Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Clovis gets LED street lights

Clovis and Fresno look a lot alike, so it's hard to tell sometimes when you cross from one city to the other. The street signs are a good giveaway, as Fresno uses green and Clovis uses brown. But now, at night, there's one other difference: Clovis is installing LED street lights at almost every intersection. According to the city, they are in the process of installing over 400 LED street lights. I've seen them at most intersections, although a section of Clovis Avenue, by Old Town, has all been redone.

Willow Avenue, the border between Fresno and Clovis is interesting. There are four lights at each intersection, and now two are LEDs, and two are sodium.

LED has a few advantages over the existing high pressure sodium lights. The most obvious one is color. The sodium lights are your standard yellowy-orange lamps that make it very difficult to see colors at night. LED's, on the other hand, are very white.

At this intersection, you can see the lights mounted on the traffic polls have been switched. All the other lights are of the older kind
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From my observation, the LED lights appear to be brighter than what they replaced. This is a very good thing, as the street lights here can be placed quite far apart. At intersections, the brighter light helps make pedestrians more visible. The better color clarity also makes it easier to distinguish what's in the crosswalk.

The regular street lights are very yellow
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There are a few other advantages to, besides color, and in this case, light output (light output will vary based on what model the city buys).

-Energy efficient. It's not a huge savings, because the old sodium lights are pretty efficient themselves, but every bit helps.
-Longer lifespan. LED is much more expensive than the existing installations, but is supposed to have a longer life. The savings in labor should be enough to justify the switch, along with the energy savings
-Better light distribution. The LED lights are more focused, unlike the sodium ones which have three distinct bright spots, and then darker areas. The older lights have glare and create shadows, as seen in this comparison.

LED lights provide a more uniform coverage
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I'm excited to see the new lights around Clovis. Hopefully the savings mean that they can continue the transition throughout the year.

The intersection has been done, and is very well lit, but there are thousands and thousands of street lights in the city. If you like the sodium lights, don't worry, you'll be seeing them for a very long time
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One other thing I'd like to see the city experiment with are lights with solar panels, but that's really something that PG&E has to push through. Maybe next year.
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Monday, January 30, 2012

Thoughts from the Clovis Shaw planning meeting

The subject of my last post was about the city of Clovis holding three planning meetings concerning Shae Ave.

I attended the second meeting, held in the afternoon. The meeting was not well publicized, as there was no notice (that I could see) in the paper. On the website, the information was listed, but the way the site is set up makes it hard to find.

Apparently, the expectation was that only business owners would attend, because the first question asked was which business each member of the audience owns. I assume they sent out flyers to each business on the corridor.

Now when I say audience, I mean a grand total of six members of the public, less than the 7 members of the city that were on-hand. The lack of outreach and the lack of response is somewhat typical of planning here, both in Clovis and in Fresno. The local population is not very engaged with how the city is being planned, which is partially why there are so many ways in which the planning is poor. According to the city staff, the morning meeting had more people, but that's not saying much. I think that the lack of engagement by the community is taken by the city as a sign that everyone approves of how things have been done. As I'll get to later, according to one of the planners, that's sort of how the council sees it.


Interestingly, the planners all seemed excited to have someone attend that was not directly related to the project (as a business owner). I was told multiple times that they want to see more participation from citizens.


The meeting was simple in structure. First, there were some powerpoint presentations about the project scope, earlier feedback heard by the city, and some proposals (pictures of projects done in other cities). We got stats on vacancy rates (hovering around 30%), and how low vacancy leads to a downward spiral of investment. While I usually take pictures of this type of thing, it felt odd with so few people, so I did not.

The city only has a grant of $250,000, so as the meeting went on, it became clear to me that the main goal is actually to convince property owners to form a Business Improvement District. This self-taxing unit would provide funds for things like better streetlights and landscaping, which hopefully would draw more customers. That being said, the grant must be used for a capital project, and not something like marketing. Also, the grant was given due to the proximity of low-income housing.

I agree that more streetlights and such would be great, but the problem with the Shaw corridor isn't in the minor details, it's in the grand design. It's the fact that walking and biking is too difficult. It's the fact that even driving is a hassle, because to get from one shopping area to the next, you MUST return to Shaw, and the constant curb-cuts and such make driving unpleasant.

That's the kind of thing that can't really be fixed with new street lights....or with $250,000.

The meeting was somewhat disappointing in a realistic way. That is, there were few grandiose ideas, because the planners recognize that there are no funds for said ideas. Also, they are limited by the fact that Shaw "must" remain a 6-lane arterial. Slowing down or limiting traffic is simply out of the question. One of the planners mentioned that he would like to see changes made to improve biking and walking, but that it was unrealistic to expect people to walk more than a mile. However, during multiple instances it was mentioned that when observing the stretch of road, they noted more pedestrians and cyclists than they expected.

As I mentioned before, the planners were happy to see someone outside their small circle. I got the impression that the majority would love to jump on ideas like mixed use development, being more pedestrian-friendly and such, but they simply don't have the resources or political capitol to do so, so all they can do is keep doing what's always been done.

Basically, they said that unless citizens start breaking down the doors of the council members, the ones who actually control how the money flows, and start demanding more progressive planning, there won't be any. That's sort of depressing, but it's true.

The tail end of the meeting was pretty much feedback from those in attendance. The most vocal (I guess besides me) was an older woman who owns a consignment store. She states that she was unhappy with the visibility of her store, and the general upkeep of the area. For example, she thinks the city needs to crack down on the property owners that aren't maintaining their centers well. In her case, she is next to an abandoned Vons, and the owners of that vacant property (who she said was still Vons) do not keep it looking good. She also said that the city should help bring in customers by holding more events and such. The planners responded that when events and festivals are held, they are usually funded by local business owners, not the city.

My participation was to address many of the issues from my last post. Mainly, that visibility and access are poor. I brought up how I'd like to visit stores in the area by bike, but that's not comfortable, so I'm more likely to shop elsewhere or not at all.


One last thing: it was mentioned that the revitalization of Shaw is something they'd expect to take 10-30 years, not something that will happen overnight. That's perfectly realistic, but certainly depressing. Until then, if anyone is looking for vacant storefronts to film a movie....

Friday, January 27, 2012

Clovis sprawls north, wonders how to revitalize south

As I mentioned yesterday, Clovis is holding community meetings on ways to revitalize the Shaw corridor. Today, I will discuss the problems facing Shaw. Before attending the meeting, I was baffled about how they're being held just weeks after development began on a massive new commercial center just two miles north. I wondered if those in charge were failing to draw the connection between approving new development elsewhere and the abandonment of existing retail corridors.

Tomorrow, I will write about the meeting itself, and what the Clovis planners said.



This post will discuss three reasons why Shaw is failing
1) The car-first approach actually hurts stores
2) Lack of pedestrian and bike access
3) Approval of new development elsewhere

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Shaw avenue is a major east-west corridor that ties Fresno and Clovis together, and is primarily commercial*. If you are a chain, and you opened before 2002, you would probably open on Shaw (such as the first Target in Clovis). In Clovis, it's home to the city's only traditional mall (Sierra Vista). In Fresno, Shaw is where you'll find the regions only truly successful traditional mall, Fashion Fair.

Shaw is also where Fresno State is, and it's the southern border of Old Town Clovis.

The make up of Shaw is strictly autocentric. Every commercial property features acres of parking in front, to the sides and sometimes behind it too. Sidewalks exist at almost every point* but are narrow, at maybe 5 feet wide. In some places, the sidewalks are actually dangerous. Crosswalks are rare, and are limited to signalized intersections which are usually .5 miles apart...and some intersections ban pedestrian crossings on some sides. While most of Shaw has room for bike lanes (as the street was probably designed to accommodate parking) none has ever been painted. The speed limit varies from 40-50pmh.

*There are maybe a dozen private homes that abut Shaw, remnants of when it was a rural road. There are no sidewalks in front of those homes, and the dwellings are run down and of low value.

I think most will agree that Shaw is ugly. It is suppose to be the prime commercial street, but like Blackstone, bad design has made it an eyesore.

This is compounded by the fact that large portions of the commercial real-estate on Shaw is empty, and will probably never be occupied. According to the meeting I went to, 30% vacancy is typical.


Here is an example of one of those commercial developments. You can tell by the amount of cars in the parking lot that this center is dead. Take into account that some of those cars are employees, leaving....one customer?
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Red shows empty space, yellow is a gas station, green is leased space. The tenants are all low-income stores, like a Little Ceasars, a Tobacco shop and a nail salon.
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The largest space was a supermarket, the second largest was a Wallgreens. A Boston Market also closed. When a fast-food chain closes, in this town, you know something is wrong. The largest leased space is a Chase bank.



1) Car focus kills business.

Because so much of Shaw is fronted by parking, the businesses on Shaw find themselves in an odd position.

Every day an estimated 60,000 car trips are made down the crowded Shaw Avenue corridor. But with so many shuttered businesses and vacant buildings not many people have reason to stop.
ABC News


These businesses locate on Shaw because of all the traffic...yes customers!

They build giant parking lots so all those customers can park...yay sales! Isn't is so pretty?

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....but hold up. Isn't visibility a prime factor when it comes to getting sales? 60,000 cars a day passing by sounds like visibility, by the irony is, those businesses aren't visible.

They're hiding behind parking!

If you're driving on Shaw ave, you're paying primary attention to what's in front of you. Are you seeing all those tiny signs of those businesses all the way out in the back? There might be thirty businesses in this one shot, can you name them?

In green, what the driver focuses on, how many businesses does the driver become aware of? Remember, the speed limit is 45mph.

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Most cars don't have passengers. But those that do have eyes that can focus on sightseeing.

But even then, when the stores are so far away from the road....well, how many businesses can you see here?

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I don't think it's shocking that so many businesses have failed. What's shocking is that so much money was poured into building this way. There appears to be a huge disconnect between "location, location, location! We must maximize visibility!" and building retail centers that aren't actually visible.



2) Terrible pedestrian options


Unlike those driving, pedestrians and cyclists move at a slower, calmer speed, which allow them ample time to observe their surroundings. If these surroundings are commercial, then the pedestrian has time to read the signs, and if the shops aren't too far away, look inside.

But Shaw ave wasn't built for the pedestrian, at all. Worse, is that on the Fresno/Clovis border lies Fresno State. Like most universities, Fresno State has a large population of people willing to spend money, but perhaps lacking in cars.


Getting Fresno State students and staff to eat or shop east of freeway 168 has been very difficult. Clovis Development and Economic development director Tina Sumner said, "That is really a roadblock."
ABC


Correct. Fresno State is kept separate from Clovis by freeway 168. To accommodate the car traffic, every design choice in the book was taken to speed up vehicles. Huge intersections, as many lanes as possible an so forth.

But most damaging, in my opinion, are the on and off ramps which encourage cars to see Shaw as a portion of the freeway.

You can see Fresno State, dense student housing south of Shaw, and the freeway blocking off access to Clovis
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It's not just the freeway. An abandoned car sales lot, the home depot parking, an empty Fresno State lot, and more make this short distance seem like an eternity. The remarkably wide road doesn't help.
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In my opinion, it's the Caltrans on-ramp design that really kills any pedestrian and bike activity.

Look at this poor guy on a bike. Suddenly, the three lane + shoulder road opens up into a massive space, pretty much 6 lanes. If you're going straight on a bike, you "should" take the lane and be 3 lanes from the right (the lane with the circle). Yeah right, that's a death wish. What's also odd is how wide the road becomes. The space on the right leads to a single lane...so why is it a good 20 feet wide?

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Tiny sidewalk, no bike guidance or lane...but apparently, enough money for all this extra asphalt. Tailgate parking..?

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And for pedestrians, how many vehicles do you think stop at this crosswalk? There's no enforcement of course. Fresno State's basketball arena is visible in the back.

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The offramp isn't as bad, but still, notice how its so wide, to allow people to make turns as quickly as possible? The freeway was built less than 15 years ago. When it comes to pedestrian, the older freeways from the 50's are so much easier to deal with.

New:
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Old:
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And yes, the old design (seen on highway 41) carries more vehicles today.


One can shake their fist at Caltrans for their bad designs. But Clovis is just as bad. Look at this entrance to the Home depot.
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Even the Home Depot gets an on-ramp! Of course, the Home Depot offers no pedestrian access.

Care to take your date on a stroll here?
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The point is, no, Fresno State students will not walk to your shops if this is the way you great them. They're not suicidal.



3) Aiming development elsewhere

So you've got yourself a stretch of road with high vacancy rates, terrible bike and pedestrian access, but a whole lot of promise (everyone knows Shaw, many people use it daily).

Want to kill a dying commercial strip? A good way to start, is by building a highway, and then directing all new commerce north.

Here you see the Clovis city limits, the Shaw project area in green....and Herndon in yellow. In pink is "Old Town Clovis"

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So what new commerce is being built on Herndon, 2 miles north?

1) Opened 3-4 years ago
Best Buy
Target
Petsmart
TJMaxx
10+ smaller stores

2) Proposed Winco and associated Stores

3) Walmart SuperCenter, Dick's Sporting Goods, and Marshall's currently under construction.
Note the shopping center directly south of this lot, is an abandoned grocery store (old Vons or Albertsons maybe?)

4) Vons, SaveMart and Fresh and Easy (yes, all three supermarkets, one intersection)

5) Old Town (no chains, all small stores)

6) Shaw

7) Sierra Vista Mall (including a Target, Kohls and Sears)

8) An existing regular Wal-Mart

The freeway, was not there 10 years ago


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Again, Shaw to Herndon is only 2 miles. You're looking at an area that is basically 2.25 x 3.25 miles. Just on Herndon, a road with zero residents, you will find 6 full service grocery stores, and one abandoned grocer. Seems like overkill, no?


What's especially interesting is that the Wal-Mart SuperCenter was actually proposed in 2003, and the city approved it.

A group of residents then sued the city, saying the Environmental Impact Report was not proper. They claimed that while the EIR covered things like traffic, water use etc, it did NOT take into account the huge amount of blight that a Wal-Mart would bring to the area by causing many store closures. The residents were especially concerned about the proximity of the Wal-Mart to old town Clovis, an area which the city had spent a lot of time and effort revitalizing (with much success). The city/walmart fought this lawsuit, and the city won in 2011, clearing the way for construction to begin, as it did last month.

I think the residents were right. I don't think the shops in Old Town have much to fear, as they're the exact opposite of Wal-Mart (small mom and pop antique stores and such).

But Shaw Ave?

It's already dying, and I do think the Wal-Mart will help kill it off.

The irony is that the city spent so much time and effort fighting the lawsuit so that Wal-Mart could be built on Herndon, and then turns around and asks for ways to revitalize Shaw.





Bonus. Something I don't get...the distribution of grocery stores. They're all together, so close to each other...but far from the homes. :/

Not including dollar stores, 7-11s etc...

In yellow, stores with grocery sections, including Savemart (2), Vons (1), Target (2), Grocery Outlet (1), Fresh and Easy (2), Foodmaxx (1), Foodco (1), Smart and Final (1)
In red, abandoned grocery stores Savemart (1), Vons (2)
In blue, future wal-mart supercenter and winco

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Clovis holding Shaw Avenue planning meetings

I am writing a full post about the problems facing Shaw Avenue, but I am posting the details of the meeting now as a heads up. Look for the full post later tonight.

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The City of Clovis has identified a two-and-a-half-mile stretch of Shaw Avenue as a focus area for long term planning and reinvestment.

The City of Clovis is preparing a focused land use planning, regulatory, and financing effort to re-imagine and revitalize the corridor from SR-168 to Clovis Avenue.

The City of Clovis invites you to attend any of the three workshops being held on January 25-26, 2012, to help reimage, revitalize, and recreate Shaw Avenue.

Workshop One: 25th of January 7:30am-9:00am
Workshop Two: 25th of January 6:30pm-7:30pm
Workshop Three: 26th of January 7:30am-9:00am


City Website

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A transit trip to LA - Amtrak, Metro, Universal

Some thought from my weekend trip to LA to see a concert at the Gibson Amphitheater at Universal.

Including thoughts on Amtrak's San Joaquin, the LA subway and the infrastructure around Universal City.

Note: My D key is not always working, I've done my best to find errors, but I may have missed one or two.
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I've ridden the San Joaquin many times before, but I was surprised to see something I hadn't seen - a train car that wasn't the standard California Car I'm used to. It was made fairly obvious by the fact that there was only one boarding door, and it was baggage only.

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Of course, once inside the train, I went to take a look. I was extremely excited to see that this (clearly older) car had something the newer ones lack....

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RECLINING SEATS!

I've taken a 4:30am departure before, and the lack of reclining seats was killer. It also appeared that there was more leg-room, but I had no way to measure.

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That picture is misleading because it makes the train look empty. In fact, the train was quite full, but because you couldn't enter the car from the platform, I guess most riders didn't realize they could walk to it. A big loss to them. On both trips, the other cars were maybe 75% full.

I ventured downstairs to see how the bottom level was different. In the regular cars, the bottom level has one or two handicap bathrooms, seating for the elderly and disabled, and baggage areas.

Sometimes, the bottom has bike racks (as seen on a regular California Car)
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In this case, the bottom was lacking in seats...

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As I saw in my return trip, this area was filled with bags.

There were also multiple bathrooms. A unisex handicap accessible room (not that a wheelchair could make it down the stairs), 3-4 regular restrooms, and a "ladies lounge" with couch, large mirror and table area.

One of the men's room offered a changing area.

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The configuration was not necessary for the San Joaquin, but it was still nice. I got the same train on the return trip, so I also enjoyed the reclining seats.

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On both trips, I enjoyed the complimentary copy of the Fresno Bee available in the cafe car. Maybe it's just me, but I feel that this is quite the dignified way to travel. Sadly, the bagel with cream cheese saw a price hike, and now costs $2.

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In Bakersfield, you transfer across the platform to a bus. One of the downsides of this arrangement is that any time gained is lost.

Going south, my train was 20 minutes early (!). Going north, my bus was 15 minutes early. But you lose that time in Bakersfield because the next departure can't leave until the scheduled time.
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2-3 buses go to LA, there are 4 other buses going to other places. Most passengers continue their trip on a bus.

Bakersfield has three platform, but only one is ever used.
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In LA, I took the metro red line to get to, and then depart Universal City.

It's an interesting Subway line. The stations themselves look very nice an are quite grand. At least the lobby, the platforms are oddly narrow, and the trains are dumpy. They're short, not well kept, and quite frankly, ugly.

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Vermont and Wilshire station

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So far so good. Amtrak was comfortable, ahead of scheule, and generally pleasant. The red line was quick (I got lucky and waited less than 1 minute combined in both directions), felt safe an comfortable.

So how does the good old private sector do when it comes to transportation?



Friday, January 20, 2012

Gas prices will probably break records again this summer

It appears to me that this summer we will see the highest gas prices of all time...again. Predicting exact price is always impossible, because of so many variables, but while oil and gas can be quite unpredictable, they also follow very clear seasonal patterns. What that means is that from now until memorial day, expect gas prices to increase....as they always do. What makes this year special is that our starting point is the highest it's ever been.


The ingredients that will lead us to new records this summer:

-Economy is improving by all metrics, and looks to continue that way. More demand = higher prices.
-Ethanol subsidy is gone, leading a 4.5 cent increase per gallon of gas (should be in effect now)
-We are currently at the highest January prices ever, and...
-Last year had very few events which caused spikes in prices (hurricanes, strikes etc). That means that any spike this year caused by a one-off event will send prices way higher than last year, and even without any spikes, prices should still follow last years trajectory. While last year did see the events in Libya rattle investors, it caused a general rise and not a spike (as would happen if a refinery blew up, or a hurricane hit Texas). As the arab spring is still in effect (see Syria), prices will not drop.


So lets take a look at what the patterns show...(all prices will be California numbers, subtract 30 cents for US average)


Our starting point is today, January 20. We're 37 cents higher than the same day last year.
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Which itself was higher than 2010...
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2010 actually saw stable prices throughout, thanks mostly to the bad economy. The pink line is a surprising, but mostly not relevant line showing a linear increase. Just thought it was interesting.


This next graph is very misleading, because January 2009 was after the huge collapse in prices. The pink line shows what the lovely linear line would have given us, if it werent for the 2008 boom/bust

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Including 2008 shows us when gas prices last hit a record.

What's interesting is the January starting point....which was lower than where we are right now. Oh-oh.
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That giant bump in 2008 was caused by blind speculation. Expect that speculation to return as the US economic indices continue to look better. Unless Europe explodes, investors will go back to oil.


Including 2006 and 2007 is useful because it shows us that typical summer bump, which we got again last year after not seeing it in 2009-2010. I fully expect we will see that pattern emerge again this summer as it did in 2006, 2007 and 2011. That bump has been around $1 in the past. I think it will be less this time, but enough to break records.

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Just for fun....
Blog prediction! Predictions exclude major world events (earthquake in Texas, Iran explosion, Nigeria coup etc). Prices in California averages, according to Gasbuddy.com. Dates chosen at random.

$3.70 on January 20th (today)
$4.00 by March 4th.
$4.25 by March 25th
$4.50 by April 25th.
$4.66 (record) by May 15.
(prices to drop after May 15)


Feel free to leave your own predictions in the comments. Winner gets their name in big bold letters.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Clovis: A pedestrian-oriented development without any sidewalks...?

In 1993, the Clovis General Plan called for the concept of "Urban Centers" to be included in future sprawl/growth.

In 2003, after years of work, the "Loma Vista Specific Plan" was released, setting (what appeared to be) strict guidelines on the development set to happen as the city took over agricultural land to its east at the southern edge of the city. The city was ready to grow and it appeared that they wanted to correct at least some of the mistakes of previous sprawl expansion.

Rough Boundary of Loma Vista Plan area. Residential development is clearly underway in the west. The majority is still prime agriculture, for now.
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The 2003 plan showing the Loma Vista area in relation to the rest of the city
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The guidelines included fixed components, like parks and trails and such, and guiding principals, such as:

  • Quality of life: Foster family values and maintain a small-town feel of Clovis by promoting a lifestyle that is socially and culturally enriching, aesthetically pleasing and environmentally responsible.
  • Community design: ...a series of diverse residential neighborhoods planned around compact pedestrian-oriented mixed-use cores
  • Local Transportation: Organize land-use in a manner that promotes pedestrian-oriented circulation patterns and reduces the number and length of vehicular trips
2003 plan


That was the lofty goal set in 2003, after years of discourse. Yesterday, the city council unanimously approved a housing subdivision in the Loma Vista areas that essentially throws away those guiding principals. The planning council had already approved it.

They approved a new development with:
-No sidewalks
-No trail/paseo, which had been shown in maps for years
-A wall where another developer had previously left open a path for residents to walk from one development to the next
-No studies of any kind taking into account pedestrian flows to the nearby schools and churches. How do you promote pedestrian circulation with no data on how pedestrians walk...?

I really don't see how a residential community without any sidewalks, and without an extension of the trail system promised in maps for years can be allowed. But in these parts, if a developer is proposing it, it's almost always allowed.

When developers started building their subdivisions in the new area, they did indeed adhere to the plan. The trails went in, well designed trails. Sidewalks had good connections and such.

An outdated (because they keep allowing waivers) city map showing current and future trails. In red, the Loma Vista area. In yellow, the subdivision. A trail is clearly shown as coming in the future. Now, it will never be built.

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As the recession hit, the developers started pushing for "waivers" to their original proposals. Sidewalks, promised at 10 feet in initial approval, were being decreased to 5 feet in the updated requests. The trails (called paseoes) went from being paths with almost no street crossings, to paths in the median in roads, and then proposed as glorified sidewalks. Now, this developer is proposing no trail at all. Of course, corners are being cut everywhere, including constant requests to allow electrical infrastructure be placed above ground.

And the sad part is, the planning and then city councils keep saying "yes".


The city council approved the plan, even though the developer and the head planner both admitted that what is in this document and the final project will be slightly different, because of a few last-minute changes. Rushing the approval didn't seem to raise any eyebrows.

Here is the project that was discussed on Tuesday night:

Consider various actions associated with an 18.3 acre property located at the southeast corner of Ashlan and Locan Avenues. Ciao Properties, LLC, owner; McCaffrey Homes, applicant. (Staff: B. Araki)
Planning documents

Location, you can see the existing trails to the east
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Here is what they want to build. No trails, no sidewalks, no problem.
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Interesting note. In the map above, the green highlight is the connection to the existing trail. And by connection, I mean it won't be a wall, like what they'll do to the path in the red area. This connection is being touted as a feature, because thanks to a loophole, they're not even required to do that*. The developer of the existing subdivision assumed that the owner of the neighboring tract would adhere to the plan and provide multiple pedestrian linkages.

That developer was clearly naive.

*The loophole is that the tract was originally approved as apartments, without a trail. The developer then switched to low density detaches housing, keeping the waivers of the past and asking for new ones.



Three people, including myself, spoke against the plan in its current state. The other two residents who spoke against the plan are immediate neighbors of the project. One man spoke about multiple issues he was against, and made some good points. For example, he talked about how the city plans require developers to place the transformers underground. He stated that recently, many projects have requested a waiver, even though the increased density of these projects make it more feasible for the developers to cover the additional cost of placing them underground (cost is spread out over more homes). He also spoke about how a couple of months ago, the city approved a development by the same company with 33 foot wide streets on a trial basis. Now, the developer is back asking for the same, but as nothing has been built, no trial has happened.

He also spoke on the same issue that concerned me, the lack of paseos and pedestrian connectivity.

The city council chose to ignore the opposition, and only asked the developers a single question, which went along the lines of:

"The transformers, above ground, will be hiding behind shrubs yes?"
"Yes"

And then they unanimously approved the project.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Being a pedestrian on Blackstone, in pictures

Blackstone Ave is by far Fresno's busiest north/south route. It begins downtown near the biggest regional hospital (as Abbey) and then heads north, passing by Fresno City College. It then passes by the first suburban mall in the city (Manchester), continues north near the second suburban mall (Fashion) and then onward to the newest shopping mecca, River Park.

Along the way, there are a series of "zones" where auto-centric businesses cluster together, from an area of mostly motels, to an area of mostly car dealerships. Fast food outlets litter the sides, include the 10th Mcdonalds ever built.

Blackstone is also home to the busiest bus line in the city, thanks to all the shopping/job destinations. While there is no housing directly on Blackstone, there are many dense apartment buildings behind the commercial strip.

Dense housing + heavy commerce + busiest bus route....sounds like a great place for pedestrian activity!

Let's take a look as I walk .5 of a mile.

My walk:
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The commercial strip is visible thanks to the massive parking lots. The housing is obviously the greener areas. Apparently, trees are not business friendly?
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We begin the walk south. Sidewalk is narrow and next to the road. Blackstone is more than wide enough for bike lanes, but none are painted. Instead, theres the occasional space for street parking (almost never used) and right turn lanes

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When I say auto-centric, I don't just mean the road design. At least on this stretch, almost every business is car related.

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The signs are ugly. Also, up ahead, whats going on with the sidewalk?
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The sidewalk ends. A half-hearted attempt at creating sidewalk space with a curb has failed. The one person looking to park on the street didn't realize that the right lane is wide enough for parking, so they mistook the "sidewalk" for a place to pull out.

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Not that this is much of an issue to pedestrians. Right in front of the car, the attempt at a sidewalk dissolves completely.

This is 2012, on Blackstone. The entire road was repaved last year with Obama-money. And yet they managed to ignore this.

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This picture says it all. 45mph speed limit, no sidewalk, auto sales....and amusingly, a trash container waiting for curb-side pickup. That metal box is a mail-box.

It's like they haven't gotten the hint yet that Blackstone isn't some sleepy country road.

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Right up ahead, not only is this a major ADA violation, but it's also dangerous.

Who wants to break an ankle and then get a nice liability settlement?

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This picture serves two purposes. The first, is to show the quality of the concrete. Again, the entire road was ripped up and repaved last year. The asphalt part anyway.
The second is to show that while street parking it allowed in parts, there are so many driveways that street parking is not allowed (red curb) in most areas.
So why not paint a bike lane?

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Looking back, doesnt that beautifully landscaped median just bring out the color of the signs? Why is it that the trees are placed where no one can reach them, but the sidewalk doesn't have a single piece of greenery? I guess cars need the shade more...?
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Looking forward. Remember how I said Blackstone is the busiest north-south street in Fresno? It looks empty because the cars arrive in "fleets" from the traffic light, and I prefer taking pictures when there's nothing in the way.
Also, note the Herb Bauer? Nothing says "shop here!" like a big blank wall, right?
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Anyway, as we continue our walk, the sidewalk appears to end again, and become a road/sidewalk/lot hybrid

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I dont know why this is allowed.
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Theres a side street here, which under California law means there are unmarked crosswalks across Blackstone. Fresno doesn't care about wheelchair users, so only the able bodied can risk their lives to cross here. Incidentally, notice how new the ramp looks? That's because it also got federal money for ADA improvements. Now wheelchair users can glide down the ramp in comfort.....as long as they're not going anywhere, because as the pictures above show, the sidewalk is unusable. The stop bar, recently painted, ignores the small crosswalk here as well, as cars stopping at the line would be blocking the invisible crosswalk.
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You can cross Blackstone here legally. Feels safe?
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Note the last few pictures where I say "looking back and looking forward"....can you spy a crosswalk?

Of course not, the crosswalks are half a mile apart (in green). Of course, if you're a vehicle, left turn lanes are provided at multiple points (in red). We wouldn't want a driver to have to go out of their way to cross the street right? It would just be unreasonable!

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Let's keep going. Another place where the sidewalk disappears.

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Here comes one of those car fleets I was mentioning, as the light let them through.
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Something nice to look at!
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The one "urban" building. Parking in back, windows at street level instead of a wall, and an actual door facing the sidewalk.
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The neighboring store is sort of similar, but that's it.
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I mentioned the lack of bike lanes. Is there a suitable alternate route? Not really. The only other streets that are parallel are .5 miles away in each direction. There's an alley behind the buildings...
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But there are (probably illegal) interruptions to it
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Wasn't that a pleasant walk?

Blackstone is home to the planned BRT line. If they add shelters....well, they can't shelters won't fit. BRT indeed.