Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Travellin' Car-Free

The Western Political Science Association's annual conference is in San Francisco this year, so I'm heading up there for a bit of conference and a bit of vacation. As is our custom, the wife and I are travelling car-free: we got up this morning, caught the 16 to the Metrolink station, and grabbed Amtrak California bus #5415 to Bakersfield. In Bakersfield, we caught Amtrak San Joaquins #715, and I'm posting this as I watch dairy farms and fruit trees slip away out the window. When we arrive in Richmond, CA, we'll simply walk over to the BART platform and use the discount BART tickets Amtrak sells on board to get to our hotel in San Francisco. No driving, no traffic, no long stretches of that uniquely dull extended concentration that is a drive up the Interstate- and no $35/day parking fees. Also, I get to bring my bike along for free!

You can expect a wrap-up of the transit mecca that is the Bay Area sometime early next week.

Friday, March 26, 2010

It's Contagious

Right on the heels of RTA's latest round of service cuts, Omnitrans is now proposing sweeping cuts across their system, including the elimination of several weekend routes in the Ontario area. Affecting Riverside, the service span on route 215 will be shortened, and the route will move to 60-minute frequency on weekends. These cuts are proposed for implementation in September of this year, and Omni is having a series of community meetings next week on this issue.

For more information, see the flyer here. (PDF)

I couldn't convince RTA to use STA funds to put off their service cuts... maybe we can convince Omni to do so.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Service Cuts Approved

I'm working on the photographic tour of Riverside that I promised, but while I was out today collecting photos, I stopped by at the RTA Board of Directors meeting, where they were deciding on the service cuts I previously mentioned.

This board meeting went very, very long- 'till nearly 4 o'clock- and numerous members of the community (mostly from Highgrove and Grand Terrace) and myself spoke against the cuts. I suggested that RTA use some of the recently restored State Transit Assistance funding to stave off these cuts until sales tax revenues return. Most Highgrove and Grand Terrace residents encouraged the Board to ensure that negotiations with Omnitrans (which are already ongoing) produce replacement service in Grand Terrace *before* the 25 is cut. The Board was supportive of this measure, but considering staff was already pursuing it, didn't take any formal action on the matter.

As far as the rest of the service cuts, the weekend NB 7:47 and SB 7:30 trips on the 18 were spared, as were the Sunday NB and SB 8:05 trips on the 21. Everything else? Slashed. Including my late-night route 16. The last #16 out of downtown on Sundays will now leave at 19:05, cut from 20:25.

I learned about the restrictions on State Transit Assistance funding- it seems that it can either be used for unrestricted capital funding, or for operations funding only if an agency meets certain efficiency targets (I'm assuming cost/passenger-mile or something similar). Since RTA has this huge rural footprint that is NEVER going to meet those targets, and an urban footprint that probably won't anytime soon... STA funds can't generally be used for operating.

But wait! It seems that, for the balance of this fiscal year and through the next one (meaning until July 2011), the efficiency standards were suspended, and agencies were free to use STA funds for operating as much as they like. It sounds to me (and I'm not a member of the Assembly, so I don't know) like lawmakers intended agencies to use these funds in this upcoming fiscal year to forestall cuts, in the hope that the economy improves by 2011 (which most indicators say it will). RTA staff thought it "imprudent" to use these funds to put off these cuts, and said that they wouldn't want to have to make them later if the economy hadn't rebounded and they had no other revenues.

"Imprudent"? RTA, look. If you have a year of funding for bus operations that can stave off more cuts, use it. If it ends up that you have to cut routes later, then you cross that bridge when you get to it, but keeping those buses running for a year could really help out in this economy. It means jobs for your drivers, who then pay taxes and buy stuff in the local economy. It means access to employment for the people who depend on your service. A year's worth of that sort of activity is worth something, and it is worth more than your desire for stability. If you can keep those buses running for an extra year before you have to make service cuts, then you damned well do it. I was very disappointed in the Agency's dismissal (and by Agency I mean CEO Larry Rubio) of these funds in the name of budgetary stability. For the next year, there are people who won't be able to get where they need to go, and that's your fault, Mr. Rubio. I hope you're happy.

By the way, Planning Director Mark Stanley said that he has "cuts in September" and "more cuts in January" for us, depending on the state of tax receipts, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

State Transit Assistance Returns

As any transit advocate in California knows, the State Transit Assistance fund, which formerly provided around $1bn/year for local transit agencies in California, has been Governated for the past three budget cycles, and even after the California Transit Association won a lawsuit that ostensibly forced its return, Ahnold decided that he'd just eliminate the revenue source that used to fund that program (IMHO out of spite). Democrats in the Legislature didn't like that so much, and they proposed a plan, ABX8 6, which would at least partially restore transit funding under the new gas tax system. (It'll clock in at between $300m and $400m a year.) I asked you all to call your state Senators earlier this month to support the bill, and the Senate passed it shortly after.

Well, the Governator started making noises about vetoing this bill, because the Legislature wasn't giving him EXACTLY the legislative program he wanted. (This is what he does, of course.) After some negotiations, which (according to Calitics) means there are new homeowner and green-tech tax loopholes coming (in the middle of a budget shortfall), ABX8 6 is now law. After three years of doing without, California will once again fund public transit at the state level. It's not the level we ought to be supporting, but it's certainly a start.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Riverside: An Advanced Course

I'm writing on the train home from L.A. StreetSummit 2010, and I had a fantastic time, despite a serious Metrolink mishap on my way there. (I wasn't on the train involved, but the train I was on was delayed for two hours because of the crash. I cycled to the nearest Foothill Silver Streak stop and caught that into LA, just in time for some amazing street food.) I made a lot of contacts with folks, and hopefully we'll get Riverside plugged in to the larger livable streets movement soon enough. (Sirinya was introducing me around, and I felt a bit like a celebrity. Thanks!) One thing struck me, though, about some of the other attendees in the workshops I attended: whenever I asked a question about how to apply these lessons to Riverside, I felt like I was dismissed because I was from "the sprawl", that livable streets is a movement only for those who already live in large, dense cities.

Now, there are some places out there that are beyond salvation. Nobody's going to care about Hemet any time soon, nor is a movement for cycling likely to spring up in Alta Loma or Rancho Cucamonga. Hell, when I was caught in Covina it struck me how stunningly bad their transit and street amenities were, even compared to Riverside. But it is a mistake to dismiss everything in the IE as beyond help, as beyond saving. Riverside and San Bernardino were both cities in their own right before the sprawl subsumed them, and there is hope for both (though more for the former than the latter). Many of our elected officials out here get it, and are implementing the sort of reforms we want to see: Riverside has gotten on board with cycling in a big way, and San Bernardino is planning on making a vibrant transit village out of its bombed-out downtown mall. Claremont, while not *quite* IE, is definitely a suburb, and downtown Claremont has got a lot of livable streets things going on, including walkable, narrow streets and a BikeStation at the combined train station/transit centre. Hell, in Ryan Snyder's closing presentation today, where he had the slides of "dead streets" and "living streets", Riverside was featured in one of the slides... as a living street. (Specifically, it was Mission Inn Ave, in front of the street's namesake hotel.)

Therefore, I have decided to undertake a project this spring break, which will make excellent use of the recent amazing weather and Riverside's growing bicycle infrastructure. I am going to take you, my readers, on a photographic tour of my city, starting from my neighbourhood and moving west. I don't intend simply to show you the good parts of Riverside, but I do intend to show that there is not only life, but livability here. I hope you'll join me.

Friday, March 19, 2010

I return!

The quarter (that all of my older and wiser colleagues say will be the hardest of my graduate career... we'll see) is finally done, for better or worse. Since it's now spring break (WOO!), I'll be returning to writing the blog, which is great because a lot has been happening, both locally and in the blogosphere, that I'd like to comment on. But first, there's sleep to be had, TV to be caught up on, and other life things that I must to. I must mention, though, that I'll be attending StreetSummit 2010 in Los Angeles tomorrow at LA Trade-Tech. According to the e-mail they sent me, there are "a small number of tickets" available for walk-ins, and apparently some gourmet street food for lunch. LA Trade-Tech is at 22nd & Grand, just off the LACMTA Blue Line and easily accessible by Metrolink (catch SB line #351 at 6:30 from Riverside-Downtown to Union Station, then Red Line it to 7th/Metro and Blue Line to Grand). And to all my friends and colleagues in the LA livable streets blogosphere, I look forward to meeting you all tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

To Anonymous Caltrans Driver

I was on my bike heading northbound on Canyon Crest. I was riding with no hands, arms outstretched like an air-plane.

You were heading southbound in your giant orange truck. You shouted "I'm king of the world!" out your window as you drove by.

It's good to know there's still frivolity in the world. Thanks, you made my day.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Straight Outta Suburbia!

I hesitated in adding this excellent blog to the blogroll, because there was some rumour that he was going to shut down. Fortunately for all of us in the Southern California alt-transport blogosphere, he hasn't. Straight Outta Suburbia / Saliendo de las Afueras is an excellent blog which takes on L.A. car culture head on, and also has the distinction of being the only bi-lingual alternative transport blog I'm aware of.

Please welcome "Straight Outta Suburbia" to the blogroll.
Por favor, denle la bienvenida a "Saliendo de las Afueras".

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bike Directions

I know I said I'd be on hiatus... but this is quick.

Google Maps now includes cycling directions along with public transit, walking and driving (but why anyone would want the last one is beyond me) in "150 U.S. cities". Riverside is among them. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Transportation Tools

Transportation Tools, originally uploaded by plattypus1.

This blog will be on hiatus until mid-next week at the earliest, due to the crushing workload of the last two weeks of what everyone says will be the hardest quarter of my grad school experience.

In the meantime, I thought I'd show off how much of a transit geek I am- these all came straight out of my wallet.

From left to right: Zipcard, for access to Zipcar, a Metrolink 4-trip promo ticket from a while ago, an LA Metro TAP card, an Omnitrans pre-paid day pass, and my UCR ID, good for free rides on RTA.

Friday, March 5, 2010

This Week in Government

Several transit-related things happened this week, and due to a viral infection and the March 4th rally in support of public education, I haven't had the time/energy to post about them until now.

On Tuesday, both the afternoon and evening sessions of the City Council had transit-related items to contend with. In the afternoon, the Council considered the question of making a $20m loan to developer MetroRiverside, LLC for the purposes of building a Hyatt hotel and (this is the interesting bit) mixed-use development, including condos and retail/restaurant space, between 5th & Mission Inn on the east side of Market. I'm not normally a fan of government money being funnelled into the private sector, but these particular bond monies (which originate in last year's stimulus bill) are earmarked specifically for private construction subsidies, and Riverside happens to have $20m worth. If we have money to subsidize private construction, I wholeheartedly support it going to mixed-use downtown infill development. I should note that the city's hoteliers were out in force, speaking against the project, and the city's union officials were practically begging for the construction jobs it would create. I, of course, spoke in favour of the project from an urbanist perspective, one that I thought was poorly represented. On this one, we won. The six councilmembers present voted unanimously to approve the project, and the hotel should open in 2012.

During the evening, the Council received an update about the Multi-Modal Transit Centre from City staff. Confirming my suspicions, the City is the "lead agency" on this project, and is co-ordinating with RTA and RCTC. No word yet on if Greyhound or other private bus operators have been contacted, but then again no real design work has been done for the station yet. The City sent out an RFP last month, and the responses are due today. We also learned a bit about exactly how much land is available for the Centre itself. It turns out that the parcel that the City bought is not the only bit of land that's on offer- in fact, nearly the entire length of the Metrolink station worth of land is open. Click here for a quickie Google Map showing the appropriate bits of property- anything coloured is open for the Transit Centre. The sheer amount of area available- a back-of-the-envelope calculation shows ~17,800 sq.m.- means we could reasonably expect an excellent station indeed. (For comparison, the current Downtown Terminal is ~2700 sq.m, and the Greyhound station ~4860 sq.m, most of that taken up by the police department.) Rumours have indicated possibilities of a passenger waiting room, with restrooms, snacks and ticket sales. Now, upcoming widening of SR-91 through downtown may swallow up some of that land, but with any luck it won't be too much. A selection of contractor proposals, as well as quarterly progress updates, will now take place in the Transportation Committee, which next meets on April 15th.

On Wednesday night, RTA held a community meeting at their Riverside headquarters about the upcoming service changes. Since that brochure has gone out (and I first wrote on the subject), one big thing has happened- the routing changes for the 25 will be delayed at least until September. I should also mention that I failed to write about the proposal to cut all holiday service (RTA currently operates on a Sunday schedule on New Year's, Memorial, Independence, and Labour Days). My comments to the Agency on Wednesday night were essentially what I wrote on my earlier post, along with the suggestion that the RTA operate a skeleton network on holidays rather than completely cut all service- I suggested the same routes that I want to see run late at night, the 1, 15 and 16. Many people there echoed my statements about the I-10 and I-215 congestion, as well as congestion on Anderson St., and RTA assured that they were "studying" the issue. They also mentioned that all express routes have alternate routes in the event that their freeway routing is congested, and that drivers have the authority to make that determination. Furthermore, I learned that the primary reason for re-routing the 25 is to cut, not the fixed-route service, but the dial-a-ride trips that come with it in San Bernardino County. RTA says that they're working with Omnitrans to ensure that Grand Terrace passengers are not left without transit service. (I'm betting this will probably take the form of an OmniLink, but I suppose the 19 could be diverted south along Barton.) I don't expect that any of these proposals will be taken seriously... but RTA may still surprise me. At least they're doing the right thing on 25.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Overheard OnBoard 3/4/10

On the most packed RTA bus I've ever had the privilege of riding, after the March Forth rally:
"Nah man, the bus is tight. I'd rather not drive."
"Drive to where?"
"I guess in general."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Call Your Senators!

Call your state Senator today. Tell him/her to support ABX8 6, the Assembly version of the gas tax swap. This version, unlike the Governator's plan, includes $400m/yr in public transit operations funding, and also allows local governments to pass new gas taxes to fund transit, walking and cycling. It's still a cut compared to the old State Transit Assistance program, which was over $1bn a year, but it's an increase compared to the last three years of $0, and it's politically feasible.

Riversiders and anyone who lives in: Big Bear, Grand Terrace, Highland, Loma Linda, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, Upland, Yucaipa, Yucca Valley, Crestline, Lake Arrowhead, Mentone, Running Springs, San Antonio Heights, Glen Avon, Highgrove, Mira Loma, Pedley, Rubidoux, Sunnyslope, portions of San Bernardino and Colton and all but a small portion of Woodcrest, you live in SD-31 and your senator is Bob Dutton. Call him at (951) 715-2627, (909) 466-4180, or in Sacramento at (916) 651-4031.

If you are not in one of those areas, visit this page, click on "My Senator" and enter your address. It'll tell you who to call.

Make the call. Do it today. It costs you nothing, and could save your bus service.