CITY SPOTLIGHT: San Bernardino, California Part 2

This post is part of a new series on the CNU Salons, CITY SPOTLIGHT. City Spotlight shines a light on the latest news, developments and initiatives occurring in cities and towns where CNU members live and work.

The post below is City Spotlight Part 2 of a 4 part series on the City of San Bernardino, CA from Mario Suarez, AICP, CNU-A. Part 2 examines the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plans of the City of San Bernardino. Part 3 will look at passenger rail. Read the set up to this series, Part 1, here.


As a former employee at the City of San Bernardino, I was charged with the complex TOD project which was a primary focus because it involved managing three major components with tight time constraints. They were:

  • Developing a direct public outreach program to augment the Planning Center's citywide public participation program;
  • Managing the development of the TOD Ordinance and accompanying environmental document
    • The Planning Center and sub-consultants were hired with a citywide public participation plan and develop the TOD ordinance. The Planning Center's contract was amended to include preparation of the environmental documents required by state law
  • Working with tight deadlines related to grant funding obtained by the Mayor's Office and former Redevelopment Agency to create the TOD Ordinance for the City of San Bernardino.
    • The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) Community-Based Transportation Planning (CBTP) grant required completion of a Draft TOD Ordinance project by April 2012. It wasn't necessary for the City Council to adopt, but it was imperative that the grant funds be expended in preparation for of a TOD ordinance.


In 2004, Omnitrans, the public transit agency serving the San Bernardino Valley, brought forward the BRT project to improve transit from the north side to south end of the City of San Bernardino, by and into the City of Loma Linda.  

In 2005, after working closely with the Cities of San Bernardino and Loma Linda and conducting extensive stakeholder and public outreach, the result was the selection of a locally preferred alternative (LPA) to allow an enhanced bus service traveling in a north-south direction spanning 15.7 miles. This included over five miles of dedicated center lanes. The LPA starts at the northern part of San Bernardino at the California State University San Bernardino (CSUSB) campus.  It travels through the center of the City of San Bernardino and culminates at the City of Loma Linda University Medical Center.

During 2008 and 2009, additional public outreach was facilitated through the environmental review process which included open house meetings at various locations along the LPA route.  This was accomplished with agency consultation, Indian tribal consultation, newspaper advertisements, mailers, media outreach, project website, project helpline, and public hearing notices. 

There were several concerns raised by the local businesses and local residents.  Most common were questions related to security, safety, maintenance and side versus center running stations.  Explaining that a BRT Station was an enhanced bus stop and not a large place for several buses to stop like a Greyhound station made a huge difference to residents and business owners.  Some businesses still did not like the idea of losing street-side customer parking to a newly established BRT stop.  While there was a loss in direct street-side parking, there are several street parking spaces closely adjacent to the business location along with the potential for new customers to arrive via the BRT.


The final decision to provide 5.3 miles of dedicated center lanes was based on several factors including review of future traffic demand, traffic levels-of-service, and available right-of-way.  Omnitrans' 2012 Final Draft Traffic Design Guidelines includes the following design criteria:

"Omnitrans’ policy is that designated median bus-only lanes are applicable when:

  1. delay from mixed traffic impacts route performance; 
  2. existing traffic and street conditions prevent the conversion of a parking or mixed-flow traffic lane to a bus-only lane; 
  3. the existing street profile is not wide enough to accommodate adding 11’–13’ curbside lanes; 
  4. sufficiently wide enough center medians exist (in addition to adjacent lanes) for a busway; 
  5. permits to modify ROW have been or can be obtained; 
  6. sufficient financing exists for proposed capital improvements; and 
  7. daily boardings justify improved service." 

The primary purposes for the BRT are summarized in Omnitrans' Environmental Assessment/Initial Study of the BRT project below:

  • Improve transit service by better accommodating high existing bus ridership.
    • The project would result in improved transit service for current riders, including low-income and transit-dependent populations, with higher frequency, faster, and more reliable service, along with improved security, cleanliness and comfort.
  • Improve ridership by providing a viable and competitive transit alternative to the automobile.
    • The project would attract new riders by offering improved transit service and facilities, transit travel times competitive with auto travel, and a rail-like experience proven to attract riders from autos.
  • Improve efficiency of transit service delivery while lowering Omnitrans’ operating costs per rider.
    • The project would improve fleet speed and service efficiency by reducing delays from running in mixed-flow traffic and during slow boarding and alighting of passengers. The investment in exclusive bus-only lanes, stations, and multi-door boarding means that the improvement in travel time and reliability will continue into the future, without the service degradation due to increased traffic congestion and increased boardings that would affect typical local mixed-flow service.
  • Support local and regional planning goals to organize development along transit corridors and around transit stations.
    • Providing BRT infrastructure using dedicated transit lanes, branded service, and highly visible transit stations offers a strong sense of permanence that can help both cities attract investment in transit-oriented development.

Before moving on to the funding sources, the 2005 action by the San Bernardino City Council adopted a resolution with a number of justifications and commitments within the recitals and resolved sections of the resolution to bring forward the TOD Ordinance in 2010 - 2012.   The City Council's action resolved the following on December 5, 2005:


  1. The City of San Bernardino adopts in concept the E Street Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) and its inclusion in the 2006 Regional Transportation Plan. 
  2. The City of San Bernardino supports transit supportive development in the E Street Corridor Area. Transit supportive uses include a variety of retail, housing, employment opportunity, healthcare, and civic/governmental uses in walking distances of stations which encourages transit ridership and addresses air quality and traffic congestion. 
  3. The City of San Bernardino will consult with Omnitrans in preparing and approving detailed plans for land use and development of properties adjacent to LPA stations.
  4. The City of San Bernardino will consider policies and implementing measures in its plans and zoning ordinance to provide incentives for sensitively designed higher intensity density transit supportive developments within 1/2-mile of the LPA station. Potential incentives include density bonuses, floor area ratio increases, increases in building height, reduced parking requirements with a parking study, and expedited review. 
  5. The City of San Bernardino supports the integration of LPA transit stations into nearby planned developments and attractively landscaped pedestrian linkages interconnecting transit supportive uses to the transit stations.


Four important regional actions took place prior to the start of the passenger rail expansion plans:

...Stay tuned for Part 3 next week, "The Background and Purpose of Passenger Rail"


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