Friday, July 22, 2011

"Living Green" lecture recap, part one

I attended the Living Green lecture held at Fulton 55 in downtown Fresno on Monday of this week I was pleasantly surprised with the turnout, with over 50 people in attendance for the two hour event.

The presentation itself began with an official from the city of Fresno to discuss sustainability, water and energy use in Fresno, and how saving energy can help boost the local economy.

The speaker from the city clearly believed what he was talking about. He mentioned that his home has solar power and he drives a prius. But he wasn’t there to preach about green living, he was there to give out facts and let us see why being sustainable simply makes sense for the individual, and for the city as a whole.

He started by saying that if a community is not sustainable, it cannot survive for long. That is true. If a town runs out of water, then it becomes a ghost town. Without energy, industry and commerce dies.

He then began to talk about how linked water and electricity are in Fresno. He states that the city spends $21 million a month (…or year?) on electricity, and of that, $11 million are spent on water related items. That is, electricity to pump water and treat it. One stat he pointed out is that acquiring water from the aquifer (underground) takes 18 percent more electricity than water from the surface. Unfortunately, he did not go into details on ways to mitigate these costs, but it stands to reason that if we all use less water, there will be less need to pump from the aquifer.

The next topic was how the city of Fresno fits in with the state and the county. Because of Fresno’s climate, we use more electricity (per capita) than almost every other city, due to air conditioning and such. So not only do we have the highest rates, but also the highest uses, sending bills skyrocketing. He gave an example of someone he found who was paying over $2,000 a month in electricity alone.

Within Fresno county, 49% of energy use is by Fresno. 60% is by non-residential users…..or 40% by homes.

He noted that Fresno spends a combined $860 million a year in electrical costs……and a massive $300 million a year could be saved with sustainable initiatives.
That’s money we are simply burning now, that could go to disposable income, new hiring, etc etc. Less money spent on electricity bills means money left over to go out to dinner, money companies can use to improve their business, and money industry can use to increase capacity.

One program he then began talking about was free energy audits, offered by the city, thanks to a federal grant. He told us that anyone can call a number, and a team will come to your house and find leakage and such and tell you what you can fix.

Apparently, the program is open to all residents of Fresno and Kern counties. Information can be found here:
http://www.fresno.gov/Government/DepartmentDirectory/PlanningandDevelopment/HomeEnergy/Default.htm

Our free home energy survey will show you where to save energy. More important, it will recommend the energy efficiency home improvements that are most cost-effective and have the best payback.

Schedule your free home energy survey by calling 855-621-3733 or completing the online signup form. A qualified home energy rater will set up an in-home appointment. Expect the following during the visit

A thorough 3-4 hours survey to determine where your home wastes energy.
A detailed report recommending energy efficiency improvements.
No-cost and low-cost ideas for saving energy.
Help accessing available rebates, incentives and financing options if you choose to make home energy upgrades.



He gave some examples of huge wasted energy problems that they found, such as homes where the vent system is broken, so all the hot and cold air is being wasted, and the homeowner is paying to cool an attic or crawlspace, and not the living area. They use a heat sensor to see where cold or hot air is escaping into the atmosphere.

He noted that the construction industry can stand to benefit, because there is a huge market for home improvements in energy efficiency. The city does not make the fixes, but tells you what you can do to save money, and it is up to you to fix the problems they find.

He then started moving towards discussing downtown living, and the benefits of living in apartments. He noted that in Fresno, only 2% of energy is used by multi-family apartments. He mentioned that apartment living saves a lot of energy and money, because the homes are better insulated (thanks to shared walls). He said that while a single family home uses on average 700 kilowatts, a apartment uses 470.

The next speaker was the president of Granville homes. I will discuss what he talked about tomorrow.

And here is what the turnout looked like, lots more people in the back by the bar.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

A look at the new Fulton Village project

On Monday, "Creative Fresno" held a lecture about sustainable living in downtown Fresno. A focus of the lecture was the construction of a new residential apartment complex, called "Fulton Village". While the lecture was supposed to end with a tour of the interior, that had to be postponed due to a delay in construction.

I plan to have a full post about the content of the lecture, and an unfortunate incident after it. Hopefully, I can have that ready tomorrow. So today, enjoy some pictures of the exterior of the development and the surrounding area.

I also plan on having a future post highlighting ALL the recent residential development downtown.

All pictures taken Monday at around 8pm. Please excuse the bit of dust that got stuck to my lens during the picture taking process.


These are the Iron Bird Lofts, built by the same developer, a block away
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We approach Fulton Village
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Color arrives
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Very little traffic at this hour. Not a single car came by. No traffic lights either.
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Look, a train!
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Fulton Mall is nearby
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Unlike Iron Bird, the first floor won't be commercial, except for the corner building.

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Oddly, there is a gap between the new construction and the neighbor
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Visitor parking is not an issue
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Nearby sidewalk is empty
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Now lets swing along back, towards the alley
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Color back here too
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Lots of garages
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Unrelated: Across the alley, what an odd parking spot
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This could be a nice courtyard, but it'll be parking
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I believe this parking lot is extra large for the commercial parking
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Simple, but not horrible
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The sidewalk isnt quite connected yet
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These balconies will be nice
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I'm not thrilled with a second parking lot entrance from the street (versus only alley access)
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And we're back where we started.

Hope you enjoyed the tour.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Government Sprawl: Sending the veterans out to pasture

That's right, more residential development out in the middle of nowhere, and this time, it's government funded.

A few weeks ago, I posted about a housing developer planning a retirement community in the middle of nowhere.

Yesterday's Fresno Bee highlighted a new residential community, and this one is for veterans.

The article, "Budget cuts delay opening of Fresno veterans home" goes into details of the government funds that are helping build this thing. Federal, state, and I believe even local monies are being put into this housing complex, which is being created to help veterans.

"Once it opens, the Fresno home will provide a variety of services to 300 veterans, including rehabilitation and minimal personal care.

The home will create about 400 permanent jobs."

300 residents, 400 jobs? That's a pretty big complex. That's a lot of people coming and going. A real hub of activity even. One might even call it a large traffic generator. More on road access later.

Now, like all residents, veterans want access to the community. Grocery stores, restaurants, shops, cafes etc. But on top of that, they also need access to medical services.

After all, like Assembly member Perea put it,

""I'm optimistic that we can find a solution that will ensure the men and women who selflessly served our county have access to the care they deserve," Perea said."


Exactly. And what better place to get care than in a developed area, by existing stores, the existing Veteran's Hospital, dentists, care providers etc etc

But one thing the Bee article didn't touch on at all is the realities of the location of this new home.

A location that presumably was approved by the feds, state officials and local officials, because they all chipped in money.

A location that should provide the vets the care they need, with easy access from visitors and the ability to be involved in the community.

And this is what they got.

As I said, big project

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But let's zoom out a bit.

See a store? See a hospital? See any form of development...? See a sidewalk or bike lane or park or....anything?

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Maybe I strategically cropped the image to make it only appear like this new home is out in the middle of nowhere. Lets pull back a bit more.

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Ok, so there are SOME bits of urbanity over there on the right.

How does that relate to the actual city?

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Yeah. Not very well. The freeway triangle is what is considered downtown. The city grew to the north and east of it.

This new home is in the middle of nowhere. The real middle of nowhere.

Out of curiosity, where is the VA Hospital?

7 miles away

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(Fun fact, 180 was only just extended that way, I guess now someone is going to use it)

As I mentioned before, this is a large building, so it will generate a fair amount of movement. But since there's absolutely no pedestrian, cycling or transit access, every single resident, visitor and staff member will have to arrive by car.

I'm sure older vets will love dealing with this road after dark.

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One last point, what kind of social message is this sending to the vets? By building them a home far away from absolutely everything, this doesn't exactly scream "we love you, thanks for the service!" but appears to be more like "go where we don't have to deal with you" or perhaps "get out and stay out".

There's a reason prisons are generally built in the far-off outskirts. Why are we giving these veterans the same treatment?

Once could argue "such a big complex requires a large amount of land, I'm sure they would have built it closer if land was available".

Here's the VA Hospital in 2009.

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Yeah.

One positive note: That parcel of land is being turned into affordable apartments. But again, wouldn't it have made more sense as vet housing...? It's not like there was a shortage of urban land elsewhere for the apartments.

Government Fail: CSU tuition up massive 12%...but not as big as 33% raise to president's salary

What are they thinking?

Minutes after voting to raise student tuition by 12 percent for the fall, California State University trustees on Tuesday decided the salary for a new campus president should be $100,000 greater than his predecessor's.

...

The salary debate concerned Elliot Hirshman, who began earlier this month as the president of San Diego State. The board approved a compensation package for him Tuesday afternoon that includes a salary of $400,000, with $50,000 paid for with private funds from the university's foundation.
http://www.fresnobee.com/2011/07/13/2462409/csu-hikes-tuition-and-boosts-a.html#ixzz1S27MpjpO

I'd like to find a single person outside of this group of trustees that thinks this is a good idea.

It just doesn't make sense in any universe. And it just helps fuel the "government waste" fire. True, what the trustees do has no bearing on what the legislators or teachers or anyone else does, but people (and media) like to lump government together, and here we have a prime example of out of touch, out of mind spending by a very small group that blackens things for everyone else.

Look, I understand the argument that wages should be competitive. You want the best guy for the job, then you need to at least pay a salary that the competition would offer him. But that argument doesn't hold water at these high levels.

If you make $20,000 a year, and you're offered $22,000....you'll bail in a second. That extra 2k can be the difference between a revolving credit card debt and none at all. That could be the difference between having to work extra overtime or being able to go home with your family.

If you're looking at one job that pays $55,000 and one that pays $47,000, again, the contest is week. At that level, $8,000 goes a long way. That can be a year of rent, for one.

But once you start talking about $200k, $300k, $400k? What's the difference?

No one in their right mind would turn down a $325k job over a $340k job just on salary alone. You've got your mansion, your cars, your vacations, that extra $15,000 isn't a big deal. You'll look at more important things when picking which job you want to jump into.

So why $400k? Why not $375? Why not $367,890?

$20,000 won't make a difference in finding the "right" guy for the job....but that is the full annual salary of a kitchen worker or cleaner.

And why exactly is this new guy so much better than the old guy that he's worth $100,000 more? he hasn't proven himself at all, but we should believe he's 33% better at the job?

Ludicrous.


So, how long until we see a proposition that limits CSU staff pay ranges? It would pass with an impressive margin, that's for sure.



And btw, both Governor Brown and Lt. Newsom are against the new salary, as explained in the news article linked above.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Concerning the cover of the GOP transportation bill

Much has been said about the newly announced GOP transportation reauthorization proposal, but I don't think enough attention has been paid to the cover of their bill.

This thing.

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It's an enormous WTF. Should be in a modern art museum even.


First a quick summary of what's inside:
-33% cut to transportation (even though as the country grows, any rational bill would increase with inflation, at least)
-Elimination of funding for pedestrian/biking and HSR
-Massive cuts to Amtrak
-"Back to the basics" 80/20 funding split between highways and transit


....so what exactly does that have to do with this?

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A new direction? How can something be both new and "back to the basics"? How exactly does the picture of a sprawling highway interchange, one likely built 50 years ago, in anyways be new? Is the title suggesting that highways are the future? What is being changed here? Are we supposed to be impressed? This picture may have impressed America in 1948....but today?

I mean, yes, the inside of the bill is all about highways, so it makes sense to highlight that...

But why is the highway so empty?

Are highways not well used? And if not, why are we funding them? Seems like a waste? But we know that's not true, highways are always full of cars....so why on earth show a completely desolate piece of roadway?

Is it attractive? Who looks at this cover and says "yes, government should be doing THIS!" I mean, we've built plenty of attractive highways, well, bridges usually. If you want to say "this is good", why not show a modern bridge with impressive architecture and lighting? At least pick a photo with SOME color. Look at the trees, they look dead! Hell, it looks like a black and white image where someone added the blue back in, but only the blue.

Or essentially, why use a picture that looks like it was taken 65 years ago?


Or is it some kind of meta-commentary?

The bill is all about slashing spending. Anyone who follows infrastructure maintenance can tell you that this country has not been doing it's job when it comes to maintaining roads (it's easy to find stories about bridges closed do to being unsound, lanes blocked off due to erosion, etc)

So perhaps the cover is saying this:

"If you approve our bill, then our highways will look like this....because we won't be able to maintain them, and engineers will have to close them off because the overpasses are structurally unsound"

I guess that makes sense.

On the plus side, thousands of miles of (mountain) bicycles routes will be opened up. Can't let all that empty (crumbling) pavement go to waste.

New bike lanes on Ventura/Kings Canyon

While on my way to eat at a Mexican restaurant on Ventura Ave (Castillo's) I noticed something interesting....bike lanes. Those weren't there before, right!?!

That area isn't part of my daily routine, but I do pass by every other week or so, and I'm pretty sure I would have noticed them before. I wasn't sure though, so as soon as I got home, I looked at Google's satellite imagery, taken in April, and I'm right, the lanes are brand new.

So Fresno has finally painted bike lanes on one of their busiest commercial corridors!

!!!

Here's the deal. Fresno has three major east/west commercial streets. From north to south, Herndon, Shaw and King's Canyon/Ventura (it randomly changes names, same street).

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These streets are where most of the business's clutter. Stores, restaurants, lawyers offices, doctors, you name it, they're likely on one of these three main corridors. Accordingly, Shaw and King's Canyon are home to two of the busiest bus lines (Herndon doesn't have one).

But do you notice what's missing?

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That's right, none of them have bike lanes!

From what I understand, the logic seems to have been that because these streets were so busy (lots of traffic generating businesses) they shouldn't have bike lanes. There IS room for bike lanes*, but the city decided that it would be too dangerous for cyclists to use these roads. After all, with so much traffic + curb cuts, it's simply not a safe place to ride.

(*Shaw and Kings allow parallel parking, but because of mandatory parking lots, there is absolutely no need to park in the street, and no one ever does)

The problem with that logic is that they were thinking only of recreational cyclists. Sure, if you're riding for fun or exercise, do NOT pick one of those three streets.

But the thing is, why do they have so much traffic? Because that's where people want to go!

Thousands of stores means thousands of customers and tens of thousands of employees. If these customers or employees choose (or are forced to) bike to their destination, they can't magically teleport there. The only way to access those businesses is to ride on the busy street.

Even more significant is that King's Canyon is in the poorer section of town, so many people rely on biking. If anyone ever claims that no one bikes in Fresno, make them stand on the corner of King's Canyon and Chestnut, and if they don't count 5 bikes in 5 minutes, buy them a $1 taco at any of the nearby taco sellers.

So a bike lane would help tremendously.

And it looks like someone at the city has finally agreed.

Bike lanes have been painted on at least 2.5 miles.

The red box is where I saw the new lanes. The pink boxes are the natural conclusion of said lanes, but I didn't drive on those sections to check. (To the east is the city line with Clovis, to the west is downtown, where Ventura narrows)

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I've searched deeply into the city website, including 2 months of council agendas, and haven't found a single reference to the new lanes, so I don't know exactly when they were painted (within the past 2 weeks at least), when they were approved, and how long they extend. I also haven't found a single news article about them. While the Bike Master Plan shows the bike lanes as planned, the master plan is a fantasy which shows bike lanes EVERYWHERE but with no timeline.

The city should do a better job of publicizing these new lanes.

On Ventura, the city was able to paint them away from the curb to allow parallel parking. Because that section was developed before the 1950's, many businesses are built right up to the sidewalk with no parking, so the curbside space is well used.

On King's Canyon, which developed later, the bike lanes go directly against the curb. There is no need for parking because every single business has an (overly large) private lot.

The bike lanes are standard size 5 or 6 feet wide, with broken striping near minor intersections. In an unusual configuration, at bus stops, the left white line continues to be solid, but there is no right white line.

Unfortunately, near major intersections, where a right turn lane is painted, the lane disappears, abandoning riders in the most dangerous part of the road. There is not even a striped pattern connecting to the right turn lane, as seen elsewhere in the city.

But still, much better than nothing.

I'm going to try and take pictures and find out when they were painted, and if more are planned. Last summer, all of downtown saw new bike lanes, so clearly June/July is paint season here.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

“Living Green Downtown” lecture to be held in Fresno next week

Creative Fresno will be holding a free lecture next week on green and urban living, and end it with a tour of new apartments being built downtown.

When: July 18th, 6 to 8pm
Where: Fulton 55 at 875 Divisadero St., Fresno
What: An interactive presentation followed by a walking tour through the environmentally innovative Fulton Village development
Who: Open to everyone
Speakers: TBD
Cost: Free

Details can be found at:
http://creativefresno.ning.com/events/mindforum-lecture-living-green

The Fulton Village project is scheduled to open this year.

This is how the project looked last month.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Re-writing the NYT 'Irking Drivers" piece so it's more pleasant to read

A week or so ago, I was surprised to see an article on the front page of the New York Times concerning policies in Europe, which encourage walking, or as the article puts it, discourages driving. I was surprised not by the inclusion of the piece, but by the extremely harsh negative tone it took. The article was written like an attack piece on walking and biking, and I was shocked to see such a one-sided approach to reporting. Especially an article given front page real estate! Made me wonder that if this piece can lean so heavily in one way, what does it mean for every other article, especially the ones where I know little about the subject matter, so the bias will elude me?

Troubling.

Anyway, so I've been wanting to take the article, and turn it around so it says the same thing, but in a way that does not try to expand the "war on cars" style of reporting made popular in New York this past season. I finally have some time, so here we go.

The original article can be found here, so you can follow along.

Across Europe, Irking Drivers Is Urban Policy
By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
Published: June 26, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/27/science/earth/27traffic.html?_r=4

And here is my version, which flips around key phrases so it reads more pleasantly. Instead of taking away space for cars, we add space for pedestrians, and so on.

I think my version actually fits the quotes much better (which I obviously did not edit). In the original article, only the quote by the Jaguar owner managed to fit the tone at all.

--------------------------------

Across Europe, Aiding Pedestrians Is Urban Policy
By JAMES SINCLAIR, and ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
Published: July 06, 2011

ZURICH — While American cities are synchronizing green lights to hinder pedestrian flow and offering apps to distract drivers looking for parking, many European cities are doing the opposite: creating environments open and welcoming to pedestrians. The methods vary, but the mission is clear — to make walking safe and pleasant enough to tilt drivers toward more environmentally friendly modes of transportation.

Cities including Vienna to Munich and Copenhagen have opened vast swaths of streets to pedestrian traffic. Barcelona and Paris have had bike access expanded by bike-sharing programs. Drivers in London and Stockholm pay reasonable congestion charges for the luxury of bringing their private vehicle into the heart of the city. And over the past two years, dozens of German cities have joined a national network of “environmental zones” where only cars with low carbon dioxide emissions may enter.

Likeminded cities welcome new shopping malls and apartment buildings but do not mandate severely overbuilding the number of parking spaces. On-street parking is vanishing. In recent years, even former car capitals like Munich have evolved into “walkers’ paradises,” said Lee Schipper, a senior research engineer at Stanford University who specializes in sustainable transportation.

“In the United States, there has been much more of a tendency to adapt cities to accommodate driving,” said Peder Jensen, head of the Energy and Transport Group at the European Environment Agency. “Here there has been more movement to make cities more livable for people, to get cities relatively free of cars.”

To that end, the municipal Traffic Planning Department here in Zurich has been working overtime in recent years to accommodate pedestrians. Closely spaced red lights have been added on roads into town, speeding up pedestrian crossings for commuters. Pedestrian underpasses that once allowed traffic to flow dangerously fast across major intersections, while hindering pedestrian movement, have been removed. Operators in the city’s ever expanding tram system can turn traffic lights in their favor as they approach, accommodating tens of thousands of riders.

Around L√∂wenplatz, one of Zurich’s busiest squares, cars are now banned on many blocks. Where permitted, their speed is limited to a pedestrian's pace so that crosswalks and crossing signs can be removed entirely, reinforcing the right for people on foot to safely cross anywhere they like at any time.

As he stood watching a few cars inch through a mass of bicycles and pedestrians, the city’s chief traffic planner, Andy Fellmann, smiled. “Driving is a stop-and-go experience,” he said. “That’s what we like! Our goal is to reconquer public space for pedestrians, not to make it easy for drivers.”

While some American cities — notably San Francisco, which has “pedestrianized” parts of Market Street — have made similar efforts, they are still the exception in the United States, where it has been difficult to get people to imagine a life where cars are not entrenched, Dr. Schipper said.

Europe’s cities generally have stronger incentives to act. Built for the most part before the advent of cars, their narrow roads are excellent at making a comfortable pedestrian experience. Public transportation is better funded in Europe than in the United States, and gas reflects the real cost of use, at around $8 a gallon. This contributed to driving costs that are two to three times greater per mile than in the United States, Dr. Schipper said.

(Ed: No edits from here until next ed comment)

What is more, European Union countries probably cannot meet a commitment under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions unless they curb driving. The United States never ratified that pact.

Globally, emissions from transportation continue a relentless rise, with half of them coming from personal cars. Yet an important impulse behind Europe’s traffic reforms will be familiar to mayors in Los Angeles and Vienna alike: to make cities more inviting, with cleaner air and less traffic.

Michael Kodransky, global research manager at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy in New York, which works with cities to reduce transport emissions, said that Europe was previously “on the same trajectory as the United States, with more people wanting to own more cars.” But in the past decade, there had been “a conscious shift in thinking, and firm policy,” he said. And it is having an effect.

After two decades of car ownership, Hans Von Matt, 52, who works in the insurance industry, sold his vehicle and now gets around Zurich by tram or bicycle, using a car-sharing service for trips out of the city. Carless households have increased from 40 to 45 percent in the last decade, and car owners use their vehicles less, city statistics show.

“There were big fights over whether to close this road or not — but now it is closed, and people got used to it,” he said, alighting from his bicycle on Limmatquai, a riverside pedestrian zone lined with cafes that used to be two lanes of gridlock. Each major road closing has to be approved in a referendum.

Today 91 percent of the delegates to the Swiss Parliament take the tram to work.

(Ed note: Edits continue after this point)

Grumbling appears to be limited only to the privileged and the elite. “There are all these zones where you can only drive 20 or 30 kilometers per hour [about 12 to 18 miles an hour], which is rather stressful,” Thomas Rickli, a consultant, said as he parked his ridiculously unnecessary Jaguar in a lot at the edge of town. “It’s useless.”

Urban planners generally agree that a rise in car commuting is not desirable for cities anywhere.

Mr. Fellmann calculated that a person using a car took up 115 cubic meters (roughly 4,000 cubic feet) of urban space in Zurich while a pedestrian took three. “So it’s not really fair to everyone else if you take the car,” he said.

European cities also realized they could not meet increasingly strict World Health Organization guidelines for fine-particulate air pollution if cars continued to reign. Many American cities are likewise in “nonattainment” of their Clean Air Act requirements, but that fact “is just accepted here,” said Mr. Kodransky of the New York-based transportation institute.

It often takes a series of small changes to get people out of their cars, and providing good public transportation is a crucial first step. One novel strategy in Europe is accurately pricing and allocating parking. “Parking is everywhere in the United States, but it’s disappearing from the urban space in Europe,” said Mr. Kodransky, whose recent report “Europe’s Parking U-Turn” surveys the shift.

Sihl City, a new Zurich mall, is three times the size of Brooklyn’s Atlantic Mall but since 70 percent of visitors get there by public transport, Mr. Kodransky said, it has only half the number of parking spaces.

In Copenhagen, Mr. Jensen, at the European Environment Agency, said that his office building had more than 150 spaces for bicycles and only one for a car, to accommodate a disabled person.

While many building codes in Europe cap the number of parking spaces in new buildings to encourage other modes of commuting, American codes conversely tend to stipulate an unnecessarily high minimum number. New apartment complexes built along the light rail line in Denver devote their bottom eight floors to parking, regardless of actual demand, making it “too easy” to get in the car rather than take advantage of rail transit, Mr. Kodransky said.

While Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has generated controversy in New York by only “pedestrianizing” a few areas like Times Square, many European cities have already opened vast areas to pedestrians and cyclists. Store owners in Zurich had worried that the changes would mean a drop in business, but that fear has proved unfounded, Mr. Fellmann said, because pedestrian traffic increased 30 to 40 percent where cars were banned.

With politicians and most citizens still largely behind them, Zurich’s planners continue their pedestrian-enhancing quest, shortening the green-light periods and lengthening the red with the goal that pedestrians wait no more than 20 seconds to cross.

“We would never synchronize green lights for cars with our philosophy,” said Pio Marzolini, a city official. “When I’m in other cities, I feel like I’m always waiting to cross a street. I can’t get used to the idea that I am worth less than a car.”

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Zoo as a revitalization tool?

This post will discuss how the zoo expansion will create a zoo that turns its back on the neighborhood, further hurts businesses in an already blighted neighborhood, and closes off all walking opportunities into the park. While some have claimed that the master plan will help the area by drawing more visitors, the plan has been created to keep out-of-town visitors away from local businesses, funnel them into a paid parking lot, and do this all while keeping locals out by blocking off pedestrian access.



From what I've been reading of the Chaffee Zoo expansion project, the general consensus seems to be that it's a good idea. The town officials voted unanimously for it, although to be honest, they always do tend to vote yes for every large project that passes before them.

The citizen comments I've seen also have been pro-expansion. That makes sense, in 2004, voters passed "Measure Z", known as "Save Our Zoo". That measure added one tenth of one percent to the county's sales tax rate. Now the voters are eager to see 7 years of tax collection used to build SOMETHING. The zoo wants to move quickly on expansion as well, Measure Z will be up for vote again in 2014, and they want to show voters what the money is being used for (apparently maintenance isn't enough).

So basically, if the zoo expansion was in a vacuum, then everyone except PETA would be on board, including myself.

The concern is that the proposed expansion does not involve building on empty land. it involves taking a large public park, converting a large portion of it into the zoo, converting another large section into parking, and leaving a small corner for free public use.

(See my last post for details on how the park will be divided).


So when people are presented with this new information (that the zoo will involve closing large portions of the existing park), they tend to talk about the state of the area is the park is.

The area is ugly. The area is rundown. The area is filled with blight and abandoned buildings. All true.

And an expanded zoo will fix this. This, I do not agree with.

It's true, the area is not attractive and is economically depressed. But there is no logic behind the theory that a zoo expansion will make the area better.

For one, there is a zoo there now, which draws from a wide area. It is popular. If the zoo hasn't "fixed" the area now, then why should we believe that a bigger zoo will?

Of course the argument would be that more people = more stops at local businesses.


That argument has one major flaw: The proposed expansion plan will CLOSE the existing entrance on Belmont (the local blighted street) and open a new one on Golden State (essentially a highway). *See pictures below*

So instead of revitalizing the street, the zoo expansion actually plans to direct people onto a path where they will encounter NO local businesses, and so, see no blight. The new entrance will be on a street in which the park is to the west, and train tracks are to the east. Not only do the tracks currently form a wall between the road and the local neighborhood, but the HSR project intends to use that path, basically ensuring that zoo visitors do not have to look at local businesses.

I doubt this was a mistake. The new entrance seems to have been designed around the following idea:

-How do we get out of town visitors into the zoo without having them see this blighted area? And how do we ensure that they park (and pay to park) at our lots, instead of parking nearby (free street parking) and walking?

Visitors will now essentially be forced to drive into the park, and pay the $5 parking fee to get to the entrance. Transit? Ha. Walking? Not anymore. Biking? On Golden State? No sir.

And locals? Well, what used to be a convenient (walkable) entrance into the zoo and park from the neighborhood will be closed off. It will become a maintenance entrance only.

The zoo entrance will then be relocated so instead of being angled towards the neighborhood, it will be focused exclusively on the new giant parking lot.

Here you can see the existing situation. The blue line is a 6 minute walk (.3 miles). Thats using the roadway, I drew in a light blue line where pedestrians can cut their trip to less than 5 minutes. The entrance is aimed down, towards the neighborhood. Not visible are the homes south of the screen capture.

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The red lines are what drivers would use. They would use Belmont and see the local businesses (and blight). They could park for free On Belmont, and walk for 4 minutes, or drive into the small existing parking lot ($5).


Here is the new plan. That entrance would be closed.


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A new, much wider road would be built leading to a giant parking lot. Drivers would enter through Golden State, which is essentially a freeway (it is the old CA-99). The entrance would be relocated north to aim only into the parking lot.

There would be no pedestrian ingress. As you can see, not only is Golden State a freeway, there are train tracks to the east. There is no where to walk to or from.

Driving, ONLY.

Aka: How to NOT revitalize a neighborhood.

You don't improve Fresno by speeding people into your attraction by freeway and then quickly ushering them out before they can see a local business. You don't improve the city by essentially mandating car ownership to access a park and zoo. And you certainly don't improve Fresno by converting a park into a parking lot.

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Finally, here is an image similar to the one I created for my last post. This one was created by a group opposed to zoo expansion, but I have no affiliation with them.

They've kept the free park land in green, and the paid + parking area in grey.

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(note: the map shows the existing entrance to the south, but apparently this will be for official vehicles only)

You can read their take on the plan here:
http://www.saveroedingpark.org/home.html