Study examines possibility of citywide streetcar system

Courtesy of Riverside Metropolitan Museum
Courtesy of Riverside Metropolitan Museum

Last Wednesday, a group of about 50 Riverside residents gathered at the Cesar Chavez Community Center in Riverside to discuss the possibility of implementing a streetcar system throughout the city. During the event, called a charrette by organizers, members of the Riverside community pored over maps of proposed streetcar routes, discussed land use laws and attempted to define areas of interest that would be best served by a streetcar system.

The charrette was organized by members of the Riverside Reconnects Streetcar Study, which began in June. The study, which Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey has made a priority of his mayoralty, aims to identify potential routes, ridership levels, monetary cost of implementation and weigh costs and benefits of a potential project.

“The entire idea here is: how can we enhance public transportation, and what do we want public transportation to look like in the future?” Riverside Councilmember Andy Melendrez said about the study. Melendrez represents UCR’s ward on the Riverside city council.Attendees emphasized the need for the streetcar to connect to high-trafficked areas, such as the downtown pedestrian mall, medical centers and colleges such as UCR. Citizens also indicated that preservation of street aesthetics was important.

Although the study primarily discusses streetcars, it will also look at the possibility of trolleys and a bus rapid transit system. Jay Eastman, principal planner for the city of Riverside, said the focus is on a streetcar because of a “stigma” against buses. In addition, he noted that a mass transit system should incorporate the existing road system, and said that the study will not examine light rail because it “is not going to share the lanes with the street.”

Eastman also indicated that outreach to students was an important part of the study. “Has anybody gone out and asked a student?” he remarked during the presentation. According to Eastman, the steering committee guiding the study does not currently have any outreach events planned at UCR, but is likely to develop some as the study continues. A member of the steering committee, Irma Henderson, works for Transportation and Parking Services.

Potential means of funding are as yet unclear, and the feasibility study aims to determine overall cost and funding sources over its lifespan. A comparable streetcar system in Tucson, Ariz., cost $196.5 million.

Melendrez listed a number of reasons why Riverside is examining the potential benefits of a streetcar project. “I think we want to become more environmentally friendly … It’s one way of getting more cars off the road,” Melendrez said, adding that health reasons and traffic circulation were other reasons a streetcar system should be considered.

Overall receptiveness to the idea of a streetcar was mixed. Sergio Robles, an incoming political science student at UCR, said that he was “leaning more toward” the implementation of streetcars in the city. “Not too many cities are considering this form of transportation,” he noted, emphasizing the potential for convenience and accessibility.

Other attendees expressed more skepticism about the value of a streetcar. “They don’t know where it’s going to go,” said a frustrated Cal Knauer. Knauer highlighted the amount of money being spent on the study and said it would be better spent improving the state of the city’s streets.

However, current UCR students shouldn’t get their hopes up for a streetcar system during their time here. The feasibility study will not be completed until fall of 2015, and if the study finds a streetcar system beneficial, Eastman emphasized that it would likely be eight to 10 years before such a system is actually implemented, putting an approximate completion date at 2025.

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