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.

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