Old-Fashioned Streetcars for the “City of Innovation?”

By Alex Distefano

Posted August 29, 2013 in News

(WEB)newsCal Trans grant helps Riverside improve transit

The city of Riverside might experience a blast from the past when it comes to options in public transportation. According to several recent, local news reports, Mayor Rusty Bailey wants to bring back electrically run streetcars to the cities, which were up and in use in the city and surrounding area from the early 1900s to the 1940s.

But, Riverside’s Community Development Director, Al Zelinka told the Weekly that the potential project is not even in the first stages of development. He explained, that the city was awarded a $237,500 dollar grant by Cal Trans, to conduct a study to determine if the proposal is feasible.

“This really is just a study so we can understand what the project would entail what it would cost to allow the decision makers to have objective information,” Zelinka said.

Zelinka told the Weekly the initial discussions began around 2007, when the city council and other agencies spoke about goals to improve traffic, and possible ways to improve transit. Earlier this year, Zelinka said, the mayor mentioned his desire to explore the idea of bringing back street cars to Riverside.

According to Zelinka, Riverside applied for the Federal grant money from Cal Trans, in February. It was submitted through its participation in the Southern California Association of Governments.

Mayor Bailey said in a written statement from dated Aug.8, 2013, that the grant money for the study “really validates the streetcar concept and allows us to move forward on a serious examination of important next steps.”

Zelinka said that the feasibility study would analyze details and questions, such as, the community’s desired alternative alignments, what routes and streets the cars would operate on, and how much real estate development could be accommodated near these streetcar alignments.

“What would be the economic, fiscal and community cost and benefits of the street cars?” Zelinka asked. “And if the city decides to go forward with this, what would the implementation program be like?”

He said that some additional information that will be researched includes potential funding sources and financing strategies to build, operate and maintain the streetcars over time.

Zelinka also emphasized that this process will take time, and the project has not started yet. “At the end of September, the City Council has to give authorization to officially receive the grant and begin to conduct our study,” he said. “At that point, we will request for proposal process to select a consultant. I’m guessing later this year or early next year the study will start, and will take approximately eight to 12 months to complete.”

According to various local reports and blogs, the city is looking into possible streetcar routes from downtown to La Sierra along Magnolia Avenue, and between the University of California-Riverside campus area. Some proponents have said that the cars might potentially serve as transportation to the roughly 200,000 people who live, work and go to school in Riverside.

But, Zelinka said with a caution, that it is too early to know the details of this project, let alone a timeline for when construction might begin. “We don’t know the costs, funding approach, financing strategies or even the alignments of the street cars yet,” he said. “We should have an idea by the closing months of this study, what the implementation process, costs and timeline of this project will be.”

“People can reach out to Mayor Bailey’s office or myself, and I can answer questions until we have a project manager assigned and a website up for the project. I would encourage check the city’s website, around October or November, relating to this, for more information about the study.”

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