Friday, October 24, 2014

Good News, Bad News, part 1: The Bad News

Well, hello there! I haven't posted here since... June? That can't be right. Oh dear... Let's get right back to it then.

If you're clued-in to the local transport politics scene, you may have seen a) the proposed changes for the next Ride Guide and b) the proposed 10-Year Transit Plan floating about lately. We're in a good-news-bad-news situation between the two. I'll start with the bad news.

The new 10 Year Transit Plan is a joke, and not a terribly funny one at that. There are some good things in there, such as across-the-board frequency upgrades, but the sweeping strategic changes that the plan proposes are just plain awful.

First, there's the plan to "modernize" transit service in downtown Riverside. The plan would abandon the present Downtown Terminal, instead providing service at a patchwork of transit stops littered throughout the downtown area. Most routes would be reconfigured to pass through downtown, and the two locals that do terminate there (15 and 22), along with all express service, would be routed into a new terminal on Vine St. adjacent to the Metrolink.
I want to note that I strongly support moving RTA's downtown transfer hub closer to the Metrolink station. That's a great idea. This plan, however, makes it much, much more difficult for downtown to serve as a transfer hub. Transfers between some combinations of routes, most notably the 29/49 and 10, would take a walk of three blocks or more. The routes the buses will take through downtown are convoluted and confusing, making even knowing *where* to catch your desired bus difficult. Unlike other places where buses use on-street transfer hubs, such as Long Beach and the old San Bernardino Transit Mall, buses will not follow a single linear path through the downtown area. Instead they will be found in a haphazard spaghetti-mess of a system, stopping seemingly at random throughout the city's core.

Transfers are a necessary part of good transit network design, especially in a hub-and-spoke network such as RTA's. That said, people hate transferring. The transit agency needs to do everything they can to ensure that transfers are as seamless as possible. Making people walk for several blocks and puzzle over which street their next bus shows up on will make the experience of riding transit worse-- and, for those with cognitive or mobility impairments, will drive additional trips off of the (cheap) fixed-route system and onto (expensive) Dial-a-Ride.

Second, while many of the route combinations are really great ideas, allowing the agency to concentrate service on fewer, higher-frequency routes, the re-routing plans for routes 16 and 19 are simply asinine. Routes 16 and 19, under the plan, would be combined, with 16 truncated at UC Riverside. (I assume that this is because of the lower capacity of the downtown area to handle bus movements.) Combined with the changes to routes 10 and 14, this would mean that there is only one route serving University Avenue between UCR and Downtown, compared to the present three. Even though route 1 would be upgraded to 10-minute frequency, this would still actually mean a decrease in transit frequencies along University-- one of the most heavily-travelled segments in the entire system. Combine this with the necessity of requiring an additional transfer, somewhere other than the downtown transit hub, for the passengers coming from Moreno Valley and Canyon Crest who presently enjoy a single-seat ride (myself included). The RTA brochure posits this as a benefit, saying that riders travelling between UCR and Moreno Valley College will no longer need to transfer at the mall. Call me a skeptic, but somehow I think that there are more riders between the Mall and downtown than there are between UCR and a distant community college.

Finally, in an eternal disappointment to RTA transit-watchers, the "RapidLink" "BRT" system has been nerfed in this plan. Instead of a frequent, all-day, every-day rapid transit line, with signal priority and maybe some dedicated lanes, what we're scheduled to get is a peak-hours-only limited-stop express bus. The 1 Limited will make only 12 stops between Corona and UCR, which is fantastic, and it will run every 15 minutes-- but only during weekday peaks. This all while San Bernardino is running high-capacity rapid buses in their own dedicated lane, and has been for months! Riverside is, of course, still talking streetcars, but with the sort of savvy that indicates that they have no idea how to implement a streetcar project properly.

There is hope, however-- sustained opposition from the community has led the RTA Board to postpone adoption of the 10-year transit plan until the January 22nd board meeting. You should let the agency know what you think of the new plan by e-mailing, by calling +1 951 565 5002, by snail-mail at:
Riverside Transit Agency ATTN: Director of Planning 1825 Third St. Riverside, CA 92507
or by attending the meeting on January 22nd at 2pm at the county building downtown.


Anonymous said...

What do you mean by truncated at UCR? New to the lingo :)

JN said...

Anon, I mean that the 16 will only go as far as UCR. You'll have to transfer to route 1 to continue downtown.

cph said...

So to get between the Pass Area and Downtown Riverside, you'd have to take 4 buses: 35 to 18 at Walmart, 18 to 16 at MV Mall, 16 to 1 at UCR.

I told them just to keep the 210 running all day. It may be more expensive, but probably worth it to save all those transfers, missed connections, etc.

Ian Mitchell said...

"Riverside is, of course, still talking streetcars, but with the sort of savvy that indicates that they have no idea how to implement a streetcar project properly."

I'm fairly sure the answer for "how to implement a streetcar project properly" is "don't". If it has its own lane, stations, off-board fare payment, signal priority, then it's BRT on rubber, Light Rail on steel.

Streetcars in mixed-traffic provide worse service than a bus. They're so bad that as soon as something even fairly banal happens, you have to call in a bus.

Someone parked wrong? Bus. Too hot? Bus. Too cold? Bus. Power outage on portion of grid? Bus. Utility work? Bus. Mysterious package or bag? Bus. Need to run express service? Bus. Construction on adjacent building? Bus.

All this for average speeds that tend to be similar or worse than a local bus, and at its most cost-conscious, tends to cost about 10 times as much to build and twice as much to operate as a bus.

TOD is all about the development code changes, not the transit.

I'm not advocating for BRT, or against light rail, but I am 110% against mixed-traffic streetcars.

JN said...


I'm in almost total agreement with you. I do think that a median-running streetcar, with wide stop spacing, off-board fare collection and signal priority, might be an improvement over the present bus system, but really, this line should be BRT.

Word on the street is that City politicos won't tear up Magnolia for a bus, but they will for rail.