Friday, January 29, 2010

Pedestrians, Drivers, Empathy... and Goofy?

Very few videos produced in 1950 retain their relevance today. This one does.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

511 in the IE

For years, the Bay Area and Los Angeles have had transit information available by dialling 511 from any phone. San Diego has a similar system. Well, yesterday RCTC and SANBAG launched the Inland Empire's very own 511 service. It's up and running for all major cell phone carriers and Verizon, Time-Warner and Charter land-line services- callers on AT&T land lines will have to dial 1-877-MYIE511 (1-877-694-3511), as will out-of-area callers.

The new service provides a single, convenient telephone number for all IE transit systems, and is both voice and touch-tone activated. After selecting the desired transit agency, callers are transferred to that agency's customer information line. (Therefore, when using this service, please keep in mind the hours of operation of the agency information line you're calling. RTA's call centre is open until 8 pm, Omni's until 6 weekdays and 5 weekends, and other, smaller operators may close even earlier.)

IE511 has their own web site, with an embedded Google Transit trip planner and information on all transportation providers in the IE. They also say they'll be adding bicycle information, and currently post a map of San Bernardino County bikeways (though the map is poorly-constructed. It lists "Priority bikeways" all over the place, but never defines them). All-in-all, it's a decent showing by these counties to try and raise the profile of transportation alternatives.

There is a very, very long introduction to the new system when you first call in, so you may want to know what menu option you want when calling. I'll save you the work and post them here.

Traffic- 1 or say Traffic
Metrolink- 2 or say Metrolink
Bus- 3 or say Bus Transit
Rideshare- 4 or say Rideshare

Apparently, you can also find out about car stuff through this service... but who cares about that, right?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Metrolink Impact

Somebody in the media working on a project to publish the stories of people affected by the recent Metrolink cuts has solicited my help. If you are somebody who will be severely impacted by these cuts, or know somebody who will be severely impacted by these cuts, please let me know. You can e-mail me at or leave a message for me at (951) 732-7672.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

TAP Cash Purse

I'm not usually the first to break news about Metro operations in Los Angeles, but I discovered something when coming home from Long Beach on Monday morning. I was able to load my (rarely used) TAP card with stored value, in increments of $1. I then used that stored value to pay for not only my own transit on the card, but for a paper ticket for my wife (who's not bus-crazy enough to have her own TAP card).

Now, there has been no official (or even unofficial) announcement of this new feature from either Metro or the TAP contractor, Cubic. However, at both Transit Mall Blue Line station in Long Beach and 7th/Metro Center station in downtown Los Angeles, I was able to load cash value on to my card. (I only actually loaded any in Long Beach, but because of the novelty of this feature, I tested whether the machine would present me with the option downtown.) This may be an indication of a roll-out across the system, a mis-configured software push, a pilot program, or any of a number of other possibilities, but I will say that it was helpful in my travels yesterday. I also can't speak to whether or not this service is available at Metro customer service centres or on board Metro buses. Foothill Transit and Culver CityBus have offered stored value for some time.

LA transit bloggers, go forth and confirm at your local Metro Rail/Orange Line stations.

UPDATE: When I was in LA for Park[ing] Day (9/17/2010), I tried to do this at the Union Station Gold Line platforms. I was not successful, and I still haven't heard anything from Metro or Cubic on the subject.

Riverside Primer

After this post got kinda Internet-famous, I've had more readership from other places. Places not-Riverside, not-Inland Empire, even not-California. It is with this in mind that I'd like to write up a short introduction to the City of Riverside, so you folks can sort of understand what I'm talking about.

Riverside was founded in the early 1870's by abolitionist activist John W. North. It is located on the eastern side of the Santa Ana River, about 60 miles due east of downtown Los Angeles. It was originally the centre of the southern California citrus industry, and was home to the first three navel orange trees in the United States. (One still stands today.)

In terms of the things that Streetsbloggers are interested in, Riverside was once a city in its own right, mostly independent from Los Angeles. The cities that now lay between Riverside and the San Gabriel Valley were all very late inventions- Rancho Cucamonga was incorporated in 1977, for example. Since its founding, Riverside has been swallowed up by LA's urban sprawl, and is now considered a suburb by pretty much everyone, but the legacy of independence remains. The original "Mile Square" of downtown includes the offices of various state and federal agencies, including a federal courthouse. An approximately 30-block-square area of downtown is developed with high-rise office towers, and the housing that sits around this area is small-lot homes, many of which have been converted into small apartment houses. Downtown is a walkable and pedestrian-friendly area, with a WalkScore over 90 and a large pedestrian mall, though the latter is constantly undergoing wasteful and irritating renovation.

Riverside is also home to UC Riverside, a large public research university (of which I am a graduate, and a graduate student), and three other major institutions of higher learning: Riverside Community College, California Baptist University, and La Sierra University. Only the first has had any real impact on land use policies around it. The area around UCR is densely-developed, with mid-rise apartment housing for 1-2 miles in most directions, and several major retail developments in the area. It is also home to the only true mixed-use development in Riverside (at least that I'm aware of, and I've looked)- Sterling University Palms, a large apartment complex with a good amount of street-level pedestrian-friendly retail. The location I live in looks quite a lot like the Carfree Cities model community (minus the care-free bit)- 3-4 story apartments clustered around a central courtyard of retail including most daily needs, with a transit stop at that retail centre.

Beyond these limited areas, however, Riverside is the epitome of modern suburbia. As you travel southwest on Magnolia Avenue, the city's main cross-town thoroughfare, you can actually watch the different development patterns. Wood Streets and RCC are close, small-lot homes developed largely before the auto, which give way to the early-postwar grid-street suburban housing, which then give way to the modern large-tract cul-de-sac nightmares that we've all come to know and love.

Local transit service in the area is provided by Riverside Transit Agency, and they are often the stars of this blog. RTA operates service not only in Riverside, but in approximately half of Riverside County, for a service area of 2,500 sq. mi., the second-largest in the nation. Within the city, a few main trunk routes see relatively frequent service: Route 1 runs every 20 minutes down Magnolia, Route 15 every 40 along Arlington and La Sierra, and Route 16 every 30 between downtown, UCR and the Moreno Valley Mall (this is my route). Beyond that, most routes see service hourly. The agency operates a network of express routes, called CommuterLink, that connect to major employment centres and the Metrolink commuter rail system, but these run weekdays only, peak-hours only, and in some cases, peak-direction only. As I mentioned, Metrolink commuter rail serves the city, but this is largely peak-hour focused, and recent decisions by the Metrolink board have served to slash our weekend service even further than it already had been. Amtrak serves the city with one train daily in each direction, and four daily Amtrak California buses connect to regional rail service to the Bay Area via the San Joaquin Valley. Greyhound also serves the city, though it has been embattled in recent years.

So, welcome, out-of-towners. You now know enough about Riverside to follow along on my blog, and I thank you for your readership.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Perspective, Metro?

I'm posting this from the Metro Blue Line, returning home from Long Beach. (Currently passing through 103rd/Kenneth Hahn station.) I've noticed something about the stations on the Blue Line. There are, as far as I can tell, three named stations on the line: Pico-Chick Hearn, 103rd-Kenneth Hahn, and Imperial/Wilmington- Rosa Parks. Now, at 103rd and Pico, you'll see the dedications appear prominently on all station signage. Anywhere you see the name of the station, you see that dedication. This is NOT, however, the case at Imperial/Wilmington- Rosa Parks. The automated announcements clearly refer to the station as "Rosa Parks", and there is a plaque there commemorating the civil rights activist, but the station signage lacks her name.

Why is this? Why do Mr's. Hahn and Hearn get their names on the signs, when Ms. Parks does not?
Now, Rosa Parks is a name familiar to any school child, but I had to look up the other two. Kenneth Hahn was a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and an ardent supporter of the 1960's civil rights movement. (Okay, he can get a train station.) Chick Hearn was an especially prolific basketball announcer.

Wait, what?

Yes, here in Los Angeles, Metro treats a basketball announcer better than a famous civil rights activist. Something's wrong here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Busing in the rain

My bicycle is currently lacking rain gear and fenders, so when it's rainy, I'm a transit only guy. Worst thing about transit in the rain? Wet bus benches. An umbrella can keep you dry, but it can't give you a dry spot to sit down.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Best Idea Ever

Reading and public transit go together naturally. Two of my favourite things in the world are long transit rides and a good book to go along with them. However, any literary transit rider has experienced leaving their tome of choice at home before a long ride. (Stay with me, I'm going somewhere with this.)

I don't know about everyone else's transit agencies, but on RTA's fleet of NABI low-floor buses, there's a space above the right-front wheel that is currently unused. There's a large angled plate there to ensure that nobody places anything there, but otherwise it is empty. Some transit agencies use this space for schedules or bus books (OCTA and Sacramento RT come to mind), but RTA leaves it unused.

The genesis of this idea lies in what RTA does on the Thomas-Built Commuterlink 30-footers. In this space is an acrylic box, which contains several copies of the Press-Enterprise newspaper, and a sign reading "Please put $0.25 in the farebox for a newspaper." Now, I don't think newspapers would sell well enough on general public transit routes- let's be honest, print news is dying. Also, to keep even a substantial fraction of RTA's buses stocked with daily newspapers would be expensive, and any copies unsold would mean a loss to the newspaper.

However, there is a purveyor of literature in our community for whom every unit sold is sold at a profit. The Friends of the Riverside Library support our City's public library system by receiving donations of used books and selling them at various book sales, mostly at the various library branches. Currently, they sell paperbacks at $0.75 each. (The books, as mentioned above, cost them nothing.)

It seems to me that we could do something that would make the experience of riding public transit just a little bit better by adding a box of books to that unused space on around 10 or so of the 97 NABI 40-LFW buses that RTA operates. (If the program proves successful, it could be expanded to the entire fleet.) These books would be offered for sale for $1, payable to a locked cash box next to the book box. We should be able to find volunteers to empty the cash boxes and stock the books around once a week (I'd do it at least some of the time), and donations should be sufficient to keep them full of mass-market romance, fantasy, sci-fi and suspense novels. Alternatively, the boxes could also be a donation point for books- once you're done reading, simply drop your book into the box and, if you like, pick up another.

This program would not work as a simple lending library- the books would simply disappear, and there would be no incentive to keep re-stocking them. However, I think a partnership like this could enhance the experience of riding public transit and raise funds for the local library while doing it. Start-up costs would be limited to a few hundred dollars' worth of display boxes, donated books (which I know FRL has tons of), and volunteers' time. So what do you guys think? Could this work?

Note: I'm going to try to make this happen here in Riverside, but if anyone wants to adapt it for their own purposes, please do. Nicer public transit anywhere is a good thing.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Stigma, or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bus

Alternative transportation has been gaining in popularity in recent years, and especially so since the summer 2008 gas price shocks. Transit-oriented development is now politically hot. Sales of bicycles have spiked dramatically, and cyclists are everywhere on city streets (even here in the 'burbs). Light rail and streetcar projects are opening up across the country, and residents are flocking to rail-served neighbourhoods in droves. Upon hearing that I'm a transportation activist, people in my social circle will now excitedly exclaim "Hey, that's great! We should plan a train trip sometime."

All of that, of course, leaves out the bus. For some reason, the bus has an image problem. Even environmentally-conscious folks would never even consider riding a bus. I have had people tell me that buses are dirty, smelly, and unpleasant, that they often break down, and one girl told me that she would often get "funny looks" when riding the bus. (She lived a year here without a car, and is now never more than steps from it.) My parents and I nearly got in a screaming match when I asserted that it would be safe for a teenage girl to ride the public transit system to school and back on a daily basis. (Of course, teenage girls do that all the time here. Ride a bus between 2 and 3pm near any public school.) This aversion to buses is nearly universal, and it goes beyond the usual complaints of public transit use- knowing where it goes, what the fare is, etc. It may, of course, be different for those in major cities, but judging from The Bus Bench's Browne Molyneux's frequent and colourful descriptions of Metro Local service, I doubt it.

I don't, personally, understand this trouble with buses. My first bus was one of these, an AC Transit Gillig Phantom, at the age of two on AC's #29 in Fremont, CA (a route which no longer exists). I was one of a handful of people who rode the bus in the small mountain town where I grew up. I still, of course, ride the bus regularly. I am told that there was a time many years ago when a city bus was a place you did not want to be, and perhaps this trauma has burrowed its way into our collective unconsciousness. My many, many hours riding many, many transit systems have been almost uniformly clean, safe and uneventful. I have been on a broken-down bus only twice, and only once on a broken-down train. I rarely feel unsafe at a transit stop, either from traffic or the threat of passers-by. (I admit to being a touch wary in downtown Baltimore.) While buses definitely have their quirks, the overwhelming majority of time spent on them, by the overwhelming majority of riders, is pleasantly uneventful.

Here are the facts. Local rail transit- that is, rail that serves travel within a city, rather than between cities- is available in a total of six California cities- San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Oceanside-Escondido (and SPRINTER's not much better than a bus), and San Diego. If you want to be generous, you can add Pasadena (Metro Gold Line), Long Beach (Metro Blue Line) and Oakland (BART). That's it. If you don't live in the central urban area of one of those cities, you don't get to ride the train to get around your city. You may have a train that serves your city- many Southern California cities see Metrolink service, and most East Bay communities have a BART station- but it probably isn't a practical option for getting about your town. Outside of California, the numbers get even worse. There is no local rail in New Mexico, only one system (though a good one- TriMet) in Oregon, and Washington just got around to opening a couple of lines, one streetcar and the other a regional light rail. Nevada has 1 (Vegas Monorail), Utah 1 (TRAX in Salt Lake City), Arizona 1 (Valley METRO), Texas 2 (Houston and Dallas), Colorado 1 (Denver RTD), and none in Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas, Wyoming, Nebraska, Oklahoma or Kansas. And, of course, if you are lucky enough to live in one of those cities, the train doesn't go everywhere you need to be.

Contrast this with the humble bus. (See the very end of that article.) Bus service is ubiquitous (though not universal). If you are in a major city, there are probably several bus stops within a short walk of you. The suburbs are flush with bus service, as are some extraordinarily tiny communities. El Centro, Calexico, and Brawley, CA, cities in Imperial County whose populations sit in the low 5 digits, boast bus-based public transit. Blythe and Needles, CA, tiny outposts on the Colorado River, both have local bus operators. Hanford, CA doesn't even have a freeway in it, but it's well-served by a local bus system. Rail is a rarity, but bus service is nearly everywhere.

I would love to see rail transit flourish everywhere. Train travel is nearly always preferable to bus travel, with smooth rides, defined routes, and the frequent service that only a dedicated right-of-way can provide. However, the bus is the dominant form of public transport in the vast majority of the nation (world?) at the moment. Buses have certain advantages over trains, too- they are operationally flexible, have very little capital costs, and a new bus service can be started almost immediately. Also, regardless of how much it flourishes, rail transit is never going to reach many places- it's just not practical. Buses can, and often do, reach those places. (Think Wrightwood.) Transit and environmental activists of all stripes need to make a concerted effort to rid the bus of the horrible stigma that has attached to it, and to not just advocate for sexy new rail lines and bicycles, but for the plain old city bus.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Late-night hope!

Long-time readers and those familiar with Riverside transportation politics will be familiar with the roller coaster ride that has been rumours of late-night service this year. Last May, late-night service (until midnight on some routes, and 11pm on others) was proposed for a skeletal regional network, linking Riverside, Corona, Loma Linda, Moreno Valley, Perris and Hemet. Then the economy exploded, and the grant funding that RTA had for those late-night buses (from FTA's JARC program) was moved to cover other eligible projects. I understand that making the buses run more than every two hours in Lake Elsinore is valuable, but I was still miffed (a fact I made clear to the RTA Board). Since then, RTA has actually implemented one route's worth of late-night service: the 53 Bear Runner shuttle in the UCR area. It's a rather limited service, and is mostly used by students, but it is open to the general public, and it does run until half past midnight. I'm particularly happy that it runs within a block of my home, even if I normally cycle within its service area.

Well, it's about to get even more interesting. I was at the Greater Riverside Transportation NOW! meeting on Thursday, and the group is advocating single-mindedly for one thing in particular- late-night service. Robert Yates, Multi-Modal Services Director for RCTC, and Brad Weaver, RTA communications specialist, were in attendance, along with various community activists. At the meeting, the organization proposed that RTA speak with the Downtown Partnership, Riverside Plaza, and Galleria at Tyler about securing funding for late-night bus service along Route 1. Mr. Weaver agreed to look in to the possibility, and said he would report the results at next month's T-NOW! meeting. I don't know the attitudes of the various business associations involved, so I can't predict anything definitive, but we can all hope that this brings better transit service to our city. If this is in any way successful, I hope the Agency looks in to talks with UCR, the Moreno Valley Mall and surrounding businesses to spur late-night service on route 16 as well.

Personally, if I were appointed RTA dictator for the day, I would institute hourly service on routes 1, 15, and 16, with timed connections at the Downtown Terminal, from the current end of service until the current start of service. I think this would provide a network that puts most of Riverside within reasonable walking (or cycling) distance of a bus, 24 hours a day, and connects major nightlife and shopping together. However, just seeing route 1 extended would be a significant victory. Best of luck, RTA.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Google Transit & Ride Guide Corrections

(This post is going to be rambly. Summary: Ride Guide times are wrong for 22 and 53. This is probably why Google Transit was down. It is now back up again, and Google Transit has all the correct times for the affected routes. For details of the printing errors, read on.)

I was on the 53 Bear Runner last night home from campus and I noticed a Rider Alert flier, noting that the times printed in the most recent Ride Guide for that route were incorrect. In the last iteration of the Bear Runner, RTA simply kept the schedule that UCR assigned to the route, which gave the drivers an absurd 2 minutes to get from Canyon Crest & El Cerrito to the University Village. While UCR operated the route, they didn't exactly care about on-time performance, so this wasn't a major issue for them. RTA, however, has different metrics, and has changed this spacing to 4 minutes. The route is now an every-32-minute loop, and this changes times around a bit.

After checking out the RTA web site, I also found that the 22's schedule had some errors in it. The school tripper services, specifically the southbound ones, are printed incorrectly. (RTA doesn't specifically list the errors.)

My curious nature then led me to check whether or not RTA's Google Transit data properly reflects the adjusted times, and it does for both routes. I therefore assumed that this error was the cause of the outage earlier this week. So, when planning a trip on either of these routes, remember to check with either the Internet-posted schedules (22, 53), Google Transit, Dadnab, or the RTA Customer Information Centre at (800) 800-7821.

FlickRiR Updated!

2010-01-08 12.35.08, originally uploaded by plattypus1.

If you haven't checked out the Riding in Riverside Flickr page lately, perhaps it's time you did. Last Friday, after the Metrolink board meeting, I spent the day riding about the greater Los Angeles transport system, including all 5 Metro rail lines and three Metrolink lines. And, of course, I took pictures. There are over 70 in all from that one day alone, encompassing (lots of) Metro, Metrolink, LADOT, OCTA, Norwalk Transit, Long Beach Transit, and RTA.

Like this blog, all photos are licensed under a Creative Commons license, meaning they're available for you to share and even modify under certain conditions.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Buttons, originally uploaded by plattypus1.

I ordered a pack of 10 custom Riding In Riverside buttons from CafePress. I did this because I wanted around 5 of them, and it was cheaper to order 10 than 5. However, this leaves me with a surplus of buttons. They are 2" in diameter, with the Riding In Riverside logo on the front, and the blog's address below the logo.

And the next 5 people to e-mail me at with their domestic mailing address and the word "Button" somewhere in the e-mail will get one.

Please, only ask for one if you'd actually consider wearing it about town.

EDIT: Addresses will not go on any sort of mailing list, nor will they be retained or used for any reason beyond sending out a button.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

You Cannot Have Your Car And Your Planet Too

If you listen to many environmental activists, especially out here in the IE, you regularly hear talk about alternative *fuels*- electric cars, hybrids, hydrogen vehicles, even cars that run on compressed air. We are convinced that we will be able to continue doing what we're doing, driving about, enjoying our 30+ mile commutes and our freeways, our sprawling lots and huge McMansions miles and miles away from anything "worth caring about", in J. Howard Kunstler's phrasing.

I want to make this clear to folks: We cannot drive our way out of this crisis. No wundercar is coming. None of the technologies listed above, or any others that I am aware of, will come to fruition quickly enough to transform our transportation system in time to make a difference in our climate footprint. Experts agree that we need to make drastic changes over the next decade, to reduce our C02 emissions to below 1990 levels and be well on the way down from there, by 2020. Without a government program the size of which this world has never seen, none of these technologies will have an adequate distribution network, nor will a large enough proportion of our fleet switch over to them quickly enough to make this sort of change. And as far as massive government programs, the political will simply doesn't exist. A substantial portion of our country doesn't even believe in climate change. Now, look at what it took to pass even the meager health care reforms that got through our Congress last year- and remember that we all universally believe disease exists.

Even if we were to manage to switch to any one of these technologies, they all have their faults:
  • Electric cars: Not only would you have to get people to buy them and build an infrastructure that allowed for quick charging (because part of having cars is going road-tripping), but you would also have to get clean, green power to charge them up. Right now, most power in the US is still fossil-fueled (coal on the east coast, LNG on the west), with an appreciable dent made by large hydropower in the Pacific Northwest. Add to this a national energy grid able to handle the stress of providing all of our automotive energy needs when it currently struggles to run our air conditioners. While I think that we need to do most of these grid-related things anyway, we wouldn't need to build nearly as many windmills and solar panels if we didn't have to worry about charging electric cars as well.

  • Hybrids: Fossil fuels cannot make up a significant portion of our transportation energy mix. We all know the problems they cause. Current hybrids are simply fossil-fueled cars with a more efficient drive train. The 2010 Prius gets an EPA-estimated 50MPG, which is a significant improvement over a fleet that currently averages around 18, but this still isn't a high enough bar to avert serious environmental catastrophe over the next few decades.
    Besides all of this, in some ways the environmental footprint of a hybrid is greater than that of a comparable gasoline-driven model. The massive batteries involved in hybrid drive demand large quantities of heavy metals that take significant resources to extract and transport.
    Don't get me wrong, if you have to buy a car right now, by all means get a hybrid- and drive it as little as possible.

  • Plug-in Hybrids: Manage to combine all the polluting and manufacturing-related troubles of a normal hybrid with the energy grid troubles of pure-electric cars.

  • Hydrogen vehicles: Despite the fact that hydrogen is the single most abundant element in the universe, it has the unpleasant tendency of becoming easily chemically bound up in other compounds here on Earth. Most industrial hydrogen production today is actually done through reforming- you guessed it- fossil fuels. ('Nuff said.) The greenest way to produce elemental hydrogen is the electrolysis of water, which uses electricity to separate the bonds between water's hydrogen and oxygen molecules. The trouble, though, is that (consistent with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics) you don't get more energy out than you put in. Therefore, hydrogen fuel is not actually a fuel per se, but an energy storage method, like a chemical battery. And, as a battery, it's not a very efficient one. So, since hydrogen is about producing electricity, it has all the energy grid troubles of electric cars- and then troubles involved in storing, transporting and selling hydrogen fuel. These aren't insurmountable, but they're more difficult than gasoline. Oh, and because it's rather inefficient (compared to modern batteries), we need even more green electricity.

  • Air cars: Similar to hydrogen, compressed-air cars are simply a way of storing energy produced via an electric (probably) compressor and releasing it in a car. The main issue with this is that, to get any appreciable range out of a car, you have to store very, very high-pressure air, and so the containment vessel required increases in complexity. If you've ever seen the Mythbusters playing around with compressed air (and chickens, or perhaps the creamer cannon of doom), you know that, if compressed air is released rapidly, it does so with explosive consequences. Contrary to what you've learned in the movies, gasoline usually doesn't explode during collisions. Imagine a compressed air tank exploding during a collision.

All of these are technical and political problems, and they could, theoretically, be worked out. I highly doubt it, and would rather not bet the future of the human race on it, but it's possible. However, even if we were to devise a perfect car, one made out of recycled tires and printer paper, one that harnesses photosynthesis to not only be carbon-neutral, but actually make energy from atmospheric C02, even if we could make a car with no direct environmental impact, it would still be an environmental and social disaster. Our waterways are contaminated by engine fluids and lubricants that run off of road surfaces. Our natural groundwater tables are falling because rainwater is unable to penetrate pavement. Cars still allow sprawling development that eats up wild lands and spits out bland suburbia. Species' ranges in the few precious areas of wilderness that we have are disrupted by highways. We would still live in a society where we shut ourselves off from one another in our own private boxes, promoting inequality and a lack of respect for shared humanity. We would still leave our inner cities to dangle. Our streets would still be unsafe places for children to play, and we would still kill thousands every year in automobile crashes. Alternative fuels are, on a perfect day, a solution to only a few of the myriad problems that cars cause.

On the other hand, instead of pursuing unproven technologies in a desperate last-ditch attempt to hang on to the way of life we've been living for the last 50 or so years, why don't we look ahead and try to build a better world. The technology behind transit vehicles- buses, trolleybuses, and electric streetcars and trains- is well-tested and easily implemented, and is more suited to renewable energy than the mass implementation of electric vehicles. The bicycle has remained in more-or-less its present form for most of the last century, and that is because it works delightfully well. Not to mention that man has been walking upright for several million years. A growing fraction of the American public has expressed a desire to live in denser, more walkable neighbourhoods with more transportation choices. As it stands today, these people are a minority, but a large one (~35-40%), and they are a majority of my generation. Numerous analyses have shown that urban living is safer and healthier than suburbs. Our downtowns are ripe for redevelopment and reinvestment. Instead of a risky gamble to maintain a failing lifestyle, we should spend our resources on forging a bright future based around principles of city-building as old as cities themselves.

(It seems that this post has been featured on Streetsblog. Welcome, Streetsbloggers, and thanks for this honour.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Broken Again

RTA's Google Transit data is broken yet again, and has been since the service changes on Sunday. This constant breakage makes it very difficult for riders to rely on this service on a day-to-day basis, and I hope that RTA corrects these errors immediately. I'll continue my coverage when I know more.

Note that bus stop locations remain in the application, along with the routes that serve those stops. Schedule data, however, is conspicuously absent.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Metrolink Board of Directors

Still on the Metrolink theme from Friday and Saturday, I'd like to take a moment to explore just WHY the Metrolink board representatives for Orange and Riverside Counties may have come to the conclusion that their local dollars were best spent on something else.

First, a quick exercise. Here is a list of the areas in Riverside County that currently have Metrolink service:

City of Riverside
City of Corona
Pedley, unincorporated portion of County District 2

Here's a list of the areas that the Riverside delegation to the Metrolink Board represent:

Ron Roberts, Temecula
Daryl Busch, Perris

Robin Lowe, Hemet
Greg Pettis, Cathedral City

You'll notice that the above lists do not overlap. At all. The Riverside County delegation to the Metrolink Board does not represent any areas that actually HAVE Metrolink service in them, and so I wonder just how qualified they are to make decisions affecting said service. Perris and Hemet are still firmly in the build-more-freeways mode of providing transportation, as evidenced by the Mid-County Parkway project. Temecula is more a part of the San Diego metro area than the Los Angeles one (perhaps Mr. Roberts would like to join the Coaster board?), and Cathedral City is a full hour's drive from the nearest Metrolink station, and in an entirely different media market.

On to Orange County. I won't list all the O.C. Metrolink stations.

Art Brown, Buena Park (only got train service in 2007)
Richard Dixon, Lake Forest (no train service)

Patricia Bates, County District 5 (Covers much of the LOSSAN corridor, most frequent rail service in the area... but she's an alternate!)

Compare this to the San Bernardino delegation:

Paul Eaton, Montclair (Major transit centre on frequent SB Line)
Patrick Morris, San Bernardino (Two lines, plus Amtrak)

Patricia Gilbreath, Redlands (No service, but planning on a light rail so they can get it)
Diane Williams, Rancho Cucamonga (SB Line)

or the Ventura delegation:
Director Keith Millhouse, Moorpark (VC Line, plus Amtrak)
Alternate Brian Humphrey, VCTC

or the Los Angeles delegation:
Richard Katz, Los Angeles & LACMTA (5 lines, plus Amtrak)
Michael Antonovich, County District 5 (represents most of the AV Line, plus West Covina)
Don Knabe, County District 4 (Not much, but Norwalk's on 2 lines)
Ara Najarian, Glendale & LACMTA (2 lines, plus Amtrak)

And all of the alternates are appointed by LACMTA.

It would seem that actually representing an area that has Metrolink service is highly correlated with working to ensure Metrolink service isn't cut. Why did RCTC choose to send people who don't meet that criteria to represent us on the Metrolink board?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Metrolink Board Meeting, 1/8/10

The previous two posts were my disjointed attempt at live-blogging from the meeting yesterday morning, so sorry if they don't make much sense. Typing on a phone keyboard is never a pleasant experience. For those of you who want a more cogent explanation of what happened yesterday morning, read on.

Three members of the public, including myself, commented on the service reductions. I asked the Board to reconsider cutting IE-OC weekend service, and if they did decide to cut said service, to consider extending the San Bernardino Line to Riverside on the weekends more often that is current practise (2 trains a day, peak direction only). The Chairman then closed public comments, and the Board agreed to implement all non-service-related budget actions (including a reduction of Metrolink staff's vacation time this year) unanimously.

OCTA's delegation then promptly moved to cancel the IEOC and OC line trains that were on the chopping block, and RCTC's delegation happily concurred. No discussion occurred, no efforts were made to find alternative funding arrangements. Riders were simply sold down the river.

Following that rage-inducing vote, a member of the San Bernardino County delegation moved on to consider the vulnerable San Bernardino Line trains. He proposed a deal to the Los Angeles County delegation- to extend their traditional 60/40 cost-sharing arrangement to the trains in question. It seems that these trains were started (and hence funded) unilaterally by San Bernardino County, and the additional funding that this cost-sharing arrangement would provide would be enough to allow the trains to keep running, at least through the end of FY 2010.

After some discussion, and an insistence by the LA delegation that they not be obligated to provide this subsidy in perpetuity, a deal was made, and every single train that was covered in the proposed service cuts, except those that serve Orange and Riverside Counties, was spared the budget axe through June at least. In response to this agreement, Board Chair Keith Millhouse agreed to bring donuts for the LA delegation at the following meeting, 1/22. Unfortunately I won't be around to keep him honest.

It was heartening to see politicians working out difficult policy matters for the benefit of their constituents- and saddening to see that the politicians in question weren't from my county.

I was told by a Metrolink staffer after the meeting that the Orange County Line service was only going to be "suspended", to be returned after a later date. He informed me that the diminished weekend service was necessary for construction relating to the Metrolink Sealed Corridors Project and capacity upgrades. And the IE-OC Line trains? "There's just not enough ridership. We're keeping the Beach Train service, but there's just not enough ridership in the winter."

OCTA board member Art Brown said that it was "unfair" to cut bus service and leave Metrolink service intact. Councilman Brown, I'll ignore for a moment the extraordinarily unfair fact that your agency is cutting public transport while providing generous funding for arterial and freeway expansion, even when much of the money involved could be easily diverted to keep buses and trains rolling. Even ignoring that, public transit is a system. There are not two distinct groups, bus riders and train riders (though they do serve different markets), but one big group- transit riders. (This is especially true on the weekends- Metrolink staff's own analysis finds that weekend riders are substantially more likely to be transit-dependent than weekday riders.) Making cuts to Metrolink service isn't balancing two sides of one equation, but rather simply subtracting more from the "transit" side. Perhaps riders who were crippled by your agency's draconian bus cuts found alternate service via Metrolink trains, but alas, you've cut those as well. You aren't standing up for fairness, but rather making people's lives harder for no good reason.

The one good thing about my attendance at this meeting? I was quoted by the L.A. Times. I've been in the Press-Enterprise before, but this is a significant difference in degree. Thanks to Times reporter Rich Connell for the accurate representation, and I promise to start reading his column.

Friday, January 8, 2010

LA to the rescue

LACMTA has agreed to save ALL non-OC service through the end of this fiscal year. VCTC agreed to bring donuts for LACMTA at the Jan. 22 board meeting.

Sold out

OCTA and RCTC reps on the Metrolink board were the first to move to cut IE-OC line and OC line service. No discussion, no troubles, just cuts.

SANBAG proposes a deal to LACMTA to help support SB line service- 60/40 cost-sharing.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Meeting Reminder

Metrolink's Board will decide on the fate of IE-OC line weekend service tomorrow, as well as a host of other proposed service reductions and fare increases that could take effect as soon as February. They meet at 10:00 am tomorrow at 818 W. 7th St., 12th Floor, Los Angeles. Interested parties can join me aboard Riverside Line train #409, departing downtown Riverside at 8:15 am, or can catch San Bernardion Line train #317. Coronites and southern Riversiders can catch IE-OC Line train #809 and transfer at Orange to OC Line train #685. All of these trains end up at LA Union Station around 9:45, and from there it's a quick ride on the Metro Red Line (still free with your Metrolink ticket) to 7th/Metro Center, which is meeting-adjacent.

Reading through the agenda, it appears that some progress has been made on service changes. The Board is no longer considering canceling all OC or IE-OC Line weekend service: OC Line service will be cut in half, for a total of 4 round trips per day, and IE-OC Line service will be reduced to 1 round trip per day. Yes, you read that right, one trip per day. The specific cuts have yet to be identified, and Beach Train service remains safe. The San Bernardino Line may also lose Saturday trains 372, 373, 378, and 379, the 6pm run out of L.A. and the late-night run, and Sunday trains 356 and 361, a single round trip that runs around lunch hour.

The I.E. may also lose weekday service: IE-OC Line trains 852/853, a lunch hour round trip.

Interesting to note is that SCRRA, according to its own Board meeting agenda, has several million in unspent funding in its accounts left over from prior budget years, more than enough to cover this budget shortfall three times over. However, due to the constraints of the agency's structure, to actually spend that money would take actions from the various county transportation commissions to permit them to do that. County transportation commissions are hurting right now, and they may very well simply ask for that money back. We should encourage SCRRA, SANBAG and RCTC to do the right thing with that money- spend it on running trains.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Overheard OnBoard 1/6

"...and I just pray to Jesus I can get my license back and get a car..." (snippet of phone conversation). Overheard on #2135 as route 16, ~2100 tonight.

Okay, you already know my opinions on religion, but seriously... the best thing you could think of to ask the supposed creator of the universe for... is a car?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


A couple of days ago, the Press-Enterprise printed a rather nasty editorial about high-speed rail, and I wanted to burst back into the blogosphere in this new year by tearing it apart, sentence by sentence, period by auto-dependent period.

However, the folks at the California HSR blog beat me to it.

So go read that post (I'll wait...), and then let me make two points. First, I'd like to underscore one of the author's points here- doing nothing is not free. We may spend $40bn on a train- but without the train it'd cost (for example) $60bn in highways and $10bn in airports. NOT building the train has a cost, and although accounting for that cost is more difficult and more hidden by our political process, it is non-zero.

Second, is this really the voice of the Inland Empire on high-speed rail? Because it's not what I've heard around town. I've heard from workers eager to apply for rail construction jobs. I hear from students on a daily basis, traveling home to the Bay Area or San Diego, who are practically begging for a better way to get around the state. I see an increasing crop of folks on bikes and buses around town, trading their automobiles for a brighter future. I see a huge population here in Riverside alone who would be happy to see this train built, and the sooner the better. Apparently, none of these folks are on the PE's editorial board.

But that's to be expected, really. The paper has never really been a bastion of progressive thought, which is understandable considering their (dwindling) readership. To the rest of the world- Riverside looks very different from its newspaper.