Collision And Protests Get sbX Off To An Inauspicious Beginning

SAN BERNARDINO (April 28)—The much ballyhooed  and equally maligned sbX bus service was initiated this week, getting off to an inauspicious start with protestors gathering at the christening of the project to voice objections to the danger they say the underground  fuel tanks at the bus line’s refueling facility pose to a nearby neighborhood.  The inauguration of the system  was further marred when one of the high speed busses collided with an SUV that intruded into the bus-only lane on its first day of operation, Monday April 28.
Omnitrans, the public transit agency serving the San Bernardino Valley which operates the sbX line, and SANBAG, the county transportation agency which acted as the lead agency in obtaining $75 million in federal funding which was applied toward th $192 million project, hailed the opening of the line as a major leap forward for beleaguered San Bernardino, which declared municipal bankruptcy in 2012.
Running 15.7 miles from near the Veterans Administration Hospital in Loma Linda to just north of Cal State San Bernardino, the sbX line features 60-foot long articulated buses that use clean-burning compressed natural gas as fuel. According to a schedule released by Omnitrans, from three to six busses will cover the route each hour during daylight.
Like the unconventional capitalization and spelling used in its acronym – sbX stands for San Bernardino Express – the route embodies unusual features such as a dedicated lane for more than a third of the route that has been fashioned from what were once street medians. And each sbX bus driver has been given virtual command of the traffic lights encountered along the route so that the busses will rarely if ever encounter a red light.
Indeed, from its inception, the sbX concept was sold on the speed of travel it would offer. This week, project planners and engineers were gathering data to determine if the busses are consistently making the entire trip from Loma Linda to San Bernardino State University or vice versa with 13 stops in between in just under 39 minutes.
Initially, planners had envisioned the route having only five stops between its starting points/end destinations and completing its run in just under 25 minutes., rivaling or actually bettering what a commuter utilizing a car typically encounters over the same span utilizing the freeway during the morning or evening rush hour.
In 2012, however, the city of San Bernardino  approved a transit overlay district entailing 13 stations/bus stops. Moreover, Omnitrans officials were unable to live up to the representation they had made to Federal Transit Administration officials that dedicated center lanes for the busses would run for nearly the entirety of the route. Instead, only about six miles of the stretch, along Hospitality Lane and in the downtown area, have dedicated center lanes. The dedicated lanes help speed the busses along the route by eliminating interaction and merging with traffic.
The 39-minute terminus-to-terminus trip still compares favorably with the 65 minutes users of public transportation endured on the previous conventional bus route that covered the same 15.7 mile stretch.
The bus route entails a departure from a station near the Veterans Hospital and other medical facilities just off Barton Road in Loma Linda, a turn north on Anderson/Tippecanoe Street, a turn left on Hospitality Lane and then a right turn  north on E Street before terminating at San Bernardino State College. The return route covers the same span in reverse.
On all five workdays this week through today, May 2, riders have been and are able to ride sbX for free. Omnitrans is confident that if riders are exposed to the route as users, many, especially students attending Cal State San Bernardino or Loma Linda University, will be persuaded to forsake their vehicles in favor of taking the bus. Officials are equally hopeful that veterans who frequent the Jerry Pettis Memorial Veterans Administration Hospital in Loma Linda will alos elect to use sbX.
Omnitrans and SANBAG officials also are hopeful that bus ridership along the 15.7 mile route will increase significantly over the far less impressive numbers that utilized the conventional buses that ferried passengers over the same route up until last week, thus justifying sbX’s  expense and imposition on the community.
Part of that imposition consists of the elimination of the turn lanes along Hospitality Lane and E Street, such that motorists are now unable to make left turns and are now obliged to continue further down the street to make a U-turn where that is possible and then retrack back to access  businesses, including many of the restaurants in that area. The owners of several businesses located along the route, including Ammons Diamond & Coin Gallery, Burger Mania, Pride Envelopes and Barber Shop 215, claim  their operations have already been negatively impacted by the street alterations.
As Omnitrans and SANBAG officials gathered on the morning of April 28 together with San Bernardino city officials at the central city bus platform to celebrate the opening of the system, dozens of sign and placard bearing protestors were assembled to insist that Omnitrans  remove liquefied natural gas and compressed natural gas tanks at the refueling station on the city’s Westside in midst of an impoverished residential zone and an elementary school.
“There is danger in San Bernardino thanks to Omnitrans” one sign in Spanish said.
Officials did their best to carry on with the ribbon cutting festivities, despite the protests.
Later that day, another dreaded element relating to the advent of  the sbX bus system manifested when some nine  hours after the busses began running, one of them with about nine people on board ran into an SUV on E Street just south of Mill Street around 4 p.m.  A girl, described as about ten years old was injured  in the mishap, and she was transported to a local hospital with injuries described as non-life threatening. The driver of the SUV was injured, but was able to drive away from the scene.
The SUV was apparently caught in the bus-only lane and the bus, running at an accelerated rate of speed approaching or exceeding 60 miles per hour, was unable to break in time to avoid the collision.
Critics of the sbX system had inveighed against it on the basis of the traffic hazard represented by the buses traveling at speeds in excess of the speed limit for passenger vehicles along the same span of roadway.
Officials had hoped that posted signage informing motorists that the bus lanes are to be used exclusively by busses and that the minimum fine for entering the bus lane is $341 would deter drivers from doing what the driver of the SUV near E Street and Mill Street did on Monday afternoon.

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