Friday, January 30, 2015

Long-Range: All-Day RTA CommuterLink Express Buses

All Day Services Proposed by 2023: RTA plans to phase in all day services on key CommuterLink routes.

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

If you don't take the bus during the rush hour but need to get across the region quickly, there's a hint of good news in the horizon. RTA has big plans to expand its CommuterLink Express services. And longer-range proposals include extending the headways of several of the express bus lines to operate one bus every hour from early morning until the evening in conjunction with the existing peak-hour runs. The only catch is this good news will likely not appear in the Riverside Transit Agency's Ride Guide until 2023. However, it is an official long-range proposal to speed up off-peak bus travel tip times and high occupancy toll lane infrastructure projects need to be able to facilitate the expanded freeway express transit services.

Growing RTA CommuterLink Bus Services with IE Toll Lanes

RTA's CommuterLink express routes which were introduced last decade have been a success story for longer-distance commuters choosing to rideshare to work. They have long served the region's peak-hour commuters with express buses that connect workers directly to major job sites, the Metrolink regional rail system, and other multi-modal transit hubs.

Plans from RTA's Forward 10 Year Transit master plan calls for CommuterLink services to be increased on certain routes to provide more regional connections west into Orange County, down south to San Diego County, and across RTA's service area. Such plans include longer-range direct all-day services for the SR-91 corridor between the Village at Orange and UC-Riverside, the I-15 corridor between Corona and San Diego County, and the SR-60/I-10 corridor between Riverside and Montclair. The 91, I-15 and I-10 will have dual tolled express lanes as their HOV infrastructure. SR-60 has a single HOV 2+ carpool lane.

The candidates for the expanded services include most of RTA's inaugural CommuterLink lines including Route 204 between Montclair and Riverside, Route 206 between Corona and Temecula, Route 208 between Riverside and Temecula, and Route 216 between UC-Riverside and the Village at Orange. RTA also proposes all day service for Route 217 into Escondido.

Potential All-Day CommuterLink Rebranding: "ExpressLink" or "RapidLink Express"?

It might not be a bad idea for RTA to recategorize the all day services from "CommuterLink" to "ExpressLink" in 2023 since the services will no longer be rush-hour-only oriented. Fares would be the same, but with the all-day routes rebranded and targeted more toward the general public.

In addition, thanks to tolled express lane infrastructure coming to many of the corridors, the freeway express lines could become Riverside County's "RapidLink Express" once growth and ridership demands call for 30 minute all day/15 minute peak hour headways further down the road. That's why toll lanes need direct access ramps, or at the very least, intermediate access points between the lanes and adjacent transit stations and hubs.

Direct Access Ramp for the I-15 Express Lanes in San Diego County
In addition, RTA plans to introduce additional peak-hour CommuterLink services in conjunction with the opening of the 91 Express Lanes extension through Corona which includes direct connections to the Anaheim Resort area and a one-seat ride between Temecula and the Village at Orange. That means both the 91 Express Lanes through Corona and the future connecting I-15 Express Lanes will certainly need to connect seamlessly with the North Main Corona Transit Center.

I'll compile a more detailed route-by-route and corridor-by-corridor run down how the expanded services will fare in conjunction with the region's high occupancy express toll lane proposals. If the HOT lanes are designed right with seamless connections to/from the transit stations, we could have a first-rate freeway express bus system option with robust multi-modal stations and efficient waiting facilities away from the noisy freeway by 2023. Add to that potential "RapidLink Express" services we can call our own.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Long Range Bus Transit Plan for Riverside County

The future of RTA bus transit looks promising for West Riverside County.

Proposed: Short-Term (FY 17-19) Prioritized Service Improvements
Graphic: RTA Forward 10-Year Transit Plan
Note: Mid and longer-range proposed routes not pictured.

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Back in November 2012, the Riverside Transit Agency contracted with Transportation Management & Design to formulate a Comprehensive Operational Analysis which would serve as a long range blueprint for western Riverside County bus transit improvements between now and the next decade.

Last Thursday, the agency closed the official comment period and has released the COA dubbed Forward 10-Year Transit Plan.

The transit study includes recommendations for each RTA bus route, including service frequency and service span. The master plan focuses on improvements on service frequencies, improved connectivity options with timed transfers, better cross-regional connections, more late night bus service, shorten and streamlined travel trip times and improved amenities and infrastructure.

Back in October, The Transit Coalition submitted its comments to the 10-Year Network Plan. RTA did adopt some of our suggestions which were also addressed by the general public. Such requests include maintaining Metrolink station connectivity with Route 1 and finally connecting Lake Elsinore with Corona outside of rush hour.

Proposed RTA Route 1 bus routing
Regarding Route 1, all runs minus the proposed limited stop RapidLink runs are now proposed to stop at the planned Riverside Vine Street Transit Center with maintained connectivity at both of the Metrolink stations in Corona. A previous proposal called for this line to bypass all three train stations; RTA rightly rejected that ill-advised idea.

In addition, the plan calls for 10-minute all day weekday and 15 minute weekend service frequency for Route 1. That's on top of the proposed RapidLink service. The very frequent headways will likely offset some valid concerns regarding connectivity between the routes in Downtown Riverside and connecting trains at the primary transfer hub since the plan calls for a more grid-based routing design for the bus routes. I'll analyze the downtown transit station master plan once more as Forward includes some updates on the Vine Street Riverside Transit Center.

I will be paging through this 215 page report to see what other important improvements RTA has planned and will incorporate them into the Coalition's Future Vision of Mass Transit. I will say it does address a number of Coalition campaigns and projects which I will continue to promote until the day such upgrades become operational and land in the RTA Ride Guide.

So, stay behind the yellow line and buckle up for discussions and debates on the planned improvements.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Inland Empire Transit News Updates: Corridor-based Metrolink Trains and SW Riverside County

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

This, week I won't be blogging too much as I'll be working with The Transit Coalition's Executive Director Bart Reed in updating the maps for our Metrolink Max campaign. Our goal is to establish corridor-based routing that runs through Los Angeles Union Station instead of just terminating there. That of course builds up ridership and revenue for the railroad. We're also exploring some additional connectivity opportunities along the LOSSAN Rail corridor between Orange County and San Diego. Again, corridor-based regional rail service would greatly increase rail productivity and ridership revenue for both Metrolink and the North County Transit District with the increased station pairs. Stay tuned for more details on that.

Speaking of trains, last Saturday I took two friends aboard the San Bernardino Line; these are two individuals who have never used our Inland Empire regional rail system before.

The trip was to a large event in Los Angeles from Rancho Cucamonga promoting the dignity of life. They enjoyed the ride plus they got their first opportunities to get around Downtown LA aboard Metro Rail and not having to worry about LA parking at a premium. Overall, the Metrolink experience was positive. The trains ran on time, ticket transactions went smoothly, and the fare media worked with Metro's TAP system and fare gates at the Metro Rail systems. However, I did encounter that infamous #TVMFail hashtag--with a catch--during the course of the trip. That's a topic for another post.

Improving Southwest Riverside County Inter-county Transit

I'm also keeping a close watch on the development pattens taking place along the I-15 corridor through Southwest Riverside County and north San Diego County. The growth has pretty much caused this segment of the northbound lanes of the freeway to become like the 91 with afternoon rush hour backups spanning more than 10 miles during super-peak periods. I'll save that discussion for another post, but I will mention that public transportation options through this area is rush-hour oriented. That means no midday or weekend public transportation links between the two counties except during the summer with the added beach bus trips plus the limited intercity options offered by Greyhound.

A number of major development plans are in the works along the corridor which includes the Meadowood plan in Pala Mesa which would include a college campus, the Jefferson Avenue project in Temecula, and a major hotel expansion at the Pechanga Resort. If these three project plans move forward, public bus transit between these destinations would certainly need to be upgraded to operate all day via an intercounty regional connector route that would run at least one bus hourly each way. The bookends of this route should serve the proposed Twin Cities Transit Center to the north and Oceanside Transit Center to the south with timed transfers to the NCTD Route 388/389 loop to Escondido. That would allow Southwest Riverside County productive all-day access to services along the LOSSAN Rail Corridor. More on that soon.

Talk to you again next week.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Let's Debate: Should we really raise the Federal Gas Tax?

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

With fuel and oil prices finally down, commuters, travelers, and businesses have been finally catching a fiscal break at the gas pump with more of their hard-earned cash going into the bank instead of the tank. Overall, that's a good thing as that leads to lower prices for you and I all throughout the marketplace, increased profits and jobs for businesses, and increased spending power of the wage dollar.

While the length of this gas price break is speculative, here's what's not speculation: Those involved in the foreign oil business need to realize that the days of the OPEC monopoly are coming to an end soon thanks to new innovations. When exactly? I don't know. But it's coming.

Even though it may get exported, domestic oil competition is growing from the Dakota's which increases current supplies. Proper oversight will ensure that the oil boom won't become a pollutant. Also, zero-emission and all-electric cars may one day become the norm with clean solar renewable energy as a major source to power motor vehicle engines. With the growing sales of individual solar panels and these new innovations, get ready for some changes and freedom from expensive gas prices soon.

Debating an increase in the Federal Gas Tax

With these changes, politicians in Washington are debating once again to increase federal gas taxes which currently stands at 18.4 cents per gallon. The tax is not indexed to inflation and has not been raised since 1993. Because cars are becoming more and more fuel-efficient, cleaner and less polluting in recent years, the future of the tax which feeds into Highway Trust Fund kitty is certainly threatened. Therefore, these valid facts may appear to justify that a tax hike is necessary, at least for the short term.

A few months ago, 60 Minutes featured a story showing that road and bridge infrastructure throughout the country is "falling apart". According to the report, the federal government identified 70,000 bridges that have been deemed structurally deficient. Our fuel taxes have historically funded the maintenance of the roads and bridges in the nation, but the fund is on its way to running out of cash.

In the eyes of many which includes many outlets in the news media, the only option left is to raise the tax. But is it the right thing to do?

Not really.

Before anybody starts sending me dissenting comments, I'm going to give you some points and some facts that were not even mentioned in several news media outlets. First, let me point out that I'm not against indexing flat tax rates such as fuel taxes with inflation in general as that's the fair thing to do. Plus, we must purpose money we pay into the federal system to transportation.

But I also want better accountability of the spending of such huge sums of money that's supposed to be going to our transportation infrastructure that motorists, private HOV's, and transit fleets rely on. With that, we must allocate resources to infrastructure, but I'm not going to back such a wholesale hike on the fuel tax until the federal rules mandate better policing of the spending. That's also because the current fuel tax receipts are still receiving massive sums of cash despite the appearance that the Highway Trust Fund is broke.

State & Local Annual Fuel Tax Receipts Nationwide

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, state and local governments nationwide collected $42.5 billion in motor vehicle fuel taxes in in 2012, a record. In 1992, the governments collected $23.6 billion in fuel taxes, worth about $39.8 billion in 2014. So even with inflation, state and local fuel tax receipts were at record levels.

California took in approximately $7.2 billion of the pot according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

At the federal level, fuel tax receipts for 2013 clocked in at just under $30 billion according to the Federal Highway Administration, another record with inflation. In '94, the feds collected about $13.9 billion.

Southern California's GDP was about 6% of the nation's GDP of $15.6 trillion at the publishing of a 2013 LA Chamber of Commerce report or just under $1 trillion. If you do the math, SoCal should be getting back roughly $1.8 billion in transportation funding per year from the feds alone. Factor in state and local tax receipts for transportation and we should have a sufficient cash flow to fund infrastructure and transit operations. With that type of infusion, our entire Future Vision of Mass Transit for both LA and the Inland Empire could be built out within a few years time with no debt and the 91 Express Lanes toll payment bonds and loans for both counties would be fully paid off too.

That cash is supposed to be going toward surface transportation and urban mass transit infrastructure as it did back in the 90's and early 2000's when Metrolink was fist born, LA Metro returned to rail transit, and Orange County built its massive freeway and carpool lane master plan. Since then, the Inland Empire has grown, more HOV's are clogging into the built carpool lanes, but the infrastructure and transit options have lagged behind. That's because a significant portion of the tax is not fairly being returned to the local taxpaying jurisdictions, is being overspent, displaced to pet projects, or not even making it to the roads and rails at all.

A few examples of crazy spending:

Park & Ride Proposed: The 157-space Temecula Parkway facility planned on this lot is priced at $2.364 million.
Temecula Parkway Park & Ride per-space cost: 
Last year, RCTC allocated $1.3 million in federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds to an HOV Park & Ride infrastructure project in Temecula. The total project price tag is $2.364 million. The problem is the lot is proposed to comprise of only 157 parking spaces. Let's suppose we subtract out an over-generous amount $1,000,000 for land acquisition, planning and engineering; that still adds up to a whopping per-space cost of $8,688 for a construction bill of $1.3 million.

I believe that once again, trivial policies on the federal funds and current state labor laws which panders to public labor unions have forced the price tag up well beyond the market rates. The project also includes 10 bike lockers and a passenger loading zone but according to the Traffic Engineering Handbook, surface parking lot projects average around $1500-3500 per space to build and $10,000-20,000 per space for a parking structure.

Don't get me wrong. Temecula needs this HOV infrastructure to facilitate the vast number of commuter carpools, but why isn't the lot's per-space price tag adding up?

Bloated Operations Costs for U.S. Rail Service:
Rail advocates, get ready for this one. The Train Riders Association of California reported that a study recently published by Britain's Office of Rail Regulation exposed that U.S. rail operating costs are unbelievably bloated as much as 6.5 times as European rail systems. That includes statewide rail corridors in California. You read that right--costs as much as 650% higher.

In Europe, railroads show an average operating cost range from $15 to $35 per train mile which includes track access charges. To compare, the 2012 cost-per-train mile for the Amtrak San Joaquins, Capitol Corridor, and Surfliners ranged from $65 to $85 per mile. Amtrak as a whole is about $100 per train mile. Up north, Caltrain and ACE are over $100. Metrolink is about $70 per train mile, but to be fair, it operates right-of-ways which allows the railroad to levy track access fees on other operators.

TRAC went on pointed that more efficient, frequent and corridor-based rail service can increase productivity--MetrolinkMax anyone?--and identified management incompetence and careerism is the root source of the problem. Why can't simple reforms be made so that intercity rail transit can operate at a profit which would incentivize private investments, improved services, better competition, and lower fares?

CA High Speed Rail:
Let's not forget our own California high speed rail project of which the initial funding bonds approved by voters in 2008 were supposed to provide seed money to the state to speed up the travel trip times to get up and down the state between the urban cores to the point where intrastate rail travel would turn a profit. Thus, the seed money should have incentivized the private sector to invest in it, finish the master plan with proper state oversight and expand it to other urban areas. Most of us want a functioning and efficient high speed means to get around the state and trains have long provided that. It can and should turn a profit. But pandering, trivial politics and rules have obstructed this infrastructure project and rallied the opposition.

To add the icing on the cake, despite all of this cash flowing into Washington, the federal debt continues to balloon, surpassing $18 trillion.

Funding: What's preventing fuel taxes from funding robust Inland HOV transit infrastructure that would allow for "One Sweet Ride"-like Rapid express buses to serve major Inland Empire corridors?
Let's Debate: How are we going to pay for transit infrastructure?

As I've pointed already, I'm not against indexing flat tax rates to inflation and I know that the dollar's value has dropped significantly since 1993. And I'm aware that the kitty is threatened due to technological advancements in fuel efficiency. Plus, we must obligate federal tax funds to our transportation infrastructure which leads to streamlined mobility, rideshare incentives, and more productive and faster transit operations. But both the state and federal government have demonstrated that we must have better oversight of how our infrastructure money is spent.

I've mentioned as a solution in the past that on top of the Highway Trust Fund/Mass Transit Account spending reforms, economists need to be recruited to find out how much money motorists will infuse into the market economy if they didn't have to pay outrageous prices at the gas pump. That additional tax revenue would be purposed exclusively to surface transportation infrastructure purposes. Plus, as the 91 Express Lanes and I-15 Express Lanes demonstrate, allowing non-carpools into open HOV lanes for a toll can supply additional local funding to pay for road and bridge maintenance and express BRT along the corridor.

As it debates raising the federal gas tax, Washington has an obligation to the taxpaying public to include policies in legislation that prevents our transportation money that comes in from all levels of government from being squandered, displaced elsewhere or overspent well above the market rates. We need to deal with this situation and fast.

Do you have any fresh ideas? Let's debate.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Are San Bernardino and Moreno Valley really the worst places to find work?

These two regions may lack many high-paying job opportunities, but what about logistics, medical and government jobs?
By Metrolink station, San Bernardino, CA
San Bernardino Work: Logistics and goods movement is on the rise.
Photo © Wikimedia/rococohobo CC BY-SA 2.0

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Even though the valley "Where Dreams Soar" and some neighborhoods in San Bernardnio's county seat are still mired in awful social conditions and violent crime which discourages businesses from investing in these areas and providing high-paying work to college graduates, the job market in these areas is slowly making a comeback especially in logistics and goods fulfilment. Those stuck working in entry-level jobs in the retail sector can use these additional opportunities to move up and acquire new skills. The medical sector is also on the rise for those holding degrees and certificates in medicine. Plus, many good residents, non-profit pro-family and restorative justice organizations, and local law enforcement are taking a serious stand against the ongoing crime waves.

The worst places to find work or not?

Enter in WalletHub's 2015′s Best & Worst Cities to Find a Job report where San Bernardino and Moreno Valley ranked dead last at 149th and 150th place, thus making them the worst places to find a job according to the study. In addition, these two cities ranked the worst in terms of a robust job market.

To compare, some other Southland cities fared better with Santa Clarita ranking 15 of 150, Huntington Beach at 35th (tied with Tempe AZ), Irvine at 42nd, Rancho Cucamonga 48th, Garden Grove 53rd, Oceanside 56th, and Chula Vista 63rd. On the bottom half of the list, San Diego surprisingly placed 79th, Riverside 80th, Anaheim 98th, Glendale 102nd, Long Beach 104th, Santa Ana 113th, LA at 114th, Ontario 115th, and Fontana 119th. No report from any city within Southwest Riverside County, Coachella Valley or Victor Valley regions.

To be fair to WalletHub, there is some truth to the bad rankings in Moreno Valley and San Bernardino. One who holds degrees in engineering, computers, information technology, or even some sectors in business may not find work directly in these cities given the lack of opportunities in these fields in the marketplace. There are many more non-working qualified individuals than there are job openings in these regions for these fields. That's one of the reasons why a high percentage of those with such degrees living in these regions are out of work. Plus, the current distorted applicant-to-jobs ratio keeps local working salaries down. Those facts negated both of these cities' score. Also, the fact that violent crime and social conditions are at an awful state further discourages workers from living locally and thus have to commute longer distances to work. Commute trip times and social conditions were two other factors used to calculate the scores. So WalletHub was completely correct on those supporting arguments.

Here's a more complete context of the two areas' job market:

However, if one has gone to school and studied medicine or has gained experience in goods movements, commercial driving, or shipping, these two regions may actually be prime spots for looking for honest work. Plus, those who take a lower paying job but perform well and bring value to their employer are normally given additional promotional opportunities. Being a county seat city, San Bernardino also houses numerous government jobs.

WalletHub's report was parroted all over the media giving Moreno Valley and San Bernardino a bad look, but perhaps the only reportage I found to date that painted a complete and fair picture was from the Press Enterprise which included a Column by Cassie Macduff. Also, PE Columnist Mark Muckenfuss questioned the report and investigated the job situation and found some city jobs and networked with the Apple One employment agency.

This year, San Bernardino and Moreno Valley probably will be the last place to look for work in many career fields. The Inland Empire as a whole also still has a long way to go before it becomes a job-friendly region and while great progress has been made so far, the good people of these cities still have much work to do to clean up the streets from violent gang crime to make the cities better and attract other sectors to invest here at home. I believe positive change is on the way if such efforts continue.

However, both the logistics and medical sectors are indeed growing. That means a great start to improving Inland jobs. If you're looking for work as a truck driver, looking to move on from entry-level work from the retail sector by joining a shipping crew in a warehouse, looking to be a government worker, or pursue a career as a nurse, medical assistant, or even a doctor, San Bernardino and Moreno Valley are certainly not the worst places in the USA to find such work in 2015.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Temecula Parkway Ultimate Interchange: Putting Safety over the Red Tape

If overcrowding or a bottleneck generates a highway safety hazard with a line of dead-stopped cars obstructing a 70 MPH freeway lane, it must be fixed with all red-tape trivial politics put aside.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Whenever disputes occur between government agencies that go unresolved, the end result is usually an embarrassment to the public. For example, the fiscal disagreement over cost-increases and funding between Metrolink and SANBAG has caused a number of train departures along the San Bernardino Line to be defunded and put out of service since October, something that should have never happened.

Now, we have yet another reported dispute between entities over a local interchange project along the I-15 freeway in south Temecula that would address a serious safety hazard on the road. This dispute mainly centers around trivial red tape politics.

Red Tape Politics: Temecula Ultimate Interchange Dispute

Utility companies and Caltrans are having a tough time agreeing how the utility lines are to be relocated to accommodate the construction of the Temecula Parkway Ultimate Interchange junction. The legal language in the agreement is in question according to Caltrans. In addition, the relocations needed to be compatible with the county's Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan. Plus, the federal government is funding portions of this project which subjects it to all kinds of regulatory rules. To further complicate matters, the negotiated agreements have to be compatible with all of the rules from the feds.

The I-15 South Safety Hazard near Temecula Parkway

I would normally not make a big fuss about this and to be fair, there needs to be efficient oversight from both the state and feds to ensure infrastructure is developed safely and correctly. But the fact remains that the current traffic demands far exceed the capacity of the current design of the existing junction, especially southbound traffic. That causes long lines of stopped cars desiring to exit at Temecula Parkway from the north to spill over onto 70 MPH traffic lanes as the two-lane offramp lacks auxiliary lanes.

Unlike a congested freeway interchange, traffic signals regulate the incoming flow at this interchange and the vast majority of vehicles are turning left at the light, which means the queue line is often at a dead stop when the light is red, not slow-and-go. Plus, motorists turning right have a "No Turn on Red" sign which means the entire line moves slowly only once per light cycle, then it stops again. That's why this traffic backup is a hazard and its history of numerous collisions and fender-benders in the area prove it.

Safety Hazard: Suddenly stopped traffic in a 70 MPH traffic lane along the I-15 south near Temecula Parkway.
Also, because there is a curve approximately 1/2 mile north of the interchange, drivers in the far right lane of the I-15 traveling at the speed limit of 70 MPH through this area will often encounter dead-stopped traffic in lanes with very little warning, thus having only mere seconds to react. If a driver is not fully paying attention to the road at that very moment, disaster may be waiting to happen.

The spillover periods are unpredictable. They often occur during both the morning and evening rush hours, can surprise motorists midday, jam up on many weekends by noon, and can even back up late in the evening during a special event. Not to mention that there are some motorists who need to exit but foolishly use the next freeway lane over in an attempt to bypass the long queue only to slow down and cut into the front of the line at the last minute. Last time I checked, the #3 lane on the I-15 south is not the "Temecula Parkway Express Lane." This safety hazard has become so bad that I've seen the CHP in the area issuing tickets to the line cutters for unsafe lane changing.

This roadway hazard on the I-15 freeway south should have been fixed years ago, but all kinds of trivial red tape and politics have prevented local and regional officials from even re-striping the existing infrastructure. However, the Ultimate Interchange project certainly will alleviate the hazard.

Safety First: Do whatever it takes to clear the hazard.

Like the Metrolink San Bernardino Line dispute, this situation points to the need for leadership and urgency to move this project forward without the excuses, especially because it involves highway safety. Local officials need to petition the power structure in the state and federal government all the way up to the executive branches to waive the trivial red-tape items and expedite the oversight over the utility relocations so it won't pollute the neighboring ecosystem. Our public servants should be doing whatever it takes to clear the freeway of the long line of cars at a dead stop within a 70 MPH traffic lane by moving this project forward.

Whenever lives and safety are at stake due to hazard problems, all unnecessary trivial red tape that delays implementing efficient workable solutions has to be taken out, period. For example, as a recipient of federal funds, the "Buy America" policy on materials for this project should be waived. How many more accidents and fender-benders do we need before this dispute is resolved?

I'm going to continue to keep a close watch on the interchange's progress. At the very least, warning signs reading "WATCH FOR STOPPED VEHICLES AHEAD" need to be posted without delay. The public should not accept any more excuses regarding the project's timeline. Road safety is no accident and these trivial obstructions have got to be dealt with.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

High Occupancy Toll Lanes sprouting all over the USA

I-15 Express Lanes: San Diego's HOT lane system is truly multi-modal and very user-friendly to all 2+ HOV's. MTS Rapid buses serve the corridor from early morning until late night and only solo drivers have to have a FasTrak and pay tolls.

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

They're popping into major highway corridors all over the country like hotcakes. They are called high occupancy tolled express lanes.

91 Express Lanes 3 Ride Free: 3+ HOV's with a FasTrak-registered vehicle and transponder travel toll-free except eastbound between 4-6pm Monday through Friday where HOV tolls are 50% off.
Such lanes gives drivers access to a set of 1-2 free-flowing freeway-speed traffic lanes where tolls are collected through an electronic toll collection system. Here at home, an extension of the 91 Express Lanes is under construction through Corona and additional HOT express lanes are proposed for the I-15 and I-10 corridors.

To use the HOT lanes in the Inland Empire as a toll-paying driver, motorists have to pre-register for the ETC or FasTrak toll transponder in which tolls are deducted automatically from the account when one travels through the corridor. Under the ETC system, motorists don't have to stop at a toll plaza to pay.

I-10 Metro ExpressLanes: LA Metro Silver Line, Foothill Transit Silver Streak Rapid Express, and additional local-plus express buses serve the HOT lanes and the iconic El Monte Busway corridor.
HOT lane tolls increase as traffic density and congestion within the corridor increases. Carpools and other high occupancy vehicles are normally given toll-free or discounted access. Within Riverside County, 3 or more persons per vehicle is slated to be the carpool for the 91 and I-15 HOT lanes with a required FasTrak transponder. Currently, the registered 3-person HOV's travel free on the 91 Express Lanes except between 4-6pm during the eastbound commute hour Monday-Friday where 3+ tolls are 50%. Such congestion pricing is meant to minimize traffic congestion within the lanes as demands go up.

If designed right, high occupancy vehicles, express transit buses, and toll-paying non-HOV's will be able to get around the Inland Empire quickly with the dual express lane infrastructure in each direction which would certainly increase multi-modal transit options.

I have quite a bit to talk about the proposed Inland Empire toll lanes. So buckle up.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A New Year for Inland Empire Transit Advocacy

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Happy New Year to all of our readers!

I have a number of stories in the works ranging from high occupancy toll lanes to improving urban corridors, to growing jobs and maintaining quality and affordable housing options in dense employment areas.

First, here's a rundown of the HOT Lanes: I was in Los Angeles during the Christmas break and had an opportunity to check out the I-10 Metro ExpressLanes first-hand which included observing how both the Silver Streak and Metro Silver Line BRT express services fared in terms of connectivity. Plus, I also stopped into Corona to check out the 91 Express Lanes extension project construction progress and what goes on each day at the adjacent North Main Corona Transit Center during rush hour.

Plus, during one of my Corona rush hour field studies in the rain, Amtrak Southwest Chief Train #3 from Chicago proceeded on through while my camera was rolling. I've got some good information and plan to share it with you soon. If designed right, HOT lanes will certainly speed up freeway express, intercity and private charter bus services.

Photo: Omnitrans
Secondly, there was a recent poll that the Streetsblog Network published last month that asked readers to vote for the Best Urban Street Transformation of 2014. The poll asked for the best recent examples of multi-modal infrastructure improvements within city center cores that involved a transformation of a car-oriented downtown street into a complete, multi-modal urban life boulevard. Here were the finalists:
  • E Street, San Bernardino, CA
  • Western Avenue, Cambridge, MA
  • Washington Avenue, Minneapolis
  • Broadway, Seattle
  • Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh

1,774 readers participated in the poll. To my surprise. San Bernardino's E Street blew the competition away with a whopping 48% of the vote, nearly beating the runner-up by almost twice the vote. Cambridge placed second with 24%. Minneapolis got 16%. Seattle received 7% and Pittsburgh got 5%. Omnitrans' sbX Green line corridor thus received quite a bit of positive publicity.

Special thanks to Justin Nelson of the Riding in Riverside transit blog for spreading the word on this story locally and to all the supporters who campaigned for San Bernardino's landslide win including Marven Norman for the nomination and Matt Korner for the lively debate in the article's comments. I want to ensure this discussion gets seen. It's quite clear that the good people of San Bernardino want the city to be at its best state and are reaching out to make that happen. Count on a future post on this story.

Talk to you again later this week.