The State of California has granted the City of Riverside $237,500 to fund a study of returning streetcars to the city. Riverside Mayor William Rusty Bailey has been responsible for advocating such an idea. The proposal has brought on some robust debate in the public arena and the community has been making many valid points. The Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein questions the project. The Transit Coalition’s A Better Inland Empire Transit Blog has links to additional examples and provides an analysis.
With the state now getting involved, Bailey’s streetcar idea has now become a real proposal. The Magnolia and University Avenue corridors in Riverside could very well benefit with a mass transit rail system operating in a dedicated set of lanes or right-of-way combined with area revitalization. However the truth is that under the current economic climate in conjunction with insufficient transit infrastructure and RTA bus operations, we simply cannot afford it just yet.
As the community expressed, Riverside has other infrastructure projects that deserve priority before getting into the streetcar business: Grade separations along the existing BNSF rail line, improving existing RTA and Metrolink services, expanding late night RTA bus service with BRT alternatives along major corridors, and getting a robust bus transit center to the Riverside Downtown train station with a pedestrian bridge to the downtown core.
Soon, Inland Empire residents will not have to look far to see one of the above solutions in action, as progress continues on the sbX BRT project in San Bernardino. Bus stop canopies, new pavement and lush landscaping are sprouting along the length of the future route. sbX is being built parallel to a major widening project for Interstate 215, so it is understandable for residents to ask when the projects and their associated frustrations will come to an end. Omnitrans, the agency that will operate sbX, anticipates opening the line in 2014, while Caltrans anticipates completing the I-215 project later this year.