Pages

Friday, May 20, 2016

Is this new park the worst in Fresno?

A couple of months ago I went to visit Northwest Fresno to see the new Tesla Supercharger. It's a part of town I rarely go to, so I made the effort to hit a few other spots and see the progress on bicycle trails and the like in the area.

I stopped by point 1 on the map below to see if there had been any progress on the Veteran's Boulevard Trail, which was approved last July.



There wasn't. Looked the same as it did 10 years ago.

Returning to Herndon, I drove up the street and while waiting for the traffic signal, point 2 in the above map caught my eye.

A park. With a playground. Brand new.


Built adjacent to a regional expressway with a 60mph design speed (50mph posted), 6 lanes of through traffic, and 3 turn lanes at intersections (for a grand total of 9-10 lanes at intersections).

Unfortunately, Google Satellite Image is over a year outdated as this point, so you can't see the park or the new lanes, but you can see them taking shape.



Streetview caught the city hard at work widening away, which is not visible in the above image. The new park can be seen on the right.



One can never really have too many lanes.

The park itself is, well, it's a Fresno park. Plenty of dead grass (we're in a drought you know), modern, but boring play equipment, and trees that maybe in 20 years will provide shade.



I guess pleasant enough, except for the highway in the room.



Hard to miss.



Here's the crosswalk for the newly widened residential street. Yes, residential street. Note the yellow crosswalks, which mean this is a school zone.



The new housing development across the street is what prompted the addition of even more turn lanes.



What is interesting about this neighborhood is that access is completely blocked off except on Herndon. To the north, a private country club. To the east, a railroad. So there are only two ways in and out, shown in green.




That's not a huge surprise in Fresno. Some top tier circulation planning is at work.



However, the neighborhood was 90% developed before the new homes at the corner went in. Is the addition of those few homes really enough to warrant the addition of two new turning lanes at the intersection? I guess so.

But back to the park. Who would want to bring their kids here?



You don't have to know anything about health to know that diesel fumes from trucks and heavy traffic is not good for you or your family. And yes, Herndon eastbound will be widened in the next couple of years, to 3.5 lanes.

Here's a reminder of why this is bad:
Traffic-related air pollution is a main contributor to unhealthy ambient air quality, particularly in urban areas with high traffic volume. Within urban areas, traffic is a major source of local variability in air pollution levels, with the highest concentrations and risk of exposure occurring near roads. Motor vehicle emissions represent a complex mixture of criteria air pollutants, including carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter (PM), as well as hydrocarbons that react with NOx and sunlight to form ground-level ozone. Individually, each of these pollutants is a known or suspected cause of adverse health effects (1–4). Taking into consideration the entire body of evidence on primary traffic emissions, a recent review determined that there is sufficient evidence of a causal association between exposure to traffic-related air pollution and asthma exacerbation and suggestive evidence of a causal association for onset of childhood asthma, nonasthma respiratory symptoms, impaired lung function, all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, and cardiovascular morbidity (5).
CDC
At least 8 percent of the more than 300,000 cases of childhood asthma in Los Angeles County can be attributed to traffic-related pollution at homes within 75 meters of a busy roadway. A new study published online September 24 in Environmental Health Perspectives also indicates that previous estimates of childhood asthma exacerbation related to air pollution may have underestimated the true burden of exposure on society. The research focused on the Los Angeles basin.
Futurity.org

Maybe we shouldn't be exacerbating the problem by building new parks just steps away from our regional expressway. Fresno already has some of the worst air in the country. Do we have to rub it in by encouraging the kids to play here? 

There's a fence so kids won't run into traffic, but that fence doesn't stop the bad air. Those trees aren't doing so much either.





So how do you make this park even worse? You throw in some more traffic danger.

This is the whole park.



Some genius decided the best thing to do was to have the park extend across the roadway, at a curve built for fast speeds and low visibility (especially if people parallel park at the corner).

I mean, the "park" on the other side isn't exactly a prize the kids will be rushing to.


But why.

Why?

Oh, and the area east of the playground?

A true field of dreams. Where your soccer ball can either bounce off the high voltage electricity tower or meander off onto the highway.



I hope when the kids are having fun they keep their shoes on.

But really, why are we building this in 2016?




On the plus side, they build a new section of the Herndon bicycle trail as part of the housing development. Not exactly a fun recreational route (6 lanes of high speed traffic remember), but a vital connection for bicycle commuters who would rather not share the lane with 60mph traffic and have no other choice (remember the broken street network?)

Park on left, looking east.



Looking west


A bus stop, with a fence budget that was a tad too high...and no existing or planned bus service, looking west



The bus stop, looking east.


Not safe.



 One bollard is really more than enough.



The Herndon bike path is still a road to nowhere as many parts are missing, but one day it will be a decent route.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Fresno air service still more limited than peer cities

A few years ago, I though Fresno Air Terminal (FAT) was prime for the addition of new flights, especially as the economy picked up. Jetblue was, and still is, rapidly growing. Virgin America was ready to compete with big plans. Southwest was continuing its slow-but-steady expansion into more and more cities, and disruptive airlines like Spirit were popping up. Surely new service to Houston, Chicago, and maybe Atlanta was coming to Fresno sooner rather than later.

Yet here we are in 2016, and the only innovative or low-cost airline to serve Fresno is Allegiant Air, an airline that surprisingly was founded and headquartered in Fresno before leaving for Vegas. At one point, they offered service from Fresno to Reno, Portland, Lake Tahoe, and Long Beach. They served Hawaii from Fresno in 2012, but mostly abandoned that market in 2014. Today, from Fresno, they only serve Las Vegas and Mesa, Arizona (new for this year).

The other low cost airline to serve Fresno, Frontier, left in January of 2015. They also stopped serving Bakersfield. They flew to Denver from both markets.

Indeed, Bakersfield and Visalia have also lost service. The long-standing Bakersfield-Houston flight, established by Continental, ended earlier this year (which prompted this post). Visalia now has no air service at all, after being an Essential Air Market with flights to LAX or Burbank. Last year, you could have flown from Visalia to San Diego via a quick stop in LAX for $69. Today, you'd have to own your own plane.

Of note, Merced still has air service. After losing Great Lakes (the same airline that served Visalia) they found a replacement in "Boutique Air" which serves LAX and Oakland, also for $69. However, the turnover for these tiny airlines is very quick. Visalia quit the commercial game because they went through 3 providers in 3 years and it was no longer worth the hassle. Merced might be next.

The legacy airline that have served the Valley continue to do so, but with less options. A big reason is because they've abandoned propeller aircraft, which are cheaper to operate. Instead, they now all use small jets. Sure, they're larger, faster, and quieter, but the change has meant United no longer serves Las Vegas from Fresno and they only operate two flights a day to LAX.

Twice a day to LAX, is quite frankly, crazy.

Fresno does have two airlines serving Guadalajara, but the rumored service to Mexico City only  emerged as a Christmas charter flight.

All these changes have made flying to and from Fresno harder than ever. Already an expensive airport, less options has meant higher prices, and more trouble when delays cause a connection to be missed. Everyone who flies into Fresno frequently has experience with either being forced to spend a night elsewhere or renting a car from LAX or SFO to actually arrive. While fog can be to blame in the winter (or when going to SFO), most of the time it's because the plane scheduled for Fresno is diverted to serve another scheduled flight, leaving Fresno travelers high and dry.

Only Alaska has grown in Fresno, such as by offering service to San Diego. They've also recently purchased Virgin America, and taken big steps to increase their West Coast presence. If any airline is to add service to Fresno in the next few years, it would almost certainly be them.

This LA Times article from Sunday talks about Alaska's expansion.  What I found interesting is how they call Southwest "California's airline" because apparently they carry more California passengers than anybody else. Not to Fresno though.

What is especially disappointing is that Southwest and Jetblue have continued to expand into smaller and smaller markets, but not Fresno.

Jetblue now serves Reno from New York City, and is planning service from Reno to Long Beach.

In fact, let's take a look at our peer cities to see how Fresno compares. I chose cities similar in size to Fresno (by metropolitan area), and similar in importance. I ignored all of Florida because you can't walk 5 feet without coming across an international airport served by 200 airlines (aka, the tourism factor). Basically, average cities that are a good distance from the nearest major metropolitan area. I also looked at Burlington, Vermont, as it gets Jetblue flights, although it is many times smaller.

Ranked by the population of the metropolitan area, (ie, the flying public), Fresno ranks 3rd from this selection of cities.

However, ranked by airline service, Fresno comes out looking pretty bad:


 
Dead last in destinations served. Only Knoxville also lacks service by Southwest and Jetblue, but they get twice the number of destinations from less airlines. In regards to airlines, I combined entities such as "American Eagle" with "American Airlines" and I went by brand, rather than actual airline (Skywest does most flights, but nobody buys a Skywest ticket). I included Burlington as an example of a very small metro area with Jetblue service....and awkwardly, more destination options than Fresno, even with a metro area more than twice as small.

Unsurprisingly, the lack of service has resulted in a much smaller number of passengers than these other cities. And that's where you get a chicken and egg problem.

Airlines don't serve Fresno because few people fly. Few people fly because prices are expensive, destinations are limited, and service is unreliable.

Sure, people can and do drive to LAX and SFO. But that's a waste of a day. The 4 hour drive usually means 5 because you have to plan for traffic or delays. And since those airports are bigger, you have to arrive 2 hours early for TSA troubles. So half the day, just to make the flight.

One day, High Speed Rail will solve this problem. But for the next 6 years, Fresno finds itself stuck in the same situation. Limited flights, high prices, and a poor position compared to peer cities. I'm no longer expecting new destinations or airlines, but who knows, maybe Alaska might surprise.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A quick look at Clovis's new Centennial Plaza

Tomorrow Old Town Clovis hosts their first ever parklet festival. When posting that reminder, I realized I never upload photos of the new Centennial Plaza and streetscape development. I talked about it back in July of 2015, and I visited the area a few months ago, but never actually posted them!

If you visit the parklet exhibitions, you will surely see the new plaza. The city planners will also be using the festival as an opportunity to celebrate the groundbreaking of two new buildings what will ride on vacant lots on either side of the plaza.

So let's take a quick look. As you can clearly see, these photos were taken in January, but aside from more greenery and less holiday decorations, the area looks the same today.

The plaza is located at Bullard and Pollasky. The project area included the intersection, the plaza, the surface parking lot (existing, it was re-organized), and the mini-section of Bullard west of Clovis Avenue.  You can clearly see the two empty lots set for development.



Looking at the plaza from the street parking on Bullard.


The new lights have outlets, probably to accommodate the numerous events held in Old Town. 

 Looking at the new streetscape improvements. Extended sidewalks for pedestrians, textured crosswalks, and low curbs. Lots of new lights as well.



Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Reminder: Clovis Parklet Festival is This Weekend!

This is a reminder that on May 14 and May 15, Old Town Clovis will be hosting a "taking it to the streets" event, where a variety of parklets are presented to the public. Parklets are mini parks installed on a street parking space to add greenery, seating, art or other amenities to downtown areas. The event is intended to build teamwork, showcase art, and provide a proof of concept to area businesses of what a permanent installation could look like.

This is what the website says:

The Old Town streets have always been a place where people gather to enjoy local life and festivities.  Streets increasingly play important ecological roles in the city, with strategies that serve to magnify the space as a livable and living, place.  Many highly beneficial social outcomes, including economic growth, increased health, and improvements in air quality are linked to well-designed streets that enable active social and ecologic life.  "Taking it to the streets" seeks to elaborate on the street’s role as an agent of social life.
This PDF map shows the planned locations. 

Attendance is free of course, and I believe they will have comment cards so people can talk about their favorite installations. 

‎Dwight Kroll, the Director of Planning and Development Services, commented on my post from February to let us know that on Saturday they will also be celebrating the groundbreaking for two new buildings scheduled to rise around the new Centennial Plaza. I talked about those proposed buildings last July.



I was going to link to my photo tour of the new plaza but, uh, I never actually posted it. Woops. I'll have that up shortly. I'm not the only blogger with too many draft posts right?

The new buildings will really bring that intersection together. 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Thoughts on Chaffee Zoo Expansion and Roeding Park (with pictures)

I haven't been a huge fan of the expansion of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. Not because I hate zoos, but because the expansion required taking a huge portion of a public park and fencing it off. What used to be free public space now requires a ticket, and is only open during business hours (until 4pm for most of the year).


Unfortunately, Fresno has one of the worst park systems in the country, and the expansion reduced the size of the system further. It makes sense to expand the zoo in a contiguous fashion - you can't have half the zoo located three blocks away. Also, it's cheaper to replace grass and benches then it is to replace an elephant habitat. However, no mitigation was put in place. No effort was made to replace the park space anywhere else, including across the street, in a lot that has sat empty for decades.

That being said, I did visit the zoo a couple of months ago to see how the expansion fit into the park. I also looked around the park to see what other changes were made, especially the new dog park.

Let's take a look.

This image shows the zoo expansion. The area in red was converted from public park space to private zoo space. 



I visited on a crowded day. Parking was extended into an "overflow" lot, which also happens to sit in the middle of the park. I believe the zoo should consolidate all parking into a garage across the street, leaving the park as a park.


The new expansion is the African Adventure.


The first set of pictures are the trail to the left. Then you return to the large brown area, which is the cafe and seating area, to go to the trail on the right.



One aspect of the expansion that I was very happy to see was the preservation of many, if not most of the mature trees.


The old trees make it seem like the expansion has been there forever (because the park has been).



 Most animals in the new area have giant habitats. Unfortunately, the cheetahs do not.



One of the problems with zoos, especially the Fresno Zoo, was the use of very small enclosures. The new expansion rectifies it. While the expansion added a dozen or more animals, they all share one massive habitat.



Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A look at Amtrak California ridership - February 2016

The recent news that the Amtrak San Joaquin line is getting a 7th daily train inspired me to ask, how is ridership doing? Long-time readers might remember that Amtrak ridership updates used to be a frequent (quarterly) feature on this blog, but the last one I did was in December...of 2012! Oops. Well, I've updated my spreadsheets, so let's take a look at how ridership has been doing on California's three state-supported Amtrak lines.

We begin with a chart showing all three California lines over the past 15 months. That allows us to see seasonal changes over the course of the year, and get a brief reference of year-on-year progress.




One thing popped out at me immediately.  See July 2015? See how close the San Joaquin is to the Capitol Corridor line? Turns out, that month, the San Joaquin had 90% as many riders as the Capitol Corridor. That's huge. For reference, in July of 2009, the ratio was 66%, and in 2010, 63%. I did some additional digging and it looks like the highest it has ever been was July 2015, when the ratio was 94%.

This is even more impressive, because while the San Joaquin has been fighting for a 7th daily train, the Capitol Corridor line gets 15 round trips a day.

That indicates to me, that with the new train, the San Joaquin might surpass the Capitol Corridor in ridership for the first time ever - with half as many trains, and operating some hand-me-downs.

It'll be hard to keep giving the San Joaquin 3rd tier status when ridership starts to exceed what has been a model corridor. As the new service starts in June, the July numbers will be very interesting indeed. I'll report them when they get released in late September.


Viewing all three lines over 7 years shows how they've all grown and changed over time.



Now we see that the San Joaquin is showing the fastest growth, but the Pacific Surfliner is very healthy. Capitol Corridor is not doing so amazing. However, part of that reason was a change in accounting. In September of 2013, Amtrak changed how they calculated ridership from sales of 10-ticket packs. According to their reports.

In FY14, Amtrak began counting actual lifted ridership for multi-ride tickets (due to eTicketing), rather than the estimated multi-ride ridership used previously.
This impacted the Capitol Corridor line more than any other in the country, because so many riders are commuters. This change didn't impact revenue at all however. What appears to have happened was that commuters were buying 10-packs, Amtrak was assuming they were riding - but they didn't. Either they lost their tickets, or kept them in a drawer, or they expired. So Amtrak gets the money, but the seat went empty.

So in October 2012, ridership was reported as 150,461, and in 2013 for October, just 125,807. That's a lot of expired tickets!


Here we can see each line, individually, from 2011 to now. July of each year has been highlighted as it tends to be the month with highest ridership.

San Joaquin:




Capitol Corridor




Pacific Surfliner





How does this compare nationally? Here are the top ten lines around the country for January and February of this year - the latest data available.





 
The order hasn't moved much since 2012. One service that saw significant declined was DC-Newport News, but I believe that's because Virginia added trains to other destination, so the ridership is now split between 3 lines instead of one.

What jumps out as always is that California makes a lot of sense for High Speed Rail. Always assumed to have low rail ridership by East-Coast media, train ridership in California is always strong. 

I hope to do these updates a little more often again, especially to see if the added service draws more riders thanks to a more convenient schedule.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Amtrak San Joaquin finally getting 7th daily train!

June 6 is the planned date for when a 7th daily train will begin service on the Amtrak San Joaquin route which serves California's Central Valley. Currently, 4 trains a day run from Bakersfield to Oakland, with two running from Bakersfield to Sacramento. Additional thruway bus service offers connections to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and a dozen other cities. The new train will run between Bakersfield and Oakland.

Final preparations for this addition to the schedule have been underway for about 6 months now. Although the service is run and branded by Amtrak, it is funded by California and currently managed by the "San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority" which took over from Caltrans in 2015. Since they took over, they have pushed to make the new 7th trip a reality. The new service will cost $7.4 million a year.

A new train, 709, will leave Bakersfield bright and early at 4am. Currently, the earliest train leaves at 4:45am. It will arrive in Fresno at 5:53am and Oakland at 9:53am. This schedule is designed to allow those in the Valley to enjoy a full day in the Bay Area.

Presumably, there will be a bus from Los Angeles which will meet the train. Currently the bus meeting the 4:45am train leaves LA at 1:30am. The new bus would leave LA at a more comfortable 12:45am, which allows bus riders to arrive at Union Station using the subway.

A new return train, 708, will leave Oakland at 3:55pm, arriving in Bakersfield at 10:04pm. This schedule closely mimics an existing bus connection that ties in with a Sacramento train.

I assume other train times, including the Sacramento departure, will be adjusted, but the full schedule is not online yet. The current schedule can be seen here (PDF). I will post when the new one is ready. The new schedule will show us if the goal of this service was to expand the coverage or to lower headways.

Caltrans, the previous boss, had been talking about adding a 7th daily train for well over a decade. Unfortunately, the start date kept being pushed back.

In 2002, the state predicted: 












 2004!

In 2004, as that goal was obviously missed, it became:










2010!

In 2006,  the goal for the 7th train remained the same, but the goal for the 8th slipped two years...












  And in 2008, as that goal was becoming unreasonable, it was pushed back again:












 Well, it is finally here, and better late than never. Oddly enough, while every report called for a Sacramento train to be added first, followed by an Oakland train, the reverse has happened.


The last time the route got an upgrade was in 2002, when it attained its current level of service.

History of route:

Before 1971 - Two daily trains (one by each freight railroad)
1971-1974 - No service
1974 - One daily Amtrak train
1979 - Amtrak proposes elimination, state steps in to fund a single train
1980 - Second daily train
1989 - Third daily train
1992 - Fourth daily train
1999 - Fifth train, first to serve Sacramento
2002 - Sixth train, second to serve Sacramento
2016 - Seventh train, fifth to Oakland
2018 (predicted) - Eight train, third to Sacramento
Late 2020's - High Speed Rail begins, San Joaquin future unknown (although service to Sacramento is almost guaranteed, from at least Fresno)


An 8th daily train is also being planned, however, there are significant roadblocks. New bi-level equipment that was scheduled to arrive this summer has been delayed a year, and the line cannot add more service without additional equipment. In 2013, Amtrak California purchased 40-year old New Jersey Transit trains to support demand on the route until the new trains arrived.At that time, the new trains were expected in 2015.

In addition, because the rail is owned by freight companies, they force the taxpayers to build capital improvements in exchange for a train slot. A layover facility and additional double-tracked segments are required for more trains to run. As with the new 7th daily train, these capacity improvements have been in the work for over a decade. Some have received funding from the initial HSR bond, while others are looking to Cap and Trade money. Still others are unfunded.

That is, don't expect the 8th train before 2018, even if the 7th is a runaway success. 

The committee will also be using Cap and Trade funding to optimize current schedules and make plans for future growth. The committee also realizes that low gas prices have hurt ridership, and this May they plan on launching new discounts aimed at groups, along with a new advertising campaign.


All this information was gained from the March board meeting presentation.
You can view the full packet here (PDF)
The November board meeting presentation is here (PDF

You can find the PDFs of the various State Rail Reports here.

Monday, March 14, 2016

A look at Greyhound's New Downtown Fresno Station

I've mentioned a few times in this blog that as part of the High Speed Rail (HSR) project, Gryehound has moved from their old location to the Amtrak station. For a couple of years, the old station will be used by HSR personnel, and then it will be demolished when it is time to build the new rail station in that very spot. Presumably, Greyhound will then move back.

Let's start by taking a look at the old station.

Here we see the station with the baseball stadium in the background. 



The iconic bus signs.



The portion on the right used to be a cafeteria I have no idea how many years that side of the complex has been abandoned.


A close up look at the old cafeteria...


And a peak inside the station. Unfortunately, I never took pictures when the station was active. Woops.