SB’s Win In Urban Gain Competition Boosts sbX

SAN BERNARDINO—(December 24) Depending on your perspective, the city of San Bernardino’s first place position in a nationwide internet voting contest that has a stretch of E Street being recognized as typifying the “best urban street transformation” nationwide in 2014 is either a vindication of the sbX project or a further indication of how desperate its supporters are to justify an indefensible squandering of taxpayer money.
The sbX bus line was the offspring of the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency, the cities of Loma Linda and San Bernardino, and Omnitrans, all of which cooperated to create an interurrban high speed transportation service.
The $192 million project was originally intended to run 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. Each bus on the route was to touch down at just five stops between its starting points/end destinations and complete 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.
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.
But compromises from the original plan were made in which the number of busses that were to cover the route each hour dayling hour – three to six – were reduced and the number of stops along the route were increased to 13, pushing the duration of each excursion from 24 to 41 minutes.
That 41 minute duration still compares favorably with the 65 minutes that Omniitrans – the local mass transit provider – previously provided with its busses along the same route. Nevertheless, critics have been vociferous in their objection to the expense of the news system that has only marginally more ridership than the previous bus service. And sbX was widely opposed by many of the businesses along its route running along Hospitality Lane and then up E Street through the southern portion of San Bernardino because of the negative impact they anticipated the project would have on commerce.
Part of the negative imposition of the project that was anticipated indeed played out. This 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 once-thriving businesses located along the route, including Ammons Diamond & Coin Gallery, Burger Mania, Pride Envelopes and Barber Shop 215, saw patronage of their businesses diminish. Some closed.
Some critics of the sbX system have 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.
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 the $192 million project, hailed the line as a major leap forward for beleaguered San Bernardino, which declared municipal bankruptcy in 2012.
Omnitrans and SANBAG officials are hopeful that bus ridership along the 15.7 mile route will increase significantly over the next several years, demonstrating the gamble all of the participants took in the effort toward modernizing public transportation option was one that will pay off.
With the end of an urban monitoring website’s competition over the selection of what its readers deem to be the country’s most significant vignette of urban improvement fast approaching, sbX supporters are confident they will at last see some recognition – in this case national recognition – that their faith in the fast bus line project was well placed. In its annual competition to have the readers of streetblog.usa weigh in on what they consider to be the “best urban street transformation,” throughout the 50 states, the site’s competition committee selected portion of E Street which was made over with a number of improvements in conjunction with the sbX undertaking as one of five finalists. As of late this week, San Bernardino’s span of E Street is leading the pack of this year’s nominees. Voting in the competition ends on December 28.
At press time, E Street in San Bernardino was out in front with 43%, or 616 votes, leading Western Avenue in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which had 27% or 380 votes, Washington Avenue in Minneapolis with 19%, or 267 votes, Broadway in Seattle with 7% or 106 votes and Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh with 4% or 60 votes.
While the results of the balloting are by no means scientific, the first place ranking does indicate that the work on E Street carried with it an aesthetic plus.
San Bernardino city officials, Omnitrans officers, and San Bernardino Chamber of Commerce members all hailed the streetblog vote as a positive reflection on the city and sbX. The city is looking to create a synergy off the combination of improvements that have been made to the city of late, not the least of which is sbX and the new 11-story county courthouse that opened downtown in May.
Others, however, were unconvinced, pointing out that city and transportation officials may have stuffed the ballot box by a campaign that has promoted the sbX project and an effort to have locals cast ballots at the streetblog website in favor of the E Street nomination.

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