Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Let's Debate: Bus Rapid Transit and Toll Lanes

Coalition Concept: High Occupancy Toll Lanes with bus transit infrastructure, direct access ramps to/from transit centers and free non-transponder carpooling along the I-15 freeway in north Lake Elsinore. Freeway capacity is doubled with two additional HOT Express Laness and one general purpose lane in each direction with a total of four regular and two HOT lanes each way to address predicted growth for the corridor.
Note: Concept Only. Not endorsed by RCTC, Greyhound or any public entity.

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com

One of the misguided notions I see in debates of improving mass transit and roadways is the myth that we can have either better mass transit or better highway infrastructure. The misguided word here is "or". Sadly, this myth has made its way into laws regulating the funding of projects.

Both solutions need to be integrated and made ready for future improvements for our transportation corridors: Better transit and better highways. Several months ago, the Riverside Transit Agency published this report which shows that continued highway development without transit infrastructure poses a transit mobility threat. On the other front, failing to improve highway surface transportation roads and bridges during times of economic development growth clogs our resources and the transportation system. Between the 90's and last decade, the Inland Empire saw rapid growth. But with our infrastructure not keeping up with the unchecked growth, Southern California still remains home to bad traffic congestion with the urban sprawl. We're still trying to get our way out of this mess with projects that should have been done decades ago.

Transportation policymakers at the state and local level need to have policies in place so that both solutions are integrated in future infrastructure projects. A great example of this is the I-15 Express Lanes in San Diego County between Escondido and Kearny Mesa, a system The Transit Coalition would like to see expanded into future Inland Empire toll lane projects. San Diego's system is a managed high occupancy toll lane system with bus transit infrastructure. The HOT lanes have direct access ramps to/from nearby transit stations and park & ride lots. During normal and peak traffic conditions the lanes are set up to be two lanes in each direction. Its usage policy allows for free non-transponder carpooling which allows loaded private-sector buses, vans, and high occupancy vehicles with two or more persons full and free access to every lane in the corridor without the need to pre-register ahead of time which maximizes the number of people per vehicle traveling in the Express Lanes. The California Highway Patrol enforces the policy.

I have conducted numerous field studies of the I-15 Express Lanes including some during the evening rush hour in the peak direction in a private HOV. I've seen it in action during extraordinary circumstances like sigalerts during rush hours. The system has proven to work. I will be down south taking a look at the new rapid express bus services that was recently launched for the Express Lanes which links central Escondido to downtown San Diego. Rapid express buses have already demonstrated to be a quick and speedy alternative to get around.

Yes, better Metrolink and better intercity rail options needs to be implemented too into project master plans for the longer-haul trips with the help and investments from the private sector. But when it comes to expanding the region's carpool and toll lane network, what are your thoughts of integrating bus transit infrastructure, rapid express buses, and improved transit stations into the projects? Let's debate!

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