Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Vision for Riverside

I was playing around with Wikipedia the other day, looking at demographic information. (Before the anti-Wiki crowd chimes in, Wikipedia's demographic data is entirely populated by automated download from US Census data. Wikipedia makes it easier to browse.) What I found out there surprised me. We have a conventional idea of the Inland Empire as this vast area of low-density low-population wasteland, unamenable to transit investment or mixed use development. However, this is a possibly misleading analysis. The Inland Empire, or rather, the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario Metropolitan Statistical Area, is the 14th-largest MSA in the United States. That may not sound impressive, but it puts our population above that of the Seattle, Minneapolis, St. Louis, San Diego, Sacramento or Pittsburgh areas, and only a hundred thousand short of the Bay Area. And, as far as density goes, the City of Riverside had 3,908 persons/mi^2, only slightly below that of Portland, OR (4,288 p/mi^2). As transit advocates know, Portland is home to the well-run and well-patronized Tri-Met system. San Diego is also home to population density figures in this neighbourhood, at 4,174 p/mi^2, along with the three-line San Diego Trolley system.

What the Inland Empire lacks in comparison to these other regions is a defined center, a locus of activity. The development patters of the post-war period have spread commercial and social activity thinly throughout the region, and there are few places where viable, dense, mixed-use communities exist that would generate the sort of transit demand that other cities possess.

Fortunately, there is a solution. We must create this center of activity, and I can think of no better place than downtown Riverside. Fledgling cultural attractions are already in place downtown. We must add to this mix various sorts of housing and space for independent businesses, the necessities of daily life, and a fast, frequent transit line, preferably rail. We must make the planning decisions that will enable the construction of all of these amenities in a way that protects pedestrian space and minimizes the footprint of motor vehicles. We must end setback and minimum parking requirements at the very least, as well as the segregation of uses seen in traditional zoning. We must also stop giving away our tax money, in the form of TUMF waivers and economic incentives, to big-box developers on the outskirts of the city. By all means, if you insist upon building that sort of thing, do so, but our city should not be subsidizing it, regardless of how many low-wage jobs it might bring. (I'm thinking here primarily of the Mission Grove shopping plaza, but I'm sure it's not the only one.)

If we do all of this, we can allow Riverside to rise as a charming new urban center, the sort of place that people will want to live and work in. We can position our city to take its place as the leader of the Inland Empire in the coming decades, where our society will be forced to be come increasingly local and transit-oriented.

The beauty of this plan is that it gives our city a forward-looking, leading role in future development, and therefore it should be relatively easy to convince local politicians of its benefits. It will bring in tax money and prestige for our city for years to come, at minimal expense. It is a transformative departure from our usual ways of thinking, to be sure, but it should be one that our leaders can be persuaded to follow. And, if they cannot be persuaded, we ought to find leaders who can.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Late-Night Metrolink

Because we live in an area that grew up during the peak of the automotive boom, it has come to pass that many young Riversiders like to travel in to Los Angeles for their evening and weekend revelry. This is, obviously, prohibitively difficult to accomplish on public transport. Metrolink's Riverside and 91 Lines are notoriously scanty on reverse-peak and off-peak service. The final 91 Line train of the evening leaves Los Angeles at 17:25, and the final Riverside Line train leaves at 18:35. Not exactly ideal for hitting the town. The Metrolink San Bernardino Line, however, is quickly becoming a model of exemplary commuter rail service, with frequent service not only on weekdays in both directions, but also on weekends. There's even a Saturday night train that leaves LA at 11:00 PM. Still a touch early for my tastes, but we're getting there. Problem is, that train ends up in San Bernardino, not Riverside.

A similar problem appears to exist in Pomona. There's a beautiful, well-connected transit center at the Downtown Pomona Metrolink, but that station is served by the Riverside line, not the San Bernardino line. However, these lines are linked by the 24-hour Silver Streak BRT system (from Montclair to Downtown Pomona).

Riverside has no such a connection. Even the Omnitrans 215, which does travel between the two cities, no longer stops at the Metrolink station (why?!?!), and service on that route stops too early to be useful in this particular case. Of course, RTA service stops a touch too early at the moment as well, but this night bus thing is going to take off come January, and I bet we'll see 24-hour service on at least route 1 in the near future.

Combine one last Metrolink run leaving LA at, say 1 or 2 am, an Omni or Metrolink bus waiting at San Bernardino to bring those passengers to Riverside, and late-night RTA service, and you have a recipe for a carfree night out in LA.

In fact, come to think of it, you probably won't even need new late-night RTA service for a 1 am Metrolink. The train won't get out here until 3am, and our wayward partygoers won't see Riverside for another hour after that. The usual 4am transit service will already be running to pick them up.

So, that's my proposal. Get a bus running that connects the amazing San Bernardino Metrolink line to Riverside, at all hours of the day, and you'll instantly improve connectivity for the city. And you'll make the party-going students of our local colleges very happy.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

When my bus is late, I get annoyed.

Especially when it's late for no good reason. My #16 ride home today was late due to a hundred tiny bad reasons, in the form of people who didn't notice that the bus fare had gone up. Obviously they didn't notice the widely-advertised public hearings in March, the proposal brochures in April, the announcement in Rider News in May, or the glossy yellow brochures this month. Or the new Ride Guide. Or the voice and visual announcements both on board and on every Smart Stop. Or the web site and telephone messages.

So the drivers are waiting thrice as long as they ought to at stops, waiting for people to dig that extra quarter out of their bags and wallets.

Therefore, as a public service announcement:

RTA is now on a new fare structure, effective today.

Cash fares are as follows:
Local routes: $1.50 general/youth, $0.70 senior/disabled. Children $0.25.
CommuterLink routes: $3 general/youth, $2 senior/disabled. Children $2.

Day passes are as follows:
Local routes: $4 general/youth, $2 senior/disabled.
CommuterLink routes (also covers local routes): $7 general/youth, $5 senior/disabled.

7-Day passes are as follows:
Local routes: $16 for all.

31-Day passes are no longer. They have been replaced by 30-Day passes.
They are as follows:
Local routes: $50 general, $35 youth, $23 senior/disabled.
CommuterLink routes: $75 general/youth, $50 senior/disabled.

Annual and 10-Trip passes have been discontinued.

Oh, and ROUTE SCHEDULES HAVE CHANGED for the following routes:
3, 7, 8, 10, 11 (new), 12, 14, 15, 16, 17 (discontinued), 18/18A, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27,29, 30, 33, 35, 36 (discontinued), 38, 38E (discontinued), 40, 42, 52 (discontinued), 55, 57, 61, 79, 202, 208, 210, 212 (new), 217 (new).

Really, that's nearly every route in the system. You owe it to your transit-riding self to get a new Ride Guide. If you can't find one on the bus, check your local library or the RTA office.

Inform yourselves, and stop holding up my bus.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Late-night service in danger!

(This post gets really, really ranty. As an apology, I grabbed this PDF out of the new SRTP. Be the first on your block to get a copy of the new, improved system map.)

RTA quietly posted their final FY2010-2012 Short Range Transit Plan on their web site today. You can get your copy from here. I was perusing the final version of the plan, and little has changed from the draft. I was heartened in that an address was not included for the Riverside Transit Center, and a line that suggested that said center would allow bus "and rail" connections. Awesome. Then I saw it.

Page 29.

The JARC grant funds summary, which, in the draft, proposed late-night service on 1, 16, 19, 20, 22, 25 and 27. In the final, adopted SRTP, the summary lists routes 7, 8, 41, 74 and 79, with increased weekend service frequency.


RTA, first of all, this change to your plan was not released to the public prior to your board meeting on Thursday. The public was not given any opportunity to comment on this revision, as they should have. I know I would have submitted commentary. (As I'm doing now...)

Second, those funds were granted to accommodate non-traditional work schedules, such as night shift workers and the like. Increasing weekend service frequency, while it's nice, doesn't accommodate any sort of schedule change. It just reduces waiting times, which, once again, is nice, but it's not the purpose of the grant. The purpose of this grant was to increase the span of service, therefore allowing night-shift workers and the like to be able to get to and from their jobs. This is not accomplished by increasing frequency. The only improvement listed that accomplishes the purpose of this grant is the addition of weekend service on the 41.

Lastly, by shifting these funds to far-flung rural routes, you are essentially guaranteeing the failure of this project- especially when these routes obviously don't garner enough ridership for hourly service frequencies as-is, without federal subsidy. Hell, what does "success" even mean in the context of this service? You're not expanding the window of opportunity for employment for the transit-dependent. You may garner increased ridership on these routes, but even hourly buses aren't exactly a passenger draw, and these routes don't run through areas that are conducive to ridership growth. Now, college students that work weird shifts along the 1 and 16? They might ride your night buses. But rural routes like the ones listed in your final SRTP aren't going to be self-supporting after FY 2012, and you'll just be back where you started.

Oh, and RTA? I'm really bored this summer. I have a bike, a bus pass, a phone and a LOT of time on my hands. Don't think for a second you're getting away with this.

Trains: Noisy, Well-Lit Killers of the Night

They stalk through our neighbourhoods at all hours of the day and night, horns blaring, lights flashing, doing their best to remain undetected by wayward pedestrians as their multi-tonned cars noisily clatter along iron rails. And suddenly, out of nowhere, in the only place you could possibly find them (on train tracks), they strike!

Check the article at the PE. This really gets my goat. I don't mean to make light of the death of this unfortunate gentleman, but he was not killed by the train, any more than a gunshot victim was killed by the bullet. The fact of the matter is it's pretty easy to avoid being "struck, killed by" a train. They are shiny, noisy and relatively predictable in their motions. If you happen to be on the tracks when the train goes by, you've done something very, very stupid. You are not the victim of the train- you are the victim of your own actions.

Also, when somebody is involved in a railroad accident, they are "killed by the train." When they're in a car accident, they are "killed in the crash" or "die in an accident". Don't believe me? Check out this article by the same reporter, submitted within a minute of the above. Car bias, anyone?

It's attitudes like this that lead to groups like Fix Expo, the organization demanding that LA Metro build the new Expo LRT as a grade-separated line. Building rail in LA is hard enough, and you want to add to that the cost of either tunneling or building aerial work? This group just got the CPUC to reject an at-grade crossing design at a high school, for the safety of "the children" (Won't somebody think of the children?!). Sorry. If it was an elementary school, then maybe I'd buy it, but teenagers really ought to be smart enough NOT TO RUN IN FRONT OF A TRAIN.

We really shouldn't have to have quad-crossing gates either. It makes no sense to waste all that money on gates that are designed to prevent what anyone with a brain in their head wouldn't be doing anyway. (Of course, they do help out in that car-train collisions waste commuters' time.) Rail safety is a no-brainer, guys. When a train is coming, as signified by the ample audible and visual warning cues at every single point where you might encounter one, MOVE OUT OF THE WAY.

As an aside, I'm thinking about conducting a large study of press attitudes towards trains vs. cars. Seems like there's something scholarly and meaty here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Google Transit: Now on the GooglePhone!

Apparently I missed this. It must have been very, very quiet, but Google released a new version of Google Maps for the Android smartphone platform (and hence, the T-Mobile G1). This version now includes walking and... GOOGLE TRANSIT!

This was the one thing I was missing on the phone. It's now perfect. *hugs his G1* Hurray!

BTW, you have to manually update your Maps application through the Android Market to get this update. Full story here.

Parking Insanity

Riverside's current parking boondoggle is the Fox Theatre, as I reported on last week. However, the parking disease is endemic throughout SoCal. The Torrance Daily Breeze ran a story on Monday about the $126.5 million purchase of a parking lot at LAX. The cash-strapped City of Los Angeles, who owns LAX (as well as Van Nuys, Palmdale and Ontario airports), will be blowing $126.5 million of taxpayer money... on a plot of tarmac...

Note, by the way, that the Metro Green Line currently grazes LAX, and one has to take a shuttle bus to the terminal. So we can blow an obscene amount of money on a parking lot, but we can't make the trains go to the planes. Great.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Why Google Transit Rocks

Update 2: RTA's Google Transit data is down for unspecified reasons. This link is broken.

UPDATE: When I wrote this post, that Google Maps link generated a transit trip, via the IE-OC line, to two OCTA buses to Brea Mall, to two Foothill buses to El Monte station, and then the Foothill Silver Streak to Union Station. For some reason, it now suggests Metrolink where before it did not. Still, Google Transit will produce trips with as many transfers as required to get the job done, and that was the point of this post.

Neither Metro's trip planner nor the old TranStar system will come up with trips that are this crazy. Is there a way out of my neighbourhood into LA at 5:30 at night on a Sunday? Yes. Is it pretty? Nope!

Anyway, pay attention, Metro. Your puny trip planner gives up after two or three transfers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The last ride of #17

The very last route 17 buses ever will be departing from Canyon Springs Parkway at 18:26, and from the Super Wal-Mart at 18:20 on Friday evening. They will pass each other somewhere between the Senior Center at Perris & Fir and the Moreno Valley Mall. They will go out of service within two minutes of each other, at 19:17 and 19:19. And I am going to do my damnedest to ride both of them.

I'd love to be able to get out and ride the #36 on its last day of operation, but I'm afraid that I can't get from work to Beaumont quite quickly enough. To those of you in the Pass area, support public transit in Calimesa. Ride the last #36. It will depart Beaumont's (pathetic excuse for a) transfer point at K-Mart at 16:05, wind it's way up to Yucaipa by 17:00, and head back down at 17:05, going out of service at K-Mart at 18:01 Friday evening.

You can also catch the last Green Line trolley downtown, which will go out of service at 18:45, and the last 38E Metrolink Express at the East Ontario Metrolink at 18:30. The last #3 to serve Riverside will leave La Sierra & Arlington at 18:15.

All we can do now is ride.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Transit numerology

Many large transit systems use numbering systems to make riding the bus more user-friendly. By looking at the numbers, you can tell something about the route, usually an end point and the type of service. Los Angeles Metro does this, their numbering system is as follows:
  • 0-99: Local service, one endpoint in Downtown Los Angeles.

  • 1XX: East-west service, not in Downtown Los Angeles.

  • 2XX: North-south service, not in Downtown Los Angeles.

  • 3XX- Limited-stop service, usually 3(local route number), eg 316 is the limited-stop version of local route 16.

  • 4XX- Express service to Downtown Los Angeles.

  • 5XX- Express service, not in Downtown Los Angeles.

  • 6XX- Community services and circulators.

  • 7XX- Rapid service, usually 7(local route number), eg 720 is the Rapid version of local route 20.

  • 8XX- Internal designations of rail service.

  • 9XX- Special transit corridors, mostly internal. 920 is a super-duper 720 Rapid.

You get the idea. Just by looking at the number of a route, I can figure out something about that route, and therefore the system is easier for me, as a user, to navigate. RTA knows that this sort of system is beneficial, as they do use some numerical designations. 50-series routes are trolleys, 200-series routes are CommuterLink express routes, and in many areas the routes are kept in the same block of 10 or so numbers. However, by and large, there is no coherent system. There is nothing about #16, currently a long inter-regional route in Riverside and Moreno valley, that distinguishes it from #17, a soon-to-be-discontinued local in Moreno Valley. With the new Ride Guide, they have stopped the rather insane 18-18/A designation, but to put a MoVal circulator route in at #11 makes very little sense. It's right between 10 and 12, a pair of Riverside cross-town locals. And take a look at the single-digit routes- 1 is Riverside/Corona, 3 is Corona/Eastvale, and 7 and 8 are Lake Elsinore locals. Now, obviously, RTA's large service area necessitates some flexibility, especially when looking at routes like #'s 22 and 27, which travel vast distances and connect several communities. However, I've devised a numbering scheme that, I think, takes into account the proclivities of our huge service area, and packs surprising amounts of information into route numbers.

As of now, RTA serves nearly 40 distinct communities, as listed in their Ride Guide, but for brevity I've broken these down into 9 regions, each with a number. You'll see their purpose in a bit.
Riverside- 1
Corona- 2
Jurupa- 3
Moreno Valley- 4
Banning/Beaumont- 5
Perris- 6
Lake Elsinore- 7
Hemet- 8
Temecula- 9

Now, RTA (in the proposed Short-Range Transit Plan) helpfully classified their routes into a few categories: Regional, Local, Rural, Express, and Special/Trolley. This gives us a basis for our numerical classification. Local routes will be designated with two digits- first, their appropriate region, and then a serial number.
Most Riverside routes retain their designation, as 1 is the regional number for Riverside. #10 becomes #11, as #11 becomes the first route in Moreno Valley, #41. Jurupa-serving #21 and #29 become #31 and #32. Hemet's 31, 32, 33 and 42 become 81, 82, 83 and 84 respectively.

For regional routes, we manage to put even more information in the bus number. Regionals are designated with three digits, a 1 followed by a digit for their origin and a digit for their destination. In this proposal, I've kept it simple by leaving the lower-numbered region the "origin", but a more thorough analysis could systematize this further, sorting them either by compass direction or by the order of the first morning trip.
Perhaps the oddest change here is that Route 1 becomes #112. (RTA classifies it as a Regional route, between Riverside and Corona.) #19 becomes #146, #20 becomes #114, #22 becomes #117, and #27 becomes #118. The #61, Sun City to Temecula, is classified #169, as Sun City is close enough to Perris, and I ran out of region numbers. Considering there are no local routes that solely serve Sun City, there is no reason to assign it a region number.

Express routes follow largely the same convention as regional routes, except that the numbers are ordered by their peak-time commute direction. Anywhere out of the RTA local service area is "0", so Montclair, Oceanside and Escondido, as well as the Village at Orange hold this designation.
204 becomes 210, 202 becomes 290, and the 210 becomes 251. As the 204 is already using the "210 (Express, Riverside-Out of area)" designation, 149 could be assigned 212 (Express, Riverside-Corona), 201 (Express, Out of area-Riverside) or 220 (Express, Corona-Out of area). I prefer 201 myself.

Trolley and special routes could be integrated into the local category, but I figure that, since they deserve a special designation already, they ought to keep it. They follow the local route convention, but with a leading 3, so they are designated 3, region number, serial number.
50 and 51 become 311 and 312, 55 and 57 become 391 and 392.

You can see how, with just a touch of ingenuity, a lot more intelligence can be planned into the bus system. If this numbering system were adopted, a passenger at 4th and Wilkerson in Perris wouldn't have to even look at the bus book to find out which routes head to Riverside- the 117 and 118 would show it right in their route number. Passengers would instantly be able to distinguish local buses from ones traveling further afield, and three-digit route numbering opens up possibilities for rapid bus designations in the near future. The Magnolia Avenue BRT could then be the 412, or we could follow the LA convention and make it the 712. Furthermore, a brief instruction on the numbering system would enable anyone to find his/her way through RTA's massive service area with relative ease.

However, I know that this system will never be implemented. Institutional inertia, and the inevitable complaints from veteran users, will kill it dead. Still, I can hope.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Credit where it's due

I let RTA have it when they make the strange and backward-looking moves that they occasionally do, so I owe it to them to praise them when they get something right. And they have, in the new Ride Guide. Route 16, in both directions, now serves the Metrolink station on every trip, while the trains are running. They even manage to connect to Amtrak trains #3 and 4, every Amtrak California bus departure, and three out of four Amtrak California arrivals. (#5416 is still a touch too late, but I hope RTA schedules a pick-up when the 16 goes to midnight service in January.) Kudos!

Of course, this wouldn't be one of my posts without a bit of nit-picking, so here goes. There is no service on 16 to the station on weekends. There is service on route 1, but largely on eastbound trips. RTA, Metrolink runs on weekends now. Often, even. Several trains a day, and there are a lot of people on them. Bus connections there would be helpful.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pave Paradise

So the City says we apparently need a big, shiny new parking structure downtown, for the newly-renovated Fox Theatre. Huzzawha? The Fox sits across the street from two parking garages that I know of (Dan Bernstein, that bastion of awesome at the PE, says three), and I know for a fact that at least one of those is deserted come quittin' time. Furthermore, downtown has plenty of parking spaces available during those hours that you'd actually want to go take in a show. They're scattered about the district, and the City knows they're so plentiful because they don't even bother to turn the parking meters on at night.

Aside from the very basic issue of giving still more land over to the automobile, and building a giant concrete block that we can't afford right now, a parking structure just for the Fox Theatre destroys any possibility that it might help revitalize downtown. Think about it. If you had to park a block or two away and walk to the theatre, you might pass by a restaurant or shop and say to yourself, "Hmm, maybe after the show I'll stop there for comsumptive satisfaction." If you park at the theatre, walk across the side of the theatre building and into the theatre, you get to see nothing more than the beautiful blank side of the theatre.

You want to get your downtown back in order, Riverside? Get people walking on the streets. At all hours. If you build a bunch of insulated bubbles connected to their own parking bubbles, all you've built is a dense analogue of a tract-home development. Everyone drives their car into their attached garage and lives fundamentally alone. A functioning city district requires walking, it requires that element of mingling people, of serendipity. (I've mentioned before Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and she makes this point well.) In short, it requires everything that you're denying it by building a Fox Theatre parking bubble.

Now, RTA is building in night-time service come January, if the currently-under-review SRTP clears the board (which I have no doubt it will.) Here's a thought. The Fox also happens to be right across from the downtown bus terminal, from which four of the soon-to-be-late-night routes (1, 16, 22, and 25) will emanate. Now, as a transit rider, I can tell you about plenty of times when I showed up at a place with 30 or 40 minutes to kill, and what did I do? I went to go eat or look through the local shops. How about it? Run a cross-promotion with the RTA starting in January. Give transit riders some sort of discount if they show their pass, or distribute a coupon on board the bus. Decrease parking demand, increase that urban vitality, AND introduce people to the experimental new late-night service. It might not work... but what will it cost you to try?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Gone Graduatin'

Today is my graduation from UC Riverside, and the associated revelry. I'll be back Monday.

Friday, June 12, 2009

RTA News-splosion!

Happy Friday, everyone. RTA decided that today was the day to make several big announcements.

First of all, Google Transit is now official. This surprises me, because the transit stops still don't show on the map, but trip planning functionality does seem entirely complete. Yay!

Second, the new Ride Guide is now out. Get your copy here. The details of the service cuts are, therefore, officially out. Affecting Riverside, in numerical order:
  • Route 3- No longer affects Riverside, or Old Town Norco. It's been rerouted north to Eastvale. Trips to that region from Riverside should be routed on route 29 from downtown, or route 21 from Tyler, transferring to 29 at Pedley station or Etiwanda & Limonite. I strongly disapprove of removing the only bus service in Old Town Norco, and making inter-regional connections even more difficult. Norco is now much further from southern Riverside.

  • Route 10 no longer serves its route beyond the Galleria at Tyler, with replacement service provided on Route 14. Route 14 no longer serves its route beyond the Downtown Terminal. Also, an early trip on Route 14 is now gone. Neither of these cuts alone is reprehensible, but the cumulative effect is to make bus service along 3rd/Blaine substantially worse. Not only that, but the RTA offices are now that much more difficult to access. One wonders if this was done on purpose.

  • 16 now ends at the Moreno Valley Mall. As a side-benefit, the last 16 trip from Downtown leaves 15 minutes later. This change might actually work out to the benefit of Riversiders. Unfortunately, Moreno Valley residents get screwed. This change eliminates the late-night bus service that used to rumble through Moreno Valley at around 10 PM. Most service there now ends at around 7:30. This will all work out in January, when the 19 (which serves much of the old 16 route) goes to 11pm service, but for now, I expect we'll see a rash of late-night cycling in Moreno Valley. Go get yourselves some red blinky lights, guys.

  • The bulk of bus service in Moreno Valley is now provided by the new Route 11, a circulator route. I was nervous about this, but RTA structured this route to provide bi-directional service, and so I think it'll work out. Hourly buses still suck, but they're better than nothing.

  • Riverside Downtown Terminal and Marketplace Metrolink now welcome the new 212, with service to Hemet.

On balance, the worst of the cuts were avoided here in Riverside, and the ones that went into effect on the fringes were largely minor. Are they annoying? Absolutely, but with any luck we'll get out of this damned recession and get our bus service back.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It's catching...

I e-mailed Corona Cruiser about their plans for Google Transit. Their response?

Yes, it is in our plan to add City of Corona Transit Service onto Google Transit’s trip planner. We are currently in the early stages of gathering the necessary data (bus stop-geocoding) required by Google Transit.

Woot! Now, to get Pass Transit, Sunline and PVVT on board. Let's work towards a fully-Google-Transit Riverside County.


Abandoned bike, surplus from UCR- $10
Repairs and parts- $75
Office Depot file crate- $7

Moving yourself and a week's worth of groceries without a drop of fossil fuel? Priceless.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

One step closer

LA County Metro came one step closer to inclusion in Google Transit today, June 10th.

They've released their data files to the public at their new Metro Developer site, in multiple formats, including the Google Transit Feed Specification (or GTFS). This is the data I used to produce the nice, pretty map above. It's also the data Google would use to put Metro's routes into Google Transit. Now, I happen to know what sort of Python wizardry it takes to load this data into a trip planner on my local desktop here, but I'd bet most Metro riders don't. So, I have to wonder, why is it that Metro has the data, has released it to the public (thereby precluding any concerns about "proprietary information"), and has even packaged it in the proper, validated format... and yet that data isn't in the public Google Maps application?

For interested users, here is the GTFS package. Users of Ubuntu Linux can install the Google Transit Schedule Viewer and use it to view Metro's data using the following commands:
sudo aptitude install python-setuptools
sudo aptitude install python-simplejson
sudo easy_install transitfeed
schedule_viewer.py google_transit.zip

Windows users, ask Google.

Oh, and we welcome the Transportation Advocates of Orange County to the blogroll. Take the 149 or 794 over to see us sometime.

UPDATE: The licensing terms on Metro Developer seem to permit anyone, including Google, to use the transit feeds for any purpose, including Google Transit, within reason. Grab 'em, Google! Do it now!

Ride the only light rail in Riverside County!

Hey all. For those of you who aren't just transit aficionados but also railfans, I have a day trip for you. Just a short (okay, an hour and a bit) bus ride away from Riverside in Perris, CA is the Orange Empire Railway Museum. One of only two institutions of it's kind in southern California (the other is in Campo, CA), OERM has an extensive collection of retired railway equipment, ranging from their "Grizzly Flats Railroad" collection of ca. 1880's narrow-gauge steam-powered trains to the majority of the surviving Pacific Electric and Los Angeles Railway fleets. (Interestingly enough, while San Francisco's Muni does operate restored trolleys on their F Market line, and some carry the LA Railway and PE liveries, San Francisco has no former Los Angeles equipment.)

The museum is open 7 days a week, but a visit on weekends is highly, highly recommended. While you can wander the grounds every day, peek in the car barns and generally look at their collections... on the weekends you can ride them. Museum admission is free, and train rides are $12 for a day pass for adults, and $8 for children. The museum operates two different lines, a streetcar that travels around the museum grounds, and a full-size vintage train that travels the short couple of miles between the museum and the Perris Valley Museum in downtown Perris, which is the restored railroad depot.

Now, to get there. The easiest way to do it is to take the 22 from Riverside Downtown Terminal, or anywhere else along it's line, directly to the railroad depot at 4th and A in Perris. It's a long ride, but worth it. Try to time your trip to catch a train at the railroad depot- they arrive at a little after half past the hour, between 11:30 and 3:30. Tickets are sold at the depot.
Depending on how times work out, you could take the 27 to 4th and Wilkerson, and use the 22 or 30 to get across downtown Perris.
Cyclists are advised to bring their bicycle, if possible. (It got me passed up today, so it's not always a great idea.) The museum is a short bike ride from either 4th and A or 4th and Wilkerson, but it's a bit far to walk from the former and far too far from the latter.

Next weekend they're having a joint car show on site, and so I believe admission is a small fee, but most other weekends you need not worry about it... plus there won't be those pesky little gas-powered things getting in between you and the trains.

By the way, check out our Flickr page for photos from my trip to OERM.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I'm feeling lucky

RiR is now #1 on google for "riding in riverside", beating out the Riverside Riding Stables for the first time that I've noticed.

We're 3rd down the list for "riverside transit blog", behind two pages of RTA's site. I think I need to say the word "blog" on here more often.

blog blog blog blog blog.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Google Transit Update

Okay... I'm dumb. In my earlier post on RTA's Google Transit offerings, I falsely stated that CommuterLink routes were not included. I neglected to notice that I was testing the system on a weekend. You know, when CommuterLink doesn't run. Now that it's Monday, all 200-series routes are showing up in Google Transit properly and as scheduled.

We still don't have the bus stop locations showing on the map, but the trip planner functionality seems complete. Go RTA!

Backed into a corner

I foresee a conflict in RTA's future. You see, Riverside County is being squeezed into it's geographical corner. Years of drive-'till-you-qualify construction and hours of commute time have brought us to an inevitable source of friction, a war between two factions who will come together on the battlefield of our transit system to settle their dispute.

I refer, of course, to the conflict between Compass Card and TAP.

Both San Diego and Los Angeles are rolling out these nifty smart cards for fare payment. As far as I can tell, they are both the same system, using Genfare GFI equipment. The concept is fantastic- you can load either stored value or transit passes of any kind onto the card (including transfers), and you simply tap it when you board a bus or train. The system either registers your pass or deducts your cash. You can re-load the pass over the internet or telephone, on buses, at train stations, or even have it re-load automatically. It reduces paper, obviates the need to remember to carry cash, and allows you to carry any and all transit passes you might need for a long morning commute on one convenient card. I wholeheartedly hope that this program crosses the county line and gets implemented on RTA. (It'll be a while for Omni, their fareboxes do not currently support this system, but RTA's probably do.) So why do I say there will be inevitable conflict over these cards?

Because, simply enough, there's two of them.

Customers in the north end of RTA's service area (Riverside, Corona, Moreno Valley, and down probably as far as Hemet) commute to Los Angeles. With RTA's CommuterLink system bringing these folks to Metrolink (who will soon require a TAP card for transfers to Metro) and Foothill Transit, they will want to be able to load their RTA fare media onto a TAP card. Customers south of Hemet, down through Temecula and Murietta, the base users of the 202 and new 217 routes, commute into the San Diego area, with connections to NCTD Breeze, Coaster, Sprinter and MTS Commuter Express, all of which are now using the Compass Card. Accordingly, these commuters would be best served if they could load their RTA fare onto this same card as well.

I am entirely unaware of any transit system facing this issue, anywhere else in the country. Existing as we do between two major metropolitan areas, with commuters visiting both every day, is not a common condition for most communities. A few other places, like the areas between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, or Stockton (which has commuter services to the Bay Area and Sacramento) may see this issue in the future, but for now, Riverside stands alone. Resolving this conflict will not only improve the lives of our community, but set a precedent for future municipalities in our situation.

I sent an e-mail to Genfare GFI customer service, and though I don't expect a prompt reply, hopefully we'll find out what our options are.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Free Omni pass now, fare hike later

A couple of Omni-related news items. First, Omnitrans is holding a shindig at Ontario Mills for "Dump the Pump day", June the 18th. I doubt any of us Riversiders are going in that direction (but if you are, stop by- the 204 express serves the Mills), but I bring it up because Omni has posted a coupon for a free day pass, good only for June 18th. If you happen to be heading into their service territory, print this out and enjoy a free ride.

Second, Omni looks like they'll be following RTA's lead and hiking fares. The current $1.35 general fare will increase to the same level as RTA's new June of Doom fare of $1.50. On the bright side, taking a bus most places in the IE will now cost the same flat rate. (Pass Transit is a bargain at $0.75, and the Corona Cruiser will run you $1.25.)

Saturday, June 6, 2009



Passengers in the Riverside Transit Agency service area may now use Google Maps to plan their trips on RTA, Metrolink, Omnitrans and OCTA. That's all of the transit agencies that serve the city of Riverside.

I have, however, found one troubling omission. CommuterLink routes, as of now (Saturday evening, June 6th, 23:31 Riverside time) are not included. Check out the crazy itineraries that you can get for the trip from UCR to Montclair. At the time of day they suggest, this is a one-bus, all-express trip.

RTA did say that this was considered "beta" until June 28th. Therefore, I urge riders to use this new tool with caution, and check everything with your printed/web site schedule before making the trip. Still... way cool.

Never thought I'd say this...

...but San Bernardino gets it.

Check out this piece about the new E-street transit center. Holy crap. Local buses, express buses, BRT, light rail and Metrolink, all at one spot, all due in just a few short years. San Bernardino's downtown transit center will go from being the butt of my jokes to being the envy of the entire Inland Empire, and by 2012.

RTA, pay attention. Riverside is known as the cultural center of the Inland Empire, for it's urban diversity, it's universities, and it's support for environmentally-friendly initiatives. San Bernardino is known, well, for it's crime rate of four times the national average. Yet, somehow, San Bernardino is going full steam ahead with (urban, diverse, culturally enriching and environmentally friendly) transit-oriented development around a big, shiny new multi-modal transit center, and your SRTP goes as far as putting bathrooms at the bus station. After you kick Greyhound out. Build the Riverside multi-modal center, if only so we can show up the 909'ers.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Research, Interrputed

And that's a good thing, though my wife might disagree. I got an unexpected phone call this morning from, of all places, Riverside Transit Agency. It seems one of the folks in their planning department decided to give me a call and make sure I didn't have anything else to add to my comments on the proposed SRTP. He also mentioned that he took a look at my web site, including that little rail proposal of mine, and liked it enough he's taking the link home. Woot!

We also talked a little while about WHY I thought LRT on Magnolia would be such a good idea, and I brought up the fact, well-known to riders, that traffic causes Route 1 to bunch up really badly on weekday afternoons, towards the north end of the route. (My wife used to get on at RCC, and anything between 1500 and 1800 was a crapshoot.) Apparently the Board needs "reminded" of this from time to time. Go ahead and remind them, folks.

Anyway, I am continually surprised by the reach that this little blog has garnered, through little effort of my own. As I've said before, I never figured anyone else would read it once I started it, and now I've got myself a decent little following, to the point that people yell at me about not being thorough when proposing LRT. :D

Also, regular readers will know I was a cable TV technician for a little while. Given that experience, I know a thankless job when I see one. RTA planner? Thankless job. You guys are sitting over there, getting squeezed by the budget every time you try and throw the ridership a bone, and getting blasted by folks like me every time you try and keep your bosses in finance happy. So, for today, truce. I'll get back to blasting tomorrow. Thanks for all that you do, and please keep it up.

I will, however, make one suggestion. I don't know how often you guys do this, but I do know that you get free rides as a condition of employment, and with Furlough Friday becoming ever more popular, maybe it's time. Go ride the system for a little while. I'm not saying you should just aimlessly sit on buses all day (leave that to geeks like me), but when you're out and about and you have the time, take your own bus routes. Measures and metrics and GPS and such are all well and good, but there really is no substitute to first-hand knowledge of a large, organic entity like a transit system. If you're really interested, talk to the riders around you. Not everyone will go and start a blog about their RTA gripes, but I guarantee every single one of them has one story or another that involves egregious inconvenience because they take the bus. You might be surprised what you learn.

Thanks to all of my readership, especially the ones who have the power to get something done around here.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

To Dream the Impossible Dream

Light rail in Riverside. There, I said it.

Why exactly is a project of this magnitude off the table? I just read an article here that a bunch of Coachella Valley students designed a light rail line through their little slice of desert land, in an effort to reduce sprawl and improve their communities. Granted, the chances it'll get built are slim to none, but nobody in Riverside has even proposed such a thing. And the real catch is, I can't understand why.

The Magnolia Ave. corridor looks like the optimal place for a light rail. It's crowded by automobiles at all sorts of times of day (rush hour starts around 1500), has a very, very successful local bus line running along it, and all the city's development clustered around it, not to mention two colleges and a long stretch of high-density housing, two malls, and Downtown. Throw in University Ave., with more housing and the development surrounding UCR at the top, and it looks like a no-brainer. Not to mention that, for a large stretch of the way, there are wastefully large medians and on-street parking that could easily be moved to make way for a train. Plus, it's dead straight all the way down the city. All that's even been proposed is the Magnolia Avenue BRT, which isn't coming this way for a long while, and has no dedicated bus-access lanes planned. Omni's sbX project, on the other hand, looks remarkably like a true bus rapid transit project, similar to Metro's Orange Line.

RTA's proposal, for the record, has made plenty mention of limited stops and signal priority, but none of a dedicated bus lane or boarding platforms, which leads me to believe it is a BRT-light project along the lines of Metro Rapid, which runs entirely in mixed traffic and provides only mild relief from traffic congestion. It's better than nothing, to be sure, but we can do better.

Anyway... why no light rail? Is it density? I can't see how, considering the density along the Magnolia Ave. corridor is greater than along the NCTD Sprinter right-of-way, and approaches that of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system's corridors, which are doing quite well. Is it money? FTA grants provide substantially more funding for rail projects than for bus projects, and rightfully so. I am therefore left to conclude that it's the NIMBY crowd... which makes me unhappy.

For your consideration, here's my proposal for a service to be constructed and operated along the lines of this article. Total cost? Around $250m. Expensive, to be sure, but the benefits of a fixed, dedicated right-of-way transportation system are myriad and will easily repay the costs. Transit-oriented development, plus the rise in property values along the line, will bring tax and environmental benefits into the city, plus the added mobility and opportunity to Riverside residents will be large indeed. Oh, and an sbX/Orange Line-style dedicated busway would provide many of these benefits for a fraction of the capital cost (though higher operating costs), and could later be converted to light rail. So, RTA, think about it.

(Edit: Due to a misreading of the article, which said that the Portland Streetcar cost $15m/km, not mile, I underestimated the cost of a similar system along Magnolia by around $100m. Estimates have been revised. Oh, and to the anti-LRT crowd, I'm not picky about technologies, but I am picky about having a dedicated right-of-way system down Magnolia. It's sorely needed.)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Riding in Riverside offers congratulations to Councilmen Melendrez and Davis. I look forward to working with you both on the future of our fair city.

And Councilwoman Hart... you're back...

FiveBeforeMidnight has all the election analysis you need, right here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

100 posts!

This is the 100th post to Riding in Riverside. Though noting this occasion is, of course, a little decimal-centric, I'll do it anyway. In commemoration of this occasion, and because a strange bolt of OCD inspiration struck me tonight, I have posted a good amount of my collection of transit fare media on the RiR Flickr page. Omni, RTA and Metrolink abound, but I also have BART, Sacramento RT, Washington DC Metro and TMB Barcelona, among others. Known missing: Vancouver, San Jose, Paris, and Las Vegas. Check it out!

Yes, I did paint the word "VOID" across all of them in a crude, only-slightly-transparent font. I don't want to be accused of fare evasion. Furthermore, any blurred lines are probably blocking somebody's signature.

Nobody cares... does anyone care, that nobody cares?

Apologies to Green Day.

So I have two media-related stories, both about how little transit matters in the minds of Southern Californians.

First, I just completed a short class project analyzing the salience of a single media topic across two newspapers. I chose public transit, and the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle. In the Chronicle, 15% of the articles on state and local news had some mention of public transit over the three days studied. The equivalent measurement in the Times? 3%. And this is from Los Angeles, where there's actually a half-decent transit system.

Then there's the Press-Enterprise. I was looking through the PE's web site the other day, and I saw this on the "breaking news" section:

Two articles about car-related stories, within an hour of each other. And how about transit, you ask? Three stories about transit in the PE in the ENTIRE MONTH OF MAY.

You're probably thinking right now that the papers are simply playing to their audiences, and this is my point precisely. Transit is not a major part of our lives here in southern California (generally speaking... it's a major part of MY life...), and therefore it will not receive the attention it deserves.