Monday, June 22, 2015

Why the sbX Bus Rapid Transit is not a failure

How current and future urban development will boost so-called "slow start" ridership aboard San Bernardino's bus rapid transit line...

A "slow start?" Really? The sbX Green Line route passes by the soon-to-be San Bernardino Transit Center with an across-the-platform connection to the Metrolink San Bernardino Line. Such connectivity plus private urban development will certainly transform this "slow start" BRT route into a victory.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com


Over the weekend, the Press Enterprise ran a ridership report on Omnitrans' sbX bus rapid transit line. The very headline and thesis of the article is "Rapid bus line off to slow start. Passengers on the sbX line rave about faster service, but ridership hasn't met expectations in its first year."

On the surface, that sounds like trouble for Omnitrans. But not so fast. The fact is the transit infrastructure was built and opened well before other major developments took place which promised to feed into the line. Last year, I argued that the sbX is a success in waiting and I continue to stand by that position. I had to spend several volunteer man hours getting all of the facts to write up "The sbX Bus Rapid Transit: A success in waiting" blog post in the May of 2014. With major proposed development plans in and around the BRT route, expect this "slow start" bus route to improve rapidly...pardon the pun.

Building the Infrastructure before the Developments


One common question I hear from many residents is: Why isn't transportation infrastructure built before homes and businesses are developed? That seems like a logical question. After all, the infamous 91 freeway through Corona is finally getting upgraded--both infrastructure and transit--even though this project should have been fully funded roughly two decades ago during the Inland Empire housing boom. As I've said before, we really can't blame our regional transportation agencies on this. Both the state and federal government need to fully fund this so that both Riverside and Orange County do not have to resort to massive toll bond debt.

In contrast, the sbX bus rapid transit line through San Bernardino precedes two other major transportation development projects that will certainly give sbX its much needed boost: The San Bernardino Transit Center and the Metrolink San Bernardino Line First Mile extension into downtown San Bernardino, located mere blocks southwest of the central city's core. When both of these connections are formed and connectivity gaps closed, ridership will sharply increase. That's a proven reality. Plus, the line has been stimulating economic development near its stations. As the private sector invests in more jobs along the sbX Green Line route, expect more riders aboard the bus. And just wait until more major capital is invested into the Carousel Mall, the vacant downtown hotel and the downtown convention center property. Both the sbX and the recent I-215 freeway and carpool lane upgrades should incentivize such marketplace investments and development.

Also, even though the sbX may appear to be under-performing now, the ridership growth rate is not at all bad even with the lack of current efficient regional connectivity. The Press Enterprise reported that the sbX was getting about 2,300 average weekday boardings, which according to the paper was less than half the number anticipated in its first year. However, last year, I spoke with Omnitrans Marketing Director and spokeswoman Wendy Williams and got the average daily ridership of the line as of May, 2014. Back then, it was averaging only 1,327 riders per day. Also, PE Columnist Cassie MacDuff road the bus and networked with Williams just before I did last year. The weekday daily average given to her was 1,280 boardings per day. The near-doubling of ridership between last year and this year from 1,280 boardings to 2,300 was not even mentioned in the last PE article. Not to mention that the Metrolink First Mile and other private development projects were omitted as well.

So, I stand by my position that the sbX is a successful transit line in waiting. The media really needs to wait until both the transit hub and Metrolink extension into downtown are developed before making any other accusations that the bus rapid transit line is "off to a slow start" and leading readers who may only skim over the headline into believing the sbX project is a taxpayer flop, which it really isn't. The truth is the transit infrastructure preceded the urban infill development investments that promises to drive up the ridership.

One last fact--This one too deals with an example where local transportation infrastructure was built prior to development:

Butterfield Stage Road through Roripaugh Ranch in Temecula

Under-utilized $12.1 million road too? Where's the media outrage? Oh yeah, usage along this complete street will improve once the homes get developed.
In northeast Temecula near the Wine Country area in an undeveloped area, a local connector road was built in two phases and fully opened last year linking the area to southeast Murrieta. It is a complete street with two general purpose and a bicycle lane each way with a pedestrian sidewalk. According to the Press Enterprise, the $5.6 million Phase 1 segment of Butterfield Stage Road linked Murrieta Hot Springs Road south to Calle Chapos through the proposed Roripaugh Ranch master planned community in Temecula. The $6.5-million Phase 2 brought Butterfield Stage south to La Serena Road, thus providing a major north/south road in between Murrieta Hot Springs Road, Temecula Parkway, and points south.

However, Temecula's Average Daily Traffic Volumes report shows an average of less than 8,000 cars per day using the $12.1 million infrastructure segment for 2014 after July. Much of Roripaugh Ranch is undeveloped, but it will be soon. To compare, Winchester Road (SR-79 North) averaged more than 46,600 cars per day between the twin cities.

Is this new section of Butterfield Stage Road really off to a "slow start" too, worthy of a dissenting news headline? You make the call.

1 comment:

  1. People keep forgetting that sbX was supposed to be opened in conjunction with or AFTER the Transit Center. The latter project got delayed by the Metrolink Extension, which in turn got delayed by Redlands Rail. All good ideas that will ultimately create a stronger, more logical transit system in the end, but those delays caused Omnitrans to move forward with sbX prematurely to avoid losing grant funds for it.

    Also, I agree on the point about the overbuilt roads that are "under utilized". However, calling anything being built with the only bike provisions being painted bike lanes on the paved shoulder next to wide, fast lanes a "complete street" is unacceptable. With protected bikeways expanding everywhere and standards also quickly propagating, there is no excuse for not using them, especially in situations like this where traditional constraints such as driveways and side streets are minimized.

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