Friday, October 24, 2014

Good News, Bad News, part 1: The Bad News

Well, hello there! I haven't posted here since... June? That can't be right. Oh dear... Let's get right back to it then.

If you're clued-in to the local transport politics scene, you may have seen a) the proposed changes for the next Ride Guide and b) the proposed 10-Year Transit Plan floating about lately. We're in a good-news-bad-news situation between the two. I'll start with the bad news.

The new 10 Year Transit Plan is a joke, and not a terribly funny one at that. There are some good things in there, such as across-the-board frequency upgrades, but the sweeping strategic changes that the plan proposes are just plain awful.

First, there's the plan to "modernize" transit service in downtown Riverside. The plan would abandon the present Downtown Terminal, instead providing service at a patchwork of transit stops littered throughout the downtown area. Most routes would be reconfigured to pass through downtown, and the two locals that do terminate there (15 and 22), along with all express service, would be routed into a new terminal on Vine St. adjacent to the Metrolink.
I want to note that I strongly support moving RTA's downtown transfer hub closer to the Metrolink station. That's a great idea. This plan, however, makes it much, much more difficult for downtown to serve as a transfer hub. Transfers between some combinations of routes, most notably the 29/49 and 10, would take a walk of three blocks or more. The routes the buses will take through downtown are convoluted and confusing, making even knowing *where* to catch your desired bus difficult. Unlike other places where buses use on-street transfer hubs, such as Long Beach and the old San Bernardino Transit Mall, buses will not follow a single linear path through the downtown area. Instead they will be found in a haphazard spaghetti-mess of a system, stopping seemingly at random throughout the city's core.

Transfers are a necessary part of good transit network design, especially in a hub-and-spoke network such as RTA's. That said, people hate transferring. The transit agency needs to do everything they can to ensure that transfers are as seamless as possible. Making people walk for several blocks and puzzle over which street their next bus shows up on will make the experience of riding transit worse-- and, for those with cognitive or mobility impairments, will drive additional trips off of the (cheap) fixed-route system and onto (expensive) Dial-a-Ride.

Second, while many of the route combinations are really great ideas, allowing the agency to concentrate service on fewer, higher-frequency routes, the re-routing plans for routes 16 and 19 are simply asinine. Routes 16 and 19, under the plan, would be combined, with 16 truncated at UC Riverside. (I assume that this is because of the lower capacity of the downtown area to handle bus movements.) Combined with the changes to routes 10 and 14, this would mean that there is only one route serving University Avenue between UCR and Downtown, compared to the present three. Even though route 1 would be upgraded to 10-minute frequency, this would still actually mean a decrease in transit frequencies along University-- one of the most heavily-travelled segments in the entire system. Combine this with the necessity of requiring an additional transfer, somewhere other than the downtown transit hub, for the passengers coming from Moreno Valley and Canyon Crest who presently enjoy a single-seat ride (myself included). The RTA brochure posits this as a benefit, saying that riders travelling between UCR and Moreno Valley College will no longer need to transfer at the mall. Call me a skeptic, but somehow I think that there are more riders between the Mall and downtown than there are between UCR and a distant community college.

Finally, in an eternal disappointment to RTA transit-watchers, the "RapidLink" "BRT" system has been nerfed in this plan. Instead of a frequent, all-day, every-day rapid transit line, with signal priority and maybe some dedicated lanes, what we're scheduled to get is a peak-hours-only limited-stop express bus. The 1 Limited will make only 12 stops between Corona and UCR, which is fantastic, and it will run every 15 minutes-- but only during weekday peaks. This all while San Bernardino is running high-capacity rapid buses in their own dedicated lane, and has been for months! Riverside is, of course, still talking streetcars, but with the sort of savvy that indicates that they have no idea how to implement a streetcar project properly.

There is hope, however-- sustained opposition from the community has led the RTA Board to postpone adoption of the 10-year transit plan until the January 22nd board meeting. You should let the agency know what you think of the new plan by e-mailing comments@riversidetransit.com, by calling +1 951 565 5002, by snail-mail at:
Riverside Transit Agency ATTN: Director of Planning 1825 Third St. Riverside, CA 92507
or by attending the meeting on January 22nd at 2pm at the county building downtown.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

BAC Meeting Tomorrow

The Bicycle Advisory Committee will meet tomorrow, 12 June, at 5pm. Sorry for the late notice, I just found out myself!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

sbX Launch Date Set

It's finally happening! San Bernardino's sbX BRT system has finished construction and is in the testing phase. Service opens to the public on April 28th, and rides will be free for the first week! I'm excited. Are you? The Omnitrans Blog has a lot of details about the service, including geeky things like the capabilities of TVMs and photos of bus interiors. If you are driving in the area of E Street in San Bernardino, first, stop it! Second, do keep an eye out for sbX buses, which are currently in testing phase, and remember to stay clear of the bus-only lanes.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Driver Licensing Should Be More Like Pilot's Licensing

So I've been working on my private pilot's license-- one of the many reasons this blog has been relatively quiet-- and there is a marked contrast between the ways that we license cars and the way we license pilots. Our driver licensing system is obviously insufficient, because drivers that don't know how to operate a vehicle clearly keep getting on the roads, and even repeated violations of traffic law are often insufficient to lose one's license-- even egregious lapses of judgement, such as driving under the influence and causing fatal accidents, often result in little or no suspension of driving privilege. Given the sheer amount of carnage on our roads, it is kind of astounding how little scrutiny is applied to motorists and their ability to operate their vehicles.

Consider this: when I earned my driver's license, at age 16, I was required to have four hours of behind-the-wheel professional training, and classroom training that essentially amounted to the instructor reading out of the DMV driver's handbook. My wife had zero hours of professional instruction, and zero hours of classroom instruction, as she was over the age of 18 when she earned her license. I took a simple 20-question multiple-choice exam, which I likely could have passed without any preparation, and I was observed by a DMV examiner for roughly half an hour while driving in light traffic, on surface streets, on a benign day.
And, with that, I was given the privilege to operate anything from a motorcycle with a sidecar to a massive RV, day or night, in good weather and bad, and nobody will ever scrutinize my driving ever again*. At worst, if I engage in a particularly egregious moving violation and actually get pulled over, I might have to attend "traffic school"-- which can now be completed on the Internet in less than an hour, and which will still not result in anyone actually re-testing my skill in operating a motor vehicle.

Contrast that with my pilot's license. In order to take the private pilot's exam, you need a minimum of 40 hours of flight time, of which 20 must be with an instructor and 10 must be carefully-planned solo time. Most pilots actually take 60-70 hours of instruction before being judged competent to take the "checkride"-- aviation slang for the practical exam. The written exam is 70 questions and over an hour long, and actually requires some pretty rigorous study, especially on things like weather and atmospheric conditions, aircraft performance, and flight navigation. The checkride also has a significant theoretical component-- an oral exam often lasting more than an hour, which examines both the applicant's knowledge and their judgement-- and the flight test is often 90 minutes to two hours, requiring demonstration of a wide variety of maneuvers, including simulated emergency procedures.
And after all that, a pilot is only granted the ability to fly relatively light aircraft under reasonably good weather. Flying bigger, faster planes or planes with tailwheels requires additional training. Flying seaplanes, gliders, multi-engine aircraft, flying for hire, or flying in bad weather all require another trip to the FAA examiner, along with their own requirements for flight training and accompanying written exams. And even then, to keep one's flying privilege, pilots have to be recurrently trained every other year, with a minimum of one hour's ground training and an hour's flight time with an instructor.

So, am I saying that a driver's license should be as difficult to get as a pilot's license? No. There are a lot of differences between flying and driving-- the most significant being that, once you're in the air, you can't pull over and get help-- and driving simply isn't subject to the same voluminous amount of theory as flying is. But it should be a hell of a lot more rigorous than it is now. Drivers should be required to get at least some professional instruction before getting their license, and I particularly think that recurrent training ought to be a more significant part of drivers' lives. Perhaps it would help bring down the atrocious traffic fatality rate.

*My driving was re-tested, once, because I got my motorcycle license.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Leaving the Holding Pattern

It's been quiet around here lately, mostly because it's been quiet in local transport policy. This blog began during a time of massive service cuts, attacks on Greyhound, and other myrid threats to local alternative transportation. Since then, I've been able to report moderately good news in the cycling department, as Riverside's city government has become more bicycle-aware. (I'm not going to call them bicycle-friendly just yet, although the League of American Bicyclists did.) I haven't, however, had too much in the way of good news about local transit. The best one could say is that it had stabilized.

Well, recently, things have started getting better. We've already seen mild improvements to frequency (to 15m on Route 1 and 20 on Route 16) and service span during last October's service changes. With RTA's upcoming May service changes, there are still more (mild) improvements on the way. Let's take a look!

Route 1: Route 1 will see a small routing change with a big impact: in Corona, the route will finally make the couple-block jaunt over to the Corona Transit Center, bringing the RTA's 800lb gorilla into contact with Corona Cruiser's Red and Blue routes, RTA's 3, several Commuterlink routes, and, of course, Metrolink. (And the gratuitous sea of parking lots that surround the Transit Center, precluding the nice transit-oriented development that should happen there...)

Route 3: The northbound Corona-Eastvale route will see a minor span increase, as well as new Saturday service.

Route 54: Did anyone ever actually ride this? I didn't. This was a shuttle from the Metrolink overflow parking lot to the County building, while the County's parking was taken over by the 91 widening project's detritus. Anyway, it's going away because the County's parking lots are open again.

Routes 64 & 79: These long-haul routes in the southwest county will be adding (low-frequency: 75 and 60 minute headways, respectively) Saturday service. The Transit Coalition's IE Transit Talking Points blog has better analysis on these routes, but suffice to say they will bring better regional connectivity to the southwest county on weekends.

Route 216: Holy hell, this one has been needed for a long time. A mid-day trip and a late evening trip will be added to the OC-Riverside express route, making it useful for trips other than peak-hour commutes. Metrolink IE-OC mid-day and evening frequencies still suck, so this is very welcome.

CommuterLink Expansion: With the promised addition of several 91 Line trains, RTA will be adding trips to 206, 208, 210, and 212. These trips start when the new trains do, a date currently to be determined.

RTA is accepting comments about the new service changes, but honestly, my only comments are "Yay!" You can contribute comments at (951) 565-5002, comments@riversidetransit.com,  or at the next RTA Board Meeting, 27 March at 2pm in the County building downtown.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Downtown from the Air

In this striking aerial footage taken downtown, you can see both some of the city's best features, as well as the pervasive presence of huge roads and parking lots.

The video doesn't appear to be embeddable, but you can watch it on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

RTA BRT WTF?

In today's RTA Board Meeting agenda, there were some details about the forthcoming Route 1 Limited, the lukewarm successor to the previously-proposed RapidLink project from nearly a decade ago. The Press-Enterprise hinted at the project, noting that RTA snagged a cool $12.3 million for new buses to run the service. But here, we have details:
Service characteristics of the proposed Route 1 Limited-Stop service
include:
  • Weekday service only during peak hours between UCR and the Galleria at Tyler during peak hour periods between 5:30 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. and 2:30p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
  • 15-minute frequency
  • 15 stops in each direction over approximately 12 one-way miles 1
  • Up to 20 percent travel time reduction between terminals
  • Maximization of transit signal priority capabilities currently in place
  • along the University/Magnolia corridor
  • Approximately 17,028 annual revenue service hours
 And they call this phase one of the "BRT" project. Color me underwhelmed. We get no stop improvements, no off-board fare collection, we don't even get all-day service. Signal prioritization is nice and all, but this isn't a BRT service in any way. BRT is supposed to be the backbone of a frequent, all-day, daily transit network. This Route 1 Limited is simply a limited-stop commuter service, which is a far cry from what we desperately need on the University and Magnolia corridors.

Oh, and at the same time, the City is talking about how streetcars are going to make local stops, making them an expensive downgrade from present local bus service. More proof that local leaders don't really understand transit.