Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Robust Debate for the Riverside Reconnects Streetcar

Photo: © Riding in Riverside CC-BY-SA

The Transit Coalition has long been advocating for better Metrolink and bus service through the central City of Riverside. Both the Riverside Transit Agency and the city government have big plans to bring rapid transit along the city's dense corridors. A light rail car to be delivered to San Diego made a stop in downtown Riverside. The Siemens S70 train was parked on University Avenue offering a real-time preview of what rapid rail transit might look like along the streets of Riverside. Based on a Riding in Riverside blog post, city officials hope that one day, Riverside will mimic Portland complete with multi-modal transit mobility and transit oriented development. The project at hand is Riverside Reconnects, a streetcar proposal advocated by the City of Riverside.

Proposed Streetcar Study Area
Photo: © Riding in Riverside CC-BY-SA
Even though the streetcar appears to be Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey's pet project, public debate on this proposal has been robust. For Riverside Reconnects to work, it will need to be done right and coordinated with the Riverside Transit Agency. The finished product must not duplicate existing RTA bus service, proposed bus rapid transit, nor obstruct existing traffic flow. The technology used to move Riverside's people must also be fact-based and cost-efficient. The local press has opposed the streetcar for those very reasons.

We want the very best public transit systems for Riverside with quick and speedy alternatives to get across town. But at the same point, we don't want politician's pet projects nor government waste to obstruct other vital transportation projects. Riverside Reconnects can work if it's done right. Here are some facts.

Coordinating Riverside Reconnects with RTA's RapidLink BRT Proposal

Source: Riverside Transit Agency
RTA has recently proposed to phase in peak-hour limited stop runs of Route 1 within the next few years with long term plans for all day RapidLink BRT service with station stop amenities. Numerous past studies find BRT feasible. We've originally envisioned dedicated transit lanes for the higher density areas for the RapidLink service so that the rapid buses do not obstruct existing traffic nor are stuck in congestion through these areas, much like how the sbX system is being developed in San Bernardino. Also envisioned are RTA ticket vending machines at each of the RapidLink stations to speed up the boarding process. We also have a blog post on how officials can speed up the BRT project. RTA and the City need to network and coordinate these two projects. We don't want RTA to spend precious funding resources on RapidLink only to find out that a separate trolley line will scrape and replace BRT only a few years later.

There is no question that both the Magnolia and University Avenue corridors are need of better rapid transit options and a quick and speedy alternative to slower local bus service for longer trips. Could the city benefit with the streetcar system? How about light rail? Or maybe BRT that mimics LA's Metro Orange Line through dense areas?

Both agencies need to work to actually get first-rate transit lines built for Riverside and both need to agree on which technology would work best in regards to moving people and keeping costs in check, whether it be rails or BRT. The city also needs to ensure Riverside Reconnects doesn't bypass Metrolink. In terms of connecting the city's existing and proposed mass transit system to Southern California's regional rail system, the sound idea of establishing the downtown transit hub at the Metrolink station with a pedestrian overpass across the 91 Freeway into the core has been on the drawing board for almost a decade. As pictured here, job development incentives can transform the train station into a robust transit and marketplace employment hub with the transit center, a Riverside Reconnects station stop, and the bridge integrated into the development. The infrastructure would be fully paid for. No taxpayer debt. No waiting for decades for public money. Getting private capital and marketplace jobs into Downtown Riverside will be key to getting a funded, robust transit system for Riverside's streets.

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