Wednesday, April 30, 2014

National Train Day, LA Union Station, and the Downtown Riverside Transit Center

Graphic: Los Angeles Metro
Train fans and Transit Advocates: There's a huge family event taking place at Los Angeles Union Station this Saturday, May 3. That is the combined Diamond Jubilee Celebration of the historic train depot which turns 75 in May and the annual National Train Day event. Los Angeles Metro has published a detailed program on its website. Both the Metrolink San Bernardino Line and the Foothill Transit Silver Streak rapid express bus from Montclair connect the Inland Empire to LAUS quickly.

Here are some interesting facts about the historic train depot of which support some of our views and positions of future transit centers here in the Inland Empire. Well before LAUS was built in May of 1939, Los Angeles had an issue of traffic and safety issues caused by competing rail providers. That was the pre-World War II and pre-Interstate Highway period where the private marketplace handled intercity rail transit. The big names were Southern Pacific, Union Pacific, and Atchison Topeka/Santa Fe.

Back then, Los Angeles officials demanded that a centralized terminal be built. The railroad companies objected and proposed a network of aerial connector tracks above the city streets. When the situation was put before the voters, an overwhelming majority wanted a central terminal which would today become Los Angeles Union Station.

Centralized transit stations have long proven to be desirable and feasible both for urban centers and the surrounding suburbs.

San Bernardino officials are currently working on and building a smaller scale "Union Station" of its own in downtown San Bernardino. It will serve as a single multi-modal transit hub which will connect Metrolink trains, the sbX Green Line, express buses, and numerous local Omnitrans buses all at a single terminal. We're hoping that local officials can also entice Greyhound, Southern California casinos and other marketplace bus providers to stop their buses at or near this station. With nearly two dozen bus bays, why not allow the private sector coaches to use some of the vacant spaces?

In Riverside, we're still waiting on the word of what is going to happen there in terms of getting a robust transit center in town. The debate is whether officials should upgrade the existing Downtown Terminal Station or developing the extra bus bays at the downtown Metrolink station and relocate the transit hub there. Officials have been trying to solve this issue for a decade which has long been mired in one funding issue after another. The Riverside Transit Agency will release its Comprehensive Operations Analysis study within the next few months which would include a recommendation.

As demonstrated by LAUS, we have long advocated for the Riverside Transit Center to be a multi-modal transit hub at the existing Metrolink station and we submit a sound and executable solution that is paid for and won't require decades of waiting. Because the City of Riverside supports building the transit center at the train station, it should designate the Metrolink station area as a specific plan--More specifically, a high density marketplace job hub. Smart growth developers from the private sector would be inclined through tax rebates and the pre-prepared specific plan to develop the transit amenities as part of a robust marketplace job hub over the existing parking lot. The following would be included into the master plan:
  • Multiple high density marketplace commercial and mixed-use buildings which would bring in much-needed private sector jobs into downtown Riverside. The building architecture would be visually attractive, grand and be consistent with Riverside's history.
  • Additional marketplace smart growth development over the existing parking lot adjacent to the County Administrative center.
  • The development of retail storefronts on the bottom floors which includes outlets for intercity transit providers like Greyhound, Megabus, and Amtrak.
  • Two or more public parking structures that would be publicly owned. General public would pay a fee. All parking fee revenue to be used solely within the specific plan area. Retail storefront patrons and transit users would park for free using their tickets or receipts for validation at the parking toll booth.
  • Two hour metered parking maximums along Vine Street and connecting roads.
  • Construction of 15-20 total bus bays along the existing driveway separating the train platforms with the existing parking lot.
  • Construction and integration of a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over the 91 Freeway within the development, seamlessly connecting the existing pedestrian bridge over the tracks all the way into the County Administrative Center entry plaza area.
  • Further incentives and tax breaks would be provided for the property management firms within the specific plans to handle maintenance and security of the public transit stations, bridges, and public parking structures.
This would be a win-win public-private partnership concept for Riverside. We'll have some illustrations of this idea of a "Union Station" for Riverside in the near future. If you want to throw in some ideas, post them into the comments. But for now, Los Angeles Union Station turns 75 and it has shown to be a robust inter-modal transit hub. If you're in the area be sure to check out the festivities.

2 comments:

  1. I love the idea, especially for mixed-use development in the area, but one big problem is that the road infrastructure into and out of the station area is constrained. If you've ever ridden a bus through the Metrolink station, you know it takes ~10m to get in and out again, and more if it's rush hour and all the Metrolink riders are leaving. I think you'd need to open up Santa Fe Dr. through what is now that Kaplan parking lot to provide better ingress/egress, and perhaps make that entrance a bus-only lane so that buses aren't trapped after every evening train arrival.

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    1. We do agree with you that the supporting road infrastructure does need to be improved to handle the extra traffic flow and to reduce the circuitous routing in and out of the station area. Such improvements should be integrated into the development.

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