Riding in Riverside is written by Justin Nelson, a graduate student in Political Science at the University of California, Riverside. A short bio lives in the right-hand sidebar of the blog. For an extended bio, read on.
I was born, and spent the first 5 years of my life in, the San Francisco Bay Area- specifically in Mountain View and Fremont, CA. (I was far too young to remember Mountain View, but I do remember Fremont.) My mother, as an employee of the California School for the Deaf, got free subsidized transit passes as an employment benefit, and so I rode my first bus at the age of 3. It was an AC Transit Gillig Phantom on route 29 in Fremont, and I vividly remember my mother lifting me up in her arms so that I could pull the stop-request cord. My father was an avid cyclist, and I spent many hours either in his bicycle trailer or, later, on the back of our family's tandem. A few months before we moved I actually spent a very muddy half an hour or so clinging to the top tube of that tandem as it bounced down Fremont's Mission Peak, but that's another story.
Most of my childhood was spent in Wrightwood, CA, a small mountain resort town in the San Gabriel Mountains. It was a fantastic place to be a kid, with plentiful forest and open space and quiet streets on which to cycle. It was a lousy place to be a teenager- the nearest movie theatre is 45 minutes' drive away, at freeway speeds. While daily necessities (a grocery store, a hardware store, a single gas station and the post office) could be had in town, entertainment was minimal and nearly any other purchase required that same 45 minute drive. The high school I attended was 15 minutes' drive away in Phelan, CA, a vast collection of trailers and ranch houses that hardly deserves to be called a town. When I graduated high school in 2003, the town had a total of three stop lights, and four paved roads (two are state highways). Since then, they've paved a block of another road, and added two new stop lights.
Determined to live a semblance of an independent life, despite the challenges of not possessing a car or drivers' license, I was a frequent user of the local public transit system. One bus line, the VVTA #21, served the area every 90 minutes. They even provided service to Wrightwood- provided you made advanced reservations, at least 24 hours ahead of time. I managed to get to work, the mall, and even a date or two, but I was certainly among a very, very small class of transit users in the area.
After I moved down to Riverside to pursue my education at UCR, I spent one year in the dorms without a car. My then-girlfriend (we've been happily married for 5 [edit: we're up to 8 and counting] years now) lived in Ontario, so we spent many hours on buses and trains either getting to each other or spending time with each other. One of our favourite dates came in the spring of 2004, when we were flat broke, but we scraped up enough change to take the bus to Huntington Beach. It took four hours each way, but the company made the time fly. After we moved in together and bought our first car together my second year of college (a 1979 Datsun 280ZX), it spent more than half the year broken-down and in need of repairs, so we spent plenty more time on the local and regional transit system. Even with the car running, neither one of us used it to commute to school. As time went on, we came into possession of the car I grew up in, a 1994 Honda Civic, which is the vehicle that I rant about on this blog.
In 2006, I dropped out of UCR a year shy of my bachelor's degree. I went to work as a cable TV technician, so I spent a lot of time driving on the roads in and around Riverside. My primary work area was in Rubidoux, Glen Avon, Pedley, Mira Loma and Eastvale, but I served all of the City of Riverside as well as northern San Bernardino and Rancho Cucamonga on a few occasions. During this time, I developed both my interest in media and voter behaviour, and my rage at our transportation system. I spent much of my free time reading about new urbanism and transit advocacy.
At the beginning of 2008, I lost my job as a cable guy, over a parking ticket (of all things). I went back to school, and I kept reading. In November of 2008 I started this blog, determined to bring better transportation options to Riverside and its environs. In April of 2009 I was accepted to graduate study at UCR, in June of 2009 I graduated with my BA in Political Science, and in September of that year I started working on my PhD in the same field. As of writing (Earth Day 2010), I've got nearly a year and a half of blog posts up, a growing readership, and I've made some inroads into the local political scene, all advocating for a sustainable future here in the Inland Empire.