Monday, December 19, 2016

Will a grid-based bus route network work in Downtown Riverside?

The hybrid grid/hub design model is certainly doable, but county seat transit improvements are far from over.



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

The 30-year-old 8-bay central bus terminal in Downtown Riverside will be shutting down with transfer operations moving over either to the nearby Metrolink station or upgraded street bus stops all throughout the central city core effective January 8 which will impact nearly every bus route in the area.

The Transit Coalition has long advocated for a full-fledged RTA transit center next to the tracks as directly linking Southern California's regional rail network with connecting local buses and park & ride lots will contribute toward a robust hub-and-spoke transit mobility network with timed transfers and improved station waiting areas. Such a station is starting to come to fruition thanks to the new 9-bay mobility hub within footsteps from the train tracks. Three of the hub's stops will be literally adjacent to the Metrolink platform, the remaining six are placed on the far side of the parking lot along Vine Street. And that's the good news.

The bad news is under this restructure proposal, not every downtown route is proposed to pass through the new hub, but rather the lines will somewhat emulate a grid-based transit network. That's due to the limited number of bus bays at the terminal. I'll mention why this design model may be tough for some trips in a moment.

Plus, the nation's intercity carrier Greyhound will also be losing its Riverside stop. To date, no replacement station near the new Riverside Downtown bus terminal has been announced.

However, not all is bad about this restructure and to be fair, the streetside bus stops have underwent upgrades with black bus shelters complete with posted schedule information and solar-powered lighting. Plus, the high-frequency main trunk line of Route 1 that runs through Downtown plus the Route 54 station-link shuttle will be routed to link several of these main transfer stops with the train station and new transit center. Freeway express routes will also continue serve the new terminal point. Thus, Downtown will operate on a hybrid hub/grid-and-spoke routing design.

The Transit Coalition understands the limited land space and public funding limitations associated with building a full size, 25-bay bus station next to the Metrolink platforms complete with park & ride garages, direct connectors to/from freeway carpool lanes and a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over the 91 freeway into the downtown core.

That's why we support public private partnerships of the development of such amenities where the government uses public money to get regulatory hurdles cleared and transit amenities shovel-ready and the private sector pays for the engineering and construction of the infrastructure.

What the City of Riverside should do is work with Caltrans, RCTC and RTA, and zone the station block as a specific plan that can support the expansion of private sector jobs. If the private developers who are building the office towers and factories within the specific plan area also included public amenities into the development, they would receive big tax and fee breaks on their proposals.

Qualifying amenities would include a hybrid public parking and park & ride parking structure to replace the surface Metrolink station lots. General public pays to park where retail and transit users can use their passes or receipts to park for free. Also eligible for development tax breaks would be an expansion of the RTA bus station from 9 bus bays to at least 25 plus additional space for private carriers like Greyhound, Megabus and casino buses; a police outlet for stronger proactive security; direct access ramps to/from the 91/60 carpool lanes; boarding platforms for the proposed Riverside Reconnects Streetcar, and a pedestrian overpass into the the downtown core. I believe the public would support this funding and amenity master plan for the downtown station block.

The Transit Coalition believes generally that if every bus route in an area operated service frequencies of 15 minutes or better from early morning to late night, a grid-based design would work best because street-side transfer layover wait times would guaranteed to be 15 minutes or less since each route would operate at those intervals.

However, because the vast majority of RTA bus routes that operate through Downtown Riverside do not operate this often, hub-and-spoke would have been the better choice as people needing to wait longer can use the amenities typically offered at transit stations like restrooms, drinking fountains, additional benches and a security presence. Plus, if the private sector builds the station, count on having a top-rated snack or coffee retailer nearby. But if you take a careful look at the current routing plan, you'll find that some direct transfers are gone such as the Omnitrans 215 to RTA 49 connection which now requires a third transfer or walking. That's why a grid-based design is troubling.

But with Route 1 connecting to the Metrolink station, I believe this unique hybrid hub/grid-and-spoke design will be workable for the riding public, at least for now. But transit infrastructure projects in downtown are far from over.

Public agencies need to expand the 9-bay bus layover area at Metrolink into a genuine Riverside Downtown Intermodal Transit Center and consider reverting the design model of the bus routes back to hub-and-spoke. The private sector should be given the incentive to develop such a first-rate mobility and economic job hub for the people of Riverside.

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