Thursday, October 31, 2013

Peak hour sobriety checkpoint chaos in Temecula

Stock photo: © Versageek-CC-BY-SA
Thousands of motorists and RTA's bus Route 24 ran into frustrating traffic congestion and gridlock along Temecula surface streets yesterday morning at the tail end of the a.m. peak hour commute. A water pipe rupture that occurred the night before caused lane closures along the westbound side of Temecula Parkway which connects the southern side of town to the I-15 freeway. This is a very high volume corridor with vehicle counts comparable to some freeways. Therefore, the SigAlert was serious. The bus route was delayed. Many drivers detoured north to Rancho California Road in an attempt bypass the traffic only to be greeted by a police DUI sobriety checkpoint. Yes, you read that right. The Temecula Police Department set up a sobriety checkpoint along the westbound lanes of Rancho California Road at Moraga Road during the Wednesday morning rush hour which ran from 8 a.m. until 12 p.m. Even with the SigAlert taking place along Temecula Parkway, the DUI checkpoint operation continued as planned.

The resulting situation was chaos on Temecula streets. Motorists flooded connecting streets in an attempt to get around both roadblocks. Many detoured north to Winchester Road, pretty much creating forced-flow traffic conditions along many streets. Gridlock was bad enough that the Temecula Valley News published a route to get around the sobriety checkpoint.

There is no excuse for this madness. This was preventable. Police knew of the Temecula Parkway SigAlert. Public safety was cited as the reason why the checkpoint operation continued. However, creating a situation that seriously worsens already congested traffic flow during a rush hour SigAlert which contributes towards aggressive driving, commuter frustration, lost productivity, unsafe lane changes, and red light running does nothing to make Temecula streets safer. Unless there were any immediate grave safety issues at stake, the DUI checkpoint should have been postponed at once and the inspecting officers should have been reassigned to patrol the areas of concern in order to find and catch the drunk drivers using intelligence driven enforcement means. That would have freed up much of the traffic congestion. The DUI checkpoint to deter dangerous drunk driving would then be rescheduled to another undisclosed location.

There are extraordinary cases where police checkpoints during rush hours is vital. In February, armed law enforcement screened every motorist leaving the San Bernardino Mountains along each of the mountain highways which led to massive traffic delays. Unlike a deterrent checkpoint, this was clearly to keep fugitive Christopher Dorner from escaping the area. That peak-hour operation was absolutely justified. On the other hand, with increased traffic volumes along I-15, the U.S. Border Patrol uses intelligence driven means to catch drug and trafficking criminals instead of stopping every motorist at the Temecula/Rainbow checkpoint station most of the time. Ever notice seldom use of the checkpoints nowadays? That does not mean border criminals are free to do whatever they please. They are being watched more closely.

Now, we hope that the Temecula DUI checkpoint was part of a larger investigation that positively warranted shutting down peak-direction lanes on a busy commercial corridor during a SigAlert in lieu of using intelligence driven roving patrols to catch peak hour drunk driving. If not, there's going to be a lot of anger from local residents.

The question is: How many drunk or dangerous drivers were indeed caught during this morning rush hour sting?

It is clear that government officials have to accept the fact that setting up crime deterrent-oriented checkpoints during peak travel times needs to be analyzed by traffic engineers so that such safety operations do not contribute toward traffic chaos or commuter delays which choke up productivity and exacerbate unsafe aggressive driving elsewhere. Any unplanned extraordinary traffic incident causing traffic delays at or near a planned DUI checkpoint location should be grounds to postpone such deterrent efforts with the resources spent toward roving patrols. In addition, intelligence driven enforcement combined with roving patrols are key to actually getting dangerous drunk drivers off the roads and into jail, especially during rush hours. The city government should work with law enforcement to prevent such chaotic traffic conditions from occurring again while maintaining the safety our streets and highways.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Orange County: Anger brewing with proposed I-405 toll lanes

The Orange County Transportation Authority has reported that the I-405 freeway corridor between Irvine and Long Beach is one of the most congested freeways in Orange County, carrying more than 300,000 vehicle trips in some sections each day. Based on the stats, the majority of traffic moves between the bedroom suburbs just to the southwest of Santa Ana to the robust employment hubs in the Irvine Business Complex and South Coast Plaza areas. The freeway is generally stable at other times. Caltrans and OCTA have proposed to widen the freeway.

OCTA is looking at converting the existing 2+ carpool lane into dual 3+ high occupancy tolled express lanes each way in part because federal law requires that carpool lanes operate at least 45 mph during 90% of the peak hour. The toll lane would require FasTrak toll transponders for all vehicles and possible mandatory tolls for 3+ carpoolers, much like the 91 Express Lanes. The proposal also includes adding one general purpose lane. The HOV-to-HOT conversion has caused major public backlash at the local level with city governing bodies getting involved. Residents felt like they were victims of a bait-and-switch scheme with Measure M. The City of Costa Mesa has even threatened legal action. According to OCTA, the I-405 carpool lane fills to capacity and becomes congested, mainly during peak rush hours in the peak direction.

Toll Lanes need Free non-transponder Carpooling

The Transit Coalition generally supports multi-modal express lanes and congestion pricing, but believes that it is essential for carpools to have free access to HOT lanes without a requirement for transponders and objects to pre-registration policies that would result in a reduction of carpools instead of single occupancy vehicles, especially projects that involve carpool lane conversions into HOT lanes. The reasons are overwhelming.

Last year, Los Angeles Metro converted the carpool lanes along the I-110 and I-10 freeways into high occupancy toll lanes. Carpools and all other high occupancy vehicles travel toll free, but with a catch. Except for motorcycles and preregistered buses, they must also have a switchable FasTrak transponder. That ill-advised mandate has caused many high occupancy vehicles to be displaced from the express lanes. In fairness, more drivers are utilizing the toll lanes and transit ridership has soared, but the overall number of carpools using the high occupancy lane has gone down. The leftover space is then sold to non HOV's. The end result is more toll-paying non HOV's in the high occupancy lane than HOV's.

Local I-405 residents and their elected representatives don't want that happening along their freeway. And who can blame them? Because the I-110 and I-10 toll lanes are mired in a toll transponder mandate for free carpools with the 91 Express Lanes having similar requirements, any kind of high occupancy toll lane proposal will likely be opposed. That is unfortunate because if the I-405 were to get a toll lane system like the I-15 Express Lanes facility from San Diego County complete with transit infrastructure and free non-transponder 2+ carpooling, the majority of locals would likely be satisfied with the completed facilities. Because trivial regulations such as mandatory tolls and transponders on carpoolers have caused such a negative public view of toll lanes in general, many people won't even support a replica of the award winning I-15 Express Lanes for the I-405.

Getting the I-405 Freeway and its high occupancy lanes moving

Moving forward, OCTA should not be stonewalling the values of its local residents. That is a disgrace to democracy. There must be some compromise in getting I-405 carpool lanes and the regular lanes moving in lieu of converting them into toll lanes. On top of the toll lane proposal, one OCTA I-405 alternative was to add one regular lane, the other was two general purpose lanes. Perhaps a fair compromise would be to add one general purpose and one 2+ carpool lane to form a dual carpool lane system each way from the I-605 to SR-73. Meanwhile, to get the existing single carpool lane moving once more, OCTA officials should identify any bottlenecks and consider improving mass transit options. If engineers conclude its occupancy requirement for carpool should be raised to 3 during peak hour congestion, launch a 3-month long carpool marketing campaign to the convert the peak hour 2-person carpools into 3+ and implement all day express bus services between downtown Long Beach, Irvine, and the Laguna Hills Transportation Center. Work with the private sector to improve existing Park & Ride options and connections to transit centers. That would create a long-lasting high occupancy lane corridor that would begin to mimic the El Monte Busway while minimizing negative impacts caused by the displacement of 2-person carpools.

Imposing mandatory tolls or transponders on carpools should be no substitute.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Moreno Valley: Deterring crime with Big Brother and Youth Activities

Law enforcement and Moreno Valley officials are working together to fight against the growth of crime plaguing the city. What looks like ordinary traffic control cameras along city streets are extra eyes for the Riverside County Sheriff's Department. Speakers attached to some of the cameras allow the police to interact remotely whenever something suspicious is happening. As a transit advocacy group, we want a first-rate transportation system for the region which deserves to have streets that are free of crimes and gangs.

We're longing for expanded transit services in this region, but even the best-of-the-best infrastructure would mean nothing if the places it serves is called "The Murda" or "a city of death."

Privacy:

Some residents have raised some privacy concerns about these cameras that cannot be ignored. The Fourth Amendment also needs to be respected; Big Brother should not be going into people's backyards without a search warrant. Officers have reported that the government has strict rules that prevent privacy breaches. According to sources, there are no microphones; people's conversations are not monitored or recorded. The cameras won't be used for automated traffic photo enforcement. Cameras pointed toward private windows will be blocked out. Facial recognition systems would be used to catch wanted criminals on the run. A fair policy to debate and potentially adopt would be this: If an officer remotely stops an individual through the speaker system or in person, uses or saves recordings for investigations, or spots something suspicious, the incident should be documented and, if used in court, recorded under oath.

Another fair policy is better transparency and community education of the system. To help allay some concerns, Moreno Valley has scheduled public tours of its monitoring center on Nov. 7. The government has promised transparency and has released this Q & A document on the City website. It may be a good idea for the City to expand this document so it can be found easier with a link on the front page given the high level of public interest.

Stopping Crime: Better Parental Involvement with Children

Speaking of better networking, residents have also demanded better communications and answers for the Raymond Johnson case. We won't make any judgements on this case until more facts are made public, but officials held a public forum on October 28. Topics included what residents can do to better deter crime, such as communication, parental and civic involvement and jobs, particularly for those with criminal records. High-ranking officers and community leaders implored residents to get more involved in their children's lives and civic groups.

There is work do be done to perfect these cameras and debates should continue to solve Moreno Valley's crime problems. Simply put: If there's chronic violent, drug or gang crimes taking place in an neighborhood, it needs to be enforced and patrolled better regardless of who is involved. Secondly, one of the roots of the criminal and gang cultures is poor parenting. At-risk youths are recruited into these groups because they have nobody else to turn to. They are looking for satisfaction from the garbage dump because they are not being raised properly and not getting the proper discipline necessary to compete in the American marketplace. Residents have responded and are not giving up. Numerous youth activities have formed to keep vulnerable youth from joining gangs.

The Transit Coalition has urged officials from all sectors to use public forums and the public messaging system to encourage good parenting and to stop troubled youths from joining gangs. Raising children right can't be legislated in a free society, but such advocacy combined with a strong law enforcement presence must be broadcasted to drive out this violent subculture. That's a solution of how Moreno Valley and the rest of the Inland Empire can attain a better transportation system that is not plagued in criminal activity.

Monday, October 28, 2013

New website for A Better Inland Empire

The Transit Coalition's A Better Inland Empire project has a new website. We invite you to visit it and check out some of our Inland Empire campaign work. The web address, www.thetransitcoalition.us/a_better_inland_empire/, and links to individual campaign pages and media files remain the same as the previous site, but the new site has an upgraded interface, is easier to navigate, less cluttered, interacts with social media sites and readers can post comments and questions directly to campaign pages.

The site includes:
  • Direct links to Inland Empire campaigns complete with more user features.
  • Readers of our campaigns will find it easier to post questions or comments, donate, and/or volunteer straight from these pages.
  • The project site now has direct links to government fact sheets and studies which provide the data for our campaigns.
  • Links to Transit Coalition blogs, discussion board, our Weekly e-Newsletter, and the option for readers to share their stories.
  • Link to ABIE's Facebook page and numerous ways for readers to "Like" or subscribe to Inland Empire happenings.

Your donations and volunteer service help us build up these campaigns to get Southern California moving. Please don't hesitate to make a contribution so that our work continues undisturbed.

Friday, October 25, 2013

RTA: Listen to the Radio, Ride the New Bus, Win an iPad!

By Riverside Transit Agency

Grab your camera or smart phone and find one of RTA’s new buses to win big prizes. RTA is teaming up with 103.9 KCXX for this first-ever photo contest, which is now underway and will run through November 4.

Just post a photo of yourself and a new RTA bus to Instagram with the hashtag #RTANewBus. Don't know where to find a new RTA bus? Just listen to X103.9 or visit their website for details on where they’re rolling. Then grab your camera and snap away for a chance to pocket some tickets to a concert or special event, or even an iPad.

For more information or questions relating to the contest visit the RTA website.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The future of cross-regional mass transit in the Coachella Valley

Closing a major transit gap along the I-10 corridor between the Coachella Valley and the rest of the Inland Empire to the west has long been on our Future Vision of Mass Transit. Yesterday, we mentioned some of the challenges and opportunities regarding a peak-hour commuter bus line that bridges this gap, yet attracts few riders. SunLine officials will be kicking off a marketing campaign to spread awareness of this bus. However, closing this gap in a productive manner with extra trains and buses outside of rush hour is going to take some quality cooperation between public agencies and the private sector. 

Daily Amtrak Trains:

Since the 1990's both state and local transportation officials have been pushing to get daily intercity train service into the Coachella Valley from Los Angeles. The main problem has been the rail right-of-way which is privately owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, not public agencies. UPRR has long objected to additional passenger trains along these tracks to prevent obstruction of its logistics business. The state government has no unilateral powers to compel the UPRR to permit the operation of extra trains. Nevertheless, for intercity trains, there are certain rules by the federal government that can ultimately lead to an order compelling the UPRR to operate the service.

According to The Desert Sun on Sept. 30, the Coachella Valley Association of Governments took another step forward into making daily train service a reality. It voted to dedicate a portion of transportation funds to the passenger rail project and approved an agreement with Riverside County Transportation Commission. Daily intercity service would be a welcome transit alternative into the Coachella Valley.

© Jerry Huddleston CC-BY-SA
Return of Class One UP trains?

According to this Forbes article, America’s leading freight railroads have been open to reinstating Class One passenger rail service. Could the historic Argonaut train make a comeback? With the railroads open to revisit passenger rail service, robust debate to generate fair and sound passenger rail policies must take place between the government and UPRR. There have been strong arguments and points made on both sides. Robust debate on this matter is good for improving rail transit options.

Can the railroad be inclined to bring back some passenger trains for the corridor and make some extra profit on the side? Could there be combined corridor-based UP and Amtrak service which offers high speed train service between the Coachella Valley and LA once every few hours each way in the long term? How about a potential Rail2Rail-like agreement where monthly passholders can board whichever train arrives first?

Tax breaks have historically worked in other sectors. Who would not want to see in the long term a couple of local high speed intercity Amtrak trains, a daily Sunset Limited long distance train using HSR technology, and about four to five UPRR Argonauts pass each way through the Coachella Valley every day? UPRR can capitalize on the passenger travel demands while the public benefits with the additional travel options.

By the way, the Argonaut train was the Southern Pacific Railroad's secondary passenger train between New Orleans and Los Angeles. The Sunset Limited served as the primary.

Improved intercity bus connections:

What about intercity buses like Greyhound? Currently, Greyhound stops its buses at a staffed station on the far-east end of the Coachella Valley in Indio with some runs stopping at the unmanned Palm Springs Amtrak station. The local economy around the Palm Springs train station is near desolate and therefore a hostile place to wait for the bus. Public officials will need to offer incentives so that either Greyhound or a competing bus line will stop their buses in the downtown Palm Springs area and/or the Thousand Palms region. Speaking of competition, Greyhound should not be in a position to monopolize the intercity bus market between the Coachella Valley and points in Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. State and federal law need to allow for better marketplace competition which strengthens intercity bus transit services and lowers fares.

All day public transit bus connections:

The last challenge involves connecting the Coachella Valley for more local cross-regional travel trips. Such trips can be fulfilled with a local-plus express bus rote that runs at least hourly between Beaumont and Thousand Palms with timed transfers to connecting bus lines. Coordination between Pass Transit and SunLine Transit combined with future economic growth will be necessary resources to pay for such service. Under the current economic climate, such a route is not yet feasible. However, growth in the market economy and proper planning can suggest otherwise. Additional local-plus express routes with hourly headways could also span from the Palm Springs area north to 29 Palms and east through Indio to Mecca. Again, marketplace growth is vital to sustain productive operations. Check out the Future Vision for a map of the conceptual route ideas.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Increasing the ridership aboard SunLine CommuterLink 220

Source: Riverside Transit Agency. For reference only. Please do not use for trip planning.
Just a little more than three years ago when the Riverside Transit Agency launched CommuterLink Route 217 into service which currently provides commuter services between the Hemet Valley and Escondido, ridership was very light at first. The line took in less than 2 passengers per hour. Back then, we called on RTA to continue to study local travel patterns and find ways to make the once underperforming bus route more useful and productive in lieu of simply cutting trips or cancelling the line. This is crucial for lifeline bus routes with no alternatives such as cross-regional connectors.

We originally asked RTA to work with the San Diego Association of Governments and extend Route 217 further down south via the I-15 Express Lanes to directly connect the line with employment centers from Rancho Bernardo to Kearny Mesa without the need to transfer buses in Escondido. The concept included a proposal to replace the Hemet-Temecula segment with a streamlined Route 79 as the 217 overlapped this route. By establishing a timed transfer, riders coming in from the north could transfer seamlessly to the San Diego-bound route at Temecula. RTA instead kicked off a strong marketing campaign for the line, and it worked. Combined with a spike in gas prices, ridership for the entire line shot up. Regarding our suggestion, SANDAG has long range plans to directly connect commuter buses from Riverside County to San Diego employment hubs.

Today, SunLine's CommuterLink 220 is in the same boat according to The Desert Sun. Ridership is light coming out of Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage. Like Route 217, this line spans a great distance, from the Coachella Valley to Downtown Riverside. The segment between Beaumont and Riverside is actually performing well, but it's the Coachella Valley branch that is currently suffering from low ridership. SunLine officials have promised to kick in a strong marketing campaign, pretty much repeating what RTA did to successfully get Route 217 performing productively. While an end-to-end trip goes over 2 hours in length, a 70-75 minute commute between Cabazon and UC-Riverside is certainly doable. Likewise, a trip between Palm Desert and Banning lasts about an hour, an acceptable bus commute time.

There have also been some local belly-aching about the lack of connections to/from local SunBus lines with the express route scheduling. Commuters living in Palm Springs also have to backtrack to Rancho Mirage to catch the bus. Off-peak intercity Greyhound bus service stops only at the valley's far-east bus transfer hub in Indio. There is work that needs to be done. These are some concerns that both RTA and SunLine officials will need to consider and study to enhance local-to-express transfers, getting express departures to match commuter patterns, and to better connect through intercity services with the SunBus during off-peak hours.

Be sure to check out our long term future vision of the region and see how the Coachella Valley can be connected to other regions in a productive manner via mass transit. We'll post something tomorrow about this.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Productive Transit Growth for Highgrove

Four years ago, during the fall of 2009, The Transit Coalition noted a local group in the Highgrove area advocating for a Metrolink train station for their community. Highgrove is a small unincorporated region located between Riverside and Grand Terrace. The local group specifically envisions a station to be placed along the main rail line between San Bernardino and Riverside, not along the Perris Valley Line branch where it is currently proposed at Riverside's Hunter Park. To this day, proponents continue to advocate for a Highgrove Metrolink station. Back then, we engaged the group and promised to take a fresh look into the idea. This 2009 conceptual future vision of the area shows a robust Highgrove Metrolink station combined with infill new urbanism. Such a concept would require a robust economy and coordination between the County of Riverside, the City of Riverside, local transportation officials, the state and the private sector. We shared this idea with the local group and it was forwarded to top officials and the Riverside County Transportation Commission on their behalf. The debate and facts leaned toward the "no" side for now.

On the surface, the idea may be noble and the fact that the community is actively engaging in a robust debate of the matter is productive. The reality is that under the current economic and political climate, the Highgrove station simply cannot be a part of the Metrolink Perris Valley Line project. During our 2009 field study, we checked out the area and spoke with top officials with the RCTC. The local economy is pretty light in the area which would lead to an issue of light ridership projections according to RCTC. Yes, there is a business park and a small logistics hub a few blocks south of Highgrove in the City of Riverside; that's where the Hunter Park station is proposed. However, just to the southwest of this Riverside job hub is the Riverside Downtown Metrolink Station. RCTC officials also studied this area multiple times and concluded likewise.

For now, the good folks in Highgrove do have some productive transit alternatives to bring into the public arena of debate. As mentioned, the Riverside Downtown Metrolink Station is less than five miles to the southwest. It is about a 15-20 minute bus ride away via RTA Route 14. Establishing the RTA transit hub in this area has long been advocated by the Coalition which can serve as a productive alternative combined with better timing the buses with trains. That would be a good short-to-mid term alternative with the current demographics and economic conditions.

In the long term, establishing one or more intermediate train stations a few miles to the north in the Grand Terrace or Colton area is also a debatable alternative since they would be better spaced apart from the two county seat stations. The local economy certainly needs to be in a better shape to sustain this and should be a part of long range plans. If the private sector pours in some capital into the Highgrove, Grand Terrance, and Colton areas with developer funds paying for the transit infrastructure, the idea of getting one or more intermediate train stations and transit centers built along the mainline between Riverside and San Bernardino can be revisited and included in long range plans. That's productive transit growth for Highgrove.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Transportation Tips: Check your change before heading to the bus stop

One bus transit issue that seems to annoy many people are cash paying riders who forget to bring their change only to find out they don't have the exact fare amount once at the farebox. This of course holds up the bus, something that is preventable with simple preparation. As regular riders well know, on-board transit bus fareboxes do not make change or take debit/credit cards.

We'll keep this week's transit tip short: If you're a cash paying patron, take 5-10 minutes, double check the one way and day pass fare charts by going to your transit agency's website or by calling the customer service telephone number published in many sources well before your bus trip. Have this money ready to go and make sure the dollar bills and coins are in good condition. Have a few extra quarters and dollar bills to spare. We understand that last minute circumstances come up; be prepared ahead of time. Put some extra change and dollar bills in a place of safekeeping, enough to get you a day pass should you need to transfer buses. The next time you need to take the bus, by preparing ahead of time, you won't be the one holding up the line.

Help keep our buses moving.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Check out The Transit Coalition's Future Vision of Inland Empire Mass Transit

Long Term Future Vision of Inland Empire Mass Transit: PNG | PDF

The Transit Coalition's A Better Inland Empire has updated its long term Future Vision of Inland Empire Mass Transit based on data from numerous feasibility studies, agency proposals, the media, growth patterns, and public feedback. Be sure to check it out and post your ideas and comments. If you think something is lacking in transportation in your neighborhood, bring it up.

The Transit Coalition is a broad based group of concerned citizens mobilized to passionately demonstrate community support for the economic development and continuing operation of improved transportation. We work to develop a safe, integrated, cost effective and environmentally sound public transportation system for the greater Los Angeles region with the A Better Inland Empire project focusing specifically on matters here in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. The Transit Coalition realizes that government must not only look at the tangible cost of running and building a public transportation network, but also the intangible benefits that such a system provides, such as better health, less pollution, reasonable travel time, ease of use, coordinated schedules with a minimum amount of transferring between routes. Our efforts at education and outreach highlight congestion relief opportunities and mobility alternatives that will allow the area to move forward to reach full potential as a dynamic, culturally advanced and livable world-class region.

Here's a rundown of our long term vision for the Inland Empire
  • New urban rapid transit lines throughout the Inland Empire for dense corridors including Magnolia Avenue and University Avenues in Riverside, Perris and Alessandro Boulevards in Moreno Valley and Perris, and numerous corridors in San Bernardino County.   
  • Transit gaps closed in between regions from early morning to late night, 7 days per week.
  • Increased, frequent, and corridor-based Metrolink service combined with the possible return of Class One high speed intercity rail service, including at late nights and weekends, for potential combined 30 minute frequency between trains with additional peak-hour runs.
  • High Speed Rail done right: Separated rail grade crossings with electrified passenger rail service to get regional and intercity passenger trains up to high speed standards.
  • Local infrastructure and tax incentives for private intercity bus lines to stop their buses at public transit stations and better competition to strengthen service and lower fares.
  • 5-10 minute timed transfers between major routes at transfer hubs and stations. Enhanced bus and rail scheduling at transfer hubs to minimize waiting time.
  • High occupancy carpool and express toll lanes that support free non-transponder 2+ or 3+ carpooling with rapid express bus transit infrastructure and stations placed within a few blocks of the freeway with park & ride amenities. Local usage policies that designate corridors for high occupancy vehicle travel and fast travel speeds even during peak periods.
  • Noise and weather protection for bus and rail transit stations along or near freeways.
  • Additional park-and-ride locations and expansion of overflowing parking lots.
  • Policies that will entice airlines to better use the Ontario Airport.
  • Bike paths and walking trails next to transit rights-of-way and other Inland Empire scenic locations.
  • Additional bike rack capacity on buses and trains and adequate bike storage lockers at transit stations and other popular spots.
  • Installation of benches and functional transit shelters along bus and rail routes.
  • Intelligent, accurate signage and current transit schedules at transit stations.
  • Intelligence-driven law enforcement to better combat crime, vandalism, fare and toll evasions, carpool lane cheating, and other transportation related violations without obstructing mobility with trivial rules.
  • Continued interest on major transit projects to prevent delays, cancellations and construction cost increases caused by wasteful government spending and trivial bureaucracy.
  • Improved rider safety, security, and teams of volunteer transit ambassadors at major hubs and onboard transit vehicles.
  • Landscaping, art and comfort installations as appropriate at key transit stations, as well as appropriate mitigation along transit corridors.
  • Transit-oriented development for a more pedestrian-friendly environment and decreased reliance on the automobile.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Closing the off-peak transit gap: Lake Elsinore - Corona

The Riverside Transit Agency has been receiving public comments which will be used toward forming a short to mid range transit master plan for Riverside County. That is known as a Comprehensive Operational Analysis (COA). Residents and workers from all over the region have participated in public meetings hosted by RTA. Many requests included longer service span and better frequency, both of which are long overdue. Information from these public meetings will help with The Transit Coalition's work in improving RTA bus service. Issues brought up into the public arena will also be incorporated into our future vision--which by the way, we are updating ourselves based on RTA service requests, changing demographics, and data from RTA's 2007 COA. Just a reminder that here at the Transit Coalition and at RTA's Transportation Now meetings, public "hearings" never close. Please continue to send us your suggestions and comments even after the close of official comment periods and continue to keep our top officials informed of your needs. Our mission of improving Inland Empire mass transit and quality of life will be ongoing.

One RTA service request brought up by local area residents that was supported in the 2007 COA and advocated in our future vision is a local regional connector bus route through Temescal Canyon. The Temescal area certainly is a spread out community, but three active city centers can serve as the hubs for a productive regional connector bus route. They are Eastvale, Corona, and Lake Elsinore.

Here's our future vision of the Temescal Canyon RTA bus route:

The line would be a streamlined and restructured extension of Route 3 or a second route that interlines or connects with Line 3 via a 10 minute timed transfer at the Corona Transit Center.


View Larger Map

From the north including the existing Route 3 service, the line serving Temescal Canyon would start at the County Village area transfer hub. It would run through the Eastvale Gateway to downtown Corona via Hamner Avenue, stopping at the Corona Transit Center for a short layover. Route 3 would then continue south through the El Cerrito, Dos Lagos, Temescal Canyon, and Downtown Lake Elsinore with a school trip run to Temescal Canyon High School. Buses would run hourly from early morning through the evening or later with additional runs during peak and school hours. An end-to-end trip would be around 90 minutes under direct routing conditions plus a short 5-10 minute layover at the Corona Transit Center for transferring passengers. The route has been found feasible in 2007, demand for it is high, and closes a transit gap in between regions during off-peak hours. Running the line directly through the existing hubs in Eastvale, Corona, and Lake Elsinore strengthens ridership and productivity. There are plenty of reasons to operate a streamlined regional connector bus route through Temescal Canyon and the community supports it.


Monday, October 14, 2013

How two cities are addressing Inland Empire logistics growth

Photo: © Wikimedia/Raunet CC-BY-SA
For the past few years, the Inland Empire has been experiencing an economic boom in the logistics sector, providing thousands of private sector entry-level and independent trucking jobs. As this blog has been mentioning, the Inland Empire could very well use these jobs but without the pollution and clogged highways. Inland Southern California Economist John Husing stated in the Press Enterprise, "A lot of people don't want to hear this, but logistics to the Inland Empire is what tech is to the Silicon Valley. Kill this sector and you are saying to the poor: 'Stay there.'" Husing has a valid thesis. Our position has been "don't throw out the baby with the bathwater." The baby being the jobs that Husing strongly supports, the bathwater being unhealthful air quality and traffic congestion opposed by The Transit Coalition and concerned residents.

Husing also wrote this op-ed which was published by the PE. A number of the published statements are certainly questionable and debatable, but his thesis of offering a chance for the poor to enter into the marketplace of America absolutely cannot be ignored. Restorative economic justice in poor neighborhoods complete with jobs and the opportunity to advance in the marketplace must be a part of smart development growth. Logistics jobs can provide some of that justice.

Regarding the growing logistics industry, there has also been some local belly-aching that the region could use additional skilled-based jobs that may not be offered in logistics; that's very true and local jurisdictions should encourage such development. A robust medical campus is proposed in Moreno Valley near the busy Riverside County Regional Medical Center. However, with the presence of additional entry-level jobs offered in logistics, workers looking to gain workplace experience have more choices than working at a fast food restaurant or the neighborhood Wal-Mart. In a robust economy as experience is gained and new skills are learned, workers can apply for better positions or advance through the company. As employers need more entry-level workers, the value of the wage dollar and salaries go up since workers have more choices of where to work and the job-to-worker ratio leans toward jobs. Those are all good. We would like to see our Riverside Transit Agency buses, Metrolink trains, park & ride lots and carpool lanes used by a productive labor workforce. That supplies the tax funds which pays for public transportation and its infrastructure.

On the other side, there have been some very valid and sound concerns combined with some unanswered questions regarding the proposed World Logistics Center in eastern Moreno Valley in which we and many local residents in the City of Moreno Valley are seriously questioning and objecting. Likewise, folks in Jurupa Valley have noticed more trucks rolling though town and have brought this matter to their City Council. How are these local governments checking the economic boom in Inland Empire logistics? There's a stark contrast between the two.

Jurupa Valley - Productive and robust debate

In the "community of communities," the Jurupa Valley City Council on October 3 heard several valid arguments and points from both sides regarding an issue of the growing number of trucks on local roads. Locals want overnight noise, truck traffic and pollution under control. The industry and independent tuck drivers don't want be driven out of business. The debate taking place in the court of public opinion is robust and productive. Council members on October 3 also engaged in public debate among themselves, disagreeing on some solutions. It's quite clear that both sides will need to form some sort of compromise. Jurupa Valley certainly should be free from traffic congestion, pollution and loud noise in the middle of the night while the growing sector provides the tax revenue and job opportunities to its residents.

Robust debate is good and necessary for smart economic growth and we understand that no solution will be picture perfect. There will always be ways to improve on developing smart economic growth policies that are good for both the economy and the environment. The situation taking place in Jurupa Valley is a prime example of good and productive public debate.

Moreno Valley - Stonewalling the concerns of residents

In the city "where dreams soar," the Moreno Valley City Council appears to care less about the valid concerns and questions by residents. Logistics is on the rise and Moreno Valley certainly can use the added jobs; no question. However, the runaway growth as demonstrated with the World Logistics Center is falling into urban sprawl where such unchecked growth can overwhelm public infrastructure and the transportation system, causing traffic congestion and pollution. That's where we must draw the line.

For WLC to work as proposed, designated truck routes away from neighborhoods and schools would need to be established, likely along the freeways. Trucks on the surface streets must be restricted to local deliveries only; that includes Alessandro and Perris Boulevards. New trucks will need to use clean technology to prevent Moreno Valley's air quality from worsening. With the lack of a rail line in the area, the 60 Freeway through the Badlands would have to be expanded with truck climbing lanes so that traffic bottlenecks do not form on either side. If no rail alternative is built, the freeway corridor may even have to be doubled in size to sustain WLC operations. And all of this must be done without disrupting the Badlands ecosystem. The Gilman Springs Road corridor may also need be upgraded. In addition, residents living around the affected WLC area will need to approve of it and the representing governing body must reflect their values.

Without implementing these solutions, the WLC will be urban sprawl which deserves to be opposed. To be fair, the trucking industry has begun to work on cleaning up their trucks by using alternative fuels and the WLC buildings are proposed to be eco-friendly. However, many of these points mentioned are not being addressed. Many trucks still run on dirty diesel fuel. Traffic through the Badlands hills is already approaching capacity, more than 16% of the total traffic is logistics movement and there are no truck capacity improvement proposals except for plans to add truck climbing lanes. Construction is expected to begin in 2016.

Also, according the Press Enterprise, the proposed truck lanes is a safety improvement project. Riverside County Transportation Commission officials said the truck lane project has nothing to do with WLC plans. A specific transportation analyses for WLC needs to be brought into the public square of debate. Right now, Moreno Valley officials are not holding the developer accountable regarding the undesirable characteristics of urban sprawl. That's why both The Transit Coalition and residents have risen up to question WLC.

Unlike Jurupa Valley where the City Council has engaged in productive, robust debate, the Moreno Valley City Council is stonewalling their residents and pandering to the will of logistics developers. The fact that the federal government is conducting a criminal investigation on these individuals and the developer makes their case even weaker. The city's ill-advised decision of quickly appointing Yxstian Gutierrez to the City Council to replace Marcelo Co with no public screening process or election is a disgrace to democracy and worsens government trust and further weakens WLC support. In the 1970's the country was outraged when President Richard Nixon stonewalled the public with the Watergate scandal. The WLC debate not about ideology versus ideology. It's not NIMBY opposition. There are legit concerns on traffic congestion and pollution that need to be addressed. The Moreno Valley City Council should not be stonewalling or ignoring the concerns of their people.

The jobs and the new labor workforces generated by logistics deserve not to be mired in traffic congestion on the way to work or breathing dirty air. That's why we have land use controls. That's why economic growth cannot go unchecked.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Transportation Tips: Transit Advocacy and Combating Gang Violence


View California Gang Territories in a larger map

A Better Inland Empire needs to make this point once more. Supporting policies that keep our youth and children out of the criminal world, drug abuse, and gangs is vital for a first rate and robust transportation system. We've called for officials to put out public messages to discourage parents, especially fathers, from abandoning their children so our future leaders will not be at risk or inclined to enter into the gang or drug cultures when they grow up. Earlier this summer, during a field study, we ran into an 18 year old young adult living on the streets who was improperly raised, dropped out of high school and was at grave risk of entering into this dangerous culture since he had appeared to have nowhere else to go. It has a heartbreaking experience as this man had the will to work and be in the American marketplace. Thankfully, we found out later that his grandparents took him in and plans are he will acquire a GED, become a high school graduate and move forward in becoming a productive laborer.

Child discipline and good parenting cannot be legislated, but can be encouraged through the public message system which includes public speeches from elected officials. The evidence between good parenting by having a father in the house and combating crime is overwhelming with near universal agreement according to those who work in this field. This all applies to children and families of all races.

Children must be raised properly so that they will have the motivation necessary to work and compete in the marketplace and not join gangs. Our work to improve the Inland Empire's mass transportation systems will mean nothing if the cities they serve are mired in disgraceful crime. What good will our transit systems be if they are not filled with a productive and robust labor workforce which helps pay for the system? Who would want to ride a public transit bus or drive through a gang-filled neighborhood? The connection between the proper raising of children and transit advocacy is vital.

We encourage you to take a look at this map put together by a Google Maps user by the name of Kevin. This map illustrates where known gangs exist in the Inland Empire. Check out what programs are out there in your neighborhood to help stop these dangerous criminal groups and to prevent vulnerable youth at risk from joining them. Research is showing that careless parenting and undisciplined youths getting involved in the criminal culture are closely tied together, but there are ways to offset this. Many schools will be celebrating Red Ribbon Week during the course of this month, bringing an awareness of alcohol, tobacco and other drug and violence abuse to attention. Get active in one of these programs, especially if you are in a position of raising children. They are our future to a Better Inland Empire.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Carpool Lane Congestion and RCTC's Interstate 15 Corridor Improvement Project

Southern California's carpool lanes may appear to be dated given noticeable peak hour congestion, but that is no reason to simply do away with the system. According to Caltrans, the goals of carpool lanes are to reduce congestion and improve air quality on the State Highway System.

The law states that the carpool lane is used "to stimulate and encourage the development of ways and means of relieving traffic congestion on California highways and, at the same time, to encourage individual citizens to pool their vehicular resources and thereby conserve fuel and lessen emission of air pollutants."

Dedicated lanes for high occupancy vehicles is a viable alternative, according to the state government. In many cases, such lanes are the only alternative, in meeting federal air quality conformity standards for capacity-increasing improvement projects in metropolitan areas in conjunction with improving options for alternative high occupancy vehicle travel such as expanded bus and train services and marketing campaigns to form carpools. Carpool lanes represent one approach being used in regions throughout the state to respond to growing traffic congestion, declining mobility level, air quality and environmental concerns.

Yes, there are some corridors where the carpool lane may be lightly used during some hours. We've brought our views into the court of public opinion earlier this week on this one.

Many commuters sold on ridesharing

Those principles and benefits of carpool lanes are all good, and many commuters were sold on that notion. Guess what? Combined with the Inland Empire population growth, the carpool lanes are now jammed too during the rush hour. Under the federal law, carpool lanes are officially congested when the high occupancy vehicles in these lanes fail to maintain a minimum average operating speed of 45 miles per hour 90 percent of the time over a 180-day period during the morning or afternoon peak hours.

There have been claims that solo hybrids and electric cars are contributing to the chaos. There are some who are demanding that the exemption be abolished. Caltrans believes the state's rising population–and not solo clean vehicle access–is the primary reason for congestion in the carpool lanes. “More people are driving more cars longer distances. Our research shows that vehicle miles traveled increased faster than population growth," according to Caltrans' Chief of Traffic Operations Robert Copp. "So, with population increases, we get more traffic, more congestion." That may be true, but placing solo hybrid restrictions could be one solution to explore given that they are not really high occupancy vehicles. Restricting such access in congested areas is not the cure-all solution, but it would certainly help. The reality is that it probably won't be much longer until the majority of cars would be considered clean as more hybrids and electrics are introduced in the marketplace and prices come down.

Speaking of solo's, the other exempted vehicles are motorcycles. Should they too be restricted? Positively not. Motorcycles are considered a high occupancy vehicle simply due to safety and their small size. If a motorcycle is stuck in the general purpose lanes, that makes the roadway more hazardous. One corridor does restrict motorcycle access to its high occupancy vehicle lanes, the 91 Express Lanes. They must have a FasTrak transponder and hop into the 3+ lane. Motorcycles should be exempted from needing to register for a FasTrak transponder and pay tolls during the PM rush hour, period. There is no excuse to motorcycle safety. Automated enforcement systems can certainly detect these high occupancy vehicles.

Combating Carpool Lane Congestion

Moving forward, Caltrans will explore several strategies to reduce carpool lane congestion, including:
  • Adjusting hours of HOV operation
  • Modifying vehicle entrance and exit points in HOV lanes
  • Increasing enforcement by the California Highway Patrol, and
  • Limiting hybrid access in congested areas.
Identifying bottlenecks and the modification of access points which could include the addition a transitional weave lane certainly should be looked at by traffic engineers. There may be cases where carpool congestion is caused by a bottleneck. That's why we're keeping a close watch on the 91 Express Lane extension and the bottleneck along the I-15 south at El Cerrito Road where the highway goes to three lanes with no high occupancy lane.

There have also been local discussions of changing the occupancy requirement for carpool from 2 to 3 during congested periods. That should be looked at on a corridor-by-corridor basis by traffic engineers. We understand that such a change will be a bit chaotic at first as 2-person carpools are displaced, but strong marketing campaigns to form 3+ carpools and plans implement all day transit service should be able to offset this issue. Long term plans may include doubling the capacity so that there are two carpool lanes in each direction. The I-15 Express Lane facility in San Diego County is a prime example.

Model high occupancy vehicle infrastructure: San Diego County I-15 Express Lanes

In San Diego County, the I-15 Express Lanes corridor between Escondido and San Diego has been nationally recognized for its innovative design. It is the first section of a regional system of interconnected Express Lanes. It fosters public transit with the presence of bus infrastructure. It encourages shared ridership with park & ride lots. There's no toll for 2+ carpools and vanpools, buses, and motorcycles. They do not have to preregister ahead of time or mount a transponder. They can get on for free and go! Intelligence-driven enforcement combined with heavy fines combats carpool and toll payment cheating. Starting in 2014, the corridor will offer an all day express bus rapid transit route. This multi-modal high occupancy toll lane facility features:
  • Dual 2+ carpool lanes in each direction with the option of solo drivers to buy their way in with a FasTrak under real-time marketplace tolls. Much of the corridor also features a movable barrier where the number of carpool lanes in each direction can be adjusted easily. Under special circumstances, the barrier could be moved where one direction of the corridor would have 3 carpool lanes, the other would have 1.
  • More than 20 access points that give travelers a wide range of options of where to enter or exit the lanes. 
  • Direct access ramps that allow travelers to enter the Express Lanes from surface streets. New and improved transit stations are located less than a few blocks from these ramps, thus providing the bus transit infrastructure for high speed express bus services both from public agencies and the private sector.
  • Robust bus transit stations less than a few blocks from the corridor: Unlike LA's I-110 Harbor Transitway where the transit stations were placed in the freeway median, the stations are placed on either side of the freeway, thus making non vehicular access more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Speaking of the notion of placing transit stations within the median of the freeway, such proposals generally must be discouraged. Getting to stops is hard enough. Patrons are often required to bridge over or under several lanes of rushing traffic. Once they are finally on the platform, the environment is chaotic. Cars may be whizzing by at high speeds in both directions, producing noise and unhealthful air around the station. That's why it's better to place the transit hubs on either side of the freeway.
Concept: What a direct access ramp with supporting bus infrastructure from San Diego's I-15 Express Lanes may look like if replicated in Temecula. An extension of Bedford Court serves as the direct access ramp. Numerous casino buses, private carpools and future public express buses would utilize it. A transit station on the opposite side of the freeway would cater to connecting RTA buses and potential local high speed rail toward Los Angeles to the north and San Diego to the south. A gateway into the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve would also support the transit station and serve as a tourist stop. View map.
Could the Inland Empire use robust transit infrastructure like this? Let's see what our folks at the Riverside County Transportation Commission have planned.

Riverside County: Interstate 15 Corridor Improvement Project

The Riverside County Transportation Commission's Interstate 15 Corridor Improvement Project was recently reevaluated, right-sized, and re-prioritized as it emerges from its original plan of a 43.5 mile corridor improvement, to a more focused 14.6 mile stretch of tolled express lanes running North from Cajalco Road in Corona to State Route 60 (SR-60). The original proposal was to run the HOT lanes between SR-60 and SR-74 in Lake Elsinore and to build carpool lanes between SR-74 and the I-215 in Murrieta. Because of predicted growth in Temecula, we've advocated for the carpool lanes to be dual and to run through to San Diego County where it would seamlessly link with the I-15 Express Lanes. Under the current political and economic climate, that will not happen anytime soon; so prepare for more bottleneck shifting.

According to RCTC, the project has undergone the reevaluation of its project limits in order to deliver a project that could be constructed in this economic recovery period. The project originally was relying, in part, on local Measure A funding, the half-cent sales tax dedicated to County Transportation, for a large portion of its funding source.

Concept: Dual high occupancy express lanes along the I-15 freeway just north of Cajalco Road which supports free non-transponder carpooling complete with infrastructure to support future rapid express buses and private sector intercity coaches like Greyhound. The access point pictured is actually officially proposed by the Riverside County Transportation Commission as part of a scaled-down version of the I-15 tolled express lane project. Also pictured to the right is infill marketplace job growth at the Corona Crossings area.
When the Measure A funding endured multiple years of unanticipated downturn, the I-15 CIP was evaluated for what could feasibly be built that would bring maximum benefit to the public. RCTC was therefore forced to downsize the I-15 Project which is now focused on the highest traffic impact areas within the corridor.

No more excuse making

We will continue to hold the state accountable for supporting policies that would entice the local marketplace to grow and for getting our transportation infrastructure to a point of where it needs to be and county officials should think likewise and pass resolutions to demand the state to stop misspending our money. Wasteful government spending of our transportation money positively should not be tolerated. With carpool demands high and growth on the way for the corridor, the I-15 needs robust infrastructure to support the high occupancy vehicle traffic so it does not become the next 91 Freeway Corona Crawl. The corridor needs to mimic San Diego County's I-15 Express Lane system with bus transit infrastructure and usage policies that support free non-transponder carpooling. Charging mandatory tolls and transponder preregistration on carpoolers which drives non-registered HOV's out of the express lanes should not be a substitute. The state simply has no excuse for this downsizing.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Getting around the "Braided" Blockade at the Riverside Downtown Metrolink station outside of the car

Back in 2006, the City of Riverside, the Western Riverside Council of Governments and Compass Blueprint teamed up to plan urban development and multi-modal transportation options around the Downtown Riverside Metrolink Station. The project will help facilitate the development of a Transit Village around the station and connect trains to other regional transportation. As many are aware, the area could certainly use this type of infrastructure and the additional marketplace jobs that go with it.

The Transit Coalition's original future vision of this area can be seen here. Our ideas were not mere concepts. Government officials had the area professionally studied, and we used information from the study into the future vision. Here were a few of the 2006 findings which still apply today. The following issues and opportunities were developed during the one-day design charrette a little more than seven years ago:

Issue #1 - The 91 freeway acts as a barrier preventing pedestrian and vehicular access from the Metrolink station to Downtown. The suggested opportunity was to construct a pedestrian and bus access bridge over the freeway linking the Metrolink station to Downtown. We envisioned a non motor vehicular multi-use pathway connecting the station to Riverside's 11th Street pedestrian corridor which seamlessly links to the Main Street pedestrian plaza and numerous government buildings and courthouses. The second opportunity suggested was to provide a bus shuttle with frequent service connecting the Metrolink station to Downtown. It turned out that existing through bus routes would fare better in terms of productivity under the current demographics with combined frequent service, but a dedicated shuttle may be feasible later down the road.

Issue #2 - The linkage between bus transit and Metrolink service is limited. RTA and the City of Riverside at one point were planning a bus transit center adjacent to the Metrolink station offering bus riders easier access to Metrolink. That wise proposal is still mired in fiscal chaos. Additional through bus routes will serve the new bus transfer center offering better bus transit choices
for riders, productively addressing the bus feeder opportunity in Issue #1. Secondly, officials suggested any new development should provide a pedestrian plaza linking the bus transit center and the Metrolink station. 

Issue #3 - New development near the Metrolink station should complement the existing neighborhood. The opportunity here is to designate the station block as a specific plan where higher density housing and jobs adjacent to Metrolink should transition to lower densities of three and four story structures along Howard Avenue. New buildings adjacent to existing single family homes should exhibit architectural styles that reflect the historical styles of the area. Note how the background graphic of our "We want to see High Speed Rail done right" banner incorporates high density robust private sector job growth offering both entry level and top paying jobs right here in the heart of Downtown Riverside.

The SR-91 Carpool Lane project and the braided freeway interchanges

The Compass Blueprint plans are appearing to clash with a highway carpool lane project currently under construction. According to a recent field study covering the construction of the SR-91 Freeway carpool lane extension into Downtown Riverside and as shown in this satellite picture, we're back to the drawing board in regards to getting a pedestrian bridge over the freeway and finding spots for private sector intercity bus outlets. As you may tell, part of the carpool lane extension project included plans to braid the University Avenue and 14th Street interchange ramps, pretty much exacerbating Issue #1 and making the cost to build this bridge more expensive. Also, the idea of linking the transit center to the extended carpool lanes via a direct access ramp would almost certainly need to be done a few blocks away since the freeway right-of-way width is already maxed out in this area. We believe such a grade-separated connection would allow express buses, intercity coaches, and private carpools productive seamless connections between the Downtown Riverside transit station and the high occupancy lanes without the need to weave across the freeway's general purpose lanes.

Concept: Grade-separated direct access ramps would seamlessly link 91 Freeway carpool lanes with RTA and Omnitrans transit hubs, allowing express buses and other high occupancy vehicle traffic access to the carpool lane without the need to weave across the freeway.
As we have been advocating and suggesting, a prime way to get these amenities built is to incorporate these projects into future private sector development. Because of the new braided interchanges, the bridge will most likely need to mimic the one recently built at the San Ysidro border Port of Entry complete with stairs, ramps, and seamless connections to the existing bridge over the tracks on the station side and the County Administration building pathway on the downtown side. City officials should zone the area as a specific plan and offer developer incentives to establish a marketplace job hub that is compatible to urban planning and smart growth principles. Those incentives would not be in the form of direct government handouts, but in the form of tax rebates. Cooperation between the local entities and the state would be vital. That would get the jobs, smart growth and transportation infrastructure built in Downtown Riverside at minimal cost to the taxpayer.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Carpool Lanes: Debating the "Open to All" option outside of rush hours

Proposed: SANDAG proposes high occupancy toll lanes along the I-15 from Eastvale through the Cajon Pass. During times of extraordinary traffic incidents like accidents, temporarily opening the HOT lanes to all for free with continuous access would be justifiable. In this concept, the I-15 HOT lanes are open to all with continuous access due to an accident 5 miles ahead while the I-10 HOT lanes remain open to carpools or FasTrak traffic only
Should carpool lanes really be opened up to all during off-peak hours? The Transit Coalition's A Better Inland Empire transit blog answers that question. Last week, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed AB 405 by Assemblymember Mike Gatto which would have opened the segments of the carpool lanes along the 134 and 210 Freeways in Los Angeles County to solo drivers outside of commute hours. According the Press Enterprise and several other sources, AB 405 had bipartisan support, passing unanimously in the Senate and had near unanimous support in the Assembly. However, Brown in his veto message said, "Carpool lanes are especially important in Los Angeles County to reduce pollution and maximize use of freeways. We should retain the 24/7 carpool lane control." He may have a point.

To be fair, traffic patterns on some freeways may dispute Brown's statement even though opening the carpool lanes for single-occupant vehicles on SR-134 and I-210, even if only during off-peak hours, is very questionable. The Transit Coalition does not support opening up the carpool lanes to all road users in such a fashion. A better idea is allowing local Los Angeles officials, even if it be the local Caltrans district, to have the authority to manage the carpool occupancy requirements and enforcement periods on a corridor-by-corridor basis, since local users and traffic engineers are the ones most familiar with the traffic flow of these freeways, not Sacramento. We all remember what happened with the El Monte Busway. Some basic statewide regulations will be required, especially to prevent political abuse at the local level, but basic carpool lane management certainly should certainly be done locally. For what it's worth, Assemblymember Gatto does represent the region, where SR-134 and a small portion of I-210 pass through.

This is a debatable and complicated topic. That's why we cannot support AB 405 or any other similar proposal right off the bat. As mentioned, history shows the I-10 El Monte Busway cannot be managed from Sacramento; it has to be done in LA. Another issue: How many high occupancy vehicles are choosing to drive in the general purpose lanes and why so? What is the just and right thing to do in cases where an accident or emergency crews are blocking the general purpose lanes? It's time for some straight talk.

Allow local law enforcement and Caltrans to temporarily open carpool lane access during a road incident

Both of Riverside County's major local newspapers, Press Enterprise and the Union Tribune, supported opening carpool lanes outside of rush hours as fewer cars use the lanes during free-flow hours, but it was the UT that hit the nail on the head. Here's a valid point that the editorial made:

Example: Opening up a HOT lane system to allow all traffic to bypass blocked lanes caused by a brush fire 5 miles ahead. Vehicles would also be granted continuous access.
Most everyone in San Diego who commutes by freeway has no doubt encountered an accident or road work that clogs the regular lanes during the middle of the day or at night while the carpool lanes are practically vacant. The whole idea of carpool lanes is to encourage ride-sharing, but sometimes that just isn’t feasible.

And that's true. If there's a sigalert, traffic collision, construction, maintenance work, hazard, or any other acute road incident that is tying up traffic in the general purpose lanes, allowing law enforcement and Caltrans to temporarily open up the high occupancy vehicle lane to allow such traffic to pass through would absolutely be justified. This includes relaxing access restrictions by allowing drivers to cross over the double white/yellow lines. Digital freeway signs would announce such permissions.

The PE mentioned in its editorial that "letting the carpool lanes sit empty while drivers struggle with heavy traffic on the rest of the freeway does not cut pollution or ease congestion; it merely angers motorists." In the case of a road incident, that is absolutely true. State law should also allow such cases to be applied to high occupancy toll lanes including the 91 Express Lanes. Both Caltrans and law enforcement should have the authority to open dedicated lanes to allow traffic to pass through in these extraordinary circumstances which includes permitting vehicles to cross over the double white/yellow lines. There is no reason whatsoever to suggest otherwise.

Debate: Opening up HOV lanes during off-peak hours regularly

Outside of traffic incidents, the notion of opening up carpool lanes to all during off-peak hours is debatable. Therefore, The Transit Coalition does not support this notion. Debates and decisions should take place locally on a corridor-by-corridor basis with all political bias set aside and with professional engineers writing up formulas based on fact-based data to aid local leaders in managing such lanes. The same holds true of determining whether such facilities should allow for continuous access or have dedicated access points. There are some freeways that experience very few vehicles in the carpool lane outside of peak hours, but certainly not all. Generally speaking, policies need to ensure the carpool lane remains moving at all times outside of acute traffic incidents. A firm valid objection is creating a circumstance where opening up the carpool lane to all would fill it beyond capacity during off-peak hours with solo drivers. That could be a concern for freeways in the Los Angeles area where high occupancy vehicle travel demand is high. The facts, history and various traffic patterns on different freeways are overwhelming. Here are some examples:

I-10 El Monte Busway: The El Monte Busway is an 11 mile shared-use bus corridor and high occupancy toll lane running along I-10 between downtown Los Angeles and the El Monte Bus Station. It has a long history, but in 1999, a state bill lowered the carpool occupancy requirement from three occupants to two to take place on January 1, 2000. This was intended to be a 2 year experiment but it was cancelled after only 6 months in which it congested the busway. Local transit agencies opposed the state measure, demonstrating why local officials need some decision making power to manage their high occupancy vehicle lanes. Emergency state legislation was needed and passed in July 2000 to terminate the experiment during peak hours. Currently, 3's a carpool during rush hours in both directions, 2 at other times along the El Monte Busway. All carpools must also have a switchable FasTrak transponder to travel for free in the current HOT lane system.

91 Freeway into Orange County: As many are aware, the 91 Freeway into Orange County consistently reaches unpredictable "rush hour" states well beyond the traditional peak commute hours. Right off the bat, we can safely say that the freeway's general purpose lanes and the 2+ carpool lane through Corona start to slow shortly after the lunch hour on Friday's and is congested pretty much all day and through the evening on many weekends and holidays, especially in the eastbound direction. The freeway gets worse on hot days as people headed to coastal areas and the beach to cool off fill the 91, most have at least 2 people in the car. The 91 Express Lanes is a 24/7 transponder-mandated 3+ high occupancy toll lane facility. Given the high demands for high occupancy vehicle travel in the corridor to the point where even 2+ carpool lanes are insufficient during rush hours, hot summer days and weekends, the 3+ HOT/FasTrak lanes positively cannot be opened to all outside of traditional commute hours. That would be chaotic for the entire corridor. Probably the only feasible times to regularly open the 91 Express Lanes to all would be during the late night hours.

Proposed: SANDAG proposes high occupancy toll lanes along the I-15 through the Cajon Pass. This Caltrans photo shows the existing freeway at a free-flowing state during the middle of a weekday. Opening the HOT lanes to all for free is certainly debatable and questionable. How many of the cars passing through do you think are high occupancy vehicles?
Inland Empire Freeways where the carpool lane may look empty: These freeway segments are typically at a free flowing state during the middle of the day and weekends. Therefore, the carpool lane may often look empty:
  • SR-60 Carpool lanes between Moreno Valley and the Badlands hills
  • Proposed I-215 Carpool lanes between Moreno Valley and Perris
  • Proposed I-15 Carpool lanes between Murrieta and Lake Elsinore
  • Proposed I-15 High Occupancy Toll Lanes through the Cajon Pass
  • Proposed I-15 High Occupancy Toll Lanes between Temecula and Escondido
Opening the carpool lane to all along these freeways is certainly debatable under the current demographics and traffic patterns. It's a bit more complex than it looks. There are valid questions and arguments for both and against. The Transit Coalition will thus not necessarily support such a move due to these complexities.

Here's an interesting reality of such free-flowing freeways. Some HOV's won't even bother to weave across the freeway lanes to use the carpool lane during free-flow hours simply because there is no need to. That of course drives down the number of vehicles in the lane. Whenever an extraordinary circumstance such as an accident comes up unannounced, more folks including carpools are stuck in the regular lanes, especially if the carpool lane has restricted access points. This creates the problem of empty carpool lanes and congested general purpose lanes. One solution, as mentioned, is to allow law enforcement and Caltrans to temporarily open the carpool lane to all during extraordinary circumstances and to permit vehicles to cross over the double lines if there are restrictions.

Long term solutions would include finding ways to integrate the lanes better with dense activity centers. This would include the development of direct access ramps and transit infrastructure. HOV's may therefore be inclined to take the carpool lane during off-peak hours.

I-215 Carpool Lanes under construction between Riverside and San Bernardino: The mainline is heavily used all throughout the day, and the two county seats move many people all day long with the presence of an all day Omnitrans express bus route. Should the private sector invest in the city centers, high occupancy vehicle demand may be high enough where night owl transit service may be feasible. The carpool lane should therefore remain 24/7 with long term plans to link the lane directly to the transit centers.

I-215 Carpool Lanes between Riverside and Moreno Valley: This segment of the I-215 is consistently high in volume due to the merge of SR-60 from Moreno Valley and I-215 from Perris. Carpool demands are consistently high. A recent Coalition field study through this area showed the eastbound 2+ carpool lane between Riverside and Moreno Valley filled to near capacity on a Friday night at 9 PM as the general purpose lanes were heavy, well past the traditional rush hour. With the growth of logistics jobs in the area, this corridor certainly should maintain its 24/7 enforcement with long term plans for a dual HOV express lane system with bus transit infrastructure and upgraded corridor-based passenger rail service. More on that at later time.

Other freeway corridors with regular slowing in the general purpose lanes outside of rush hour: The long term solution needs to be exploring additional high occupancy vehicle travel options. This includes improving mass transit services and carpool marketing outside the traditional commute hour.

The carpool lane system through Interstate 10 in Ontario certainly should remain at 24/7 operations. This midday Caltrans photo shows the freeway and the carpool lane at a heavy, but stable state. Seven high occupancy vehicles are pictured in the carpool lane. There may be more in the general purpose lanes.
Due to these variants, changes such as carpool lane enforcement periods and occupancy requirements should be based upon fact-based traffic patterns and freeway segment data put together by local engineers working under the local Caltrans district or the local transportation agency such as the Riverside County Transportation Commission. The results certainly should be brought up for robust debate in managing carpool lanes and ensuring they are moving always. Infrastructure should be designed in ways that high occupancy vehicles would be inclined to use the dedicated lanes. Any statewide laws and formulas involving carpool lanes should be based on sound traffic engineering studies, not ideology.

What about AB 405?

How do the SR-134 and I-210 freeways in Los Angeles County fit into this category in relationship with the vetoed bill? Would AB 405 work specifically for these corridors? We'll let the experts working in Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena make that judgement. If engineers conclude that these freeways have a high volume of high occupancy vehicles traveling in the general purpose lanes, keep the carpool lane open 24/7 and find ways to integrate the lanes better with direct access ramps and transit infrastructure. The greater Los Angeles area has very high occupancy vehicle travel rates as demonstrated by transit routes with high ridership figures, especially along the El Monte Busway.