August 28, 2013 by Cheryl Getuiza
Streetcars one step closer to rolling down Riverside's streets
(photo credit: lpcmidst0128)
The City of Riverside is known as the city of Arts and Innovation. In fact, it was named the world’s most Intelligent Community of the Year in 2012. Would streetcars zooming up and down city streets fit into this innovative, collaborative, digital, modern area? The Mayor thinks so.
Thanks to a recent Caltrans grant of $237,500 for transportation planning, the mayor’s streetcar idea moved a step closer to bringing the old school modes of transportation back.
“This is a real milestone for Riverside Reconnects,” said Mayor Rusty Bailey. “This grant from Caltrans, received with the help of SCAG, our major regional planning agency, really validates the streetcar concept and allows us to move forward on a serious examination of important next steps.”
This concept is being called “Riverside Reconnects.” The conceptual build-out calls for a 12 mile corridor from UC Riverside to the western city limits, through the downtown area, using two major corridors within the city.
“It connects the city’s four colleges and universities, the three hospitals, about a 10 minute walk of the University Avenue and Magnolia Avenue corridors. In that 10 minute walk, there are approximately 200,000 residents, employees, and college students,” said Al Zelinka, the city’s Community Development Director.
“Right now, that corridor is the Riverside Transit Authority’s busiest bus corridor and what we believe or hypothesize is a streetcar, it would provide a more permanent transit resource for more people, it would stop more often, it would provide an easier access to a permanent transit for a wider population.”
It’s important to note, that corridor, was also identified by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) as a transit priority corridor.
The grant will help the City do research and complete feasibility studies on how the streetcars would work with existing car traffic and bus service.
“It’s a feasibility study to determine alternative alignments, costs associated with those alignments, real estate value captured that could be expected from the streetcar going by properties, and more,” said Zelinka.
The grant will also address funding.
“We’re looking into public funding, we’re also going to explore public-private partnerships and the potential for private investment to construct and operate the streetcar system.”
The first phase would include a four mile stretch between downtown and UCR.
“Riverside Reconnects will strengthen our local economy, first through the creation of construction jobs and eventually by spurring increased development along the route,” said the mayor.
“This project will also position Riverside as a destination point for people who are embracing the idea of a car-free lifestyle. Cities like Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, Tucson and Washington, D.C. all recognize the ability of streetcar lines to attract both people and investment.”
Los Angeles’s plans for streetcars are on the fast track to reality. In December 2012, voters in L.A. approved the establishment of a Community Facilities District (CFD), which will serve as the essential local matching funds for the Streetcar. The CFD required a 2/3 approval to pass, and a resounding 72.9 percent of the 2,137 votes cast within the District were in favor of the Downtown L.A. Streetcar project. The route is more miles and will pass through many of Downtown’s neighborhoods.
The Inland Empire city’s idea is already a topic of discussion with residents who haven’t been shy about voicing their opinions to city leaders.
Some say this is a good idea as the streetcars will spark private investments and attract businesses, while others ask why not invest in other city infrastructure projects with higher priority?
“Both perspectives are relevant and the purpose of this feasibility study is to take those arguments and provide data. Right now the argument is over ideas. We want the argument to be based in data. This study will provide both a public forum and a whole lot of information with which decisions can be made,” said Zelinka.
Riverside will now spend the next year or so working with the state to improve mobility and the quality of life in California by integrating land use, housing and transportation planning.
“Based on how the streetcar infrastructure has been built in other cities, they’ve actually stimulated real estate development to a degree greater than what would occur if the streetcar wasn’t there. We believe it will be a sort of natural contributor to reinvestment in the city,” said Zelinka. “Riverside Reconnects has the potential to really change the game when it comes to community development in our city and economic competitiveness in the region.”