way. Siemens suggested their new S70-derived streetcar variant, or their new S100, for Riverside's project.

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